July Music Events for Lucca Province


This year, too, the “Lorenzo Malfatti” voice academy from Pittsburgh is returning. Fifteen students were selected earlier in the United States to perfect their talents with singing, recitation and drama lessons at the “Boccherini” Music Institute with teachers Sean Kelly, Reed Woodhouse, Franc D’Ambrosio and Barbara Paver, some of whom have already worked in previous years with the University of Cincinnati. The students of the “Malfatti” academy will perform on Wednesday 16th at 9 pm, in Piazza Cittadella 22nd and on Tuesday 22nd at the Praetorian Palace. The program includes music by Monteverdi, Mozart, Puccini, Handel, Haydn, Rossini, Bellini and Tosti. Their final concert, “Celle under the Stars”, is on Friday 25th at Celle di Pescaglia. Free admission.


“Cluster”, the contemporary music association, continues its activities with the sound-track to Elisa Zadi’s exhibition, “Sacred Myths and Stories of the men and saints”, at the Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lucca from July 5th to 27th. The exhibition will use the original soundtrack composed by Francesco Cipriano, titled “O crus ave”, for baritone, chorus and piano and recorded recently in Berlin.


On Saturday 5th (9.15 pm, Church of San Paolino) the thirtieth Sacred Music Festival organized by Polifonica Lucchese and its conductor Egisto Matteucci will be held. The program, titled “Mater”, includes contemporary choral pieces written in honour of the Mother of Christ and will be performed by the Harmonia Women’s Choir (see photo) and the Piccola Harmonia choir from Venice, conducted by Nicola Ardolino. These two choirs have been awarded many prizes in competitions.


The eighth year of the “Peace Organ of Sant’Anna di Camaiore” festival is dedicated to the memory of the wartime massacre at St. Anna di Stazzema. On Sunday 5th, organ recital by Hansjörg Albrecht (see photo) who, on Monday 6th at 9.30 pm in Marina di Pietrasanta, near the Teatro la Versilia, directs the great “Remembrance Concert” with the Munich Bachchor and the Orchestra Regionale della Toscana. On July 13th, we return to Stazzema with the world premiere of “Music for a Church” for two trumpets and organ by Jan Müller-Wieland, with Hannes Läubin, Max Westermann and Luca Scandali. On the 20th there’s a recital by organist Gerhard Weinberger while on the 27th there’s a performance by Edoardo Bellotti. All concerts are free entry and start at 6 pm.


Wednesday 2nd at 9 pm in the Church of S. Maria Corteorlandini there’s a choral concert with the American choir, California Central Coast Chorale, conducted by Sean Boulware. The program includes music by Mozart, Pitoni, Vecchi and Palestrina. The evening will be introduced by “Il Baluardo” choir, conducted by Elio Antichi.


On June 22nd, in Castelnuovo Garfagnana, the IAM festival starts with musicians from five continents. The program (see next page) includes, on Tuesday, July 1st (9.15 pm, Capuchin Church of Castelnuovo), an evening of performances by the teachers; Thursday 3rd (5.30 pm, Saletta Suffredini Castelnuovo) recital by student Alexander Bolotin. At 9.15 pm (Capuchin Church of Castelnuovo) an evening recital by the teachers. Friday 4th (5.30 pm), at the Palazzo Ducale in Lucca, a special “Students’ Gala” with free entry. Saturday, 5th, from 5.30 pm onwards, students’ outdoor concerts in the centre of Castelnuovo Garfagnana. Sunday 6th (9.15 pm, Teatro Alfieri Castelnuovo) evening with the Orchestra of the “International Academy of Music”. Monday, 7th (9.15 pm, Teatro Alfieri) final concert with the students.



On Sunday 6th, in the church of Pieve a Elici, the Versilia chamber music festival returns with a performance by the La Scala Quartet of works by Mozart, Beethoven, Webern and Ravel. On Saturday, 12th, Francesca Dego (violin) and Francesca Leonardi (piano) play Beethoven.

On Sunday, 20th pianist Giuseppe Albanese returns to play music by Mendelssohn, Schubert and Liszt. The festival ends on Sunday 27th with a performance by a trio consisting of Elisa Eleonora Papandrea (violin), Monaldo Braconi (piano) and Alessandro Carbonare (clarinet) who play Stravinsky, Gershwin, Poulenc, Stefano Priolo and Kuttenberger. All concerts start at 9.15 pm. Please note that on Monday 7th (9 pm) AML is programming a concert at the Auditorium del Suffragio (Lucca) , with the “Boccherini” institute, to commemorate the pianist Sonja Pahor who died in July last year. Performing will be many artists and former colleagues of the Conservatory. Free admission. More information available on phone no:  0583 469960.


