Monday, August 31, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

First I have to say that I love Germany - in fact we are heading up to Berlin on one of our mini-vacs in November but ... and you knew there was a "but" coming didn't you? I reminded by the po-faced response to Le Comte Ory that my German box mates gave as to how the sense of "ha ha" varies from place to place.

Think I'll give Fruit Gushers a pass!

Thanks to my friend Michael in DC for putting me on to this one.

31 agosto - San Raimondo Nonnato

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Images of Pesaro - Sidewalk History

Just a reminder that a right click will enbiggen the photos for a close-up in a separate window.

As I walked down Via Rossini onto the North-East corner of Piazza Ducale in Pesaro I noticed several strange collages embedded in the pavement stones. I don't recall them being there last year but then like many other people I might just have obliviously walked over them. A close inspection revealed that they were historical documents commemorating a piece of Pesaro's 20th century history: the enactment of the Manifesto of Race in July 1938.
The paraphernalia for enacting the Manifesto of Race - papers to be carried, symbols to be worn and a list of the Jewish population of each European country. Italy shows 50,000 with a further 200 in Albania (then an Italian protectorate).

Prior to that date there had been nothing particularly antisemitic in the founding principles of the Fascist movement, in fact there had been a significant number of Jewish fascists from the very beginning. Of the estimated 47,000 Italian Jews roughly 10 percent supported Mussolini. Many of them also held important positions in the party organization, as well as in local and national government, from education to the military (including admirals and generals).

According to this notice Jewish teachers and students were banned from attending schools beginning October 16, 1938

Ettore Ovazza, a Jew from Genova, had served both as a minister in the government and as founder of La Nostra Bandiera, a Jewish Fascist newspaper. Ferdinanda Momigliano, a Jew from Milan, wrote the ultimate Italian wartime cookbooks: Living Well in Difficult Times and Eating Italian were in the house of every patriotic housewife. Margherita Sarfatti, Mussolini's mistress for 27 years, was Jewish and a major influence in his rise to power.
These documents include the orders for the Reporting for Deportation of the Members of the Jewish Race as well as communications for and from officials.

All saw their lives changed with the passing of the new Race Laws. Though the laws applied to any Non-Aryan they were particularly harsh with Jewish-Italians. They were now prohibited from holding public office, military rank, teaching or banking and mixed marriages were declared invalid. In 1943, in an now divided Italy, under the Italian Socialist Republic measures became harsher. Jewish owned property was confiscated and whole sale roundups done in cities throughout the North. Many were shipped off to death camps, others like Sarfatti had already escaped. Some like Ovazza and his family were caught escaping and murdered by the SS. Still others like Momigliano went into hiding; she would have been caught on at least one occasion but a quick thinking greengrocer warned her of the trap.
The instructions for the "transferred families" is very specific as to what they can bring with them - Food provision for 8 days, bed linen, a small valise with personal effects, money and jewellry - and what they are to do with apartment keys and other belongings.

A large and influential Jewish community had been founded in Pesaro in 1555 by Maranos fleeing the Inquisition in the Papal States. However by 1901 it had dwindled to a community of 93 and it is difficult to find out how many there would have been when the new laws were enacted. There could not have been many however their fate has been commemorated in this rather odd but in some ways touching tribute. I'm glad I took the time to look down!

28 agosto - Sant'Agostino d'Ippona

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Thursday, August 27, 2009


As someone who struggles daily with another language I can sympathize.

Damn that Tower of Babel!

Many thanks to my friend Cathy for this one.

27 agosto - Santa Monica

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pesaro - Zelmira

There was a fascination with reflecting glass panels at this year's Pesaro Festival. There was a small variation on one in the Comte Ory and two very large mirrors filled the stage in Zelmira and La Scala di Seta. The mind boggles at the cost of this sort of stage craft in these cash strapped days but at least when the Festival does things they do them big.

The chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna takes their curtain call in front of the huge mirror that reflects the stage floor grid.

