Monday, June 30, 2008
The 51st Festival dei due mondi di Spoleto had opened with a performance of Albert Roussel's rarely heard Padmavâtî on Friday and we caught the repeat on Sunday afternoon. And there were tigers ... and tenors... and 20 Indian dancers, 450 costumes in incredibly gorgeous fabric and more special effects than Star Wars.
More about it a little later this week.
30 giugno - I Martiri Proromani
Tomorrow will be a day of celebrating though of course those of us who call Canada home should be celebrating our country every day of our lives. We have so much to be thankful for and to be proud off. And when I read stories such as this about yesterday's Gay Pride Parade in Toronto my shallow chest puffs up just a little bit more with pride.
Another reason that I am proudly Canadian.
30 giugno - I Martiri Proromani
For that dime you got God Save the Queen with a grainy, line streaked Trooping of the Colours, a cartoon, a travelogue, News of the World and two sometimes three features. Usually a western - Roy or Gene or Hoppy - maybe a horror movie - the Gillman was a great favorite, and a comedy. At least once during the afternoon the movie would be stopped and a booming voice would suggest death and destruction if "you kids don't quiet down!" For the nickel you got a watery Orange Crush and really salty popcorn. And if you hadn't spent that nickel the week before you could go for broke and get butter on the popcorn and a candy bar.
The comedy might be Frances the Talking Mule, Ma and Pa Kettle (my least favorite,) The Bowery Boys or Abbott and Costello. Bud and Lou were my favorites. Their routines were funny no matter how silly the situation and it wasn't until years later I realized they were old vaudeville and burlesque sketchs that the two of them had polished to perfection over the years. At 10 you don't realize the work that goes into making something funny - its just funny!
"Slowly I Turned" probably has its origins in the comedies of ancient Rome but it was a standard of any respectable burlesque comedian in the days of the circuit. Lou performs it here with one of the great second bananas Sid Field. I honestly don't believe anyone ever did it better. And by the way that's Sid as the lawyer in a piece of film trickery.
30 giugno - I Martiri Proromani
Friday, June 27, 2008
Last Friday evening the Teatro dell'Opera was almost full - something I haven't seen since that incredible Roberto Bolle Gala last December. It wasn't a regular subscription night except for those of us on what, for marketing purposes, is called Fantasia Opera so these were mostly off-the-street ticket sales. It is notable that only one of Mr. Bocelli's scheduled evenings was subscription the other three were box office and agency sales only - Francesco Ernani, the Teatro director, seems to have recognized the drawing power of his name. And its a good guess that most of the audience were there to see Mr. Bocelli more than Carmen. Which is just as well, as this production did poor service to Bizet's masterpiece and was almost as vulgar as the giant red lips they used for the poster.
Since arriving here in Italy I've seen two productions staged by director-designer Pier'Alli - the first was Oberto in Parma last October - and I can only hope I will never see another. However I'm not counting on it as he seems to be everywhere. The staging began promisingly enough with a holograph bullring projected onto a scrim at midstage but P'A doesn't like an unpeopled space. So we were treated to members of the less than stellar Teatro ballet all tarted up in Spanish-drag doing their morning calisthenics in time to the overture. And they just never stopped - every number was accompanied by cape swirling, mantilla twirling, cigarette puffing, pose striking dancers doing their best to distract the audience from the bothersome singing that was going on. And though that midstage scrim allowed for some picturesque effects the truth is that a cloth between singers and audience dampens the sound and in the case of most of the voices left one wishing for that bugaboo of all opera lovers - amplification!