In July, the fourth year of the Francigena International Arts Festival, with events scattered along stretches of the Via Francigena in the province of Lucca, returns. This is the programme: 8th (9.15 pm Auditorium “Da Massa Carrara” in Porcari) Atmos Quartet; 10th (9.15 pm Park Hotel “Villa Ariston”, Lido di Camaiore) Maurizio Mastrini at the piano; 18th (6 pm Porcari) Concert Orchestra Training Course for secondary schools; 18th (9.15 pm) Villa Bertelli of Forte dei Marmi) Orchestra della Toscana; 18th (9 pm Piazza Ricasoli in Altopascio) Fulbrook Jazz Concert, Orchestra and Dance Bands; 19th (9.15 pm Puccini Theatre of Altopascio), Orchestra della Toscana; 22nd (9.15 pm Piazza Ospitaleri of Altopascio) La Finta Semplice by Mozart with the orchestra and soloists of the “Mascagni” music institute; 23rd (9.15 pm Montecarlo) Parkstone Concert Band and Chamber Choir; 25th (9.15 pm Polo culturale “Artemisia” in Capannori) Eros Pagni and Gianni Quilici; 26th (9.15 pm Cloister of Palazzo Carmignani, Monte Carlo) St. Andrea Collegiate choir, Department of Ancient Music Ensemble FIAF, Fontegara consort. Finally, on 3rd, 11th, 19th, 26th and 30th (6.30 pm) at Altopascio’s Medici loggia there are performances by “I Giovani Talenti della Francigena”. Info: http://www.francigenafestival.it



LuccaOPERAfestival is staging Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore in Lucca in the Cloister of San Micheletto on 18th and 19th July at 9 pm. The cast is made up of young artists: Marco Ciaponi tenor, soprano Michelle Buscemi, and basses Mattia Campetti and Roberto Lorenzi. The Bruno Maderna orchestra will be conducted by Jonathan Brandani. Direction is by Stefania Panighini. The performances are made possible thanks to the contribution of the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca, UNESCO Club Vienna, Mc Donald scholarship trusts (Melbourne) and with the collaboration of the Municipality and the Province of Lucca. For reservations: luccaoperafestival@gmail.com


In July concerts in the Oratorio degli Angeli Custodi continue. The previously announced concert on Saturday 6th (From Argentine Tango to film music) has been postponed. Sunday 20th, young pianist Aldo Lucca Dotto will play music by Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin. Saturday 26th will be devoted to contemporary music by young composers who are winners of the Counterpoint competition from America. On Sunday 27th there’s a recital by flautist Linda Di Martino Wetherill and guitarist Fernando Maglia. All concerts start at 9 pm; Tickets from € 5 to € 12: Info: http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com.


On Monday 7th, at 9.15 pm, in the church of St. Michele Arcangelo, the thirty-third “Corsanico Festival”, an international classical music festival organized by the “Vincenzo Colonna” friends of organ music, starts. The festival opens with the “Cheltenham Choir” conducted by Gordon Busbridge, with organist Alexander Ffinch (free admission); Friday 11th, an evening dedicated to movie soundtracks with the “Nello Salza Ensemble” (admission € 10); Friday 18th, “Music Régia” with the King’s Peterborough Orchestra, conductor and organist Nicholas Kerrison (free admission); Tuesday 22nd, guitar duo Flavio Cucchi and Shinobu Sugawara will perform a repertoire ranging from contemporary music to Boccherini (admission € 10); Saturday 26th, “I Solisti dell ‘Orchestra da Camera Fiorentina” will play baroque music. Concerts continue through August.


Starting the nineteenth “Città di Camaiore” organ festival on Wednesday 23rd in the Church of the Badia di Camaiore there’s an organ recital by Adriano Falcioni. Monday 28th, in the Collegiate Church of S. Maria Asssunta, an evening “In memory of Don Angelo Bevilacqua” with Angelo Spinelli’s Requiem Mass for male voices and organ, with the men from Lucca cathedral’s  “Santa Cecilia” choir conducted by Luca Bacci (organist Julia Biagetti). The concerts, which continue in August, are at 9.15 pm. Entrance fee: € 5. The event is promoted by the “Marco Santucci” association and the comune of Camaiore in collaboration with the Bank Foundations of Lucca.


The “G. Puccini” Filarmonica from Colle di Compito performs a  “Concert under the Stars” on Thursday, 3rd in the Piazzetta del Santuario at Colle di Compito. The band will play light and modern pieces, many arranged by Carlo Pucci and will be accompanied by lively majorettes (see photo). The concert will be repeated on July 10th at the Centro Culturale Compitese (via Fonda 1). Free admission.


Saturday 12th (9.30 pm Parish Church of Camigliano) will be the first evening of the 36th Camigliano Choral festival, sponsored by Camigliano’s “G. Puccini” choir with the patronage of Capannori. The “Puccini” Choir, conducted by Luigi Della Maggiora, will open the evening, followed by the “Voci del Serchio” choir conducted by Ugo Menconi (with a popular Italian and international repertoire) and the “Coro del Noce” from the Trentino conducted by John Cristoforetti (see photo), who will delight us with traditional folk songs of the mountains. Free admission.


Throughout the summer, the Botanical Garden of Lucca will have weekly concerts and events sponsored by the City in collaboration with institutions and associations. Friday, July 4th, concert for the bicentenary of Adolphe Sax’s birth, with the Timeless Saxophone Quartet and Hector Bonafè. Friday 11th, evening “Arti sotto l’albero”, Italian and South American music by Alessandro Orsi; 18th, guitarist Edoardo Pieri and flautist Filippo Del Noce will perform (see picture) and on Sunday 20th there’s “Gioco di specchi” by Stefano Massini, a theatrical performance directed by Ciro Masella with Marco Brinzi and Ciro Masella. Friday, 25th, “Journey into film music” with pianist and arranger Luigi Nicolini.


