30 June 2013

more on the arch

I have just read this (and here it is also in English for you).

Il primo arco trionfale definito nella sua completezza e peculiarità apparve nel 40-30 a.C. ad Aquino,

The first triumphal arch defined in its entirety and peculiarities appeared in 40-30 BC at Aquino (then Aquinium).

(The full article is here, and if necessary google translate will help you get the picture).

It constantly amazes me, this history I live in. This arch is not far from my much visited and loved Via Latina, (below) which I have been told is the first road in recorded history to be planned and built. Other roads - in Greece - developed from dirt tracks and are older, but this one was the first of the "all roads lead to Rome" that is known to have been designed and constructed from scratch.

It is also next to one of my most favourite churches (photos in the following blog post but also in the article linked to below).

Knowing that it was (apparently) the first triumphal arch makes it even more imperative that we save it from the neglect and abuse that industry has caused and is causing now.

It is a huge conceptual leap for me, that something like this can be taken for granted simply because there are so many ancient things around. But in these times, when Pompeii is crumbling, earthquakes are shaking Tuscany (over four thousand people are on the road today fleeing the beaches and houses) a hidden arch could simply be let fall, be looted and sold, who knows how! But as long as there are collectors without scruples paying money, things like this will leave Italy and their provenance will be lost.

Do you fancy the first ever triumphal arch in your garden? I'm not really joking; the wonderful carved sarcophagus from the adjacent church disappeared, (please make time to read the link, it is interesting) so what would protect this wonderful assemblage of stone? The Medici connection is also interesting...

It's a very serious question. How does one protect this heritage?

In the meantime, I had better get on with my painting for the cause! Who knows, we could be about to save some really important world history!

Today I am grateful for the little Italian I can speak. 

28 June 2013

and now for something completely different

I belong to a group hoping to save a Roman triumphal arch from further damage and neglect. It isn't in my town, but at nearby Aquino. In another town I am not afraid to stand up to be counted, interferring foreigner that I might be.

It is a place where I regularly take my visitors.

This Roman arch fell victim to waterways diverted to supply a mill, and then in "recent" years has become the close neighbour of a paper-making factory. Paper-making requires a lot of water, and so this lovely old arch, built in honour of one of Mark Anthony's victories, now stands astride a swift flowing waterway with little quiet pools around one side of the structure itself (photo below).

This diagram shows how much of the arch is below the present ground level and underwater. Only a third of it is visible now. 

I first saw the arch in 2004. At that point access to it was easy, there was no gate or at least if there was one it wasn't locked. In 2005 I managed to read most of a sign that indicated the likely history of the arch, and the design of what is now unseen, underground after all these years.

In more recent years the area became abandoned, the grass between the church and the arch left to grow, and the gate firmly padlocked. It was a rare occasion that I managed to get in to see it again.

Recently, however, things relating to the arch have come to the fore a little. Justifying my participation on the grounds that I probably bring more tourists to this little section of Via Latina and the wonderful church of San Maria della Libera than any locals do, I joined a group who are lobbying to have this arch restored as much as possible, certainly the area around it cleared and cleaned up, and hopefully, with a little political intervention, there might even be some conversation with the industry that has for some time controlled the fate of this arch.

It helps to be a foreigner occasionally, as it highlights that this is not just a group of locals with an axe to grind. I really do care about the church and its surrounds, and the neglect of the arch is something incredible to those of us with such a short period of history to protect.

Italy has so much to care for so it is not surprising that some things wont be saved, but it seems to me that there is no reason not to fight for this one. (And then hopefully I'll be experienced enough to stand up and fight to preserve a medieval structure MUCH closer to my home).

So, apart from being active on facebook, attending meetings, and allowing my photos to appear as part of the team, I have another contribution to make. I have been asked to paint a picture of the arch for the group. This will be a donation of course, but is something tangible that I can do. My Italian is not yet up to arguing with politicians and mayors in rapid volley...  understanding the exchange is as good as it gets when the subject is being debated in terms I haven't met before.

So, watch this space. The painting is beginning to form in my mind, so I will make a tentative start soon. In my usual fashion I will probably work on three at the same time, but no promises at this stage.

I'm looking forward to it. I have a few ideas already. I can even picture a cartoon... Romans in togas swimming along the stream. This came to mind when someone wrote on the facebook page: "Was there always water running under the arch?" and another replied "I don't think the Romans swam through it" or words to that effect. Mmmm... now what can I do with that?

Today I am grateful for people who respect their history. 

