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I've believed for some time now that there's a creative link
between the joys of the table and Italian opera,
certainly in the case of Rossini.
He was well known to be a gourmand, who loved rich food and wine
with the same passion that he adored music.
And then there's Puccini, whose love of the good life,
and especially the food from his native Tuscany,
is legendary and well-documented.
Lastly, there's Verdi, who wrote to his agent in exasperation, saying,
"Send me a cook.
"Not someone who can cook three peasant dishes, but a real cook.
"I'll pay, no matter what it costs."
TANNOY: 'Good evening, ladies and gentlemen.
'we kindly ask you to switch off your mobile telephones.
It is one of life's truisms that Italians love food.
More than that, everything revolves around it.
They talk about food like we witter on about the weather.
The subject of last night's dinner is only topped
by what to have for lunch.
And the very nature of Italian food changes region by region.
And their passion for the joys of the table is all-consuming,
so that it spills over into other areas of life and art.
So, this is my exploration into two of Italy's great loves,
food and opera.
The engine of the Italian passion for both food and opera is the city.
You don't find Italian food encapsulated
in a far-off farmhouse in the countryside, you go to the market.
The market, where people are bargaining, coming and going,
dealing, performing, shouting.
HE SHOUTS IN ITALIAN
Screaming, the frenetic pace of urban life.
That's where you find, I think, the heart of Italian food.
In the city, the urban market.
I've always said the sights and sounds of Italian markets
are the very stuff of opera,
and it's certainly the case in La Boheme.
In early 19th century Italy, even the poorest towns,
before they built a school, they would build an opera house.
Because an opera house was the place to go and put yourself on display.
You'd get the Count, the aristocrat,
in his box at the centre of the horseshoe-shaped auditorium.
And then sort of radiating out from him, the people,
going down the social scale, until you get the riff-raff at the bottom.
This was the place where the whole community came together to spy,
to flirt, to engage in little acts of snobbery and jealousy.
So, it was a kind of market for people.
It's the city turf that food and opera have in common.
This is Pesaro on the Adriatic, the birthplace of Rossini,
and a popular holiday resort for Italians.
'This is where my quest to discover the link
'between the enjoyment of food and opera begins.
'But, of course, the director thought he'd voice what many of you,
'the viewers, must be thinking.'
What do you exactly mean by food and opera?
I don't exactly know what I mean.
But I just think there is a connection between food and opera.
Not opera, Italian opera,
and not just Italian opera, but Italian opera of the 19th century.
There's a sort of conviviality about it,
which you don't get in other opera.
Imagine a Wagner opera, the idea of people enjoying,
sitting down, and being happy about anything, really!
Or something like Benjamin Britten.
It's just not there.
But in Italian opera of the 19th century,
people like Puccini, Verdi, Bellini, Rossini,
there is a celebration of food and drink. I know it.
This is going to be a joyous journey.
Here, opera is considered to be almost a religion.
But some people at home thought I was on a fool's errand.
When I told my English friends that I'm making a TV programme
about the connection between food, Italian food, and opera,
they don't understand. But I imagine you do understand, do you?
Italy, opera and food are connected, there's a very strong link.
The connection is between the fact that we love everything
that can give to our lives joy, and you can enjoy it.
The music and the food.
When did I last see you?
I think we last saw each other at the end of the last century.
'I paid a visit to Charles Hazlewood on his farm in Somerset.
'He's a celebrated conductor, and naturally passionate about music.
'If I'm going to ask anyone about my theory of food and opera,
'then it's going to be him.'
I just wanted to ask you about Italian opera,
and the connection between food and opera.
My God, it sounds like a big essay title!
There's got to be a strong synergy between the two,
these two twin sensual pleasures.
The three composers, the giants of 19th century Italian opera,
Rossini, Verdi and Puccini,
we know that these guys were all extreme
in their love of gastronomic pleasure.
The stories are legion of Rossini, who absolutely loved his food.
Judging by the shape of the man,
he couldn't be deprived of it for long.
He'd have gone a bit weird, I think.
He was very practical, so he'd be writing an opera very often,
in a very short space of time, like under a fortnight.
The key piece of the opera he'd leave till last, the overture,
which would include all the themes
which were contained in the opera as a whole.
So, he'd come closer and closer to opening night,
and apparently even on the day in some cases
he still hadn't written the blasted overture,
couldn't quite be bothered to do it.
Very often they'd have to lock him in a room in a tower,
with one miserable plate of cold pasta.
That's all he was allowed until he'd written it.
Well, that says it all.
The thought, "I just have to finish this,
"and then I can have some fabulous food,
"some fabulous pasta with sauce."
