Like the now-celebrated opera composer Giuseppe Verdi, chef Massimo Bottura was, for some time, the most misunderstood man in Italy. Verdi’s first operas were met with verbal jeers and remarks of negativity. Bottura’s interpretation of signature Italian dishes earned him expressions of concern at best and warrants for his excommunication at worst. For the both of them, it took some time for the reception to turn in their favor.
To this end, to enjoy the lavish successes of both men in one night was a true pleasure. Taking place in one of the nicest rooms at one of the most revered of the New York City private clubs, guests joined The Mayor of Parma, Federico Pizzarotti, The Scientific Director of Teatro Regio, Francesco Izzo, and Teatro Regio di Parma‘s General Director, Anna Maria Meo at the Metropolitan Club for an evening of Italian indulgence- a multimodal sampling of Italian culture, including speeches from the leadership, a lavish meal by the world’s finest chef, a top soprano’s performance, a silent auction, and an explanation of this season’s festival lineup.
About that: in line with the principle of immersion, the program for the 22nd season (September 22 through October 16th) offers the opportunity of, “seeing Verdi in the land of Verdi; to live where he lived; performed in theaters where he worked (with the sound as he knew it), and having the food and wine he knew grown in his own terroir”.
In 2022, the performances include three staged operas La Forza del Destino, Il Trovatore, and Simon Boccanegra, each based on a contemporary Spanish play that Verdi admired. These seminal works were brought to his attention through the talented actress, mistress, and then wife of Verdi, Margherita Barezzi, who spoke fluent Spanish.
As a tantalizing demonstration of what is to come in Parma later this year, soprano Eleonora Buratto performed Verdi’s tragic aria, Morrò, ma prima in grazia from Un Ballo in Maschera followed by Un bel di from Puccini’s Madam Butterfly. Burrato may be particularly familiar with this piece as its found in the role she just finished performing at The Met Opera. This performance was a very intense moment for the entire room. I was standing by a giant window, just by chance, surveying the crowd. It was a small miracle for Buratto to hold the room; even the curtains and chandeliers seemed to be listening.
Now, the meal. It is exceedingly rare for a chef to even reveal himself at these types of marathon meals. It is wholly Italian to care about the food. It is only Massimo Bottura who can make the meal seem so overwhelmingly emotional. The French maintain that 70% of your enjoyment of something is how it looks. Some reasonable portion can be applied to how it was described.
Bottura, as an orator, uses every inch of cultural leverage he has to sell you on whatever it is. His formation of story is expert. That is, exhaustive explanations with many words you’d never use to describe food, from deeply abstract to immediately apparent, infused with timing that is refreshing to the American ear. Courses included “Beautiful, Psychedelic Spin Painted Veal”, which was a tribute to Damien Hirst and a deconstructed “Crunchy Part of the Lasagna,” a tribute to the chef’s mother. It could be disregarded as marketing. But on my way to the bathroom, I found Bottura and his brow wilted in worry, peeking around from behind the entrance to the kitchen. I asked if all was alright. “The risotto just went out.”
The evening’s guest of honor was conductor Ricardo Frizza who has been thrilling audiences with The Met’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Other guests included author Bill Buford and wine writer Jessica Green, chef Francois Payard, critic and documentarian Ruth Reichl, patron Barbara Tober, and chef Laurent Tourondel.