Italian opera singing gets UNESCO cultural heritage status

Italy now has 16 assets of national culture and tradition and 59 sites of “Outstanding Universal Value”

The Italian opera singing has been inscribed on the UNESCO representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The official announcement was made on 6 December 2023 at the eighteenth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Botswana, Africa. In Italy, the practice of “bel canto” includes all the arts of opera: music, theatre, acting and staging.

In the words of the UNESCO Intangible Heritage Committee "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. Singers are identified by vocal range and colour and divided into several registers (tenor, baritone, bass, soprano, mezzo-soprano and alto). The knowledge and skills related to Italian opera singing are transmitted orally between a maestro and pupil, through vocal exercises and the gradual introduction of different musical repertoires and styles. Performances in recitals, singing schools and workshops also contribute to the transmission of the practice, as well as formal education in conservatories and academies. Furthermore, the beginning of an opera season often coincides with local festivities and ceremonies. The practice promotes collective cohesion and sociocultural memory, and is closely linked with other cultural elements, such as acoustic places and poetry. It is also dependent on other professions such as stage and light design, costume tailoring, scenography and makeup. A means of free expression and intergenerational dialogue, its cultural value is recognized at national and international levels."

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.

Italy now has 16 assets of national culture and tradition. Together with opera singing, the following have been recognised by UNESCO, in chronological order:

  • the Opera dei Pupi (Sicilian puppet theatre)
  • “canto a tenore” (Sardinian tenor singing)
  • traditional violin craftsmanship in Cremona
  • the Mediterranean diet
  • celebrations of large shoulder-borne processional structures
  • the head-trained bush vines of Pantelleria
  • falconry
  • the art of Neapolitan pizza
  • the art of dry stone walling
  • the tradition of Celestinian forgiveness in L’Aquila
  • Alpinism
  • transhumance
  • the Venetian art of glass beads
  • the musical art of horn players
  • the truffle hunting and extraction.

Meanwhile, there are also 59 Italian sites of “Outstanding Universal Value” on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

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