An interview with Carlo Arborio Mella

I see this not as a job, but as a mission to get opera to as many people as possible.

Helen Glave
February 21, 2008

 Carlo Arborio Mella is one of the people behind the scenes at the Teatro Comunale of Florence.Originally from Turin, he has been part of the theatre since 1986. He is responsible for public relations and, more recently fund-raising and promotions for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.


Tell us exactly what you do at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino.


My job involves external relations, which mostly entails fund-raising and attracting a wider public to the theatre. Our funds come from local authorities, corporations and individuals.In raising funds, we also try to cultivate the idea of supporting an opera house. For some years we’ve been doing this through the organization of special events.For instance, recently there was a big dinner for more than 130 people with Zubin Meta, Vittorio Sgarbi and other VIPs.Also, every May for the last seven years we have organized a wine auction in collaboration with the Corsini Wine Estate. This is a new occasion to involve a section of the public that would not normally be involved in the day-to-day life of the theatre, although obviously the cultures of wine and music are very close.


How has the opera-going public changed over the years?


The picture has changed a lot. Until the late nineties, 60 percent of our public would come in large groups and everything would be organized by a travel agency. Now the groups are much smaller—about four or five people—and they organize everything by themselves.  


How difficult is it to fill an opera-house?


It depends. If the opera is considered difficult the production has to be special. The last Wagner opera we did was Das Rheingold - Die Walküre. Wagner is considered tough but it was a stunning production, co-produced by the La Fura Dels Baus group of directors and actors from Barcelona.We had water coming down and mermaids splashing about, people diving into the water and then coming up and singing under the baton of Zubin Mehta. It was incredibly well done. There were so many things to watch and pay attention to. Then there are subtitles, which also help to bring opera to a wider audience. Subtitles were used in the Teatro Comunale for the first time in Italy in 1986.


You must have met many people in your work with the theatre.Who has made a powerful impression on you?


I would have to say Jonathan Miller Because he has a typically British sense of humour, combined with a knowledge of the human mind translated into artistic expression. He’s a neurologist and has a tremendous ability to make the human body perform in terms of psychological engagement and artistic perception. Musically speaking, someone I admire is Zubin Mehta. He’s a true citizen of the world. 


In this respect I think there is something special about this profession. In the end, where you come from may be important, but if you are in the music profession, you represent a cultural heritage which belongs to the world.


By now, do you think of yourself as a Florentine?


I don’t feel like a Florentine. I have a different mind-set because I was born and brought up in Turin. But I do feel that Florence is Italy much more than Turin can ever be. I feel this is the centre of Italy, the centre of things.And then, frankly, I have found that on a global level it’s much easier to say ‘I’m from Florence’—it works so much better. But I can’t deny my origins.

I think of Florence as a vast well, a pozzo. There is a big international community in Florence: at the same time there is a smaller milieu that is truly Florentine, that belongs to Florence and wants to be Florentine, and is fiercely jealous of it, from the language to the food. It’s a part of Florence that won’t change easily, even with the vicinity and influence of the international community.


What else would you like to achieve in your job?


I see this not as a job, but as a mission.It’s a mission to get opera to as many people as possible. There is one thing that I would do again if I could. In 1985 we tried inviting blind people to the theatre. We have always had blind people in our audience. But this time while they were listening, we also had someone explaining the movements that the actors were making on stage.It was wonderful. But it wasn’t repeated.If I could, I would repeat the experiment.If you imagine the opera-going public as a pie-chart, quite a large wedge belongs to people with disabilities. And unless we also get opera to these people we are not doing our job properly. That’s the way I see it.

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