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.

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A Flaming Flaminio

At sixteen years of age I was invited to lunch at the family house, in the beautiful Langhe area of Piedmont, by a young doctor who’d been to London to train at the now sadly defunct Italian Hospital in Queen square. I ate the most scrumptious meal I can remember and then we talked about music about which I was beginning to get interested in. Gino put on a record of something which immediately grabbed my attention by its lively themes and freshness. “La Serva Padrona” it was and I’ve been hooked on Pergolesi ever since.


Returning to London I spent all my hard –hoarded pocket money on a recording of this delightful intermezzo with the late-lamented Anna Moffo who only died in 2006 and with bass Paolo Montarsolo, and conductor Franco Ferrara, a 1962 RCA recording which I still treasure and do not feel has been surpassed despite the great developments in period playing and interpretation which have taken place since then. Gino also pointed out to me other Pergolesi operas, including one written in Neapolitan dialect Lo frate ‘nnamorato.

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But the only other recording I managed to hear of Pergolesi was his last poignant farewell “Stabat Mater” written while dying of consumption at the convent in Pozzuoli.

And so my knowledge of Pergolesi remained at a stalemate for years. Apart from a frankly awful production of La Serva Padrona at Tregynnon Wales I never managed to hear any more of this wonderful composer born in Jesi and who died at the tragically early age of 26 – apart, that is from that blancmange concoction cooked up by Stravinsky in his 1920 ballet Pulcinella, which at least got the ball rolling again for Pergolesi.

That was my state regarding Pergolesi’ music until the internet and, in particular, WINMX (now sadly hacked to pieces) came along. I managed to get together most of Pergolesi operas which can be divided into opere buffe and serie and, of course, the irresistible intermezzi (of which La Serva is one) inserted between the acts of the opere serie. Furthermore, I increased my knowledge of his religious music which includes a fabulous mass and an exquisite Salve Regina all, on the same league as the more familiar Stabat Mater (which no-one less than JS Bach wrote a paraphrase on and who actually completed Pergolesi’s last unfinished fugue to the work!).

But still no live opera performance for me. Until yesterday that is. Pergolesi fans are a very particular breed and I was lucky enough last year to meet one who’d travel from Jesi to Pozzuoli to hear the music which to both of us remains so endearing, so life-enhancing, and so full of freshness.

We didn’t have to travel either to Jesi (see http://www.fondazionepergolesispontini.com/fps/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2551&Itemid=2987&lang=it)  where there is annual Pergolesi festival) nor to Pozzuoli but to relatively nearby Pisa where, in the Sala Titta Ruffo of the city’s great Verdi theatre, the ensemble Barocco di Maggio Fiorentino Formazione, directed by Frederico Bardazzi, put on a performance I would have travelled far vaster distances to hear.

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Il Flaminio tells the story of Polidoro, a rich Neapolitan, and his sister Agata, who live in a fine villa outside Naples with a household consisting of his secretary Flaminio (known by the rest under his assumed name of Giulio) who is in love with the young widow Giustinia who is favourably attracted to the youth who reminds her of an old lover of hers, also called Flaminio, when she was still nubile. Agata has also fallen in love with Giulio Alias Flaminio while Polidoro has fallen in love with Giustinia. To complicate matters Agata’s fiancé Ferdinando arrives at the country house (hence the nice back projection of an herbaceous border) while the two servants, Checca and Vastianio, flirt audaciously with each other. Following various vicissitudes the love between Flaminio and Giustinia develops happily and the young lad will then be able to reveal his true identity when he knows that his love will be returned. Together with them the other couples, Agata and Ferdinando are reconciled to each other and all ends happily ever after in a grand finale with dreams of love and faithfulness fully realised.

In other words, just a story of typical interweavings, subterfuges, misunderstandings, reproaches, arguments and quarrels between lovers such as take place most days in some quiet corner of Italian small-town squares. And indeed, the production was set in sort of present-day tycoon’s villa within easy reach of Forte dei Marmi

The recitatives were spoken and had to be translated from Neapolitan for the benefit of the mainly Tuscan audience. But what music and what singing! A true little baroque instrumental ensemble, complete with corni da caccia, baroque bassoon, theorbo, baroque guitar and baroque oboes shows that, after a late start in the field, Italian baroque ensemble know the “authentic” business to the full and produce a sound that is in every way more “period” than their pioneers in Holland and the UK.

