When the Filipino-American Lolita Valderrama Savage, an internationally recognized painter, moved to Italy for the first time in 1973, she would not imagine that sooner or later her art would have come up beside the romance L'Amico Fritz for an opera company. But the melodies produced by the composer Pietro Mascagni were so perfectly in tune with the colors and the harmony of Savage's art that Teatro Grattacielo could not avoid beginning a partnership. The result of it is "Tableaux of Amico Fritz," a filming performance co-produced with Camerata Bardi Vocal Academy, scheduled to be released in September.
Ms. Savage, today you live and paint in Connecticut, but your career brought you everywhere. Can you tell us about your first arrival in Italy?
Yes, it has been such a beautiful journey immersed in the arts for me. Italy was my first trip ever, in 1973. I was a young woman who just finished university at the University of Santo Tomas, the oldest catholic university in Asia, in the Philippines. I remember I have started teaching art history there, but then I got an offer to go to Italy with a scholarship. I could not say no.
Where did you end up living in Italy?
I started at the Università per Stranieri in Perugia to learn the Italian language, and then I went to the Accademia di Belle Arti in Firenze. It was beautiful.
What is the first memory of Italy that you have?
My greatest memory was being exposed to all kinds of people. Both in Perugia and Florence, I found a very international environment. It was a mixture of different types of people from all over the world, reunited in Italy to learn and promote arts. And I loved that. That was where my international experience started, actually.
You were born in Manila, Philippines, and you are a U.S. citizen, but you have to feel a bit Italian, too.
Oh, yeah! My artistic career is very strongly intertwined with Italy. My first international group art exhibition was presented at the Palazzo Strozzi in 1975. And I am a member of many non-profit organizations and associations such as the American International League of Florence, L'Associazione Culturale Giovanni Papini di Firenze, the Società delle Belle Arti Circolo degli Artisti at Casa di Dante in Florence. Also, I own a second home in Firenze and have good friends all over Italy. I feel a bit Italian, for sure.
You are a successful painter internationally recognized. What is your attitude toward art and painting? What does it mean for you?
As an artist, I love beauty, happiness, and joy. This is what I put out in the paintings. I am not one of the artists that share their frustrations or pain through the canvass. I think that that type of approach helps us better understand life, too, but my art wants to show the opposite, how beautiful the world and nature are. It is, I think, an essential message in a historic moment like this.
Artists of any kind - painters and singers, dancers and performers - have been affected by the pandemic more than other professions and profiles. What did the last year teach us?
"Personally, I am heartbroken because I lost friends across the world, and that hurt me. We, the artists, are usually very realistic people. We absorb the harsh reality of the world around us in a way that maybe not everyone did or can understand. We also recognized the importance of music and other forms of art because they are the only things that can take us away from that harsh reality. I believe that our souls need to be taken away from it sometimes, and this is what music and paintings are still able to do today."
Let's talk about the upcoming project with Camerata Bardi and Teatro Grattacielo. How did the partnership begin?
I was introduced by Anna Balzani, editor and founder of “Florence is You”, who wrote a brilliant review about my last exhibit in Firenze, a show that was sponsored by the city of Florence and the city of Stamford, Connecticut, where I live. She approached me, and she told me, 'I think your paintings would get along amazingly with the Mascagni's music.' She then told me more about the L'Amico Fritz project, and I was so excited to be part of it. I could not say no."
What does make this combination so ideal?
"People should know that arts and music are the secret to putting people together. So, having my name and my paintings connected to Mascagni's melody is an honor. It is all about arts, you know."
What outcome do you expect from the performance L'Amico Fritz?
"I think it is going to be a great show since fantastic professional people will work on it. Stefanos Koroneos is a great director, and he will be able to put together an incredible combination of paintings and music. I am looking forward to seeing the final result in September."
Over the last year, the world has changed. Will the art evolve its role, too?
I think the cohesive role of art will continue. The purpose of art is to put people together, regardless of the color of their skin and their nationalities. Art focuses on the similarities that we have as human beings, not on the differences. So, I think that, pandemic or not, art is the best way we have to strengthen our love for humanity, now and forever."