Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Joy of Jazz - A Discovery

Though when I write about music it is mostly the classical my tastes do run a little beyond the vocal and orchestral works of Mozart, Beethoven and (lately) Mahler. I also have a fondness for folk, some country, Broadway (duh! quel surprise!) and jazz. Now I will admit that where classical music is concerned I always favoured vocal musical. For a long while I was in the habit of say: What's the point of an orchestra if there isn't a singer in front of it? - but I have become increasingly enamored of instrumental as well. Strangely with Jazz I have always enjoyed both the instrumental and the vocal though aside from Jacques Lussier I've never been able to get my ears around progressive jazz.

And I am partial to the older jazz performers - though the only greats I can claim to have seen live are Ella (twice) and Mel! This is why an article in the New York Times and two of their interactive features caught my eye late last week. The Savory Collection, a trove of discs - around 980 - have been found of "off the radio" performances by the early names in the field: Cab Calloway, Ella, Billie Holliday, Bobby Hackett, Benny Goodman, Lester Young - they are all there and all in their prime. They were recorded, mostly on aluminum discs, by the rather secretive William Savory (right) and though stories of their existence have circulated for a long time they have only come to light recently.

This long lost treasure chest has been deposited with the Jazz Museum in Harlem and they are working with sound Engineer Doug Pomeroy to restore as many as they can. In quoting the director of the museum the NYT reports that: Mr. (Loren) Schoenberg estimates that “25 percent are in excellent shape,” he said, “half are compromised but salvageable, and 25 percent are in really bad condition,” of which perhaps 5 percent are “in such a state that they will tolerate only one play” before starting to flake.

It a mammoth project but the results are worth it for the light that these performances shed on how and what these artists did outside the limited scope of the recording studio.

There are some remarkable examples on the NYT website including these audio samples - it includes the chance to compare Cab Calloway's China Boy as the disc sounded before and after remastering. And they've also included a video report on the finding, acquisition and remastering of this remarkable historic records.

31 agosto - San Raimondo Nonnato

Monday, August 30, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

I know these have been around for a while but I still find them a good chuckle.

30 agosto - San Fiacre

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Of Manners, Mountains and Time

I was introduced to the writing of Jan Morris through my friend David Nice of I'll think of something later. Though we have only met face-to-face once - a wonderful Friday evening of words, music, food and conversation with he and his dipolmate in London back in, my god was it really, February - and our chief method of communicate is the internet I hope I am not being bold in referring to him as a friend. But I honestly feel that "blog buddy" is too casual a term for someone who has given me much - at time vicarious - pleasure with his writing and introduced me to so many authors, composers, artists and fellow bloggers over the past 2 years.

I know I've commented in more than one posting of the fact that if David says You really should read ... or hear ... or see ... he is without fail on the mark. So it was with Morris; after my posts on Trieste he recommend I read Morris's beautiful and rather sad memory book Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere. That has led me to more of her books - travel, reportage and history. With the Pax Britannia trilogy I found myself in for the long haul - not a difficult read but a winter one if you will. However I found the perfect summer and travel book in A Writer's World; Travels 1950-2000; a collection of articles and essays that Morris wrote over the years for The Times, The Guardian, Life, Rolling Stone and various other publications. It takes us from the top of Mount Everest (Morris was there as a reporter for The Times on May 29, 1953 when Sir Edmund Hillary stood on the summit) to the chilling trial of Adolf Eichmann; through his pre-operation loneliness in Casablanca to the final retreat of Britain from the last outpost of her Empire. First as James than as Jan, Morris covers the Old World, the New World, emerging nations and fading glories from the mid-point of the 20th century to its end. It is a fascinating 50 year journey.

When I say "summer and travel book" I don't mean one of those books you simply put down having read half a chapter and then pick up again after you've refreshed your Aperol spritz. But by its nature as a book of articles and essays its easy to read in bits and pieces and out of sequence. Though reading it through from cover to cover does allow you to see the development of a style that is distinctively Morris. Her view of Hong Kong written in the 1950s has a Chinoiserie tone to it - the language a trifle elaborate. As the century ends so does A Writer's World with a description of the British handover of her Crown Colony in 1997 and Morris's style though no less descriptive and still very much Morris seems less given to baroque turns of phrase. As if, perhaps, the closing in of time has meant an economy of words.

