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Compared with the creation of the modern Italian Republic, the birth of the United States was fairly uneventful.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy was fragmented into numerous kingdoms and city-states. It was unified in 1861 after a tumultuous period of riots, wars, revolutions and excommunications known as Il Risorgimento ("The Resurgence"). The era was so contentious that people even disagreed over whether it was a "unification" or a "reunification" (if you consider the Romans the first unifiers).

So, with the 150th anniversary of that event, the School of Music and the Italian section of the department of languages and literature at the University of Utah have unified to create an event almost as big as the unification of the Pac-12.

Two nights of what's billed as an Italian extravaganza at Libby Gardner Hall will be dedicated to Italy's greatest opera composer, Giuseppe Verdi. Italian-language students will narrate (in Italian and English) historical background on Il Risorgimento through a series of readings and poems, while the Lyric Opera Ensemble will present Verdi's greatest hits — some of which ignited the spirit of the new country.

And there's this: gelato will be served at the end of each concert?

"This is the first time we have worked directly with one another," said Robert Breault, director of opera at the U. Students studying to be opera singers are required to take two to three years of Italian, but the School of Music previously hasn't participated in events sponsored by the Italian section of the department of languages and literature.

This is the fifth year Italian instructor Giuliana Marple will be holding a celebration of music and culture for her students. She spent the summer abroad, including time in her homeland, as Marple was born and raised in Piedmont, in the northwest region of Italy. After seeing the excitement Italians generated from celebrating the 150th anniversary of Italy, she returned to Utah with "a desire to spark the passion and work with other departments," Marple said. "We should work with the music department, because it makes so much sense."

The School of Music had been planning to celebrate Il Risorgimento in some fashion, so Breault — a frequent visitor to Italy — jumped at the chance to create a showcase for the Lyric Opera Ensemble but also provide context to the music of Verdi.

Verdi, who was born in 1813 (near Busseto, then in the D├ępartement Taro, which was a part of the First French Empire) and died in 1901, is known around the world for composing the beloved operas "La Traviata," "Rigoletto" and "Il Trovatore," as well as his Requiem. Less-known is his role in the movement to unify Italy. "He stirred up the hearts of Italians," Marple said.

Controversy still remains about how active Verdi was in the nationalist surge, but many, including Breault, see evidence of his support in the stirring, patriotic "Va, pensiero," the "Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves," from the third act of his 1842 opera "Nabucco." In addition, Verdi was elected as a member of the Chamber of Deputies in 1861, and in 1874 he was named Senator of the Kingdom by King Victor Emanuel II.

Regardless of Verdi's politics, he remains a favorite son in a country where music is still so important — Catholic Masses and even the language itself are musical, as well. Breault said there are few towns in Italy where a street isn't named after Verdi. "If there's one thing to unify Italy, it's Verdi," he said.

Marple added: "Verdi is definitely an icon. I always knew who he was, even if I didn't know much about opera or music. I wasn't the only one."

In years past, the annual Italian celebration saw Italian-language students doing their best to sing Verdi selections such as "Rataplan" from "La Forza del Destino" and the witch choruses from "Macbeth." This year, Italian-language students are thankful to have sopranos and mezzo-sopranos from the School of Music deliver them, said Daniel Alejandro Meza Rincon, a U. senior who is minoring in Italian. "I'm not a music major," he said. "I'm a business major. There's a big difference." —

Viva Verdi!

The University of Utah celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Italian Reunification (Risorgimento). The U.'s Lyric Opera Ensemble will perform selections from Verdi's "La Traviata," "Rigoletto,""Il Trovatore," Requiem and "Nabucco," among others.

When • Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18 and 19, at 7:30 p.m.

Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, University of Utah, 1375 Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City

Tickets • $7 at 801-581-7100 or (click on Music link); free for University of Utah students, $3 for other students