Power was not the problem with Ildiko Lomlosi's Carmen. Mme Lomlosi is a large raw boned Hungarian mezzo with a large raw voice to match. She and P'A's concept favoured the Carmen as slut school. Her gypsy seductress was brash, brazen and frankly gave the impression that she could arm-wrestle any man in the audience and win. Poor Don Jose didn't stand a chance. And if her Carmen lacked charm so did Cinzia Rizzone's small-voiced Michaela. Simone Alberghini cut a good figure as Escamillo and managed a nicely-judged Toreador Song despite having to dodge bouncing banderilla bearing ballet boys. The smaller roles ranged from the unhearable to the adequate. And despite being stuck behind that bloody scrim - are you getting the idea I don't like scrims - our fine Teatro chorus turned in some stirring sounds. Its bad when the chorus turns in the best performance in Carmen!
However the big question was - how would Bocelli fare in all this? The staging worked around any difficulty he might have had reasonably well. Dramatically he was no less wooden and unresponsive than a few José's I've experienced - my first, Raoul Jobin springs to mind. The fights were brief but effective and the death scene worked reasonably well. The opéra-comique version was used and he delivered his dialogue convincingly. His "La fleur que tu m´avais jetée" was pleasant if thin sounding but by no means unacceptable. But the problem still remains that he is not an opera but a concert singer and there is a big difference between singing in front of an orchestra and singing surrounded by other singers, a full chorus and the depth of an Italian Opera House orchestra pit separating you from your audience. By the third act his voice was sounding tired. Fortunately at that point most of José's big sings are over but that third act ensemble is a killer and he just wasn't able to get there. His next appearance here is scheduled for October, as the Italian Tenor in Der Rosenkavalier. It a brief cameo in the first act - one and a bit stanzas of a pseudo-Italian aria. Unfortunately it smacks of stunt casting but one can hardly expect his fans to flood in for the three hours of Strauss's musical Sacher Torte if all they are going to get is two minutes of their Divo as whipped cream topping.
I mentioned in an earlier post that at times Alain Lombard did tend to let his orchestra swamp the singers - I should say that this did not apply to Bocelli. Lombard was careful to ensure that during his solo passages the orchestra was held in check. In other places his handling of the score suggested an affection and knowledge that would have worked wonders with a stronger cast.
For a taste of P'A's busy staging and the final scene the Teatro dell'Opera's video clip can be found here.
27 giugno - San Cirillo
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I was immediately captivated by the first poem he sent: Ithaka - Cavafy's thoughts on our life journey as filtered through the travels of Odysseus to his homeland.
Many of his poems are homo-erotic in nature and must have scandalized the society of his time. Gray, is an evocation of long-ago love recalled.
While looking at a half-gray opalI found myself remembering for a few moments a pair of eyes from my past. Thank you Yannis.
I remembered two lovely gray eyes—
it must be twenty years ago I saw them...
We were lovers for a month.
Then he went away to work, I think in Smyrna,
and we never met again.
Those gray eyes will have lost their beauty—if he’s still alive;
that lovely face will have spoiled.
Memory, keep them the way they were.
And, memory, whatever of that love you can bring back,
whatever you can, bring back tonight.
C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems.
Translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard.
Edited by George Savidis. Revised Edition.
Princeton University Press, 1992
26 giugno - San Virgilio
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Standing in line for five hours at the Opera Comique waiting for a cancellation for the Berganza-Domingo Carmen. Enduring the abuse of the lumpy spun-sugar blond vendeuse at the box office. "Vous-etes fou d'attender" she heckled repeatedly, then magically produced a front row 1st loge seat 2 minutes to curtain time. The abuse was worth it - one of my great evenings at the opera.The performance was being broadcast that night by Radio France and when I finally got my hands on a copy of the DVD memory had not deceived me or romanticized the event.
Teresa Berganza simply was Carmen - sly, seductive, playful and ultimately tragic. Not for her the hip wagging slattern that so often passes for Bizet's gypsy. And she did it all while singing like an angel.
And though Domingo may have sung "La fleur que tu m´avais jetee" with more subtlety on other occasions that night it was the dramatic core of the opera. The tragedy that followed found its impetus in that aria.
It's the standard by which I've - fairly or not - judged every other performance of Carmen since.
