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03 February 2017

As the 2017 Verdi program is finalised, we found some diary notes from Tour Director John Bryden whilst on tour last October, enjoying a spectacular Verdi Festival

11 October 2016

I was intrigued to be refused entrance to the main door of the Farnese Theatre for the first time, as, for the performance of Verdi's 'Giovanna D'Arco', the vast arena had been turned back to front!

The near-capacity audience was sitting raked-up on the stage: the main ground area, slightly off-centre, housed a raised circular stage which revolved if required!

The orchestra was seated stage-left but what was gripping from a visual point of view was the brilliant use not only of the wooden galleried rows for flag-bearing, choral processions and for fast growing computer-generated trees and the like but also the many arcades at all levels: appearing here from time to time many images of the Virgin Mary, recognizable, it seemed, from the very local art collections, but also images of refugee children and their mothers. This idea, present throughout a very thought-provoking production, seemed in tune with Giovanna's calling to rescue-work!

Effective too was Carlo's blood-stained crown hovering high up over the arena stage: exemplary use of computer-imaging in an opera production!


Bravissimo, Parma!


13 Oct 2016

21st century ears return to the 18th century!

Santa Sepulchro may sound a little gloomy but the sweetness of the organ in this church in Parma's Via del Reppublica swept away any such preconception!

The gentle voice of Cathedral organist Simone Campanini introduced us to too cheery a style of music for the Elevation of the Host during the Mass – at least that was what one Pope felt when he banned it! Another almost operatic piece of music was next: the Agnus Dei from Verdi's Requiem in an arrangement by Liszt.

Over the road we re-assembled in Santa Christina, whose recent late-lamented and inspired priest had also found less than favour with the 'powers that be'. In Lent the organ pipes of this instrument, built in 1764 by Bernard Porchini, were covered by a blind depicting a theatre stage curtain. Following a sharp whirring sound the stylish metal pipes were revealed and produced music by Frescobaldi, Rossi and a dashing Scherzo of Zipoli!

Simone's charming wife Giovanna (newly-appointed Professor of Organ at Pavia Conservatorium) explained the 'shocking' harmonies we had been experiencing in the opening voluntary on this one-manual instrument, 'high and lifted up' in the West Gallery with perilous ladder for access!

On to the Benedictine Monastery of San Giovanni, boasting a three-manual organ restored in 2013. Duets and solos were played by both organists – allowing us to hear Italy's most beautiful Clarinet stop before John Bryden (Tour Director) let rip with Widor's Toccata!

Our Grand Finale took place in the Cathedral! Simone improvised upon this 1787 two manual Serassi organ with a tiny pedal board for a generous half-hour beyond his appointed time. Sweet and sonorous sounds swept across the spacious areas under the Correggios! What a morning!