AN INTERVIEW WITH PLáCIDO DOMINGO, PRESIDENT OF EUROPA NOSTRA
Our mission is not only about stones,
it is also and mostly about people!
This interview was made on 26 August 2010 in Mantova by Sneška Quaedvlieg-Mihailović, Secretary General of Europa Nostra
The Clock Tower of Mantova strikes midnight. Lit by the full moon, the summer evening at the medieval Piazza delle Erbe brings us the most welcome refreshment at the end of another extremely warm day. After a lively and informal dinner with delicious local food (tortellini with zucca among others), Alvaro Santa Cruz, Europa Nostra’s Vice-President, and I enjoy a quiet moment of friendly and open conversation with Plácido Domingo, the new President of Europa Nostra. In spite of the entire day of exhausting rehearsals in Palazzo Ducale and the Rocca di Sparafucile (restored especially for the “Rigoletto in Mantova” live opera performance) and the shooting session of not less than 2 hours for the 2 minutes scene of Rigoletto’s boat crossing of the lake, Maestro Domingo still radiates a contagious doses of joy, energy, enthusiasm and humanism.
EN: “Rigoletto in Mantova”.…what a wonderful promotion at the level of the entire Globe of Europe’s cultural heritage, both tangible (the World Heritage City of Mantua) and intangible (the immortal music of Verdi)….how does it feel to be the main protagonist of this extraordinary cultural event?
PD: First of all I have to say that 51 years ago I was offered the opportunity to play a small part in Rigoletto, the tenor role of courtier Matteo Borsa. Several years later I started to play the main tenor role of Duca di Mantova. I have also conducted a series of Rigoletto performances. And finally, when the Italian renowned producer and film director Andrea Andermann (www.radafilm.it ) had this genial idea, after having produced Tosca in Rome and Traviata in Paris, to produce Rigoletto in Mantova - in real place and in real time - he asked me to play the baritone role of Rigoletto. At first I did not believe that I could do it. But after my successful first appearance as baritone in Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra, I have finally decided to say “yes”. This is a great responsibility and a great challenge. But it is also an extraordinary experience to perform in such an incredibly beautiful and rich historic environment in the same places which Verdi used as the setting for his Opera. This is one of the most difficult and one of the greatest operas of Verdi. This music is well known to the public. The public feels it and loves it. And the fact that the action is taking place in the historic Palazzo Ducale and Palazzo Te commissioned by the Gonzaga family, brings us today in Mantova for this unique opera performance.
EN: This is also a remarkable mediatic operation?
PD: Indeed, our live performance on 4-5 September will be broadcasted by RAI 1 in “mondovisione” in 138 countries throughout the world with an estimated potential number of viewers of one billion. This is what makes this a grandiose challenge for all of us involved: Andrea Alderman the mastermind and producer of “Rigoletto in Mantova” working in coproduction with RAI; Marco Bellocchio, renowned Italian film director; Vittorio Storaro, the Oscar-winning camera director; Vittorio Grigolo, wonderful young Italian tenor as Duca di Mantova whom I have strongly encouraged in his opera career; the superb young Russian soprano, Julia Novikova, as Rigoletto’s daughter Gilda who won the 1st Prize at the 2009 Operalia, World Opera Competition; the great artist Ruggero Raimondi, as assassin Sparafucile and finally the RAI orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta which will be performing from the unique setting of the Teatro Bibiena (the theatre which was inaugurated by the concert of a 14-year old Mozart…)
This will be a great European cultural event. Millions of people around the Globe will have the opportunity to watch, listen and enjoy an important part of Europe’s cultural heritage. Europe has contributed so fundamentally, through its art, music, architecture, paintings to the achievements of humankind. As Europeans, we have to be proud of that legacy.
Spanish, European, Cosmopolitan….
EN: You have become a world citizen, while preserving your strong Spanish/European identity. What meaning and what impact have those Spanish/European roots had for your life?
PD: Every artist has to be cosmopolitan while at the same time nurturing his or her own cultural background. I am proud to be Spanish and European. I am at the same time proud to have grown up in Mexico. It is precisely this interaction between by Spanish and European roots and my American experience which made me the person and the artist which I have become.
An Ambition for Europa Nostra
EN: “If I rest, I rust”, this is your life motto...we are delighted that in application of this motto, Europa Nostra have found its place among the many new projects and challenges which you have been lately undertaking. Would you like to share with us some of your dreams or aspirations which you hope to realise together with Europa Nostra?
PD: I am very honoured to be the President of such a prestigious organisation as Europa Nostra. After having carefully analysed my extremely busy agenda, I realised that being President of Europa Nostra could perfectly be combined with my performances many of which are taking place in beautiful historic cities and places in Europe. I am indeed proud to work for Europa Nostra with such an extraordinary and enthusiastic team.
