Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Italy 3: Urbania, Pesaro, La Chiesa dei Morti, e La Storia di Urbania

Part of me finds it hard to believe that I've only been in Italy for 2 weeks, and yet much is still so new that I feel like I arrived at Fuimicino an hour ago. My language is improving every day, and my adventures in understanding this culture continue.

One of these cross cultural ideas that is all over the world is...the man cave. The man cave meaning a room, building, shed, whatever, that is full of guy stuff. Monday afternoon I did a load of laundry, and the washer is located in the garage, below the apartment building. There are about three types of things in this garage: the washer, dead computer parts, and Francesco's beloved motorcycle. Merlino even has a water bowl there. And that's about it. It's not important, I know, but it made me laugh.

Another cultural idea is the Sunday afternoon game or event. In America, this is football. In Italy, at least during the summer, it's Formula 1 racing. I think every male in Italy follows it. Francesco watched it at the apartment. Every cafe or bar you walked past had the race on, and there was a huge crowd around the TV. They love it. The cafe I'm sitting in just turned on a large projector screen with the race, actually. I guess I'll watch while I write? I can honstly say this is the first motorcycle race I've ever watched.

Suprises abound here everyday. Tuesday night, Cate and I walked down to the piazza after dinner. This is called "la passegiatta", meaning a walk with no particular purpose. When we arrived in the piazza, we found that a bunch of children's games had been set up, and that many families were there. Cate teaches English to small children, so we hung around and wached what was going on. We saw a few of her students and their families and talked with them. We also ran into Giovanni and Benvenuto, two older men we talk to often. If you go to the piazza almost anytime of the day, you're bound to find the older men of Urbania just sitting around and talking. They love to talk, and that's how we got to know these two. They're very nice and interesting to talk to. Benvenuto is especially funny, and enjoys picking on Cate and I, but also helping us with our Italian.

For some reason my laptop won't pick up the internet signal in the apartment, so I come down to the cafe to work. In Italy, cafes are called bars, but they are more like coffee shops that sell some alcohol. Anyways, what amuses me the most about the bars the choice of music played. Sure, I've heard some Italian pop music, but I've also heard things like Michael Jackson, ABBA, the Ghostbusters theme, "I'm too sexy". Believe me, sitting down to sip some Italian coffee to the unmistakable chords of Thriller is a slightly out-of-body experience.

Wednesday afternoon I had some free time and decided to go the Chiesa dei Morti (Churtch of the Dead). Back in the 1500s, when Urbania was still called Casteldurante, people who couldn't afford a proper burrial were burried under the church. In about 1804, some of these bodies were discovered in a perfectly mummified condition. This was due to a certain mushroom that dehydrated the bodies, slowing decomposition. About 15 of these bodies are on display at the church. I arrived just after a tour group had left, so it was just me, Giovanni the tour guide, and the mummies. It took about 10 seconds for me to get over the initial creepyness of being in a room with a bunch of corpses, which are all in a room close to the entrance of the church. Giovanni explained (in Italian, which is why I'm a little fuzzy on some of the exact names, dates, and other details)how the bodies were discovered, how the mummification process with the mushrooms works, and how each of the people died. This, in my opiion, was the most interesting part. There was a woman who had died of polio, another from a C-section gone wrong, a theif who had been hanged, a young man who had been stabbed in a fight (and Giovanni showed me the dehydrated heart. You can see where he was stabbed and all of the blood vessels), a young woman who suffered from Down syndrom, and a priest who had died from bad cholestoral. The most morbid of the corpses, though, was that of a man who had been burried alive. This man had gone into a coma; he felt cold, his heartbeat could not be heard, and he didn't respond. Thinking he was dead, he was burried. However, he woke up and suffocated. You can see from his expanded and uplifted ribcage that he was trying to get air, and the capularies all over his body burst.
I wondered as I looked at each body what these people were like during their lives, how they lived, what their personalities were, and that I am walking on the same streets they did, seeing the same hills, and speaking (or attempting) to speak the same language. I often think the same thing when practicing at the old school or rehearsing at the museo. The old school seems to be an old house, and I wonder who lived there, what it looked like 200 or more years ago, and what they were like. Its strange to think I'm practicing in a room where someone may have died, or where that same person might have been born. Did a child learn to walk in this room? Did a young man talk to the neighbors from the window? Did a married couple fight here? And its the same in the Grand Bishop Room where we rehearse in the Museo. What the did the Bishop think when he looked into the fireplace? Who came to visit him in this room?