It would be everything to him.
You're absolutely right. There's a great rule of threes with Rossini.
You also find it in Verdi in particular,
where you get a little theme, like the one in the Barber Of Seville...
There it is once. He gives it to you again.
It's like he's tasting it, he's exploring its possibility.
And on the third time, we get emancipation.
The tune takes off.
-That to me is absolutely like mastication, isn't it?
'Rossini famously said, and it's really endeared him to me,
'that he cried three times in his life.
'Once when his mother died,
'once when he heard Paganini playing the violin,
'and once picnicking on a lake,
'when a warm truffled turkey slipped from his grasp into the water.'
So, this is Rossini's birthplace, here in Pesaro.
Apparently, when he died, he left lots of money to Pesaro.
But, during his lifetime, they weren't over-keen on him.
Typical, isn't it?
Of course, after he died, everything here is "Rossini".
'Born in 1792, he was famous for the galloping pace of his music,
'from the Barber Of Seville to William Tell.
'It was the music that made the hairs on the back of the neck rise.
'They call it, "the Rossini rocket."
'Now, in Pesaro, the most popular dish to bear his name is a pizza,
'the pizza a la Rossini.
'God knows what he'd have thought of it.
'like any respectable pizza, it starts out all right,
'with tomato paste and loads of mozzarella on a thin base.
'And then something happens.
'Some say it's a travesty,
'others might think it a stroke of genius.
'Well, we know Rossini was fond of eggs.
'But hard-boiled eggs on a pizza?
And, if that's not enough, it's artistically finished with,
'yes, you've guessed it, mayonnaise,
'in what is known in the pizza business
'as a mayonnaise treble clef. What else?'
That is fantastic! Many musicians have had dishes named after them,
but nobody has had as many dishes,
and as many elevated dishes, famous dishes, as Rossini.
I'm thinking in particular of Tournedos Rossini.
I think of that, personally,
because when I was an 18-year-old chef at a hotel,
the Great Western hotel in Paddington,
it was my job to prepare the Tournedos Rossini.
So, I know what goes into it.
You've got fried bread,
then you've got a really thick fillet steak on top of that.
Then you've got foie gras on top of that,
then a Marsala sauce all around, laced with sliced truffles.
I mean, that's the sort of food Rossini's food is.
We're going to put black truffle in.
'Alberto Melligrano adds lots of truffles to this,
'for this is a dish not for those of a light appetite,
'or a light wallet.
'This was inspired by the famous chef Careme, a friend of Rossini's.
'It's supposed to be cooked in front of the customer,
'but the waiter was too shy,
'so Rossini told the poor chap to turn his back,
'hence the name, "tourner le dos", "turn your back."
'In Castellina in Chianti,
'I've come to see an expert on the life of Rossini,
'Professor Felasi from the University of Siena.'
Professor, as a Professor of social anthropology,
I'm intrigued about the importance that you put on food
and Italian opera.
Is it that important, an academic study, almost?
Of course. Food is so important in any civilisation.
Its social significance, its symbolic meaning is very important.
And then, in Italy, it's especially important.
And great musicians were usually great gastronomers.
Of course. He's the most important case.
Each musician or performer, or composer,
has had one dish dedicated to him.
But it's only Rossini that has a whole menu.
Going from antipasti, hors d'oeuvre, to pizza Rossini,
which would amuse him to no end,
which is being served in Pesaro and in California, for instance,
and somewhere else. It's a horrid dish.
I know, I've tried it!
But it's a sign of the times.
So, we have to be indulgent.
But there is a sense that food is joyous, it's humorous.
One always feels almost comic when one's eating.
He said that loving, cooking, eating, singing,
digesting the arias of that great comic opera
which is life.
This is one of Rossini's early operas,
a comic farce called The Silken Ladder.
He wrote it when he was in his teens.
It's about fidelity, jealousy and love.
This production features a kitchen,
something the maestro I'm sure would approve of.
I spoke to the baritone Carlo Lepore,
about the influence that food has on opera.
Is there a connection between the two, or am I being fanciful?
Do you think we're right? Have we got some right in this connection?
Yes, you're right. You're right.
This is really true, because Rossini was a lover of good food.
And food for him was like good singing,
good woman, good life.
And good wine!
A good symphony,
it's not something that you can't feel in your heart, really.
He was like a chef when he did the compositions.
You have to keep inside the right ingredients, good ingredients.
You can't make a good dish without this.
But when Rossini composed his operas,
he always felt the flavour of the notes.
I love the sauce, but...
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
If you think of the aria of Don Magnifico,
the dream of Don Magnifico is to be...
