The Big Belly comes to Lucca

He writes:

Amen; so be it! So let’s do it! For now, let’s not think of obstacles, of age, of illnesses! I also want to keep the deepest secrecy: a word that I underline three times to you that no one must know anything about it! ….. The Big Belly is on the road to madness. There are some days when he does not move, he sleeps, and is in a bad humour. At other times he shouts, runs, jumps, and tears the place apart; I let him act up a bit, but if he goes on like this, I will put him in a muzzle and straightjacket……Will I finish it? Or will I not finish it? Who knows! I am writing without any aim, without a goal, just to pass a few hours of the day.

He did finish it, of course. That big belly belonged to Falstaff and the music is the miraculous one of an eighty-year old Giuseppe Verdi who writes younger and fresher music at that age than many ever could achieve at twenty, and who remains ever young in this, the two-hundredth anniversary year of his birth.

The freshness of yesterday’s performance at Lucca’s Teatro Del Giglio was sustained by a youth orchestra that was fully up to the challenge. If they sound so well now then this is surely reassuring for the future of Italian orchestral playing which has not always been the country’s musical strong point.

For, of course, the most important character in Verdi’s opera is the orchestra – commenting sometimes sarcastically, sometimes stentorianly, sometimes sensuously on the singers. It would be quite possible to follow the story just listening to that orchestra without the singers – it’s almost as if Verdi is proving that those so-called “barrel-organ” accompaniments he is accused of by sniffy critics never really were in his line and also, that there is an alternative to Wagner….

In Falstaff the composer breaks into new ground, laying before us a blueprint for all future operatic discourse in the century to follow. At the same time, there are many points where Verdi parodies– for example in Ford’s jealousy scene – those various stylistic effects which made up the blood and thunder of the operas written, as he put it, “in the galleys”. Indeed, the best Verdi parodies are not just to be found in the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas but in the man’s music itself.

As Italian verismo got its kick-off from Carmen so, listening to the orchestra, I truly believed Puccini could never have made the move from Edgar to Manon Lescaut and La Bohème without completely assimilating Verdi’s language. I cannot imagine the café Momus section in La Bohème without Falstaff’s Garter Inn scene (in this production with the ladies enticingly showing off their highly positioned stocking supports…). What utter virtuosity and brilliancy there is in Verdi’s late orchestral writing!

In that respect Puccini is truly Verdi’s successor – what a year 1893 must have been for opera lovers. For not only on the 9th February at Milan’s La Scala was Falstaff first performed but, later the same year, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut premiered at Turin’s Teatro Regio!  The following year Gustav Mahler, no less, conducted Falstaff in Hamburg, the same year of the opera’s first Covent Garden production.

To return to the Lucca performance: the singing of all the main characters was absolutely appropriate to their personalities and the singers delivered with verve in their voices and svelteness in their balletic movements. Everything, from the quickness of the ensemble patter songs to the sublimest of lyrical moments was as perfect as it can be in this imperfect world. The all-too brief love interludes between Fenton and Nanetta, which the opera’s great librettist, Boito, described as sprinkling sugar on an apple pie and scattering the whole comedy with that happy love without concentrating it at any one point brought me close to tears with their sweet intensity of emotion – surely, some of the most affective honey duets Verdi ever wrote.

Those who say they can’t find any memorable tunes in Falstaff should listen again; they just aren’t awake enough to the quickness and exhilaration of this, one of humanity’s greatest examples of its intangible heritage.

The late afternoon’s (it was a matinee – much to be preferred in Italy when evening performances start after nine) mood was infectious, with the audience truly captivated.  “Tutti gabbati” – we’re all duped – that gloriously bucolic (and, at the same time, academically correct) fugue for the finale surely signifies that not only is Falstaff game for a laugh but that the audience, too ,is conned into believing every part of the story, drawn into the illusory magic of opera. And, as Falstaff learns from his being conned, so we too – and willingly as well – are drawn into that undefinable exotic and irrational incantation, truly wishing to believe every part of the cosmic game.

And of magic there was aplenty in the Giglio’s co-production: in the costume colours, Elizabethan in inspiration but not stiff farthingales, instead, sensuous draping folds; in the scene of the oak Erne (Boito and Verdi’s English knew only double syllables for that word) which transported us into a thrashingly midwinter’s nightmare and then out again into a glorious midsummer dream with multicoloured and tasteful lighting effects.

Image projection supported this dream. How thankful we can be that digital technology can so easily help cut impossible costs in an increasingly finance-challenged art form and produce ever more startling effects. And how grateful that we have an amazing youthful talent of singers and instrumentalists in this part of the world bringing a zest for life to the truly life-enhancing creation that is Falstaff!

Requiem for an Era

In 1924 an elegantly-dressed, sixty-something man of yet handsome appearance with spruce moustache (to hide his nicotine-stained teeth) and misty, yearning eyes boarded the Pullman car of a train for Brussels. Holding a briefcase in which were manuscript sketches he seemed to be gazing on an imaginary horizon filled with inexpressible sadness. When he spoke his voice was faint, almost indistinct, and he coughed lightly but frequently. He lit up an oval-shaped Sobranie, inhaled and, again, coughed. Smoking had been one of his pleasures, begun early in life when a student at Milan’s conservatoire, together with the bad wine and the sporadic lady of pleasure.

Would he ever see his native hills again? Would he again be able to hunt coots, women and libretti? Would he ever be able to create a satisfactory conclusion to the opera about an ardent Mongolian prince and a cold Chinese princess that was bugging him?

So many of his friends had assured him he would. OK, the text of the final duet was not quite au fait. If the right words could be found then the right music would be written. For him it was always “le parole prima della musica” and then the music came fast. Yes, he would return and do all these things. Had he not been recently made a “senatore” – or “suonatore”, as he joked  – “a vita” ?  The première, fixed for the following April, would come – everything would turn out right on the night. And then he would again be able to row his boat on the little lake, drive his fast cars even faster and enchant his bewitched women. The new cure, the radium was going to work.

But, as we all too unhappily know it never did, or rather it did but the patient did not survive it. (Rather like what happened to a much-missed walking partner of mine.) Those crystals were just too overpowering for his weakened physique. And so, in a hospital clinic in a cold northern country, during an even colder winter, at 11.30 AM on the 29th of November Giacomo Puccini died.

His state funeral in Milan’s bristling cathedral was a day of national mourning. An Italy, still recovering from years of unrest, cried for the one man that truly restored, not only its cultural prestige, but its national self-esteem in a world which had often belittled “the land where the lemon-trees grow and in darkened leaves the gold-oranges glow.”

It was not just the end of a great artist, one who had successfully married a great Italian lyrical tradition to the post-Wagnerian developments of Germany and the impressionistic harmonies of France. It was not only the end of a dynasty of musicians stretching back over two hundred years. It was the end of the golden era of Italian opera. There would, of course, always be composers who would follow. But would there be any to write operas approaching anywhere near his level and inspiration?

Every year, the day Puccini died is commemorated in a solemn Requiem Mass sung in Lucca‘s finest building – its glorious romanesque cathedral, now completing an excellent restoration in which the city’s all-embracing symbol, “Il Sacro Volto”, in Civitali’s awesome tabernacolo, shines even brighter. I was privileged to be part of the congregation in what must be one of the most poignant moments of Lucca’s rich calendar of annual events.

