Sunday, November 30, 2008

On Both Your Houses

I've been remiss in postings about my various opera going forays in and around Italy. On my trip last month I caught, and reported on, the last night (October 22) of the Torino Medea and then went on to Genova for the opening night (October 24) of I Capuleti e i Montecchi at Teatro Carlo Felice.

After the fussiness of Hugo de Ana's "concept" Medea, Robert Carsen's Capuleti was a revelation as to what can be done when a director has a straight forward desire to tell us the composer and librettist's story. Carsen's production, from the Bastille Opera, is simple, elegant and lets Bellini's music guide the drama. Michael Levine's arrangement of walls in a deep, almost blood, red allowed the action to move forward without pause and his Renaissance inspired costumes - again in deep reds for the Capuleti, black for the Montecchi, off-white for Guiletta - were simple but beautiful.

Mariella Devia and Sonia GanassiThe libretto that Felice Romano gave Vincenzo Bellini to set is based on the early Italian tellings of the story of the ill-fated lovers rather than the more familiar Shakespeare version. There is no Mercutio to steal the limelight from Romeo, no Nurse vainly attempting to amuse us and Tybalt is Giulietta's intended not her cousin, Friar Lawrence has become the family doctor and friend. The action moves swiftly and at times almost violently - confrontation is always at the fore. And Carsen emphasises it when the curtain rises on rows of rapiers embedded in the stage floor being retrieved by Capuleti retainers as they prepare for a war council. Even as the curtain falls the two warring sides confront each other, swords drawn, over the bodies of the dead lovers. Unlike in Shakespeare the two sides have not buried their enmity.

Deyan VatchkovI will have to admit that Bellini is not one of my favorite composers, I find his music is often dull or perhaps just too romantic for my taste. But Capuleti is an exception: the music has a drive and drama that I find lacking in his other works. Though I will probably be racked for saying this, I prefer Capuleti to anything else he wrote - yes I'm including Norma in that statement.

The one thing you can count on in Bellini is that the writing for his women will be both beautiful and demanding. Giulietta was written for a soprano and Romeo is a travisti role written for a mezzo and their duets are the great centre pieces of the work. And so they proved to be when sung by Mariella Devia and Sonia Ganassi.

Mariella Devia as GiuliettaI've written before about the remarkable Mariella Devia, one of the greatest bel canto singers active today, and though she seemed to be having a bit of an off-night, I'll take her off-night to many other singers good nights anytime. Oh! quante volte lacked the freedom and sheer brilliance of her concert performance in Rome back in September As the evening progressed and she launched into the big duets with Ganassi's Romeo her voice became freer and regained its familiar lustre.

Ganassi was the star of the evening; though physically she may not look the fearless leader of a warring household demanded by Romani, she was in total command of the stage.Swords drawn over the dead lovers. Her second act lament was gut-wrenching in its simplicity and intensity and in the duet that followed tenor Dario Schmunck matched her in a manner that was a surprise after his lacklustre delivery of Tebaldo's first act aria. In the final scene Ganassi and Devia (now completely on form) showed us the drama that can be achieved by two singers in perfect command of their art. It was breathtaking and heartbreaking.

Conductor Donato Renzetti, in a well-judged reading, allowed the singers plenty of breathing room for the grand lyrical passages but knew when to push the drama onward. And the recent retrenching of forces - administratively and artistically - at the Carlo Felice showed well in the work of both orchestra and male chorus, not always a given in Italian opera houses.

One final thought. I would have like to have seen both the Medea and Capuleti in more a traditional Italian opera house - that is the horseshoe palci/poltroni style auditorium. Torino and Genova have modern houses designed in the North American amphitheatre model and I found it robbed both works of an intimacy that I have come to appreciate over the past year or so of opera going here.

Production photos from Teatro Carlo Felice by Jacopo Morando.

30 novembre - San Andrea apostolo

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Dionysos Areopagitou 17

17 Dionysos AreopagitouYesterday afternoon as we strolled along Dionysos Areopagitou on the south side of the Acropolis we were recalling the first time we walked along there in 1998. It was a busy main street open to traffic and a horror to try and cross. Now it is a wide pedestrian boulevard with treed slopes and marble stairs giving entrance to the site. The south side of the street is lined with stylish row houses - including the Embassy of Spain - many in Art Deco or Neo-Classical style. With the building of the new Acropolis Museum the Greek Government has delisted two of these buildings - Number 17 and 19 - and are set to demolish them. They block the view from the Museum terraces (and more importantly the new restaurant) to the eponymous site.Doorway Nbr 17caryatidscaryatidsI am no expert of architecture but I think Number 17 is an incredible example of Art Deco, one of the loveliest I've seen. And though the style of the facade is Deco the features are pure Athenian - symmetrical coloured marble panels, two caryatids supporting and lighting the entrance way and two mythological mosaics at the roof line. They are a perfect early 20th century interpretation of Classic Greek design.
Jason and the ArgonautsOedipeusThere has been an effort on an International level to save these houses that, though not as venerable as their neighbour across the street, still are a piece of Athenian history. Unfortunately our Greek is almost - okay completely - non-existent so we could not tell from the information posted on the door if the preservation campaign has had any success.