HE LISTS FOODS IN ITALIAN
You might be wondering why you're watching pictures of Napoleon.
Well, it's because of the wine he introduced here,
when he proclaimed himself King of Italy.
His beloved Pinot Noir, which he took on his campaigns,
and most of it came from Burgundy.
He loved it so much he planted vineyards near Pesaro,
and it's a wine I'm certain that Rossini,
being the man he was, would have sampled.
Now, most of the Pinot Noir has gone,
but this one vineyard remains, and belongs to the Mancini family.
Luigi, this is wonderful.
I've never heard of Pinot Noir from Italy, anyway,
but tell me, surely your family must have some connection with opera,
as you're so inevitably linked in these parts to Rossini?
What I can tell you is that my great-grandfather
was President of the Conservatorio Rossini.
He had a passion for music, and a lot of passion for French culture.
So, why would the local farmers be getting rid of the Pinot Noir,
then, because it was French, or what?
Nobody wants such a small bunch in the vineyards.
They wanted big, generous Italian bunches?
They wanted a lot of wine, obviously!
What we think about wine today,
is very different to what they actually needed at that time.
Nowadays, wine is, you could say,
a luxurious product, that, actually, nobody needs. At that time,
wine was the cheapest source of calories, with pasta and bread.
Wine was something that people needed to survive,
especially people working hard in agriculture.
I really didn't know that.
So, it's a bit like in England, everybody drank beer.
It's almost the same thing.
Do you think Rossini would have tasted this Pinot Noir?
It could be. I don't know if there is anything written about that.
But he was living in the period
when Pinot Noir was still cultivated in this area.
John Dickie wrote a brilliant book called Delizia,
about the history of Italian food.
He teaches at the University of London.
The mass of the people in Rossini's day
would have eaten extraordinarily badly.
Warfare, famine, disease, everything made their lives,
their food lives, if you like, very, very fragile.
Very, very vulnerable. They were subject to big changes,
big historical changes going on.
The traditional soups and cheap bread and gruel
that the peasants would eat
were being replaced by new world foods like polenta,
made of maize of course.
Polenta, for the peasants of Rossini's day,
peasants in Italy, northern Italy in particular,
was what potatoes were for the Irish peasant.
They were a cheap way of filling stomachs,
but they weren't very nourishing.
We have this nostalgic vision of Italian food
as being a food of the peasantry, the Club 18-130,
these old peasants playing football in the vineyard with bloodshot eyes,
living to 150 years old.
I'm afraid it's rubbish.
It's a nostalgic vision invented in our time,
after the Second World War, when we'd left the peasant life behind.
The peasants of Rossini's day
would have thought it was a joke in very poor taste
to think they were the epitome of good eating in Italy.
'This is the town of Talamello,
'and when Rossini talked about the comic opera which is life,
'he could have been talking about this place,
'and the story of its famous cheese, formaggio di fossa.
'500 years ago, Spanish troops were billeted here,
'and they ate the locals out of house and home.
'But the women of the town decided
'the soldiers weren't going to get
'their hands on their precious ewes' milk cheese,
'and so they hid it in pits. When the troops left,
'they found it tasted even better than when they put it in.
'Bruno Velone, like everyone here, is passionate about the cheese.'
Bruno, this reminds me of a sort of Rossini opera,
the idea of the soldiers coming, eating too much,
hiding the cheeses, and then discovering this secret.
-Si. Rossini was famous for eating a lot.
And he was a gourmet.
And he's famous not just for music, but for food.
-There is a lot of things...
-Oh, we know. Tournedos Rossini...
-Would he have had this cheese?
Sure. Because this cheese is typical from this area.
And Pesaro is real near.
For us Italians, food is a cultural way of life.
So, we can work ten hours for preparing a dish,
and, in ten minutes, eat that.
But it doesn't matter.
For food, time is...
We spend a lot of time. And that comes from our culture.
'After the burial service, I joined them to sample the cheese,
'which had a certain, how shall I say it,
'caveyness about it.'
Cheese, a good bread, and wine...
And if you have a nice girl that served that, it can be enough!
Well, I'd like to propose a toast to everyone, if you don't mind.
To the formaggio di fossa of Talamello.
This landscape of northern Italy looks bountiful,
like a label for a fancy bottle of olive oil.
The cities here jealously guard their link
with the famous foods that bear their name.
When he was young, Rossini came here to Bologna,
the oldest university town in Europe.
He lived with his mother above a pork butcher's shop,
so he would have, no doubt, sampled Bologna's most famous product.
No, it's not Bolognese sauce, ragu Bolognese,
but the famous Mortadella sausage,
known throughout the world, like Rossini's operas.
