La Scala opera house, Milan

Why Italy chose opera over espresso

Culture News

Italy’s latest UNESCO intangible cultural heritage submission is opera. But why did they choose it over espresso?

Music or coffee? That was the choice the National Committee for UNESCO was faced with when deciding on a intangible cultural submission this year.

Ultimately, the committee decided last week to put forward opera singing as the official candidate. That means the art of making espresso coffee will not sit alongside Neapolitan pizza-making. For now, anyway.

No reasons were given as to why opera bested coffee, but it did say the much-discussed application for espresso coffee was “highly appreciated”.

“With the candidacy of the Italian opera to the world’s intangible heritage, Italy is aiming to get recognition for one of its most authentic and original cultural expressions,” said culture minister Dario Franceschini after the committee’s decision.

“Italian opera singing is an integral part of the world’s cultural patrimony, which provides light, strength and beauty in the darkest hours”.

Boost for opera houses and theatres

Italy has around 60 opera houses, more than any other country in the world. They have been hard hit during the pandemic, and the UNESCO candidacy will be a great boost.

“Opera was born in Italy,” said Stephane Lissner, the French director of the San Carlo theatre in Naples, which opened in 1737. “In the 19th century, when you arrived in any Italian town, the entire population sang opera arias. It was normal,” he told AFP.

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In Italy, lyrical music “is not just reserved for the elite”, he added, although he said “the majority of the public cannot pay certain ticket prices and has been abandoned”, which he said was a “huge error”.

Espresso priced for all

In contrast, the price of an espresso is often kept below the symbolic threshold of €1 at most bars. The widespread belief is the dink should be accessible to all. Indeed, Italian coffee is enjoyed daily by the majority of the population.

Read Also: Bar fined over price of espresso

However, could the low price, which often means low quality, be part of the reason the UNESCO application was rejected? We may never know.

UNESCO’s ruling on the bid for opera is due at the end of the year.

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