As interesting as the new museum is - and I'll be writing more about it tomorrow - it would be a shame to see this lovely building destroyed for the sake of a dining room view.

27 novembre - San Primitivo

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

Yes I know its now a cliche, and yes you do hear it at every restaurant in the Plaka but there was a time when "Sirtaki" by Mikis Theodorakis was something original and in the context of the great Michael Cacoyannis' Zorba the Greek quite moving.

Early in the film Zorba (Anthony Quinn, proving once and for all that he was a brillant actor) challenges his uptight "boss" the young Englishman John (Alan Bates, looking young and beautiful) to dance because "When a man is full, what can he do: burst?" When John refuses Zorba begins to dance alone and the villagers provide the traditional music.

In the concluding scene John, now more aware of life, asks Zorba to teach him to dance, to help him become as free as the old man himself.

The familiar music suddenly becomes what Theodorakis meant it to be, not restaurant background music but a celebration of life.

26 novembre - San Umile da Bisignano

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chimney Birds

I was a bit startled when I took a quick first glance out the balcony window of our room at Xenonas Iresioni in Arachova. What the hell were all those birds doing perched on top of the chimneys?Chimney topsA closer look and I realized that they were chimney pots designed to rotate with the changing winds. A good idea in a place like Arachova where winds can, and did on Saturday, reach tree toppling force.
Chimney potStylized chimney potsChimney potsThese stylized birds may not be the traditional chimney pot but serve the same purpose: stopping down drafts, debris and real birds from entering the chimney.
Hawk potThe odd one had a more hawk-like aspect which no doubt kept the other birds at bay most effectively.

25 novembre - Santa Caterina d'Alessandria

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

Normally I would be posting some sort of video - an old comedy routine or something that struck my funny bone. Well there's still a great deal out there that makes me laugh but this weekend in Arachova I found a few things hanging around the main street that gave new meaning to the phrase FUN FUR!
Fun Fur 1Fun Fur 2Fun Fur 3Fun Fur 4Fun Fur 5
And frightening enough there were a few people around wearing jackets exactly like these - most with what Laurent calls Balkan Blond hair. True lunacy.

24 novembre - San Andrea Dũng Lạc

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Trente Anni Fa

That, my friends, is Italian for 30 years ago - and here we are today celebrating in Arachova on Mont Parnassus in Greece. Who would have thought that one drink would have lead to all this. The past 30 years have been many things but the one thing they have never been is dull.

When I met Laurent in November of 1978 he was in his last year at University and our first trip together was to celebrate his graduation - London in 1979. We saw the sights, went to the theatre and, with our dear friend Ryan, went to the opera at Glyndebourne in tuxedoed splendor. Little did I know that was just the start of our wanderings around the world.

When Laurent joined the foreign service in 1983 we knew that it would mean living apart but we decided that because I worked for an airline we could handle it. And handle it we did for almost half of those 30 - I've always wondered out loud if maybe that's why its lasted that long. First it was Mexico City, then Cairo, next came Chicago followed by Amman, Warsaw, Beijing and now Rome. There were periods back home in Ottawa every couple of years and then it would be back to commuting.

It hasn't always been easy for either one of us. Many times birthdays and anniversaries have been celebrated apart - though never Christmas; sometimes we were not there to support each other in times of family deaths or times of illness; back before computers communication could often be difficult because of cost and time zones; and each time we started living together again there were periods of adjustment - which became harder as we both grew older. And there were times when we both wondered how it was all going to turn out. But it looks like it has and we'll keep each other for another year.

At diner tonight - being Greece there will be roast lamb I would think - we'll raise a glass to the past thirty years to all the places we've been, people we've come to know and love, things we've gone through and hope we're granted a few more years of the same.

Happy Anniversary P. from P.

23 novembre - San Colombano

Saturday, November 22, 2008

O Hail Bright Cecilia

I was searching for something to commemorate today - the Feast of Santa Cecilia and sort of threw around the idea of one of the Handel or Boyce Odes. But going back to last year's post for the same feast it struck me that the best way to celebrate the Patron Saint of Music would be with one of the greatest pieces of music making ever recorded.

Back in 1951 Jussi Björling and Robert Merrill recorded "Au Fond du Temple" from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers in just two takes in the RCA Victor Brooklyn studios and nothing has bettered it since.

