Lucca Province’s Musical Events for August


Marco and Andrea Rizzi Lucchesini will open the second month of Versilia’s Festival of Chamber Music in the church of St. Pantaleone, Pieve a Elici. On Sunday 3rd, the duo will perform music by Castelnuovo Tedesco, Brahms and Richard Strauss. On Sunday 10th, Kirill Troussov (violin) will play Dvořák, Fauré, Poulenc, Tchaikovsky and Zimbalist, with his sister Alessandra Troussova (piano). On Sunday 17th, Leonora Armellini (see photo) returns. The young Italian pianist (born in 1992) plays music by Schumann and Chopin. The talented violinist, Natasha Korsakova, will play Beethoven, Mozart and Prokofiev on Sunday 24th with Simone Soldati (piano). The festival closes on Sunday 31st with a concert by Enrico Dindo (cello) and Pietro De Maria (piano), who play music by Rachmaninov and Chopin. All concerts start at 9.15 pm. Tickets are € 12 (reduced € 9) while for AML members they are € 6. Info: Associazione Musicale Lucchese (+390583 469960), Municipality of Camaiore, Citizens’ Office (+390584 979 229).


The Francigena Festival concludes in August with a series of events planned both in the province of Lucca, and the Beethoven castle of Monteriggioni (Siena). Closing on August 30th, at 7 pm, on the city walls’ 500th anniversary, there will be a unique event with the world premiere of pieces for six pianos written by members of the “Cluster” Association. The six pianos will be located in various bastions and will be amplified and monitored, allowing the listener to follow the players’ performance on the spot and, at the same time, hear all six pianos. These are the festival appointments: August 5th, 9.15 pm, Altopascio, Sala Granai: Mikhail Zemtsov and Julia Dinerstein (viola), Timora Rosler (cello), Frank Peters (piano). 7th, at 9.15 pm, Monteriggioni (Siena) Beethoven Castle: “Classical Rome” String Orchestra with Fabrizio Datteri and Nadia Lencioni (piano). 10th, at 9.15 pm, Monteriggioni (Siena), Mozart’s Così fan tutte, with soloists from the Guido d’Arezzo Francigena Festival Orchestra with Janos Acs (conductor). 23th at 9.15 pm Lucca, Ademollo Hall of the Palazzo Ducale: Paolo Carlini (bassoon), Fabrizio Datteri (piano). 30th, at 7 pm, Lucca city walls: concerto for six pianos.


On Wednesday, 27th August, at 5.30 pm in the loggia of the magnificent Villa Oliva (San Pancrazio), there will be a performance centred on Hamlet to celebrate Shakespeare’s 450th birthday. The program will include music from the first ever opera based on Hamlet, composed by Francesco Gasparini from Camaiore, Lucca, who was born in 1661. Characters and performers: Hamlet, Barbara Di Castri; King, Roberto Lorenzi; Queen, Silvia Tocchini; Veremonda (Ophelia), Maria Chiara Pizzoli; Generale Valdemaro, Marco Mustaro. Marco Brinzi will create the atmosphere of the Danish tragedy. Gabriele Micheli conducts the Chamber Orchestra of the Italian vocal academy. Bookings and information from the AML at +390583 / 469960.


The “Organ of Peace” festival at Sant’Anna di Camaiore, now in its eighth year, culminates in August with a series of concerts every Sunday at 6 pm with the following program: 3rd, world premiere of “Three Songs of the Camaiore Stones” for saxophone and organ, with Stefania Mettadelli and Isabella Stabio (see photo), 10th, organist Emanuele Cardi from Battipaglia performs. There will be a conference on the theme of justice before the concert at 4 pm in the Historical Museum of the Resistance. On the 17th, Italian organist Lorenzo Ghielmi gives a recital. On the 24th there’s a concert by Czech virtuoso Pavel Kohout. The season ends on 31st August with a concert by Friuli organist Lorenzo Marzona. Free admission.

download stazzema


Raphael Wallfisch, one of the most famous cellists in the world (see photo), will kick off the Boccherini Open Gold Master class with a very appealing program. With him will be Paolo Taballione for flute, Demetrio Camuzzi for viola and chamber music, Luciana D’Intino for singing, Herbert Handt for vocal chamber music and Pietro De Maria for the piano. The master class begins on September 5th and ends on October 1st.

