I have just returned from a week of living la dolce vita in Tuscany, Italy. It was, for various reasons, my first holiday in three years and I really felt like I needed it! A change of scene does us all good once in a while.
So off I went to Viareggio, a seaside town in the Versilia region of Italy, chosen because of its proximity to a little town called Torre de Lago. This was my ultimate destination and the real purpose of my visit. “Why?” I hear you ask. Is it because it is the most picturesque little town on the edge of a deep, still lake? Or is it because of the mountains surrounding it, giving it a sense of drama? Well, yes, both of those are very good reasons to want to go there, but ultimately I wanted to go there because it was the home of Giacomo Puccini, the famous composer.
Every year this tiny little town (it’s more of a village really) plays host to the International Puccini Festival. As Puccini was dying he regretted that he had never heard his operas in his home town and that he had never heard them in the open air.
So, as a result of that dying wish, for 61 years now his unassuming little hometown has been hosting his operas in a purpose built open-air amphitheatre built right at the side of the lake which stands just metres from his house, which is preserved exactly as he left it. Many of the great opera singers from modern times have performed there.
I haven’t been an opera fan for long, just four or five years, but it is something which I have fallen in love with. It is a truly thrilling experience. The sheer joy of hearing the human voice create the most exquisite and breath-taking sounds that can touch the very heart of you is difficult to beat. I have been so enthralled by some performances I have been driven to cry, applaud, shout bravo and brava, get goosebumps, feel my heart racing… sometimes all at the same time. How many events can say that about? I don’t go very often either; it is, regrettably, an expensive experience and is limited to only once or twice a year, but boy is it worth it!
I decided that since I was there I would treat myself to seeing two of his operas, Madame Butterfly and Tosca, both about love and ultimately tragedy and heartbreak – the perfect scenario for any opera.
The first opera was Madame Butterfly. I arrived three hours beforehand as I had arranged to meet some family and friends (who were holidaying about 40km away) for dinner by the lakeside, after which we would all go to the opera together. Much to my regret we were not allowed to take photos of the opera as it was being performed, but to sit there (I was in the third row) with the orchestra playing right in front of me – with the moon rising above the stage as (spoiler alert) Madame Butterfly gives her child away and then kills herself in the most tragic way – was mesmerising.
The next night, after another day at the beach (it was 35 degrees every day I was there, I am refusing to accept that it is autumn here!) I booked a table for dinner at the same restaurant as the night before. Not only were the views over the lake tranquil and beautiful but the food was delicious!
It was another warm balmy summer’s evening, and as the sun went down on us dining al fresco by the edge of the lake, a Blood Moon rose from behind the mountains across the lake and the evening took on a magical feel. Once again the food was outstanding, the wine delicious and the conversation flowing. As we set off for the theatre our moods were buoyant and there was a feeling in the air that something thrilling might happen…
… and happen it did!
As the orchestra struck its first note (once again I was right near the front, fourth row, aisle seat) I knew immediately that that evening’s performance was going to be something special. The quality of the sound was thrilling but it was nothing compared to the sound of the tenor, Rudy Park, who was playing the male lead role of Cavaradossi.
It felt like I was watching a performance of historic proportions. He had qualities that were incredibly similar to that of Pavarotti (who also performed on this stage), I was hooked. After each aria the audience went wild with applause and shouts of ‘bravo’, and unexpectedly shouts for him to repeat his performance which he and the conductor promptly did! As I said, I haven’t been an opera fan for long but I have been to see some quality opera but I have never ever seen this happen. I truly believe I saw one of the next, if not the next great tenor of our time in one of his earliest career performances. I was ecstatic!
Once again, the whole opera was beautifully done and the lakeside setting was awesome, in the truest sense of the word. I almost forgot that I was sitting outdoors until in the final act I noticed once again a huge bright moon ascend from behind the backdrop.
The whole holiday was something I will never forget – and I haven’t even talked about the food, the shopping, the beaches, the weather…
I feel like I was away a lot longer than a week in some ways and in others I feel like I was just getting into the holiday mood and it ended too quickly. Well, I guess with all the best things in life it is always best to be left wanting more…
Until next time,