There's a wonderful story that when Sir Thomas Beecham was recording La Boheme with Björling and Merrill he kept having them repeat their duet. Finally in desperation Merrill asked him what he was trying to achieve. The avuncular Beecham simply beamed and said: Nothing. I just love to hear the two of you sing!

And to my own bright Cecilia - happy Saint's Day!

22 novembre - Santa Cecilia

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Bess, Sei La Mia Donna Ora ...

Or as they say in English "Bess, you is my woman now ..."

Porgy and Bess programmeSaturday night was our regular subscription night at the Orchestra of the Accademia Ste Cecilia. As part of a big Jazz Festival happening at the Auditorium this month, they were presenting a concert suite of George Gershwin's 1935 folk opera Porgy and Bess. The Sala Ste Cecilia was almost full and the audience was an interesting mix of regular subscribers and jazz fans.

Conductor Wayne Marshall, a local favorite, had arranged a suite of numbers - vocal and instrumental - from Gershwin's groundbreaking opera. All the favorites were there - Summertime, It Ain't Necessarily So, I Got Plenty O'Nuttin', A Woman is a Sometime Thing - sort of like a highlights album. Four singers, Marshall conducting and on ragtime piano, the full orchestra, chorus and children's chorus gave us 90 minutes of some exciting, if loud, music making.

Marshall has Broadway experience and it showed but at times he tended to forget he was conducting a full symphony and not a pit band. The sound he got from the Accademia - though never less than musical - at times swamped both the singers and the audience. Rodney Clarke and Indira Mahajan, singing the lead roles, suffered the most from Marshall's enthusiasm, being at times totally inaudible. It would be unfair to judge either singer based on this performance because much of what they did was lost. Angela Renée Simpson and Ronald Samm in supporting roles were able to ride over the wall of sound with Samm (as Sportin' Life) and the chorus garnering cheers after a great version of "It Ain't Necessarily So."

And the glory of the evening was the chorus - two weeks ago they sang Mendelsson's Elijah, two weeks from now it will be Orff's Carmina Burana but Saturday night they were denizens of Catfish Row, Charleston, Sud Carolina (U.S.A.) as the programme told us. Initially there was the incongruity of an all white Italian chorus in their smart formals singing I see'd him in de mornin' wid his work clo'es on. But then is it anymore incongruous than watching an American chorus as Egyptians singing in Italian in Aida? They proved once again that they are one of the finest choral groups in Europe singing the great chorus pieces with style and a touch of American omph.

The audience response was enthusiastic and the applause went on for a good ten minutes at the end of the concert. Several opera houses - Parma and Palmero - have included Porgy in their recent seasons. As satisfying as it was to see this fine performance, it would be nice to see a fully staged performance here in Rome.

20 novembre - Santi Avventore, Ottavio e Solutore

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

A Song of Two Fathers

On Kinderen voor Kinderen, a Dutch TV programme, a children's chorus perform songs based on ideas submitted by other children. They can be about almost anything: the death of a beloved animal, ADHD, bullying or in this case from 2005 a slightly nontraditional family.

Perhaps a few people in other countries would do well to watch and learn from this young lad about what really constitutes "family values."

19 novembre - San Gennaro

Monday, November 17, 2008

I'm It

Cover - Gielgud's Letters My friend - or at least I thought she was my friend - Lorraine got tagged by her friend Lorene. Okay got that Lorraine was tagged by Lorene, now Lorraine decided to be school yard bully and tag me and when I tell my mom she's going to get such a smack.

Anyway here's the game. Open the book nearest your computer (and be honest not something artsy-fartsy so you can impress everyone) turn to page 56. Post the 5th sentence in italics - I've added that bit - plus one or two before and thereafter for context.

As I've already explained to Lorraine the nearest book was Gielgud's Letters - the collected letters of Sir John Gielgud - yeah so I'm naturally artsy-fartsy okay! I turned to page 56 but pages 55-56 are chapter separators: Page 55 says The War Years and page 56 is blank. So I picked up the next book that was sitting on the sofa: Georgina Masson's The Companion Guide to Rome - god I guess I really am artsy-fartsy! And page 56 line 5 yield up this gem:
The Arch of Titus stands on top of the Velia, a spur of the Palatine that juts out towards the Esquiline, closing the Forum valley at its south-eastern end. It is a superb site, and the view from the arch was for centuries a favorite subject of the vedutisti, the painters of small view of Rome, whose work was eagerly bought as souvenirs by the Grand Tourists.The arch, erected in AD 81 to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem eleven years before, in medieval times was called the "Arch of the Seven Lamps" from the relief representing the spoils of the temple, including the seven branched candlestick. The silver trumpets with which Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho and the golden table of the shewbread are also shown.
Masson's a bit baroque in her language but its one of the best guides to Rome around and a damned good read to boot.