In accepting this Presidency, I hope that we will work to safeguard Europe’s cultural heritage whenever it is threatened by natural calamities, by human beings or by neglect. In doing so, we should attach particular importance to the people who are connected to this heritage and for whom this heritage forms part of their everyday living environment and their identity. Our mission is not only about stones it is also and mostly about people!
When we promote the cause of cultural heritage in Europe, we in Europa Nostra have therefore to be the Voice of the citizens and communities which are connected today with this heritage in an artistic, social or human way.
L’Aquila must be saved!
EN: You must be thrilled to be able to perform Rigoletto in the enchanting Renaissance setting of the well-preserved World Heritage City of Mantova. But only a few hundred kilometres to the south, the survival of another remarkable historic city – L’Aquila – is seriously threatened after the devastating earthquake of April 2009.
PD: Since we are in Italy, this is indeed a most urgent case of “heritage in peril” which needs all our attention. What is currently happening in L’Aquila is very, very sad. People have not only lost their houses, they have lost the memory and the roots which are connected to the historic city of L’Aquila. The inhabitants of L’Aquila are not looking to find a new city in which to live, they wish their historic city to be restored in order that they can come back to live there where their ancestors have been living for centuries. From Mantova, the city which can be called a true cradle of art, culture and beauty, I wish therefore to launch a powerful appeal for the safeguard of the historic heart of L’Aquila and of its surrounding historic small towns and villages and cultural landscape. This wonderful expression of the soul of Italy and Europe must not be lost for future generations.
Education: a key concern
EN: Youth constitutes for you an important concern and a very strong focus of your current activities. Under your Presidency, Europa Nostra could do a lot for promoting access to heritage and art for the new generations of Europeans. How can we inspire and encourage young Europeans, often with a very mixed ethnic and cultural background, to take an interest in culture and cultural heritage?
PD: Comparing with other parts of the world, in general the education level in Europe is very high. Young people who want to study have the opportunity to do so. But in order to benefit fully from those opportunities, children’s access to culture, both arts and heritage, need to be encouraged. Investing in education, from the very early age, should therefore be our key concern. Culture, art, heritage need to be made available and accessible to Europeans from their early childhood. They need to be confronted with cultural events and experience. It would therefore be important to add to the school curriculum a stronger dimension of history, and art and music teaching. Children have to be stimulated to learn about the culture and heritage of their own neighbourhood, their own city, their own country. They should become aware and proud of this heritage while at the same time learning to respect and enjoy the culture and heritage of others. Education, education, education, is therefore my answer to your question.
Giving heritage a new life
EN: Currently, Europe and the rest of the world are searching for the ways of overcoming the economic crisis….everyone wants to stimulate the creation of new jobs….what about the jobs which can be created in the heritage and wider cultural field? Is the job creation potential in this field sufficiently recognised and exploited?
PD: Conservation of cultural heritage is only possible thanks to the skills and craftsmanship of many individuals. In this area, many jobs can be created today and tomorrow. Also many fruitful connections have to be found and developed between the heritage world and the wider world of art and culture. Take for example the Operalia initiative
(www.operalia.org) which I have started in 1993, or the Valencia initiative “Viva Europa” (www.vivaeuropa.eu). We could do so much more to promote Europe’s heritage and art if we would work more closely together. Young singers could make productions which would tour around Europe performing in a range of Europe’s historic theatres. It is not enough to restore historic theatres or other historic buildings, we ought to give them new life and if needed new uses thanks to the creativity of the new generation.
A message of peace
EN: I had the privilege and enormous pleasure of seeing and hearing you performing the title ole in Verdi’s Opera Simon Boccanegra both in La Scala in Milan and in Teatro Real in Madrid. I was deeply moved by the message of peace, reconciliation and humanism of which Simon Boccanegra is such a wonderful protagonist. In the Balkans (the region where I come from) as in some other parts of Europe, cultural heritage has been often victim of confrontations, religious, ethnic or political….an important element of Europa Nostra’s mission is precisely to promote dialogue and mutual understanding through our common cultural heritage and the respect of our shared history. Is this part of our mission particularly close to your heart?
PD: Exactly. In your country, you have experienced a terrible civil war. Conflicts between different communities led to the loss of so many lives and also so much of Europe’s precious cultural heritage. The “scream for peace” which Verdi’s Simon Boccanegra makes in his big scene remains therefore so relevant even today. The bitter experience of the Balkans teaches us how careful we have to be and how much we have to invest to live in peace. We have to defend our rights and our stand points, but we have to defend it peacefully. Europa Nostra’s mission is certainly to make a modest but significant contribution to this message of peace which is so important for the future of Europe and for the future of our cultural heritage.