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2002-07-10 Italy

If I was to live anywhere other than Ireland, it might just be Italy. The question is, which part? I was engaged to sing the Narrator in LEnfance du Christ (Berlioz) alongside the Italian Diva Katia Ricciarelli in the role of the Virgin Mary.

 

She was famous for having sung Desdemona to Domingos Othello in the film version of the Verdi opera. My employers knew I was Irish and thought I would feel at home in the Irish College. It was quite surreal for me having my Weetabix amid dozens of trainee clerics, but we all got on famously.

Italians are famous for their disorganisation, so after a typically chaotic rehearsal and lots of hilarious hysteria from the Diva herself (you gotta laugh) I managed to get 15 minutes rehearsal at the end of the night. I didnt even get to rehearse all my music before the performance, but thats the Italians for you!

On my day off I was hungry for the sights of Rome. First stop  the Coliseum. I walked into this vast arena and my mind immediately began to set the scene that might have been  gladiators, lions, huge cheering crowds and bodies strewn everywhere. But I had a lot to see, so I hopped into a taxi and off to the Vatican.(Its true what they say about the Roman drivers  I truly thought I was going to die). There is too much to see in the Vatican, and if its relics youre into, this is the place for you. What struck me most on my visit was the enormous nest-egg the Church is sitting on, and so I felt a little guilty being blown away by its awesome splendour, and thats before you even get to the Sistine Chapel. There, I just sat in silence looking up for quite some time. And there are so many copies of the Pieta, but when you see the real thing, its special.

Back I went across St. Peters Square, giggling at the funny Swiss guards costumes, and circled my way round by the romantic Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon  every corner turned revealing another piece of history.

The performance took place in Santa Maria in Aracoeli which is the church near Capitol Hill with the hundreds of steps leading up to the door, hence the name altar of heaven. Like any performance shared with an unpredictable Diva whose voice is sadly no longer what it used to be, it was a performance never to be forgotten, not least for the awe-inspiring setting.

On the Sunday (last before Christmas) I went down to St. Peters Square to see the Pope appear at the window for the Mass. His voice even then sounded so feeble and that was four years ago. Surely the poor man has earned his retirement?

My second performance with La Ricciarelli was at the stunning Basilica Santa Croce in Florence. My main memory of that is how freezing Tuscan winters are!

The following summer I returned to Florence and Tuscany to see it at its best. I would have needed days to see the Uffizzi galleries properly as it is simply masterpiece after masterpiece. I revisited the Basilica where I had performed just a few months before , and then climbed to the top of the Duomo (main cathedral). It was a case of Will the real Michelangelos David please stand up- he was everywhere. Other highlights were the Boboli gardens, the spectacular and famous views over the city, and of course the picturesque Ponte Vecchio made famous by Puccini and A Room with a view.

Having artist friends who live in the heart of Tuscany in a little village called Gaiole in Chianti, I had the perfect base from which to explore the regions delights. Tuscany is a whole other column  from the hilltop villages of Chianti (each one a treasure) to the beautiful and unique city of Siena, the quaint San Giminiano, fields of sunflowers, sun, wine, good food and tranquility if you so desire.

And what of the Italian lakes? Again this is another column but the picture-book islands on Lake Maggiore and the villages of Bellagio and Varenna on Lake Como stand out in the memory. Yes, that La Traviata on the shores of Lake Como was a bit of a dream gig!

And what of Lake Garda, and Sorrento, the Bay of Naples and the Isle of Capri? I will just have to have more than one casa!