Local Healing Waters

I can only think of one other European country where baths play such an important part in the lives of its citizens – Hungary. Those who have not been to the Gellert baths in Budapest (or any of the smaller ones throughout that country) are surely missing one of the great world experiences!

The two major baths (or terme) in ancient Rome were the baths of Diocletian (now transformed into a national museum and a church) and the baths of Caracalla (now an open-air theatre). The Romans loved baths and were ecstatic when thermal, healing waters were discovered in their new conquest across the channel and founded Aquae Sulis (today’s city of Bath).

The love of natural thermal baths continues in Italy to this day: within a morning’s drive from our house we can reach Montecatini terme, Monsummano terme, Terme di San Giuliano and, of course, our own Terme di Bagni di Lucca.

A recent “impegnativa” (prescription) from our doctor gave us twelve sessions at the terme di Bagni di Lucca to help alleviate certain personal ailments, courtesy of the Italian National Health system.

The Terme di Bagni di Lucca is only a quarter hour’s drive from our house and is situated near the top of a volcanic hill which dominates the town. Within the bowels of this hill are hot thermal waters with special medicinal properties which, since mediaeval (or even Roman?) times have encouraged all those in search of panaceas for their ills to visit the spa.

Perhaps the most famous of cure-seekers is the great sixteenth century French essayist Montaigne who wrote extensively about his experiences here, greatly praised the waters and finally found solace in them from his pains.

The Bagni di Lucca thermal waters complex is made up of the “Jean Varraud” baths (named after the Frenchman who re-developed them at the start of the last century) and the “Ouida” well-being centre (named after the formerly best-selling author who stayed here in the nineteenth century and who is buried in the protestant cemetery) which offers beauty treatments and health programmes. Of these programmes I have only tried the amazing mud baths.

The thermal spa is characterized by two natural steam caves: the Great grotto and the Paolina grotto (named after Napoleon’s sister who regularly visited it). Their temperatures range between 40 ° and 50 ° C, and are ideal for skin care, arthropathy, relaxation and body purification.

The healing waters of Bagni di Lucca, which flows out at a temperature of 54 degrees from their main source deep within the bowels of the volcanic hill continue to have a major world reputation for their extraordinary regenerative and healing powers. The water’s main ingredients are bicarbonate and calcium sulphate.

This morning we will again visit one of the two grottoes. Entering into their natural sauna atmosphere the body begins to sweat profusely. After twenty minutes one is called out (if they have not forgotten you!) to go and relax on a camp-bed in a separate room where helpers tuck one in a blanket. This is a most important part of the treatment: a “reazione” or reaction sets in after a few minutes where one’s body seems to enter into total oblivion.  A tisane is served and then, again after around twenty minutes, one gets up and returns to the changing rooms to dress  and, hopefully, face another day with greater confidence, at least in one’s bodily purity….

The baths of Lucca may not have the fin-de-siècle opulence of Montecatini terme and some of the décor and apparatus may be criticized as needing modernization or restoration but it has its own peculiar charm and when it comes to the nitty-gritty itself, the waters, then there is nothing to beat it!

Here is something a (very) local poet wrote about them:

BAGNI DI CORSENA (LUCCA)

 

Virgin spring so chaste and pure

heal my ills in this sad world,

deliver me from obscure

thoughts as yet unfound, unfurled.

 

You rise from bowels of earth,

seeking daylight on this hill,

climbing from volcano’s girth:

let me drink and have my fill.

 

Long I’ve sought far and wide

the remedy that will cure

body and soul, the inside

and outside, ever impure.

 

I’ve come here to slake my thirst,

my desire to reach wholeness,

my wish to know what comes first

in my life’s implicitness.

 

The forest trees know my thought,

the roebuck and badger feel

my steps and the snares I’ve caught:

they do not betray or steal.

 

Skylarks ethereally sing

in the cloudless skies of May

and the ecstasy they bring

melt this clumsy, mortal clay.

 

Within the small, marbled cave

I breathe embalming vapour

which can touch and kiss and save

like the word of my Saviour.

 

I sit upon the same slab

the Emperor’s sister sat.

Perhaps he who wrote Queen Mab

came here for platonic chat.

