Trieste art and culture

This is an excerpt from the book “Trieste and Friuli”. by Enrico Massetti. Get the ebook for the complete content.

Trieste in the evening – Photo © Gabriella Marino

The City of the Music and Theatre
Trieste boasts an established tradition in music in general, but equally long-standing is its passion for all types of theatre production, confirmed every year by the remarkable number of tickets sold in proportion to the population. Many public and private institutions organise programmes of concerts and performances in the city’s theatres, churches, museums and other venues, some of which are open-air. The main center of production is the Fondazione Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, which stages performances in the splendid Verdi Theatre and the smaller Sala Tripcovich. In two centuries of history the Teatro Nuovo, opened on April 21st 1801 with Giovanni Simone Mayr’s opera Ginevra di Scozia and subsequently renamed the Teatro Grande, has played host, among other things, to the premieres of Giuseppe Verdi’s operas Il Corsaro and Stiffelio, in 1848 and 1850 respectively.

A few days after Verdi’s death in 1901 the local authorities decided to rename the theatre after him, making it the first in the world to be so named. The Fondazione Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi, which comprises a symphony orchestra, choir, corps de ballet and chamber music groups, now offers a wide range of operas, light operas, ballets and symphonic and chamber music concerts. The opera and ballet season lasts from November to May, presenting eight operas and three classical and modern ballet productions. From mid-June to mid-August the Fondazione holds the International Festival of Light Opera. The only one of its kind in Italy, it takes pride of pace in the Fondazione and the city alike. The works staged are Viennese, Italian, French and Spanish. The symphonic seasons, in May, September and October, present double performances of ten or so concerts featuring internationally renowned conductors and soloists. Sunday mornings also feature “aperitif” concerts with the Theatre’s instrumental groups or other chamber music ensembles. Another important musical institution is the Societè dei Concerti, a private non-profit-making body in activity for over 70 years which organises chamber music recitals from November to April evenings at the Politeama Rossetti.

Chamber music concerts are also staged at the Auditorium of the Museo Revoltella, where at the various times of the year a number of bodies organise short seasons mainly featuring young concert artists and international prizewinning musicians. Devotional music is presented by the Cappella Civica in San Giusto Cathedral during Sunday mass and on other Catholic festivities. The Cappella also organises concerts during Advent and Lent, and in September assists in the organisation of an organ music festival. In no way does Trieste neglect contemporary music. Every November the Associazione “Musica Libera” organises the Festival Luigi Nono. And an important contribution to the city’s music scene is the free summer evening concerts performed by the woodwinds of the Civica Orchestra di Fiati outside the Harbourmaster’s Office on the seafront, in addition to their annual concert of January 6th. A chamber music season is also offerede by the Slovene Music School, the Glasbena Matica, presenting a selection of musicians from Slav countries. Concerts by many Italian singer-songwriters are held at the Politeama Rossetti and the Sala Tripcovich, as well as in the capacious venues of the Palazzo dello Sport and the Nereo Rocco football stadium.

The Teatro Miela acts as a special venue for alternative types of music: electronic, ethnic, funky, jazz, mystic, pop, tribal – the most eclectic and innovative forms performed by musicians from all over the world. A rich selection of drama is also produced by the city’s three public theatre companies. The Teatro Stabile del Friuli Venezia Giulia (Repertory Theatre), based at the Politeama Rossetti, plays host between October and May to a varied selection of its own and guest productions, with works ranging from the great Greek classics to 20th-century plays, in addition to musicals, modern dance and the big spectacles of the new musical theatre. Interesting contemporary drama productions are also performed in the compact spaces of the new Sala Bartoli. The Repertory company of the Teatro Stabile la Contrada, based at the Teatro Cristallo, specialises in comedy theatre, with a number of productions in local dialect. The Slovene Repertory Theatre – Slovensko Stalno Gledalisce, founded in 1903 – is part of the Offspring Project, an association of European minority theatres. From December to April it presents a varied programme of drama productions, acted for the most part in Slovene. Every summer the Roman amphitheatre, a number of squares, the waterfront and other city spaces are transformed into new stages of various sizes for the presentation of all kinds of music, theatre and dance productions ranging from the most traditional and popular to the alternative and avant-garde.