As a cook, I couldn't resist
going to a thoroughly modern Mortadella factory,
to see how it was made.
There's a fabulous aroma here.
You've got garlic, you've got nutmeg and mace,
you've got cloves, you've got cinnamon.
You've got pepper, you've got coriander.
It's just so exotic.
But it's all just a little touch,
it's not like the Orient, this is Italy.
It's very, very subtle.
'And then the fat goes in.
'It wouldn't be Mortadella without those sweet chunks of fat.
'Then out it comes, in all its silky glory.
'This is opera to me.
'Then the huge sausages are cooked in vast ovens,
'and instantly cooled down in a shower of cold water.
'That's it, ecco lo'e', as they say over here.'
Look at these! These are magnificent.
We have 100 kilos Mortadella.
You could almost do a sort of Victorian photo.
And it's made by hand.
Maybe with a gun, as if I'd just shot it!
'So, here's to Mortadella, and here's to Rossini,
'the greatest musical gourmet of his time.
'And here's to the comedy which is life.'
Giacomo Puccini was born in a place I always associate
with good olive oil, Lucca in Tuscany.
And he was part of a musical dynasty.
He was inspired by Verdi's Aida.
After seeing it, he said, "A musical window has opened for me."
He lived for much of his life here in Torre del Lago,
it means, "the tower by the lake".
This rare film of him was discovered recently by a film director,
Paolo Benvenuti, who, after seeing it,
was inspired to make a feature film about Puccini's life
on the edge of the lake.
When he wasn't sitting at the piano composing,
'he loved nothing better than to go with his mate,
'a local fisherman called Tonio, and shoot wildfowl for the table.'
One of the things I've discovered he really liked,
was Folaghe a la Puccini,
which was stewed duck with vegetables and pasta.
I think you'll find that's coot.
It was duck, it was in the film, it was duck.
No. He liked coots.
You can't eat coots.
You can. It was coot.
Folaghe. Folaghe means "coot".
No, I think it means a type of duck.
It doesn't mean a coot. It's like eating London pigeons.
Anyway, he ate coot.
Duck, David, duck.
Coot, Ricky, coot.
Have it your own way.
Benvenuti's film tells the tragic story
of the suicide of Puccini's housemaid.
It happened after his wife suspected she was having an affair with him,
whereas the poor girl was simply the go-between
for him and her cousin Julia, who ran the local bar on the lakeside.
'I met up with Paolo,
'who reconstructed the little bar by the lake for his film.
'It's a bit empty and forgotten now,
'but nevertheless a fitting place to talk to him
'about Puccini's life here in Torre del Lago.'
Yeah, I remember, with the pump.
SHE SINGS IN ITALIAN
Paolo, in Britain I'm a chef.
And I'm particularly interested in Puccini's
love of food and of cooking.
And I think that comes out in his operas, would you agree?
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
'He says, "Absolutely.
"Puccini loved good food so much,
"that whenever he was away in New York,
"or wherever, as soon as he came back, he'd say to Julia,
"Please, Julia, would you cook soup of cauliflower,
"or beans with taglialini?" He had to eat that.
"Not only that, but the whole village, and the farmers around,
"knew that he loved food.
"And he went to visit them sometimes at lunchtime.
"He'd go to their kitchen, open a pan,
"and if he fancied what he smelt, he'd say, "Oh, this is lovely!"
"And of course, they would say, "OK, sit down."
"The children used to hate him, because if he was at lunch,
"and he ate the food, they knew there'd be less for them."
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
'There's a Puccini festival every year
'on the banks of Lake Massaciuccoli,
'in a huge, blue, open-air auditorium.
'If Hello magazine was published in the early 1900s,
'at the height of his fame, no question,
'he'd be on the front cover.'
I must say, meeting Paolo Benvenuti, and talking through the film,
and the background to Puccini's life,
I'm sort of filled with a sense of privilege, really,
in seeing this beautiful lake, which he loved so much,
and feeling the enjoyment that he had
for everything about the lake, the enjoyment of his friends.
It's great to understand that,
although he dressed incredibly immaculately,
and he'd have driven a Ferrari these days, probably.
And the way he smoked his cigarettes,
he was enormously attractive to women,
because he was so suave and debonair.
But he liked nothing more than going down to that bar
in that chalet, and drinking with his mates.
THEY COUNT IN ITALIAN
I mean, at one stage in the film, he's playing what I'd say was Spoof.
You know, he's spoofing for a round,
because at the end he goes like that, "Two more."
And it's that side of him, also, I have to say,
the side of him where he's got a girl on the side, you know?
