Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Arches in Umbria

I see them everywhere when I am in Umbria with Umbrian Serenades. But then, they are hard to miss: soaring overhead, pulling the eye upward, and providing support for the buildings when the ground shakes, which is does on occasion. They're beautiful too, which is why I can't take my eyes off them. Look up, look up, look up. That's what you have to do, even as you go downhill from Hotel dei Duchi to the market in lower Spoleto on Friday morning, or make your way up the Duomo porch to sing your first concert on a golden afternoon. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Sacred Destination: San Salvatore, Spoleto, Italy

Umbrian Serenades buddies, John and Stephen 

From the moment I entered though the large tall door, to exiting though a smaller side door, I felt as though I was in another time and place. San Salvatore is a 4th century basilica in Spoleto, Italy, with just enough interior detail to give one a strong whiff of all things ancient. Clear light though high clerestory windows focuses one's attention on what is inside, where the mind is drawn up, up, up into something ineffable. Real or no, places like San Salvatore have that affect, or so it seemed as I stood there and smiled from ear to ear.

San Salvatore is a proto-Christian structure with ancient Roman columns, which indicate that the building was a temple of some sort, one that sat—and still sits—in the middle of a cemetery. I found it empty and still on a glorious morning with two Umbrian Serenades buddies. We stood under the dome, testing the acoustics, and thought it a magical place to sing. 

Photo Credit: Daniel's Dinky iPhone

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Palazzo Doria Pamphilj

I heard of it last year when I stayed at Hotel Mimosa, which is located just steps away from the Pantheon in Rome. The Palazzo Doria Pamphilj houses an unique collection of paintings and sculpture that has been in one family for more than 300 years. So this year, I saw it on a glorious summer's afternoon with a friend who was also attending Umbrian Serenades. We had the place to ourselves. No crowds. No lines. Just great art, architecture and ambiance. When you are in Rome, you must go. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time to go inside

The light has changed. I can see it when I look out the window. It's more silvery now rather than golden as it rises in the morning, the sun's rays throwing a shaft of light between the buildings in the early morning. I sometimes sit on the window seat and watch it move across the courtyard between the Brownstones and apartment buildings, the sun rising into the sky and illuminating the bedroom window around 10 am. This only lasts about an hour, and then the room passes into shade again. Such is the life of certain city dwellers. 

Truth to tell—I am in an Umbrian Serenades funk, having gotten back more than a week ago: missing people, music, and the dolce that is Umbria. And wouldn't you know it? I had been in Spoleto four times already and had never been to San Ponziano in lower Spoleto (it's build on a hill), where I found a resplendent angel in a crypt, holding the world in his 14th century hand. I thought of him all this past week, and how he could only be viewed by candlelight (and the light that managed to enter a small window) for a thousand years; his outstretched wings in shadow, far more grey than the glorious red and orange that are revealed by halogen illumination.  

Life is like that, I thought: It's time to go inside, turn on the lights, and see things for what they are.

Photo Credit: Angel holding the world at San Ponziano, Spoleto, Italy. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Vatican, Vino & Caravaggio

Went to the Vatican, but was too late to see the museum. Better luck tomorrow.

Exiting Vatican City and crossing the Tiber River.

And wouldn't you know it? Opera is everywhere in Roma. This made me smile, and then I had gelato, which made me smile some more. And no, I did not wander around the streets with my cup of sweet. I sat down like a proper Roman and enjoyed all its goodness.

Vino is everywhere. I must have passed six wine bars on the way back towards my hotel near the Pantheon (more on that tomorrow).

Then there is Piazza Navona, which was as I remembered it: amusing and gloriously frothy.

The levitating guy, who was pissed off that I took his photo and did not pass him a coin. Darling,  I wanted to say: I saw you last year. Get a new act!

The fountain is even more splendid at night when lit up.  Since Trevi fountain is being renovated, it's the place to be.

Turner painting anyone? That's what this scene reminded me of.

And then there was the San Luigi die Francesi church with the amazing Caravaggio paintings, which I saw last year, and had to see again.  Right up the street from Piazza Navona

Inside the ceiling is gilt and glowing.

And then there are the Caravaggio painting. Larger than life, they don't tire the eye no matter how many times you see them. Of course, the curious thing is that they are lit via a coin operated box, which someone must feed, which I did: twice. 

Caravaggio broke new ground in that these works are realistic in a way that was shocking during his time. Saints with messy hair and dirty feet? It was a revelation.

Two spaces away, Death keeps watch.

A detail of the door, which mirrors exactly a detail of a door in Spoleto. I am figuring that this this is early 19th century design.

The organ case, which lies above to the left.

The ceiling in all its splendor.

A nearby street, radiant in the rain, the buildings glowing, pink and melon in the light.

And lastly, a Baroque masterpiece from which the word "oratorio" is derived. Don't ask me. I'm functioning on a few hours sleep. Google baby!

Dead Saint in One Act (or, otherwise in Roma)

No, I didn't eat on the plane while en route to Rome, which I had read was better for you; and I must say indeed it is: I didn't feel that horrible bloating that overcomes one at 33 thousand feet. Landing into rainy-one-minute-sunny-the-next Rome, I found that the Leonardo Express (we're talking train) into town was not running, even if attendants were letting people board. Take the bus! They kept saying. A young lady behind me noticed my yoga bag with mat inside, struck up a conversation, and before you could say Asana, we were sharing a cab and winding our way into the Eternal City. 

After stopping at my hotel for a shower and shave (oh how blessed), I made my way over to the Vatican Museum, which I had not seen since 1985, but found that I was too late to enter. What to do? Go church hopping, of course, which I did after walking back across the Tiber towards the Pantheon, finding caffe gelato along the way (yes, the only thing I had eaten in 18 hours besides an apple), finding my way into Sant'Andrea delle Valle, which Puccini set as the first act of Tosca. What I didn't see the last time I was here (how could I miss him?) was the dead saint, which made me think of another opera: Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thompson, which lead, of course, to the title of this post (you have to live in a musician brain to understand that lateral transition). I can't get enough of the place, with its golden lighten streaming throughout. 

I'll make another stab at the Vatican Museum tomorrow afternoon, when the line is nonexistent (one hopes) and the weather more clear (so one hears).  

Thursday morning, I join my Umbrian Serenade Comrades at the airport for the journey to Spoleto. Am I excited? Yes.