Trieste Canal – Photo ©

The City of Books
Twentieth-century Trieste produced writers and poets of international standing and renown. A series of circumstances made the city a special vantage point for the observation and analysis of the problems of contemporary amn – his losses and his torments- and their consequent translation into psycological sensitivity and poetic expression. Trieste has always generated individuals in search of their raison d’etre. Here, identity has to constructed personally because the one an individual is born with does not include the certainty of belonging to a territory with its own rules and traditions. Scipio Slataper, the brevity of whose life deprived the city of a crystalline intellect, as well as a writer who had pinpointed the peculiarities of his birthplace, wrote, “Trieste is a place of transition – geographical, historical, cultural and commercial – that is to say a place of struggle.

Everything in Trieste is dual or triple, starting with the flora and finishing with ethnicity”. Analytical and introspective research run through the work of Svevo and Saba alike. The very names of these writers make up a sort of manifesto. Italo Svevo was the nom de plume of Ettore Schmitz, a Jew of German origin who chose a name that would reflect his belonging to two cultures (“Svevo” is the Italian for “Schwabian”). Umberto Saba, son of Ugo abramo Poli and Rachele Coen, decided on a pseudonym in honour of his beloved nursemaid Beppa Sabaz. Scipio is a most italian – in fact a Latin – name which went with the Slovene surname Slataper. None of them was well received by the critics of the time – they were different from their Italian contemporaries in terms of both content and form. They all had to wait for domestic recognition. Italo Svevo was born in Trieste on December 19th 1861 and died following a road accident on September 13th 1928. He gained critical acclaim abroad before being accepted in Italy, partly as a result of the “spurious” quality of his language, which made the limpidity of his narrative difficult to appreciate. Only well after publication did A life, Senility and

The Conscience of Zeno, to name only the most successful of his works, find the place they deserve in the 20th-century literary firmament. Scipio Slataper was born in Trieste on July 14th 1888 and died on December 3rd 1915 on the Italian front line at Podgora. His My Carso analyses Trieste’s relationship with its Slovene hinterland and the cultural peculiarities deriving from it. Umberto Saba was born in Trieste on March 9th 1883 and died in Gorizia on August 25th 1957. His poetry, whose finest expressions is Il Canzoniere, draws heavily on his own life experience in the formulation of an introspection which verges on psychoanalysis. The baton of this analysis, and an awareness that a configuration of ungovernably changing factors may always call human destiny into question, especially for a border people, was taken up in the second half of the century by Fulvio Tomizza, who died in Trieste in 1999. He was born on January 26th 1935 in Materada, in Istria – once Austrian, then Italian, subsequently Yugoslav and now in Croatia. He brought his lucid awareness to the torment of the people who have lived in these lands. Materada, The Girl from Petrovia and The Acacia Wood, indeed his work as a whole, stand as an attempt to find dialogue going beyond ethnic, social and politi cal differences.

Civic Museums
The Civic Museums of Trieste are made up of a series of museums of different types, conserving records of local history and culture. With documents telling of the city’s past, objects which belonged to far-sighted collectors, exemplifying the tastes and styles of an epoch, architectural constructions bearing witness to particular historical moments and the popular imagination of an age, together they stand as an important body of material for acquiring a knowledge of the city. The Civic Museum of History and Art is located in Via della Cattedrale. Established in the 19th century with the aim of collecting local historical and cultural material, it houses archaeological objects from prehistoric and protohistoric times, an Egyptian collection, a collection of Greek vases and rooms given over to Ancient Rome.

Annexed to the Museum is the Stone Monument Garden, whose natural greenery is an ideal setting for the cultural events held there on summer evenings. It houses Roman epigraphs, monuments and sculptures and a tiny neo-Classical temple with a cenotaph dedicated to Winckelmann. The Captain’s Garden conserves medieval and modern sculptures, plinths and inscriptions. In the nearby Castle of San Giusto is the Castle Civic Museum, housing a rich display of weapons obtained from private collections in the early 20th century. In the restored interior of the Lalio Bastion, April 4th 2001 saw the opening of the new Lapidario Tergestino, containing inscriptions, sculptures, bas-reliefs and architectural remains from Roman times. Since 1930 the Castle has been owned by the City Council, which has fitted it out as a tourist attraction and uses it for cultural events, shows and exhibitions. The Castle occupies a particularly privileged position from a panoramic point of view. The hill on which it stands gives a fine all-round view of the city and the surrounding area.