As well as the original articles Morris give us forewards and epilogues to many of the pieces. Thoughts in 2003 of how things have changed since she penned the originals - the places, the political climate, the world, her own attitudes and not to put to fine a point on it, her sex. One of my favorites is this little addendum to her rather unsettling view of London originally written in 1975:

As to the monarchy, it was soon to lose much of its arcane magic - and its remoteness. Years later I was a guest at a Buckingham Palace reception for publishers and writers, and at the end of the evening, wishing to leave, looked around for somebody to thank. Queen, princes, dukes and all seemed to have gone elsewhere, so I left anyway, and at the palace gates I found a policeman. 'I was brought up,' I told him, 'to say thank you for having me when I'd been to a party, so as I can't find the Queen or anybody to say it to, I'll say it to you instead. Thank you for having me.'
He replied stylishly, I thought, but in the new palace mode. 'Not at all, Madam. Come again.'
A Writer's World
Travels 1950-200
Jan Morris
Faber and Faber Limited

Though Anthony Trollope found inspiration for his fictional Barchester in Salisbury and its environs Morris includes an essay on the town of Wells and its cathedral which recalled for her the comings and goings of the clergy of Trollope's Barsetshire. Reading her description of Wells Cathedral and in particular its remarkable 14th century Astronomical Clock brought to mind an item that was on the BBC last week. After more than 600 years (the announcer says 900 but that would be highly unlikely given the clock dates from 1396) of being hand wound (the past 80 years by members of the same family) the clock is going electric. A click on the clock face will take you to the complete story on the BBC Video.
This photo was taken from the Somerset Church Crawl set posted on Flickr by Lawrence OP. Its one of a remarkable series which includes this fellow who Morris describes as "a dead-pan character called Jack Blandiver, sitting stiffly on his seat high on a wall near by, nods his head, hits one bell with his hammer and kicks two more with his heels."

Having finished the piece on Wells I immediately went hunting for my copy of Barchester Towers. Because of Morris and, indirectly dear David, I feel a Trollope reread coming on.

29 agosto - San Giovanni Decollato

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

I Am Not A Shoe Fetish! Honest!

Its just I can't get over the shoes on display here in Italy. Not just in the high fashion centres like Milano or the slightly lower fashion (except in its own mind) Roma but in the high end shops in towns like Pesaro.

Though these are not as outrageous as some of the footwear on display in Milano I am still trying to figure out where the smart upper middle class woman would wear these in Pesaro???? Though for some reason I am seeing them with a multi-pleated thirties style dress in a soft brown with matching fur at the cuffs in a revival of The Women. I really must stop watching those 30s movies!

28 agosto - Sant'Agostino d'Ippona

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Highwayman - A Memory Piece

I've often thought that memory is much like one of those elaborate Chinese medicine cabinets with a hundred drawers with brass handles. Some of the drawers are opened often while others only occasionally. And then there are drawers that were opened many years ago and never touched again. One of those last drawers popped open for me tonight - though considering how long ago it was that I last opened it the wonder is that it didn't creak and resist.

Walking home from dinner at Stella Maris, our local trattoria - nothing fancy just good home cooked Sardo food and always a table available for the Canadese - I noticed a misty ring around the moon and for some reason a poem from grade school sprung to mind. I was carried back to a basement classroom at Franklin Horner Public School and Miss Vardi teaching us the words, rhythm and cadence of Alfred Noyes' most famous work: The Highwayman.
The wind was a torrent of darkness upon the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight looping the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding--
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn door.

He'd a French cocked hat on his forehead, and a bunch of lace at his chin;
He'd a coat of the claret velvet, and breeches of fine doe-skin.
They fitted with never a wrinkle; his boots were up to his thigh!
And he rode with a jeweled twinkle--
His rapier hilt a-twinkle--
His pistol butts a-twinkle, under the jeweled sky.

Over the cobbles he clattered and clashed in the dark inn-yard,
He tapped with his whip on the shutters, but all was locked and barred,
He whistled a tune to the window, and who should be waiting there
But the landlord's black-eyed daughter--
Bess, the landlord's daughter--
Plaiting a dark red love-knot into her long black hair.

For the rest of this exciting poem, and believe me it is exciting, just click here.

I searched for the drawing that I recalled from our text book but nothing showed up or at least not as I remembered it. But I thought this rather dark and brooding rendering captured the spirit of the poem.

Having just reread it I can now understand why we were encourage - nay made - to learn it as both a memory and a literature exercise. It is a fine piece of action and descriptive writing. Now I can see its usefulness as a language tool - I only wish I had remember that when I was teaching English to my Polish Generals in Warsaw. The vocabulary is challenging enough - how else would I have ever learned what an ostler was; not that I ever recall using the term in general, or come to think of it even specific, conversation. But I think it is the use of action verbs and the descriptive language that make it such a great piece for teaching English. And aside from that it is, to my uneducated mind at least, still a damned good read.

I can almost forgive Noyes for his other well-known poem The Barrel Organ which includes the lines:
There's a barrel organ carolling across a golden street
In the City as the sun sinks low;
Though the music's only Verdi there's a world to make it sweet
Only Verdi! Shame on you Alfred, shame on you.

27 agosto - Santa Monica
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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dance, Dance, Dance Little Lady

Though I am no longer working - my choice by the way - I am still having a bit of trouble finding time to get the posts on Pesaro and the trip to Umbria completed but they will come - no honestly they will. In the meantime I'm struggling through the monthly task of translating items for Ballet2000. One can only hope that working with the flowery and complicated proses of dance criticism will teach me to temper my own writing when it comes to reviews.