 

His head crowned with daffodils,

his arms about his beloved,

his walks across streams and rills,

his pen on lines yet unsaid.

 

The flowers in blossomed fields

open petals to my heart;

their scent of paradise yields

only Him who can impart

 

the redemptive touch that knows,

that removes life’s bitter sting

for now earth’s blood once more flows

and makes my soul newly sing.

 

Heal me then you youthful springs:

drown me in your warm embrace,

take away all evil things

and restore my heart, my place.

Hogmanay – Lucca style

The road to Lucca was, at 9 pm on New Year’s Eve, almost bereft of traffic. We parked outside the city’s walls in a deserted and cold landscape. Was this truly the 31st of December? Where was everyone? Piazza Napoleone, however, did bring a bit more life on this freezing cold and foggy night with its busy skating rink and some stalls.

Bang! Already the (very) loud bangers with which Italians celebrate the New Year (and manage to inflict an unacceptable number of injuries to themselves) were amplified in Lucca’s narrow streets.

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But that was not the way we were going to celebrate the entry of the New Year. At the city’s main theatre, the Teatro Del Giglio, Maestro Colombini (see post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/10/23/symphonic-monumentality-comes-to-lucca/ ) promised us a spectacular start to 2014 – a promise which was more than fully kept.

The first part of the eclectic programme consisted of a recital of operatic arias drawn mainly from Puccini and Verdi with soloists soprano Silvia Pacini, Sonia Bellugi and tenor Matteo Nebbiai of the “Puccini and his Lucca” Festival accompanied on the piano by Diego Fiorini, who also contributed a solo – the Tregua from the Luccan master’s first opera “Le Villi”.

This was followed by Beatles songs played, not by a straightforward cover band, but by the Swinging London Beatles Ensemble with Meme Lucarelli: a trio of singer and two guitars who imaginatively recreated some of the fab four’s famous hits and introduced some great jamming as well.

Then came the part everyone was looking forwards to: the bagpipes, drums and dancers of the Royal Scots Guards have not visisted Lucca since 1999. The swirl of the pipes in the Giglio theatre was awesomely heady and when, later in the evening, these were joined by a full symphony orchestra the effect was quite overwhelming.

The pieces included moving  Pibrochs, lively gigs and stirring marches, with a sword dance and (of course)  “Scotland the Brave” and “Amazing Grace”.

The New Year was ushered in with the Lucca Philharmonic orchestra playing Percy Grainger’s lively “Molly on the Shore” and a grand final crescendo was gradually built up by the orchestra, fresh from its triumphs in Vienna’s Musicverein hall (where the traditional televised New Year’s concert comes from) with Strauss waltzes and polkas, an aria from Die Fledermaus, Mozart’s Queen of the Night, Auld Lang Syne and much else besides – a truly scrumptious pot-pourri of great tunes!

This evening, with almost seventy artistes on stage, concluded with three national anthems – English, Italian and Scottish – “in increasing order of importance” as Colombini emphasised.

We were enchanted by one of the most memorable ways of celebrating the first of January of 2014 we’ve ever experienced and with our theatre-provided spumante and panettone we wandered in a state of delight through the now even colder Lucca streets, homewards bound.

The wonderful evening was organized for the benefit of a Lucca charitable association to which ticket sales proceeds.

Let us truly hope that the New Year will be full of the energy and optimism of that brilliant first night of 2014!

Another New Year’s Eve…

How that first year in Longoio seemed so much longer when compared to this 2013 which has flown so quickly before us. And, no doubt, 2014 will speed by even faster? Time seems to fly at an almost exponential rate the older we get. Why? Is it because new experiences become matter-of-.fact, jaded? Is it because we gradually do fewer things with our lives? Is it perhaps some perceptive function in the ageing brain? Who knows? I’d like to know!

Many things have changed this year. Even more things have changed since I first settled here in 2005. Some of them have altered for the better: communications by road to Lucca are much improved with the new “variante” and, further up the Serchio valley, three new bridges have made connections between the east and west parts of the valley easier. Train communication, however, has become worse with the same weary rolling stock that I first encountered eight years ago.