The Sartorio Civic Museum and the Morpurgo Civic Museum are named after prestigious local families who left their homes and furnishings to the City Council, which uses them to present images of the daily life of the hold Triestine bourgeoisie. The Sartorio is located in the 18th-century villa belonging to the family, which originally hailed from San Remo. On the first floor the entire interior design of the house is conserved intact: furniture, pictures, drawings, books, rugs, ornaments and other objects. The second floor houses a precious collection of drawings by Giambattista Tiepolo. There is also the Rusconi-Opuich Collection – about 2.500 pieces: paintings, drawings, prints, jewellery, fans, fabrics, objects in silver and pewter – and the Stavropulos Art Collection. A Greek-born captain of industry, collector and patron of the arts who lived in Trieste and Budapest, Socrates Stavropulos donated to the city his collection of paintings and sculptures ranging from antiquity to the 20th century. The Sartorio also boasts a collection of 18th-century Italian majolica, presented together with specimens of local and English production. The Morpurgo is sited in the apartment of a rich 19th-century family prominent in the local entrepeneurial class. Located on the second floor of a building in Via Imbriani designed in 1875 by Giovanni Berlam, it was bequeathed to the City Council in 1943 by Mario Morpurgo de Nilma, a refined collector.

It is a magnificent example of a sumptuous bourgeois residence; the interior spaces, all original, represent a range of styles typical of the second half of the 19th century. On the first floor of the same building is the Carlo Schmidl Foundation Theatrical Museum, formed from the legacy left by the music publisher after which it is named and supplemente by the archives of the Teatro Verdi and a number of other 19th- and 20th- century theatres and theatre companies. In terms of the documents and publications contained in it, in Italy it is secobd only to the museum of La Scala in Milan. It bears witness to the musical life of Trieste and its theatres from 1801 the present day with posters, programmes, photographs, prints, medals, pictures, drawings, designs, musical instruments, memorabilia, archive material and signed manuscripts.

A wealth of material is also contained in the specialised music and entertainment library, and the photograph and media libraries. The same building also houses the Civic Museum of Homeland History, which conserves documents, relics, paintings and prints telling of local folklore. In Piazza Oberdan is the Museum of the Risorgimento, housed in a purpose-built construction designed by Umberto Nordio in 1934 and decorated with frescoes by Carlo Sbiso’. It displays documents, photographs, uniforms, memorabilia and paintings related to the events and people who shaped the local Risorgimento, from the upheavals of 1848 to the First World War. On the building’s exterior is a memorial chapel dedictaed to Guglielmo Oberdan (a Triestine patriot hanged for an attempt on the life of Emperor Franz Josef in 1882) with a martyr’s cell and a monument sculpted by Attilio Selva.

Commemorating the tragic events of the Second World War is the Risiera di San Sabba, a rice-husking factory used after September 1943 as a prison, a transit camp for deportees destined for Germany and Poland, a depot for confiscated property and a detention and death campo of hostages, partisans, political prisoners and Jews. On April 4th 1944 it was fitted with a working gas oven.

In 1965 the Risiera was declared a National Monument by Decree of the President of the Republic and ten years later was rebuilt to a plan by Romano Boico, so becoming the Civic Museum of the Risiera di San Sabba. Also in the chain of city museums is the Diego de Henriquez Civic Museum of War for Peace, based on the collection of the Triestine scholar (1909-1974) after whom it is named. In addition to the ordnance and light arms on display is a huge library and a military, civilian and cartographic archive. It also has sections specialising in telecommunications, sound reproduction, seals, philately, military uniforms and headgear, prints, pictures and medals and a particularly broad-ranging photographic archive.

The recently opened Civic Museum of Oriental Art is the first in Friuli Venezia Giulia specifically devoted to this subject. Its collections and objects include Chinese and Japanese porcelain, a rich collection of Japanese silographs, travel memoirs, weapons, musical instruments and ethno-anthropological articles from all over the Asian continent, especially, China and Japan. Also part of the Civic Museum network is the Mitteleuropa Post and Telegraph Museum, opened in 1997 in the central Post Office building (designed by F. Setz). It displays records of the “postal culture” of the Region and the neighbouring countries in the central European area.

