Idomeneo in Mud and Blood

When the elector of Munich requested a festival opera in 1781 Mozart put everything he had learnt into his first mature opera seria, Idomeneo, which tells the archetypal story of a king who, surviving a sea storm, has to sacrifice the first person he meets on land, which turns out to be his own son! The convolutions of the plot, with the appearance of the impetuous love rival Electra, leads Mozart to write some of his sublimest music to-date with choruses that look as far ahead as Die Zauberflote, a voice from the deep that harkens to Don Giovanni’s Commendatore, a quartet of conflicting emotions (a piece Mozart rightly considered the best item in the opera) which is a blueprint for so much of the interaction of ‘Figaro’ and a march which equally points ahead . For me the most melting items are Ilia’s arias which evoke a poignant humanity which reaches its peak in Mozart’s miraculous music.

The cast at Pistoia’s charming and accoustically superb nineteenth century Teatro Manzoni was well up to this magnificent work and provided an excellent and unusual start to this year’s Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival’s seventieth anniversary

Why Pistoia and not Florence? Because Pistoia is this year’s Italian city of culture, a town worth every effort to visit its outstanding sights, especially its mediaeval pulpits so full of wonderful carvings and its fine cathedral square.

I wish I could have as good a word to say for the setting which reminded me a bit of the Thames estuary at low tide and remained much the same for all three acts. Idomeneo concludes with a treble tour de force: an electrifying revenge aria by the spurned Electra, a triumphal chorus and Mozart’s longest instrumental movement: the fabulous ballet which in the eighteenth century would have involved elaborate costumes and effects. Here, instead, there was a sober processional gathering of candles round the departed Idomeneo who has relinquished his Cretan kingdom to his son Idamante who now celebrates his wedding with Ilia.

The audience gave loud applause for the singers, especially Idamante and Ilia, and equally vociferous boos to the stage designer who, nonplussed,  joined the cast in the final curtain call.

Let us bless small mercies; Idomeneo is too rarely staged and the cherry on its cake has to be the singing and orchestra which were quite superb at the Teatro Manzoni.

A Sweet Start to Pistoia as City of Culture 2017

Pistoia has been elected Italy’s City of Culture for 2017. We dropped into this neglected Italian beauty of a city on our way back from Florence as we’d heard there was a chocolate festival on.

The festival itself turned out to be a slight affair but at least it provided a break in our journey. The amazing things Italians do with their hand-crafted chocolates!

We’ll certainly be spending more time in Pistoia this year and will also try not to miss its famous blues festival. There’s more information about visiting Pistoia at:


A Campari Soda Fountain

In the nineteen thirties Campari, the aperitif firm that produces that heavenly crimson nectar which goes down a treat with ice, soda and a slice of lemon, had the bright idea of building twelve fountains around Italy with the dual purpose of publicising its products and also of providing much needed drinking water. (Presumably one can’t always survive just drinking Campari…)

There are still a few of these fountains left and our photos show the one we passed a few days ago when we went over the Piastre pass which leads down to Pistoia if one is taking the route from the Controneria through San Marcello Pistoiese.

Although somewhat weathered, the Piastre fountain is a supreme example of Italian thirties monumental architecture with its topical allusions to ancient Roman motives (and Mussolini’s idea of a second Roman empire). The sculptor was Giuseppe Gronchi (1882 – 1944) who also had a big hand in the decoration of that colossal wonder, Milan central station.

Attached to the fountain is a rather indecipherable plaque, with English translation.

I wonder if you too have come across these Campari fountains in other parts of Italy. I’d be interested in knowing where.

The Campari drink is now over one and fifty hundred years old since it was invented in 1860  by Gaspare Campari (1828–1882) from Novara. May he be deified for devising such an amazing drink!


The Campari soda bottle, which is still used to this day, is worthy of note too as it was invented by one of Italy’s greatest futurist artists and writers, Fortunato Depero (1892 –1960).

Depero also created some great publicity posters for this liquid of the gods which were way ahead in their designs.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there was a Campari fountain festival when the fountains decided to pour out pure Campari? But then I’m wandering into the realms of fantasy, as Captain Mainwaring of ’Dad’s army’ would tell lance-corporal Jones…


PS There is a bar near the fountain which does serve Campari if you’re desperate.