|Amici in Italia - Another Successful Tour|
Metauro Valley, Marche: 27th - 31st July 2011
On the back of two excellent concerts in Llanelian and our first appearance at the Conwy Classical Music Festival, we set off on our third tour of Italy. Awaiting us was a packed schedule of concerts, some amazing venues and fabulous people. Each of our three programmes were different and showcased the choir's versatility and range. It also illustrated just how much material we could learn. Included in the tour was a concert which formed part of the Musica&Musica 2011 festival.
On our arrival at Rimini - surprisingly fresh considering the 3am start - we were extremely happy to be greeted by co-choir member, Fausto Galli and the familiar face of Prince, the same coach driver from three years previously who took us through the dramatic Marche countryside of mid-eastern Italy on the way to Mercatello sul Metauro, a beautiful Medieval town set on the Metauro river and our base for the tour.
With the exception of five Amici members who stayed in Mercatello sul Metauro itself, we were all deposited at the Country House of Le Querce del Metauro, a charming accommodation complex made up of several apartments in gorgeous grounds, including a generously sized swimming pool, and overlooking stunning views of the Metuaro valley. Waiting to greet us at Le Querce were Laura Guerra from tour organisers, Aria Italiana, and Guerrino Parri, artistic director of Musica&Musica; who introduced us to our host, Luigi, and made us feel extremely welcome.
As we sat down for lunch in the main dining room, the rain started and continued for rest of the day. However, we didn't let this deter us and we made use of our free evening by taking advantage of the free transport into Mercatello for some exploring and a very tasty and reasonably priced evening meal.
Sant'Angelo in Vado: 28th July 2011
Our first full day in Italy started slightly improved from the previous day's rain but we didn't have time to allow the unseasonal weather to dampen our spirits as we were ferried the short distance into Sant'Angelo in Vado - hometown of Amici tenor, Fausto Galli - for an official champagne reception with the town's mayor, Sig. Settimio Bravi, at the Palazzo Fagnani. For us this was an opportunity to cement old acquaintances as we were, once again, honoured to be welcomed so graciously into the town by its dignitaries and delighted to hear so many kind words spoken about our director, Nigel Shaw. Gifts were exchanged before we indulged in the mayoral hospitality!
We were then treated to an escorted tour of the excavations of the Roman Domus of Tifernum Metaurense with its beautiful and surprisingly well-preserved mosaic floors before being taken back to Le Querce for a delicious lunch.
The afternoon afforded us an opportunity for some much needed rest and relaxation although many of us utilised part of the time to run through solos and duets at the Shaw/Hibbs apartment in readiness for that evening's concert as this would feature some of our talented choir members as soloists.
Our first concert of the tour was a collection of opera choruses, solos and duets to celebrate 150 years of Italian unification and had been billed to take place outdoors in Sant'Angelo's Piazza Pio XII. However, the inclement weather led to the decision to alter the venue and to hold the concert at the Teatro Zuccari where we had performed in 2008. It's a beautiful venue so this presented no problems for us and we were all glad of a second opportunity to perform at this delightful theatre.
We started with a full chorus performance of the rousing Fratelli d'Italia, better known as the Italian National Anthem, before moving on to pieces by Verdi whose name became synonymous with the Italian unification, indeed, his name was used as an acronym in its cause. Our soloists for this were Shân Oliver and, singing in front of his compatriots, Fausto Galli. We then moved to the Italian output of Mozart and one of the other greats of Italian opera, Rossini; with solos and duets beautifully performed by Janeen Shaw and Nigel Shaw, Kathryn Nash, and Shân Oliver and Barry Kiehn. Going slightly further afield, Janeen Shaw and Meinir Lloyd Jones presented a wonderful perfomance of the Flower Duet by Delibes which provided the perfect introduction for Miroirs a tremendous and tremendously challenging piece by French composer, Ravel, stunningly played by 19-year-old William Shaw. William then accompanied his younger brother, 14-year-old David, in his breath-taking performance of the first movement of Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole.
The choir then returned to the stage to perform the famous Anvil Chorus from Verdi's Il Trovatore complete with real anvil, enthusiastically "played" by David Shaw, which was immediately followed by Kathryn Nash giving a wonderful performance of Azucena's aria which also follows the Anvil Chorus in the opera. Meinir Lloyd Jones then treated the audience to a virtuosic performance of the collaratura aria from The Barber of Seville before Paul Levy and Carmen Chapronière gave a moving and emotional rendition of the love duet from the great verisma opera I Pagliacci by Leoncavallo. Next in the packed programme was a performance by Shân Oliver of the famous aria from Gianni Schicchi by that other great icon of Italian opera, Puccini, before Nigel and Janeen Shaw returned to give an amazing performance of the duet from Donizetti's Don Pasquale; a piece brimming with difficulty yet full of humour and authentic characterisation.