In the meantime, as a break from making a 95 word Italian sentence with three subordinate clauses but not a principal clause in sight into readable English, I thought I'd post some dance related caricatures from the wonderful world of Einar Nerman.

In the classical dance world of the first half of the 20th century there was no hope of success unless you had a Russian or French name. Thus Alicia Marks from Finsbury Park became Alicia Markova and Patrick Healey-Kay from Slinfold, Sussex became Anton Dolin. No matter what their names theirs was an incredible partnership that galvanized the dance world between the Wars and guided it as teachers, choreographers and company founders and directors after they retired from the stage.

There is a bit of a Rossini connection in this one. La Boutique Fantastique* (sic) was a ballet created by Léonide Massine for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1919 and is set to a suite of music adapted by Ottorino Respighi from piano pieces by Rossini. It is the familiar story of toys in a shop that come to life after hours. The Can-Can Doll was one of Lydia Lopokova's signature roles.
Much as been written about Serge Diaghilev (in fact a new book was just reviewed in the New York Times), a man who's only talent was the ability to recognize and nurture the talent of others. It difficult to imagine what the world of dance, music and the visual arts would have become if he had not encouraged so many dancers, artists, choreographers, writers and composers to exercise their creativity. Here he's shown with dancer Anna Pavlova, designer Leon Bakst and composer Igor Stravinsky.

This drawing always makes me smile - Nerman captures both the fluidity and the foolishness of the great Isadora Duncan. Just as he captures her with his lines so that remarkable writer Janet Flanner captured her in words in her profile for The New Yorker written in 1927 just after Isadora's death.
In the summer of 1926, like a ghost from the grave, Isadora Duncan began dancing again in Nice. Two decades before, her art, animated by her extraordinary public personality, came as close to founding an aesthetic renaissance as American morality would allow, and the provinces especially had a narrow escape. But in postwar European years her body, whose Attic splendor once brought Greece to Kansas and Kalamazoo, was approaching its half-century mark. Her spirit was still green as a bay tree, but her flesh was worn, perhaps by the weight of laurels. She was the last of the trilogy of great female personalities our century cherished. Two of them, Duse and Bernhardt, had already gone to their elaborate national tombs. Only Isadora Duncan, the youngest, the American, remained wandering the foreign earth.

The Introduction to Isadora from Paris Was Yesterday
Janet Flanner
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

The Austerlitz kids from Nebraska did pretty damned good for themselves. Fred and his older sister Adele formed a partnership at the age most children were starting grade school. It led them to New York, London and the entertainment capitals of the world and along the way they changed their last name to Astaire. Shows, skits and songs were written for them and after their split up in 1932 they both went on to successful careers: Adele as the wife of first a British Lord and then a CIA director. As for Fred I'll once again quote from the New Yorker:
From “The Gay Divorcee” (1934), two visions of the sublime. First: Fred Astaire getting ready to go out. He’s in a dressing gown, which he removes, slinging it behind his back to his butler. Singing all the while, he chooses one tie, rejects it, chooses another, moves to a mantelpiece at the side of the room, and halts. And then, in a single long take, he dances around a couch and right into his jacket, which is held by the butler, inserts a boutonnière, leaps over the couch, dances around it again, does three heel-clicking leaps, mounts a chair at the door, receives his bowler and umbrella—flipped by the butler—and goes out. Second: Astaire singing “Night and Day,” Cole Porter’s greatest song, and then leading Ginger Rogers, who has been resisting him, into a long dance of seduction, with heart-stopping episodes of aggression, temporary acquiescence, fierce pleading, and, finally, submission, all of it dramatized with dance, as dance.
David Denby
Film Forum - The New Yorker
August 30, 2010
To read more by David Denby click here.

The Music Hall of the 1920s-30s had a fascination with the pan-sexual. Perhaps it reached its zenith with Barbette - a Texas trapeze artist who performed in drag - but was certainly seen in many acts of the time. The Rocky Twins were two young and beautiful Norwegian dancers whose European careers took off when they appeared in Paris just after their 18th birthday. They were adored by the French audiences and were popular throughout Europe. They were so alike that it was often said that you could never tell which one you were talking to or which one you had slept with.

*The ballet is actually titled La Boutique fantasque and was mislabeled in the compilation of Nerman's drawings published by HARRAP.

More of Nerman's delightful caricatures are posted here and here.

26 agosto - Sant'Alessandro di Bergamo
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Wednesday, August 25, 2010


Apropos of that letter Rossini sent to his mother after the failure of Sigismondo, here's another cartoon by Fillipo Letzi that tells the tale.

I love his work - thanks to the ladies at Casetta Vaccaj for introducing me to him. I'll be posting more about them later this week.

