The road to Lucca was, at 9 pm on New Year’s Eve, almost bereft of traffic. We parked outside the city’s walls in a deserted and cold landscape. Was this truly the 31st of December? Where was everyone? Piazza Napoleone, however, did bring a bit more life on this freezing cold and foggy night with its busy skating rink and some stalls.
Bang! Already the (very) loud bangers with which Italians celebrate the New Year (and manage to inflict an unacceptable number of injuries to themselves) were amplified in Lucca’s narrow streets.
But that was not the way we were going to celebrate the entry of the New Year. At the city’s main theatre, the Teatro Del Giglio, Maestro Colombini (see post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/symphonic-monumentality-comes-to-lucca/ ) promised us a spectacular start to 2014 – a promise which was more than fully kept.
The first part of the eclectic programme consisted of a recital of operatic arias drawn mainly from Puccini and Verdi with soloists soprano Silvia Pacini, Sonia Bellugi and tenor Matteo Nebbiai of the “Puccini and his Lucca” Festival accompanied on the piano by Diego Fiorini, who also contributed a solo – the Tregua from the Luccan master’s first opera “Le Villi”.
This was followed by Beatles songs played, not by a straightforward cover band, but by the Swinging London Beatles Ensemble with Meme Lucarelli: a trio of singer and two guitars who imaginatively recreated some of the fab four’s famous hits and introduced some great jamming as well.
Then came the part everyone was looking forwards to: the bagpipes, drums and dancers of the Royal Scots Guards have not visisted Lucca since 1999. The swirl of the pipes in the Giglio theatre was awesomely heady and when, later in the evening, these were joined by a full symphony orchestra the effect was quite overwhelming.
The pieces included moving Pibrochs, lively gigs and stirring marches, with a sword dance and (of course) “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace”.
The New Year was ushered in with the Lucca Philharmonic orchestra playing Percy Grainger’s lively “Molly on the Shore” and a grand final crescendo was gradually built up by the orchestra, fresh from its triumphs in Vienna’s Musicverein hall (where the traditional televised New Year’s concert comes from) with Strauss waltzes and polkas, an aria from Die Fledermaus, Mozart’s Queen of the Night, Auld Lang Syne and much else besides – a truly scrumptious pot-pourri of great tunes!
This evening, with almost seventy artistes on stage, concluded with three national anthems – English, Italian and Scottish – “in increasing order of importance” as Colombini emphasised.
We were enchanted by one of the most memorable ways of celebrating the first of January of 2014 we’ve ever experienced and with our theatre-provided spumante and panettone we wandered in a state of delight through the now even colder Lucca streets, homewards bound.
The wonderful evening was organized for the benefit of a Lucca charitable association to which ticket sales proceeds.
Let us truly hope that the New Year will be full of the energy and optimism of that brilliant first night of 2014!