music and its mysteries in Italy

Each year the Italian government chooses a topic as the focus of the ‘week of Italian in the world’. Researchers, institutions and practitioners in the field of Italian as a FL are asked to focus their work on the topic of the year, which is The Italian of music, the music of Italian in 2016.

In this essay the leading figure of ITALS, the research and formation centre of Italian as a second and foreign language of Venice University, discusses the importance of a type of Italian music, i.e. the opera, which had and still has an important role in the spread of the Italian language and culture.

The main idea of the essay is that the opera is not just a form of theatre, but the theatre in Italy in the XIX century, both as far as quantitative and qualitative literary production is concerned, and because it was the opera that attracted the attention of both literate and illiterate Italians, and it was the operas, and not the normal dramas, that discussed the political, social and existential issues that were relevant in those years.

In Italy, musicians’ employment  have been worrying for a long time. Some useful background information: There are 71 conservatories or equivalent institutions in Italy (compared to 52 in Spain, 25 in France, and less than 20 in Japan, Australia and Finland). In 2000, there were around 33,000 music graduates, and in the last years that number has nearly doubled to a total of more than 54,000 graduates. There are currently around one hundred music high schools (upper secondary schools) in Italy,  and more than 500 lower secondary schools that have a special focus on music. There are more than 10,000 music teachers (of whom 7,000 are employed by conservatories). But there is virtually no teacher  turnover as 70% of teaching positions are permanent, and teachers remain in place until they retire at 66-68 years of age. The legislation around these issues is still very confusing, partially due to to the new government.

These figures should give us reason to think. The first consequence is that graduates between 26 and 35/40 years of age are unable to find teaching work. And obtaining teaching qualifications – without any guarantee of a job – requires three more years of study! There are about 70 orchestras in Italy: 14 opera orchestras (Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice, Petruzzelli, San Carlo etc.), many of which are in financial difficulties, have an average of 60-70 employees and whose primary programming focus is on operas rather than on symphonic music; 14 regional orchestras (partially supported by the state); local orchestras and other orchestras which are subsidised with public and private money but which have very limited activity. RAI (Italy’s national broadcasting company) used to have four symphony orchestras (in Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples), but they were closed down in 1994 and replaced by the RAI National Orchestra.

In this chaotic context, which is partially uncontrolled (too many conservatories, which offer every level of study from the basic to the highest!), we are now paying the price for the legislative disarray and the “uncontrolled authorisations” which were commonplace in the 70s and 80s. It is really difficult to imagine how at least 30,000 professionally trained “new musicians” (out of those 54,000  who have finished their studies in the last 15 years) will be placed for  employment in the music field.

This situation has led to the creation of numerous new chamber ensembles, many of which operate at a high level and attract young people who have a desire to perform, as well as a large number of private associations that organise concerts. All of this is done with a very small budget and largely through self-promotion. The net salary of a musician in a local orchestra, for example, varies from 40 to 60 euro per day, with no formal contract in place. “Today I work, but tomorrow… who knows.”

We need to urgently think about and create new professional opportunities to cater for those who have graduated with a music degree.


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