25 agosto - San Luigi di Francia

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Scuole On Via Sara Levi Nathan

You may recall that last year on my visit to Pesaro I came across a rather unusual and touching memorial to the expulsion of the Jews under the Manifesto of Race enacted in 1938. By that time there were very few Jews living in Pesaro as much of the community had moved to Ancona and the records show that no one was actually deported from Pesaro. However Jewish refugees from Croatia, Germany and Poland had been rounded up but unlike many people they were not herded into internment camps but housed in private homes or hotels in the town. They were required to report to the police daily but there was an unspoken agreement with the local authorities so it was more observed in theory than in practice. They were the lucky ones - others in the Urbino region were not as fortunate and made the journey to camps and almost certain death.
This poster from the Museum display at the Sephardic Synagogue gives graphic voice to the restrictions placed on Italian Jews with the enacting of the Manifesto of Race in 1938.

It was the repetition of an age old pattern of tolerance-intolerance for the community in Pesaro. There had been a Jewish settlement in the town since 1214; a community that had lived mostly at peace and in a live-and-let-live arrangement with the local rulers and populace. Over the years other Jewish merchants – expelled from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies - came into the town and integrated into the Italian community. However with the persecution, expulsion and execution, under Papal decree, of the Marranos of Ancona a new community of Portuguese (Shepardic) Jews migrated to the town. A protest blockade of Ancona harbour shed new importance on Pesaro and Guidubaldo Della Rovere was more than happy to welcome merchants, doctors, artisans and commerce into his Dukedom. Though his attitude was to turn less welcoming when the harbour proved too shallow for major trading.
In 1507 Gershom Soncino opened a printing house in Pesaro and worked there with some interruptions until 1520. He produced, besides books in Italian and Latin, an impressive range of classical Hebrew texts including a book of Festival Prayers thought to date from 1520.

It was at that time that construction was begun on the Shepardic Synagogue in what was the old Jewish Quarter. It is thought that Mordekhaj Volterra, a wealthy Portuguese banker, commissioned and financed the building prior to leaving the city for Firenze where he became Francesco dei Medici's financial and political adviser. This dates the building from between 1556-1559. It housed not only a scuole but community offices, an infant school, a school dedicated to the studying of the Kabbalah and a music school.
This beautiful Passover plate - typical of the period in design - from the Pesaro Ghetto dates from 1614 and is currently in the Jewish Museum in New York City.

When the Duchy of Urbino devolved to the Papal States in the 1600s a ghetto was created and with the closing of the Italian rite Synagogue outside its boundaries only the Sephardic scuole was left for the community. The boarded up Italian synagogue was badly damaged in the 1930 earthquake and eventually demolished in 1940. During the period of Nazi occupation it goes without saying that the Sephardic Synagogue was closed down.

In 1944 the liberating British Army included an all Jewish regiment who reopened the Synagogue and services were held there for the last time. The building was left abandoned and it deteriorated rapidly. With the agreement of the Jewish Community in Ancona, who own the building, the City of Pesaro took it over and began a restoration project in 1990. Work was finally completed in 2004 and the building opened as a historical site.
The Sephardic Synagogue is actually on Via delle Scuole a narrow street just off Via Sara Levi Nathan. A bit of investigation revealed that the street was named after the Pesarese Sara Levi (1819-1882), a friend of Mazzini and Garibaldi and the mother of Ernesto Nathan (London 1845-Rome 1921), a Mayor of Rome. The main portal faces the east (Jerusalem) and the small door at the right led to the woman's gallery.

Because it is only open on Thursday afternoon's for a few hours I've never been able to visit it in previous years. This year I decided that as this may well be the last trip to Pesaro for a while I had to see it. It is a small but fascinating piece of Italian and Jewish history.
At the entrance to the synagogue there was a water stoop for the ritual thrice washing of hands before prayer (top). It still shows signs of the elaborate stucco work that capped it - it is probably that the niche wall would have been painted with an elaborate design. The mikveh (bottom) would have been for total immersion bathing as required prior to Yom Kipper and other occasions. Both were fed by a natural spring.

The ground floor houses an interesting exhibition on life in and around the Synagogue and detailed explanations of the various artifacts and rituals in Italian and English. Rather amusingly of the two possible translations for the Italian Pasqua (Passover or Easter) the English version has the Sephardic community celebrating the Christian festival.

The communal baking oven was used only for baking of the Passover matzoh which would have been overseen by the Rabbi. Given the size of the oven the matzo would have been baked in small batches - the dough kneaded as a community effort in the same room and put into the oven immediately to avoid contamination from leavening.

We were encouraged by a very friendly lady to go up the staircase to what she said - with obvious pride in her voice and on her face - was a treasure for Pesaro. And she was right - even in its current state the Prayer Room has an incredible beauty.