Other things, too, have clearly not changed for the better: the halcyon days before “la crisis” hit in autumn 2008 seem vague dreams now when once fewer people had problems about “making it to the end of the month”. One did not have to count one’s centesimi so assiduously then. In the Bagni di Lucca area many hopes have been dashed and, already, several “newcomers” have packed up their bags and returned to their countries of origin. Others are waiting to get a decent selling price for their houses – something which, in my opinion may not happen for a very long time!  In my own experience I have lost ten friends to this trend.

In addition to the continuing economic difficulties the area is now hit by ecological ones: 2013 been a year of increased seismic activity, with a particularly scary earthquake tremor in January, and the abnormally heavy rainfall has created landslides and flooding throughout the region. Forecasts for 2014 (at least as far as the weather is concerned – they can’t predict earthquakes, not even in Japan…) are not very hopeful and are exacerbated by the increasing rate of global warming with concomitant climate change…

It’s important, however, not to let these considerable snags get to one. I’ve noticed an increased withdrawal by many inhabitants, more bickering, less patience. It’s not a good sign.

A great man from South Africa has gone from us this year but another great man from South America is now with us. In his words: “these are times of light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience and rebellion, times of being a pilgrim people, and times of being a people adrift… In our personal history, too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows…If our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us, and around us.”

Let us hope that the never-ending worries the Italian people are having to bear will not turn them from their naturally solar and friendly character to that darkness which finds no exit to light and love.

Meanwhile further photographs from that bright, hopeful first year here at Bagni di Lucca reveal how we welcomed in the new year 2006 in its gorgeous casinò…

May 2014 be full of light for you too!

A New Hub?

Yesterday morning I was invited to the Terme di Bagni di Lucca by “Grapevine” editor Norma Jean Bishop to view and participate in an exhibition which could promise a bright new regenerative future for the whole of the comune of Bagni di Lucca. The project called “The Hub”, and created by Carla Romani, concentrates on the development of certain environmental and cultural features of the area administered by the comune with a view to revaluing them and making them more accessible to all those living in or visiting the area. The end result would be a continuously renewing process applied to Bagni di Lucca and its hinterland which (like so many other parts of crisis-stricken Italy) sorely needs a way forwards which does not present impossible targets but which relies instead on existing time-tested resources.

The beauty of the project is that the means to carry it forwards is all there – there is no need to build new structures or find new metaphorical oil-fields: just the will to fully realise what is there today and what is truly possible in the foreseeable future.

Here is a summary of the key points of the project:

BAGNI DI LUCCA HUB

Mission: economic development using local environmental and cultural heritages

  1. Finding new paper products and restoring old techniques
  2. Animal husbandry (such as cashmere goats which also clear the underbrush), environmentally-compatible techniques
  3. Promoting growth and sales of local agricultural products (along with an International marketplace)
  4. Vico Pancellorum and other villages, preservers of ancient Latin dialects: a cultural centre for linguistics studies
  5. Restoring spa offerings and health and well-being programs
  6. Better programming of theatrical offerings, along with possibilities for musical studies
  7. Pellet production and forest husbandry
  8. Attention to historic gardens and areas of special scientific interest such as the Prato Fiorito, coordinated with Pescia and perhaps the UK
  9. Centralizing children’s programs, perhaps through Collodi’s Pinocchio associations.
  10. Bringing together various groups involved in church and art restoration
  11. Twinning with cities and international relations
  12. Improving traffic flow and creating more pedestrian areas
  13. Recuperating and restoring old buildings for public use
  14. Tourist information centres operating on a year-round, full-day schedule

It was good to meet up with Carla and with other persons interested in the project, and several points above were discussed. For example, with regard to no. 11 Norma Jean proposed Fontaines de Vaucluse, because of its artistic restoration of the paper factory along the river and because Petrarch lived there. She declared it “a lovely little model for Bagni di Lucca’s recovery.” I have already suggested a further twinning with a noted Welsh spa resort in my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/12/05/well-well-well/

Of course, this project (like all projects!) needs three things in this order:

  1. Enthusiastic and committed involvement by dedicated and well-informed people.
  2. A guaranteed source of funds.
  3. A positive feed-back from local populations at the results obtained, resulting in increased participation.