The concert was excellently received with extended applause and each member of the choir was given a gift as a memento of a very special occasion. So it was in excellent spirits that we returned to Le Querce for some late night socialising courtesy of host, Luigi, and with much anticipation for the days to come.
Sant'Angelo in Vado Concert Programme
Mercatello sul Metauro: 29th July 2011
Following the successes of the previous evening, it was a buoyant Amici del Canto that set off for Mercatello on that Friday morning, eagerly awaiting that day's events. It seemed that our high spirits also influenced the weather which was, contrary to the forecasts, perpetually glorious for the rest of our stay. We were met in the Piazza Garibaldi by Laura who gave us an escorted tour of the town, taking in the beautiful Metauro river, the convent of Santa Veronica Giuliani, patron saint of the town, as well as the Museum of San Francesco with its collection of Medieval and Renaissance art which occupies the same 13th century building as the Chiesa di San Francesco in which we were to sing later that day.
We were then ushered into the Palazzo Municipale for our second official reception of the tour, this time with the mayor of Mercatello, Sig. Giovanni Pistola, where we also joined by Guerrino. It was another opportunity for an exchange of gifts and to enjoy the hospitality of the town's mayor. Again, we were accorded an exceptionally generous welcome which was a real privilege and honour for all of us and quite overwhelming. Indeed, we were all impressed by the warmth of the remarkable welcome we received wherever we went.
After a full morning, it was time to return to Le Querce for yet another delicious lunch cooked by Luigi's talented mother before an afternoon of recreation by the pool and to soak up some wonderful Italian sun. Considering how packed the rest of the tour was, these afternoons of relaxation were a much needed chance to recharge batteries in time for the exertions of the concerts which always ran late into the night.
At six o'clock it was time to return to Mercatello for the rehearsal of the concert in the beautiful and historic setting of the Chiesa di San Francesco; a remarkable church which marks the transition from the Romanesque to the Gothic style of architecture and is decorated with artwork and frescoes from the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries.
This concert was to be our contribution to the Musica&Musica 2011 concert season and, as such, it was a very important one. For this, we presented a programme of secular pieces that was billed locally as follows:
"400 anni di musica inglese: madrigali e canzoni alla corte di due regine chiamate Elisabetta."
It was a great opportunity for us to showcase some fabulous British music and give a flavour of its development over such a long period of time. In fact, some of the music we presented preceded Elizabeth I and was written and sung during the reign of her father, Henry VIII.
Having once more performed the Italian National Anthem, we started with the madrigal Sing We And Chaunt It, a rousing 5-part piece by the great English madrigalist, Morley, before our selection of early Tudor music with its unusual rhythms and harmonies and its unique demands on the singer. Much of this music would have been a novelty for our Italian audience but the programme was carefully selected by our musical director to illustrate the wealth of musical ideas around at that time. Some pieces were tender and reflective, such as Where Be Ye My Love and Dulcis Amica; some were intricate and multi-layered, such as Adieu Mes Amours and the canon Pray We To God; some raw and lively, such as Madame D'Amours and England Be Glad; and some just unashamed fun, such as And I Were A Maiden and Blow Thy Horn Hunter.
We then moved on to some later Tudor works with a wonderful selection of madrigals, a genre which would have been more familiar to the audience since it originated in Italy. First of these was the sublime Now Is The Gentle Season, also by Morley, which has to be one of the best of its kind, followed by two tender and heartfelt pieces, Adieu Sweet Amarillis and Weep O Mine Eyes by Wilbye and Bennett respectively. We then returned to the great Morley for April Is In My Mistress' Face before two final madrigals linked by a girl's name, the haunting Phyllis Farewell by Bateson and the frolicking Fair Phyllis I Saw by Farmer.
