An experience at La Scala is every opera lover's dream. The seats were reasonably good, although one learns that the horseshoe shape of most opera houses is designed for audiences more interested in looking at one another than in having a good view of the stage. The production of Don Giovanni, in contemporary style and costume (Donna Elvira arrived onstage on a Vespa), was excellently sung and played, just as one would expect, so no vegetables were thrown (in Vienna the audience loudly voiced its displeasure at the avant-garde production of "Lohengrin" we saw at the Staatsoper). However, I enjoy seeing new and creative approaches to opera production and design. The LCD display of the English translation at every seat was a great adjunct, and to see the words in one's own language is ample evidence that opera libretti feature ludicrous plots and impossibly silly words--only singing the words in the original language, set to great music, makes opera possible. If the whole text were spoken, no audience would tolerate it--it's just too ridiculous.
All the other events arranged for us by Cultural Italy went very well, particularly the private tour of the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's. Our guide was exceedingly well informed, with very fine academic credentials, and his English was excellent. He was even good humored when I disagreed with him concerning the size of other churches as compared to St. Peter's--we had a good chuckle about it--I have studied these buildings since childhood, and he was misinterpreting the meaning of the bronze stars in the floor of the central aisle of St. Peter's--they mark only the length of other great churches and cathedrals, not their total size. Our disagreement, as we say in America, was the result of trying to compare apples and oranges--the guide was using one standard of measurement and I was using another. In fact, our discussion made the tour more interesting. My cousin and I learned much.
The very best music was the Enchanting Opera Arias concert at San Paolo entro le mura, which happened to be only a block from our hotel. The small orchestral ensemble of I musici Veneziani was flawless, and their quartet of singers were by far the best I have heard in years anywhere. The contralto in particular was of a quality rarely heard. We heard many fine singers on the trip, but these four exceeded them all in every respect.
Thank you for helping make our time in Italy so uplifting, enriching, and educational. I quite properly threw my coin into the Fontana Trevi, so no doubt I shall return. Sincerely
Tom Davis, USA