For the past three years the Festival has been showcasing Rossini's Naples works (2007- Otello, 2008 - Ermione) and Zelmira, written in 1822, was his last opera for San Carlo and despite a libretto that makes little or no sense was a great success. It soon appeared on major European stages and this year Pesaro presented the new critical editon by Helen Greenwal and Kathleen Kuzmick Hansell of Rossini's 1826 reworking for Paris. An aria added for Vienna in April 1822 was also included. This made for a long evening - Act 1 lasted 2 hours and Act 2 was almost as long. But musically it was time well spent.

Again let's get carping out of the way first: it appears director Giorgio Barberio Corsetti was booed on opening night and I can only think that it was a highly appropriate response not so much for his concept as how he saw it through. The curtain went up as soldiers in modern combat uniforms clambered over three broken statues covered in sand. Okay this was to be an updated production with flack jackets, women in 50s head scarves and priests in Orthodox clergy robes - no great hardship the story happens in Greece so why not? For the next scene the stage floor slide open to reveal a metal grill and the sand tumbled through it - a very effect bit of stage magic - then the revealed statues ascended to the flies and hung over the singers' heads twisting and turning distractingly in the air. But not enough to distract us from Zelmira breast-feeding her father - showing that if Corsetti had not read the play Zelmira is based on, he had at least read the scholar's notes so thoughtfully included in the very fine programme book. The next scene brought that huge mirror which reflected the sandpit under the stage - a warren of tunnels with scurrying people in rags dragging bodies to and fro. Aside from the fact that much of what was going on had little to do with the already obscure plot it was distracting from what was happening musically. And it did little to illuminate the characters or help the singers most of whom just stood around going through some pretty standard - pax the breast feeding episode - operatic gestures. By the end of the first act Corsetti had given up trying to titillate us and we had a standard backdrop, the chorus in a semi-circle and the soloists lined up in front of them (see photos above and left). The second act had a few surprises including some large screen live projections which required that blue screens be trundled on behind the singers. It gave us some powerful close ups of Aldrich and Knude in full throtle but was mostly a display of the wizardry of the technical crew and little else.

But ultimately with a work like Zelmira you are not there for the story or the stage craft but for the music. And on most levels the Festival did major honour to its eponymous composer with what was intended to be the year's showpiece.

Of course a great deal of the interest centred around the return to the scene of his first successes of tenor Juan Diego Florez (right as Ilo) in the role of Zelmira's husband. And he did not fail to deliver what was expected of him. His fans reacted accordingly with a lengthy - I was almost going to say "pro-longed" - ovation at the end of his Act 1 Cavatina. It was undoubtedly thrilling but the top is not quite as free as I have heard it on broadcasts or recording. Ilo is actually a secondary role and the rest of the evening he contributed to some fine duets, trios and ensembles. Where he was least convincing was an actor - not even the newly acquired goatee could convince us that he was the fearless warrior ready to do battle for his wife and country. His boyish good looks that work so well in so much of Rossini worked against him here and again the director gave him little help.

More dramatically convincing was Gregory Kunde's Antenore, the usurper of the throne of Lesbos which is the principal tenor role. Written for the great Andrea Nozzari it is a fearsome piece of vocal writing but Kunde approached it fearlessly and with the required steel in his voice. It was not always a beautiful sound but it was thrilling. A few of the reports tried to foolishly compare the two tenors which is your old apples to apricots comparison or more accurately polished bronze to fired iron.

American mezzo Kate Aldrich (centre, right with Florez and Marianna Pizzolato) was making her Festival debut as the title character and dramatically she fit into the director's concept of Zelmira as the young wife thrown into a partisan's role against her will. Though her singing was never less than beautiful I felt it lacked a certain weight that the role cried out for. She has a lovely mezzo voice more in the Von Stade tradition than the Horne and I kept feeling that a darker voice was needed - the part was written for Colbran and the Act 2 aria added in Paris for Pasta certainly if reports are to be believed voices heavier than Aldrich's. I found myself wishing that she and Marianna Pizzolato had switched roles. As Emma, Zelmira's confident and friend, she gave an object lesson in Rossini singing in her Act 2 (Vienna) aria and throughout the evening. Her's was the mostly consistently strong performance of the evening. Rather strangely Emma, who is so fundamental to the plot, is not included in the general reconciliation and rejoicing of the finale. That did not stop the audience from giving her a resounding ovation during the call.

