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2.110325 - MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - ITALY: Assisi / Lucca / San Gimignano / Montalcino / Montepulciano (NTSC)
A Musical Visit to Italy
An Etruscan then a Roman town, Assisi was the home of the Roman poet Propertius in the first century BC. The medieval town, however, owes its fame and its cultural distinction to St Francis, the son of a rich citizen, whose conversion came in the early years of the thirteenth century when he embraced poverty and the religious life and established the religious order that bears his name. The road leads steeply up to the great Basilica of San Francesco, consecrated in 1253, with a campanile completed four years later. The town has other churches and public buildings, including the Temple of Minerva, now the church of Santa Maria, which survives from the period of the Emperor Augustus.
Music Verdi: La Forza del Destino – Overture
La Forza del Destino (The Force of Destiny) was first performed in St Petersburg in 1862, using a libretto based on a Spanish play. The complex plot concerns the love of Don Alvaro for Leonora, his accidental killing of her father and subsequent enmity with her brother, Don Carlo, who eventually has his revenge on his sister, as he dies, having discovered her in her hermitage and Don Alvaro in the monastery where he has taken refuge and religious vows. The Overture makes use of the ominous Fate theme, the first melody to be heard after the opening notes have summoned the attention of the audience.
Tuscany takes its name from the inhabitants of the ancient Etruria, the Etruscans, later conquered by the Romans. With the decline of the Roman Empire, the region became a Lombard duchy, with Lucca as its capital, until the rise to power of Florence in the fifteenth century. The area boasts fine agricultural land, with vineyards planted on its gently undulating hills, here seen with threatening clouds overhead.
Music Verdi: Rigoletto – Prelude
Rigoletto, based on Victor Hugo’s Le Roi s’amuse (The King Takes His Pleasure), first heard in Venice in 1851, deals with the fate of the court jester of the title, a hunchback who abets the Duke of Mantua in his amorous exploits. Rigoletto’s daughter is seduced and abducted by the Duke, and Rigoletto seeks revenge through a hired assassin, who kills, instead, the very daughter whose honour he had sought to avenge. The Prelude introduces the theme of the opera, the curse pronounced on Rigoletto by a father whose daughter the Duke has dishonoured.
Lucca: Orsetti Palace • Siena
An ancient settlement, Lucca became a Roman colony and in the early Middle Ages held a dominant position in Tuscany and from the later fourteenth century the city enjoyed a measure of independence, under the rule of its principal citizens. Napoleon, in 1805, handed the city and its surrounding territory to his sister, Elisa Baciocchi, Paganini’s patron, and in 1815 it became a duchy under Marie Louise de Bourbon. The buildings of Lucca include medieval houses, lining narrow streets, and palaces of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Orsetti Palace contains elegant public rooms of that period and important works of art. The ancient city of Siena reflects a similar history, with remarkable architecture that is a blend of the Gothic and the Italian.
Music Verdi: La Traviata – Prelude to Act I
La Traviata (The Fallen Woman), first staged in Venice in 1853, is based on the play La Dame aux camélias (The Lady of the Camelias) by Alexandre Dumas. The heroine, Violetta, a fashionable courtesan, falls in love with Alfredo but is persuaded by his father to leave him, returning to her former life. Alfredo, ignorant of his father’s intervention, vents his anger on her, but is reconciled with her as she lies dying of the consumption that had been evident even at the start of their relationship. The Prelude to Act I brings a melody of tender sadness that we are to hear again in the last act.
Lucca: Giglio Theatre
Lucca, like every town of any size, has its own theatre. The Teatro Communale del Giglio was founded in 1672. Over the years various changes took place, with a new façade, four tiers of boxes and a gallery at its reopening in 1819, after the Napoleonic era. In 1831 the first Italian performance of Rossini’s William Tell was staged here.
Music Verdi: La Traviata – Prelude to Act III
The third act of La Traviata is introduced by music that heralds the sad resignation with which Violetta approaches her imminent death, an echo of the first Prelude.
San Gimignano • Banfi Castle
The small hill town of San Gimignano is known for the towers of its palazzi, giving it a distinctive appearance from some distance away. The surrounding fields have vineyards that produce the well-known white wine, Vernaccia. Castello Banfi is one of the leading vinicultural establishments of the region.
Music Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani – Overture
I Vespri Siciliani (The Sicilian Vespers) was commissioned for the 1855 Universal Exhibition in Paris, with a French libretto dealing with the massacre of French troops by Sicilian patriots in 14th-century Palermo. The Overture sets the scene, with its ominous drum-beat leading to a lyrical theme from the duet between the patriot Arrigo and his father, Guy de Montfort, the French governor.
Montepulciano: Azienda Poggio alla Sala
Montepulciano, another hill town, overlooking parts of Tuscany and of Umbria, was the birthplace of the fifteenth-century writer Politian and of Cardinal Roberto Bellarmine. The nearby farm offers a picture of rural tranquillity, in a countryside know for its wine, as for its historical association with the ancient Etruscans. Not far to the east lies Lake Trasimene, which has its own history.
Music Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani – Ballet: Spring
The Paris Opéra demanded a ballet, often omitted from modern operatic performances. The Ballet of the Seasons is given in the third act of the opera, a celebration of the wedding of the patriotic Duchess Elena to Arrigo. The concert arrangement starts with a celebration of Spring, whose spirit puts to flight the cold of winter.
Montalcino • Montepulciano: Contucci Vineyard
The small walled town of Montalcino is well-known, like other parts of the region, for its wine. It had historic importance as a bastion of Sienese independence. The district near Montepulciano is also well-known for its wines. The town has given its name to a distinguished black grape, but the famous Vino Nobile of Montepulciano is made from a blend of grapes. The Contucci Vineyard displays its varied wares in a farm-shop.
Music Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani – Ballet: Summer and Autumn
Summer and her companions emerge from the ice-bound basket that had concealed the dancers. They gather ears of corn, to the sound of a rustic Siciliano and bagpipe drone, but decide to bathe, so hot is the season. They are chased away in fright by a faun. Autumn, a season of fruitfulness, brings vine leaves and a celebration of Bacchus.
Lake Trasimene and Lake Bracciano
It was at Lake Trasimene that the Carthaginian general Hannibal inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman legions in 217 BC. The lake itself, gradually becoming shallower over the years, has a circumference of nearly thirty miles. The circular mountain-lake Lake Bracciano lies south of Viterbo, on the way to Rome.
Music Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani – Ballet: Winter
The ballet suite ends with Winter, the movement that started the original ballet, as Janus emerged to unlock the gates to the year and release a girl wrapped in furs, in the guise of Winter.
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra cond. Ondrej Lenárd [Naxos 8.550091]
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