Friday, December 17, 2010


Here's a few things musical or music related that caught my eye or pocket book in the past few days. And though I've often said Baroque architecture is not my thing I've included a few photos of the very baroque decorations that adorn several of the organ lofts here in churches in Roma.

The Church of Santa Maria Maddalena has always been closed when we've passed it and I honestly thought it was one of the abandoned churches that dot Rome. However a few weeks ago it was open and obviously undergoing restoration. The scaffolding in the side aisles and apse made it difficult to get a decent photo of the lovely organ loft.

I am on the mailing list for Vivaticket which is one of the larger agency ticket brokers here in Italy. They handle venues such as La Scala, La Fenice and San Carlo in the classical world and major rock concerts in the more popular vein. As often happens with literal word for word - and in all likelihood computer generated - translations the results can be to unintended comic effect. Take this ad for an upcoming Riccardo Muti concert in Napoli

Notice how Sonia Ganassi is listed. Now I can order a mezzo-litro (= half litre) of wine; I can say that I will meet someone at tre dieci et mezzo (= half past one). And though I can give a performance with a "mezzo-soprano" I would be hard pressed to achieve anything with a "half soprano". In the case of most singers you need both halves. Now I have heard Ganassi on many occasions including just last week here in the Muti led Moïse et Pharon at the Opera - and she isn't half of anything but a full blown "mezzo"-soprano and a great one at that. Google Translation has a bit to answer for on this one.
The organ at San Giovanni in Laterna stands in a side aisle to the right of the main altar and though the casing is quite lovely the Basilica is known for its marble statues. The two marble base reliefs on either side have a lovely balance - King David on the left is easily recognizable but I'm a bit lost as to the identify of the gentleman with the crown and the portive organ. Any suggestions?

My trip up to La Scala for the second performance of Die Walküre, the
seaon's opener, will be covered in Opera Britannia (and of course I'll be linking to it in the hope that friends will visit it in the millions so Faye and Antony keep using my stuff) shortly. But I have to comment on the programme La Scala published for the production. It is a 300 page (+30 pages of adverts) hard-covered volume weighing in at .5 kilos (over 1 lb). Lavishly illustrated with historical and production photos and the complete libretto in German and Italian, it includes 7 essays on everything from Wagner's life to currently available CDs and DVDs plus entire productions lists for past performances at La Scala. As most of the essays are in Italian and I have yet to struggle through them I can't vouch for their value as musicology but I can tell you they certainly added weight to my luggage if not my review.

The church of Santa Maria di Loreto is another church that I have never found open until one wet Tuesdays when the entire Centro was under vehicular lock-down and in walking by it on my hike to Trastevere found it open. Its central location at Piazza Venezia along with its larger sister church Santo Nome di Maria make it a landmark in the city centre. I did a quick pop-in - mostly to get out of the pounding rain and discovered two sets of organ pipes symmetrically arranged in the octagon. They were setting up the presepe while I was there.

Despite of the fact that she has been dead for over 33 years and last sang in 1974 no name can get opera fanatics pulses racing like that of Maria Callas. Her recordings - particularly the early Norma and Tosca - are still best sellers and singers' voice and performances are still being compared - unfairly - to hers. Her relationship with La Scala was a tempestuous one and many of her most noted performances were given there. In an effort to preserve some of those performances - and cash in on the still lucrative Callas money machine - La Scala has issued La Scala Memories a series of mini-books/CDs of "legendary" performances including three with Callas: the 1954 La Vestale, the 1956 La Traviata and to come the 1957 Anna Bolena - landmark performances all of them.

I have always wanted to hear the Vestale so I snapped it up the minute I entered the Bookshop. I should have saved my €24.90! The booklet is badly translated (the same person that did Vivaticket?) and the recordings are old radio transfers to vinyl disc to CD which they have not even bothered to clean up. In this day and age of digital programmes there is no excuse for transfers of this quality. Anything above forte is completely unlistenable and Spontini's little tale of unfaithful Vestal Virgins has lots of fortissimo in it. The good people at La Scala should be ashamed to market this with either their name or that of their legendary artist on it. I was going to ask Santa for the Traviata for Christmas - I think I'd be better off settling for a few old wax cylinders.

17 decembre - San Giovanni de Matha
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Debra She Who Seeks said...

They should sell the Vestale at mezzo price, eh?

Anonymous said...

sorry but you're completely wrong, actually this pressing of that Vestale performance is the best you can get. previous marjeted versions sound way, way worse. so you can imagine.
it is true that the sound is by no standards GOOD, but that's the best of this concrete performance. it was poorly recorded, but is still better than nothing at all. and believe me, much better than al other versions under different labels.
it was poorly translated? learn italian. here I am, giving explanations in a language which is not mine, just to prevent anyone from being misguided by your comment.

Willym said...

Dear Anonymous - it would have been polite to leave at least initials or a name however I do read Italian and speak it to some degree. Having lived there for almost five years I would be slightly remiss if I didn't. But this was being marketed for a tourist buying audience, as is much at La Scala these days, so some attention should have been paid to the translation - particularly as they were at the time asking full price for it. And I stand by my claim.

Anonymous said...

OK, however agressive I might sound, my point is that, if you want to listen Callas and Corelli sing Vestale, it doesn't get any better than this (unfortunetly).
and you didn't mention the accompannying beautiful pictures either. the price included the lavish mini-book not just the audio which, for me as a Callas fan, was alone worth the price. previous marketed releases of this extraordinary performance (however poorly prerserved)attempted to filter it, with atrocious results.
and that's all I want to say. italian is neither my mother language so I read the english translation, which faults escape my english level. I can only say that the texts are very interesting.

Anonymous said...

and p.s. if you want to listen to that Anna Bolena in the best possible sound go for Divina Records. hopefully they'll publish Traviata in the future aswel. their Berlin Lucia sounds amazing