This year will be the start of Massarosa Music Fest, an event organized by the “Republica di Lucca-Città stato” and dedicated to young students throughout Tuscany (artistic direction by Julia Matteucci). From July 22nd to 27th teachers of flute, clarinet, guitar, cello and double bass, will supervise participants in individual courses of study and practice of traditional chamber music at the Massarosa Comprehensive School in Via Cavalieri di Vittorio Veneto. After the opening concert of the Massarosa Music Fest (22nd at 9 pm) where all the teachers perform, other concerts will follow where the students will participate as soloists or in chamber music groups. Info: http://www.larepubblicadilucca.wix.com / massarosamusicfestfest


The “Catalani” Circle of Friends of Music is organizing for Saturday, 12th at 7 pm an evening entitled “Invitation to dinner with Puccini – Concert,” followed by a “Puccini” dinner, at the Puccini Restaurant Piazza Cittadella, based on Luccan dishes loved and appreciated by the Master. Soprano Valentina Piovano and tenor Alessandro Fantoni sing Puccini, Lehar, Rota, Catalani, Pietri, accompanied on the piano by Marco Ferruzzi. The “Catalani” Circle is organising on the 26th a trip to the Torre Del Lago theatre, to see Puccini’s La Bohème. Information on 347 9981851.


The activities of the symphony school summer campus continue with “Music Weeks in the company of …” from 8.30 am to 3 pm and aimed at children aged 5 to 12 years. The daily lessons provide preparatory courses, choir, theatre and music, individual instrument lessons, group music and English language learning. The summer camps in the month of July will be: “Catalani” week (June 30-July 4) “Boccherini” week (7-11 July), “Donizetti” week (14-18 July), and “Mozart” week (21 – July 25). Information: tel. 0583 312052 or: scuola.sinfonia @ tin.it


For the inauguration of the Church of Santa Caterina di Lucca, returned to the city after its restoration, on Wednesday 9th at 9 pm there’s a preview entitled “Dittico Sacro”: a theatrical video divided into two minimodrammi composed by Girolamo Deraco on libretti by Deborah Pioli: “Vidi Arcana Dei” for reciting soprano and bass drum, and “Stabat Mater” for soprano, narrator and video premiere. The show will make use of multimedia installations by director Nino Cannatà and will be performed by soprano Maria Elena Romanazzi and percussionist Matteo Cammisa.

download (1)








Lucca’s Place of Judgement


In E.M. Foster’s novel, “A Room with a View”, much of which is based on the author’s own experiences in Italy,  the cockney landlady, Miss Bartlett makes this comment to her young guest, Lucy Honeychurch:

“Tut, tut! Miss Lucy! I hope we shall soon emancipate you from Baedeker. He does but touches the surface of things. As to the true Italy–he does not even dream of it. The true Italy is only to be found by patient observation.”

I’m now entering into my tenth year of residence in Italy. During this time I have found something of the true Italy, if not always by very patient observation, then by immersing myself into the swimming pool of Italian life, both in leisure and in work.

In the field of education I have experienced teaching the third years of secondary education, just before they enter into the various Licei which divide up Italian youth, the boisterous energy of the technical colleges, the more relaxed pace of the adult evening classes, the intensive pace set by private profit-making institutions, private pupils in ones twos and threes, elegant and intelligent courses run in business environments… Indeed, in the field of education my experiences, though shorter, have been much more varied that in the UK where, for the most part, I taught in a community college.

Of hospital experiences, luckily, I have had few, apart from hungry hornets and surreptitious scorpions. Now, however, thanks to an individual I shall not name but merely describe as coming from Essex I shall be having a new experience, that of standing trial and taking part in the Italian legal system

On Monday I wanted to find out where I would have to defend myself and it was quite near to the palace where that extraordinary golden bedroom can be found and where Lucca’s main art gallery is situated – the palazzo Mansi in Via Galli-Tassi.

The tribunale di Lucca is a very pleasant building, originally designed by the great architect Giuseppe Pardini in the nineteenth century, and expanded in more modern times but still in Pardini’s neo-classical style.

The corridors are long and filled with interesting old filing cabinets.

The interior courtyard has beautiful views over the Pisan Mountain.

There is an old photograph showing building work in the last century:

06092014 039

I asked for some information and was directed to a particular department. This department stated that it was not their responsibility and that I should go to another department on the second floor. This department re-directed me to a room further along. When I reached this room I was told to go to another section as a form was required for the information I required. When I reached that section it was… closed. In other words, an excellent simulation of the circumlocution office as described in the great Charles Dickens’ novel “Little Dorrit” and also hinted at in the Jarndyce v Jarndyce case in “Bleak House”!.

When I returned home I realised that the tribunal also has a web site and information can be requested through an application form. Perhaps I’ll try that now.