The large rectangular room was filled with light from three walls of large windows; the fourth wall enclosed the women's galleries. The colours were light - mostly whites, grays, blues and soft browns. Benches lined the walls - contrasting natural wood with panels painted a deep green - the only dark colour in the room.

When the magnificently carved, gilt wooden arc was in its place in the niche it must have been an awesome sight. Even without it the detailing in the stucco work surmounting the niche is impressive. I'm not sure what the Hebrew letters say and would appreciate help from any of my friends who can read it.

The east end of the room - facing Jerusalem - has a large niche for the arc - a magnificent carved gilt Aron ha-Kodesh which is now in the care of the Jewish community in Livorno. Likewise the elaborately carved and gilded bimah or reading stand was moved to the Levantine synagogue in Ancona. Unfortunately no effort has been made to recreate them as part of the restoration nor into replacing what must have been the elaborate candle fixtures hanging from the richly stuccoed ceiling.
What catches the eyes immediately in the room is the marvelous stucco ceiling. A riot of floral and leave patterns in whites and gray it is a delight to the eye. When the few remaining sections of paint were examined it was found that the soft gray background had been achieved by mixing coal black into the paint.

For some foolish reason I did not get a picture of the west end of the room - a balcony accessed on either side by a flight of marble stairs broken by a landing. On the landings were very badly damaged and faded frescos which I can only hope will be restored - in part at least - in the future. I'm not sure what the balcony would have been used for - perhaps a cantor or since music was so important in the Sephardic rite a choir of some type.
The two frescos on the balcony landings are badly damaged but are representations of the Holy City of Jerusalem (top) and the Encampment of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai (bottom). The three dimensional framing, again a reflection of decoration of the period, is accomplished with painted wood, stucco and trompe d'oeil.

The stucco panels on the walls (top) and over the windows (bottom) avoid any use of the human form in the decoration but reflect the taste of the time for festoons of fruits and flowers with arabesques.

I have often felt when entering a particular mosque, temple, church or synagogue that centuries of people bringing their hopes, their fears, their desires, their needs and their thanks to a place works its way into the walls and gives the place a beauty that all the man made decoration in the world cannot accomplish. For me the Prayer Room of this 460 year old synagogue in the historic backstreets of a small town in Italy had that feeling.

24 agosto - San Bartolomeo apostolo

The Voice of the Cicada Is Heard in the Land

Back when I was a callow youth - as opposed to a callower old fart - I spent a few summers in Aix and the Provence area. After attending events at the Festival there I would head over to Salzburg for the Festival. I'm still wondering how I afforded those jaunts but then I was young, foot-loose, fancy-free and lived at my mother's home! Well there's the answer right there isn't it?

But I digress - that's the old fart at work - the first year I did the train trip from Marseilles to Salzburg (via Monaco, Milano and Innsbruck if I remember correctly)I recall sitting in a compartment with a lady who reminded me of Dame Mae Whitty in The Lady Vanishes; she was kind enough to put up with my bad French and we had a lovely conversation (or at least I think we did!). As we traveled along the coast the sound of what I thought were crickets - I told you I was callow - coming through the open window (no a/c in those days boys and girls and it was hot, boy was it hot) almost drowned out the clattered of the train. She explained that they weren't crickets, they were "cicadas" and they lived in the pine trees. She repeated the mistaken belief that they rubbed their legs together to make the sound but got it right about how it was all part of their mating rituals.

Okay so why this vague reminiscence about a train ride back in prehistoric times? Well the ferragosto quiet has descended around us here in Roma for the past few weeks (no traffic, few ambulances, neighbours all away), the temperature has been hitting the high 30s and we are surrounded by pine trees. Eccola!

There has been one over-sexed little chappie the last few days who's mating call has been particularly loud and particularly annoying. If someone doesn't come across soon he's going to drive us all mad!

24 agosto - San Bartolomeo apostolo

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Lunedy Lunacy

Who else but the French?

Now some people I know will never leave their computers!

23 agosto - Santa Rosa da Lima

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Madness of it All

Pesaro - August 12, 2010

On December 27, 1814, the day after the premiere of Sigismondo Rossini sent his mother a letter and on the envelope he drew a squat wine bottle (flask=fiasco, a flop) to tell her how his newest piece had been received by the heretofore Rossini-mad Venetians. After the success of his Tancredi it came as a great disappointment. Since that time the work has been seldom performed though there is a recording of a performance from 1993. Its a work few people, myself included, have heard or seen but the music is very familiar. Wait a minute! How can that be? Queries my faithful reader, one eyebrow raised quizzically. You've never heard it or seen it but you know the music? Well though prolific Rossini was also frugal – if he knew there was a good chance that a work would never be heard again elsewhere he simply lifted the parts he could use and fitted them to new words and situations.
After Michele Mariotti, a young conductor fast becoming a favorite here in Italy, acknowledged the welcoming applause he launched into the opening sinfonia and I swore for a minute I had wandered into a performance of Il Turco in Italia by mistake. Then when the curtain rose the Polish courtiers – according to the libretto but here a group of voyeurs in a 19th century mental hospital (more about that later) – started singing and I swore I was back at last month's opening of Il Barbiere di Siviglia. And so it went for a good part of the evening – but I eventually gave up on Name That Rossini Tune and sat back to enjoy the music whatever its source. And there were some extremely lovely things that he wrote for Sigismondo that did not show up – to the best of my knowledge but I may be wrong as I'm no Rossini scholar - elsewhere. In particular the duets for the title character and Aldmira his wronged wife, Aldmira's second act Rondo and the scenas for Sigismondo himself. And since these two parts were in the hands of Daniela Barcellona and Olga Peretyatko they were given full value.