For me the top-class singing came with Silvestri’s Flaminio and Grassi’s saucy Checca, outstanding not just for vocal delivery but also for acting.

The evening started at 8.30 pm and ended after midnight. There was just a short interval, the hall became hotter and hotter and the seats were rather hard. But such is the magic of Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s music that it took over any thoughts of discomfort. To walk back through a gorgeous city like Pisa in the small hours was to be as happy as a tom cat in love and as light as a passenger in a Montgolfier balloon.

Truly a night at the opera to remember!

A Tear-Jerker Ever

The “Piccola stagione lirica” at Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico concluded yesterday afternoon with Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème, first performed at Turin’s Teatro Regio in 1896, and an immediate hit which will live with us so long as we still retain the ability to love, to suffer and to feel.


The event was presented by the Michel de Montaigne Association under its chairman Prof. Marcello Cherubini whose efforts have done so much to liven cultural life in our small community:

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(Prof Marcello Cherubini, Signora Simonetta Puccini and Sindaco Massimo Betti yesterday)

I’d mentioned Leoncavallo’s version of La Bohème in a previous post. Just think how dogged with bad luck the Calabrian musician was. There was a minor tiff between the two composers; Leoncavallo said he’d shown HIS libretto, based on Henri Murger’s episodic novel, Scènes de la vie de Bohème, to Puccini and felt that it was Puccini who should have deferred to him in the composition of the opera. In the event, Puccini recruited two of his best librettists, Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa, to write a script which, though not as closely adhering to the original, (many of the episodes in acts one and two don’t even appear in Murger’s novel, and the death of Mimi is a conflation of the death of Mimi and that of another consumptive, Francine), produces a far more operatically effective whole.

It’s no good saying that Leoncavallo’s La Bohème, which was actually first performed at the Teatro la Fenice di Venezia in 1897, after the première of Puccini’s opera of the same name, is closer to the text of the original novel, What counts is the dramatic quality of the music, and surely only the most die-hard Leoncavallo fan would rate the latter’s operatic effort higher than Puccini’s.

One simple proof is examining the way the audience’s tear ducts flow. Yes – that may be a somewhat elemental way of assessing emotional impact but I doubt that anyone who has listened to Leoncavallo’s version would come out without a dry eye in sight as is so often the case with Puccini.

The “Royal” Box and the (free) interval refreshments at theTeatro Accademico, Bagni di Lucca)

I am not ashamed to admit that, yesterday, I too succumbed to the odd tear, especially in the harrowing scene of Mimi’s death where music is suddenly forgotten and lines are declaimed instead.

How can all this happen in a production which had no orchestra to sustain and comment on the vocal lines, was produced on a small stage and was at a Sunday matinée?

It’s because Puccini writes music that transcends any limitation of instrumental forces, perhaps even singers, certainly production restrictions. He knows how to tug at one’s heart strings, he knows where to touch you where it hurts or delights the most. Only the most wretched kill-joy or rigid martinet of emotional control could object.

As it happened, there were two further factors that certainly helped in turning a little corner of Bagni di Lucca into a world of poverty, love, creation and hope in a Paris of the 1840’s. First, the absolute excellence of the singers. There was simply not a weak link, and even the amateur chorus from Ponsacco were superbly drilled. How is it possible to find singers like these to tour provincial theatres? Surely, because Italians are so discriminating when it comes to evaluating the solo voice that nothing less than excellent would do. I would single out Alessandra Meozzi as Mimi, and Angelo Fiori as Rodolfo and, of course, the indefatigable pianist, Marco Rimicci

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Second, it was the presence of Giacomo’s little granddaughter Simonetta, now a grand old lady, who thoroughly enjoyed the performance, met the artistes and who I was privileged to encounter again afterwards.

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For, in Bagni di Lucca, Giacomo Puccini isn’t just another ethereal musical figure who descends from his apollonian heaven to grace us with immortal melodies; he is someone very much with us: in the living minds of people who either knew him or who know those who knew him – in short, he is a completely human person whose presence is felt, someone graced with a divine gift, who loved a good crack, enjoyed his food, was a dab hand with the gun, had a passion for fast cars, was an irrepressible flirt and was, above all, the supreme and so sadly, last grand master of that astonishing phenomenon of this planet’s musical landscape, Italian opera.






On Sunday, as part of FAO’s open week-end, I visited a very special place in the Diecimo valley (and, therefore quite close to me) about which I had known for many years but never managed to see.

