Bella Ciao! A festival of Italian culture in Bedford


Bedford’s Italian heritage is being celebrated this month by Bedford Music Club’s Bella Ciao! festival – a joyful combination of Italian culture and classical music.

This “love letter” to Italy comprises 30 events at seven different venues throughout the town centre from 15 – 27 April.

From opera to jazz, cinema to poetry, local history to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, there’s something for everyone to immerse themselves in ‘la dolce vita’ right on our doorstep.

The festival takes its name from the Italian protest song, Bella Ciao! which was originally sung by 19th-century workers, later becoming a symbol of resistance to Fascism and Italy’s re-emergence as a modern democracy.

The packed programme can be found at the Bedford Music Club website, but here are some of our handpicked highlights to whet your appetito:

To start things off, the festival will host a screening of the classic Italian film Cinema Paradiso in association with Bedford Film Society at the University of Bedfordshire on Monday, 15 April at 7.30pm. Tickets are £5.

“Alfredo!” (Cinema Paradiso)

On Friday, 26 April, a number of the teenage choir members who appeared in a 1973 BBC documentary about Italians in Bedford will be reunited to sing Arrivederci Roma again, over 50 years since they last sang it and on Friday, 19 April there will be a world premiere of work commissioned from Valentine Ciardelli, played by the De Parys Sextet at Bunyan Meeting Room.

Members of the choir have been reunited for the festival. Image: BBC Archive

Discover what it was like to grow up Italian in Bedford with Lydia Saul (The Higgins) and Dr Selena Daly (UCL) who will be sharing stories and memories of Italian settlement over the last 60 years. 

On Saturday, 27 April, find out about Garibaldi’s historic visit to Bedford in 1864, with a guided walk including lunch.

Also on 27 April, you can experience Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with a difference. The Royal College of Music Baroque Orchestra will be joined by young people reading Vivaldi’s little-known seasonal sonnets, while on Sunday, 5 May the event will wrap up with the Read Poets Society at the Eagle Bookshop, exploring the profound influence of Italy on English writers and literature.

Valentine Ciardelli will be performing at Bella Ciao! Image: Bedford Music Club
Valentine Ciardelli will be performing at Bella Ciao! Image: Bedford Music Club

“We will be celebrating all things Italian for people of all ages,” said Bedford Music Club chair, Ian Rowlands, “Even school assemblies in Bedford will ring to the sound of O Sole Mio throughout the festival!”

You can discover the full programme and book tickets online at the Bedford Music Club website here.

This article was originally published in the April issue of the Bedford Clanger