Under the cathedral’s magnificently restored vaults its Saint Cecilia choir contributed to the service by singing Haydn’s Requiem under the direction of that superlative and versatile conductor Luca Bacci. (See also my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/moving-mountain-melodies/)

It was, indeed, Bacci who helped discover this little masterpiece in the archives of the great summer residence of the Esterhàzy family at Fertod, Hungary – a gracious building which we’d visited, indeed slept in, over twenty years ago during our major-minor exploration of a Europe until then denied to us because the iron curtain had yet to be drawn.

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The singing was completely worthy of the occasion; Giulia Biagetti’s organ substituted for an orchestra but the noble simplicity of the piece made the alternative accompaniment utterly suitable. The female soloist’s voice was quite divine. Even the sermon preached was absolutely right for the solemnity.

And, to top it all, after the Benediction Puccini’s own “Requiem”, written originally to commemorate the fourth anniversary of Verdi’s death in 1905, was performed. An intensely beautiful work with very modal harmonies and a searing part for the viola (which, in the cathedral’s acoustics, sounded almost like a baroque trumpet) it tears at one’s heart string even more than his “Crisantemi”.

How very special it is to hear a sung Requiem Mass in one of the world’s most wonderful buildings in memory of Lucca’s greatest son!

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November Music

As usual now I’ll include a post on music events coming up in Lucca and its province during November. In a month, not particularly noted for a plethora of events there are several good things. I’m especially keen to attend the San Francesco silent film screening with musical accompaniment and both the comemmorative Masses for Puccini and Catalani respectively sound interesting. And then there’s Carmen too!

BOCCHERINI OPEN

GREAT MUSICAL ANNIVERSARIES

Great music anniversaries is the title of a concert on Saturday, November 23rd at 6 pm in the auditorium of Piazza del Suffragio for the start of the Boccherini music institute’s new academic year.

Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, born two hundred years ago and Benjamin Britten, born one hundred years ago will feature in this important event. The Boccherini music institute’s orchestra, conducted by Egisto Matteucci, perform Britten’s Simple Symphony, Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, the aria Ella giammai m’amò from Don Carlo (baritone Roberto Lorenzi ) and the overture from Verdi’s Nabucco. The Boccherini music institute’s choir, trained by Sara Matteucci, will sing the famous chorus Va pensiero.  Admission is free. Info: http://www.boccherini.it

THE MUSIC FESTIVAL ENDS IN THE NAME OF PUCCINI

From 27th to 29th November there will be three musical days dedicated to Puccini organized by the Sagra Musicale Lucchese and the Fondazione Giacomo Puccini. Wednesday 27th (9 pm, Casermetta di San Colombano) a conference Michele Puccini: the man, the scholar, the composer with Gabriella Biagi Ravenni and Luca Bacci. Thursday 28th (4.30 pm Casermetta di San Colombano) a conference on Giacomo Puccini, smoking, motorcars, diseases and remedies (effective or not) with Luca Berni. Friday 29th, a double appointment: at 4 pm guided tour of the Puccini Museum – book by phoning 0583 584028, at  6 pm (St. Martin’s Cathedral) Mass in memory of Giacomo Puccini, with the Chapel of Santa Cecilia conducted by Luca Bacci and organist Giulia Biagetti.

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THE FESTIVAL OF SPRING AND UNRELEASED TRACKS OF THE “CLUSTER” COMPOSERS

The Cluster association continues its series of contemporary music with a concert in the auditorium of the Fondazione Banca del Monte di Lucca on Thursday 7th with Aldo Brizzi (electronics) and Reis (vocals) who will play traditional and popular music from Brazil in classical guise. Friday 15th (Oratory of the Guardian Angels (Angeli Custodi)) Rossella Spinosa and Alessandro Calcagnile will play Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring one hundred years after its first performance. The piece will be introduced by the two artists. Thursday 21st (Auditorium Fondazione BML) Renzo Cresti will present the new CD by Stefano Giannotti the Giardino dinincantato with live performance of most of the songs. Finally, on Saturday 30 (Oratory of the Guardian Angels – Angeli custodi) a tribute by some of the Cluster group composers (F. Cipriano , G. Deraco , M. Fabbri , F. Favali , G. Lazzarini) to Verdi and Wagner with previously unreleased tracks . All concerts are at 9 pm. Free admission

REQUIEM FOR PUCCINI

Friday 29th at 9.15 pm the Santa Felicita choir  at the San Romano Auditorium will sing in a  concert of sacred music titled Requiem for Puccini , on the 89th anniversary of the composer’s death. The program includes the Messa da Requiem by Lorenzo Perosi, first performed in Rome on January 19th 1925 at Puccini’s solemn state funeral, the Requiem Puccini composed for Verdi, the Motet for St. Paulinus by Puccini and the intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. Choirs participating include the Santa Felicita choir of Lucca and the Bruno Pizzi choir from Pisa, the bass Graziano Polidori with a group of soloists from his school , the “New Europe ” orchestra from Florence. Artistic Director Graziano Polidori. Chorus master: Silvano Pieruccini. Conductor: Alan Freiles. Admission is free.

SILENT FILM AND ORGAN IMPROVISATION IN SAN FRANCESCO

Thursday 7th (9.15 pm) the Domenico di Lorenzo association concludes the “Lucca Comics and organs” concert season with a show in the church of San Francesco sponsored by the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca. There will be a screening of the silent film Settimo Cielo by Frank Borzage from 1927 with organ improvisation by Edoardo Bellotti (see photo), organist, harpsichordist and musicologist , among the best-known and appreciated experts in Renaissance and Baroque repertoire. The show, produced in collaboration with the “Ezekiel 25.17″ Cineforum, will be presented by Pier Dario Marzi and has free admission subject to availability.

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MUSICAL ENCOUNTERS AT THE THEATRE

The encounters resume in November with four concerts dedicated to ancient and contemporary music. Sunday 10th at 5.30 pm, at the Teatro Colombo Valdottavo, a concert given by the Tuscany Regional Network of flutes with music by Bach, Bonn, Handel and Boncompagni. On November 17th, at the Teatro Colombo at 5.30 pm, pianist Simone Soldiers will perform music by Mozart, Brahms, Schumann and Chopin. Sunday 24th at the Church of San Francesco di Borgo a Mozzano, at 4.30 pm composer Girolamo Deraco meets the public to discuss “composing today.” This is followed at 5.30 pm by a guitar concert given by the Giacomo Brunini and Dario Atzori duo who will perform a world premiere of music by Deraco and music by Rossini-Giuliani, Sor, Castelnuovo-Tedesco, Granados and Gnattali. Entrance ticket € 8 (€ 5 for students). Booking: stagione.concerti.valdottavo@gmail.com; info: http://www.scmsalotti-borgoamozzano.it.