Of the lower men's voices Alex Espisito handled the role of Zelmira's father well as did Mirco Palazzi as Antenore's evil advisor Leucippo. The chorus of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna processed as priests, bullied as storm troopers and cringed as village woman effectively. Roberto Abbado led the Bologna orchestra in a well-paced performance. Though I question if he needed to be elevated and spotlit to the degree that he was, given that this was a singers' opera.
Conductor Roberto Abbado takes his bow with l. to r. Alex Esposito, Juan Diego Florez, Kate Aldrich and Gregory Kunde.

It was a long evening but worth it to hear a work so rarely performed - next year they have promised us an even rarer work from the Rossini canon - his 13th and many say unluckiest opera Sigismondo. It appeared first in Venice in 1827 and the disappeared from the stage until a revival in 1992. Francis Toye, in an early biography, said the work was "wholly, irretrievably dead and buried"; and in a later well regarded book Herbert Weinstock dismissed it in a few words. Given that many of the Rossini works we hear today were equally looked down on it should be interesting to hear.

Mercoledi Musicale

The first musical comedy I ever saw was way back in 1958 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto. In those days Broadway shows toured, often with the original cast - in the case of Lil'Abner we got Peter Palmer the original lead and if I recall the great Stubby Kaye as Marrin'Sam. Unfortunately we didn't get the wonderful Edie Adams (left) who had created the role of Daisy Mae nor did she appear in the movie version but we did get Tina Louise as Appassionata von Climax.

I remember being fascinated by the stage wagons, scrim curtains, Michael Kidd's choreography and the general Broadway slickness of it all. Over the years I was to see some of the greatest musicals with some of the biggest stars but I still have fond memories of that Saturday afternoon in the front row of the second balcony on King St.

Here's Palmer and Kaye in a number that rather frighteningly could have been written today.

Lil'Abner creator Al Capp was a brillant political satirist and Johnny Mercer captured some of that Capp bite in his lyrics and Gene de Paul created some real foot stomping music. And it does make me think that "plus ça change ...."

26 agosto - Sant'Anastasio di Salona

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

A Note on Nora

Well our Nora is recuperating from her operation but not without some problems. As the drugs wear off the soreness set in and she took to licking her incision. This caused irritation and there was a possibility of infection. So this morning she and I made a trip to the vet's - she walked the six blocks back with much stopping to smell, if not the roses, then the souvenirs of other dogs along with way. And she also was more than pleased that there was a water fountain on the way. She has taken to immersing her head in the stream of water to get a drink - not a bad idea when the thermometer is hitting 38c.

Dr Porcino, who has several daschies of his own, recommended either an Elizabethan collar or a baby's jumper as a deterrent. We decided the jumper would be too hot in this weather so went for the collar.

Is there anything sadder than a puppy in one of those damn collars? In the top photo we have Nora as noble sufferer; then we get the pathetic puppy look that is guaranted to cause guilt in the soul of the uncaring bastard that put that thing around her neck.

And Nora must have read a few of the comments I got because she's been making Nicky pay for remaining intact. He can't go anywhere near her at the moment without get a low threatening growl and a snap. He's use to the play fighting and is totally confused by what's going on. Like its his fault? And of course we will pay for the collar with loss of sleep if she decides to move around during the night.

25 agosto - San Luigi IX di Francia

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lunedi Lunacy

Flanders and Swann - need I say more?

Believe it not they had to "clean up" the lyrics for North American television!!!!!!

24 agosto - San Bartolomeo apostolo

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Pesaro - A Seafood Extravaganza

Just around the corner from El Cid, our breakfast and aperitivo haunt, there is a building attached to The Bristol, one of the many three star hotels that dot the beach front. The veranda is unprepossessing with a few plants and white plastic furniture. The sign says Ristorante Bristolino "Lorenzo e Bibo" - Specialita di pesce.