Until I came to live in Italy I thought the smallest theatre in the world was the one housed in a Royal Enfield sidecar, which has maximum seating for two persons and whose performance I attended at a Dickens Festival event in Rochester, UK.


But criteria for the smallest theatre vary. Can they be mobile? Can they just have puppets as the actors? If so then Piero Nissim’s “pocket theatre” must count as the smallest, as described in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/28/pumpkins-and-puppets/.

However, if the criteria are set for permanent buildings housing a theatre, and historical buildings at that, then surely the palm must go to Vetriano’s Teatrino. And that’s the place I went to yesterday.

The day was absolutely dismal and at one stage it even started to hail. Not a good weekend to choose for open days and in such a contrast to the wall-to-wall sunshine we’d been having for the past three weeks. However, I pressed on up a mountain road that in various stretches was showing grave signs of subsidence until I reached the small village of Vetriano (height 1581 feet above sea level) and its even smaller theatre.

In 1889 a well-off local inhabitant called Virgilio Biagioni offered his fellow villagers a hayloft surplus to requirements on condition that they convert it into a theatre. He didn’t see why villages should be deprived of the same entertainments offered so profusely in cities like Florence and Lucca. Already the larger towns in the Serchio valley were building their own theatres: the Alfieri at Castelnuovo, the Colombo at Valdottavo, and the Nieri at Ponte A Moriano. Some towns had had theatres for centuries like Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico and Barga’s Teatro dei Differenti. So why not Vetriano?

The villagers jumped to the idea and within a short space of time had converted the hayloft to a miniature theatre complete with boxes, stalls, stage and scenery. All was beautiful decorated in a floral style. There was no seating in the theatre – the audience brought their own chairs in from home. (Today, it may be rather more difficult to bring a chair, especially if you are coming from far off to attend a performance, so the present chairs have all been donated by benefactors whose names appear on the backrests.)

The theatre was in a parlous state back in 1997 – shut-up seemingly for good and the fabric decaying fast – emigration had reduced the audience and television had seduced the remaining inhabitants.  However, thanks to local intervention, FAI stepped in, raised funds, organised restoration and finally, in 2002, opened up the theatre to the general public with a performance of the play “Benvenuti in Casa Gori”. (Total cost for giving life again to the theatre was estimated at Euros 500,000)

Since then the season has continued uninterruptedly from strength to strength with everything from Pirandello to Molière, from Madame Butterfly to Rigoletto. Yes, the little theatre of Vetriano is also an opera-house with a fruitful collaboration with that somewhat larger space – La Scala, Milan!

We were given an interesting introduction to the theatre by a local volunteer and I was also shown into those areas which have now been included as part of the theatre: a small refreshment room, services and a booking office.

Unlike most other places open during the week-end Vetriano’s Teatrino actually belongs to FAI, having been given to it by a local donation. You can become a member of FAI at the little theatre or if you are a member of the UK’s National Trust (we are life members) you can use your card to get into any of FAI’s properties free of charge or at a reduced rate. Reciprocal arrangements exist for FAI members in the UK – a great example of conservation groups collaboration.

I left the theatre having bought a ticket for the next production which is called “La Toscanaccia”, (now the total of eighty seats are all sold out), and sped home through the hailstorm on my scooter for Sunday lunch.

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(Events are listed at http://www.fondoambiente.it/beni/Index.aspx?q=gli-eventi-del-teatrino-di-vetriano).

How wonderful it is that all those theatres in our Serchio valley, thought-up and built by enterprising minds in past centuries, are still functioning and providing great entertainment and social venues for the local population. When I think of all the theatres that have closed in my former residency at Woolwich, London (there are none left there now), and the barbaric threats to the remaining theatres left in Greenwich, I cannot understand how, in a huge and rich metropolis like London, these things can be allowed to pass – they certainly haven’t been allowed to happen here thank goodness!

Easter Music for Lucca


Thursday 3rd (9 pm, Teatro Del Giglio) the Lucca in Musica festival with the Italian Youth Orchestra conducted by John Axelrod begins. The program includes music by Wagner and Tchaikovsky. On Friday the 11th (9 pm, Basilica of San Frediano), the Orchestra and Choir of the Boccherini conservatoire conducted by GianPaolo Mazzoli play music by Giacomo Puccini and Fortunato Magi.