MOZART, COSI FAN TUTTE

The Cultural Association of the Scompiglio di Vorno, conducted by Cecilia Bertoni, presents “Mozart’s Così fan tutte”, a project revolving around the great composer from Salzburg with concerts taking place until June 2014 at the Scompiglio. Antonio Caggiano is artistic director. The programming of the festival is spread along three lines: Mozart operas, works of composers from different eras dedicated to Mozart and ‘experiments’ by artists from diverse musical areas that are contrasted with Mozart’s soundscape. The events open on November 30th at 9 pm with a concert given by the Sentieri Selvaggi ensemble conducted by Carlo Boccadoro, with music by Filippo Del Corno, Arvo Pärt, Gavin Bryars, Charles Goldmund, Michael Torke and Carlo Galante. Tickets cost € 12 (reduced € 7). Info: http://www.delloscompiglio.org

ALFREDO CATALANI CIRCLE OF FRIENDS MUSIC

The Catalani club presents, on Sunday 10th at 5.30, in the church of Santa Maria Corte Orlandini, a Thanksgiving Mass with Gregorian chant, and polyphonic choral work of the fourteenth century sung by the Cantus Anthime choir conducted by Livio Picotti. After the religious ceremony, there will be a convivial meeting at the Puccini restaurant to celebrate thirty years of activity. Additionally, at the San Luca Palace, the club presents a series of three events dedicated to Pietro Mascagni at 9 pm: Friday 15th screening of the film Melodie Immortali (1952). Roberto Del Nista introduces on Friday 22nd a lecture and debate “Mascagni, who was he?” curated by Alberto Paloscia. Saturday 30th, a concert “Remembering Mascagni” introduced by Alberto Paloscia. Information and reservations 347 9951581.

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“IL BALUARDO” CELEBRATES THE FIVE HUNDREDTH ANNIVERSARY OF LUCCA’S WALLS

Il Baluardo vocal group in Lucca celebrates five hundred years of Lucca’s walls with a concert on Sunday, November 10th at 5 pm in the Tobino Hall of the Palazzo Ducale. Free entry. The choir will perform songs from popular Tuscan, Italian and international repertoires, and will be accompanied on the guitar by Gabriele Cinquini and percussionist Joseph Favia, all conducted by Elio Ancients. After this, Il Baluardo continues with other events: Saturday 16th there is a dinner while on Tuesday 19th there is an “open test” at the choir’s headquarters (Via del Colletto 115 – Massa Pisana). For information call 348 2334867.

IMAGES AND SONGS OF MEMORY

On Monday, the 4th, in the auditorium of the ASL of Capannori, at the social and health centre, at 9 pm there will be an evening entitled “Images and songs of memory”. The program includes images of the two world wars and traditional Alpine songs sung by the Pizzorne di Camigliano choir conducted by Luigi Della Maggiora. Admission is free.

CARMEN INAUGURATES THE OPERA SEASON

On Saturday, November 23rd, at 8.30 pm, (repeated Sunday 24th at 4 pm), Bizet’s Carmen opens the opera season at the Teatro Del Giglio. Charles Goldstein conducts the Orchestra della Toscana, with the Coro della Toscana conducted by Marco Bargagna and the children’s choir of the Fondazione Teatro Goldoni conducted by Marisol Caballo. The main roles of the opera (Don Jose, Carmen and Escamillo) will be sung by Agata Bienkowska (23rd Nov), Annnunziata Vestri (24th Nov), Mickael Spadaccini (23rd) and Dario Di Vietri (24th), Paolo Pecchioli (23rd), and Valdis Jansons (24th). Director is Francesco Esposito. Stage-sets by Nicola Bruschi (see sketch of the first act). Tickets for the opera season go on sale on November 2nd.

(Teatro Del Giglio booking office email: biglietteria@teatrodelgiglio.it, tel. 0583 465320).

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CONCERTS EVERY FRIDAY AND SATURDAY AT SAN GIUSEPPE

From November the “Puccini and his Lucca” International Festival offers two weekly concerts at 7 pm in the Oratorio di San Giuseppe at the Museum of the Cathedral of Lucca (Piazza Antelminelli, the square, next to the Cathedral), and in a heated auditorium during the winter.

Every Friday the “Puccini Opera Recital”  concert of arias and duets from the masterpieces from the works of Giacomo Puccini ; every Saturday ” A Night at the Opera ” , a recital dedicated to arias from Puccini’s operas and other famous composers such as Mascagni, Donizetti , Mozart, Bizet, Wagner , Bellini , Verdi and Rossini . Every evening there are two soloists from “Puccini and his Lucca ” accompanied on the piano by Diego Fiorini .
Tickets on sale from 6 pm to 7.15 pm on the day of the concert at the Oratorio di San Giuseppe; entrance adult € 20 ( concessions € 16 for residents of the province of Lucca, students under 23 and groups). Discounts for tickets purchased in advance by calling 340 8106042 or online at: info@musick.it or info@puccinielasualucca.com.

Pisa’s Best-Kept Secret?

They’re madly in love with each other but Dad doesn’t like the idea that his high-class daughter should have anything to do with a half-caste Peruvian. The two decide to elope but just at that moment Dad steps in and goes for the daughter’s boyfriend who responds by saying that he has no wish to fight back and throws down his revolver to show that he is now completely unarmed. The trouble is the silly lad hasn’t set the safety catch on his weapon which accidentally fires and kills dad, thus putting his lover’s brother in an absolute frenzy of revenge. The plot develops and thickens, weaving its way around taverns, brothels, convents, monasteries, battlefields and hermits’ caves, finishing up with most of the protagonists dead – all dead in the original, but Verdi thought this was too much of a blood-bath and re-wrote the ending to save at least one of them.

If you hadn’t already guessed, it’s la Forza del Destino or the Force of Destiny I’m talking about –  the opera Busseto’s swan wrote for the St Petersburg opera in 1861 and which gained him 60,000 gold francs, the probable  equivalent of at least twice that sum in euros today. Based on a play by Angel de Saaveddra, Spanish duke of Rivas, and re-worked into an opera libretto by the composer’s faithful collaborator, Francesco Maria Piave, who worked on no less than ten operas with Verdi including such greats as Rigoletto, la Traviata and Simon Boccanegra, La Forza has a lot more going for it than its famous overture. Dramatic duets, moving religious choruses and rousing military ones, gipsy enticements presaging even Carmen, roguish traders, fortune-tellers, send-ups of monkish practises in the role of Trabuco and tipsy drinking songs, duels, repentances, confessions and redemptions all make for an opera which, although long – some said too long at its first performance in 1862 (Verdi’s singers couldn’t take that Russian winter; some even died from it, so the performance was delayed until the following spring) – is always on the move.

I certainly was gripped by the force of that inexorable destiny, by the kaleidoscope of musical forms which sum up all Verdi’s achievements and techniques up to that point and prophesy the developments to come in Aida and the two miraculous final Shakespeare-based works of the octogenarian composer.  I was also stunned by the theatre in which Don Alvaro and Don Carlo di Vargas fought out their fate: the Teatro Verdi which I’d never attended before, let alone seen, but which must be one of Pisa’s best–kept secrets. This building, only a quarter of an hour’s walking distance from the railway station, is not just majestically large – it has five tiers of boxes – but has golden acoustics within its traditional horseshoe shape.