Now I get to be schoolyard bully and I'm going to tag: Dora, Tate, Tony, Subtle Knife (yes I know she's moving but she installed her PC herself and I'm sure the books were the second thing she unpacked so ...) and if Sage hasn't done it already Sling.

18 novembre - Santa Matilde di Hackeborn

Lunedi Lunacy

What could I possibly add to everything that's been written or said about Bob Newhart - the man is a comic genius. He's a brilliant monologist and a remarkable comic actor.

And I'm pretty sure they give the same course to bus drivers here in Roma.

17 novembre - Santa Elisabetta d'Ungheria

Sunday, November 16, 2008


After a while we all becomes somewhat jaded to our surroundings. Even in Rome the monuments, baroque facaded churches and the 18th century palazzi become common place. For the first year here I was constantly stopping to look at details and features on buildings and taking pictures. Often locals would stare and glance up to see what was fascinating me and shake their heads - what is the stranero finding so interesting in that old building. I'd found lately that, like them, I was paying less and less attention to my surroundings.

When my friends Ron and Gord where here last month they were continually drawing my attention to the details and colours on the buildings in my area. At first I was doing the jaded ex-pat stifled yawn routine but I find I'm back to spying the weird and wonderful details that make this city so fascinating. The intriguing combinations of colour that just wouldn't work in other places - the plaster casts of creatures great and small, real and imagined that adorn buildings; sometimes discretely, sometimes in a riot of excess.

The laneway from my office.The view directly out my office window is pretty uninspiring - a blank terra cotta coloured wall and some gutter pipes. But if I stand at the window and look slightly to the right I look down a small street with two late 19th century buildings on either side. Nothing special but charming in their way and typical of the area.

If I look to the left again it is more reddish wall broken up by brown shuttered windows. Again nothing inspiring but on Thursday I notice that it is topped with a detail that is only visible from the back of our building. A click on the picture will give you a close-up.
Roman BuildingI've been wondering why anyone would bother adding this bit of intricate iron work to the roof line when it can't really be seen. Laurent has suggested that perhaps there is a terrace and its visible to the rooftop dwellers. If that's the case, hopefully they still notice it.

16 novembre - Santa Gertrude, detta la Grande

First Firefox Now ...

Made a little purchase on Saturday - nothing big but I needed a new laptop and since one-half the family has already gone to the dark side I figured what the hell.

My new Ibook

And besides the Mac guy is cute - in a geeky sort of way.

16 novembre - Santa Gertrude, detta la Grande

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Strano... Molto Strano

I switched over to Firefox this week because I was continually having problems with IE. Everything has been going along swimmingly - a few sites seem to download slower but they are the exception. Then suddenly tonight I can't get into anybody's blog - or at least none hosted by Blogger.

I keep being told that "your query looks similar to automated requests from a computer virus or spyware application. To protect our users, we can't process your request right now." I followed their instructions to remove the Google cookie but all that did was restrict me from entering in to my own dashboard. I found a way around that but still can't read get access to any of my blog buddies postings for today.

Just wondering if anyone else has had that problem and what the heck can be done about it?

Well I don't believe this but I can't even access my own blog from the View Blog button on the dashboard. This is getting frustrating and if its what happens with Firefox ...

Updated Update:
A good nights sleep for everyone and things are back to normal - apparantly I no longer look similar to anything nasty or unsavoury. Though a quick glance in the mirror first thing this morning may refute that.

13 novembre - Sant'Omobono di Cremona

Teatro I

I've mentioned in previous posts that we live close to Villa Torlonia - the former residence of Benito Mussolini - and how lovely the gardens and buildings are. After many years of neglect a great deal of money and effort is being put into restoring it. Just recently restoration work began on the Turkish pavilion - a wonder of elaborate ironwork and tile that will be splendid when it is completed.

When we arrived a year August past work had just begun on the Teatro and the broken glass, crumbling columns and stucco was still very much in evidence. I remember there was also the smell of decay and rot about the place and it just wasn't possible to imagine what could be done with it.Teatro a Villa Torlonia beforeA little over a year later - early October - a good deal of the work has been completed. The target date is summer of next year and when its finished it's certainly going to be the jewel of the park.Teatro at Villa Torlonia after

13 novembre - Sant'Omobono di Cremona

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

The magnificant Miriam Makeba died here in Italy earlier this week. She collapsed as she left the stage at a concert in support of author Roberto Saviano, who has received death threats from the Camorra because of his book Gomorrah. The rally was also to combat the racial violence that has exploded in areas around Napoli in recent months.

When I've Passed On is not the sort of number most people associate with her but she was a singer of many colours and many voices - this was one of them.

