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Remarks for the Italian Embassy event

Carole Watson, Acting Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities

Embassy of Italy
3000 Whitehaven St. NW
Washington, DC 20008
United States

September 25, 2013

Thank you for that lovely introduction. It is my great pleasure to welcome you to a celebration the work of Giuseppe Verdi on the occasion of his 200th anniversary, and to thank the Italian Cultural Institute and the National Trust for the Humanities for making this event possible.

The National Endowment for the Humanities founding legislation says that “an advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity.” In other words, the United States cannot sustain its international position by concentrating only on computers, technology and business. It also must support scholarship in the humanities—subjects such as philosophy, history, literature--- and music.

The Verdi project began more than 30 years ago when the University of Chicago Press, Casa Ricordi of Milan (Verdi’s original publishers), and the authoritative musicologist, Charles Rosen (who was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Obama in 2011), all agreed that a critical edition of the operas of Giuseppe Verdi was needed. Verdi operas had been heavily censored before they could be performed and many mistakes had crept in during copying. Dr. Philip Gossett, then as now the foremost scholar on 19th Century Italian opera, was asked to be “general editor” of a team of scholars.

Giuseppe Verdi composed his great works as Europe was convulsed by a series of revolutions and Italy was in violent turmoil preceding the country’s unification. Three layers of censors—representing the church, thecrown and the police—tried to keep dangerous notions of liberty, freedom and immorality out of opera, which was an important and immensely popular means of cultural communication.

By the mid twentieth century, scholars, musicians and the public wanted to know what Verdi really wrote. NEH began making grants to help fund some of the costs of long-term bi-continental scholarship in 1981. Thirty-two years later, 16 of a projected 39 volumes have been published.

Surely this is scholarship of the highest order. It provides lasting insight into the tumultuous 19th century. At a time when there were no movies, radio shows, videos or webcasts, opera was a potent force. It mattered because it was not only beautiful but it could also be used to convey political, social, and cultural ideas and advocate change. Today NEH is proud to support research that reveals the genius of Giuseppe Verdi and the power of the humanities.

And now, please welcome to the stage our moderator, Kenneth Feinberg, the former chairman of the board of the Washington National Opera. Mr. Feinberg could be used as the definition of an opera lover. He owns 9,000 recordings, and can recognize Verdi’s “Don Carlo, Act One, Enrico di Giuseppe” in the middle of a press interview on his handling of the compensation paid the victims of the tragedy of the events of 9/ll.

Ken Feinberg has been called the national Great Decider. He has handled the payments to the victims not only of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks, but also to the victims of the shootings at Virginia Tech, and of Hurricane Katrina, and Hurricane Sandy, and now to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings. Mr. Feinberg, who is a true practitioner of the humanities, holds history and law degrees. His most recent books include “What is Life Worth” and “Who Gets What: Fair Compensation after Tragedy and Financial Upheaval.”

Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Ken Feinberg.