The Teatro Verdi in Pisa was inaugurated in 1867, with a performance of Rossini’s William Tell. Its architect was Andrea Scala. With its seven hundred seats, its stage (26 metres X 32 metres) is one of the largest in Italy, making it highly suitable for grand operas like Aida, or Nerone which, in Lucca’s Teatro Del Giglio just couldn’t fit.

The theatre’s interior has been recently beautifully restored by Massimo Carmassi and the wonderful nineteenth-century frescoes sparkle in their renewed colours. There is also a recital and rehearsal room dedicated to the great Pisan baritone, Titta Ruffo, whose voice was described as “a miracle”.

I didn’t have time to view the theatre museum, which contains costumes and objects documenting the glorious history of this magnificent building, on whose stage the greatest singers of our time have sung, Pavarotti, Callas, Di Stefano, Gobbi, Raimondi, Petrella: the list is seemingly endless.

The performance I attended, one of only two, continued the great tradition of the highest quality. Only the fussiest of critics could have really faulted the singers and the production. For me, the Russian Maria Shevchenko was heart-melting as Donna Leonora with none of that irritating eastern wobble. Mastro Trabucco as the truculent monk was vastly humorous – a role which even looks forwards to Falstaff himself. Claudia Marchi as Preziosilla was charmingly vivacious and the two leading roles of Don Carlo di Vargas, sung by Luca Grassi, and Don Alvaro sung by Zoran Todorovich were more than adequate and sometimes inspiring.

There were two miracles about this production: first the youthfulness of the performers, most of whom were just thirty-something years of age, foremost of all conductor and director Valerio Galli who must have been born with Verdi blood transfused into his arteries, so idiomatic was his performance and so sensitive was he to all the subtle nuances of the Master’s unique style.

The second miracle was that this production was done on a shoestring budget of just twelve thousand euros – a pittance for operatic creations. It just shows that quantity does not always produce quality and that an inspired and gifted younger generation can contribute more than anything money can buy.

Three full, loud cheers then for Verdi, Il Teatro Verdi di Pisa and the gifted performers: a force of destiny difficult to avoid and certainly even more difficult to forget!

October Music for Lucca

As I’ve promised I’ve tried to get you next month’s musical events for Lucca province to you ASAP.I’ve just the received the details from Lucca Musica (where I am classed as a collaborator). Here they are then. Let everyone take their favouries out of the little cornucopia this part of the world can present to mélomanes (as the French say).

For one, I’m definately going for the Bruckner eighth. I haven’t heard Bruckner live for yonks and certainly never in Lucca! Colombini is a brilliant and highly-charged conductor, very much at ease with the peculiar English musical idiom and whose concert in celebration of Her Majesty’s diamond Jubilee last year was overwhelmingly idiomatic, even including Elgar’s very last Pomp and Circumstance march written in 1930 at the back of his Rolls while the chauffeur was driving him round the marvellous countryside that is  Worcestershire..

Mexican organists of the Baroque also sound fascinating and I have a soft spot for that Beethoven septet (which Beethoven didn’t, hating its popularity)

And as for The Tales of Hoffman – that clearly must be on my list too!

BRUCKNER’S EIGHTH IN THE CHIESA DEI SERVI

The Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrea Colombini gives two important concerts this month. Tuesday 8th, is a Grand Gala of Richard Wagner‘s operatic and orchestral excerpts from Die Meistersinger, Tannhauser, Die Walküre and Tristan and Isolde. Soloists will be the internationally renowned soprano Francesca Patane and tenor Nicola Simone Mugnaini.

Tuesday 22nd, is another important concert by the Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Andrea Colombini with a performance of Anton Bruckner’s mighty Eighth Symphony in the 1887/1890 version. The two concerts start at 9.15 pm and will be used to raise funds for charities. Info: 340 8106042

THE “ALFREDO CATALANI “CLUB VISITS GIUSEPPE VERDI’S HOUSE

On Friday 18th at 9.15 pm, in the Auditorium of the School of Symphonic Music, the Catalani club presents a concert called l’intimismo dei Lieder. The well-known soprano Laura Polverelli (see photo) accompanied on piano by Laura Pasqualetti sings lieder by Wagner, Fauré, Massenet, Debussy and Poulenc. Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th, the club organizes a trip to La Scala for a performance of Giuseppe Verdi‘s Don Carlo. Star of the evening will be the Lucchese baritone Massimo Cavalletti in the role of Rodrigo. Conductor is Fabio Luisi. The trip will also visit Giuseppe Verdi’s tomb at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan and the beautiful artists’ rest house commissioned by Giuseppe Verdi. Info and reservations: 347 9951581

NINTH EDITION OF THE LUCCA WOMEN’S JAZZ WOMAN WITH INTERNATIONAL GUESTS

Saturday 12th at 9.15 pm, in the Ademollo Hall of the Palazzo Ducale, the ninth Lucca Jazz Donna Festival begins with a concert by the Gershwin Quintet and Bate Boca. Free admission. The festival continues on Thursday 17th at 9.15 pm in the San Girolamo theatre with a concert called Le emozioni degli istrumenti (“The Italian Colour of Jazz” and ” Francesca Bertazzo Hart Quintet”), Friday 18th with a double appointment at San Girolamo: at 5.30 pm a lecture-concert entitled Women and Jazz: musical adventures and, at 9.15 pm, with a show, le emozioni delle voci. Finally, on Saturday 19th (San Girolamo theatre 9.15 pm) a performance by Giovanni Tommaso’s Plus Trio. For ticket prices and information, visit http://www.luccajazzdonna.it

CAMIGLIANESE CHORAL FESTIVAL

Saturday, from 5 to 9 pm, in the parish church of Camigliano the XXXV Camiglianese Choral festival, which every year attracts an international level of choral singing, will take place. This year, after the evening’s opening given by the G. Puccini choir of Camigliano conducted by Luigi Della Maggiora the event’s organizer, we will hear a performance by the S. Martino di Prato choir conducted by Leonardo Gabuzzini, who will sing songs from operettas and Verdi choruses, and the ” Friends of the Mountain” choir from Origgio in Varese province who specialise in in mountain songs and are conducted by Raffaele Ceriani.

CHORAL SINGING COURSE

The Brunier Cultural Artistic association Laboratory is organizing a course in choral singing for anyone interested in developing their musicality. The course, directed by Guido Masini, will begin in October at the premises of the association in Piazza S. Romano, Lucca. Info: aac.laboratoriobrunier @ virgilio.it or by calling 347 6254609.