The concert will be opened on Saturday, 5th (5 pm, Sala di rappresentanza, Palazzo Ducale) by a conference by Gabriella Biagi Ravenni and Herbert Handt. Wednesday 23rd (9 pm, Teatro Del Giglio) concert by the Chamber Orchestra of Mantua with the Trio di Parma, conducted by Enrico Bronzi. The program includes music by Boccherini, Kodaly and Beethoven. On Thursday 24th, at the Istituto Musicale Luigi Boccherini, Enrico Bronzi will hold a cello master class. On Saturday 26th Herbert Handt and Marco Mangani will hold a conference on “The Symphonies of Luigi Boccherini.”

Some movies will be shown on Friday, 4th (9.30 pm, Auditorium in San Micheletto) Il Concerto by Radu Mihaileanu; Wednesday 9th (9.30 pm, Auditorium of Fondazione BML) A slum symphony, documentary film, Tuesday 15th (9.30 pm Cinema Astra) Quartetto Basileus.

For more information http://www.associazionemusicalelucchese.it, tickets at booking office Teatro Del Giglio 0583 465 320.


Saturday, 12th at 9 pm in the Hall of the Archbishop, under the patronage of the diocese of Lucca there will be the première of  Piero Nissim’s Stabat Mater on the classic text by Jacopone. The Pisan composer is also part of the vocal group that will perform the work together with Maria Bruno, Riccardo Guercio and Lucia Pfanner (see photo). Franco Meoli at the organ will conduct the ensemble. In the second part of the concert Piero Nissim (with Maria Bruno) will perform some of his sacred music on texts by Teresa de Avila, the Jewish liturgy and his own texts. Free admission.

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Sunday, April 13th, Palm Sunday, at 6 pm, in the Church of SS. Annunziata, in the historical Via Regia, the Schola Cantorum Ave Maria in Viareggio will perform the Stabat Mater and Via Crucis with words by Jacopone and music by Viareggio composer Marco Trasatti. The whole will be illustrated with sixteen paintings by master artist Franco Anichini. Everyone present will receive a free booklet of the event with the paintings representing the Stations of the Cross and the translations from the Latin with explanations of the various meanings. Free admission.


The Academy of Montegral conducted by Gustav Kuhn organizes on Sunday 20th at 10:30 am, at the Convento dell’Angelo (above Ponte a Moriano, see picture), the Easter Mass officiated by the Passionist Fathers, with the participation of singers and pianists of the Academy. This year we will have most of the artists who from 12th to 18th April, at the Academy, are rehearsing Mozart’s Così fan tutte, which will be staged next winter in the new theatre of the Tiroler Festspiele. Also performed will be pieces by Vivaldi, Liszt, Franck, Montegral, Dubois, Bizet, Bach, Mozart and Puccini. Free shuttle service available from the parking lot of Ponte a Moriano (behind the Theatre) from 9 pm onwards and return starting at 11.30pm. Info: 0583-406300, 348-6040906.

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Friday 4th at 8.45 PM at the Auditorium of the Scuola Sinfonia Symphony (via Nazario Sauro, 527) as part of the “Venerdì di Sinfonia” series: two musical fairy tales the Chick and the Fox and Dinosaurs from Le Novelle di Tommaso written (music and lyrics) by Francesco Cipriano (see photo) and printed by Rugginenti Milanese publisher. At the piano the author will accompany the narrator Silvia Tocchini. The public can interview the author after the performance. Free admission.

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Monday 7th (5.30 PM), at the Church of Santa Maria Court Orlandini, the circle hosts a choir from the United States. Programme of sacred music and religious season of Lent. Free Entry. Sunday 13th (5.30 PM) at the Auditorium Vincenzo da Massa Carrara at Porcari, the circolo Catalani hosts the usual Easter Concert with the Camerata Medici (string quartet, see photos) and the soprano Simona Bottari. Monday, 21st the club organizes a coach trip to Montecatini Val Di Cecina and Pomarance with a guided tour of the mine’s copper and the medieval village of Pomarance and the Bicocchi Palace Museum. Packed Lunches. Starting at 8 am, returning between 7 and 8 pm. Information and bookings by 10 April: 347 9951581


Saturday 12th (5 pm , Teatro del Giglio ) there will be a concert by the Esagramma symphony orchestra (see photo) made up of professional musicians and people with disabilities or severe mental illness To introduce the concert , Wednesday 9th at 9.30 pm, in  the Auditorium Fondazione Banca del Monte, there will be a screening of the documentary film “A slum symphony” directed by Barbarossa Cristiano and shot in violent neighbourhoods of Venezuela with hundreds of thousands of children saved from marginalization through the study of classical music. Free admission. Tickets can be picked up at the booking office of the Teatro Del Giglio (0583 465 320).