Money is forthcoming but only if the will to use it appropriately and efficiently is forthcoming too. Bagni di Lucca is a complicated area in terms of its population. Permanent residents present only a fraction of the total population one sees in summer due to its largely holidaying flavour. Yet there are many permanent local occupations which could either be re-instituted or developed. The above list points the way forwards especially with regard to cashmere goats and pellet manufacture.

Other parts of Europe have successfully pulled their socks up on these matters so why shouldn’t Bagni di Lucca do the same?

You are cordially invited to the exhibition which will remain open until January 6th when the whole spa closes down for the winter period. As far as we are concerned we’ll be there every day until then – not just for the exhibition but also because we’ve booked ourselves in for sessions at the Grottina where the volcanically heated waters, producing a natural sauna atmosphere, will help us to remove some of those culinary impurities gathered during the Christmas binge and make us forget that outside another meteorological perturbation is pouring even more rain on (sunny…?) Italy.

The Shortest Day

TIS the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s,
Lucy’s, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks;

 Thus begins the great metaphysical poet John Donne’s “A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day“, which relates the poet’s despair at the death of loved ones. It was probably written in 1627 when both his friend Lucy, Countess of Bedford, and his own daughter Lucy Donne died.

If someone remarks that the shortest day of the year is, in fact, the winter solstice which falls on December 21st (or 2nd depending on your position on the globe) then it’s because the choice of the 13th of December, Saint Lucy’s day, is due to the changes wrought by the Gregorian calendar which later succeeded the Julian calendar with the “loss” of ten days. But surely Saint Lucy, the Saint of light, is the most appropriate figure to commemorate on this saddest day of the year when the sun seems almost to be eaten up by the winter night and where we hope, like our prehistoric ancestors, to live to see again a new spring “since this both the year’s and the day’s deep midnight is.”

Donne’s remarkably beautiful poem reminds one that winter remains very much a time of death in nature, of resigned reflections on life, of hope of new light coming into the world. Certainly, in my experience, more people, especially the older ones that I know, seem to shed off their mortal coil at this time of year at an alarming rate. And when one is living in a small mountain community those harbingers of one’s own inevitable meeting with the grim reaper, the death announcements pasted by the local undertaker, seem ever present.

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Such is the example of Rita Pazzaglia, sister-in-law of Georgia who used to run our local shop and make delicious bread in the wood-oven at Longoio (a tradition since continued by a bright new pair of ladies, one of whom is now engaged to the wood-cutter’s son).

Rita’s funeral took place yesterday afternoon at San Gemignano’s parish church and the funeral cortège then wended its way to the cemetery at Mobbiano where there is the family’s mausoleum. After the entombment our parish priest cut this lonely figure as he walked home.

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Rita was a lady I knew quite well since not only had she been a primary school teacher at the old school at San Gemignano (now privately owned by a returnee emigrant to Australia), and not only had she been on the committee of the Bagni di Lucca branch of the Università della terz’età (University of the Third age where I have given lectures for the past six years) but she was also a poet who was very well considered by Bagni di Lucca’s greatest living poet (and former Mayor) Mario Lena..

I have beside me a copy of her collection “Emozioni” (Emotions) published in 2002 with Mario’s introduction. In it he praises Rita’s almost proustian recollections of memories, her evocative descriptions of nature and her quite original musicality. Re-reading the book I find it a touchingly melancholic testimony of past times by a lady who had seen nine decades. Now that she is gone I have only this book to remind me of the life of a local person whose horizons and sensitivities extended well beyond the common spheres. Here is one poem picked at random from the slim volume:

 

GIRL AT THE PIANO

The girl is charmingly

bowed over the piano,

with her fingers open,

just resting

on its keys as

if to caress them.

Then the musical conversation

bursts out, unrolls

expands:

compact notes, short and leaping

chase each other

to return again

a little ‘more gently and persuasively

almost as if to better tie itself

to that final melody,

so slow and enveloping

that it seems to linger

in every corner of the room

remaining there

even when the girl,

before moving on to something else,

absorbed, rests herself.