A step through the door was a revelation. The decor is "Early Grandma Knick Knack" with vases, silk flowers, candlesticks, dolls, lamps, plants, plush velvet, chintz prints. The only thing missing is the thin coating of dust and antimacassars that would have made this a visit to Grandmother's house.

But the decor wasn't the only revelation. Lorenzo, of the aforementioned team, is Lorenzo di Grazioli who runs the restaurant and Bibo is his brother who is the chef. Together with a team of efficient, black-clad ladies they turn out a seafood only menu that was one of the finer meals I've had in Italy.

There is no printed menu - well by law there has to be but Lorenzo prefers to come to the table and tell you what's cooking tonight. A small man with a fly-away halo of gray hair he seems to have his eye on everything going on while still finding time to chat and make his clients feel comfortable. Once he has taken your order his well drilled group of ladies spring into action. It wasn't until my friend Robert mentioned it the other evening that it twigged on me, but it is not usual to see an all female serving team in restaurants; you do see women serving food but normally they are the mother or daughter of the family giving a hand. The sommelier was also a woman - severe black dress, horn-rimmed glasses, hair in a bun - the only thing missing was the pencil in the bun and she could have been the office efficiency expert. But she knew her wines and after ascertaining our main course fish and our preferences - something dry from the region, she made her suggestion. She may have looked like Miss Marplestein but she knew her wines and produced a very nice Verdicchio di Jesi that matched our choice of Rombo (turbot) perfectly.
A fresh baked foccacio studded with tomato was set before us just in case we were a bit peckish.

We had ordered the seafood antipasti and to be honest were expecting the standard large plate with a selection of goodies from the sea. Here's what we got:
The first plate was Spada Cerviche: six or seven slices of tender swordfish with a slight citrus tang from the lemon and orange that it had been marinating in.
A Macedonia del mare followed: a mix of clams, mussels, calamari, olives, tomato, finocchio and celery lightly dressed with olive oil.
A capasanta on its shell:a single sweet scallop baked with a blanket of crumbs,red pepper and olive.
As the last of the antipasti there were Gamberetti: four plump and tender shrimp wrapped in pancetta and lightly coated in very fine crumbs. A spray bottle of balsamic vinegar was provided so you could spritz them for added flavour. Not a combination I would have thought of .... but it worked.

At that point I was wondering how I could manage a main course but Rombo is one of my favorites so I thought I'd try. It was the only slight disappointment - and I stress slight - of the evening. I found that though it was good - and the roast vegetables that surrounded it delicious - it could have had more flavour. But I was still able to leave behind only a few bones.
The Main course: Turbot baked in the oven with potatoes, zucchini, melanzane and several other vegetables.

Then came a slight breather in the service so we could finish our wine and relax for a bit more to come, just in case we were still hungry.
Along with two two bottles of ice cold degestifs - lemoncello and amaro nero - came a plate of cakes.

"Do you have room for a dolci, " asked Lorenzo. The affirmative answer yield up this extravagant fantasy of gelato, fruits, whipped cream and nuts - a sundae gone wild!
But not quite the end - you can't have a meal without coffee.

There is a running joke here: What's the hardiest thing to get in an Italian restaurant? The Bill! And the Bristolino was no exception, it did take awhile to get the tab but then we weren't that eager to see it because we were expecting a hefty account and didn't want the pleasure of the moment spoiled by talk of filthy cash. When it finally came we were stunned - Euro 100.00 (CAD150.00)for everything - food, water, wine and coffee.

We had been chatting briefly with Lorenzo throughout the evening and he had been attentive and fussed over us - as he did all his clients. As we got up to leave he came over to the table, thanked us for coming, hugged us and admonished us with a finger wag to come back again. You know that decor may have been the key, aside from the fact that she never cooked like that it was a little bit like visiting Grandma's house.

23 agosto - Santa Rosa da Lima

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"Assassino!" ...