And all that comes out in his operas,
this sort of sense of ordinariness.
But, of course, elevated by his immense talent,
and the wonderful melodies that he created.
'For 30 years, he lived by the lake, and wrote his most famous works,
'La Boheme, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly.
'He'd make many journeys to the grand home of the Marquesa Ginori,
'his friend, and a powerful landowner.
'It now belongs to Ginori's distant relative,
'the Contessa Maria Gaddi-Pepoli.
'But, because Puccini was such a frequent guest,
'I'm here to try one of his favourite dishes,
'Folaghe a la Puccini.'
So, Donatella is going to cook a coot for us.
I can't believe it, but apparently it is so.
I just think it might taste rather fishy, what do you think?
Yes, yes, it tastes fishy.
In fact, it's the only meat that you can eat also on Friday.
Because, as you know, for Catholic people, it's forbidden.
Folaghe, it's OK, you can do that.
'Essentially, it's just a stew of coot, with stock,
'wine, and a mirepoix of vegetables.'
-So, that's it, for 40 minutes?
So, how important do you think food was to Puccini?
For him, everything was important.
Food, good wine, beautiful woman, the music, and friends.
Everything. He enjoyed very much life.
'We ate on the Contessa's rather grand terrace with her friends,
'and the coot was served on a piece of toast to soak up the sauce,
'the exact way Puccini liked it.'
I've never tasted coot before.
It tastes a bit gamey.
It's rather nice, it's just... It's slightly bitter.
It's so good.
Very good, really, in fact.
I mean, it's quite special,
it's a very sophisticated taste, I would say.
Oh, yes. Not so strong, not fish tasting.
Just a tiny bit of fish, a tiny bit of bitterness,
-a tiny little gaminess.
It just... It increases my admiration for Puccini,
that he would have enjoyed something like this so much.
You know, I'm sort of reading him through the food he loved.
He loved this very much.
I bet, I bet.
But what did the lago, the lake, mean to him, then?
When he decided to come here and to live in Torre del Lago,
he was coming out from very big depression, he was very unhappy.
And this lake was representing for him, a sort of medicine.
He love it very much, and try to...
coming back again to the music, to composing music,
and especially the one, the coro muto of the Madame Butterfly...
What, you mean that...?
-You remember, hmm-hmm....
-Yeah. The sound of the wind in the reeds.
It's that humming, it's, like, ethereal, isn't it, that music?
Yes, it's like that. It's really a magic sensation.
I'm happy to stay in this part of the world.
MUSIC: "Madame Butterfly" By Puccini
Although he looked the part, he wasn't aristocracy,
but he certainly lived a very elevated lifestyle.
On the other hand, he mixed with artists and fishermen,
which I suspect was a rich well of inspiration for him.
They told me at the hotel where I was staying, that this,
the poignant humming chorus from Madame Butterfly,
was inspired by the sounds of the evening breeze in the reeds,
and you can feel that when you're here.
'The regional food of Italy,
'and by that I mean the everyday food that subtly changes
'from village to village and from town to town,
'is one of the constant threads that make up the tapestry
'of Italian life.
'This is a speciality from Puccini's home town of Lucca,
'and it would have been the sort of dish that he and his artist friends
'would be eating on a daily basis.
'I shared it in a lakeside restaurant
'with a celebrated Italian conductor, Alberto Veronesi.'
So, maestro, just explain this dish to me.
This is tagliarini alla Puccini.
It is done with Tuscan beans, the red beans from Diecimo,
a little town near Lucca, which Puccini loved very much.
Well, maestro, I wonder if with you, whether cooking and a love of food,
does it help you in your performances as a major conductor?
I think there are two kind of people who make music,
people which don't like to eat, and I don't like these people,
and people who absolutely need to eat before doing any kind of work.
Before conducting, before evening performance,
I have to be really satisfied with my stomach!
And he loved very much...people and his friends, especially his friends,
to be completely free, to eat, to laugh,
to play cards, to drink, and to say very bad words.
And that, you can see also in his operas,
describe what he was when he was young.
And, of course, when you are satisfied, when you eat well,
you can give more, and to be more serene,
to be more...more calm,
to have your music, and to find, really,
the right way to interpret the music.
I agree! I think it inclines you to a generosity of spirit.
-Generosity of spirit, yes. Please!
When I go to Venice, there's one particular dish that I really love,
which I think is like a scampi risotto,
and they tell me the reason why it's so intense
is that the stock is made from, I think,
-from...well, shellfish, very concentrated.
-Of course it is.
But of course to most people who perhaps don't understand
how Italian cooking goes, they think,
"Yes, olive oil, yes, garlic, yes, tomato,
"those are natural bedfellows."