Thanks to Duncazibar at YouTube for posting this little heard number.

I saw her live once back in the '60s when she toured with Harry Belafonte. And I played their An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba album until there were no groves left. I was searching for Ndodemnyama - my favorite song from the album - but couldn't find it so had to settle for Khawuleza. Which is just fine with me.

And thanks to stillsmallvoice for this post on YouTube.

12 novembre - San Giovanni Kuncewycz

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lest We Forget

PoppyLike many Canadians and members of other Commonwealth Countries I have been wearing a stylized poppy on my lapel the past few days. Dr Palermi, my Italian dentist, asked me on Friday what it meant. Was it for some sort of "festa" or celebration, he asked. I'm sure my explanation in bad Italian left him as perplexed as when he asked the question. But then I began to think - why have I worn a poppy this time of year for almost as long as I can remember? What does it mean? Or perhaps more accurately does it still mean anything?

I would probably have been 4 or 5 when I wore my first poppy and stood for two minutes of silence with the rest of my classmates to remember the war dead. Back then World War II was still a recent event - I had friends who had lost relatives in the combat, my uncle had served overseas, we had people in our neighbourhood who had come to Canada after their homeland and families had been devastated by the war. Unfortunately we also picked on the few German kids in the area because they had "killed" Harry Simmons' uncle. It was history but it was recent history. So when we stood, uncommonly quiet, in school assembly it had a resonance that we may not have understood completely but felt none the less.

I recall that in those early years there were a few veterans of the Boer War at the Cenotaph in Toronto. As time passed they had joined their fallen comrades as did veterans from World War I - today there is only one known Canadian veteran of the Great War, John Babcock who is now 108. And today at commemorations throughout Canada and the world, the men and women who honour friends and colleagues who died in World War II and even the Korean War are becoming fewer and fewer.

So perhaps for many Canadians the reason for remembering is fading from memory. But sadly battles continue, though not on the scale of those "Great Wars," and we still have reasons to remember. I wondered earlier if there was still a meaning in me wearing a poppy and taking two minutes out of my very busy schedules to remember the fallen of distant wars? I hear of the death of a former young colleague’s husband in Afghanistan, I see footage of the cortege of another Canadian peacekeeper making its way from Trenton along the 401, I witness the mental suffering of friends who have served in our military abroad – and I see that these events have as much resonance for me today as those of 50-odd years ago. How can I not do something as simple as wearing a poppy to remember?

But why a poppy and what does it signify? The poppy's significance comes from Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae's poem In Flanders Fields. McCrae, an army physician who died in January 1918 at a field hospital, wrote the poem during a lull in the fighting in May of 1915. The poppies grew wild in the battlefields and cemeteries around Flanders. They soon came to represent both the blood shed in war and the sacrifice made by the men and women who served. And tradition says that it is worn on the left close to the heart.

When I got a little older and joined the school choir I remember we sang McCrae's poem at school assembly every November 11. I don't believe this is the version we sang - I know there are several - but I found this rendition particularly moving.

The picture at the right is the cover of a marvellous book written by Heather Patterson and illustrated by Ron Lightburn. Ms Patterson wrote it because in her own words: For several years I had been aware that in Canada there was a need to answer young children’s questions like: “Why is that man selling those red things?” Why is everyone wearing a red flower?”, etc. There were no books for younger children about the poppy and Remembrance day and the origins of both in Canada. She dedicates the book to her granddaughter with the hope that “she blossom like a bright poppy in a peaceful world.”

November 11 - Remembrance Day

Monday, November 10, 2008

Post Its

I am always fascinated by the political posters that appear almost overnight in response to what's happening here in Italy and the world.

Though Walter Veltroni and his PD (Parti Democratico) lost the recent election they have not been behaving like a defeated party. Posters are constantly showing up addressing problems and concerns that they may not be able to raise in Parliament but can bring to the streets.

The problem of the environment and particularly air polution in Roma is highlighted in this one:
SOS Environment
A number to call in Roma
Tell us about environmental problems you see and tell us your solution.
Environmental Poster
And this poster has appeared on the streets yesterday. Not to be out done the Azione Giovani - a very right wing youth organization - remind Mr Veltroni that he lost. Barak Obama is in a position to effect change - Veltroni is definately not! A very sophisticated way of giving him the raspberry.
Obama Yes - Veltroni No

10 novembre - San Leone Magno

Lunedi Lunacy

They were a crew of inspired comic actors all of whom went on to incredible careers as stage, screen and TV performers. That they all appeared on one show at the same time was one of those remarkable acts of entertainment serendipity.