26 June 2013

The Juniper Passion in Rome

Call me a little crazy if you like, but... Wednesday was looking potentially busy (yes, I was toying with the idea of driving to Nemi after teaching and returning in the wee small hours) so, with an hour and a half to deal with the remains of the day, we made a snap decision, threw ourselves together (Ok, so I researched train times, packed a train snack and wrote out how to get to the venue rather than get myself "together") and headed to the station. Why? Because my friend and I both wanted to see The Juniper Passion again.

WOW! What a cast! 

At Cassino I was impressed. It was a special occasion. It was grand, spectacular, and had so much to take in. But to be up so close to the singers last night was "something else".  It's well known that I love tenors, (I fall for a new one each summer, in fact), so it is saying something to claim that I couldn't single out one performer over another. The sopranos were so pure, their words so clear, the harmonies haunting, and the melding of male and female voices was exceptional. Italian and New Zealand singers in perfect unison, creating magic; music really does transcend all barriers. 

What really hit home to me was how "in character" the singers were, despite having limited movement in their roles (the dancers carried the movement). It is a long time since I have been to live theatre or a full opera. I have become used to concert performances, where there is little carrying of the story from one singer to the next. Yes, the concert performers are expressive, but out of context the passion, the drama, the suspense and the immediacy of the emotions is missing, somehow.

Last night, however, watching the dancers and Julia Booth in particular, I was reminded of how much performers put into their work, emotionally, physically, more than talent and training. They really do become those characters for the time that they are on stage. (Julia Booth played Helen in the show and so was the character of my generation, the daughter of a veteran soldier). 

And the dancers... I was in the front row, with no orchestra pit between us. Three metres from the dancers, almost able to catch the flying beads of sweat as they performed on a balmy evening indoors under lights. Yes, I have a favourite dancer... for a segment. Then another becomes my favourite... then another... 

For the singers, having the orchestra behind them and the conductor on the screen would have been challenging. But to me this unusual configuration in the theatre with no orchestra pit was something noteworthy. Full marks for how the singers coped with what must have been a particularly demanding scenario. I found that having the orchestra in the dark behind the action removed the distraction of wanting to focus on the instruments as I heard them, and allowed me to focus more fully on the singers and the sound, rather than on the production of the music.  (I was level with the screen in the front row, not in the tiered seating, so it is in the edge of my photo. Most patrons wouldn't have noticed the screen).

Having read the booklet with the songs and the scenes prior to the performance, and being so close to the singers, allowed me to think more about the words, and how this opera fits into my particular passion of educating for a culture of peace. I'll probably write more about this on the Legato blog some time. Reflecting on it this morning I almost want to put my teaching hat on again; how rewarding it would be to tease out with a class all the metaphor, the messages, the musical and literary aspects of the production that offers us so much. 

And a bonus to the evening, simply because Kiwis can always spot another Kiwi; we have new ex-pat friends coming to stay next week to look around the Cassino region. Life is always interesting, don't ever let me complain of being too busy! 

So, tick another box. I now know where the Rome University theatre is, and it is such an easy walk from Termini station that I feel a few more trips to Roma coming on... 

Today I am grateful for spontaneous decision-making.

22 June 2013

photos from The Juniper Passion world premiere

The Juniper Passion - an expertly integrated performance

Occasionally I review books for publishers, but I don't review theatre or music. So this is not really a review, but simply my response written in a similar style to my book reviews. I offer my thoughts about The Juniper Passion, performed in the Teatro Romano, on the slopes of Monte Cassino, last night. The performance was the world premiere of this new and exciting modern opera.

The Juniper Passion
a dramatic opera in three acts.

Music by
John F Williams 
based on the libretto by
John G Davies

Cassino, Italy 21 June 2013

Tenor: Alessandro Luciano
Soprano: Stephanie Acraman
Soprano: Lilia Carpinelli
Soprano: Julia Booth
Bass-baritone: James Ioelu
Baritone: Joe Beckworth
Baritone: David Griffiths
Tenor: Amitai Pati.

The Juniper Passion Dance Company: Te Arahi Easton, Jared Hemopo, Eddie Elliott, Ben Temoku, Mather Moore, Grace Woollett, Rose Philpott, Sofia McIntyre.

Orchestra: Conservatorio "L. Refice", Frosinone, Italy under the direction of M° Marco Attura.

"To see ourselves in the light of what we share, rather than what we hold separate, is the purpose of this work" 
- John Davies (The Juniper Passion programme booklet, 2013*).