Bt the idea of all these kind of nasty unwanted bits,
like the head, the eyes, all that kind of stuff,
they're the foreign bodies. And in a way that makes me think of Puccini,
because he was absolutely brilliant of creating tunes out of nowhere,
which somehow summon up the essence of the character.
So, when Mimi first appears in Boheme,
what is it that he wants to understand about who Mimi is?
She's shy, she's probably quite diminutive,
she's out of her comfort zone,
-she's nervous, but there's something...
Exactly, in a garret in Paris.
And he assembles this tune which becomes like a motto for her,
every time you then hear it in the piece,
it's another part of the Mimi puzzle filling in in your mind.
And it's a funny connection of notes.
And here's the really rogue note coming up here.
It's, like, well out of place.
And then he turns it round.
If you put those notes together and said, "What do you think?"
you'd say, "No, that's a foreign body,
"it simply doesn't fit into the context of that phrase."
But that's like cooking.
The great Italian operas are all very much about humanitarian issues,
human stories, you know, the human condition.
Where the Germans, particularly people like Wagner,
and before him, Weber, were much more about mysticism, about magic,
about magic casements, other-worldly concepts,
Italian opera was always about me and you, and him and her.
Perfect, I mean, isn't that what it's all about, really?
That's why the food is so important,
because it's back to what really matters in life.
And in a way, if you can come up with the perfect melody, that's the key,
just in the way, the reason why Italian cuisine is so extraordinary,
is because it's about doing very simple things
-with very, very fresh ingredients, right?
-Yeah, it is.
So, same thing with Puccini.
If you can come up with the eureka moment...
HE PLAYS PIANO
..you're away, aren't you?
There in that one theme is all the DNA,
all the information you need to understand who Mimi is,
where she's from, and, ultimately, probably where she's headed.
There was a great deal of sadness in Puccini's life,
but again, the joys of the table were never far away.
And it was the lake, its light,
and the natural sounds that inspired him,
and all mankind benefited from that.
'This is Parma, where Verdi is king.
'His music is revered, and this monument to him, one of many,
'is a testament to the whole range of human emotions
'his operas captured and celebrated.
'Everything from love, hatred, joy, and deep, undying grief,
'are here for all the world to see.
'In the village of Roncole where Verdi was born,
'there are banners grandly bearing his wish to be known as a peasant,
'rather than someone even more famous
'than the great father of modern Italy, Garibaldi.'
I was sort of imagining before I got here
a bit of a peasant's hovel, but not at all.
In fact, he was an innkeeper's son.
This is where the guests at the inn would eat,
and I'm told that this was where the polenta, of course, was heating up,
and was stirred,
and they'd sit down, bowls of polenta, some wine,
Parmesan, of course.
No, not a peasant's background at all,
but, I suppose, in later life,
when you've got the king of Italy sort of bowing,
sitting down at your feet,
he probably used it as a way of grounding himself,
because he became so nationally and internationally famous.
He probably felt, "Yes, at heart, I AM a peasant."
And one has to think that having this background of an innkeeper,
that his whole childhood would have been so involved with food,
that it was obviously a very important part of his life.
'But wandering around Parma today,'
'and seeing the enormous importance of Verdi here,
'I mean, just look at all those posters over there,
'you begin to pick up the importance of opera to the Italians.
'When I set out on this journey,
'I just thought there was a good connection
'between food and Italian opera,
'but you need to be here to live it, to understand how enormous it is.
'I suppose, coming from cold northern Europe,
this whole sort of Catholic enjoyment of the physicality of life
is hard to get on board,
but terribly attractive to us, of course.
And that's the world that Verdi, Rossini, and Puccini came from.
Just this enormous, sensuous enjoyment.
And once you've got it, you realise just what big stars they were.
There's nothing like it today.
You can't really combine the classic and the popular,
if you like, but in somebody like Verdi, you could.
I mean, he appealed to the highest echelons of society and the lowest.
Everybody loved him. And, of course, it made him enormously wealthy.
And what did he spend his money on?
The joys of the table, on food, on enjoying life.
I think that's really the crux of it.
I think that's what I mean about food and the Italian opera,
it's that fantastic sort of sensuous enjoyment.
I just noticed, this was an account of some food he ordered
when he was staying at the Grand Hotel in Milan, next to La Scala,
aged 87, a year before he died.
He ordered rice and liver,
trout hollandaise, veal jardiniere, oxtail, Brussels sprouts,
roast chicken salad, and an assortment of patisserie.
I mean, 87?
Isn't that somebody who loved his food as much as he loved opera
and loved life?