Tuesday 22nd (9 pm, Artè centre of Capannori, Via Carlo Piaggia) there will be a concert including the Naturfreunde choir (see photo), from the German town of Hochstadt, conducted by Willi Bull. The evening will start with Le Pizzorne male choir conducted by Luigi Della Maggiora with songs of the mountains. Thursday 24th (9 pm, the centre Artè) there will be an evening entitled “Liberation”, with images tied to Lucca and Capannori of that period and songs in memory of the 70th anniversary of the liberation from the Nazis. Free admission.


Monday, 14th, at Lucca’s Palasport the musical “In the kingdom of Oz”, adapted from the story “The Wizard of Oz” by Frank Baum, with music by Francesco Rinaldi will be staged. There are two performances: 10 am for schools and 2.45 pm for the general public. Tickets cost 5 euro. Participating are the Rainbow Choir conducted by Cristina Torselli (composer of the musical arrangements), pupils from various schools of Capannori, the instrumental, choreographic and drama group of the Rainbow Choir (see photos from last year). Info: 0583 981721


The Cenacolo delle Muse is organizing a trip on April 5th to the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, for a performance at 6 pm of Rossini’s Maometto II. Roberto Abbado conducts the Orchestra and Chorus of the Rome Opera, conducted by Pier Luigi Pizzi. Cantor Roberto Gabbiani. The cast is made ​​up of Juan Francisco Gatell, Marina Rebeka, Kolosova Alisa and Alex Esposito. For information call Francesco Lucchese: 339 8039492

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With the conference Mascagni, this stranger curated by Fulvio Venturi and Didier Pieri (April 4th, at 5 pm) the “Boccherini OPEN” season continues with another month full of events in the Auditorium in Suffragio square, with free admission. Monday 7th at 5.30 pm, afternoon devoted to contemporary music titled Flauto ex Machina, with Filippo Rogai flute and Fabio De Sanctis De Benedictis at the computer. Tuesday 8th, at 6 pm, there will be a meeting titled La musica come personaggio nel cinema with the participation of Oscar winner Dario Marianelli (see photo). Wednesday 16th at 5.30 pm concert by the regional orchestra of flutes. The piano graduates of Maestro Aquiles Delle Vigne, Aldo Dotto and Eva Szalai, will be the stars of the concert on April 26th at 9 pm. Finally, on Tuesday the 29th at 5 pm there will be a conference – concert titled Giuseppe Lorenzo Pagnucci, Giuseppe Lorenzo Luti e altri Autori. Presenter Laura Meozzi, piano Richard Peruzzi, Silvia Bianchini and Deborah Camarlinghi. Info: http://www.boccherini.it


Saturday 26th at 9 pm the 51st edition of the Music Festival of Lucca will begin. This is a historic spring event dedicated to sacred music with nine concerts. Free admission. The first concert will take place in San Pietro Somaldi church with a recital by Lucca organist Enrico Barsanti (see photo). The program includes music by Bach, Dorati, Malvezzi, Muffat, Girolami, Spigots, Gherardeschi, Wely, Perosi and Young. La Sagra Musicale Lucchese continues the artistic season with more concerts in May and June.

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The “Mozart Così fan tutte” project dedicated to the great musician in Salzburg continues with the Scompiglio Vorno cultural association. Saturday, April 26th at 9 pm in the performance room of the estate there is an “I like Mozart” concert performed by some of the best musicians in Lucca who perform Mozart’s clarinet quintet K581, Rossini’s cat duet, Contino variations by Michele Dall’Ongaro, and Saint-Saëns Carnival of the Animals. Performers are Carlo Palese and Simone Soldati at the piano, Alberto Bologni and Cristina Papini on the violin, the violist Thomas Valenti, Carlo Benvenuti on the cello, Gabriele Ragghianti on bass, Giulia Matteucci flute , clarinettist Remo Pieri, Antonio Caggiano on xylophone and glockenspiel, conductor Erasmo Gaudiomonte. Tickets (full price € 12, reduced € 7) at the booking office of the SPE, tel. 0583 971125 or: biglietteria@delloscompiglio.org


The “Puccini and his Lucca” festival gives concerts every day at 7 pm in the Oratorio di San Giuseppe in Piazza Antelminelli, next to the cathedral. The concerts will take place in the winter headquarters in the heated auditorium: Mondays “Mozart and Puccini”, Tuesdays “Puccini’s Women”, Wednesdays “Evening of Italian Opera”, Thursdays “Puccini and Verdi”, Fridays “Puccini Opera recital”, Saturdays “an evening at the opera“, Sundays “Puccini and traditional Neapolitan song.” Each evening two soloists from the “Puccini and his Lucca” festival will be accompanied on the piano by Diego Fiorini.

