Saturday, December 31, 2011

Buon Anno Nuovo!

Happy New Year from Solana Beach, California, where this photo is the view from my temporary "house swap" winter home. It's almost 3pm here on New Year's Eve, and almost midnight in Florence. Yet that is where my thoughts are.  I can see, hear and feel the celebration, the music and fireworks taking place in Piazza Signoria at this very moment.  Where I've rang in the New Year for the past 3 years.  I miss it, I miss everyone, yet looking forward to celebrating New Year's Eve later tonight from a very different perspective, at a beach party on the bluff at Dana Point in a world far away from Florence.

To all my friends near and far, I wish you all a serene and happy 2012.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hard to Leave Florence at Christmas

Counting down the hours until my departure and deeply missing Florence already. When a San Diego friend proposed a house-swap for the winter, it seemed perfect, since my work is seasonal and I have the time off.  Spending Christmas in New York with my family and then heading to California for 6 weeks in a house perched on a bluff above the Pacific.... falling asleep to the sound of crashing waves...watching the sunset over the sounded ideal, but I still had to contemplate. 

I was looking for excuses to say no, but the idea, within hours, instantly came together.  I was offered a choice of several projects to work on for a director of the Italian Cultural Center in San Diego.  It sounded like the ultimate combination.  I could stay connected with my life in Italy by working for the Italian-American community.  At the same time, I could spend days of surf, turf and cycling with long-missed friends in the perfect winter climate.  I still hesitiated.  But when, with unusual ease the perfect frequent flyer itinerary materialized, "maybe" became "yes".  I couldn't think of another excuse not to go.

With only 2 days to go, the only thing I've packed are Christmas gifts....about 50lbs. of Tuscan food! My house-exchange guest is arriving tomorrow from San Diego and I still have to pack clothes for opposing climates... New York and San Diego.  Yikes! Perhaps I'm procrastinating because I don't want to leave Florence as the Christmas season heads for its crescendo.

Every year Christmas becomes more spectacular in Florence.  It started earlier this year, two weeks before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th.  Fairs, concerts, lights strung on every street, Christmas trees towering in every piazza, every shop dressed up in colors, music in the streets.  I love it even more because I know what I'll be missing, after 3 years spending Christmas in the city that has become my home.

Though very hard to detach from Florence, once on the plane, I'll be looking forward to Christmas in New York with my family.  I want to smell the scent of fresh-cut pine Christmas trees and feel the cold...perhaps some snow?   I'll be ending my Christmas in Florence with Sunday dinner in San Casciano with friends, topped off  by an evening at Teatro Comunale to see The Nutcracker by the Kiev Ballet. It will be a delightful way to end my Christmas season in Florence.

I will miss all the non-stop Christmas events that are happening in the city until the Ephiphany. I will miss waking up to the thunder of bells ringing from from every church in Florence on Christmas morning.  This will be the last blog post that I will write for a while, but I will definitely be writing while in the States. Probably about how much I miss Florence.  Buone Feste!

Concerto di Natale dei Bambini

Some of the most precious classical music events in Florence are those that are not advertised, those that you don’t hear about unless you know someone who is tied-in to local musical circles. An important part of my Florentine experience has been the unique part that music has played in my life thanks to having special friends who are musicians, opera connoisseurs and one very special friend Maestro Cesare Orselli, an opera professor and critic.  Being invited to, or just being made aware of what’s going on behind the scenes in the musical arena has opened up doors to many a special concert that I never would have otherwise known about.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve attended several special concerts, most with a Christmas theme, but the one I attended today at Chiesa di Ognissanti was really special because it was the Christmas Concert of the Centro Musicale Suzuki di Firenze, a music school that develops a child’s musical talent from the age of 3 and up. A dear friend and family invited me to this magical concert in which their 6 year old Costanza plays the violoncello in an orchestra of 100 children among violins, harps, piano and flutes.

With the inspirational and historic Chiesa Ognissanti as the backdrop, and the children playing so reverently and confidently…it was a rich pleasure to see such youngsters appreciating and developing their musical talents at such a sweet age. It was a remarkable performance filled with emotion, a very fitting prelude to the Christmas season.

Earlier in the season I was honored to attend a memorial Requiem to famous pianist Fausta Cianti, at the Chiesa S. Stefano by the Ponte Vecchio.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The End of a Musical Era in Florence

Tonight's production of Il Barbiere di Siviglia at Florence's Teatro Comunale was one of the more magical interpretations of this opera that I've experienced. Strong on Rossinian sparkle, it was a delicious rendition that evoked thunderous applause from the Florentine audience.

