A Double Career


GIUSEPPE PENNISI describes his life
as an economist in the world of music


I trained as an economist but have been in love with music since I was young. I was not raised in a musical family; my father used to say that he had difficulties in distinguishing between the Italian National Anthem and the ecclesiastical Tantum Ergo. Nonetheless, as he was attempting a not very successful political career, for social reasons he and my mother subscribed to the Rome Teatro opening night performances. When I was twelve, since my father was busy with other engagements, I was dressed up to escort my mother to a performance of Wagner's Il Vascello Fantasma, the Italian title of Der Fliegende Holländer (The Flying Dutchman), with Karl Böhm in the pit and Leonie Rysanek as Senta. I was enthralled. Thus, a life-long love affair began.

Leonie Rysanek
Leonie Rysanek

At the age of fourteen I enrolled in AGIMUS, the Italian association of young music listeners, for 300 Italian lire - the price of a cafeteria self-service lunch - for a year. This gave me access to a concert performance at the Italian radio auditorium every week and to a dress rehearsal at the Teatro dell'Opera every month. Hence I became a good listener. When older, I flirted with experimental and electronic music and started to follow the initiatives of associations such as Nuova Consonanza; once I was even able to go to the Biennial International Modern Music Festival in Venice.

After my degree in Rome, I won a full fellowship to study at the School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University on a two year program: one year in Bologna and one in Washington DC. When in Bologna, I was able to follow the Teatro Comunale season and a few performances at La Scala too, in the upper tier. Coming back home on the night train, I would reach my student apartment at 5am.

After my degree in Washington, I joined the World Bank at the age of twenty-six in the Young Professionals Program. I loved the institution and I made a reasonably good career: at the age of thirty-one, I was heading a division. I thought that my entire professional life would have been with the World Bank. In Washington, there were several opportunities to follow music: the National Symphony, the Washington Opera season, the Lisner Auditorium Opera-in-English season, a yearly two week tour of the Metropolitan Opera House and a similar tour by New York City Opera. For the bicentenary of American Independence, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosted the Paris Opera, La Scala, The Deutsche Opera-Berlin and the Bolshoi. I was such an opera buff that I planned my missions in line with the lyric season. On mission for the World Bank, I was able to catch operas in Seoul - Donizetti's Roberto Devereux, and in Addis Ababa - Orff's Der Mond - to mention a few examples.

At a certain stage, my Government invited me to join the Italian civil service in a high position to set up an office to evaluate public investments. The challenge was great. In addition, my wife – who is French - and I were quite aware that if we did not seize this opportunity, it would have been difficult to have a similar chance again. More importantly, at that time, our children were twelve and six; it would have been very hard to relocate them later because of schooling and other determinants.

In reality, my daughter and I had the strongest cultural shock: she in adjusting to a different schooling system, while I was like a Martian in a Government Ministry. We made efforts and eventually we succeeded. Concerts and operas helped me to absorb the trauma. In Rome, I became a steadfast follower of the Santa Cecilia National Academy symphony program and of the Teatro dell'Opera season. I began to go with my wife to nearby places and festivals.

Giuseppe Pennisi and his wife in front of Teatro Massimo di Palermo on 20 January 2019
Giuseppe Pennisi and his wife in front of
Teatro Massimo di Palermo on 20 January 2019

In Italy, I pursued, in parallel and in sequence, several career streams. Firstly, I was in and out of Government service until eleven years ago when I reached the compulsory retirement age of sixty-seven. I was a Director General in the Ministries of Planning and of Labor. In between my assignments in these two ministries, I had a nearly two-and-a-half-year stint with FAO (where I was terribly bored). From the Ministry of Labor, I went to the International Labor Organization as their Representative in Italy: an attractive office in a centrally located Renaissance villa and a chauffeured car, but it was clear to me that the less I did, the happier the headquarters in Geneva would be. That would not fit my temperament.

Eventually, after three and a half years, I returned to Government service, not in a ministry but as a full professor in the Public Administration School (PAS), the institution for training civil servants, especially for middle level management. The job gave me the opportunity to travel within Italy - the PAS had five venues in different Italian towns - and abroad (to 'sister institutions' and to international organizations), to research and to write. I authored and co-authored some twenty books published in Italy, France, Germany, the US and the UK. My quite flexible schedule allowed travel to operas, concerts and festivals. After retirement, the Head of State appointed me as a member of the Economic and Social Council, where I served a seven year term.

Secondly, I had a parallel activity as a columnist on economic issues for several newspapers and magazines: in sequence, Il Sole-24 Ore, Il Messagero and Il Corriere della Sera. I still write quite regularly for the national daily Avvenire and for the web magazines Il Sussidiario and Formiche.

At my wife's suggestion, some thirty year ago, I started writing opera reviews for a weekly magazine and then for a Milan financial and economic daily paper. Thus, I had to organize my lecturing according to the schedules of major Italian opera houses and European summer festivals (such as Aix-en-Provence and Salzburg).

Giuseppe Pennisi in Salzburg on 23 August 2017
Giuseppe Pennisi in Salzburg on 23 August 2017

Now, I travel from theater to theater less than in the past because ageing involves health problems, but I write about opera and classical music not only for Classical Music Daily, but also for two Italian web magazines, for two monthlies and for a very high brow quarterly.

The Pennisi family on the occasion of Giuseppe and his wife's fiftieth wedding anniversary
The Pennisi family on the occasion of Giuseppe and his wife's fiftieth wedding anniversary

Professionally, I started late in this field but I made something of a career; I was for a few years Vice President of the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto, and I am often called to serve on the panel for the yearly opera awards.

Noces d'or - fiftieth wedding anniversary celebrations for Giuseppe Pennisi and his wife
Noces d'or - fiftieth wedding anniversary celebrations
for Giuseppe Pennisi and his wife

Had we stayed in Washington, such a double career would not have been possible.

Copyright © 5 April 2020 Giuseppe Pennisi,
Rome, Italy





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