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Returning home, that late afternoon and evening were marked by the most beautiful colours I have seen this month of December. Gazing in this timeless landscape I, too, felt transported by unfathomable emotions.

Mongolia comes to Lucca

A turquoise silken sheet covers the entire stage and undulates like waves lapping against the shore of a coral island, unfolding radiant goddesses who float sensuously fluttering fans and unravelling stoles before the eyes of an enchanted audience. The music is ethereal, the lighting magical, the dancers’ costumes vibrant. Their faces have an oriental beauty that light up with consummate grace and each following dance episode fills the spectators with ever more wonder. Where are we? In some pagodaed capital of the east? By sleepy oriental lagoons? Within the jungled precincts of a Cambodian temple? No…The Mongolian Royal ballet has reached Lucca!

On its first visit to Italy the Ballet presented a spectacular show at the Teatro Del Giglio bringing to life ancient symbols traditions, customs and historical episodes from alluring and mesmerizing east-Asian countries. The journey started in Mongolia, travelled to Thailand and Korea, arriving in Japan where it recreated the atmosphere and spirituality of Shinto and Buddhist ceremonies and, of course, those Kodo drums. We witnessed the Golden Dragon, the Sacred Peacock and the Legong dance of the celestial nymphs from Bali, that quintessence of femininity and grace. Imperial court dances were performed to ward off evil spirits and bad fairies.

Traditional and modern choreography mingled together to symbolize women’s grace and beauty, enact tales of love and courtship, the strength and courage of heroes, the boundless energy of horses galloping across the vast terrains of Mongolia. That country of the big blue sky I had visited in 2008 and experienced the immensity of its sparsely populated mountains, its icy lakes, its fierce and friendly nomadic populations, its incredible history from the largest empire ever founded to the most brutal totalitarian repression. I could, thus, truly relate to this evening and recognised many of the symbols I had first met in that amazing country which spreads out like a vast petrified sea.

During the interval some members of the audience while applauding the company’s consummate choreographic skills thought that the show should have been more “traditional” in its contents. I saw their point since on my last visit to Ulan Bator at an afternoon in the national theatre I heard a virtuoso performance of Rossini’s Thieving Magpie overture played on the characteristic horse-headed fiddles and saw amazing acrobatic and contortionist displays. There was, indeed a contortionist act in the ballet. Incredible as it was I did not feel it fitted into the scheme of things and I also suspected that the youthfulness of that artist (at age twelve) might have raised a few eyebrows in the anti- child exploitation lobby.

Pace that, the Mongolian Royal ballet presented a quite magnificent show that left the audience enraptured and gasping for more. Even if one did not know all the ins and outs of esoteric belief systems or was not acquainted with particular myths and legends the dancers exquisite movements communicated untold emotions and transported us to fabled lands. Indeed, coming out of the theatre’s foyer into the christmaslandia of Lucca’s Piazza Napoleone with its renaissance palaces, bauble-stalls, ice-skating rink and happy congregations of shoppers came as quite a culture shock!

Polyphonic Paradise in San Paolino

The concert at san Paolino yesterday evening fulfilled our hitherto unheard requests for a carol service combined with (excerpts from) “Messiah. It was truly the cherry on the icing of our advent cake preparation.

In the church where Puccini was organist, and where his “Messa a Quattro voci” was first heard, the Coro Polifonico di Lucca conducted by its founder and  choirmaster Egisto Matteucci, performed the following programme which was neatly divided into three appropriately connected sections.

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Here are a few excerpts I recorded from the evening’s concert:

From the “old music” section:

From the Anglo-Saxon (and welsh) carol tradition including two Rutter arrangements.

From the Christmas-tide oratorios:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F965uZOPvXg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIPRqjQLEzk

Something about the choir: the Polifonica Lucchese’s choirmaster and conductor Egisto Matteucci graduated in violin, singing and composition at Lucca’s conservatoire, the Istituto Musicale Luigi Boccherini of Lucca where he has been involved with the latter’s choir and orchestra. His work as a teacher began at the Istituto where he chairs the Choral Practice, Theory and Solfeggio department. Between 1976 and 1993, he was head of orchestral training and he has also directed the conservatoire. In 1967 Matteucci founded the choir which sang so wonderfully for us yesterday evening: the “Polifonica Lucchese” with whom he has given concerts throughout Italy.