I could have listened to this opera until the cows came home, relishing every split second, knowing with a broken heart that this would be one of the last operas ever staged in the historic Teatro Comunale,  the heart of Florence's great musical tradition.  A tradition that is very sadly coming to an end.

While it doesn't stand in the ranks of world class opera houses, Florence's Teatro Comunale has gratified the Florentine community for 150 years with quality productions, having played host to some of the world's greatest musical geniuses the likes of Callas, Abbado, Strauss, Muti and Mascagni.  A Florentine landmark, it is rich in history, having been originally built as an open-air amphitheater in 1862, since then having been thrice reinvented after surviving devastating fires, WWII bombings and the great flood of 1966.

I've dearly loved this theater since moving to Florence in 2008. It feels like another room in my home. I love it because it is a part of the community fabric and serves its faithful Florentine audience like a church serves its congregation, connecting us through a powerful social, spiritual, musical experience.

I love it because it is not an impersonal multiplex performing arts center, but a local musical piazza steeped in tradition, where the real people gather to adore their music, their history and their city.

I love Teatro Comunale for all the opposite reasons why for 30 years I've loved the Met and my old neighborhood Lincoln Center. But New York City needs a piazza.  I love it because bigger and avant-garde isn't always better.  It is one of the few venues in centro where you can really feel the people who live here.  A five minute stroll from Ponte Vecchio along the Arno, it is romantically connected with, but peacefully removed from the masses.

It is not exactly the epitome of high-tech elegance and is perhaps even borderline blah but the productions are fine, affordable, the acoustics while not supersonic are decent enough, and nobody is complaining about the lack of designer lighting or space-age staging.  Handsome on the outside, glitterless on the inside, it is tastefully Florentine with a stately stage curtain marked only by the Florentine Giglio.  It applauds the character of this great city. 

It beats many a Met in the comfort factor, with wide cozy seats, tons of legroom and no distracting digital subtitle machines protruding from the facing seat.  I've never seen a supersilious snob in the audience, which comprises everyday erudite Florentines who damned-well know their opera, right down to the kids.

But all of this is coming to an end.

I don’t want to embark upon describing the, “Teatro dell'Opera di Firenze”, which is soon to oust our beloved Teatro Comunale, since there is already plenty written on the subject.  Suffice to say that it is the brainchild of certain individuals who envisioned an avant-garde high tech, one-stop musical shopping center with supersonic acoustics and state-of- the art staging that would allow it to increase its repertoire by 40%. Further, it could accomodate the masses....5,000 people all at the same time within its multiplex theater configuration. It could conceivably host an opera, a rock concert and a jazz-fest all at the same time, beckoning all of Florence to take a passeggiata or a jog in its new mega-piazza, which is being called its new ‘polis”.

Originally it was expected to cost €105 million, with a good chunk of that coming from the Comune di Firenze in the hopes of reimbursing itself with the proceeds from junking our precious Teatro Comunale.  The first auction failed for lack of interested buyers.  How ambitious for a country that has been brought down to its economic knees. According to this recent article, the project has cost €160 million, with another €80 million to go.  According to Mayor Renzi, it is soon to be saved by a corporate sponsor who would pay mega-Euro in exchange for advertising its name. Could this be the new "Bank of China Performing Arts Center"?

The theater, unfinished, will inaugurate itself with a series of pre-Christmas concerts without a single parking space to boot. Cars will have to park at Piazza Leopoldo, just a dreamy hop, skip, and a tram ride away along one of Florence's most trafficked viales.

I had to see this for myself.  From Ponte Vecchio, I walked along the Arno and as I turned right at Parco delle Cascine, it appeared in front of me, the architectural antithesis of Florence. It looked like a shoe box suspended inside a cheese grater. 

It just seemed so out-of-place.

This“fabbrica di spettacolo e di musica”, (music and performance factory) does looks like a factory. A rectangular structure suspended high above the already unattractive surroundings, this marble-armored fire and bomb-proof box is perfectly positioned to survive another Arno act of Mother Nature.  Its bold lines and heavy mettalic-looking marble, incongruent with the feel of Florence, reminded me of 1970’s Los Angeles.  Even The Sydney Opera House, while avant-garde for its time, incorporates some sexy, curvy musical movement in its design and fits beautifully in its environment. I can feel Brunelleschi's ghost crying from the pits of his cupola.

Florence has indeed lost a treasure.