... muttered my friend and colleague Jolka, who disapproved of what was going on, as she passed me at the front door of our office building. And the look that Nora gave me when I picked her up at the Vet's late yesterday afternoon said pretty much the same thing. In fact every time I pick her up to take her out I'm getting the same look plus she refuses to kiss me.

So why the epithets, the cold shoulder and the looks guaranteed to bring on - and they do, believe me - fits of guilt? Well yesterday we had our Nora spayed. Now this was a decision that was not lightly reached however we felt it had to be done. Nicky and Nora had come into our lives as pets and it was never our intention to bred them. We leave that to people better equipped for that sort of thing.

Nora is now six months old and had given signs of having her first heat. This has led to some misguided attempts by Nicky to do what dogs do - though for a while there he was humping her head. When I mentioned to a friend of mine that he seemed to be unsure of the process she sneered: Typical of an Italian male! Whatever that may have meant.
Miss Nora on her first post-op foray out of her kennel. She's still very sore and, dare I say it, angry with me for it all. Hopefully both states will pass.

Now that brings up the subject of Nicky, who at the moment I might add is quite miserable. He is being kept separate from Nora and though they fight like, well, dogs and dogs he doesn't understand why he can't be with her. A good deal of his time is spent at the door of her kennel crying and I've caught him on at least one occasion attempting to open the door. So why are we not having Nicky neutered? It is not blatant sexism as a few people have suggested but based on past experience. When we had our Reese, who was a long-haired daschie, fixed his whole character changed - he became indolent and deferential. Physically he also changed - his coat became more fur than hair and he developed what we liked to call a "soccer player build" but was actually fat. This was one of the causes of his back problems later in life - always a problem with daschies. Now I know there is no guarantee that is going to happen with Nicky but at this point in time we have decided to leave things as they are.

In the meantime we are giving Miss Nora extra pats and a bit more careful cuddling and just letting her rest.

NEWS FLASH: She kissed me when I took her out to pee late this afternoon! I am now feeling a little bit less of an "assassino".

22 agosto - Beata Virgine Maria Regina

Friday, August 21, 2009

Good Old 'Merican Know How

What can you say: In hard times you just have to think outside the box to make a buck!

And the whole Winkers story is right here.
Thanks to my friend Michael in Washington for this .

And blogger-extraordinaire Joe, My God featured this one today. You couldn't get much more creative than Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA, could you?

21 agosto - San Pio X Papa

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Tart from Warsaw

And no I'm not talking about Lotte who worked in circulation at the newspaper!* I'm talking about a recipe that I found in the Times of London back in 1998 and that became a staple during our summers in Warsaw. It was simple to make, could be prepared ahead of time and they had the most amazing varieties of gold and red plum tomatoes. And it did keep well, though there were seldom any left overs.

I hadn't made it since our last summer there in 2000 - I'm not sure why it has languished on the shelf for so long. Maybe I just couldn't find the right tomatoes back in Canada. Here in Rome that isn't a problem. As I've mentioned before the question when buying tomatoes is what are you using them for? Salad? Stuffing? Sauce? Roasting?

150g plain flour, sifted
75g fine polenta
110g butter diced
1 medium egg
extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
60g freshly grated Parmesan (or the equivalent in a Gruyere/goat cheese mixture)
800g vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced, patted dry (I use plum tomatoes)
100g rocket lettuce or basil

Briefly process the flour, the polenta and the butter in a food processor to combine, then add the egg and about 2 tsp olive oil to bind. Wrap in clingfilm and chill briefly.

Roll out to fit a shallow 28cm tart tin, prick the base then chill well again.

Spread the mustard evenly over the base then top with the cheese. Lay the tomatoes on top in concentric, tight, overlapping circle. Season well with salt and pepper.
Tomatoes circled and all ready for the oven.

Bake for 45 minutes at 200c/400F. Then switch off the oven.

Out of the oven and ready for a swirl of rocket or basil pureed in olive oil.