Matteucci has also promoted various Lucca music initiatives such as the Festival of Sacred Music, the voci bianche (children’s choir), thus helping to spread musical education in schools – an area sadly neglected in the Italian scholastic system (as, indeed, it is the UK too).

From 1972, with the encouragement Herbert Handt (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/a-thanksgiving/ ), founding artistic director of the Lucca musical association, Egisto has conducted many great choral works (some of which we have attended – most recently Beethoven’s Mass in C major) such as Brahms’ requiem, Bach’s Christmas oratorio, Faure’s requiem and Mozart’s Waisenhaus Mass.

Egisto is noted for his impish sense of humour. When San Paolino’s parish priest presented him that evening with a commemorative plate to thank him for his services to the parish Egisto  exclaimed “but it’s empty!” And when one of his ex-children’s choir members sang as soloist in the French Noel, Noel carol he commented  “she now even drives her own car to my choir practises.”

It is, therefore, somewhat poignant that Egisto is not in best of health and that in the evening’s programme there was a heart-felt appeal for new members to join this superb choir in order to replace those men with “hair that is now turned silver or even gone altogether”.

It is truly a sign of the times that, with so many people rushing about and supposedly able to only give the shortest sound bite to so many encounters, Egisto’s life’s work in the Polifonica Lucchese choir should be thus vulnerable. If you can sing in tune then joining this choir might really change your life!

New Year Music

Here is a list as complete as it can be for the present of musical events in Lucca province for the month of January 2014. Enjoy!

THE ASSOCIAZIONE MUSICALE SPEAKS MORE AND MORE “LUCCHESE”

Sunday 12th the fifty-year old Associazione Musicale Lucchese begins its chamber music season with a concert by three Lucca artists. Anselmo Simini (violin) and Edoardo Barsotti (piano) (see photo) will perform alongside the well-known double-bass player Gabriele Ragghanti (see photo), formerly with the Solisti Veneti and currently teaching at the Boccherini conservatoire and at London’s Royal College. The program includes works by Mozart, Bottesini, Franck and Boccherini. Sunday 19th, the Chinese pianist Jin Ju will play Beethoven, Schubert and Czerny. Finally, on Sunday 26th, a trio consisting of Cristiano Rossi (violin) (see picture), Andrea Nannoni (cello) and Simone Soldati (piano) will perform Ravel and Debussy. The concerts are at 5 pm in the San Micheletto auditorium. Tickets are 12 euros, reduced 10 euros, under 14s free.

NEW YEAR’S EVE CONCERT WITH THE BAGPIPES AND DRUMS OF THE SCOTS GUARD

On the 31st, the Teatro Del Giglio will host a great concert, running until late and organized by the “Puccini and his Lucca” festival. At 10 pm soloists, accompanied on the piano by Diego Fiorini, will perform arias by Puccini, Verdi, Mozart and Neapolitan songs. The Swinging London Beatles Ensemble, led by guitarist Meme Lucarelli, will perform music by the Beatles. From about 11 pm the Scots Guards and the orchestra will carry on the show until about 1 .30 am. The evening will be hosted by Meme Lucarelli. Tickets range from a minimum price of € 20 to a maximum of € 50 (there are various types of discounts). Info and reservations at the theatre box office phone 0583 465 320.

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PIETRO DE MARIA PLAYS CHOPIN AT THE “SUFFRAGIO”

Monday, January 6th, pianist Pietro De Maria will play in a concert organized by the Pellicano association, part of Burlamacchi lodge no. 1113. The free event is at 5.30 pm in the Suffragio auditorium of the Istituto Musicale Luigi Boccherini. It’s part of a collaboration offering three grants from the Masonic lodge to three “Boccherini” students. Pietro De Maria will play an entirely Chopin program.