Registrations close on Friday, August 22nd. All information is available at the institute’s website at


The Puccini Festival, which opened on July 25th with Madama Butterfly (produced by Renzo Giaccheri and conducted by Daniel Oren), will be repeated on 1, 8, 16 and 24 August. Micaela Carosi, Amaryllis Nizza and Silvana Froli alternate in the title role; Rame Lahaj is Pinkerton, Renata Lamanda is Suzuki and Giovanni Meoni is Sharpless.

La Bohème will be directed by one of the greatest Italian cinema directors, Ettore Scola. There will be four performances in August (2, 10, 15 and 22). Scenery by Luciano Ricceri; costumes by Cristina Da Rold. Valerio Galli conducts. This is the main cast: Daniela Dessi as Mimi (Silvana Froli for the last two performances), Fabio Armiliato is Rodolfo (Leonardo Caimi 15th to 22nd August), Alessandro Luongo sings Marcello, and Musetta is Alida Berti.

Il Trittico opens on Sunday the 3rd. Stage settings are by Monica Bernardi. In the four performances (3, 7, 21, 30 August) singers of the ”Advanced Festival Academy”, alongside Amarilli Nizza, will alternate in the three female roles. Alberto Mastromarino sings Michele and the great Rolando Panerai sings Gianni Schicchi. Conductor is Bruno Nicoli.

Turandot will be presented on 9, 14, 17, 23 and 29 August in Angelo Bertini’s new production with musical direction by Mark Balderi. Starring are Giovanna Casolla and Lise Lindstrom, Walter Fraccaro, Lorenzo De Caro, Serena Farnocchia. Orchestra and Chorus of the Puccini Festival. Chorus masters Stefano Visconti and Francesca Tosi with Sara Matteucci for the Children’s Choir.

On the 13th, Shigeaki Saegusa’s Junior Butterfly will be staged with libretto translated into Italian. On August 28th, there will be a Korean Grand Opera Gala featuring the best soloists from South Korean opera with the Orchestra and Chorus of the Puccini Festival and Chorus of the National Opera of Korea. Monday, 18th, the Gran Teatro will host Massimo Ranieri with Sogno e son Desto, while in the Gran Teatro the art exhibition, “Stories of the Sea” by Franco Sumberaz, continues until August 14th, followed, on Friday 15th, by  “In the shadows” with paintings by Daniela Caciagli.


In August, the Corsanico Festival continues. It’s the thirty-third year for the international review of classical music in the Parish of St. Michael the Archangel. Saturday 2nd, a “Beethoven evening” with the String Chamber Orchestra of “Roma Classica” and the Fabrizio Datteri and Nadia Lencioni piano duo. Saturday 9th, the period instrumental and vocal group “Baschenis Ensemble” will present sacred and profane music from the early seventeenth century. Tuesday, 12th, American organist Gail Archer will perform works by Buxtehude, Bach, Mendelssohn and Liszt. Saturday 16th, “Serata Lirica” ​​with Silvana Froli (soprano), Nicola Mugnaini (tenor) and Laura Pasqualetti (piano), will perform arias by Verdi, Puccini, Mascagni and Leoncavallo. Friday 22nd, French organist Jean Guillou will play music by Scarlatti, Gesualdo, Bach, and improvisations on themes presented to him by the public. Tuesday 26th, an evening, entitled “Musical Exchange between Italy and the Netherlands”, by the Dutch duo of Cécile Prakken (flute) and Aart Berguerff (organ). Saturday 30th, Lithuanian violinist Lina Uinskyte and organist Marco Ruggeri perform Vitali’s Chaconne, Biber’s Passacaglia, the Bach Chaconne in D, and Corelli’s Variations on “La Follia”. Entry tickets: 2, 9, 16 December (€ 10); 12, 22, 26 and 30 August (€ 5). Info:


The nineteenth “Città di Camaiore” continues in August with organ concerts in the church of the Badia di Camaiore at 9.15 pm. (tickets € 5 each). On the 2nd, the German organist Axel Flierl performs works by Pachelbel, Liszt, Bach and Schumann, while on Thursday 7th; Spanish organist Arnau Reynes plays music by Ximénez, Brunette, Mendelssohn and Guilmant. Three further concerts follow. On Thursday 7th, well-known Belgian Pierre Thimus will present a varied program of works by Scheidemann, Correa de Arauxo, Boehm, Babou, Bach, Zipoli, Kellner and Buxtehude. On Tuesday, August 12th, there will be an organ recital by Pierre Thimus, while, on Monday 18th, Edward De Geest plays music by Muffat, Du Mage, Lübeck, Bach, Gigout, Bossi and Reger. On Monday, 25th August, Spanish organist Loreto Aramendi performs music by Bach, Correa de Arauxo, Larrañaga, Cabezon, Buxtehude, Frescobaldi, Corrette, Grigny and Alain. Finally, Burkhard Ascherl from Germany plays the last concert on August 28th, with a program of Buxtehude, Bach, Mozart, Bonnet, Faure and Widor. The event is made ​​possible thanks to the Municipality of Camaiore, the CRL and BML Bank Foundations and the “Marco Santucci” association.


Every Friday, at 9.30 pm, there will be a concert in Lucca’s Botanical Gardens sponsored by the city of Lucca in collaboration with associations and musical institutions of the region.

On the first of August there is an evening, “From Mama Africa Meeting”, with music from the International Festival of African expressive arts. “Operetta and the most beautiful songs of the past”, organized by Belle Epoque (see photo), will be held on Friday 8th, while “Poets of Latin America” – a journey through song and poem with the PAM trio will be held on the evening of Friday, August 8th. On the 22nd, “Very Young Performers” (with FLAM) with Giacomo Banella on double bass and pianist Gilberto Rossetti perform music by Schubert. Finally, on August 29th, there’s “Latin Jazz” with the Marco Cattani Quartet. The entrance to the Botanical Garden will be € 3 and includes, in addition to the opportunity to attend the concert, a guided tour of the beautiful gardens located in the heart of the city.

downloadlucca giardini


There are numerous events promoted in August by the “Alfredo Catalani” circle. Wednesday 6th at 9.15 pm, in the San Micheletto cloister, there will be a selection of Catalani’s opera La Wally in concert form, in a version for voice and piano. The performers are: Maria Simona Cianchi (Wally), Alessandra Rossi Trusendi (Walter), Fulvio Oberto (Hagenbach), Marzio Giossi), Pietro Mariani (piano) and Daniele Rubboli (narrator). On Thursday, August 7th at 11 am, in the Church of Santa Maria Nera, there will be a Mass sung in memory of Alfredo Catalani: the music of Handel, Mozart, Franck, Mascagni and Verdi will be performed by Maria Simona Cianchi and Fulvio Oberto accompanied on the organ by Pietro Mariani. Sunday 17th at 5.30 pm, at the Museo Del Castagno in Colognora of Pescaglia, the Museum room dedicated to Alfredo Catalani will be inaugurated. The day ends at 9.15 pm in Colognora’s Parish Church with a vocal concert: “La ci darem la mano.” Performers are Valentina Piovano (soprano), Gabriele Viviani (baritone), Laura Pasqualetti (piano) and Daniele Rubboli (narrator).

Finally, on Saturday 30th, at 6 pm, at Fabbriche di Vallico there’s a  concert “Opera in the green” starring mezzo-soprano Margherita Tani, baritone Andrea Borghini, and pianist Laura Pasqualetti. Presenter is Loredana Bruno. Free admission. Info and bookings call: 347 9951581.


On Sunday, August 3rd, at 6 pm, in the Parish Church of St. Michael the Archangel in Gombitelli, there will be a Mass to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of Emilio Maggini, celebrated by Don Rodolfo Rossi. During the church service the “Schola Cantorum” ensemble from Marina di Pietrasanta, directed by Stefania Gori (organist Mario Castellari, will sing pieces by Maggini.

download (1) maggini



San Graziano Trains a Wolf to do the Donkey Work

San Graziano is a delightful chapel on the forest route between Tempagnano and Loppeglia. It’s on a road which has a few untarred bits but which, in dry weather, is easily doable by standard vehicles.