Place 75g of the rocket in a processor or blender with 5-6 tbsp olive oil and process until you have a thick but pourable puree. Drizzle the puree over the tomatoes and return to the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove, cool for 15-20 minutes before serving; but it may also be kept in the fridge overnight but should be brought to room temperature before serving.

Just before serving season the remaining rocket with salt, pepper and a little oil. Pile into the middle of the tart.

As well as making it in a pie dish I recall using a cookie sheet and doubling the amounts when serving it to a large group. Just wish I could find those golden tomatoes we had in Warsaw. Then I could really recreate my Warsaw Tart.

*Yes, I know that is a very un-PC comment but occasionally I forget I'm a Canadian.

20 agosto - San Bernardo di Chiaravalle

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

Okay I'm not doing this to upset any of my friends back home but we've been sweltering here in Italy for the past few weeks. Here in Rome it reached 39c yesterday and 38c today with more to come. Even late at night you can feel the heat radiating off those "romantic" cobblestones and if it cools down to 30c you're happy. By the seashore at Pesaro it was bearable but here in the city its just bloody miserable. In fact if you ask me "Its Too Darn Hot!"

I was looking for the movie version of this number from Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate as I recalled it became a big dance number for Ann Miller. But I came across this clip from the London 2001-2002 revival. In the original Broadway show the number featured a fairly minor character called Paul - here played by the very talented Nolan Frederick. They do say that the best way to fight to heat is to work but a sweat and boy does he work up a sweat!

And to my friends in North America - particularly in the East, sorry about the rain! Did I mention it was going to be 38c and sunny tomorrow... and Friday.. and Saturday... and okay I'll shut up now.

19 agosto - San Giovanni Eudes

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pesaro - Beach Annoucement

The beach set up in Pesaro is very organized - and remember we are talking Italy here. Two chairs with a small table and umbrella can cost up to E100 a day depending on how close you are to the water. Each operator has a concession stand, some offering full meal service, volley ball court, shower area and change cabanas - though most people come to the beach in their bathing suits anyway.

Beach peddlers - mostly from North Africa - shill their wares, musicians, including a rather unique one man band, strive to delight with their renderings, and the general hub bub of vacation friends reuniting, children playing and teenagers striving to impress members of the opposite sex almost drowns out the sounds of the surf. A typical beach scene that could be almost anywhere.

And then every so often there is an announcement on the beach tanoys that reminds you that you are in Italy.

Female Voice: Your attention. A little boy has misplaced his parents. Il piccolo Marty is 4 years old and wearing a very fashionable sunshine yellow bathing suit and a nice white t-shirt. Il piccolo Marty may be found at Archibaldo 28 beside the red flag.

Five minutes later:

Same Female Voice: Your attention. Il piccolo Marty has found his parents and is now safe.

General and very loud sound of applause along the entire 5 kilometre length of the beach. And most of it from concerned Nonni who no doubt would have had a few words to say to the negligent parents.

18 agosto - Santa (Flavia Giulia) Elena Imperatrice

Oh! Canada!!!!!

When I received this little item today from my friend David Smith I wasn't surprised. Frankly nothing that comes out of the office of any political party in Canada surprises me anymore. But when such stupidity comes out of the Office of the Prime Minister I cringe with embarrassment.

OTTAWA - An unfortunate blunder by the Prime Minister's Office has residents of Nunavut alternately chuckling and cringing.

A news release sent out Monday outlined Prime Minister Stephen Harper's itinerary as he began a five-day tour of the North. The release repeatedly spelled the capital of Nunavut as Iqualuit - rather than Iqaluit.

The extra "u" makes a world of difference in the Inuktitut language.

Iqaluit, properly spelled, means "many fish."

Spelled with an extra "u," the Nunavut language commissioner's office says the word translates as a derogatory reference to "people with unwiped bums."

Bloggers from Iqaluit were quickly online ridiculing the gaffe - some light-hearted, some angry.

Iqaluit was named capital of Nunavut when the territory was created in 1999.

A news release today from the PMO spells Iqaluit correctly.