King Sigismondo (Daniela Barcellona)in the midst of a fit of madness is observed by his wronged wife Aldimira (Olga Peretyatko).

I make no bones about it, where Barcellona is concerned I adore her. I have never seen her give less than a great performance whither part of an ensemble in a Hasse cantata at Salzburg Whitsun; tearing the house apart here two summers ago, despite being indisposed, in Maomatto II; or in Il Viaggio a Reims in Milan. She shots off the most complex vocal fireworks with ease and more admirably with grace. There never seems to be a sense of strain or effort. But she is also capable of a simplicity that gives dramatic passages full weight. In her final Gran Scena she threw off the frightened mouse persona imposed on her by the director and let us see the full power of both her and Rossini's art.
Moments like this were rare in this production - the two leads (Peretyatko, Barcellona) standing quietly, alone, undisturbed by mimes and extraneous action simply singing gloriously.

Russian soprano Olga Peretyatko's star has risen quickly here at Pesaro, in 2006 she was performing in the Academia Rossiniana's annual production of Il Viaggio the following year appearing as Desdemona in Otello opposite Gregory Kunde. A beautiful woman and natural actress she has the vocal chops to pull off the second Act Rondo with flair if a little unease at the top. Her voice does have a slight metallic edge to it that can sometimes upset the balance in ensembles but the duets with Barcellona were a perfect blend.
Director Daminao Micheletto staged the intense duet between the scheming Ladislao (Antonino Siragusa) and Aldimira (Peretyatko) as a rape scene - for shock value it worked, in the context of the music, like many of his ideas, it didn't.

In the other major role tenor Antonio Siragusa as the villain Ladislao sang with power if little subtlety and at times he resorted to that Rossini-hoot that can be annoying when overused. Of the other singers bass Andrea Concetti provided strong support as both a worthy nobleman and the wronged lady's avenging father. The cast was rounded out by Manuela Bisceglie (Anagilda, Ladislao's scheming sister) who was frankly over parted – as often seems to happen at Pesaro in smaller roles – and couldn't handle her big aria and Enea Scala – a young man to watch – as a co-schemer. The male members of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna gave their usual support as Polish courtiers, Bulgarian soldiers and assorted inmates of the asylum - yes I'll get to the asylum bit in a moment.
The young Maestro Michele Mariotti acknowledges the applause of an audience that obviously recognizes a developing talent - and he's a hometown boy to boot.

This is the second work I've heard conducted by Maestro Mariotti in the past month - both by Rossini. It may sound cliche to say it but he was born to this music - no really he was, he was born in Pesaro, his father is one of the founders and the long time Soverintendente of the Festival. But given the talent that he has shown both last month at La Scala when he stepped in at the last minute and in his conducting of Sigismondo this is not a case of nepotism. He has been working his way up through the houses of Europe and this was his first, but I can only hope not his last, appearance at the ROF.

I will not say the same for stage director Damiano Michieletto - this is the second production I've seen by the Venetian director and I am hoping the last. Last year's La Scala di Seta was amusing and had its charms but it was one of Rossini's farsi and could take his "concept" with little harm being done to either the music or the singers. Not so a work like Sigismondo - an opera very seria.

Let's get the concept out of the way first: according to the very complicated story Sigismondo has fits of madness and hallucinations of the wife he thinks he has had murdered for adultery. Well bright director idea! Why not set the whole thing in an early 20th century insane asylum? What a great idea! Bit of a social message too - show the mistreatment of the mentally disturbed and the people who come to gawk at them; well that's more 18th century but you have to work the chorus in somehow.
Though a fine piece of stage design, Paolo Fantin's setting of an 1900s asylum was peopled by twitching, contorting, jabbering extras whose only purpose seemed to be to distract us as much as possible from the singers.