After a short interval we presented some more recent pieces as well as those to represent Wales. First of these were the beautiful settings of three English folk songs by that great collector of the genre, Vaughan Williams: The Dark Eyed Sailor, The Springtime Of The Year and Just As The Tide Was Flowing. Next was our selection of Welsh pieces sung in the Welsh language which began with the beautiful Gwynfyd by Williams which was sung equally beautifully by Meinir Lloyd Jones. The choir then presented Holst's setting of the Welsh folk song Lisa Lân which was followed by Shân Oliver singing the lovely Cilfan Y Coed by Jones and Kathryn Nash with her deft interpretation of Thomas' Wrth Fynd Hefo Deio'i Dywyn. The choir then presented three of the Five Flower Songs by Britten: To Daffodils, a nice link from the Welsh pieces; The Succession of The Four Sweet Months, a slow-building pieces that celebrates four fertile months of the year with each showcased by a voice part; and The Ballad Of Green Broom, a fiendishly difficult piece which nevertheless manages to remain fun and frivollous.
William and David Shaw then reprised their stunning performances from the previous evening and received tumultuous applause for their efforts before the choir returned for a final encore of Fair Phyllis I Saw. The audience loved it and showed their appreciation very generously.
Earlier in the day we had been informed that there would be a buffet after the concert but nothing prepared us for the incredible array of tasty goodies on offer in the Piazza San Francesco not to mention the much needed liquid refreshment, we therefore had the amazing experience of enjoying them all under the stars on a balmy Italian night - a truly magical end to a wonderful day.
Mercatello sul Metauro Concert Programe
Lamoli, Commune di Borgo Pace: 30th July 2011
With no official engagements planned for the Saturday morning, we were all able to take the day at a more leisurely pace and several of us took the opportunity to walk into Mercatello to take in the delights of the morning market. At lunchtime, Luigi's mother excelled herself with an exquisite homemade raviolli which put new meaning to the term "mouth-watering"!
After a morning of such exertions the only answer is an afternoon by the pool with perhaps a game of table tennis or foosball - especially if you can get the local foosball maestro on your team! These leisurely afternoons were a real boon particularly for the families who were with us as it gave the younger ones a chance to enjoy themselves on their own terms and feel like they were having a holiday too.
Once again we were collected at six o'clock for the longer journey to Lamoli in the hills that rise above the Metauro valley. After a drive through beautiful countryside we were deposited at the Benedictine Abbey of San Michele Arcangelo, the venue for our final concert of the tour. And what a venue! Founded in the 10th century, the abbey is impressively cavernous and possesses an elevated high altar and cloister-like side aisles; it also affords any musician a near perfect acoustic. One of the showpieces we had prepared for the tour would be performed here and the abbey's acoustic was a gift.
Our third concert was, appropriately, a selection of British sacred music and, given our surroundings, we couldn't wait to get started. The first half was entirely given over to one piece - our showpiece - the amazing Mass for Four Voices by Byrd, a highly intimate piece of devotional polyphonic music. It was necessarily written for private celebration of the Mass during the reign of Elizabeth I and at a time when practising Catholicism was a very risky endeavour. It's a tremendously challenging work, even for professional choirs, and demands total concentration for approximately half an hour in order to adhere to the complex intertwining rhythms and to hold pitch given that it is an unaccompanied work. However, the feeling when it's successfully achieved is fantastic especially when it's sung in such a perfect setting!
After the interval we started in much the same mood as the Byrd Mass with a setting of words from the Book of Common Prayer by Purcell, Thou Knowest Lord The Secrets Of Our Hearts; another piece which seemed made for the abbey's acoustic. We contined with another piece by Purcell, O Sing Unto The Lord, a sparkling piece for choir and soloists which interweaves chorus, solos, duets, quartets and ritornelli. Next was a lesser-known setting of the Ave Verum Corpus by Elgar before moving on to Vaughan-Williams' setting of words from Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Valiant For Truth. Though we say so ourselves, this really was a tour-de-force from the choir with the final bars really raising the abbey's roof. All of which set us up nicely for the celebratory anthem, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, one of four Coronation Anthems written for the coronation of George II in 1727 among which is also Zadok The Priest.
At the end of the concert we were given another wonderful ovation and officially thanked by the mayor of the Commune di Borgo Pace, Sig.ra Romina Pierantoni when yet more gifts were exchanged. We were then invited to another buffet in the grounds of the abbey, for which a special marquee had been erected. It was a perfect end to an amazing tour.
Lamoli Concert programme
Homeward Bound: 31st July 2011
It was, therefore, with many happy memories that most of the choir returned to Britain during Sunday morning. A few stayed on for private holidays but all of us will remember, for many years to come, those few days in July 2011 and our tour to such a beautiful area. We will also remember the tremendous opportunities we were afforded to perform in such stunning locations and, above all, we are incredibly humbled and privileged to have met such amazingly warm and generous people and we hope, very much, that we can return soon.
With grateful thanks...
We would like to extend our sincere thanks (in no particular order) to: