Italian opera singing has been recognised on a UN cultural heritage list in an acknowledgment of the practice as a “living art form”.
Italian opera made its debut in the late 1500s in Florence and went on to generate many world-renowned composers, from Claudio Monteverdi and Antonio Vivaldi to Gioachino Rossini and Giuseppe Verdi.
Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency, said Italian opera singing had been granted a place on its intangible cultural heritage list, joining other Italian practices such as the art of pizza-making.
In a statement, Unesco said: “Italian opera singing is a physiologically controlled way of singing that enhances the carrying power of the voice in acoustic spaces such as auditoriums, amphitheatres, arenas and churches.
“Performed by people of all genders, it is associated with specific facial expressions and body gestures and involves a combination of music, drama, acting and staging.”
Unesco described the practice as “a means of free expression and intergenerational dialogue”, with its cultural value “recognised at national and international levels”.
Italy’s cultural minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano, told Rai radio that the decision was “something historic … and a great recognition of bel canto [beautiful singing]”.
Beatrice Venezi, a music adviser to the culture minister, said the Unesco inclusion “makes us proud as an opera community and as Italians – this living art form is a fundamental pillar of our culture”.
The first opera in Italy is considered to be Jacopo Peri’s Dafne, performed in Florence in 1598 for the court of the Medici family.
Verdi was the greatest Italian composer of the 19th century, giving the world operas including Rigoletto, La Traviata and Otello.
The Unesco recognition came as Milan’s prestigious La Scala theatre kicked off opera season on Wednesday night with Verdi’s Don Carlo.
Other Italian practices with a coveted place on the intangible cultural heritage list include Sardinian tenor singing, the art of the Mediterranean diet and the art of glass beads. An attempt to get Italian espresso coffee on the list last year was snubbed by Italy’s Unesco commission.
Coldiretti, Italy’s biggest agricultural association, is now pushing for Italian cooking to be the country’s next candidate. “Italian catering is the most widespread and appreciated in the world,” the association said, with the US home to the largest number of Italian restaurants outside Italy.