Now to the execution: fine detailed setting of a period asylum by Paolo Fantin with lots of windows and piles of furniture for extras to push around in the second act. Sort of period costumes by Carla Teti with colour coding because it is an opera audience and they're a little slow - white for the heroine, black and bald for the villain, deep purple for his sister And just so the audience won't have to pay attention to those pesky singers lets have six or seven patients twitching, contorting, clutching at the air, falling all over the place and screaming occasionally - why should the singers be the only ones doing that? And if that doesn't distract them enough how about three ghosts of the supposedly dead wife popping out from under the King's bed? Let's add a fourth for the second act, you can't have the mime playing the nurse in the first act sitting the second out in her dressing room. And that confrontation between the villain and the heroine - nothing like a bit of a struggle while trying to sing roulades and runs so lets turn it into an attempted rape. The King? Make him a paranoid schizophrenic - sort of a frightened rabbit - forget the noble and touching music it only distracts from the concept! And at the end the villain can be dragged into the asylum along with his sister - okay the only bad thing she's really done was to mess up the cadenza in her aria but it looks great with her hair all disheveled and her clawing at the window. And so the evening went!

If nothing else Michieletto's approach engendered a lot of talk during the intermission as well as a fair number of defections. It was also was the hot topic in the breakfast room at the hotel the next morning. Unfortunately little of the talk was about the music or the great performances given by Barcellona, Peretyatko and Mariotti. And that is the real shame in this all. A "concept" completely overshadowed the labour involved in mounting a new critical edition of an unknown piece and the incredible work done by all of the musicians involved.

Oh the madness of it all!

All photos except the curtain call are by Studio Amati Bacciardi for the ROF.

22 agosto - Santa Maria Regina
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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Pissing in the WIND

I've been remarkable silent for the past 12 days while on my annual Ferragosto jaunt to Pesaro. That just isn't normal and I hope to make up for it in the next few days with some posts about the town (one of my favorite in Italy), the food, the Rossini Festival, the food and the side trips to Urbino and Rimini, the food, the days spent in Assisi with an excursion to Perugia and did I mention the food?

One of the reasons I've been lax in my postings I can blame squarely on WIND. Its a long story but up to now I've been using an Internet key from TIM when I travel to various areas here in Italy. Other than on the train I have never had a bit of trouble.

Laurent decided to go the same route but went with WIND because they were the first Provider outlet we found in Pesaro. We should have done our research. He could not upload the application to his Ibook and when he took it back to the store their attitude was pretty much - we got your €50.00 so tough! I tried it on my Ibook and it set up okay so I took the WIND key and gave him the TIM. No good deed ever goes unpunished.

Over the past 10 days it has
  • taken anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to initialize the system.
  • taken between 2 to 5 minutes to connect.
  • taken so long to download basic Google that I was constantly getting time outs.
  • took over 3 minutes to upload a small picture file - a larger one timed out.
  • a check of their system to verify they had service in Assisi indicated it wasn't a problem - but the signal was so weak that nothing and I do mean nothing was coming through.
  • Sitting on the terrace by the pool at the hotel in Pesaro there was not available signal for over two hours.
Though I have entitled this posting Pissing in the WIND which is what I feel like I've been doing the past few days, second thoughts suggest that this should be an outward rather than an inward gesture. If I could find anyone at WIND who seemed to give a damn I'd try it. However at this point I'm home, connected to my faithful FASTWEB - that has only failed me once in 3 years - and secure in the knowledge that on the next trip I will have my TIM key with me.

And I should start posting again. In the meantime I'm open to suggestions as to what to do with the key from WIND?

21 agosto - San Pio X Papa
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Sunday, August 15, 2010

Buon Ferragosto!

Its the middle of August, the middle of summer and two thirds of Italy has come to a stand still - the other third is working in the hotels, cafes, trattorias et all that are housing, watering and feeding them.

Though theoretically it is to celebrate The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, its be around since Roman times. In fact the name Ferragosto derives directly from the latin Feriae Augusti - the Feast of Augustus. If today it has any religious significance it is only in that there are special masses and, here in Pesaro at least, the church bells have been ringing a bit more than usual. Not an unpleasant contrast from the 70s disco music blaring from the children's carousel outside our hotel room window. The sun is bright, the crowds are out and they are setting up the fireworks at Piazza della liberta for this evenings show.

And it seems appropriate that given the old feast was dedicated to fertility that there should be so many daddies slinging babies and pushing prams on the streets and beaches. Seems fertility has been running rampant the past few year The other evening in the small piazza in front of Casetta Vaccaj there was a daddies convention - seven of them tending to little ones ranging in age from new born to 4, no doubt while mommies were taking well deserved advantage of the 70% sales in town. Wish I had my camera with me.

So to all my friends here in Italy - daddies or not, pagan fertility worshipers or christian - Buon Ferragosto!

15 agosto - Ferragosto - L'Assunzione di Maria in Cielo

Friday, August 13, 2010


Though his name is not as exploited as say Mozart's is in Salzburg there is no mistaking that Rossini is a "native son" of Pesaro. His image appears in many places and there is even a Rossini Torta that can be brought home in a decorative tin as a culinary souvenir of your visit. But this being Italy there is a certain light-heartedness to it all. There is an honest affection for the man who though perhaps its best known citizen is only one of many Pesaresi who have contributed to the world of music (Renata Tebaldi, Cristiano Mozzati0) and athletics (Massimo Ambrosini, Valentino Rossi).