Oh! Canada! What the hell is happening to you?
18 agosto - Sant'Elean Imperatrice
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Monday, August 17, 2009

Pesaro - Le Comte Ory

As I previously mentioned Le Comte Ory was one of the first, if not the first recording I ever bought and I recall seeing pictures of that 1954-56 Glyndebourne production and being enchanted by Oliver Messel's wonderful vision of it as scenes from a Book of Hours. (Left, Act 2 from that production - the Countess with the knights desguised as nuns.) When it was presented in Ottawa in 1978, back in the golden days of the Summer Festival I finally got to see it on stage. The production again was staged in the period of the Crusades with marvelous designs by Marc Negin. My friend Cathy shared some memories of her appearance in it, in the Comments section last week.

Here at Pesaro director/designer Lluis Pasqual had a different vision of it. In his production, first created in 2003, the opera is a "society game" - much like charades or a scavenger hunt - played by guests of the Hotel Rossini in the 1930s. As a concept it had its moments but anyone not familiar with the story of the profligate count and his attempts to seduce the virtuous Countess while her menfolk are away at the Crusades would have been lost. Still as "concepts" go it was not all that bad, particularly when compared to a few I have witnessed in the past few months, . Other than adding a lesbian overtone to the Comtesse-Isolier relationship it honestly didn't do any great damage to what is, after all, an extended vaudeville or boulevard farce that doesn't beg for any great psychological insight.

And fortunately the music Rossini provided is a constant delight. Glorious number follows glorious number in a succession of bubbling chorus, drinking songs, faux-laments, duets leading to quartets leading to extended ensembles for seven unaccompanied voices and that final sublime trio for the Comtesse, Comte and Isolier. Even if he did "borrow" half the numbers from Il Viaggio a Rheims, Rossini spent a wealth of musical invention on his second to last opera.
Maestro Crignani leads the cast in bows at the end of Comte Ory, August 11, 2009.

Musically things were in the capable hands of conductor Paolo Crignani, who had an obvious feel for the work. There was a lightness to his approach that allowed him to give certain passages the drive needed to move things along without making things sound rushed.

Any tenor singing certain roles today is going to be in the shadow of Rossini tenor par excellence Juan Diego Florez; that Yijie Shi was appearing in a production originally built around JDF could not have been an easy task. He emerged from the experience with honours; though certain passages betrayed the bleat often associated with "Rossini tenors" he handled the extremely difficult vocal line well. As an actor he wasn't terribly convincing as a profligate or dangerous seducer but did convey a certain charm.

Sadly soprano Maria Jose Moreno was done in by aspirants that spoiled what are suppose to be the long lines of the Comtesse's first act aria. It was less noticeable the rest of the evening though a few of her high notes were on the tentative side. Physically she looked stunning in the evening dresses and peignoirs reminiscent of Jean Harlow. Laura Polverelli was an adequate if unexciting Isolier and Natalia Gavrilan made much of Dame Ragonde.

Roberto de Candia stole the evening as the Comte's comrade in revelry Raimbaud and his drinking song with chorus of faux-nuns was a real highlight. And kudos to the Prague Chamber Chorus who cavorted as society folk disguised as peasants, ladies of honour, knights and drag-nuns.

It says a great deal about the opera itself, or perhaps about my love it, that even with a less than distinguised cast and an indifferent production it still was a delightful evening and only made me realize why I love it so much.

As a footnote: the audience seemed to be sitting on their collective hands for much of the evening. There was no sense of joy in their response which was lukewarm at best. In fact when I applauded enthusiastically for de Candia two of the people in my box glared at me if though I was interrupting holy communion. For god sake people this was Rossini not Wagner!

17 agosto - San Mamete

Lunedi Lunacy

Dawn French is having one of those "Sophie Loren" days... haven't we all?

17 agosto - Sant'Elia di Enna
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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Pesaro - Aperitivo

We really are creatures of habit, as well as our daily pranzo at H2NO we've taken to having our breakfast at El Cid ,a small cafe overlooking Pesaro's famous Sfera Grande* (above)at Piazza della Liberta. Its a pleasant little spot and the service is friendly and its fun watching the world go by: families on their way to the beach, old folks walking their equally elderly dogs, backpackers using it as a resting place or people just sitting listening to the surf.