10 novembre - San Leone Magno

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Desperate Housewife

I often wonder if the current crop of operatic stage directors ever read the libretto or score of an opera - or do they just listen to a CD while giving the synopsis a quick read over? Take in point the opening production of the season at Teatro Regio Di Torino: Cherubini's Medea. Now I'm sure director-designer Hugo de Ana is an educated man and knows the story of Jason's betrayal of his wife, the barbarian princess Medea and he is also more than aware that it is one of the great epic myths. In an interview he stated he wanted to make the story timeless - not of an age but for all ages - so in an effort to do that he set it squarely in the 1930s????
General scene - Medea, TorinoHis set - he's a well-known multi-tasker and did the costumes as well - was a very realistic Greek seaside with a beached ship (Jason's Argo? the ship that brings Medea to Corinth? A ship of fools? - not quite sure on that one) tilted at various angles for each act until it flew up in the air shooting out flares and fireworks like an alien spacecraft as the opera ended. When the cast weren't scrambling over rocky outcroppings and steeply angled decks they were skirting around suitcases and crates strewn across the stage - Oh I get it Medea is wandering homeless but did she have to bring everything she owned back in Colchis with her. The 30s costuming meant that King Creon (Giovanni Battista Parodi) resembled nothing more than a Greek Big Daddy surrounded by Fascist hoods and the mighty warrior Jason (Giuseppe Filianoti) became a social-climbing cafe dancer in a very trendy three-piece suit and Borsalino. And in her black dress and smart ankle-straps Medea looked more like a pissed-off refugee from Desperate Housewives than a vengence bent sorceress. The great revenge myth had been reduced to a soap opera domestic crisis.
Antonacci as MedeaThis was unfortunate as the Medea was one of the great singing-actress around today, Anna Caterina Antonacci. Anyone attempting this ball-busting role (sorry that may not be politically - or anatomically - correct but its accurate) is fighting with the ghost of the singer most identified with it in the 20th century: Maria Callas. The Callas Medea is one of those performances that if you were to believe half the comments you read was seen by more people than saw the opening of the Beijing Olympics. It is the nature of operaphiles (I'm using the polite word here) to bemoan the passing of the Golden Age and I have been as guilty as the next opera queen goer of keening like a widow at an Irish wake about times past. But I've only heard the Callas Medea, never seen it so other than pitting a recording from the 1950s against a 2008 live performance I can't make comparisons. Antonacci is her own Medea and despite the production imposed on her she seared across the stage both dramatically and vocally. If she didn't succeed completely - and who in this role has, including (gasp) Callas - I put much of it down to her willingness to work within the director's concept.

Certainly her two duets with Filanoti had a dramatic intensity that was almost frightening and brought out a power in the tenor that had been lacking in his first act aria. They became the great centrepieces of the drama that they should be. Sadly the confrontation with Creon suffered because of Parodi's tendency to force and de Ana's bright idea of having the King's fascist thugs chase and then rough up Medea's old nurse, Neris, during the scene. Sara Mingardo sang Neris with conviction and her touching lullaby-lament was beautifully delivered. Again it was undermined by the direction - according to the libretto, she cradles Medea in her arms as she did when she was a child, here it was sung to a caged bird while hugging a suitcase. I won't even try to figure out what de Ana was getting at.
Antonacci as Medea
His attempt to upstage Medea's great third act arias by having Neris bath the children behind her - shades of the Passolini-Callas film - were defeated by the sheer force of Antonocci's vocal and dramatic power. She pulled our attention back downstage to the now vengeance consumed Medea as she pleads with the gods and finally chooses to take her final revenge on Jason. Her sudden appearance, in exactly the same position, covered in the blood of her slaughtered children was a remarkable coup-de-theatre but again de Ana could not leave well enough - rather than the blood stained Medea consumed by fire we had to have that bloody air-born ship as the final image.

Conductor Evelino Pido had previously conducted Antonacci's Toulouse Medea with great success and repeated it here. He drew sounds from the pit that were astounding given what sometimes emulates from Italian theatre orchestras. The introduction to Act 3 with its threatening storm was particularly effective and the applause for conductor and orchestra at the curtain calls was well deserved.

Looking over what I've written I may have dwelt a bit too much on the physical side of the production but I honestly feel that de Ana's overall concept and Antonacci's willingness to go along with it did much to rob the evening of the fire that this work demands. I went expecting the epic drama of revenge in Corinth and much of what I saw was a hissy fit on Wisteria Lane.