The story about why the chapel was built here is as follows:

The hermit San Graziano decided to live in the woods to devote him fully to prayer and contemplation. One day an angel appeared and told him to build a church. Work started but one day the little donkey the saint had obtained as a helper, was eaten by a wolf. Luckily, San Graziano was able to finish building the chapel having now trained the wolf to do the job of the donkey! If anyone knows how to train a wolf to do the work of a donkey today a lot of local shepherds would be very happy!

The church became a hermitage and a place visited by those who dedicated themselves to meditation and the contemplative life. I wonder if there are any vacancies for hermits there today, however, as we found the place quite locked up.


We know San Graziano well and one year even sang there when the newly restored organ was inaugurated by Eliseo Sandretti, one of the best organists in the Lucchese.

The chapel is preceded by a long portico which must certainly be useful if one is walking there and the weather turns rainy.

We noticed, on our most recent visit last week that this portico was hung with little wooden plaques inscribed with some charming thoughts. Practise your Italian here:

The interior of the chapel is sweetly baroquified with several stucco angels but, in fact, covers an ancient Romanesque structure.

07142014 016

Nearby is a restaurant which I would class as one of the better ones in the whole area (see.

Altogether, San Graziano is a very enchanting area and on a road which avoids having to go down to the busy main provincial route if one wants to get from the interior of Val Pedogna to Val Freddana.


Sempre con Noi, Caro John

If there is a split personality in me (and who hasn’t at least the signs of one) then it is the pull between the Celtic North and the Mediterranean South. Yet the differences may be not as great as sometimes imagined. In our visits to Orkney and Shetland there have been days when the bluest of skies shone on a sea transformed into Hellenic splendour and today, those Apennine mountains are misted over with all the mystery of such mountains as Blaven and An Teallach and it’s raining so hard!.

The great painter John Bellany, who has entered the heavens of his ancestors just under a year ago, was one who convincingly united the two worlds fertilising each other with the most magical and visually stupendous results. The faces of hard-pressed Scottish fishermen’s’ wives merged with those of the peasant farmers’ consorts in the valley which Bellany adopted, not just as his second home but as his alternative and, in many ways, his healing place. Further to the vivid, almost fauvist, colour of his paintings there is a creation of a new symbolism which merges both fish and fowl, men and women, sea and land, thoughts and feelings, dreams and myths until a syncretic universality of expression arises and a human bond is created between Celt and Tusco-ligurian – both people of the mountain and the sea.

Born in 1942, in Port Seton, East Lothian (hence one of Barga’s twinnings)  John Bellany, (CBERA) studied at Edinburgh College of Art and then at the Royal College of Art in London.

I remember as a very young lad breathing the tangy smell of Port Seton on a family holiday with my dad’s new Ford Consul. It was a prosperous fishing town and the harbour was crowded with trawlers, fishermen speaking in (to me a strange language) and baskets and baskets of fresh fish. As a Londoner I’d never come across anything like it! John drew much inspiration from such coastal villages – boats and their owners come together in an almost totemic way.

Apart from the liver transplants which helped prolong his life somewhat, Bellany drew a second and more important transplant when he discovered Pascoli’s “Valle del bene e del buono” at the start of the new millennium. Again, he made connections between people and their work crafts. Colours, however, became more vivid, juxtapositions more symbolic, almost surrealistic and many new links were made – indeed the depiction of the famous procession of saint Cristopher, patron saint of Barga ( a totemic statue of almost Easter Island power) re-connects with such primeval processions in Scotland drawing much farther back than their supposedly Calvinistic leanings and revealing an ancient world of earth gods and goddesses which become transmuted into the faces of the people he painted.

07142014 038-001

It is true, too, that Bellany must have also seen Italy as a Scotland before the predestinarian gloom of the Knoxian reformation – an age when to be happy and expressive was not a sin and a time when conviviality was more colourfully depicted. It is the sad fate of such Celtic countries as Scotland and Wales that they were the ones to suffer most through fundamentalist religious belief which attempted so much to squeeze out the natural optimism of these true founders of modern European peoples.

It is only the greatest of artists who are capable of creating their own mythology which is immediately understandable to those whose hearts are opened to humanity in all its forms, from rawness of everyday life to sophistication of thought. It is also the greatest artists who are able to transform their physical suffering and mental angst into something transcendent which gives joy and hope to all who look upon their work.

