Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Desire for Hermitage

Stephen & John among the tombs

Seeing San Salvatore with my Umbrian Serenades buddies Stephen and John meant finding our way to the basilica through Spoleto's cemetery. Yes, we could have gone up the road which bypasses the dead and entered by a side door, but making our way through the tombs made for an interesting experience as well as a bit of theatre, since one must climb up to San Salvatore's monumental door by way of a long, steep stairway, which ascends from shade to a spacious, light-filled terrace.

Making our way through the family vaults, I started hearing Samuel Barber's "Desire for Hermitage" as sung by Leontyne Price in my head; which is the price one pays for being a musician and lover of song, beauty knowing no bounds and songs having a way of singing themselves in the oddest of places: it's what I heard when I raised my head, looked up at San Salvatore's resplendent white-marbled framed door and climbed the stairs.  

The desire for hermitage

Ah! To be all alone in a little cell
with nobody near me;
beloved that pilgrimage before the last pilgrimage to death.
Singing the passing hours to cloudy Heaven;
Feeding upon dry bread and water from the cold spring. 
That will be an end to evil when I am alone
in a lovely little corner among tombs
far from the houses of the great.
Ah! To be all alone in a little cell, to be alone, all alone:
Alone I came into the world
alone I shall go from it.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Every Day a Little Death: San Ponziano, Spoleto, Italy

Entrance to San Ponziano 

Spoleto's cemetery is across the road 

San Ponziano has been stripped of many of its decorative elements 

Unusual combination of porphyry and green marble 

18th century painting 

Baroque organ loft 

St. Francis of Assisi 

"Every day a little death" 

The real thing: saint under an altar 

St. Sebastian 

A strangled boy 

Saint pointing to his wound

The Crypt 

Madonna & Child 

The Angel of San Ponziano 

San Ponziano with La Rocca in the distance 

You've seen the angel of San Ponziano a few posts back, but I didn't show you the whole shebang, did I? Well, this post will rectify matters considerably since I was picture happy on the morning these photos were taken. Speaking of which: Did you catch the one of the dead saint under the altar? I thought about including it in this post. "Wouldn't that be rather macabre?" I thought. Well, even if it is creepy as all get out, death is part of life, despite Western culture's issues with it. To get that shot, I had to hold my iPhone up against the glass. Yes, I held my breath. 

No one gets out alive. That much we know. Having survived the terrible decade of AIDS in New York City (it's not really gone I should note), I went to my share of funerals, dumbstruck by the onslaught that would not abate. Men were dropping like flies, sixty-five to be exact at the opera where I sang, one tenor even saying rather sardonically that he was having a career because everyone in his "fach" was dead.

San Ponziano is right across from an ancient burial ground, which is still in use, containing all manner of tombs and monuments which I will save for a latter post (the pyramid was a favorite). Built in the 12th century, the church was completely renovated in 1788, which covered up its ancient columns and stonework that are now hidden behind plaster and paintings, as well as a beautiful organ loft. However, the crypt has survived intact, and contains vibrant frescos and several sarcophagi. I stood in its depths with my Umbrian Serenades buddies Stephen and John—having caught up with an eloquent guide who's English was a hell of a lot better than my Italian—and heard some of San Ponziano's history which is quite fascinating. The story about the kid who was strangled? I think you should hear it in situ, then go have a fabulous lunch at Il Panciollewere strangozzi is on the menu and the grilled vegetables are utterly amazing.

Photo Credit: Daniel's Dinky iPhone. The title of this post references Sondheim's "A Little Night Music."  

Friday, August 29, 2014

To Paulo...

With my friend Paulo Faustini in Trevi, Italy 

Paulo Faustini and I have been friends since 1985, when we sang together in the prestigious Westminster Choir, which also served as the opera chorus for the Festival of Two Worlds. As a result, we spent a glorious summer together in Charleston, South Carolina, and Spoleto, Italy; climbing scaffolding in Puccini's Fancuilla del West, and singing the Fauré Requiem in the Spoleto Cathedral. Fast forward to Paulo's founding of Umbrian Serenades—which gives professional and amateur singers the very same life-changing experience we had as students—and I feel as though I have lived to refute Thomas Wolf's posthumous novel. It's been a thrill to be back for the last four seasons (Umbrian Serenades will celebrate its tenth year in 2015) where I learned so much as a graduate student: singing with wonderful friends, making real music, and having the time of my life.

A very old friend from my undergraduate days went with me this year, and afterwards told me: "I understand why you were trying to get me to go last year: this has changed my life!" Indeed, we were all changed, which has everything to do with the exquisite program that Paulo works on tirelessly all year. It's his passion, a word that I use with precision. He really does have it.

Paulo loves three things: singing, wine and Italy. To know these three is to know all, which Paulo has woven together, creating a truly beautiful experience.

A toast to a most wonderful man, artist and friend!

Post-concert dinner in Trevi

Photo Credit: Love & Light captured in Daniel's dinky iPhone. 

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