And we've also made a habit of enjoying our pre-opera aperitivo there before a leisurely stroll into Centro and a performance at lovely old Teatro Rossini. Of course an aperitivo here is not just a drink, its a mini-meal. Though there are lots of things alcoholic available my preference is for Crodino, a non-booze herbal infusion that is refreshing and I might add addictive.

The price of your drink includes a nice selection of snacks - salty mostly... hmmm method to madness - which tides you over very nicely until dinner after the performance.

*Photo of Arnaldo Pomodoro's Sfera Grande by

15 agosto - Assunzione di Maria

Friday, August 14, 2009

Pesaro - Beach Front Lunch

Quite by accident we've discovered a great place to eat on the beachfront. Disappointed by the meager but expensive breakfast offered at our hotel we headed out one morning in search of cappuccino and cornetti. For some reason we choose H2NO an unprepossessing cafe located on the ground floor of a boarded up hotel. The young lady was pleasant and mentioned that they also served a very good lunch and cheerful said arrivederci and "we expecting your for lunch!"

How could we refuse such an invitation? So back we went for pranzo that day and every day since. Not only is the food well prepared but it is beautifully presented. The atmosphere is clubby - friends gather, conversations flow from table to table and even across the room. Children and babies are fawned and cooed over by all and sundry. From what I can see we are the only non-Italians there and often the only people who don't seem to know everyone else in the place. But we are seeing pretty much the same people every day and cheery "salves" are exchanged with staff and other tables.

Here's a sampling of a few things on their lunch board:
Sweet, tender shrimp on a bed of rugalo covered in Parmesan slivers and dressed with olive oil and pepper.
A salad of potato, octopus, red onion and parsley dressed with a slightly spicy olive oil.
Scampi a la catalania - sweet scampi blanketed in thin slices of red onion and plum tomato sprinkled with dried basil and a light coating of olive oil.
The cold seafood antipasto includes samples of all of the above plus a calamari and carrot salad.
The old standby ricotta and spinach stuffed ravioli but sauced with clams, mussels, soft shell crab sauteed.
Pappadelle with sausage and mushroom is another standby in most restaurants - but there must have been five or six different types of mushroom including some very meaty porcini in the version served at H2NO.

Downed with a slightly fizzy white and finished off with fresh pineapple and coffee it all makes for a very satisfying lunch. And all this at a beach front cafe!!!!!

14 agosto - San Massimiliano Maria Kolbe

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Mercoledi Musicale

Last night we saw the first of the three operas at this year's Rossini Festival - Le Comte Ory, which I will be reporting on later. It has always been my favorite Rossini work and was the first LP* I ever owned. Written for Paris in 1828, Rossini never one to lose good numbers, reused a great deal of Il Viaggio a Rheims that had been written three years preivous for the coronation of Charles X.

It was not until it was revived at Glyndebourne in 1954 that it entered the modern repetorie. Here's the first act finale from a later Glyndebourne production.

Young Comte Ory, a wastrel, takes advantage of the absence of the local gentry at the crusades to try and seduce their ladies. Disguised first as a hermit then as a nun he attempts to enter the castle and the bed of the beautiful Countess of Formoutiers. As Act 1 ends he's been unmasked as the Hermit and news arrives that the Countess's brother is returning with his men from the Crusade.

*For the young ones an LP was a long playing record - a black vinyl disk that you put on a turntable and ... forget it you wouldn't believe me if I told you.

12 agosto - Santa Giovanna Francesca de Chantal

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Images from Pesaro

I'll be writing a bit more about Pesaro, our rather strange hotel here and the Rossini Festival in the next day or two but I just had to share this.

Along Via Rossini and just off the side streets are some verrrrryyyy high end shops. This was in the window of one of the them.

Not sure where exactly a dress like either of these would be worn in Pesaro but ......

11 agosto - Santa Chiara