NEW PRODUCTION OF THE BARBER OF SEVILLE IN MONACO

Saturday 11th (8.30 pm) and Sunday 12th (4.30 pm) at Montecarlo’s Teatro degli Rassicurati (see photo) Rossini’s Barber of Seville will be performed by LuccaOPERAfestival. The cast is made ​​up of young emerging international opera singers: Nicholas Ayroldi ( Figaro ), Maren Favela (Rosina ), Francisco Brito ( Count Almaviva ), Roberto Lorenzi ( Don Basilio ), Carlo Torriani ( Don Bartolo) , Sara De Flaviis ( Berta ) . Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jonathan Brandani. Stage settings by Francesca Pieretti. Info and reservations: luccaoperafestival@gmail.com

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MOZART AND NOT ONLY AT THE SCOMPIGLIO

Saturday, January 25th at 7 pm the “Cameristi of Rome” (soprano, mezzo-soprano, bass, viola, basset horns) present, at the Scompiglio estate Vorno, a show called ” Mozart Rarities” where Mozart’s divertimenti for three basset horns and nocturnes for three voices and three basset horns are played together with works by twentieth century composers Kurtág, Henze and Penderecki. Admission: € 12, (reductions € 7). Info and reservations 0583 971 475.

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SEVENTH “MUSICA RAGAZZI” SEASON BEGINS

In January, “Musica Ragazzi” resumes its activity with the AML, helping young people listen to and understand music. Friday 24th, at 10:30 am, there will be a concert by the orchestra and choir of the Liceo Musicale “A. Passaglia” conducted by Mauro Fabbri and Guido Masini. The concert will be repeated on Tuesday 28th at 9:30 am at the “Carducci “school, Lucca.

MUSICAL, COMEDY AND HOPE…

Sunday at 4.30 pm at Lucca’s Sports Palace a charity there’s a show titled ” Musical, Comedy … and Hope ” with the participation of many artists led by comedian Paolo Ruffini (see photo) who have joined the initiative with proceeds going to benefit the “Children in Hospitals” association, the HIV / AIDS reception centre and the Italian Parkinson’s disease association. Admission is € 15 and € 10 reduced (under 12).

KEVIN SPAGNOLO AND STEFANO TEANI ON RAI UNO

Kevin Pedro Spagnolo and Stefano Teani, two of the best students of the Istituto Musicale “L. Boccherini” will be performing in the TV show “Uno mattina in famiglia ” broadcast on RAI UNO on Saturday, January 4th at 9 am. The well-known television program promotes a tournament of musical excellence whose performers are the best students of musical institutes, with winners selected through televoting at the end of each show. Kevin Spagnolo and Stefano Teani, students of Professors Remo Pieri and Maria Gloria Belli, will perform Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous Flight of the Bumble Bee in the version for clarinet and piano. Viewers will be able to vote for their favourites by phoning 894 433 or (mobile phone) 478 4785.

EPIPHANY CONCERT BY LUCCA’S S.CECILIA CHAPEL CHOIR

As part of the “Cantiere di Natale” festival, the “Santa Cecilia” chapel choir will perform an Epiphany Concert on Monday, January 6th at 5.30 pm in the Cathedral of San Martino. Performers are the Chapel Choir, conducted by Luca Bacci, and the children’s “Santa Cecilia” choir conducted by Sara Matteucci, with flautist Julia Matteucci. Both choirs will be accompanied on the piano and organ by Giulia Biagetti. Music will range from classical and contemporary to traditional Christmas carols. The concert will be preceded by the celebration of Epiphany Vespers of Epiphany sung by Lucca’s prestigious choir. Admission is free.

THE LAND OF BELLS

The “Allegra Operetta” company, with the school of symphonic music, presents a selection from the operetta Il paese dei campanelli by Carlo Lombardi and Virgilio Ranzato. The show, produced by Dante Francesconi and Cosetta Gigli, is on Saturday 18th at 9 pm and Sunday 19th at 4pm in the Teatro Comunale Nieri at Ponte a Moriano.

The characters are played by Cosetta Gigli, Luca Rugani, Guido Quilici, Silvia Poli, Monica Puccetti, Dante Francesconi, Giuseppe Lencioni, Giuseppe Bartoli, Matilde Ragghianti and Luca Giannecchini. The Sin-Tonia choir, conducted by Simona Gemignani, and the company of the Torrini Ballet School directed by Maria Letizia Torrini, will also take part. Admission is € 10 (free for under 12 year olds).