25 giugno - San Guiglielmo
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
When we were in Venice a short while back we only found our way into one or two churches - San Polo* being one of them. Don't bother looking him up in the Calander of the Saints - it Venetian dialect for San Paolo. I was intrigued by this rather oddly shaped but, I think, oddly beautiful baptismal font.
*Unfortunately the English version of the website does not appear to be loading properly so the link provide will take you to the Italian version.
24 giugno - Nativita San Giovanni Batista
Monday, June 23, 2008
Here's the results of my totally unscientific poll:
And I'm glad to say the majority were right. There was no miking of any sort involved. Would it have benefited from it - to be honest more than a few of the singers could have used some increase of volume. However that was chiefly because of Director-Designer Pier'Alli's fondness for sound-deadening scrims and a tendency of conductor Alain Lombard to allow the orchestra to swamp the singers.
I will be putting up a posting of Bizet's Carmen as presented at the Teatro dell'Opera di Roma last Friday night in the next day or so, you all know how long it takes me to write that sort of thing - thank god I'm not working to deadlines anymore. And I emphasis I'll be talking about Bizet's Carmen!
23 giugno - San Giuseppe Cafasso
Sunday, June 22, 2008
- It's been a sweltering weekend here - sunny and the temperatures hovering around 35.
- Tonight is the big quarter final game between Italy and Spain and its going to be wild around here if Italy wins - what am I saying "if," of course they're going to win!
- Our friend Brigit introduced us to La Baia Sardina, a restaurant just around the corner, last Wednesday. Their shrimp, zucchini and white truffle tagliatelle is heaven and the wild berry pana cotta is pretty fine too!
- Laurent went to a wine tasting in the Pyramide area and, and as well as drinking some intriquing wines and meeting some interesting people, he came home with the URL for Italian Notebook, a fun website with a quirky take on life in Italy. I've added it to my favorites.
- I received a comment the other day from David which then led me to his blog I'll think of something later. It's a witty, knowledgeable and intriguing look at the cultural scene in the U.K. and beyond through the eyes of an insider. And his posting on a recent production of Ralph Vaughn William's Pilgrim's Progress made me envious - oh dear Bunyon wrote about a character called Envy didn't he? And not all that flatteringly.
- I've become addicted to Crodino - one of the many non-alcoholic aperitif drinks found here. According to the label its water, sugar, a herb infusion and a few of those other things with long names that make drinks bubbly and extend shelf-life. A bottle mixed with a splash of tonic and some ice and you've got something that goes down a treat on a hot day. You can also add white wine if you're so inclined - at which point you get a Crodino sprtiz!
- There's a large and very active Seniors' Centre in the park across the street from us. They started their nightly summer tea dances this evening, so we are being serenaded by an accordian group with an Al Martinoesque singer. Its all the old favorites guaranteed to get the more mature crowd up and dancing. And I seem to know most of the tunes - so what does that say about me?
Nothing else new that I can think of... oh there is the new look on here. I decided I wanted something to reflect the colours of Roma. The ochres of the buildings and the green of the plant strewn balconies - and besides it was time for a change.
22 giugno - San Paolino di Nola
Friday, June 20, 2008
People have said how terrible it must have been when my mother died and he could not come back from Jordan in time. Or when the decision had to be made to stop our Bundnie's heart. And to most people I guess those would be the obvious times that being apart would be difficult. Strangely those where not the times I missed him most. During those bad moments there were always friends and family to help carry the burden of grief, disappointment or even anger.
No it wasn't the bad times but the good where the feeling of loneliness was keenest. The not being able to share something wonderful that had happened. It could be something as momentous as the first time a training course I wrote was sold to another company - no profit for me but a bit of glory. There was no one to come home to and say: Hey honey break open the cheap bubbly! You'll never guess what happened at work today! It was at birthdays or holidays like Thanksgiving - Christmas is one holiday that we have never spent apart - that gathering with friends, though wonderful, wasn't quite enough. Or even simply yelling "Hey come here, you have to see this!" when you've found a piece of nonsense on YouTube that you wanted to share. Those are the occasions when being apart can be the hardest.