There was poignancy in seeing pencil-written documents manifesting the bodily pain Bellany had to endure.

07142014 062

There was poignancy in those faces almost turned into primeval idols by their set expressions of resignation and hopelessness. There was comedy also in the screeching expression of some birds (I could almost hear the incessant whirrings of gannets on the cliffs of Noss or the candy-floss like flights of fulmars descending into the sea from their nesting places on the cliffs of St Kilda).

The celebrative evening – for John Bellany deserves celebration – not commemoration, such is the wonder of his work which has touched more emotions in more people, not only in Barga, but throughout the world started with the usual dignitaries speeches all well-expressed and all tinged with emotion. But the greatest statement of why we have all been so lucky to have had John living among us and being able to experience his work came from his wife, Helen, who expressed herself wonderfully in the clearest Italian possible. I was visibly moved.

07142014 034-001

John was essentially a man of nature and nature intervened this evening with the most spectacular and cataclysmic downpour Barga has heard and felt for some time. The heavens opened in Indian rain-god majesty. The skies cried and rain fell down the walls of the supposedly covered courtyard glistening the walls and turning the whole city of Barga into a hebridean-like outpost on a lonely island in the midst of the fury of Atlantic gales. How John would have loved this effect of two climates converging – I’m sure where he is now he must have heard and enjoyed everything!

07142014 041-001

With our trusty umbrellas we managed to leave the first part of the exhibition to make our way to the Ricci foundation where another selection of John’s work was on show. In future we will also visit the old folks’ home to which he donated several of his paintings in order to brighten up their lives, as he put it.

Without generosity an artist is nothing. Art isn’t measured in how much one gets paid for covering a square metre of canvas (as some baroque geniuses would have liked). It’s measured in the response of the artist to the amazing world about him or her, and the enfolding experiences. It’s measured in the reaction of those who have eyes to see and hearts to feel and the intelligence to understand what it is that has been transformed from the deepest sensitivity into live colour and form.

It’s said that old sea-dogs never die. Neither do great artists. John Bellany is with us and will always be with us and with all those who have the kindness of true humanity within themselves to see, appreciate and, ultimately, love life in all its multicoloured forms.


The Mongols Invade Barga

By the middle of the seventeenth century the noble aims of the Accademia de’ Bardi of Florence, which had set up the principles of opera based on their beliefs of how ancient Greek drama may have been declaimed, or rather, sung, had radically changed. Instead of an animated expressive recitative or semi-recitative from beginning to end (with a few concessions for dance or popular tunes as inserted, for example, in Monteverdi’s Orfeo) the rise of the da capo aria transformed opera into a showpiece of vocal dexterity and sumptuous display. Opera, in short, became a spectacle rather than a serious academic exercise

In England opera as an all-singing activity never really took off (apart from a few immortal examples, such as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas) and developed, instead, into a sort of semi-opera or masque where a set of divertissements provides the dramatic action, linked by speaking parts, usually enacted by the nobility themselves.

France developed its own regal pageantry with the operas of the French-adopted ex-Florentine Lully who, paradoxically, developed, as an Italian, a peculiarly French style which continued well into the eighteenth century under the aegis of Rameau, until condemned by Rousseau, who extolled Italian opera, especially that of Pergolesi, in the famous artistic battle called la querelle des bouffons. The outcome of this debate opened French opera out to more international influences.

Italy continued to develop mainstream operatic tradition lasting well into the twentieth century with the works of Lucca’s greatest son, Giacomo Puccini. It was Handel who brought the Italian operatic tradition to England (together with rivals Bononcini et al) and gave the brits a taste of what they were really missing when listening to the successors of the Carolinian court masque.

We now enter the age of the great castrati – truly the greatest sacrificers for the sake of art, adored by the women (of course), admired by the men and appreciated by musicians (some really good composers were also castrati). This emasculating practice was only abolished in 1870 when Rome became part of the new kingdom of Italy.

The prodigious place to be in for operatic development was Naples, one of the richest and most opulent cities in the first half of the eighteenth century. It must have truly been bliss to be alive at that time! Alessandro Scarlatti was the genial pioneer and all the greats from Handel to Vivaldi (and even Bach) learnt much from him.