In case you don’t know why on earth I should be present at the tribunal then it’s not necessary for you to know. If you do know then that’s OK. If I know that you know then that’s even better. If you know that I know that you know then that’s the best of all…


How to Avoid a Massacre

Today is the seventieth anniversary of D-day – the allied landing on the Normandy beaches which created a new front against the Axis and concluded WWII within one year. It is sad to realise that this could be the last large-scale commemoration of the event which saved us all from having to learn German, and secured democracy in Western Europe, since survivors of the momentous landings are now well into their nineties.

Italy had its own version of the D-day landings a year previously. Operation “Husky”, the allied invasion of Italy, was a similar large scale amphibious and airborne operation carried out in July 1943 and, in many ways, proved a test run for D-day. As part of the British eighth army under the command of Monty, my dad was part of operation Husky, which also involved the American seventh army under the command of General Omar Bradley.

In little over a month Sicily was in allied hands, Gerry had to evacuate to the Italian mainland, Mussolini was arrested by the King of Italy and an armistice was signed.

It’s a pity that things did not proceed at the same speedy pace afterwards; the allied armies (in my opinion) dithered long enough for Germany to send in Panzer divisions to stop the allied advance. A bloody civil war ensued in Italy when the “red-hot rake” moved slowly north, rather more slowly than originally foreseen since resources were now concentrated on the much more strategically important D-day landings front.

These facts were again brought home to me when this week I passed through the little and attractively sited village of Partigliano in Valdottavo on one of my scenic route to Lucca.

In the portico of the parish church was this plaque:

 06032014 044

The plaque summarises the following incident:

On 13 September 1944, the Germans spotted some lights on the tower of the church which they thought were partisans signalling to each other and attempting to attract the attention of US planes in the area. The Germans came and rounded up all local inhabitants from the village and the surrounding countryside and locked them in the church with the threat that, if the partisans did not own up, the villagers would be executed.

Fortunately, thanks to the intervention of local man professor Silvio Ferri, who spoke German and who bravely faced the German commander, another massacre was narrowly avoided.

Ferri managed to convince the German commander, Major Riechert, that the lights were actually caused by a bunch of kids who usually went to the bell-tower in the evening to smoke cigarettes and avoid parental censure.

What really clinched the escape from massacre was the fact that it seems that Major Riechert knew Ferri by reputation, as Ferri had been a student of Professor Wilamowitz, a renowned professor of ancient German philology under whom Riechert had also studied.

The intervention of professor Ferri was crucial, and today there are many partiglianini who owe their existence to his brave action.

Some more information on this remarkable man: Silvio Ferri was born in Lucca in 1890 and died in Pisa in 1978. He  became a noted Italian archaeologist. and was professor of classical archeology and art history at Pisa university until 1962.

Ferri conducted studies on monuments, inscriptions and the history of Roman art. He published an edition with critical commentary of Pliny the Elder’s book on the arts.and conducted digs in the Gargano bringing to light important finds.


(Silvio Ferri – a photo taken around 1930 in Southern Italy: courtesy of Rolando Ferri)

This story of amazing coincidences was the subject of a project by friend and primary school teacher, Annalisa and her class in Valdottavo. They worked hard to produce this delightful, beautifully illustrated and accurate book. It would be a good idea if more copies of it could be produced for the general public.



I wonder if after the war Ferri and Riechert ever met up again to have a drink and reminisce about that evening of 13th September 1944?





An Odd-looking Shrine

Shrines abound in Italy and our area is no exception. Shrines, or “Maestine” as they are locally known, can take the form of very simple monuments or can be elaborated into mini-chapels. Especially in the mountains they serve the purpose of a refuge and on more than one occasion I’ve sheltered within their confines during a sudden and violent summer thunderstorm. Here is a typical, traditional shrine I spotted yesterday on the way to Lucca:

06032014 054

It’s a real pity about the fast deteriorating fresco inside it.

06032014 053

Approaching the walled city via the beautiful road which leads to Carignano from San Martino in Freddana I noticed what I thought was just a garden shed (or even a porta-loo) by the side of the road. I thought it looked a bit odd, so stopped and had a closer look. 06032014 117 This is what I found:

In my schooldays my father, to keep me quiet during longer –than—usual car journeys would give me”“I-Spy” books published by the now-defunct “News Chronicle”. There were various titles concentrating on towns, churches, animals and so forth. One had to spot things listed in the books and then write down in them when and where spotted or “spied”. Different scores were given according to how rare the item was. Top score was forty points. The real challenge was a title: “I-Spy the Unusual”. From that book I remember highest scores given to such items as thatched telephone boxes and transporter bridges. When the book was completed it had to be verified and signed by one’s parents and then it could be sent to the News Chronicle where it would be stamped with approval and returned with a real “red-skin” feather from “Big Chief”!

Of course, such a series and activity today would be meaningless since one could look up such things via the internet and, anyway, many kids today seem to be more interested in playing their computer games rather than looking out through a car window to find interesting things.

I thought of this book in connection with what I saw on the road side. What would it be listed as? “Portable Shrine” or “Shrine in the form of a shed”? Be this as it may, the shrine I “spied” showed serious signs of devotion to it and the flowers laid on it were fresh. Behind the statue of the Virgin there was a beautiful poem about the great Silence that lives around her and leads to deep religious thoughts.

