In his second guest post for us, composer Larry Alan Smith tells us about his own early experiences of ‘Il Bel Canto’ and writes about the famous Italian soprano, Maria Caniglia – after whom our theatre is named.  The annual opera competition, held here in Sulmona for over 30 years, begins this week.


Is there any musical genre that is more Italian than opera? I could name several contenders, but I think opera wins by a landslide! It is something that is in the blood. Play a familiar operatic tune to an Italian audience, and invariably, someone will start humming or singing along.  

As an Italian-American, one of my earliest childhood memories involves opera. My maternal grandparents were both born in Raiano, a small village just 15 kilometers from Sulmona, but they met and were married in Canton, Ohio (USA) where they raised eight children. My grandparents had a player piano in the living room, and on Sundays, the piano rolls provided family entertainment enabling everyone to hear and sing Italian opera arias despite being so far away from home. That was some of the first music I ever heard.

Enrico Caruso XVII

As an aside . . . Another bit of family history involves the great Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso (1873-1921). Caruso performed at the Canton (Ohio) Grand Opera House for the Sons of Italy Lodge on May 16, 1919. My grandparents somehow managed to find enough money to attend the concert with their children. It must have been an extremely powerful and meaningful event for the many Italians who had immigrated to Canton from Italy at the turn of the century.

In 1905, another great Italian opera singer, soprano Maria Caniglia, was born in Naples to parents of Abruzzese descent from nearby Rivisondoli. From her opera debut in Turin in 1930 until her final performance in Cairo in 1959, she was considered one of the leading singers of her generation. In addition to regular performances in all of the major opera houses in Italy, Caniglia was known internationally, and her appearances included the Paris Opéra, London’s Covent Garden and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in New York during the fall of 1938.

Maria Caniglia

Caniglia regularly performed with some the greatest singers and conductors of the 20th Century, including tenor Beniamino Gigli and conductor Arturo Toscanini.  She performed a wide range of repertoire, but she was most well known for her Verdi and Puccini roles. Maria Caniglia died in Rome in 1979 at the age of 73.

Listen to a 1938 recording of soprano Maria Caniglia and baritone Armando Borgioli singing “Vissi d’arte, vissi d’amore” from Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. Oliviero De Fabritiis conducts the orchestra of Rome’s Royal Opera House.  

The theatre of Sulmona was built between 1931 and 1933, and Maria Caniglia was one of the performers when the building was inaugurated on May 4, 1933. Two operas were presented: Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi and Andrea Chénier by Umberto Giordano. In 2001, Sulmona paid tribute to Maria Caniglia by renaming the theatre in her honor. The Teatro Comunale “Maria Caniglia” di Sulmona is the largest of the theaters in the Abruzzo Region

Maria Caniglia is also remembered through the existence of the International Singing Competition Maria Caniglia in Sulmona. Formed in 1984, the competition is now in its 32nd year. One of the key individuals responsible for both the renaming of the theater and the formation of the competition was the late Filippo Tella. As a ten-year-old boy, he was in the audience on May 4, 1933 when the theatre opened. Opera and the magnificent voice of Maria Caniglia made a lasting impression on him, and thanks to Filippo Tella, Maria Caniglia’s artistry continues to impact the musical life of Sulmona.

Listen to a recording of soprano Maria Caniglia singing “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” from La Wally by Alfredo Catalani. The details of this recording are unknown.

For those visiting Sulmona, the 32nd International Singing Competition Maria Caniglia will take place from December 8-13, 2015 in the Teatro Comunale “Maria Caniglia” di Sulmona. 

For further information, contact the Competition Office at +39 0864 212207 or visit

About The Author

Larry Alan Smith (Di Pietro) is an Italian-American composer, conductor, pianist, educator and arts executive who divides his time between Sulmona and Avon, Connecticut in the USA where he is Professor of Composition at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford. Dr. Smith is also the Artistic Director of the Sulmona-based Associazione Musicale Peligna.

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