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New Additions to Intangible Cultural Heritage List

UNESCO has added Italian opera singing - along with 54 other practices from around the world - to its Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

Interior of La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1837
Interior of La Fenice opera house in Venice in 1837 | Wikipedia

The agency, the cultural arm of the United Nations, created the list in 2008 to help safeguard traditions, festivals, rites of passage, art forms and other practices across the globe. The full list now includes 730 practices from 145 countries.

Opera singing joins several other Italian traditions on the list, including truffle hunting and pizza making. And recently, Italy has applied for Unesco status for espresso coffee, arguing that it's “much more than a simple drink”.

Italian opera is a “physiologically controlled way of singing that enhances the carrying power of the voice in acoustic spaces such as auditoriums, amphitheaters, arenas and churches,” writes UNESCO. “Performed by people of all genders, it is associated with specific facial expressions and body gestures and involves a combination of music, drama, acting and staging.”

The practice dates back to the Medici family in Florence in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. Jacopo Peri’s Dafne, which was performed for the Medicis in 1598, is considered the first Italian opera.

Six of the new additions are “in need of urgent safeguarding,” according to UNESCO. These include Syrian glassblowing, olive cultivation in Turkey and a Malaysian theater tradition called Mek Mulung.

The non-urgent additions include several annual events, such as the Rotterdam Summer Carnival in the Netherlands, the Sango Festival of Oyo in Nigeria, the Junkanoo festival in the Bahamas and the Shuwalid festival in Ethiopia. Many food dishes also made the list, including ceviche (raw fish marinated in citrus) in Peru and Xeedho (a celebratory wedding dish) in Djibouti.

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