Until April 26, the concerts will take place in the Oratorio di San Giuseppe at the Museum of the Cathedral and then will move to the Church of San Giovanni, the official site of the Festival. Tickets (full price € 20 – € 16 for reduced Lucca, students under 23 and groups) can be purchased from 6 pm to 7.15 pm every day at the festival box office at the Oratorio di San Giuseppe; reservations at 340 8106042, or online at: info @ musick.it


On Sunday, April 6th at 9.15 pm in the Chiesa dei Servi the fifteenth year of the Festival of Easter and Pentecost, organized by English World in collaboration with the “Puccini and his Lucca” Festival and the patronage of the banking foundations of Lucca, will start. The evening will see a performance of the Philharmonic Orchestra of Lucca, conducted by Andrea Colombini (see photo), with a symphonic program that will include music by Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner concluding with the Symphony No. 4 in E minor , Op. 98 by Johannes Brahms. On this occasion there will be fourteen concerts in the Festival of Easter and Pentecost and the third symphony season of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Lucca. Free admission for all residents of the province of Lucca. Seating up to availability but by reservation only by calling 340 8106042; info: info@puccinielasualucca.com.

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The tenth edition of the Cantiere Della Musica sponsored by the Lucca Federation of musical associations with the support of the banking foundations, the city of Lucca and the patronage of the Province and the Archdiocese of Lucca continues. Sunday, April 27th at 5.30 PM in the hall of the fresco of San Micheletto there will be an operetta concert. Performances of famous arias, duets, choruses from L’ Acqua Cheta by G.Pietri, The Merry Widow by Lehàr, Les Contes d’ Hoffmann by Offenbach, Si by Mascagni and Al Cavallino Bianco by Benatzky. Main performers will be Livorno’s Mascagni choir conducted by Giorgio Maroni accompanied on the piano by Patrizia Freschi and Tiziano Mangani; soloists Laura Peschiera, soprano and Paolo Morelli, baritone (see photo). Free admission.


In April will be held the last two Sunday morning concerts at Villa Bertelli in Forte dei Marmi sponsored by the “F. Geminiani” Francigena International Academy of Music Arts Festival in collaboration with the Fondazione Villa Bertelli. Sunday 6th at 12 am recital by pianist Massimo Barsotti who will play the Grand Concert Solo by F. Liszt, Rhapsody in Blue by Gershwin and Paraphrase from West Side Story by Bernstein composed by the same Barsotti. On April 13th, at 12 noon, last appointment with the recital of Giuseppe Lo Cicero (see picture), entirely devoted to piano music by Chopin. Free admission. Information at http://www.villabertelli.it



The Wesley Orchestra from Melbourne will perform a concert on Sunday 13th at 4 pm in the Loggia of the Praetorian Palace in Piazza San Michele. The Australian Orchestra, along with its choir, will also perform that evening at 9 pm in the church of S. Maria Corteorlandini (S. Maria Nera).

Monday, 14th Tuesday at 9 pm, there will be a choral concert of sacred music by the East Hampton High School Camerata and Belle Voci. The concert is included in the 12th festival “On the paths of music” vocal group promoted by Lucca’s “Il Baluardo” and under the artistic direction of Elio Antichi. Free admission.

Pag without the Cav

Cav & Pag go together as well as G & T. Or do they? At last year’s summer opera season at Torre del Lago Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana was paired with Puccini’s Il Tabarro in what remains a long-standing tradition in the Lucca area. Actually, the standard pairing of the two shortish operas does Leoncavallo a serious injustice – he is by far the greater of the two verismo composers.

Born in Naples in 1857, the young Ruggero was unsure whether to pursue a literary or a musical career. In fact, he pursued both, writing the majority of the libretti for his operas and is considered today the best Italian librettist next to Boito.