Fortunately we are no longer in that situation - and hopefully won't be again, though we said that once before and look what happened. But being out on posting means that we are missing celebrations and joyous events with friends and members of our extended family back in Canada.
In the past two months we have missed our friend Jean-Paul's 60th birthday party and our adopted-nephew Andrew's wedding to his beautiful Jessica. Both of which we wanted to be a part of with all our hearts. But distance and timing just make it impossible.
Sadly this weekend we are missing another joyous event and cause for celebration. Our friends Robert and Martin (that's them working in the kitchen during our holiday in Niagara-on-the-Lake back in 2002) are getting married on Saturday. As always they know how to throw a party! It will be a three day event at their place in Mont Tremblant. We'll be missing the pool party, a great reception and Sunday brunch but most of all we'll miss two of our good friends making a life-commitment to a relationship that began 10 years ago.
I know they will be too busy this weekend to see this posting but just in case they do. Robert and Martin, we love you very much and wish we could be with you and join in the celebrations.
Auguri e baci carini!
20 giugno - San Silverio
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
One by one those Stars in MGM's glittering firmament are being extinguished and the world is a less bright for it.
18 giugno - San Calegero
I couldn't find the dynamic Miss James doing this Nelson Riddle composition but did come across this clip from the movie - guess we'll just have to settle for Nat King Cole doing the film's title song.
The actress playing the blind flower seller is Celia Lovsky - former wife and life-long friend of Peter Lorre - and after their divorce a well-known character actress in her own right. Trekies remember her from her appearance on the first Star Trek series.
18 giugno - San Calegero
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Yes I know I'm carrying on like a high-school girl on Prom Night who gets a gardenia corsage but I've never had one before! A gardenia I mean, or for that matter a corsage. I am just so proud of my little white beauty - like I really done much other than water it faithfully. I'd still like to know what is causing the leaves to yellow?
17 giugno - San Adolfo
Monday, June 16, 2008
Oh wait ... the organ ended, and it's now the Tudor choir singing Clemens non Papa. The radio DJ (do they call them DJs on the classical stations?) actually said -- and I quote --, "So if the question is 'Who's your daddy?', you'll know that Clemens non Papa is not who you're looking for." He was rather pleased with his hip wittery, judging by his chuckle.
I'm not sure what they call classical station DJ's - there must be some fancy name. But his little pun had me me chortling as I trudged to the salt mine!
Us classical music types are such wags!
16 giugno - San Aureliano
When I saw this I immediately thought of blog buddy Cowebell's first born - the Bohemian - and her love of Early Music. I have a feeling she may have met a few "authentisity" fanatics just like Pére Blaise. And I love the pun on pedal - the French slang equivalent of "faggot."
Thanks to my friend Cathy for sharing this one. And by the way Cathy Happy Retirement!
16 giugno - San Aureliano
Sunday, June 15, 2008
15 giugno - San Vito
Saturday, June 14, 2008
'This story concerns Charmian Mao,' said Humphrey. 'He was said to have a very good sense of humour. He was asked once what he thought would have happened had it been Nikita Khrushchev rather than President Kennedy who had been assassinated. He thought about it for a moment and then said: " Well, one thing is certain: Aristotle Onassis would never have married Mrs. Khrushchev!" 'McCall Smith is the creator of the wonderful Precious Ramotswe, a woman of "traditional build," traditional values, owner of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Botswana's only Lady Detective. I have yet to see the BBC screen adaptation of the first novel (it was director Anthony Minghella's last project) which was aired on Easter Sunday in the U.K. The reviews were mixed with most critics finding that the sweet, gentle nature of the books just didn't make it to the screen. I'm hoping BBC World will get around to showing it - maybe instead of the 200th rerun of Good Neighbours - so I can see for myself.