Important branches stemmed from the great Alessandro (not so much from his son, too original by half and secluded in a Spanish palace writing extraordinary sonatas for the Infanta Maria Magdalena Barbara). Among these were the Roman tradition which also spawned some of the best early oratorios – a necessity when opera could not be performed in the Lenten season.

The Neapolitan school, which possessed such seminal figures as Pergolesi, Durante, Leo, Provenzale and Vinci, has now truly been revaluated as the utter glory it is. Less so has the Florentine style been reappraised – a pity as, after all, it was that Florentine academy with Peri who, back in the late sixteenth century, formulated the first ground rules for opera.

It was, therefore, a great pleasure to attend a performance of Gasparini’s exotic opera Bajazet (dating from 1719) performed in the appropriately eighteenth century milieu of Barga’s own Teatro dei Differenti which has been staging early and not so early but still rare, operas since the Hunt family descended onto this city in the late 1960’s.

Gasparini, from Camaiore, was fully conversant with the late baroque style and this shows in the succession of contrasting arias which filled the best part of four hours in the evening. (We didn’t get home until after two!). I do not need to enter into the intricacies of the plot except to say that it provided similar material to Handel’s own Tamerlano which we’d heard in London some years previously. The plot, anyway, is meant to provide a structure for the different types of arias which became increasingly formalised at this period: the languishing lover’s aria, the imperious tones of the domination aria, the sub-plot vapidity of amorous servants and, best of all, the revenge aria which, in this case, ended two of the three acts with the most virtuosistic vocal flourishes.

What I also enjoyed about Gasparini’s evident dramatic and musical sense was his use of varied musical accompaniments. One aria was accompanied by pizzicato strings with a duet of delightful recorders and there was a magnificent da capo set piece with a pair of gloriously rasping horns (what did those horn players do for the other three hours they were there, I wonder?). There was also an extraordinarily dextrous baroque cello obbligato aria, which combination I’d never heard of before (usually it’s the violin or oboe, at least in Handel, which often provides a virtuoso duet with the singer).

There was even a trio, which is quite a rare occurrence for high baroque operas where each singer demands their own aria and where all come together only in the final chorus

Despite Bajazet’s poisoning everything ends happily ever after: the lovers get the darlings they want and the fierce Mongol chief is praised for his unexpected but generous clemency.

Of course, the greatest praise must go to the singers themselves, It’s incredible to think that only twenty years ago in Italy castrati were rare animals. Of course, today operations are no longer de rigeur but correct voice training is, and to have so many fine castrati singing the leading parts, and to compare and contrast their very different timbres, was fascinating. The female singers were also of top-drawer quality. Indeed, it was said the stellar cast had been selected out of over six hundred auditions.

This was the cast:

Bajazet – Leonardo de Lisi

Tamerlano – Filippo Mineccia

Andronico – Antonio Giovannini

Asteria – Giuseppina Bridelli

Irene – Ewa Gubanska

Clearco – Benedetta Mazzuccato

Leone – Raffaele Pe

Zaida – Giorgia Cinciripi

Without such quality of singers that night, Gasparini would not have scored so much success – that’s clear. But his music is of remarkably high quality – so much so that such greats as Handel and Vivaldi possessed his scores and took several ideas from him.

Direction was by Paola Rota who managed to successfully combine a somewhat minimalist stage set with attractive eighteenth-centurish costumes and a subtle use of giant picture frames.


A few facts about Francesco Gasparini: born in nearby Camaiore in 1668 he died in Rome in 1728. He met, knew and learnt from some of the greatest of his contemporaries including Corelli, Lotti, Alessandro Scarlatti and Legrenzi. He was also regarded as a good teacher. Among Francesco’s  students were Domenico Scarlatti, Quantz and Benedetto Marcello! Gasparini also wrote a very useful treatise on the use of the basso continuo which has helped to this day to develop correct authentic performance practises.

As far as Brits are concerned, Gasparini received the seal of approval from eighteenth century musicologist and music traveller Charles Burney who considered his cantatas particularly worthy of attention.

Incidentally, no overture survives from Bajazet but one was still played. I later found out talking to the doyen of Lucca musical greats, Herbert Handt, present that evening, that he had personally arranged it from another of Gasparini’s overtures, that to Amleto. (Could that possibly have been the first opera on a Shakespearian subject in Italian?)

