Once upon a time, long before the Berlusconi era, when Italians still deeply valued their national culture, they did their utmost to preserve, invest in and honor their heritage, not only at home but abroad, exporting their pride in the legacy of the greatest artists of their native land wherever they went. In New York, when Italian immigrants began flooding in during the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, this devotion took the form of a series of statues funded by popular subscription (organized by the editor of the newspaper Il Progresso Italo-Americano) and erected around the city in tribute to significant figures in Italian history.
The statue of Christopher Columbus that towers over Columbus Circle is well known, but I suspect fewer residents and visitors to the Big Apple realize that just a few blocks north of there, the composer who towered over the opera scene in Italy for most of the nineteenth century is honored with a statue of his own. It stands in a triangular island, on Broadway between 72nd and 73rd Streets, known as Verdi Square.
I had been vaguely aware of the presence of the statue since its restoration in 1996, but I hadn't paid close attention until yesterday, when the afternoon sunshine of a perfect spring day, glinting off the figure of Verdi, caught my attention from across the Great White Way. Wandering over to take a look at my favorite composer rising up out of his bed of tulips, I noticed for the first time the four figures surrounding the lower part of the monument. I recognized only one of them right off, but it was clear that they were all characters from the operas, and a helpful sign on the wrought-iron fence confirmed my guesses about the other three. (You can find that information on the Parks Dept. website as well.) With the warm weather having finally arrived and the Met season still going, I highly recommend that any Metgoers who have a few minutes to kill before a performance take a walk up to Verdi Square and see for themselves.
Meanwhile, I leave you with the following description of the dedication of Verdi's statue back in 1906, from the aforementioned website:
"The sculptures were unveiled by Barsotti's grandchild, who pulled a string that released a helium balloon, lifting the monument's red, white and green shroud (the colors of the Italian flag). As it peeled away, a dozen doves — concealed in its folds — were released into the air, and flowers cascaded from the veil upon the participants."
Oh to have been a New Yorker in the good old days!
LOUISE T. GUINTHER