06032014 114 (2)

Unfortunately, there was no-one around to tell me why this unusual sort of shrine was there and what was the story behind it. Many shrines are placed where they are because of something sacred associated with the location, whether it be some saintly connection, an amazing escape from a mortal accident or even a saintly apparition. Perhaps in this case, there had been an apparition of Our Lady? I won’t know until I get back to the shrine and find out more by asking its caretaker.

Republic or Monarchy Day?

June the 2nd is Republic day in Italy, commemorating the 1946 referendum which decided, with a majority of over two million votes, in favour of a republic instead of the previous monarchy. It is a national holiday with most shops, institutions and facilities closed.

It is also Armed Forces Day and there is an impressive parade of Italian military might down the Via dei Fori Imperiali in Rome. Looking at my friends’ comments in facebook this parade has certainly divided opinion. Some write it’s a big waste of money, which could be better spent elsewhere (especially on culture), others say it’s a stirring and impressive spectacle which should make one proud of living in this country..

Each year Italy’s Republic day concentrates on a particular theme. In 2012 the day was dedicated to those affected by the earthquake in Emilia. In 2013 it was dedicated to families and firms in economic difficulty and this year the theme was a commemoration of world war one which broke out one hundred years ago.

Whatever one may think about the day’s emphasis I am sure there is no difference of opinion when Italy’s Unknown Soldier is remembered by the laying of a wreath on this day by the president of the republic:

 download (2)

Few could remain unimpressed by the tri-colour fly-past of the Italian air force:

 download (1)

June 2nd happens also to be the anniversary of H.M. the Queen of England’s coronation in 1953. (I can just about remember that auspicious event – Bromley high street was closed to traffic and there was a lot of bunting and celebration). The 61st year of Elizabeth II’s coronation was celebrated in typically ebullient style by Lucca’s premier musical anglophile Maestro Andrea Colombini (wearing his now famous union jack waistcoat) in the beautifully restored church of the Servites within the walled city.

This was the concert programme:


Homage to Republic day was paid by the opening performance of the Italian national anthem (which sounds a lot better when played with a full symphony orchestra and chorus, as on this occasion)..

06032014 156

Elgar, Vaughan-Williams, Handel, Grainger, Parry, Arne and some, traditional tunes followed. Colombini has clearly got the peculiar English musical idiom under his belt and I could hardly fault the performances which gained in high spirits what they occasionally lost in accuracy. I especially loved the way the second movement of Ralph (pronounced correctly by Colombini) V-W’s folk song suite was performed and I was very glad, too, that Elgar’s Imperial march, composed for another Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, was played, with the brass section coming to the fore. Perhaps one day Colombini might choose the neglected, but wonderful, Coronation march written in 1911 for King George V’th crowning when the Servites’ church beautiful organ is fully restored (the march has an organ part). “NImrod” brought out (naturally!) the highest emotions and I am not ashamed to admit I was close to tears when I heard Colombini’s rendering of this majestic and moving item.

06032014 157


We are lucky to have Colombini. Not only will his performances of English music bring tinges of nostalgia to ex-pats but, more importantly, they will finally destroy the myth that England is a land without music. I’ll never forgive the otherwise great German poet Heine (another of Bagni di Lucca’s illustrious visitors) for declaring about the English:

“These people have no ear, neither for the beat nor indeed for music in any form, and their unnatural passion for piano-playing and singing is all the more disgusting. There is verily nothing on earth as terrible as English musical composition, except English painting.”

Humph! Colombini has certainly put an end to that myth – the Italian part of the audience were as enthusiastic about what they heard as the English. (I also thought of the headmaster of the school in Genoa I did an EU teacher exchange with in 1995 who worshipped English music and showed me with pride his recordings of the complete symphonies by Bax, Rubbra and V-W himself). With an ending fully worthy of any last night of the proms I exited not into the streets of South Kensington but into the almost empty vie of Lucca.

 06032014 152

Yet, as is surely appropriate, Italy’s republic day had the last word as I crossed the bridge over the Serchio on my way home.

06032014 165

Snippets from the evening’s concert follow:


Four Great Luccan Spiritual Women

A colleague, who is now qualified also as a tourist guide for Lucca and who sings in that doyen of Garfagnana choirs at Gallicano, told me that for a place with such a relatively small population Lucca has a remarkable quartet of “spiritual” women i.e. women who had a strong faith in God and who found strength through Him to achieve outstanding things, particularly in times when women were still regarded as second-class citizens with few rights. They are in chronological order:

  • Zita
  • Maria Barbantini
  • Elena Guerra
  • Emma Galgani

Two of them have been canonised (i.e. are saints) and two of them have been beatified (i.e. are blessed) I’d realised that in some way or another I’d touched on all four of these amazing women in at least one of my posts so I’m bringing them all together here and referring to where I’ve written about them elsewhere:


download (2)

Saint Zita was born at Monsagrati, near Lucca (where there is a lovely chapel to her memory) in 1218 and died in 1278. She was canonized in 1698. Her attributes are the lily (purity) and a set of keys (referring to her position as a servant in her owner’s house). Zita’s Saint’s day is 27th April and she is buried in the basilica of San Frediano. Saint Zita is patron saint of domestic servants, governesses, housewives and bakers. My contribution to Saint Zita can be found at: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/30/from-flour-to-flowers-festa-di-santa-zita/