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EXCURSION TO SEE NABUCCO WITH THE CATALANI CIRCLE

The “Alfredo Catalani” friends of music circle of Porcari and Lucca are organizing an excursion to Florence’s Teatro Comunale to see Verdi’s Nabucco directed by Renato Palumbo and conducted by Leo Muscato. The main performers will be Leo Nucci (Nabucco), Luciano Ganci (Ishmael), Riccardo Zanellato (Zechariah) and Anna Pirozzi (Abigail). Information and bookings phone: 347 9951581.

MUSICIANS OF THE “BOCCHERINI” MUSIC COLLEGE INAUGURATE LUCCA’S NEW HOSPITAL

On the occasion of the inauguration of the new “San Luca” hospital the USL n. 2 health district of Lucca has organized a series of concerts with the quartet classes (Prof. Paul Ardinghi ) , chamber music classes (Prof. Marco Boccassini ) and Flute classes (Prof. Philip Rogai ) of the “L. Boccherini” music college . On Saturday 18th at 11 am is a series of concerts in the new hospital. In its lobby there is a string quartet concert with Giulia Manfredini and Tommaso Toni (violins), Francesco Scarpetti (viola) and Silvio Risaliti (cello). At various points in the hospital a flute duet (Agnese Manfredini and Chiara Fiorentini) and flute and guitar duo (David Buonaguidi-Giacomo Martinelli and Chiara Formichi-Gabriele Andreotti) will perform. Admission is free.

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!

Pisa Afternoon

One doesn’t normally go to a hospital to view its architectural features. I went to the Santa Chiara hospital in Pisa to call on a friend who’d literally been run over by a bus (and dragged some distance by it too!) Apart from suffering various bone breakages (including the pelvis) she has had to go in for some considerable skin grafting too. I visited her in the hospital’s plastic surgery department and found a smiling and strong will to get through the very considerable injuries sustained at the beginning of last November in front of Mologno station (the one that serves Barga).

It’s a great pity that, with the fashion to go in for new all-inclusive super-hospitals, they are eventually going to close the whole of Santa Chiara as it moves to Cisanello. (The same is happening to Lucca’s loved hospital at Campo di Marte – see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/09/25/hungry-hornets/).

Santa Chiara is indeed a beautiful hospital and a very ancient one too. Founded in 1257 on one side of the Piazza dei Miracoli (better known for a tower which leans) and dedicated to St. Clare it is a lovely example of a centuries-old Pisan tradition history in providing to the sick both in body and mind. Indeed, the guest-house part of the hospital is now used to house the sinopie (or original fresco background drawings) taken from that saddest of Italian artistic war-time disasters – the incendiary bomb-burning of the Camposanto.

Now that Pisa now has its new hospital I sincerely hope that the old site will be intelligently developed as it contains a unique architectural heritage dating back to mediaeval times. Of particular interest is the old entrance courtyard and the attractive church dedicated to Saint Clare (and her bosom friend Saint Francis). I love the palm trees too and there’s even a section of the city wall within the Ospedale.

I had a friend who spent her last days in the excellent care of this hospital and she was particularly elated to see that leaning tower from her ward window.

Later in the afternoon I’d been invited to give a poetry reading and so, to fill in time, I wandered around “Miracle square”. It’s great to be here in a (touristically) quieter part of the year.

It’s also great the way the white marble of this totally sublime world heritage complex, which always inspires me, no matter how many times I visit it, becomes sensuously roseate in the setting sun. The sculpture of ships on the tower remind one that Pisa was once the greatest maritime republic in the Mediterranean.

The poetry reading at the picturesque location of the very enterprising Pisan publishing house, ETS (see their web site at http://www.edizioniets.com/) went very well indeed. The poems I read included items from Shakespeare, through Herbert to Ms Rossetti, Hardy, Kipling, Frost and Pettitt. All of them were excellently and very sensitively repeated in Italian translations by Renzo Bartalena and Silvia Pasqualetti.

Although the audience was not particularly large it was very responsive and clearly glad to be present at the occasion organised by that magister of literary and artistic events, my friend prof. Aldo Baiocchi (of Pisa, of course).