09 novembre - Dedicazione della basilica Lateranense

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Porcine Pleasure - For Dora

Some of you may recall that last year when I went to Parma my friend Dora was mildly obsessed with one on the town's most famous products: Ham. And frankly there's no way of getting away from it when you hit town. Specialty shops display it proudly in windows and restaurants, trattorias and Osterias feature it on menus - in fact Saturday night I had prosciutto and melon as an antipasti followed by ham and Parmesan crepes. But then if you have a good thing I suppose the thing to do is flaunt it.Hanging HamsAnd of course the best of the best is culatello - that king of cured hams that I found so irresistible last year.
Once the skin and bone have been removed, the top part of the hind leg (with the lower part "Fiochetto" is produced) is salted still "warm", that is, right after slaughtering, and trussed with a spiral of string to give it the characteristic pear shape. Stored away, the Culatello is then massaged a few days later to aid salt penetration. It is given another period of rest in a cool room, and then the Culatello, until now still "naked", is enveloped in a pig bladder, which has been washed and dried, and tightly bound with string.

After all this manipulation, the Culatello is given needed rest in cellars with constant temperature and humidity for not less than 12 months; then it is "kept" in cool, humid underground rooms. Once matured, it can weigh from 3 to 5 kilos* with its
typical solid pear shape.

From G. TRANI: Elogio del Culatello. Il salume dei re tra storia,
letteratura e gastronomia. Bologna, Grafis, 1992.

A plate of porcine heavenNot more than an hour after arriving in Parma I headed over to a small piazza off Strada Garibaldi to see if they had set up the VerdiTaste tent this year. It was there but on a smaller scale and though the atmosphere was not as welcoming as last year the goodies on offer where. I just had to order a plate of the good stuff with some nicely aged Parmesan cheese, a few chunks of rustic bread and a glass of slightly effervescent Malvasia white. And I just want Dora to know I did it for her! That's what good friends do.Salami arbour
I couldn't resist taking a photo of this young lady and her mother as they enjoyed their plates of ham and cheese surrounded by an arbour of porcine products.

* A 4 kilo culatello is selling for approximately Euro 315.00 (CAD 479.00 USD 403.00)- cheap at half the price!!!!!

08 novembre - Santi Quattro coronati

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Often when I go on my little opera jaunts around Italy Laurent - because of work or as in the case last month because he was elsewhere in the world - is not able to come with me. As a callow youth I travelled alone on vacation to England and Europe at least once or twice a year - ah the advantages of working for an airline. For the last half of my 33 years working at Air Canada I was on the road solo two or three times a month. Living in hotel rooms and eating alone in restaurants never seemed to bother me back then but recently I find I'm not happy travelling on my own. Now part of that is because I miss having Laurent around to nag at but there are other things too.

Take accommodation. In North America when you ask for a single room you'll end up with a queen size bed and the price is almost as much as a double. In Europe when you ask for a single room that's what you get - a single room (il singolo) at a reasonable price. Usually its about as wide as a monk's cell and as sparsely furnished. A single bed, a chair and small desk and that's it - though at the hotel in Torino there was a credenza that revealed a small hot plate and sink when I lifted the top. I suppose that was for the long term guest who wanted to drive themselves crazy by not escaping to a wider outside world. Now none of the hotels I stayed at this trip were less than adequate, in fact the Hotel Torino in Parma (shown in the pictures) was exceptional, and in all three the staff were friendly and helpful. And in all cases they were more than happy to recommend restaurants - all of them good - in the area.

Which brings us to the next thing - eating alone in restaurants. In North America you take a book, your laptop or suddenly find the tent cards on table the most fascinating piece of literature since Harry Potter. But that just isn't done here. Eating is an event not a necessity - or rather a necessity that becomes an event. And food, in Italy particularly, is a communal thing - its an excuse to socialize, meet friends, family and colleagues. An excuse to gossip, talk - and they do love to talk - and while away the time in the sunshine or the cool of an evening. The single diner is met with a look of sympathy: poverino, he has no woman to look after him; sometimes with an arched eyebrow: what's the matter with him doesn't he have any friends; and occasionally with simple curiosity: why would anyone be alone? I found it particularly difficult as I tucked into my Polenta Grantinée with Brie and Porcini mushrooms at I tre porcellini at Sunday lunch. Sunday lunch (pranzo) is a sacred institute here and to be alone at that time of the week is to be truly alone.

Understand that none of this is said in self-pity, more like self-realization - I don't enjoy travelling alone! And having said all that I'm off on my own next week to Bologna, just for the evening, to see Heinrich Marschner's rarely perfomed Der Vampyr. I've covered the hotel problem by booking a double for single use - got a great deal at That just leaves the dinner alone problem? So how does this sound: Harmless gentleman of advancing years desires the company of an intelligent ... Nah, think I'll just have a tramezzino at the Teatro bar.

06 novembre - San Leonardo di Noblac

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Mercoledi Musicale

Maddy Prior is one of those voices you either love or hate, there's no way you can be indifferent. Me - well I love that nasal wail whither it be, as in this clip, folk rock, her incredible tribute to the hymns of Charles Wesley or her great Christmas stuff. She's been the member of several groups - here Steeleye Span, The Carnival Band - as well as a solo performer. I noticed that she and the Carnival Band are doing their Carols and Capers Christmas concert throughout England... hmmm may just have to check and see if Ryanair is offering one of the 1 cent airfares.

