Campo Tizzoro does not immediately ring a bell as one of Italy’s historic towns. Situated between the passo dell’Oppio and the passo delle Piastre on that alternative and very scenic route from Bagni di Lucca to Pistoia it does not claim much attention at first sight. Yet it’s significant for three main reasons.
First, the battle of Pistoia was fought here in 62 BC between the conspirator Catiline, who tried to overthrow the Roman republic and its senate, but was soundly defeated by Macedonian legions under the command of Gaius Antonia Ibrida, as the historian Sallust describes.
Second, Campo Tizzoro became a major metal industry centre when the Società Metallurgica Italiana was founded here in 1910. The centre started manufacturing munitions (rather like Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal.) In fact, the armaments factory still stands although now converted into a small business enterprise centre. The large concrete bullet-like guard posts still stand to remind one that this was once a thriving manufacturing centre.
Campo Tizzoro was fundamental to the Italian war effort and the allies knew it. This is why the place boasts (if that is the correct verb) some of the largest air-raid shelters and bunkers in Europe. A state secret until 2000, these immense underground chambers are now under the care of a local historical association and can be visited upon appointment.
Third, Campo Tizzoro was the setting yesterday of an important rassegna corale, or choir festival, in which our own choir took part.
The festival took place in the parish church of Santa Barbara which is situated on a hill by Campo Tizzoro. The church was built by the architects Marchetti and Lavini during the nineteen-twenties in a Pistoian neo-Romanesque style. The exterior, with its zebra marble stripes is rather more impressive than the interior which we found has terrible acoustics and is rather bare.
This was the programme of the first choir: Campo Tizzoro’s own parish choir.
The arrangements were by the choir master and were suitably novel. These included two original compositions by Maestro Gilberto Valgiusti: a hymn to the church’s dedicatee Saint Barbara and a ‘Salve Regina’. Further pieces included an arrangement of the ‘Exodus’ film theme with words added. Unfortunately, those ghastly acoustics did not do the pieces and singers adequate justice in my opinion.
The second choir, the gruppo Canova from Florence, entertained us with pieces from a composition by their own Maestra Elisa Belli, ‘Tre giorni di Luna – Turandot.’ It’s a ballad opera based on Carlo Gozzi’s story of the ice princess, more famously set, of course, by the great Puccini himself. Elisa Belli has written other operas, including one based on Romeo and Juliet, which have been performed in Florence’s parks.
It was then our turn to round off the festival. This was our programme:
We’re not boasting but our performance received the highest praise with people in the audience standing up and shouting “Bravissimi”. Certainly, we managed to conquer the acoustics of the cavernous church and our choir master was, again, pleased with our results.
At the end of the concert all choir masters were presented with a commemorative tile plaque.
Here’s Andrea walking away with his:
We then proceeded to the best bit of the festival, the rinfresco or evening tuck-in.
For this we journeyed to Pracchia, which is now the nearest railway station (excluding the Aulla line of course) to Bagni di Lucca. Pracchia is on the old Pistoia – Bologna line which, until the opening of the Apennine tunnel in 1934, was the only way of connecting the cities of Florence and Bologna.
Indeed, the nearest railway station was once even closer to Bagni di Lucca than Pracchia for in the twenties a metre-gauge railway was built from Pracchia through Campo Tizzoro and San Marcello Pistoiese to Mammiano near the spectacular pedestrian suspension bridge (see my post on that at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/26/suspense/)
Regrettably, this metre gauge railway, which would today have been a real tourist attraction, was dismantled in 1965 for all the wrong reasons (road traffic, diminishing passenger numbers, slow speed etc.). Fortunately, large stretches of it are now being restored as a cycleway, rather as been done for similar closed railway lines in the UK.
The evening meal was superb. The choirs were seated at three incredibly long tables in a hall decorated with festive streamers. The meal consisted of antipasto followed by lasagne and rice with leeks. Roast beef, chips and salad then succeeded and the whole gargantuan repast was concluded with a spectacular fruit pie dessert.
Everything was washed down, obviously, with local wine which was surprisingly good for this mountain area.
There was a raffle and the first price went to one of our own tenors. (Inside the package is an automatic pasta making machine).
All choirs then joined together in an impromptu rendering of Verdi’s moving chorus from Nabucco, ‘Va Pensiero’. Surely this piece is the Italian equivalent of the UK’s ‘Jerusalem’ and, like that hymn, is the country’s unofficial anthem, so superior, in both cases to the official ones.
The Campo Tizzoro rassegna corale has been going strong since 2004. How can the parish afford to feed and entertain such multitudes of choirs? It’s all thanks to the sponsors who advertise in the programme and also provide food and raffle ticket prizes. Well done to them and the organizers! Long may the rassegna continue.
Have choir will travel and, what’s more, meet like-minded people, enjoy great hospitality and pass the time in the most delectable way. If you can sing why don’t you join your local choir?