TANGRAM CHAMBER PROJECT IN CONCERT

In October, the “Boccherini OPEN”, the annual season of the “Boccherini” Musical Institute starts. Thursday, from 3 to 9 pm, Francesco Demegni present Modern music Evolutions, while on the weekend of October 5th and 6th there will be Performances Boccherini, with the Institute’s best students. This starts on Saturday, 5th (6 pm) with a Debussy concert by Aldo Dotto (piano), the clarinet and Gloria Cervelli (clarinet) and Cristina Papini (violin). Also on Saturday 5th, at 9 pm, Arianna Tarantino (piano) and Fabia Simini (cello) perform music by Boccherini, Beethoven and Brahms. Sunday 6th (6 pm) Francesco Gatti, Lara Berti, Sara Tomei (flute), Simon Rugani, Cristian Monti (piano), Elisa Barsella, Lara Petri, Francesco Scarpetti (violas) will perform with twentieth century music. Finally, the 6th at 9 pm, a piano recital by Sofia Gazzola with music by Scarlatti, Beethoven, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. Special guest this month will be the Tangram Chamber Project (see photo), consisting of young players and award-winning musicians, who will perform on Friday, 25th at 9 pm. The ensemble, consisting of Clarice Curradi (violin), Giacomo Vai (viola), Simone Centauro (cello), Marco Martelli (double-bass), Giovanni Vai (clarinet), Francesca Alterio (bassoon ) and Massimo Marconi ( horn), play Beethoven’s Septet in E flat major, Op. 20 and Bruch’s Septet in E flat major. All concerts will be held in the Auditorium of the “L. Boccherini ” musical institute in Piazza del Suffrage. Free entry. Info: http://www.boccherini.it

HIDDEN THEATRES

In October the “The Hidden Theatres of Lucca” tours continue. The Teatro Del Giglio, in collaboration with the Consortium Turislucca Guide, offers the chance of rediscovering theatrical spaces hidden in the historical buildings of the centre with a walking tour, enriched by vintage images and pleasant surprises of live music, narrating the world of drama, meetings and cultural life which over the centuries has inspired the city of Lucca.

Appointments are on 19th and 26th, departing at 3 pm, in Piazza San Frediano. Ticket € 10. Reservations are compulsory at the Giglio Theatre booking office. Tel 0583 465320.

OPERA SEASON SUBSCRIPTIONS

In October you can buy subscriptions for the 2013-2014 opera season at the Teatro Del Giglio. The theatre will present Bizet’s Carmen (23rd and 24th November), Verdi’s Falstaff (13th and 15th December), Cimarosa’s Secret Marriage (7th and 9th February) and Offenbach’s Les Contes d’Hoffmann (22nd and 23rd February). Old subscriptions will be confirmed until 11th October while from 12th to 31st new subscriptions will be sold. Info 0583 465 330.

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LUCCA CITY OF ORGANS 2013

The “Domenico di Lorenzo” association  presents four concerts performed on the territory’s historic organs with the sponsorship of the Cassa di Risparmio di San Miniato SpA and the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Lucca. The first event is on Friday 18th in the church of S. Filippo, where the organist Enrico Barsanti plays Italian and transalpine composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries on  Michelangelo Crudeli’s valuable instrument. Friday 25th, Mexican organist Victor Contreras (see photo) will perform a program devoted to music by Mexican composers between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries on the organ of St. Peter Somaldi. Wednesday 30th, a trio consisting of Monica Piccinini (soprano), Patxi Montero (viola da gamba) and Daniele Boccaccio (organ), will present music by Italian seventeenth and eighteenth century organists on the instrument attributed to Domenico Pucci in the church of San Salvatore della Misericordia. The concerts, starting at 9.15 pm, are free. Info: tel. 338 3221217 – 339 7591128.

THE MIRÒ TRIO AT S.GIULIA

Thursday, October 3rd at 5 pm, in the Church of Santa Giulia in Piazza del Suffragio, the Mirò Trio will present a concert featuring Johann Sebastian Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a version for string trio. The concert will be held in conjunction with an exhibition of paintings by C. Cherchi, G. Giudice and M. Vertuccio. The Trio Mirò, formed by Carlo Alberto Valenti (violin), Claudio Valenti (viola) and Carlo Benvenuti (cello), is part of a larger musical group called the “Miró Ensemble”. Admission is free.

FALLONI AND ZONI AT PALAZZO PFANNER

The last concert of the fifth season of the “Suoni di Lucca – Musica a Palazzo Pfanner” will be held on Sunday 6th at 9.15 pm at Palazzo Pfanner in via degli Asili no. 33. Matthew Fallon (piano) Marco Zoni (flute) will perform music by Schumann, Casella, Fallon, Gaubert, Agricole Gènin and Borne. At the end of the concert there will be a tasting of a typical Luccan liqueur: “The Biadina Tista.” The entrance ticket (€ 5) can be purchased at the concert venue. Info: http://www.orchestraluigiboccherini.it

Instant Information?

A frequent complaint, not only from myself but from others, regarding events in Lucca province is that they are not always well-publicised and sometimes not made known at all.

Part of the problem is that there is no effective centralised information agency for all the thousands of events that take place here annually (although it’s being worked upon as I write) and there no single comprehensive magazine in the manner of London’s “Time out” listing events according to genre and location. Every comune in the borough, it seems, issues its own list of happenings without cross-references to corresponding events in other boroughs. Events can be money-spinners so why should they lose potential punters to other local government administrations?

How do I gather my information then?

From ten main sources:

  1. Newspapers and Magazines. “La Nazione” newspaper has a good local events section, especially in the Monday edition and, moreover, can update previous information if it has been postponed or cancelled. “Grapevine” cannot be bettered for its centre spread events list.
  2. Brochures and leaflets. Organizations like “Ponti nel Tempo”, “Serchio delle Muse” or general compilations like Lucca “Note” (very useful and distinguishing between the different kinds of events) will issue literature, available at tourist information offices in time for their season of events.
  3. Facebook. Notifications via Facebook from organizations or people I have selected to link to my page can be very useful if you immediately paste them in your calendar…
  4. Web sites. Many organizations, after a late start, have got informative web-sites which are easily found by googling them. Examples are http://www.serchiodellemuse.it/      http://www.pontineltempo.it/manifestazioni.php and http://www.luccamusica.it/
  5. Lucca Musica. – a monthly free magazine. The list of musical events which is sent to me monthly from LuccaMusica (to be translated into English) is a good source.
  6. Flyers and posters. These, pasted on walls or pinned on noticeboards, can be photographed as you find them and then noted on a calendar.
  7. Television and radio. NOI TV, the local station which not only informs the public about events but also broadcasts a lot of them should be regularly watched in addition to tuning in to local radio stations…
  8. Friends and Acquaintances. Friends and acquaintances can often tell me about events which don’t seem to appear elsewhere. Such was the case with the Violoncello concert at Tereglio. If I want to know when and where the next sagra will come round then I have two friends who have a very detailed calendar they have built up over the years giving me all the information I need.
  9. From knowledge that certain events are recurring. E.g. organ concerts in Val di Lima always come round about July and the various Sagre always tend to occur at around the same times too.
  10. Other methods. You can always tell if a mediaeval Festa is in the vicinity by the mighty sound of drums. Church bells will announce the latest religious procession. Gunshot and barking of male deer will announce the start of the hunting season (if you’re interested, of course).

It’s clearly agreeable to write about events one’s been to but not so nice if others didn’t know the events took place. So, for one, I’ve decided in future to include the list from Lucca Musica in my blog as soon as I receive it, which is around the middle of the month for the next month.

In the meanwhile here is the list I received in August for this month. So happy event hunting!

