Tosca

 

I wanted to avoid speaking of opera for as long as possible, but I could wait no longer. In my last post I have decided to share to glory of “Tosca”.Image

 

Composed by Giacomo Puccini, this three act tragedy is about a painter (Mario Cavaradossi) in love with an famous singer, (Floria Tosca). Tosca is admired by more than a painter, though, for Baron Scarpia, the chief of police, desires her as well.

Taking place during the threat of Napoleonic invasion in Rome, Italy, the opera’s atmosphere already starts with a melodramatic tension. Cavaradossi has found an escape from the dangers of the outside world by staying inside a church, painting Mary Magdelene. The Sacristan brings him food and points out how this painting resembles the famous singer, Floria Tosca. The first aria “Recondita armonia” is Cavardossi comparing the beauty of Mary to the beauty of his lover, Tosca, while also pointing out the differences. Unconvinced that Cabardossi is avoiding sacrilege, the Sacristan leaves.

Scarpia, while the villain, is my favourite character. He is devious and uses his position to obtain what he desires. He’s also the baritone, showing off his evil intentions and impressive range in “Ha più forte sapore“.

I don’t want to tell too much of the opera, because it is very romantic and has quite a few plot twists in it, but I will say it is one of the best operas for women who enjoy strong female characters. Often in operas, the woman is torn between two men and let the men duke it out, but with Tosca, she makes her own decisions…and suffers those consequences.

I do not have a favourite that has portrayed any of these characters, but the movie version was the first opera recording I ever bought.  It sparked my passion when I was a junior in high school (four years ago!) and I still enjoy listening to it when I can.

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Grotta Palazzese

Located in Southern Italy, Grotta Palazzese (The Summer Cave) is a one of kind dining experience.  It’s only open in the summer (as its name suggests), but you probably wouldn’t want to dine there any other time. Why? It’s in a cave (hence the other part of its name) along the Mediterranean Sea.

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I saw a picture of the restaurant tweeted and was so intrigued! It’s connected to a hotel, but you don’t need to be staying overnight there to dine.  Such an atmosphere is remarkably unique, because yes, a lot of places over views of water, and I’m sure a lot of dining establishments in Italy boast of their views of the Mediterranean Sea, but this is the only one inside a limestone cave.

The seating ranges from intimate (two people) to a quaint get together (3-5).  I’m sure getting a reservation is difficult, but if I were ever given a chance, I wouldn’t hesitate.  Nothing could be more calming than listening to the waves lap at the stone beneath you.  It appears that there are even decks atop the grotto, should a couple prefer to have the sky above them and their food.

Francesco Petrarca and His Poetry

Francesco Petrarca, known in England during the fourteenth century as Petrarch, is the father of the Petrarchan (or Italian) Sonnet structure.  Unlike William Shakespeare’s simple ababacacefefgg rhyme scheme, Petrarca was famous for his abbaabbacdecde rhyme scheme.  

What does this mean?  Well, I can’t say that it meant his style was harder, but it did require knowing more than one rhyme for the last words of the first two lines.

Not all of his poetry was in Italian, though, let alone in his sonnet format.  Some of his works were done in Latin. Rerum vulgarium fragmenta  (which translates to Fragments of Ordinary Thoughts) was his first work and now goes by Il Canzoniere (commonly translated to The Songbook).  Il Canzoniere is a beautiful collection of romantic poetry revolving around longing and anguish.

In quella parte dove Amor mi sprona is listed at the one hundred and twenty seventh poem (that’s not even halfway through) it translates to In the part where Love spurs me. It chronicles the development of a girl into a woman over the changing season as well as the author’s blossoming love for the woman.  He speaks of Love as a physical being, much as Shakespeare’s sonnets chronicled Time and Death’s works in our human realm.

Without going into a deep poetic analysis, I just wanted to entice everyone to read a bit of this beautiful Italian poetry.  I suggest reading it in Italian first, at least the first stanza, because the passion with which it was writ is present and has the ability to impact the reader.

