“The Girl Under the Piano” is a book by Micaela Magiera, whose parents were singer Mirella Freni and pianist Leone Magiera. The book traces her early life with her parents, each musical prodigies and geniuses, as well as the bond with rising star Luciano Pavarotti.
It was an autumn morning, when I met author Micaela Magiera. I had been wanting to talk to her for a long time and wanted to learn about what was hidden behind the creation of her book. I had many questions to ask, some more important than others. Since I had personally read her amazing story, as a reader, I was curious to understand some passages and shades that only the author could reveal.
Chatting with her allowed me to discover the point of view of being a child growing up in the world of the arts. I allowed her to guide me, word after word, through the exploration of family life, which is usually woven with professional life. Our meeting allowed me to discover the most intimate and personal features of a number of world-renowned artists. It revealed that these individuals must face the difficulties of life, just as one would expect.
“The Girl Under the Piano” is a work of art that narrates, with deep mastery, the youth and the debut of Mirella Freni, Leone Magiera and Luciano Pavarotti – three major characters of the “balcantistica” musical scene of the 20th century. The book, through its romantic style, leads the reader to discover three portraits of the artists, filled with life and humanity and presented a clear and honest view of the little girl of that time.
My interview with Micaela Magiera was filled with emotions and I never wanted it to end.
Francesca Cuoghi: What motivated you to write this book?
Micaela Magiera: The desire to leave a memory of these great characters. The immediate motivation came when I saw my mother, after a quick surgery, in a hospital bed. She’s always been a fighter. In that moment, the idea I had for a long time of writing became even stronger. But also, the main reason was the intention to witness the message, the human message that my protagonists left me. I believe, indeed, that my parents and Luciano Pavarotti’s lives could be an example for the young generation – their success was not immediate. It was the result of a long conquest and big sacrifices. Thanks to them, I learned that success does not necessarily mean fame, but rather a personal satisfaction after the realization of goals and aims. It requires a lot of passion, engagement in studying, tenacity and support from loved ones. Innate talents only are not enough.
FC: How has it been to rebuild your parents’ life path?
MM: It has not been easy at all, but empathizing with them while writing helped me to understand them better. It was particularly complicated; moving between the objective narration, reported by the little girl and the more critical version told by the grown woman of today. I resolved this disagreement by inserting appendixes at the end of each chapter, where I explained my considerations.
FC: Do you remember the day when everything began, when you wrote the first words?
MM: I do remember. It was a very specific moment. I had already reordered all the letters that my parents exchanged since 1950, when they were 15 and 16-year-olds, up through 1970. I knew I would need them sooner or later, yet I never found the time; maybe the right moment was still to come. Sometimes life is strange…I started writing when I broke my foot, an event that forced me to stay still on the couch which offered me the chance to find the time to completely dedicate myself to the writing of the book. The writing took me more or less a year and then I had to go through corrections and look for an editor, whom I found in “Artestampa” in Modena, Italy. I wanted the book to be published on June 26th, my father’s birthday and I made it.
FC: I was positively impressed by the picture you chose for the cover and also by the title, filled with meaning. Where did it come from?
MM: The title came from an idea of my father. At first, I wanted to title it “Rua Del Muro 68,” the house of the Magiera family, which guides the entire story. The narration starts in that same house, in the historic center of Modena, where my dad lived as a child and ends when we moved to a more modern apartment. “The Girl Under the Piano” reflects my memories of when I was a child when I used to play under the piano while my parents and Luciano studied for hours.
FC: While reading the book, it is clear that it is not a biography, but it is set during a period of very important historic moments for Italy – the war, its end and decades of the 1960s and the 70s.
MM: I wanted to recall the reality and the atmosphere of those years – the devastation brought by the war, the reconstruction and the economic boom. Showing the lives of my characters in the historical and familiar background where they grew up was a key way to better understand their personalities, their choices and reactions. I felt as though it was my pleasure to dive deeply into their fairytale lives and tell their stories.
FC: How did you feel, when you reached the last chapter?
MM: I felt empty for a couple weeks. I asked myself: “And now?” I did not know what kind of fate my work would face; whether I would manage to publish the book; if so, would the audience like it…I had my sons and some of my dearest friends read it. They gave me positive feedback, but since the story was very personal, I had no idea how the world would have reacted to it.
FC: After you overcame this moment of insecurity and doubts, you made it to the end with the belief that you created a work of art that is rich in its culture, yet also very human. Who did you want to dedicate it to?
MM: To the future generations, to the young, because I hope that they could draw some examples from it; that they could understand that nothing can be obtained in life without engagement, even if it is always worth chasing your dreams with passion and determination. I chose to talk about the “unsuccessful” years, the hard years of falls and delusions, years that, regardless of the difficulties, prepare one to face your future. I wanted to put under the right light my father’s and Adua’s roles; characters who were left a bit more in the shadow, even if they were essential figures. Then, I tried to explain that strange coincidence where in the same small town and in the same study room (the piano room of Rua Muro 68), two of the greatest lyric singers were born. Without that bond of friendship, which bound them and allowed a continuous exchange of ideas and experiences. I don’t think their professional careers would have gone in the same way. Besides the unquestioned professional value of the characters that I wrote about, I hope I was able to pass along the core values of the individuals.
FC: Is there going to be a sequel? Will you write more books, based on the success your first book?
MM: I love writing. Even when I used to work as a lawyer, I always gave special attention to the redaction of the acts. This might be a new beginning for me. I have many ideas in my mind. I love challenging myself to see what heights I can reach.
Among the recognitions received, Micaela Magiera won the award of the criticism at the literary contest “Milano International” and she was also a finalist for the Carver Award. Her book is available for purchase on Amazon.
Sadly, Mirella Freni passed away at her home in Modena, Italy on February 9,, 2020, following a long illness. She was 84. An exemplary operatic prima donna for nearly 50 years, she was known for her beguiling stage presence and quiet charisma. She first won international acclaim in 1963, singing the role of Mimì in the Franco Zeffirelli production of Puccini’s “La Bohème” at La Scala in Milan. In later years, Ms. Freni enjoyed teaching at the University of Bologna and also established a separate center for the study of singing in the town of Vignola. She is survived by her daughter, Micaela Magiera; two grandchildren and her sister, Marta Fregni.