Maria Barbantini


The blessed Maria Domenica Brun Barbantini was born in Lucca, in 1789 and died there in 1868. She married but unfortunately her husband died after a few months, leaving her pregnant with Lorenzo. Sadly, when just six Lorenzo, too, died. At this stage Maria Barbantini decided to found in 1829 the congregation of the ministering sisters for the sick at the hospital of Saint Camillo de Lellis. She was beatified by Pope (now saint) John Paul II in 1995. She is commemorated on the 22 May and her remains are at the Sisters’ church in Via Elisa, Lucca My contribution to the Blessed Barbantini can be found at: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/seeing-red/

Elena Guerra

download (3)

The blessed Elena Guerra was born in 1835 and died in 1914. She was beatified by Pope (now saint) John 23rd in 1959. Her remains are venerated at the church of Saint Augustine in Lucca. Her remembrance day is April 11th. My contribution on Elena Guerra can be found at: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2014/05/16/three-mysteries-in-one-luccan-church/

Gemma Galgani

download (1)

Saint Gemma was born in 1878 and died in 1903. She was beatified in 1933 and made a saint in 1940. Her remains are venerated at the monastery and sanctuary of Saint Gemma just outside the eastern walls of Lucca. Her saint’s day is 11th April. My post about Gemma is at: https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/saint-gemma-galgani-mystic-saint-or-mental-patient/

I think few other cities of comparable size have contributed so many women to the list of saints and blessed in the Roman Catholic calendar as Lucca!

Guardian Angel Music


The Concerti degli Angeli Custodi started their new season for this year with an inaugural concert on May 7th. I missed that one and the second one too. However, I was determined not to miss last night’s concert held in the baroque jewel of a chapel which is the oratorio degli Angeli Custodi. (Full season’s concerts at http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com/oratorio.htm.)

Meaning “Guardian Angels”, the chapel reflects the seventeenth century’s increased interest in protecting spirits. I’m sure we all have had moments in our lives when we felt there was someone looking over us who we could not see!

The chapel is richly frescoed and there is a delightful series of paintings illustrating the help guardian angels are willing to give. The whole chapel does, however, need some considerable restoration and it is a great idea that it has been put to use as a concert venue since the public will be made more aware of another of Lucca’s lesser known wonders and contribute to its repair.

Last night’s concert celebrated a twinning between two choirs from Lucca and Berlin respectively, was the focus of the premiere of two works, gave us an insight into Donizetti’s “Don Pasquale” (which will be on at Montecarlo’s Teatro degli Rassicurati from 13th to 15th June) and introduced us to that opera’s Norina, the stunning young soprano from Melbourne, Australia, Michelle Buscemi, of Italian origin.

Buscemi was indeed the star of the evening. Finalist in Australia’s most important singing contest she has, since 2006, sung important roles from Florence to Melbourne. Wearing a concert gown which the immortal Callas originally wore, Michelle proved brilliant both in serious and comic roles with a great stage presence and fine acting skills adding to a strong and flexible voice, fully in harmony with the nuances of Italian opera.

I particularly enjoyed her rendition of Puccini’s “Salve Regina”, an early work, “Ebben ne andrò lontana” from Catalani’s “La Wally” (also memorably sung by Callas) and “Puccini’s “O mio Babbino caro” which was give added poignancy by the fact that, since Michelle’s dad (and mum) had just arrived in time from down under to be present at the concert, there was a touching embrace between daughter and father at the end of the aria.

The two premieres could hardly have been more contrasting. Francesco Cipriano’s “O Crus Ave”, a choral work (first performed in Berlin earlier this year – this was its Italian premiere) was a solemn piece beginning with a majestically reflective modal introduction, then moving into a second section with ample space for Mattia Campetti to solo before the choir. Then an interlude for the piano (played by Cipriano) followed; virtuosistic but remaining in an elegiac mood and concluding with the choir. The words come from a Latin prayer which is especially said during the celebrations of Lucca’s Volto Santo on September 14th. The words praise the Cross as an instrument of salvation.

The other piece, an actual world premiere, expertly sung and acted by Maria Elena Romanazzi (who has also trained as a classical dancer) was a cheeky piece, very much in the contemporary idiom with clear Berio influences. I didn’t understand the words but was I meant to?

The concert didn’t want to finish. The last piece was meant to be Verdi’s “Va pensiero” but encores followed, including Neapolitan songs,and the toast from “La Traviata”, before the performers were allowed to leave, after having given us a most entertaining and revealing evening. Most applause, however, went to Michelle Buscemi who must certainly be watched closely as she conquers one operatic stage after the other. Clearly, that Callas gown she wore is bringing her good luck!

06012014 005


Forgiving your Executioners: the Story of Don Aldo Mei

Fiano is a village in the comune of Pescaglia that lies half way, in a beautifully scenic position, on the road going from Val Pedogna to Val Freddana.

I’d visited Fiano before during its delightful Christmas market (one of the best in the area – well worth going to) and found it an attractive, if not especially notable, place stretching into three well-defined sections with a height differential of over three hundred feet from upper to lower “frazioni”.