Lo spettro

The Ghost (1963)
directed by Riccardo Freda
starring: 
Barbara Steele as Margaret Hichcock
Peter Baldwin as Dottore Charles Livingstone
Elio Jotta as Dottore John Hichcock
and
Harriet Medin as Catherine Wood

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Well known for “I Vampiri” (“Lust of the Vampire”), Riccardo Freda was an Italian movie director who specialized in horror films. He was most effective due to his light treading of the supernatural realm in his films.  In “Lo Spettro” Dottore Hichcock is an invalid doctor living in Scotland with his wife while he receives medicinal “help” from Dottore Livingstone.  Livingstone is actually slowly killing Hichcock while sleeping with Hichcock’s wife.  Growing impatient for Hichcock’s death and hating him more and more as the days go on, Margaret begs Livingstone to end her husband’s life.  Giving in, he poisons Hichcock with a single lethal injection.

The supernatural element kicks in when the spirit channeling maid, Catherine channels the late Dottore Hichcock, terrifying the guilty lovers.  I won’t spoil anything, because it is an enjoyable watch!

My favourite scene, which I think successfully uses suspense the best is Sweeney Todd reminiscent.  Margaret approaches her husband, who has his face lathered and neck exposed, awaiting a shave.  Her hand comes into view and it carrying the straight razor…at a very threatening angle (pictured above).  She approaches him slowly, yet at the last second adjusts her hand and begins shaving him.

I am a fan of all horror flicks and while French foreign films are the only foreign films I’ve ever watched, I’m very glad I chose “Lo spettro” as my first Italian horror film. 

Caravaggio

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Amerighi da Caravaggio, the talented artist, was born in Milan, Italy in 1571.  While his more famous works depict anything from everyday people (The Musicians) to Christian motifs (Nativity) to still life work (Basket of Fruit), they all embody a sense of passion in their intense colour choices and depth created with desirably soft edges and textures.

The portraits figuratively pulse with their models’ spirits as Caravaggio captures them mid-sentence as if he had walked into the room, shouted, “Surprise!” and snapped a picture as the faces paused to look.

My favourite painting of Caravaggio’s is the above portrait titled “Cardsharps”.  Similar to his other paintings, this scene is done in oil on canvas.  In particular, this work of art uses neutral colours to create intense lighting and shadow, thus bringing a wonderful depth to such a whimsical scene. Unlike a lot of his paintings, these subjects are not looking toward the viewer, which allows any living person to feel as if they are a part of the rigged card game.  The faces themselves add to the reality on the canvas.  The unsuspecting card player looks innocently at his hand while a shady middle man looks at said hand and signals the dealer.  The dealer then, feigning innocence himself, places a necessary card in the back of his ensemble and has thus rigged the game.

While van Gogh, Noel Fielding, and Salvador Dalí are my top three artists, Caravaggio falls onto my top five at number four.  Anyone who has such exquisite talent and enough technical mastery to make a feather in a cap look so real deserves high praise and admiration.

Nu Te Fermare

Before I get into the facts of the band, I wanted to talk about the song that drew me into the sorcery of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino.

“Nu Te Fermare” was a part of a four song instalment of NPR’s All Thing’s Considered, which is where I first heard it.  While all of the songs were musical in their own rights, “Nu Te Fermare” was entrancing.  The moment that captured my favour was near the end.  One gentleman starts with a phrase; then, another man builds with another phrase; and finally, the woman’s hauntingly gorgeous voice weaves through the air around them.

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino is an Italian band that has been around since 1975, originating from Salento, Italy (hence 1/3 of the band’s name).  With a fiddler, drummer, dancer, guitarist, vocalist, Italian bagpiper, and violinist, the band is seven strong and currently located in Lecce (one of the Eastern most parts of the “heel” section of Italy).

The singing style is not something heard in traditional or current American music, and I find very similar sounds in the vocal lilts and instrumentation when compared to Indian music (real Indian music, not the soundtrack of “Slumdog Millionaire”).  Obviously the language keeps it from sounding identical to Indian music, but the addition of bagpipes, Italian bagpipes to be specific, are quite a difference as well.

CGS successfully blends legatto phrasing in some of the sining and bagpipe playing with stacatto strumming of the guitar and bouzouki, which, I believe, makes “Nu Te Fermare” so enjoyable to listen to.