Aldo Finzi's Masterwork Debuts 70 Years Later

'Serenade for the Wind' Makes Premiere at Milan's La Scala

Rossella Tercatin

By Rossella Tercatin

Published December 27, 2012, issue of December 28, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Multi Page

Moments before he passed away, in 1945, composer Aldo Finzi whispered the words, “Fate suonare la mia musica” (“Let my music be performed”). Recently, on a particularly cold December night, his last and greatest wish was fulfilled in the 19th-century Donizetti Theatre in Bergamo, less than 35 miles away from the legendary La Scala Opera House, where Finzi’s opera “La Serenata al Vento” (“The Serenade to the Wind”) should have been performed nearly 70 years ago.

Born in Milan in 1897 to a middle-class Jewish family with a passion for music (his aunt was a soprano), Finzi had already established himself as a promising composer by the time he was 24. His works had been published by the famous Casa Ricordi, among them, several pieces of chamber music, a few symphonic poems and his masterpiece, “La Serenata al Vento,” a comic opera based on a libretto by Carlo Veneziani.

The Serenata tells the story of the exuberant Loly and her pedantic tutor, Leandro, who enters Loly’s window by mistake to get away from his secret lover’s place. This incurs the wrath of her strict father, Colonel Dagoberto, resulting in a crescendo of misunderstandings and comic moments. When, in 1937, the Milan La Scala issued a contest for a new opera, to be performed during the following season, Finzi entered his opera into the competition.

“It seems like yesterday,” recalled Bruno Finzi, his son, who is now 87. “I was walking with my father in the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, and the master of La Scala, Riccardo Pick-Mangiagalli, who was sitting on the jury of the contest, came to us. ‘I should not say anything,’ he told my father, ‘but I wanted to offer you my congratulations. The Serenata won. You can start to think about the production, the cast, the scenes.’ My father was beside himself with joy and pride.”

But for Jews, dark times were approaching fast. The official announcement of Finzi’s victory never came. In 1938 the Anti-Jewish Laws were promulgated in Italy. Finzi could not work anymore. He was offered a job as a musician in Chicago, but he did not want to leave his family. In 1943 the Finzis went into hiding.

Still, music remained an important part of Finzi’s life. When fascist guards arrived to arrest him and his family, the guards happened to be more interested in robbing the Finzis of valuables than in performing an actual arrest, so the whole family managed to get away and, eventually, find another hiding place. To express his gratitude to the Lord for such a narrow escape, Finzi composed his famous “Salmo per Coro e Orchestra” (“Psalm for Choir and Orchestra”). However, Finzi was both physically and morally exhausted by the blows he had suffered in past years, and he died a few months later, before the war had ended.

After Finzi’s death, his scores went to his youngest sister Ada Finzi, and then to a schoolmate and friend, musicologist Giulio Confalonieri. When Confalonieri died many years later, in 1972, a housekeeper called Bruno Finzi, and told him: “I have a trash can full of your father papers. Do you happen to be interested in them?”

Bruno Finzi kept them. In the 1990s, an old friend of his, a pianist, was looking for new music, and so the younger Finzi offered his father’s scores. Thus began the rediscovery of Aldo Finzi’s music. This month’s debut of “La Serenata al Vento” featured the Donizetti Theatre’s orchestra; the singers were all Israelis originally from the Former Soviet Union, while pupils of Hamartef Theater School and Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, both in Jerusalem, made the sets and costumes. Shortly thereafter, the opera was also performed in Jerusalem for the first time.

“The first time I protested what had happened to my father was in 1950,” Bruno Finzi explained presenting a concert of his father’s music a few days before the Serenata debut. “I was 25, and I caught a train and went to Rome. I managed to speak with an undersecretary to the prime minister. He listened to my story, and he offered to help me to have the music performed in Bergamo’s Teatro delle Novità. But I vehemently refused: My father’s music had to be performed in La Scala or nowhere else, I thought. Today, I am not disappointed that La Scala doesn’t show any particular interest in my father’s music. On the contrary, I feel grateful to La Scala, because at least the jury of the contest did not choose another winner over my father.”

Rossella Tercatin is a reporter for Pagine Ebraiche, the magazine of Italian Jewry.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.