Florence’s new opera house/concert hall/music venue at Le Cascine is an absolute treat. It’s easy to get to. (We drove up the Firenze mare autostrada, took the Rome direction turning, got off at Scandicci, parked the car in a free park by the “Villa Costanza” Tramvia station – preferable is actually the next stop “De André” as late night trams terminate there as we found out – caught the deliciously smooth new T1 Florence tram and got off at Porta al Prato where the hall is only a few minutes’ walk). It’s also got fabulous acoustics, comfortable seating (we could even stretch our legs) and superb lines of vision – with our twenty euro seats we could see and hear everything brilliantly. I wonder why I didn’t get to it sooner but then the place only opened last year in time for the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino season which has its new home there.
I never did get to Florence’s old Teatro Comunale which was proving less and less satisfactory for today’s productions. Aficionados of the Comunale regret its passing – it now seems to be permanently closed – and I am glad I never had the occasion to cultivate any attachment to it because I am now hooked on Opera di Firenze’s new home, especially as it is barely two hours travel by car from Longoio!
The first appearance of the new theatre is not entirely prepossessing. Built in a severely functional, almost minimalist style, it presents itself much like an alternative railway station. Actually, this isn’t entirely off the mark as the hall is sited next to the old Leopoldina goods station which is now used as an exhibition centre (great flower festivals there).
Entering the foyer, the comfortable vastness of the building and its clean lines begin to strike one positively.
There are some great touches. On the corridors leading to the auditorium, for example, there are nostalgic photographs of divas, the fashionable public frequenting Florence’s opera in the fifties and even the usherettes.
There is a wonderful exhibit of costumes worn by legendary divas including Callas and Tebaldi.
..and some posters from past great performances. How I would have loved to be there!
Great wonders await one when stepping into the auditorium. It is absolutely stunning. With its semi-aerodynamic lines and beautiful wood finish the auditorium is calculated to capture the most seductive sounds from orchestras and singers alike.
And what seduction! I had never realised until now how completely heart melting/rending/raising Vincenzo Bellini’s music can be. Why did it take me this long to fall in love with the Sicilian lyricist who died aged only thirty five?
“I Puritani” is Vincenzo’s last opera composed in the grandest style for the Paris opera. Bellini managed to taste his greatest success at its premiere in 1835 but, sadly, never managed to return to his homeland as he fell ill and died while still in France. Bellini put everything he’d learnt about dramatic effect in this swashbuckling, amorously touching and supremely Italian opera set during the English civil war between Cavaliers and Roundheads. Martial battle choruses, gorgeous cavatine and, above all, the most exquisite romanze where Bellini weaves those embracingly long melodic lines (that so captivated, above all , Wagner himself) magic one into a fantasy world where everything seems possible, and is!
The aria “vien diletto” had me all but melted into a distilled honey pot; I could hardly believe the scintillatingly high notes extracted from Maria Aleida. Was that a top F sharp I was hearing? I had to check this at home and discovered that Aleida is capable even of a top A sharp – that’s a sixth above the traditional top C!!!
(Maria Aleida as Elvira wishing she was dead – from Act II of ‘I Puritani’)
Born in Cuba, brought up in Venezuela, trained in USA and perfected in Italy, Maria Aleida has to be the most sensational singer I’ve heard in a very, very long time indeed. She only made her debut in this country in 2011 and has already knocked out the public even when she’s sung with the semi-mythical Bocelli himself.
Classified as a coloratura soprano, (I would qualify .her as a true soprano acuto sfogato), Maria has excelled in such parts as the mechanical doll in “The Tales of Hoffmann. (Check her out in this role at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dlGDNoliH0 ). In Bellini, however, she has proved herself more than just a singer with the highest range today of any soprano: Aleida has also proved that she is devotedly sensitive to Bellini’s particularly tender lyrical style, the most heavenly utterance of any Italian opera composer and beloved of such greats as Chopin himself. (For sceptics click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n1Q7ZoPeLBU and find out!)
“I Puritani” is supreme Italian opera at its supremest. I defy anyone to hear this wonderful work, wonderfully sung by some the greatest singers the world has ever known, including, of course, La Stupenda and La Divina, (Sutherland and Callas, if you didn’t remember), and remain unmoved. Last night Aleida impressed a highly appreciative audience with silver singing that could have broken the hardest of plate-glass ears. Her voice shed much needed luminosity on a production of the prodigious young talent Fabio Ceresa which may have had a little too much darkness in it.
There are still two performances of I Puritani at Opera di Firenze (check them out at http://www.operadifirenze.it/events/i-puritani/?gclid=CJ-Rl5bAysMCFTDMtAodGm0A7g) and, if you’re lucky, you’ll be also be able to hear another blossoming opera star in Elvira’s role, Jessica Pratt from Sydney Australia who is also being perfected in this country, birthplace of opera and everything that is bright and beautiful in lyrical life.