If you missed Bajazet do not worry. Gasparini wrote another sixty-one operas and I am sure that, given the quality and presentation of music at the Teatro dei differenti, there will surely be another of his works staged in the near future.

In the meanwhile a friend, also present that memorable evening, and particularly knowledgeable about such matters, remarked to me that it is high time that the operas of another Tuscan composer, Giuseppe Maria Orlandini, should be dusted down from the archival shelves and put back on the stage, From the few excerpts that I have heard, I am convinced my friend is perfectly correct in what he is saying.  The musical past is truly another country and there are still so many fine things in it to rediscover!

PS Bajazet is being recorded by that great band of local musicians the Auser Musici conducted by the performance’s conductor Carlo Ipata.

(A snippet from that aria with those wonderfully rasping baroque horns)


Lucca’s Baroque Flower Blossoms Anew

A hidden flower has re-opened its petals in the walled city of Lucca after over fifty years of neglect. It has neither perfume nor leaves. It is not seasonal and is already several hundred years old;  yet it has blossomed as fresh as ever and one enters into its stamen as enchanted as entering into a perennial paradise.

What is this flower? Where is this flower?

It is none other than the church of Santa Caterina di Siena– Saint Catherine, one of the doctors of the Church, who has given her name to Lucca’s  highest and most original achievements of baroque religious buildings: a place worthy of the best architecture of Rome practised by such exponents as Borromini and even Bernini.

Like them (and interestingly like Sir Christopher Wren in London) the architect Francesco Pini was faced with an awkwardly shaped site and used his ingenuity to the full to exploit that awkwardness. Using the oval as the main geometric theme (c.f. Rome’s San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane) Pini creates a masterwork which is not only one of Lucca’s very few totally originally planned baroque churches (so many of Lucca’s so-called baroque interior are adaptions of pre.-existing structures dating back even to the Romanesque period) but a joy to behold, a pleasure to savour and an atmosphere to lift even the most leaden heart to true ecstasy and joy.

Santa Caterina, built between 1738 and 1748 and, therefore, a late baroque quasi-rococo structure, is also known as the tobacco-girls’ church as it’s placed just across the road from the old tobacco factory. Who knows how many prayers were dedicated to the saint for propitiousness in sweethearts’ attachments or just work promotion, how many secretive amorous assignations or sudden darts of eye-catching love took place under the gaze of Saint Catherine of Siena, that saint most prone to extasies and adoration so well exemplified in her writings, especially in her Dialogue of Divine Providence?

The designs for the sumptuous decoration of the interior which elevate the gorgeous church to a giant reliquary are probably by another Luccan, Silvestro Giannotti.

The two wonderful statues of charity and purity are possibly by Giovanni Lazzoni and Giovanni Antonio Cybei.

The high altar was once decorated with a large oval canvas of The Ecstasy of Saint Catherine by that doyen painter of the English nobility, Pompeo Batoni, which is now in the Museum of Palazzo Mansi. I do hope it can be returned to its original location.

The wall paintings and the fantastic illusionistic decoration of the dome are by Bartolomeo de Santi.

That dome is a quite extraordinary achievement. We had to do a steep climb to realise that the church’s dome is contained within a further structure with massive timber beams and that the dome has an oval opening above which at a height of around two metres is an angelic painting hovering over it. The restoration has strengthened this structure with steel chords similar to the great chain which surrounds London’s St Paul’s cathedral’s dome.

The ethereal light glistening on this apotheosis comes from windows, formerly opened to the elements but now glassed in.

We were so privileged to see this true diamond of a church in Lucca opened up for the very first time after years of restoration on its first day.

Of course, we had been to the huge church of San Francesco when it was opened last year (See my post at

But if san Francesco is a like a great symphony – perhaps a symphony fantastique – then Santa Caterina is exquisite chamber music – a Mozart quartet at the very least.

How lucky we are to be living near a city that is finally rediscovering, revaluating and restoring buildings that are the equal of anything that Florence or even Rome can produce.

My heart leaps with joy that such wonderful things as the jewel-like church of Santa Caterina can still inspire us today and elevate our spirits