Italian Lakes: 4 Slaves, showers and savages

July 27, 2011

It felt like we needed a thunderstorm today, but it didn’t happen. Huw and I made it up the Funivia Strea-Mottarne which took us up in two stages to 1400m and a sense of how good the view could have been other than for haze and cloud. I’m convinced the cows on the top have bells purely for the purposes of providing tourists with a Heidi type environment but the flock of sheep and goats had more authenticity. An old friend, who I have not seen for decades had a theory about these stereotypical encounters. He was confined that the Irish Tourist Board parachuted old men with donkeys in ahead of any car with a foreign numberplate proceeding through the lanes of Co. Mayo; so maybe for donkeys substitute cow bells in Northern Italy, which is as much swiss as it is italian.

The food at the top, for such a great location was dire, more like a British Motorway Service station circa 1980 and no, am not exaggerating. However on a clearer day the gondola up followed by a walk down through woods and olive groves looks the way to go. Our time was limited as we had to pick up daughter and friend from the airport, then dash into Verona in time to part, pick up tickets and go to the opera under the stars in the Roman Amphitheater.

Now for me Nabuuco is special, it was the first opera I ever saw in the Arena for a start, but the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves has always been a Welsh National Opera favorite. It has all of Verdi’s passion for freedom in it, and the small nation longing for their homeland in the face of imperial threat is always attractive to the Welsh. We played it at my mother’s funeral as not only did she love it, but it summarised much of her life. Aside from all of that it a show stealing option for the size of chorus that you get in the Arena. They always called back for an encore (or more) and you can sense the anticipation in the crowd as the moment approaches in Act III. Tears are the price of sensitivity, but a price willingly payed.

We did however have to wait a long time to get there. Rain interrupted play three times, and on each occasion the orchestra (well the stings) dashed off, on one case mid aria, with their precious instruments and we were treated to canned announcements in Italian, German and English. It was also wet and a brisk trade was being done by arena staff in waterproof capes the wearing of which should be banned at any musical event on grounds of noise pollution. You can get a sense of this from the picture at the start of this posting. The atmosphere was good however. At one point two parts of the crowd decided to sing the Hebrew Slaves Chorus and did a very good job of it, although it took some time to get them in harmony. I struck up a conversation with my neighbors who, by coincidence I had met before at the Royal Opera House, its a small world.

We took the opportunity of an undesired break (or three) to explain to Lederhosen-man and mate (the savage of this post’s title) sitting behind us that conversation was not encouraged during any aspect of the performance let alone one of the major arias. Above all we hoped, and prayed that the rain would stop, and it did three times! Finally the chorus assembled across the full length of the stage (pictured). Other members of the cast were arrayed with torches over the upper tiers of the amphitheater and the glories of Va pensiero, sull’ali dorate commenced. Lederhosen-man-mate then decided to hum along, out of tune and objected loudly to vigorous shushing until a umbrella, ably wielded by the Italian to my right silenced her. It was a stroke worthily of a fencing master, precise, silent and unexpected; rendering the opponent unable to take any counter stroke. They were not the only problem however, the ignorant (of whom there were too many) instead of being absolutely silent to allow the final sustained notes to be heard clapped to early and all in all it was a good job there was an encore or heads would have rolled. I think that multiple umbrellas incidents had take place as the encore was given to perfect, absolute and sustained silence. The hymn of the Risorgimento had its desired effect and the glory of the arena as a stage was complete.

My thesaurus, offered barbarian comes up with the following: heathen, brute, beast, wild man/woman; ruffian, thug, lout, vandal, boor, hoodlum, hooligan, Neaderthal, troglodyte; philistine; informal: roughneck, lowlife, knuckle-dragger. I just wish I had all that available in german at the time, maybe its three compound nouns? I might have omitted Neaderthal and troglodyte as they may for all that I know have been noble species who understood music. Either way the umbrella had the desired effect and the brutes left before Act IV which was a blessing. They made their exit before they were hunted down the back streets of Verona in the interests of preserving authentic aesthetic experience for higher life forms. I had in mind garroting under Juliet’s Balcony and disposing the bodies from the nearby Ponte Nuovo. We finally left the arena at 0130, hungry but as this is Italy restaurants were still open and after a competent meal, a slow drive back to the apartment fueled by expresso all parties collapsed into bed at 0400 and this post will be made retrospectively in consequence.

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