Fiano has a big church (probably too big for today’s needs) built by the efforts of the then parish priest Don Quilici between 1912 and 1923, and replacing the original one which was collapsing. I have been unable to find out more information about the original church but the present building, although not exactly to my taste, built in a pseudo-Romanesque style, has, at least, a fantastic panoramic position over the whole area.

05272014 009

The church has a single nave with a transept.


The bell tower is much older and one can spot medieval stone work in its lower section.

05272014 002

 In the church, a victim of Nazi-fascism, Don Aldo Mei (parish priest here from 1935 to 1944) is buried. This is his tomb.

120px-Fiano,_chiesa_di_san_pietro_apostolo,_interno,_tomba_e_lapide_aldo_mei (1)

In a nearby glass case, are displayed the glasses and clothes (stained with blood) Don Mei wore when he was executed by the Nazis in 1944.


But who was Don Mei?

I managed to get his story as follows: On August 2 1944, shortly after celebrating Mass in Fiano’s parish church, Don Mei was arrested by the SS on the charge that he had given refuge to Jews, fascist regime deserters and partisans. He was taken to Lucca and sentenced to death. Lucca’s archbishop, Monsignor Torrini, was unable to save him and on August 4th Don Mei was taken by the walls of Lucca just outside Porta Elisa.

“I’m dying because of hate’s dark storm, I, who only wanted to live for love”, he declared . Don Mei was forced to dig his own grave and then killed with twenty-eight gunshots by the SS firing squad. Poignantly, before the execution he forgave and blessed his murderers.

Here is Don Mei’s memorial on the spot in Lucca he was executed:


053402014 019

This is the last view Don Mei saw before he died:

053402014 022

Fiano’s parishioners did not forget Don Mei’s heroic action and they have unveiled a memorial to him opposite the parish church.

I only discovered the story of Don Mei because I finally decided to stop at the statue I’d spotted. It’s a good thing if one decides to stop and look instead of saying, “Ah well, next time”, or declaring, “It’s not important enough for me to stop.”

In 1997 I visited various war cemeteries and was completely overwhelmed by the numbers of young men fallen. In particular, at Verdun, where the majority of victims remain unknown by name, I met a nice English lady who said she was doing her “holocaust” tour. I feel there is enough around Lucca province to merit a similar kind of tour.

After all, through the strong socialist leanings of such workers as the marble quarries of Massa and Carrara and the independent spirit of the people of this region, there has always been a strong opposition to fascism, even during the period when it was most rampant. Indeed, the area of Carrara was awarded the Cross of Valour of the Italian republic, much like the inhabitants of Malta were awarded the George Cross, the highest honour for civilian valour.

Lucca is not only about wonderful olive oil, great wines, fine dining, courteous people, amazing heritage, seductive music and beautiful scenery; it is also about strength and determination in the face of overwhelming odds and a robust stand against oppression an inhumanity. This is, I feel, fully personified in such people as Don Mei who was killed when he was just thirty-two, but whose altruistic life is remembered today by those who care about life’s greatest values.


How to Get Rid of Excess Fat in an Enjoyable Way

We’ve had two days of rain now – very welcome for our plants but not brilliant for getting around. So I was glad that last Monday I took a trip around the Luccan hills on my scooter

Lucca’s hills to the north of the city are the home to some of the best olive oil and wines in the whole of Italy. They are divided into the ranges to the east of the river Serchio and those to the west.

The eastern hills rise quite steeply and merge into the Pizzorne, the plateau precursors of the main Apennine ridge of sedimentary rocks. I know this part quite well so was keen to explore the western hills which are the precursors of the metamorphic Apuan range. Few river valleys have such different geological formations on opposite banks!

The western hills are pure heaven and have some of the most wonderfully gentle landscapes I have ever seen in Italy, surpassing, in my opinion even Chiantishire. There are delightful wooded lanes,and extensive views towards the Apuans:

There are beautiful Pievi – here at Santo Stefano::

05272014 055

 Great vineyards:

 05272014 056

Lovely olive groves

 05272014 057

And the best long-views of Lucca I have ever seen:

There is indeed so much to enjoy and explore here that I feel I have neglected this area for the more dramatic parts of the Lucchesia further north.

One place stopped at was Mutigliano, a delightful village which has an unusual feature I’d visited before without realising what it meant.

Last summer I’d gone with two friends to a sagra, or festival, “dei Rigatoni” (a type of pasta) just outside Mutigliano. It was great fun, both for the food and the dancing.

(For more information on the sagra click on


This time I wanted to explore more of the area around where the summer sagra is held. The dance area looked quite different now.

 05272014 151

There were two forlorn eagles, one of which had lost a wing, perched on columns,

There was a Roman-style “altar” sculpted (by Bacelli) with delicate mourning figures:

There was also a collapsing monument with difficult-to-decipher writing on it (but which I later discovered was General Diaz’ proclamation of the great Italian victory concluding World War I at Vittorio Veneto).

05272014 149

I realised I was in a “Parco della Rimembranza”, a park set up to remember the fallen of World War I and where the beautiful holm-oak woods surrounding the entrance amphitheatre symbolised those who died, but had no grave, in that four-year-long massacre. This memorial was laid out in 1924 by the new Italian fascist government who also designed another similar memorial, this time in an urban setting, in Piazza Verdi just inside Lucca’s Porta Sant’Anna (and which – after much heated debate – is being restored to its original glory).