I had two more lessons with Gary this week, and each time I work with him, we make more progress. I'm starting to see just how much excess tension I have in my body, and trying to get rid of it. The biggest problem with my body tension is that it isn't obvious; most of the time I can't feel it, and its hard to see. He also suggested some new repertoire for me, and roles that I should learn. Two that he suggested that really excited me were Der Komponist and Octavian, especially Octavian. The soprano I'm singing with in the Cosi scene is working on the Presentation of the Rose, and Gary suggested I learn it too, because our voices go so well together. Oh man do I want to sing Octavian! My second lesson this week was almost entirly devoted to one passage in my aria from Idomeneo, trying to figure out why it just wasn't working. We worked for a good 20 minutes on the different places the vowels are, and finally got it together.

Friday evening I went to la centra for a gelato (Nutella gelato might just be the most wonderful thing I've ever had. omg) and ran into Amanda, one of the other mezzos in the program. We talked for a bit with Benvenuto, who was sitting with Luciano, a friend of his. After Benvenuto left, we continued talking with Luciano, who told us some of the history of Urbania. We went on a short architechtural tour of Urbania, and he showed us where the moat used to be, which buildings were destoryed in the WWII bombing of Urbania, the houses of the nobility, and where the city gates used to be. He pointed to one of the streets in Urbania and said (in Italian), "See that street? It's older than your country." This town has been around since around 1050, and has gone through many changes; from a summer home for the Duke of Urbino to a functioning town, from Casteldurante to Urbania, from the capital of ceramics to the capital of jeans (All the jeans in Italy are made here, including those for Armani and Dolce e Gabbana). It made me appreciate the history of Urbania much more and made me more interested in the history.

On Saturday, the students from our program took a day trip to Pesaro, which is about 50K from Urbania. Pesaro is the birthplace of Rossini, and even though he moved away when he was 4, it's the Rossini capital. Rossini died a very rich man, and dontaed much of his money for a oepra house and conservatory in Pesao. In fact, his money is still running the conservatory. Alberto Zedda, who is perhaps THE Rossini expert of this age, started a summer Rossini opera festival in 1980. He also started a 2-week intensive Rossini program for young singers. Lonfranco, our conductor for L'Elisir D'Amore, is Zedda's assistant, and invited us to observe a masterclass Zedda was giving, hence the trip to Pesaro.

The young singers in this program prepare as many arias and roles in a single Rossini opera as is possible; for example, if Il Barbiere di Siviglia was being studied, a baritone in the program would learn all of the baritone roles. In these masterclasses, Zedda will point to any given singer and say, "You. Sing such-and-such an aria", and the singer just does it. He's not a man you mess with, and you never want him to tell you something 3 times. At one point, he hit the table he was sitting at and shouted "Piu leggere! Piu leggere!" to an Italian bass-baritone named Marcello. The 15 or so singers in this program were from all over the world; many from Italy, 1 Russian, 2 Armenians, 1 American, 1 French and so on. I loved listening to the different singers, hearing how each sang a given aria differently, and the peculiarities of each voice. One of the Armenians, a bass-baritone, told me during the break that he could tell I was a mezzo because of my cheecks. I actually have no idea what that is supposed to mean.

After the masterclass we were free to do as we pleased in Pesaro. Amanda, Eric, Andrew, and I had dinner at a restaurant by the beach; it was pausa time and nothing was open. But it was a fabulous dinner; eggplant ravioli with a mozzarella, basil, and tomato sause, some red wine, and chocolate mousse (I splurged). Most of us had brought swimsuits, but it was a little chilly to swim (which was fine with us since it we had had scalding weather in Urbania all week). Instead, we walked in the surf of the Adriatic and waved across the water to Croatia.

We also took a tour through Rossini's birthplace in Pesaro. Most of the museum is pictures and drawings of important Rossini singers of ages past. These included Patti, Melibran, and Falcon (for whom the fach Falcon soprano is named). But I stood in the room where Rossini was born, which was exciting and at the same time slightly odd. The only bizzare thing in the house was the photo of Rossini's friends standing around his coffin, holding handkercheifs over their noses because of the smell. Poverino. :(

As I mentioned before, Pesaro is Rossini-land, and every major Rossini singer has been there. Tenor Juan Diego Florez has a house in Pesaro, and Lonfranco told us he's there now rehearsing fo the opera festival. Of course we all had a freak-out when he told us this, especially our tenors. But there were no sightings of Florez by anyone in our group. Our tenors were very dissapointed.

The bus did not take us directly from Pesaro to Urbania, and we had to switch buses in Urbino. We had an hour inbetween buses and decided to walk around. Urbino is basicly a college town, but also the home of Raffaello (Raphael). It's very hilly but quite beautiful, and I wish we had more time there. Going up the first hilly street we saw, we came across the Catheral. A wedding must have taken place that day, because crushed flower petals and rice littered the steps. The cathedral is huge and very white. This is a town I definetly want to come back to, especially to see the different Raffaello art exhibits there. Because where else can I see such things?

I took this photo in Urbino at the top of a street overlooking the hills outside of town. Perhaps this alone can tell you why I'm so in love with this country.

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