The Revoltella Museum
The Revoltella Museum is a major art gallery brought into being by the development of an institute founded in 1872 at the behest of Baron Pasquale Revoltella (1795-1869), who left his home and art collection to the city of Trieste in his Will.

Together with the building and its contents, he endowed the museum with a substantial income which enabled his legacy to be built up as the years passed, thus producing a noteworthy art collection in a relatively short time. By the end of the 19th century is comprised the work of celebrated Italian painters such as Hayez, Morelli, Favretto, Nono and Palizzi, in addition to that of many foreign artists. Over the last century the Museum has enjoyed further development, becoming a cultural institution of ever-increasing prestige and a major reference point for modern and contemporary art.

Not only does it boast the biggest names in 20th-century Italian art, including Casorati, Sironi, Carra’, Morandi, De Chirico, Manzù, Marini, Fontana and Burri, it has staged a series of exhibitions whose top-level academic content has made a significant contribution to enhancing appreciation of the art of the last two centuries. The Museum has also been able to axpand through the purchase of the nearby Palazzo Brunner, which was thoroughly restructured between 1968 and 1991 (the realisation of Carlo Scarpa’s design underwent several suspensions) to give it new facilities for the exhibition of modern art.

The Revoltella now occupies a huge complex of three buildings making up an entire block bounded by Piazza Venezia, Via Diaz, Via Cadorna and Via San Giorgio. The third building – Palazzina Basevi, whose entrance is on Via San Giorgio – houses the Museum’s management and administrative offices. Palazzo Revoltella, built in 1858 to a design by Friedrich Hitzig and lived in by Pasquale Revoltella until his death in 1869, has three floors joined by a huge spiral staircase, and conserves almost all the original furnishings and works of the Revoltella collection. The second floor gives access to the gallery of modern art, which displays a selection of over 200 19th- and 20th-century paintings.

The City of Science
Modern-day Trieste may be said to be a fullblown scientific capital. In the period following the Second World War a concerted effort was made to launch the city as an important center for the production of scientific knowledge for the benefit of developing countries but also, and significantly, the countries of central and eastern Europe. Starting from the premise that the most advanced science was essential to bring the Third World out of underdevelopment, in 1964 the International center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) was founded under the directorship of Professor Abdus Salam, a Pakistani who 15 years later was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

The center is supported by two UN agencies, the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNESCO, but the bulk of its financing is provided by the Italian government. It has contributed to the advanced training of about 60.000 scientists, most of whom are from developing countries. Subsequent years saw the foundation of the International High School for Advanced Studies (Scuola Internazionale Superiore di Studi Avanzati – SISSA), providing Englishtaught doctorate courses with an international staff and student body which has earned itself a reputation for scientific excellence.

The great strides made in molecular genetics in the 1970s led to the idea of establishing a center of excellence for research and training in genetic engineering and biotechnology with the aim of tackling the main problems besetting the Third World (food, health and economic development).
The International center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) thus came into being in 1987. It is an autonomous international body whose head office and one of two laboratories are in Trieste (the other laboratory is in New Delhi).

This center, also financed mainly by the Italian government, plays host to 150 researchers and is another body to have earned a reputation for the quality of its scintific work. In the same years the Italian government also decided on Trieste as the location for a new national Synchrotron Light Laboratory dedicated to the production ox X-rays for the study of material structures and biomolecules. The founder and first President of ELETTRA, as it is now called, was Professor Carlo Rubbia, who also won a Nobel Prize for Physics in that period.

Together with the ICGEB and a range of other research bodies, ELETTRA is located in the AREA Science Park, the biggest facility of its kind in Italy. The local scientific panorama is completed by a range of long-established such as the University, the Astronomical Observatory of the National Institute of Astrophysics, the National Institute and Experimental Geophysics, the National Research Council Institute of Marine Science, the Marine Biology Laboratory and the interactive museum facility named Science center – Immaginario Scientifico. This complex of research institutions, some of which enojy great international standing, give Trieste the well-earned reputation as a capital of science.

Where to stay in Trieste

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This is an excerpt from the book “Trieste and Friuli”. Get the ebook for the complete content.