After stints playing at Parisian cabarets and an attempt at Bologna to stage his first opera Chatterton (based on the tragically short life of the English poet) Leoncavallo seized his chance after he heard Mascagni’s setting of Verga’s Rustic Chivalry in 1890 and wrote his Pagliacci produced in 1892 to great acclaim in Milan with no-one less than Toscanini conducting.

The sizzling two-acter, which incorporates a play within a play Hamlet-style and juggles between fantasy and reality in chilling fashion, was both Leoncavallo’s greatest triumph and his greatest disaster – disaster because he lived the rest of his life in the shadow of Pagliacci’s immense success, unable ever to repeat it again. His La Bohème, for example, after a good start was totally submerged by Puccini’s own version (which many feel is less faithful to the original Murgier story) and few people know the names of his other operas such as Mimi Pinson or Maia.

Leoncavallo saw himself as Italy’s answer to Wagner and even started writing an Italian “renaissance” trilogy in reply to Wagner’s ring cycle called Il Crepuscolo (The twilight). Only the first part,  I Medici was completed. This was revived at Torre del Lago theatre in 2007 on the occasion of the composer’s 150th birth anniversary and all I can remember about it is that I survived the performance – not because it was in any way bad but because the music was insipidly complex.

Towards the end of his life Ruggero Leoncavallo turned into a sort of clown himself. Short, corpulent, bristly and with impossible moustaches he was reduced to writing second-rate operettas to keep the wolf from the door. Malbrouck, La reginetta delle rose, Are You There?, La candidata, Prestami tua moglie: who remembers such titles as these today?


Are you there? was an especial flop at its London première and was greeted by loud boos and a riotous  audience. The main star tried to speak and apologise to the ticket-holders for the work but his speech was shouted down by the rabble.

Poor Leoncavallo! He saw himself as Italy’s Wagner but failed even to become its Lehar! He was a bit like Orson Welles who said of himself “I started at the top and gradually worked my way down to the bottom.”

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I am glad to say there were absolutely no boos from the stalls and the audience was far from being riotous at the staging of the work Ruggero Leoncavallo will always be fondly remembered by:  Pagliacci, performed at Bagni di Lucca’s Teatro Accademico yesterday afternoon by the ORFEO In SCENA opera group – a great little team of singers (web site at http://www.orfeoinscena.it/) who gave us a truly memorable performance.

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It would be difficult to mention who was the best soloist – they were all good but Simone Mugnaini sang a truly memorable Canio which I felt was influenced not a little by what Placido Domingo had to say about the character – that Canio is essentially a protective father-figure towards Nedda (alias Colombina, equally superbly sung and acted by Chiara Panacci) and that the gory double murder which concludes the proceedings (La commedia è finita) is an episode quite out of character (like perhaps the airline pilot’s presumed action in the current flight 370 mystery?)

(Simone Mugnaini singing “On with the Motley” at Bagni di Lucca’s theatre yesterday).

(Last scene and finale of Pagliacci)

It is quite remarkable, but also quite typical in the greatest Italian dramatic lyrical tradition, that a small company can put on a performance of the highest standard which in the UK could only be achieved in major urban centres. Opera truly runs in the arteries of any Italian worth his or her name and it is an innate attribute of a people who thrive on melodrama.

By the way, I forgot: perhaps the greatest performance yesterday afternoon was by the pianist. I dread operatic performances where an orchestra is substituted by the ivories but Maestro Marco Rimicci proved an utter virtuoso, colouring his playing with subtle nuances and making us forget that we were missing full symphony strings.

Moreover, I felt in some respects that this production was closer to the spirit of the original than those launched in big opera houses. After all, in our little theatre, we could have been the audience at that fateful night in the Calabrian village when the bloody incident that inspired the composer took place.

I’ve already booked the next (and regrettably) last opera for this short lyrical season at Bagni di Lucca. It’s La Bohème (Puccini’s version, not Leoncavallo’s, of course) and it’s on March 30th and apparently most of the seats have already gone. So hurry up and get your place now….

PS “Pagliacci” was not only the first opera to be recorded complete (in 1907), it was the first to be filmed complete (in 1931).