14 giugno - San Eliseo
I really miss getting out there digging, pruning, planting ... all those activities that put you in touch with the earth. However I'm still checking my little balcony garden every day and finding signs of growth and flowering. I've never had a gardenia before and I'm waiting excitedly to see it bloom. And our compound is in the middle of the old Villa Nomentana gardens so I guess I shouldn't complain - I do have a garden without the work!
I give a sigh when I think of the garden pictures I've posted in the past. But I still have a garden and as my mother use to say: Well it's a poor thing but it's my own!
14 giugno - San Elieso
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
As well as a few random thoughts and events I thought I'd post pictures of the doorways of the Renaissance palazzi that line Via Rodolfo Belerizani in Trento. These marvelous Renaissance buildings have been preserved and adapted to modern usage and the street, in fact the whole historic town centre, is reserved primarily for pedestrians. But then this is normal in most towns in Italy.
- When I complain or whine - yes I know its hard to imagine me doing either - about life here in Italy most people suggest I look at a few of my own pictures. And I must admit they do paint a rather romantic tourist view of la Bella Italia. And there is much to enjoy here - food, music, wine (yes I've broken down one or two times), history, beauty and people. But there is also much here that frustrates both the Ex-pats and, at times even, the Italians. And to prove the point Bruno Bossetto made this little film. It sums it all up perfectly.
- I've mentioned before that when you buy your subscription for the opera season here, except for the first night, you can never be sure what cast you're going to get. So far we've hit it lucky but I just knew our luck would run out eventually. Carmen is coming up later this month and three tenors - no not The Three Tenors Lorraine, this isn't that much like PBS - were announced to sing Don Jose. One of them is Andrea Bocelli. He will be singing on June 20th, our subscription night.
Now first let me say I have nothing against Andrea Bocelli so I don't want all sorts of flames thrown. For what he is - a popular singer - I think he's just fine and I'm glad he has had a successful career. And I can forgive him for singing with Sarah Brightman and Celine Dion. But when he's hired as what he isn't, that bothers me. Sorry but he's not an opera singer - he is someone who sings operatic arias in concert. And performing in a concert setting as a solo performer is very different from a staged production with other soloists, chorus and full orchestra. And Don Jose is a killer role - dramatically and musically. And I honestly question if his voice is big enough to fill an opera house without amplification. Subscription tickets cannot be exchanged - a practice which I find strange and may be particular to Italy - and it was suggested that we just not go. However that would be condemning someone without giving them a chance. So we'll go, hopefully be able to put aside any prejudices or preconceived notions and report back honestly at some point.
- A week ago today two things changed in my life. Last Tuesday I received my Permeso di Soggiorno, which means I am finally legally in Italy. Don't even ask what I was before! Basically it means my presence is recognized by the Italian Government and that I can now work in Italy.
Which brings us to the second change - coincidentally the same day I started getting up at 0615 so I could be to work on time. Yes I said work! I now have a job! I am no longer a man of leisure. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Its a short term contract working at the Embassy for the next two months - Monday to Friday - 0800 to 1700. I like to think of it as a summer job to pay for all those opera jaunts hither and yon - though my friend Jon Penner says it makes me an opera-whore????
What ever effect it may have in my moral standing in the world, sadly it means I have a little less time to work on some of the postings I've been thinking about. But I'm still going to try and keep things up to date - if I don't collapse the minute I get home from the stress of - gasp, groan, shudder - working!
10 giugno - San Maurino
Monday, June 09, 2008
I remember this sketch from a Wayne and Shuster radio show in the early '50s; this version in 1958 would have been from one of their early CBC TV shows. They were funny at a time when funny did not mean resorting to swearing and their comedy always assumed that the audience was literate and knowing.