Balance and intergration are the words that come to mind when I think of this world premiere performance more than twelve hours after the event. Yet on some level that is far too meagre a description of the interweaving of the parts that make up this complex opera. Yes, the singing was superb, dramatic, and both potent and poignant.  I can't single out one singer over another, all were supreme. And yes, the dancers were skilled, agile, well rehearsed and slipped easily between staccato movements and twisting, turning, writhing moments of anguish as the story unfolded. But the music, bold, challenging and new, also pulled my attention from the stage at times as I enjoyed the mellow or the soft notes or the thunderous or the menacing aspects of the story as it was told by the orchestra.

Almost overlooked when there was much drama on the stage, but always there in the background, were the images projected onto the gently rippling screen as it moved in the evening breeze. These images subtly filled any gaps that the simple stage setting might have left. However, it was not until I read the programme today that I fully appreciated why certain images had been chosen.

I hadn't read the libretto by John Davies, although I had read all that I could find about The Juniper Passion before going to the historic performance. Intrigued by the description of both dance and opera combined with what one might call a "spectacular event" setting, friends who don't normally attend opera joined me and were delighted that they came. They particularly liked the dance. This observation was interesting for me, because they are not from NZ nor even Italy, and during the performance I wondered if other nations would relate to the wonderful, distinctly New Zealand dance performances. Particular parts of the dance were, on reflection, highlights for me.

The story was powerful, and perhaps at times even contentious. The final act was dramatic, and disturbingly memorable. It is hard to be comfortable with history some times.

Non Italian-speaking friends did lament that the folded programme issued with the ticket was only in Italian, but with the official programme booklet at only 2 euros (and the ticket price only 10 euros) it was not too much to expect patrons to buy the fuller programme in both languages to understand the new opera better and read about it in English.

This was a truly international production, of very high quality. For a kiwi in the audience there was much to be proud of, not only in that the author and composer are New Zealanders, but that our culture, as evidenced in the modern dance routines, shines through as being distinctly Kiwi no matter what the context.

The venue itself is wonderful. Cushions made sitting on the ample tiered seating of the Roman ruins comfortable enough, water was preferable to wine after a day when temperatures soared above 30°C, and the moon rising above Monte Trocchio (the former observation post of the Allied Forces) contributed to making this balmy evening of music, drama, opera and dance an evening to remember.

Now, if I can make it happen, I would like to go to Rome or Nemi to see it again and take in even more of the details that flooded my senses in the roman ruins on the slopes of Monte Cassino.

* To put this quoted text in context, please read it copied here (Legato blog).

Added 26/06/13 To read about the Rome experience, click here What a different yet wonderful evening it was!






exciting for me

Last night I was very proud to have my works at the opening of "The Juniper Passion". The paintings were there to "set the scene" for patrons as they arrived. As I placed them there late afternoon it was an almost surreal experience. How did yet another amazing opportunity come about? Never in my wildest dreams in New Zealand could I have imagined what my life here looks like now.

The height of the roman amphitheatre dwarfed what appeared to be reasonably big paintings when hung in the Biblioteca last year.

 A delightful student of Scottish and Italian heritage gave me a welcome hand on a hot afternoon!
The paintings in a Roman context. How small they seem now! 

I forgot to photograph them when I arrived for the opera, but at that point they were tinged with light from the setting sun and had a beauty that I hadn't seen in them before. When I did climb down the tiered seating to photograph them just before the opera began the wonderful roman wall was flooded with poppy red light, and it seemed to me that the paintings and the surroundings were communicating, poignantly reminding me of the blood shed on Monte Cassino.

Today I am also grateful for amazing opportunities. 

on being a kiwi in italy

or perhaps just random thoughts.

I have been reminded lately that my blogging has lapsed. I know. But I have been rather busy living life, too busy to write about it recently.

I had the privilege of being invited to the opening of the NZ exhibition at the Venice Biennale at the end of last month. My immediate reaction was "Wow! Exciting" (followed quickly by "What have I got to wear?") This was soon followed by "I can't afford a trip to Venice, or accommodation in peak times... perhaps I wont go". This became "It would have been easier if I hadn't been invited..." at which point I had a huge reality check.

Twenty years ago I would have been totally "blown away" by such an invitation. I'd have glowed with pride and bubbled with excitement for months, even if I couldn't make the trip. Now, with my life being one wonderful day after another, I was daring to wish I hadn't been invited because it was going to upset my careful budgeting? Surely not!