Strangely, although the Mutigliano memorial park appeared so neglected, its forlornness added to the tragic poignancy  of that conflict from which, clearly, the fascist government hadn’t learnt any lessons when it plunged Italy into a second world war in 1940.

I do feel, however, that, as a token that this year is the centennial commemoration of the Great War, the eagles could be cleaned up and the missing wing replaced.

I plunged into the woods and my spirit was immediately raised by the beauty of the trees.

At odd intervals very good signs explained different aspects of the forest flora and fauna. Some of them had three-D effects and all were good for learning the correct Italian for animal species.

(Moscardino means a Dormouse)

At other intervals there was a fitness activity with indication of how to use it according to different levels of competence – an open-air gym in effect. I tried one or two of them, the only one around to do so, and thought this was quite an enjoyable way of helping to lose some of that “spare tyre” accumulated through the rinfreschi we’d been offered at the start of the week.

Through the woods I could see a large building which once had been the summer holiday camp for orphans of the war…

05272014 113

Lucca, therefore, has two Parchi Della Rimembranza, both inaugurated on 8th June 1924 by Costanzo Ciano who had collaborated in heroic exploits with poet D’Annunzio in WWI (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/03/29/superman-or-satanist/). The one in Lucca commemorates fallen soldiers from the city and the one in Mutigliano commemorates those from the countryside who died.

I wonder how many of us will remember the parks’ original purpose, whether we  hit the dance floor at the ”Sagra dei Rigatoni”, or exercise ourselves in the surrounding woods, or whether we wait for our bus in Piazza Verdi in Lucca?

05272014 152







Two Great Summer Music Festivals


In Puccini’s last opera, Turandot, courtiers Ping, Pong and Pang, fed up with artificial palace life, nostalgically recall their homes by a blue lake surrounded by bamboo groves:

E potrei tornar laggiù, presso mio laghetto blu, tutto cinto di bambù!

Hearing this at the open-air theatre at Torre Del Lago’s festival is a sublime experience: words and music paint the view we have before us – the placid (now reed-fringed) lake, the mysterious night sky, and the contours of the Apuans on the horizon.

Turandot is back this year together with Madama Butterfly, La Bohème and Il Trittico!

In an article on Puccini’s unfinished Turandot in April’s LuccaMusica – the essential free guide to Lucca’s music scene (includes an English version) – eminent Puccini expert, Michele Bianchi, states that Puccini didn’t complete the opera not because he fell ill but because he was still dissatisfied with the libretto’s final denouement. Nevertheless, the fairy tale, where Turandot’s suitors meet a sticky end if they cannot solve the ice-princess’s three riddles, contains Puccini’s greatest music, and the Alfano ending is certainly a “lesser evil”.

Full programme details are at the festival’s web site at: http://www.puccinifestival.it/en

It’s a good idea to make an afternoon at Torre Del Lago:  include a swim at the nearby beach, visit the composer’s residence, delight in the foyer’s flower carpet and enjoy a nice meal before the 9.00 pm start.

Maureen Halson is well-known for her sculpture, combining a long experience in the UK ceramics industry with delicate creativity. (She will exhibit again in this year’s second Bagni di Lucca Arts Festival). Her Turandot and Madama Butterfly figurines, coincidentally two Puccini operas featured this year, are especially perceptive.

It would be lovely if an arrangement could be made with the festival for these figurines to be produced for the public…




Lucca’s fabulous summer festival will be with us again from 2nd to 26th July.

Full line-up details are at http://www.summer-festival.com/home

Artistes include Eagles, Jeff Beck, The Prodigy, Emma, Nile Rodgers, Panariello, Stevie Wonder, Backstreet Boys, The National with Cat Power and Enzo Avitabile & Black Tarantella.

Wow.. What a line up. I’ve already decided who I particularly want to see.

As someone who heard Jimi Hendrix live and attended the Cream’s last concert I’ve had mixed feelings about subsequent pop and rock festivals. Since living in Lucca province, however, my interests have re-awakened and I’ve been glad to hear such great artists as Elton John, Liza Minnelli and Leonard Cohen.

Forget the mud, high prices and poor catering of English pop festivals; Lucca’s summer festival (it also had a great winter festival) is set in the civilized setting of Piazza Grande, has places at all (affordable) prices and, best of all, attracts an audience of every age and interest.

Organised by entrepreneurs D’Alessandro e Galli, (Web site at http://www.dalessandroegalli.com/) I look forwards this year to the musical contrasts offered, the convivial atmosphere and the historic setting.

It’s not just the audience that love the festival: it’s the artistes, many of whom return since 1998 when it began. Jeff Beck returns from 2010 and Elton John has already performed three times. It seems artistes fall in love with Lucca (no surprise) and I’m sure several new to this year’s festival, will return.

My only regret is that Amy Winehouse, scheduled for 2011, did not live long enough to sing at Lucca. I’m sure that if she had she would have fallen in love with the place and, perhaps, still be with us today…

Long may the Lucca Summer Festival continue to bring us performers of the widest appeal and highest performance standard. It’s truly another jewel in this remarkable city’s crown.