MASTER CLASSES AND CONCERTS AT THE “BOCCHERINI OPEN GOLD”

In September, the Luigi Boccherini musical institute is organizing master classes and concerts with internationally renowned artists. From 6th to 8th September Marshev Oleg, one of the most influential Russian pianists, will begin his piano course. Katia Ricciarelli follows with a master class from the 10th to the 14th, while Aquiles Delle Vigne, the great Argentine pianist, will be at the Institute from September 16th to the 19th. From 17th to 21st Alessandro Capon, first violin of the Berlin Philharmonic orchestra will be present and, to close the calendar, there will be the famous Czech guitarist, now naturalized Dutch, Pavel Steidl from 18th to 22nd September and Bruno Canino, a ground-breaker in chamber music performance, from 28th to 30th September. At the same time there will be choral and orchestral workshops, conferences and concerts. For details on the performers, programs, places and times refer to the poster on page 13.

THE LUCCA PHILHARMONIC ORCHESTRA CONDUCTED BY ANDREA COLOMBINI

The Lucca Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Andrea Colombini, will hold two major concerts during the Settembre Lucchese program. On Sunday 15th (Chiesa dei Servi 9.15 pm) the Holy Cross Opera Gala will be held with soloists from the “Puccini and his Lucca” festival and the “G. Verdi“, from Prato, and “G. Puccini”, from Torre Del Lago, choirs.  The program includes music, choruses and arias from the great masterpieces of Puccini, Verdi, Mozart, Bizet and Richard Strauss. On Sunday 22nd there will be a “Viennese Nights” concert with waltzes, polkas and marches of the Strauss family. Soprano Silvia Di Falco and guitarist Meme Lucarelli will perform. Info and reservations by calling 340 8106042.

GIANFRANCO COSMI’S 500 VOICES FOR THE HYMN TO LUCCA’S WALLS

On Sunday 8th at 6 pm, in Piazza San Martino, 500 singers from various choirs of Tuscany, conducted by Gianfranco Cosmi, will perform in a repertoire that not only includes pieces by Verdi, Wagner, Puccini and Mascagni, but also premieres the “Hymn to Lucca’s walls” for tenor and chorus by Gianfranco Cosmi, written for the 500th anniversary of the construction of the city walls of Lucca. Admission is free.

THE DREAM OF MELIA

On Thursday 5th at 9 pm, in the cloister of San Micheletto, there will be a performance of “Melia’s Dream”, a musical recitation conceived and written by Paola Massoni, uniting music, poetry, dance and light show. Paola Massoni, in the guise of the nymph Melia, soprano and narrator, will be joined by a dance troupe led by choreographer and director Kristian Cellini, (Dance School Fuoricentro of Lucca), accompanied by “Le Muse” Ensemble conducted by Mauro Fabbri. Admission by donation. The proceeds will be given to the Green Cross of Lucca.

PIANO QUINTET AT THE “ANGELI CUSTODI”

The Angeli Custodi (Guardian Angels) concerts resume in September, in the street of the same name, with an evening where two of Joseph Haydn’s concertos for piano and orchestra, transcribed for string quintet according to contemporary performance practice, will be performed by James Phelan (piano), Gianluca Chelini and Carlo Berti (violin), Francesco Scarpetti (viola), Lorenzo Phelan (cello) and Severiano Paul (bass). Tickets from 5 to 12 €. Information at http://www.iconcertidegliangeli.com

“TARGA D’ARGENTO” AWARD TO ANDREA BORGHINI

On Sunday 15th at 5.30 pm, at San Micheletto auditorium there will be the customary appointment with the “In sogno” (dream on) event during which the “Targa d’Argento Luciana Pardini” will be awarded to the young baritone Andrea Borghini, who will perform arias by Puccini, Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti. At the piano Laura Pasqualetti. Admission is free. To book call 347 9951581. On Sunday, 22nd (9.15 pm San Micheletto) the “Amici Della Musica” present a dance and pop music show to raise funds for the care of a child with a rare disease. Tickets are € 8.

MOTTETTONE FOR HOLY CROSS

In the evening of September 13th, in the Cathedral of San Martino, the “Mottettone” for the Holy Cross, a choral and orchestral piece traditionally composed by Lucca musicians to celebrate the September Festival will be performed. At the end of the historic Luminara this year, there will be a piece by Pietro Paoli, a musician who lived between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Performers will be the choir of the Cappella Musicale “Santa Cecilia” of the Cathedral of Lucca, the Choir of the Cathedral of Castelnuovo di Garfagnana and Giulia Biagetti organ. Musical Director Luca Bacci.

MUSIC AT PALAZZO PFANNER

The first concert in the “Sound of Lucca” musical season will be on Friday, September 6th at Palazzo Pfanner with the soloists of the “Boccherini” Chamber Orchestra (Luke Celoni and Angela Landi violins, cello Paolo Ognissanti, Fabrizio Petrucci on bass). On Sunday 15th, in collaboration with the Istituto Musicale “Boccherini”, there will be a concert in the Suffragio Auditorium with Luca Celoni, Valeria Barsanti (violins) and Carlo Benvenuti (cello) who will present the first part of the complete string trios Op. 34 by Luigi Boccherini. The evening will be hosted by Remigio Coli. On Sunday 22nd at Palazzo Pfanner there will be a concert devoted to Astor Piazzolla and the Tango with the Hyperion ensemble. On Friday 27th there will be the second part of the string trios Op. 34 by Luigi Boccherini. With the exception of the concert on 15th September which will begin at 6 pm with free admission, all other concerts at Palazzo Pfanner (via degli Asili, 33) will start at 9.15 pm with a ticket price of € 5. Info: http://www.orchestraluigiboccherini.it

SACRED MEDIEVAL MUSIC

On Tuesday, September 10th at 9 pm in the Oratory of S. Joseph, Piazza Antelminelli, musicians from the InUnum Ensemble, invited by the Nuove Tendenze Cultural association, will perform a program of sacred music ranging from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, with the title “Mundi Renovatio. The dimension of salvation in sacred medieval music”.

The program includes music by Adamo di San Vittore (1112-1192), Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), Alfonso X the Wise (1221-1284), Johannes de Lymburgia, Gilles Binchois (XV cent.) and other pieces from medieval collections, such as the Las Huelgas (XIII-XIV c.) codex, the Llibre Vermell and the Laudario of Cortona (XIV c.). Elena Modena and Hilary Gregoletto accompany the singers with musical instruments such as the Gothic harp, the great vieille, percussion, recorders and the Italian shawm. Tickets: € 10, reduced € 5. Info: http://www.nuovetendenze.org

CONCERT FOR SAN MICHELE

It’s now the eighth year of the concert for San Michele, an initiative promoted by the Polifonica Lucchese choir and part of the annual season of the Lucchese musical association.

On Saturday, September 21st at 5.30 pm, in the Church of San Michele in Foro, Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, Op. 84 and his Mass in C major. Op 86 for soloists, chorus and orchestra will be performed.

The performers are: Mirella Di Vita (soprano), Sandra Mellace (mezzo-soprano), Marco Mustaro (tenor), Francesco Facini (bass), the Polifonica Lucchese choir, the Stereo Tipi vocal group and the “L. Boccherini” chamber orchestra conducted by Egisto Matteucci. Ticket at € 10, on sale in the church of San Michele before the concert.