'When he was at the tender age of nine,
'he played this organ in the church at Roncole.
'The organ is situated halfway up the wall, above the altar,
'so he'd have had a grand view of his audience, and they of him.
'Imagine what went through the mind of that boy,
'playing that powerful organ.
'Not only that, but he was surrounded by the imagery
'depicting good over evil, pain and suffering.
'The very stuff of opera.
'I wouldn't mind betting these icons had a profound effect
'on such a young boy,
'who was the centre of attention in that small church.
'In fact, one of Verdi's most famous operas, Nabucco,
'is based on the biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar.
'Verdi said of it when it was first performed in 1842,
"This is the opera with which my artistic career really begins."
But of course the reason that Nabucco became
such an instant success, was because, at the time,
this part of northern Italy was yearning for independence.
It was under the rule of the Austro-Hungarian empire,
and so such stirring choruses like the Va, pensiero,
the Hebrews' lament for their homeland,
had a tremendous ring,
struck a nerve to the people of this part of Italy.
'The interval proved to be a revelation to me.
'Food and opera in this country
'are never very far away from each other.'
Well, this is very enjoyable, I must say,
because back in England, you'd just have a glass.
But to have all this wonderful culatello as well is sensational,
and such a pleasant thing to do.
I think it's typical of the Italian enthusiasm for food and opera,
that you have to have some nice food in the interval.
I very much approve.
Charles, just in an attempt to prove the link
between food and Italian opera,
I've looked at various occasions in opera
where food or drink is mentioned.
Obviously, the fighting with the baguettes in Boheme,
and in Rigoletto, there's a drinking song.
But particularly in Traviata, of course,
with the most famous one, tell me about it.
Well, it does absolutely illustrate Verdi's, and through him,
the whole of Italy's lust for life, doesn't it?
I mean, the very word, "libiamo," it's such a sensual language.
Even just saying, "libiamo," there's an intrinsic melody to it.
It naturally climbs. Lib-yah, you know?
So, of course he sets it to what's known as a rising sixth,
which is particularly a combination of two notes
which suggests yearning, suggests really wanting, sort of desire.
That interval. And again.
"Libiamo" means "let's drink,"
'and this song is something that Verdi put into La Traviata
'to attract the opera stars of the day, and give them a walk-on part.
'It's performed here by the Parma Choral Society,
'who rehearse conveniently over a restaurant
'that specialises in cooking the dishes the maestro loved.'
It's just like it encapsulates that absolute sort of joy
and euphoria of meeting a load of people that you know well,
and you're going to drink, you're going to eat,
-you're going to enjoy yourself.
-Absolutely, kind of lust for life.
Just think, if it had been...
HE PLAYS PIANO
You know, it hasn't got nearly the elan of...
and he's tasting those notes.
He's tasting the interval between them like a fine wine in his mouth.
The other thing which works about this,
the thing that drags you out of your seat with a kind of centrifugal force
is the sense of lilt. Libiamo, libiamo!
"Of course we're going to drink. We couldn't do anything else."
Surely, this, more than anything else,
proves that Verdi was an absolute lover of the good things in life,
ie, food and wine.
'One floor below,
'one of the chefs is making the celebrated Rosa di Parma.'
Well, there couldn't be a more classic Parma dish than this.
I mean, it's fillet steak stuffed with culatello,
which is the rump of pork, as opposed to the leg,
even more revered in Parma than Parma ham itself.
So, you've got fillet steak, Parma ham and Parmesan, all in one dish.
It's a really good way with fillet steak, because, fillet steak,
I find quite boring.
So it's perfect to put lots of lovely flavours,
like culatello and Parmesan.
'So, it's rolled, sliced, flamed in brandy and Marsala wine.
'Talk about rich!'
I just love the look of this.
I mean, this is simple, luxurious,
the sort of thing that everybody would be longing to eat, I'm sure.
'The chef here makes it with reduced roasted meat stock and cream.
'Definitely a celebratory dish,
'which seems to say to me in true Mae West style,
"if you've got it, honey, why don't you flaunt it?"
'It's not a dish for the faint-hearted!'
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
'As this programme's about food helping the creative process,
'the great food writer Brillat-Savarin said in 1825,
"After a good meal,
"both body and soul enjoy a remarkable sense of well-being.
"Your brain is refreshed,
"your wits are sharpened, and your imagination is fired".
'This is Verdi's house. Well, it's more than a house,
'it's a farm, where he threw himself into being the gentleman farmer,
'and where his workforce would cultivate and rear
'everything he needed to be self-sufficient.
'And of course, this place was the creative centre of his works.'
So, this is where Verdi composed.