Yes, as my previous blog post shows, I bit the bullet, bought the train ticket, booked the room (in the palace) and went to Venice. It was lovely to be in Venice again, and to chat with fellow travellers on the waterbus. I enjoyed the artworks and marvelled at the wonderful position the NZ "pavillion" was in. But at the opening itself I didn't find fellow invited kiwis particularly friendly. They gathered in groups around the refreshment tables and, apart from the official hosts doing their job wonderfully well, the visiting kiwis whom I had hoped to share time with had claimed their territory and showed no interest in being at all hospitable or friendly towards wandering strangers.

Last night, however, was a totally different affair.

Last night was the world premiere of "The Juniper Passion" (see my other blog post). This truly was a night to be proud to be a Kiwi. With a capital K. There was friendship, cooperation, a wonderful spirit of inclusiveness, and to top it all off a magnificent performance of this amazing contemporary dramatic opera which is built on a part of the shared history between Italy and New Zealand.

I think The Juniper Passion deserves a post all of its own, with an informal review, perhaps. I'll get back to that again soon.

Well done and thank you, talented and generous people, last night you made me very proud to be a Kiwi in Italy.

Today I am grateful for passionate people. 

9 June 2013

the beautiful island of Burano

 This is the island of colourful houses and lace makers... beautiful linen and lace!

When I saw the leaning tower from the distance it was just interesting, rather than dramatic.

 But then the waterbus got closer... I'm not sure that I would want to live in Venice!

Even taking the roll of the boat into account, that was some lean! 

Today I am grateful for safe foundations.

8 June 2013

umbrellas in venezia

Even rain can't take the romance out of this city. 

But now it is almost midnight... time for fireworks in the lower part of the village. Buonanotte a tutti! 

where was i?

I think this is enough of a clue...

The weather was indifferent but the company was delightful, the exhibition interesting; it was not too cold and the intermittent rain was not really a problem. This home of the arts is always beautiful.

PS A young Italian friend said, on seeing the photo, "Kay that must be New Zealand water in those bottles, it is far too clean to be from Venezia!". (Artwork by Bill Culbert).

Today I am also grateful for music on the night air. 


Tonight has been magic. Is it rash to say that summer has finally arrived?

A lovely dinner outside under the trees. Fireflies are still with us as the temperatures have not yet been too hot. Bats dart about above, and below on the valley floor there is live music and dancing, the sound floating up at just the right volume.

Vino rosso... it has to be primitivo, of course :-) and a lovely light meal. Melon and prosciutto dolce, from San Daniele, and a fresh caprese with chopped basil from the planter and my own oil. Follow this with patties and turkey sausages served with gravy, mixed fresh vegetables, poached green peppers and finish with a coffee and chocolate.

Toe-tapping music continues, the house is quiet, my guest sleeps, and the dishes and I have kept cosy company while the sounds of the tarantella and other popular songs float up the hill, over the sleeping dogs and into the kitchen.

It will soon be time for the fireworks... a blog entry and a glass of wine should just about be right!

Life is good.

Today I am grateful for a lovely evening.

3 June 2013

another clue or two...

My companion found the accommodation... in a former palace!

The breakfast room in the 14th Century palace... cornetti and toast, cereal, freshly made yoghurt and strawberry jam, a choice of teas and caffè, delightful and friendly service... it was hard to leave this place to go out exploring...

and incredibly we had the keys to the palace! 

Dinner was so good that we forgot to photograph the beautifully braised salmon and the lightly seared tuna but I remembered to photograph the dolce... OK, so it was not so photogenic, but the flavour... sigh! And mine, with ricotta and strawberries, I could even pretend was a healthy option!
 Ricotta, honey and strawberries with mixed nuts and poppy seeds, and to follow (yes, we shared) was a perfectly delicious panna cotta.
Yummmmm.... need I say more? 

Today I am also grateful for belt-tightening and vegetables. 

spot me...

I'm in there, really I am... 

but which one is me, and which one is my flatmate?

And... where are we?

it's been a tad busy...

If you could see my May diary you would understand why there haven't been any interesting, long and pontificating, wonderfully-illustrated-with-photographic type posts. It's just been rather "full on". Apart from visitors overlapping, beds to make change and move about, there were three exhibitions to hang, children to be taught... you get the picture I am sure! The month ended with an unexpected trip... can you guess where I found myself for the last three days of May?

Anyway, Legato is almost over for another year, the commemorative ceremonies are over until September, school holidays are about to begin, and life is good!

Here is a clue to where I was....

Today I am grateful for safe travel.