While wandering the back streets of town looking for the old Synagogue we passed by an interesting building that we had remarked on once before. It has all the appearances of a church as indeed it was in the 12th century but its 21st century incarnation is as Casetta Vaccaj, a very pleasant wine bar and cafe. I'll be writing a bit more about it later but what caught my eye there was a poster for an art exhibition they had a few years ago. It featured the work of Filippo Letizi, a local artist and animator who now works out of Berlin.

His drawings of The Swan of Pesaro echo that affection for the bon vivant, gourmet, wit and genius of the man. These particular designs are on a collection of aprons and shopping bags which he did for the two sisters who own the Casetta and reflect Rossini's love of things culinary.

Anyone who has been to Pesaro will recognize the beachfront, the Piazzale della libertà with Arnaldo Pomodoro's lovely Globe of Peace fountain, Casa Rossini, Duomo, Piazza del Popolo and the main shopping street. They are all leading up to the Teatro Rossini in this promotional video Letizi did for the town.

Letizi Pesaro

fil3tto | MySpace Video

For me it captures the charm of one of my favorite places in all of Italy.

13 agosto - Santi Ponziano e Ippolito

Pit Stop

On car trip of any length you have to have a pit stop and after having driven across Italy, through the Grand Sasso tunnel and half way up the Adriatic coast on Wednesday a stop was definitely in order. That and the fact that it was almost 1330 – a time when all respectable people are tucking into pranzo. Last year we broke the journey in Ancona and stopped off at an Osteria that had been listed in Gambero Rosso and though a bit of an adventure to find, even with the TomTom, had been worth the detour. This year TomTom gave us even more bizarre instructions including a right turn into a street that if we had tried to maneuver it would have had the imprint of 16th century brickwork incised into the car by the buildings on either side. We finally found it – more by recognition from last year than any help from the clipped British voice of our friend who lives inside that little box attached to the windscreen.
Not quite hidden on a small side street Osteria Teatro Strabacco is owned by the rather Bohemian looking Danilo. Once through the narrow door you're greet by one of those eclectic looking spaces with wooden tables and benches and a wealth - depending on your point of view - of bric-a-brac.

Far better guidance was given by the chef who greeted us and led us to a corner table near a very attractive Betty Boop lamp. Within a few minutes Danilo, the bearded, slightly bohemian owner of Osteria Teatro Srabacco bounced up to the table to take our order. He did a little double-take and said that he remembered us from last year and welcomed us back. I'm not sure what we did to make our brief visit last August memorable (I know the police weren't called – that time!) but it was a nice touch. When I mentioned that I had a problem with gluten he assured me there would be no problem, he had corn pasta. I am finding that more and more if I mention it in restaurants – even our lunch local – they will work around it for me.

Opened in the 1978 Strabacco is a restaurant, enoteca (wine shop) and performance space for jazz concerts. The walls are covered with photos of Danilo with various celebrities (though I must admit most were unknown to me) and murals by Lombardi artist Aldo Tuis. It personal, its homey and the food is wonderful.

For a Wednesday afternoon it was busy - several tables of regulars who exchanged banter with Danilo, the waitress and the chef; a group of French tourists and a work party celebrating the upcoming holiday. Across from us were a father and his little daughter. She was perhaps 8 or 9, they both spoke French but were practicing their Italian. Like many of us they were having problems with the "c" "ch" "cc" sounds but this very sophisticated child - she had done her own ordering, no adult interference for her - was patiently explaining it to her elder. What could have sounded impertinent was actually a very charming little exchange between father and daughter.

We both went for a simple meal – antipasti for both, primi for me and secondi for Laurent. And everything was a good as we remembered it.

Laurent says that all it takes to make me happy are potatoes in any form and he may be right. This frittata di patate was simplicity in itself. Lumpy (but perfectly cooked) mashed potatoes, mixed with mozzarella and rosemary then fried in a bit of butter and olive oil. Spud splendor! His cod carpaccio was thin slices of cod dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and sesame seeds.

Lemon juice showed up again in my fusseli as a dressing for the fresh anchovies, wild fennel and pine nuts and corn pasta. Laurent went for a more substantial portion of lamb chops – perfectly pink on the inside, charred slightly on the outside – and a healthy serving of spinach saltate.

I had two glasses of a rather nice white frizzante from the Dolomites – well they charged for two but the open bottle was left on the table so make that two and a half. There was not room for dolci and we still had an hours drive ahead of us so we settle for coffee, the very reasonable bill and Danilo's wish that we come back again soon.

13 agosto - Santi Ponziano e Ippolito

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