 THEATRICAL AND MUSICAL SHOW WITH SONGS BY BRECHT AND VIAN

On Sunday 22nd at 6 pm the Teatro S. Girolamo will host a theatrical and musical show directed by Elisa Rocca:  “B & B – tragic Variety in sonata form” with actresses Chiara Catalano and Valentina Ruggeri accompanied by pianist Stefano Lenci and presented by the Associazione Nuove Tendenze, in collaboration with the Teatro del Giglio, under the patronage of the Municipality and the Province of Lucca.

“B & B” is a show that aims at reinterpreting the cabaret in a modern key. The show will also be rich in surprises for the audience. Tickets: € 15, reduced € 12; advance bookings at the Teatro Del Giglio. Info: http://www.nuovetendenze.org

MUSIC BY RAPEZZI MUSIC FOR THE FOREIGN ARTISTS COLLECTIVE

From 1st to 22nd September the exhibition hall of the BML Foundation in Piazza San Martino will host the exhibition “Destination / Destinaciòn Lucca”, with artists Dariush (Iran), Uri Negvi (Argentina) and Katerina Ring (California).

As with previous exhibitions, the Cluster-Lucca musical association will provide the music. The soundtrack created especially for the occasion by the Lucca composer Xavier Rapezzi will accompany the paintings in various ways by stimulating the viewer’s emotions. Free admission. Open September 1st to 22nd at the following times: Monday-Friday 4pm-8pm Saturday and Sunday 10 am – 1pm, 4 pm-8 pm. Info: http://www.fondazionebmluccaeventi.it

 

Verdi Under the Stars

In 1996 a terrible flash-flood devastated large areas of the Apuan Alps. In particular two borghi, Fornovolasco and Cardoso (the one in Massa Rosa province, not the one in Garfagnana), were seriously damaged and, what is worst, caused fourteen deaths.

To raise funds for and to declare solidarity with the affected inhabitants Maestro Luigi Roni, a bass singer of international repute from Calomini, gave some recitals. These were the foundation of the “Serchio delle Muse” festival which, since 2002, and still under the artistic direction of Maestro Roni, has graced this valley with its programme of largely free concerts, recitals and poetry readings in its most beautiful locations: from ancient monasteries, to remote chapels and even to mountain refuges and all, generally, in the open-air.

2013 celebrates (if you didn’t know already you must be living in a remote part of Papua New Guinea) the bicentenary of the birth of those two pillars of the operatic repertoire, Verdi and Wagner. La Scala was slapped on the wrist for kicking off the festivities with Lohengrin at the end of last year but, certainly, Verdi has now come to the fore with many of his amazing works being performed this year throughout the peninsula.

The evening at Gallicano, part of the “Serchio delle muse festival”, was one of these celebrations: a concert of some of the “Swan of Busseto’s” most memorable scenas, including both familiar and unfamiliar pieces. The programme and singers were as follows:

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I didn’t know any of the singers but, with its over-riding themes of passionate, unrequited love, bloodthirsty vengeance and filial affection, opera flows in the blood of Italians, and nothing but the best of voices could have pleased the audience. And the singers were stunning, all of them! The performances could not have been faulted on any account, with my personal favourites being the extracts from Don Carlo, Luisa Miller and Rigoletto.

The chorus, directed by Stefano Visconti, from the Festival Puccini of Torre del Lago was also superb and, in particular, their rendition of “patria oppressa” from that early masterpiece, Macbeth, was spellbinding.

Of course, good singers and a fine chorus are only part of the ingredients for a great evening: the pianist Roberto Baralli made us forget that, officially, these pieces should have an orchestra, by impregnating his instrument with every conceivable kind of tone-colour and indulging in a piquant interaction with his marvellous singers. But, for me, what made the evening an articulate one, uniting what could have been a disparate medley of unrelated items, was the enchanting presentation by Debora Pioli who, shamefully, was not mentioned either in the series leaflet or in the evening’s performance programme.

Debora, writer, journalist, musician, theatrical collaborator and lots more besides, has an absolute way in getting one to enter into the heart of the event: her seermingly extempore but deeply considered comments about the passions which inspired Verdi, his musical treatment of men and women, the psyches of his characters, really got us to understand more fully the language of his masterpieces.

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After Debora’s thanks to all those who contributed to a memorable evening it was, therefore, not surprising that she got the final plaudit from the Maestros themselves.

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How wonderful it is to appreciate opera in the balmy evening of an Italian square at the height of summer, with accompaniment of cicadas and reflections of moonbeam, in the company of locals, for whom opera is not some form of elitist pastime (“an exotic and irrational entertainment” as Doctor Johnson famously defined it) but a genuine embodiment of themes and passions which can stir the heart of every true-born native here, and throughout the world.

You can still enjoy these passions as the festival events continue throughout the summer. Click on http://www.serchiodellemuse.it/pages/ITA/ilprogramma.asp?RISUL_New=y&Ramo=0&Cat1ID=331 to get the full programme.

Rest-home Opera

There are some operatic recital evenings which simply sparkle and produce an infective energy which feeds back into a heightened performance. Such an evening was that at the Pio X rest-home at the Terme of Bagni di Lucca. The occasion was part of the extensive programme of events put on by the Artists association of Ponte a Serraglio for the first Arts festival of its kind at Bagni di Lucca, which also includes great exhibitions, lively shows and fine concerts. The evening’s aim was to raise money for the rest home catering not only for clergy resting from their parochial cares but also for people not normally able to afford a decent break and for the old folks’ home of the Bosco Ceduo at Casabasciana.

The rest-home villa was once the property of the Ruspoli family from Florence and is beautifully situated on the Terme Hill, overlooking the Camaione valley. The event was originally meant to have taken place in its  amphitheatre-like gardens but, because of a menacing thunderstorm earlier in the afternoon, it was decided to stage the event in the dining room, where many guests were already enjoying a well-prepared dinner.

The programme titled itself “arie e scene da opere da Mozart a Puccini, canzoni napoletane e internazionali” and the singers were sopranos Valentina Corradetti, Hannah Moss and Letizia Cappellini, mezzosoprano Maria Campbell, tenor Claudio Sassetti, and baritones Ricardo Crampton and Mattia Campetti.

Mattia Campetti was not only the producer and presenter of the evening – he was its saviour. Working against amazing odds (or incompetences if you prefer), and with a little help from two friends, he salvaged an evening that appeared left without a piano or venue, managed to find both, delight an enthusiastic audience and raise Euro 600s for the worthy cause.

The singers were young and well on the way to achieving great things in their career. They had all participated in Lucca Opera’s season of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas at Montecarlo’s Teatro degli Rassicurati. At the keyboard was conductor Jonathan Brandani himself. I have talked about one of their iridescent productions in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/phenomenal-figaro/

The first half of the recital had standard operatic favourites from Puccini and Verdi. All the singers were good but I would single out Valentina’s Floria Tosca, Claudio’s Cavaradossi and Hannah’s Lehar as outstanding interpretations. The second half was of a more popular flavour with Neapolitan songs, the cat duet and that melody everyone knows, but few can name, “musica proibita”.

