It was late evening a long time ago, in a remote valley of the Himalayas. I’d switched on my short-wave radio transistor and suddenly picked up, through the crackling ether, the notes of Wagner’s Tannhauser overture. My heart leapt at this magnificent music.
I listened intently to the unfolding of the pilgrims’ chorus, the orgiastic tremolos of the pleasures within the Venusberg, the triumphal march and the final reprise of the pilgrims’ chorus as Tannhauser falls on the dead body of Elizabeth with the words “Holy Elisabeth, pray for me” upon his lips while his pilgrim’s staff sprouts into life – a divine sign that he has finally obtained forgiveness and that his battle between sacred and profane has at last been won by redemption through purest love – the over-riding motto of all Wagner’s cosmic creation.
(Venus having fun with with Tannhauser)
That feeling of contact with something that can fully express the inexpressible, the deepest sentiments that too often lie hidden within one’s secret self, came back again last night as I attended an all-Wagner concert given by the Orchestra Philharmonic di Lucca directed by Andrea Colombini, with soloists Francesca Patané and Nicola Simone Mugnaini, in a church, magnificent in its architecture, glorious in its acoustics and, until then, unknown to me: the Chiesa dei Servi, or Servite church in the heart of Lucca’s walled city.
La Chiesa Della Santissima Annunziata dei Servi or Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Servi was quite new to me, even after eight years living in Lucca province, because for much of that time it was closed to the public through its dangerously neglected state. Already documented in 1061, the church was given to the Servite order in 1254 and rebuilt in the late fourteenth century.
The Church became very important, as shown by its many funerary monuments, and the incorporation in 1349 of the nearby oratory of San Lorenzo. In the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century the church established a close relationship with the workshop of the great Luccan sculptor, Matteo Civitali and there are many works that result from this collaboration among which is an Annunciation.
The medieval church was largely restructured (as so many other Luccan churches) during the baroque era but it still has traces of ancient frescoes.
Now the restoration of this beautiful church is nearing completion and it is able to provide yet another glorious venue for the overflowing musical life of Lucca. The organ is another of its treasures and I would like to hear it one day.
To return to the concert: This was the programme and the encore was the scherzo from Bruckner’s magisterial 8th Symphony.
Wagner in lovely little Lucca? And Bruckner too! And such enthusiastic performances conducted by that indomitable spirit Andrea Colombini, musical entrepreneur par excellence, who, largely self-taught, proves that you have only to embrace fully and without condition the love that moves your whole life to be able to fulfil your highest aspirations and become one with the greatest artists in our frail, human world.
Thank goodness there was an interval after the Liebestod sung with electrical passion by Patané. By this time I wasn’t sure whether I was melting or burning through the sheer intensity of it all.
The celebrated overture to Die Meistersinger brought me to a more human level and one permeated with healthy joyfulness which, as Colombini stated in one of his short but illuminating introductions to the pieces, is, together with a primeval force and a sublimity of desire, another abiding feature of the composer that changed the face of Western music for ever.
Could such a composer, so strikingly different from Lucca and its musical culture, connect to the city of Puccini? Why of course! Penniless Giacomo got together with his fellow student Pietro Mascagni to buy a score of Parsifal which they studied with a concentration which bore new fruits in the blossoming of their respective oeuvres.
As for Tannhauser, it received its first performance in Italy in 1872 at Bologna’s Teatro Comunale, under conductor Angelo Mariani, a full four years before London’s premiere at Covent Garden on 6 May 1876! Indeed, Bologna was extolled by Colombini as the most wagnerophile city in Italy. Now I know the best place where I can get my next Wagner fix!
Last night’s concert, which was free to residents of Lucca province and which gratefully received free-will donations for research into Cystic Fibrosis from a generous audience was an adrenalin and emotional injection which will last me well into this season of falling leaves and morning mists.
Thank you Maestro Andrea and thank you soloists and instrumentalists of Lucca Philharmonic for proving that Lucca can honour Wagner in the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth just as glowingly as it can honour that son who learnt so much from music’s supreme world-shattering visionary.
See some very interesting and scholarly observations on this same concert with some great video clips by music professor Paula Chesterman at http://www.music.tuscantalent.com/Music_Blogs/Wagner_Bicentenary/Tuscany-Seminars-arts-food-wine-event-music.html