Turandot’s Carillon

Proceeding from Ponte a Serraglio to Bagni di Lucca Villa the road is lined on the right –hand side, just past the art-deco styled Carabinieri headquarters (the “Casa del Fascio” under a previous regime), with a mysterious, somewhat dilapidated-looking and orange-stuccoed villa displaying signs of former architectural splendour in its ionic columns and details.  This elegant building happens also to be of the greatest significance for Puccini opera lovers for reasons which will become clear…

I stopped there the other day to take the following pictures which show that what we see of the villa is just its back-end: the façade faces a beautifully extensive garden sloping down to the Lima River, now still in full flood after the recent heavy rains. Not only does the villa always seem shuttered but even its present ownership is a mystery although I gathered from my barber that it may be now in the hands of an English appassionato.

A visit to Giacomo Puccini’s beautifully arranged birth-home at no. 9 Corte di San Lorenzo in Lucca’s historic centre includes a room containing Turandot’s exquisite costume worn by Maria Jeritza for the incomplete masterpiece’s American première at the Metropolitan in November 1926.


I realized some time ago that Puccini listened with fascination to certain Chinese melodies played on a carillon (or music box) belonging to his friend, Baron Fassini Camossi, (who had pursued a diplomatic career in China, was a veteran of the 1900 Boxer Rebellions there and probably acquired the box and other souvenirs in China at the notorious “loot auctions” that followed the Boxers’ suppression), when they met at the Baron’s summer house: that same secretive villa Gamba at Bagni di Lucca in 1920. Evidently Adami, the opera’s librettist was also present.


Opera lovers have long known that three tunes from the Fassini music box (now in a private collection in Turin) were featured in Turandot. The famous Chinese folk song, Mo Li Hua (“Jasmine Flower”), which dates from the Qing dynasty, represents the seductive and imperial aspects of the Chinese princess Turandot, another accompanies the entrance of the three ministers and a third is used as an imperial hymn. These melodies were used by Puccini to add the required atmosphere of exoticism and chinoiserie to the opera.

I also understood that, in 1965, the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) had recorded the tunes from the Baron’s music box. I wrote to the BBC earlier last year in the vague hope of being able to hear that recording. After months of silence, I received an email from the director of programming , Michael Rossi, advising me to listen to a programme BBC Radio 3 would be broadcasting the following evening.

With trepidation I listened to the announcer mentioning my request. “Yes, Francis, we’ve found it!” And, through metallic chimes, came the honied pentatonic song of Mo -li- hua that appears for the first time, hymned by the children’s choir after the invocation to the moon in the first act and becomes a recurring musical theme of the opera. Then followed, on the carillon, two more tunes that Puccini used in other sections of Turandot.

Here is Mo-li-hua as treated by Puccini, followed by the original version:

In an email of thanks to the programme’s director Michael Smith I learned that his family came from the Lucchesia. In fact, Michael’s grandfather was born in Barga and emigrated to Glasgow, Scotland, at the start of the last century.

The melody Mo -li- hua is well known in China and, as a consequence of its having been used by Giacomo Puccini in Turandot, all over the world. In fact, Mo Li Hua  was used for the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games in 2004 and the inauguration of the Shanghai exhibition in 2010. It was also sung as the anthem of the Chinese Democracy protest in 2011, which, inspired by the Arab Spring, was called the Jasmine Revolution. There is even a version with Celine Dion singing it (in Chinese) as part of a gala concert given in the People’s Republic at:

Mo-li-hua’s words, however, are still far from touching the heart of the icy princess when she witnesses the beheading of those princes who had failed to guess the three riddles and gain her hand.

What a beautiful jasmine flower!

Sweetly fragrant and full of buds

Fragrant white and adored by all

Allow yourself to be picked because I want to give you to my love.

O little jasmine flower!


It’s lovely to hear these words, as I did, when our jasmine hedge casts an intoxicating scent over our house and garden.

Just as the melody of Mo -li- hua has been used in many contexts outside Turandot, it should also be remembered that the story of Turandot has inspired many other musical settings, beginning in 1729 with La Princesse de Chine by Alain-René Le Sage, incidental music to Carlo Gozzi’s original play by Carl Maria von Weber and Ferruccio Busoni’s own version, continuing to William Havergal Brian’s Turandot, written in 1951 and, also based on the fairy tale by Carlo Gozzi.

Only a great master, however, has the genius of turning a simple folk melody heard on an imperfect device into a rapturously exciting one within the context of a complex and psychologically overwhelming musical texture. This master will remain, forever, the greatest gift that the city of Lucca has given to the world of music. No other music can send such shivers down my spine as that magnificent Turandot.

So next time you pass by the villa Gamba do feel privileged to be so close to one of the inspirational fountains of the great Giacomo.