A “La ci darem la mano” was amusingly arranged for the whole ensemble who could not be allowed to “partire da qui “and so they returned and concluded with a rousing rendition of that favourite ice-cream flavour “O sole mio.”

As the producer, presenter (and singer) Matteo Campetti stated “it’s actually more difficult singing in a restaurant than on stage; you see all these scrumptious dishes waft past you while you get even more hungry.” I would add a further difficulty: the sound of crockery and glasses emanating from the kitchen and the boxy acoustics. However, all these problems were easily overcome by the sheer panache of the singers and the enthusiasm of the audience – truly an evening to lift up our hearts and rejoice in the new creative life that the Arts Festival is pouring into Ponte a Serraglio.

Viva Verdi!

The following day, June 2nd, being Italy’s Republic day, and, therefore, a national holiday (unfortunately falling on a Sunday – but I was told by my students at Materis that they’d get double-pay) what better way to celebrate it than with a Verdi evening? Well, almost, for the name Verdi stood among patriots back in 1861 as an acronym for Vittorio Emanuele Re DItalia, the re galant’uomo – the first King of Italy – he of the big bushy moustaches and whose statue graces many an Italian town and village centre square – who helped Italy along to its unification.

Immagine mostra. Giuseppe Verdi: un mito italiano

The battle cry “Viva Verdi”, therefore, took on a second significance for Italian patriots attending the local opera house.

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(Above, the man himself at the time he composed “La Traviata”)

The name of Verdi remains indissolubly linked with the birth of the new Italian nation – and is a far less equivocal bond than that between the other great bicentenarian composer of this year Richard Wagner and Germany (particularly 20th century Germany……)

The Vicaria della Val di Lima sent two of their representatives to welcome the theatre-goers – behind you can see the mayor of our comune wearing an interesting tie.

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I can only applaud the evening. For a little theatre like il Teatro Accademico di Bagni di Lucca to put on an event of top-class lyrical singing is praiseworthy and I, as indeed the rest of the full house was glad to be there.

However, back in 1870 one person wasn’t so happy when he attended a performance of Verdi’s “Aida”. According to the anecdote a friend told me that evening this person wrote a letter expressing his dissatisfaction with the work,  to the great man himself, criticising it as being of little significance – apart from a few nice bits with trumpets – and attaching an expenses claim for wasted train journey (second class ticket), theatre ticket, supper at the station restaurant, and programme cost. Verdi wrote back to the complainant stating that he would be willing to reimburse the dissatisfied customer except that he would only refund the cost of a third class ticket as he needn’t have travelled in the comparative luxury of a second class carriage and that also, regretfully, he would not pay for his station restaurant meal since he could easily have provided himself with vino e panini from home. Verdi added that he would only pay the costs if the plaintiff would sign a declaration to never attend an opera by Verdi again as he didn’t want to take the risk of any further similar types of expenses claims!

Verdi was indeed a very down-to-earth person – both metaphorically and literally.  Having slaved “in the galleys” as he said, writing operas at the rate of at least one a year he was glad to have some respite and free time looking after his farming estate at Busseto where he lived, well-ahead of the customs of his times,  and heedless of the town’s tittle-tattle, with his beloved common-law wife Giuseppina Strepponi. (The sudden death of his first wife and all their children by typhus had almost made the distraught man give up his music).

I would add a couple more things about Verdi: first, although appointed a member of the new Italian parliament and writing the government a letter of thanks for the honour, Verdi was never truly a political man and found politics in the new Italy often a trying experience. Second, although Britain embraced Verdi as a sort of musical Garibaldi and as a champion of freedom Verdi didn’t think all that much of the UK as he had a somewhat unfortunate experience with one of his first operas – the second-rate “Masnadieri” – which was commissioned by a London theatre, slammed by critics as “crude” (at that time the nation was still wrapped in post-Mendelssohnian mellifluousness) and not much liked by Queen Victoria either – “the music is very shoddy and banal” she wrote in her diary.

However, all was forgiven after the British premiere of his wonderful Requiem took place in May 1875 at the Albert Hall, conducted by the composer himself, with a chorus of over 1000 and an orchestra of 140 (and which work is now the staple of many a choral society in in that part of the world). One journalist at the premiere described the work as “the most beautiful music for the church that has been produced since the Requiem of Mozart”, a view that was echoed by most people (and still is).

Anyway, here is the programme for the Verdi evening at Bagni di Lucca theatre., Some of the items have video recordings I made of them. You can see them by clicking on the youtube link.

Concerto lirico vocale di arie e duetti tratte da celebri opere di Giuseppe Verdi con la partecipazione di:

SIMONA PARRA soprano

LEONARDO SGROI tenore

PAOLO MORELLI baritono

LAURA BRIOLI mezzosoprano

MARCO RIMICCI pianoforte

con la partecipazione straordinaria della Corale di San Pietro a Corsena

Direttore: Ennio Stefani

Pianista: Susan Hopkins

conduce la serata: FRANCO BOCCI

programma del concerto

prima parte

Nabucco: coro di schiavi ebrei – Va Pensiero – coro

I Lombardi alla Prima Crociata: O Signore dal tetto natio – coro

Nabucco: Dio di Giuda – baritono

Il Trovatore: Stride la vampa – mezzosoprano

Luisa Miller: quando le sere al placido – tenore

La Forza del Destino: Pace, pace mio Dio – soprano

Don Carlos: Dio che nell’alma infondere – tenore e baritono

Aida: Duetto atto II Aida verso noi s’avanza – soprano e mezzosoprano

Seconda Parte

Macbeth: Ah la patena mano – tenore

Macbeth – duetto donna fatal un murmure – soprano e baritono

Don Carlo : O don fatale – mezzosoprano

Rigoletto: La donna è mobile – tenore

Il Trovatore: duetto Conte e Leonora – soprano e baritono

Il Trovatore: duetto finale ai nostri monti – mezzosoprano e tenore

La Traviata: Lunge da lei – Sassetti

http://youtu.be/8lQTVx5on3o

La Traviata: Brindisi soprano, tenore e coro

INNO DI MAMELI

The inno di Mameli (AKA Italian national Anthem) was a splurge of patriotism for which all the audience stood up, some with hands on heart and several singing it too.

It would be difficult to single out especially noteworthily rendered items. However, I found the Macbeth excerpts grippingly interpreted and I laud the programmers who included less well-known arias among the staple war horses.

Claudio Sassetti, Bagni di Lucca’s own tenor who made a guest appearance, displayed yet another side of his flexibility in the beautifully sung item from la Traviata

Again, on the home front, The Corsena Choir showed that they can sing opera as well as any item from their more normally ecclesiastical repertoire.

Of course, without the two pianists the versatile and virtuosistic Marco Rimicci and Susan Hopkins, a truly international accompanist, none of the performances would have been possible.

Here are some views of the evening’s performers:

Finally, when someone asked Verdi, towards the end of his long life (he died aged 87) what he thought his best opera was (opera in Italian translates as both “opera” and “work”) he replied “the rest home (casa di riposo) I founded for aged musicians”. Now that truly is modesty and sums up this extraordinary person to a T.