From one of their classic sketches Rinse the Blood Off My Toga (The assassination of Julius Caesar as written by Micky Spillane.):
Detective (In a bar in ancient Rome): I'll have a martinus!As a grade 9 Latin student that one killed me.
Bartender: Don't you mean a martini?
Detective: If I wanted two I'd ask for them!
9 giugno - Santa Columba
Thursday, June 05, 2008
Music: Bach's Allemande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009 performed by Antonio Meneses.
05 giugno - San Bonifacio
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
The property was occupied by the Allied High Command from 1944 until 1947 then lay desolate for the next 30 years. Looting, neglect, the elements and vandalism took the toll on the gardens and buildings. In 1978 the Commune di Roma opened it as a public park and restoration work began. It has now become a popular green space with a very good restaurant - their pizza is amongst the best in Rome - three museums, a children's park, a seniors' casa and a theatre which is currently under restoration. Its a bit off the beaten track so most of the people in the grounds are locals - both Italian and ex-pat. We had an unhurried look through the Casino Nobile with its elaborately frescoed rooms that were designed to sing the praises of the Torlonia family - Mussolini made very few changes to the decorations during the time he lived there.
The third floor (originally a service area and servants quarters)houses an exhibition of works of the Scuola Romana - many of which would have been censored by the Fascist government. But perhaps most fascinating - amongst all the brightly coloured, beautifully restored frescoes - were these four we came across in one of those third floor rooms. Painted sometime in the late 40s they glorify something other than the Torlonia family - it appears this artist was enamoured of Hawaii!
They are the work of an unknown British soldier who decided to brighten the dingy area he worked in. He choose images of a more carefree clime perhaps to counteract the daily images of destruction, hunger and poverty that surrounded him in post-War Roma.
03 giugno - San Carlo
Monday, June 02, 2008
Sunday, June 01, 2008
Even in 1400 the month of June seemed to be the favoured time for weddings - May having been the month for courting. In the lower foreground an richly dressed wedding party sets off on its way accompanied by musicians. Two nobles leave their elaborate stone castle bearing gifts for the bridal pair. In the upper background the peasants dressed in their rough homespuns milk the cows, carry the milk, churn the butter and shape the cheese, all of which will no doubt appear on the tables at the wedding feast.
In the cycle there is never any direct contact between the two worlds - Liechtenstein's view of the perfect Medieval world.
01 giugno - San Giustino
You may have noticed the ceramic on the sidebar - or maybe not, I'm never sure if people notice that sort of thing - its one of a series depicting the months of the year hanging in the B&B - Maso Wallenburg - we stayed at just on the outskirts of the city. It is a working vineyard and winery and though ideally a car is needed we found taxis readily available and inexpensive. And on two occasions the very personable hosts - Eugene and Bruna - offered to drive us into town. The charming series of plates on the wall of the breakfast room present happy peasants engaged in the activities deemed appropriate for the month. A click on the little guy at the right shows he is harvesting the spring wheat crop - an activity you can still see on the train ride up though in a more modern form.
In the Months fesco cycle at Castello del Buonconsiglio small twisted columns separate the panels giving the impression of an open loggia allowing you to observe the peasants at work and the nobles at play in landscapes that changes as the seasons pass.
The months of the year was a reoccurring theme in Trento - perhaps reflecting the agrarian culture that has always been important to the area. The Torre Aquila of the Castello houses one of the most original and celebrated fresco cycles of the Months in Italy. Dating from 1400, it was commissioned by Prince-Bishop Georg von Liechtenstein probably from a Bohemian artist. It is an extremely idealised view of the Prince's feudal world depicting the activities of eleven months of the year (March was lost when a staircase was cut into the wall of the tower.) Always in the foreground nobles - large figures, slender, splendidly dressed - play, dance, sing, joust or court. In the background the smaller peasant figures toil endlessly at their tasks according to the months of the year.
I thought I would post a panel at the beginning of every month - what I'll do in March I'll worry about next February. The first panel will appear later today.
01 giugno - San Giustino