05 novembre - Beato Guido Maria Conforti

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


I haven't posted anything here about today's U.S. election because I feel that it is not my place as an outsider. That hasn't stopped me from commenting on many friends' blogs but here I'd rather not talk politics - American or Italian. However, and you knew there had to be a however, I overheard a conversation here that had me doing that strange pumping motion with a clenched fist and mutter "Yes!" under my breath.

When we went to the Scavi last week we were in line between a group of older people, including a few priests and a very well dressed woman - expensive wool suit and white blouse with a string of very good pearls - of a certain age, and a group of students, most wearing sweat shirts proclaiming the University of Ohio as their Alma Mater.

Well-dressed Lady: (to a slightly hungover young lady from the Group) So where are you from?

Slightly Hungover Young Lady: (Duh! look on her face) Ohio

WDL: We're from Florida - we're the states that count next week. I hope you're going to vote?

SHOYL: I voted before I left home.

WDL: Well I hope you voted the way a good Catholic should.

SHOYL: I'm a Protestant.

Pumping motion - muttered affirmative.

04 novembre - San Carlo Borromeo

Monday, November 03, 2008

Lunedi Lunacy

I was telling my friend Ron about the gaggle of school kids at the Aquarium in Genova and he reminded me of an old Joyce Grenfell monologue. Grenfell was a brilliant monologist - one of those talented people - Ruth Draper, Bob Newhart, George Carlin - who created a world of characters and situations as they stood alone centre-stage. Sadly it appears to be a type of entertainer that has gone much the way of the dodo, perhaps because it calls too much on the imagination at at time when imagination is only a word in TV commercials.

Any suggestions as to what George was doing?

03 novembre - San Martino de Porres

Sunday, November 02, 2008

And the Birds of the Air

Ron, Gord and I visited the Scavi under St. Peter's last week - one of the best kept secrets in Roma. It's an incredible opportunity to walk through the 1st century Necropolis that was built on the Vatican Hill before Constantine filled it in to serve as the foundations of the first St. Peter's Basilica. Though this was my second visit, thanks to an exceptionally talented guide - Carla, an archaeologist, it was as fascinating as it had been on the first visit. It is amazing to see tombs, monuments, sarcophagi, frescoes and mosaics not in a museum but in their original setting. George Weigel gives a brief history of its discovery and restoration here.

While waiting to go into the Scavi and trying to avoid the downpour that would eventually turn into a horrendous storm, we popped into the Vatican bookstore and amongst the wise words of Big Ben translated into every known language found a few treasures including Robert Hupka's brilliant photo essay on Michelangelo's Pieta and this card: St Francis preaches to the birdsA simple design but I found it beautiful in its simplicity.

02 novembre - La Commemorazione dei defunti

Saturday, November 01, 2008

For All the Saints

Everything in our part of town is shut today with the exception of a few bars, restaurants and supermarkets. There is very little traffic in our area but the areas around any of the major cemeteries are sure to be gridlock as people go to pay their respects at family plots.

I recall the same thing being the case when we lived in Warsaw - everyone would head out to the cemetery to put flowers and candles on the graves of family and friends. By nightfall the graveyards would be shimmering with the flicker of thousands of candles - all lit in remembrance of loved ones. As a group we would go to several locations to commemorate events involving Canadians with the last stop being Cmentarz Powązkowski to lay wreaths at the memorial to six Canadians aviators shot down during the Siege of Warsaw and at the memorial to the Polish Officers massacred at Katyn.

Our friend C. Y. Pan had noticed on a previous All Saints that a number of the graves - particularly those of soldiers and civilians from the Hitler War - were unattended. He felt that they should be remembered by someone and thus began the tradition of buying five or six candles at the entrance of the cemetery and leaving them on graves that might otherwise be left unvisited. He also felt it was a way of remembering our own so far away. It was a small gesture but it once again was a way of bringing some light into a corner that would have otherwise remained dark amongst the flickering candles.

Again when I was active in my parish I loved the Feast of All Saints - its ceremonies, the celebration words of the Book of Common Prayer and most of all the music. We always sang the Ralph Vaughan Williams setting of Bishop William Walsham How's For All the Saints. Here it is sung by one of the finest amateur choirs in the world: the Huddersfield Choral Society.

01 novembre - Ognisanti

Il Ciclo di Mesi - Novembre

As the cold of winter sets in and the ground becomes hard the nobles head out for the hunt - it appears that a bear and her cubs are their target - while the peasants act as beaters or herd the pigs that will be meat for the winter into the castle.

01 novembre - Ognisanti