Sat at the desk. Piano over there.
And he had a good library of books, because he read a great deal.
Very well read. In fact, he read Shakespeare,
Paradise Lost, Dante, of course.
Schiller and Byron as well.
It's really interesting.
I'm not a real opera buff, but this relationship between the librettist,
in his case Arrigo Boito, and himself,
because, obviously, he drove the whole thing.
Obviously, all the glory is to the music,
but the words are very important too.
'I often think a lot of really creative work is done by two people.
'The sum of the parts is better than the individuals.'
Wow, look at that.
That is splendid.
I mean, I knew he had a model farm, but look at that avenue of trees.
It's so aesthetically pleasing as well.
Look at the quality of the soil there.
And, of course, he grew everything he wanted.
Corn, he had poultry, cattle, vineyards.
What a really special way to spend your money.
I'd love to do something like this.
'Giuseppe Verdi's farmers had to supply him
'with a specific list of produce -
'800 kilos of grapes, eight chickens in each month of July and August,
'and they had to weigh at least two kilos.
'20 dozen eggs at Easter and August,
'eight capons at Christmas, each weighing four kilos.
'The list, I'm sure, went on and on,
'from a man who really loved his food.
'In this region, Emilia-Romagna, you never can stray far from opera,
'whether it's a full-blown affair, or a recital of choice works.
'This is the Little Theatre in Busseto, near Verdi's home.
'And this is the famous duo,
'Daniela Dessi, and her husband, Fabio Armiliato.'
As we're enjoying some Verdi tonight,
tell me about his love of food. What did he like?
He used to bring with him the food from his own area,
when he went on a trip.
He brought pasta and salami,
something to have the joy of, and remind him of his own country.
That's a habit,
and he loved to have this, this food with him and to enjoy it.
And Rossini too?
SHE SPEAKS ITALIAN
'She says, "Rossini was a real big eater, and enjoyed his food,
"and ate a lot, and became very fat.
"Whereas Verdi enjoyed his food, but enjoyed it in moderation.
"And he chose the best foods, and he loved to be slender and noble.
"To him, food was a pleasure, but never excessive."
AUDIENCE CLAP ALONG
'I went to a little trattoria in the middle of Busseto.
'Verdi could well have eaten here.
'Certainly, they serve his favourite ham, Culatello di Zibello,
'with lumps of Parmesan cheese.
I'd never been here before,
'but there was a great warmth about the place,
'and a sense of conviviality.
'It's a place where I wanted lunch to go on all afternoon.'
I was walking past here this afternoon,
and I just noticed in the window and did a double-take,
this black and white photo of what looked like Verdi,
standing behind the counter there. I was thinking,
"Gosh, this place is really old". I looked again,
and it was Verdi standing with the current patron.
But then I thought, everywhere I've been,
whether it's Pesaro with Rossini, or Torre del Lago with Puccini,
or here around Busseto,
there's so many dishes in honour of all these composers.
Think of that rather garish pizza in Pesaro,
or the soup in Torre del Lago, or here, all those things.
You just think, did he really have them all?
Did he like all these dishes? I don't know.
All those 19th century composers are long gone,
but those wonderful tunes and those fabulous operas live on,
as does the food they loved.
What could be more Italian than that?
MUSIC: "Nessun Dorma" by Puccini, sung by Pavarotti
'The joys of opera and food in one person, the great Pavarotti.
'He lived right next door to a restaurant run by his friend,
'Cesare, and Pavarotti's favourite dish was a black rice risotto.
'According to Cesare, he ate it for every meal.
'It's made using the all-important beef stock -
'over here they call it brodo -
'Parmigiano Reggiano, and the local black rice.
'In fact, the fewer the ingredients, the better the risotto, I find.
'But it had a real touch of opera,
'for a man who was known throughout the world for his love of good food.
'It was finished with a melted gold leaf, 24 carat.
'That, to me, is opera on a plate.
'Well, it was Pavarotti.'
Here in Parma, it was a habit to go to the performance,
and in the back, where people sit, they were cooking.
Cooking, boiling the pasta.
-So, in the intermission, they have agnolotti.
This is a habit.
This is a great connection, because you enjoy the music,
and enjoy the food.
Imagine that at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden!
# Vincero, vincero! #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
Chef Rick Stein takes a light-hearted look at the role that food played in the creation of Italian opera and shows how music and food are intrinsically linked in Italy. He draws parallels between cooking and composing, noting how both involve the skilful combination of ingredients and how they share the common purpose of bringing pleasure to many. Rick also explains why he thinks the music of Verdi, Rossini and Puccini are linked to the food of the regions where they lived and worked.