Let’s see, where did I leave off?
Well, all in all I had an exciting and beautiful time in Salzburg. I arrived in Salzburg three days before my program and was able to acclimatize myself to the city and see some of the sights. It’s a good thing I did so because I had almost no free time during the actual program! It was very intense. On the 12th of July I saw Joyce DiDonato sing the title role in Rossini’s La Cenerentola in Munich. Munich is only around and hour and a half from Salzburg by train so it was very convenient. I went during the afternoon and went around the city a little bit
getting lost seeing the sights.
The Staatsoper is absolutely gorgeous. My seat was truly horrible (in fact it wasn’t actually a seat, it was in the standing-only section) and I could only see half the stage, but the theater was so beautiful that I didn’t mind. My favorite part of the theater was the King’s box, I am very American in the sense that I find myself continually noticing with surprise that I am in a country that had a monarchy in the relatively recent past. At first I was worried because just as the overture was about to start, a man came out and announced that Ms. DiDonato was feeling ill. I didn’t understand what they were saying and I was just praying that she would be able to perform! Luckily she did appear, and to be honest I didn’t notice any difference. She was an incredible Cenerentola, and although I couldn’t really analyze her acting since my view was so bad, I could hear the expressiveness in her voice. All the singers were really wonderful. I was really impressed by how the singers who played Clorinda and Tisbe (the two stepsisters) interacted together onstage. It was really cool to see another artist’s take on the role so soon after I finished performing Tisbe in my scene in Italy. Don Ramiro (Prince Charming) was played by Lawrence Brownlee, who just so happens to be from Youngstown, OH! He was truly incredible, in my humble opinion one of the best tenors in the opera world right now.
Next to me on one side were some German university girls, and on the other were some Central Florida University students. The German girls had gone to tons of operas at the Staatsoper and knew exactly how things worked there. During intermission we tried to take some unoccupied seats we saw in a better area, but unfortunately some girls in traditional Bavarian dress took them before we could and we had to go back up to the standing area. The Central Florida students were really nice as well. This was their first opera so I tried to help make their first experience a positive one. They were traveling Europe with a study abroad program and their program had messed up their tickets and they had to stand in our area instead of having the nice tickets their program had promised. If it was my first experience of opera I wouldn’t have been happy! But they were really nice about it and getting a lot out of it despite the mix up. After the show was over, I looked at the clock and realized there was still an hour before the last train for Salzburg left. Determined to find the stage door and hopefully meet some of the singers, I asked the German girls how to say ‘stage door’ (In case you’re wondering it’s ‘Bühneneingang’), and asked people until I was able to find it. I was rewarded for my persistence, I was able to meet Joyce DiDonato and Lawrence Brownlee! Unfortunately because of her illness Joyce wasn’t able to stop and sign autographs or take pictures, but she stopped and spoke to me for a minute before she left to go to the hospital to recuperate (!!) Lawrence was able to stop though, and I told him I was from Steubenville and we talked for a little bit. He asked me about my singing plans and was really kind and friendly to me. Then he took a picture with me and signed my program. I was in seventh heaven!
But after that I had to run because I only had twenty minutes before my train was leaving. Luckily I made it, and got back to Salzburg safe and sound. I arrived home quite late, but I wouldn’t have given up that opportunity for the world, it was an incredible experience.
Then before I knew it my program started! Every day we started as early as 8am, with either a lesson or a coaching. After that, there would be time for practicing, then during lunch we watched an informative film and after lunch had German class and then the daily masterclass. Then in the late afternoon we often had rehearsals either for the opera or other ensemble work. Finally, each day ended with two solo recitals! The days were exhausting, sometimes requiring 12 hours of almost uninterrupted work from beginning to end! My recital was halfway through the first week, so although I had to work a lot in the beginning and was really nervous at first, it ended up being great because I was able to relax a little more for the rest of the program after my recital was over and I didn’t have to worry about becoming vocally tired before my recital.
There were fifteen other singers from all over the world, and I was one of three Americans. Although English was the official language of the program, one of the artists from Spain couldn’t speak any English, and I ended up using some of the Spanish words I had picked up while babysitting for a Chilean family last year and Italian to communicate with her, which actually worked out quite well.
My fellow artists were incredible, so kind and supportive, really wonderful to work with from beginning to end. I was in the Young Singer’s category, but the majority of participants were in the older age group and had already finished graduate degrees and were professionals working in performance or teaching who had decided to take the opportunity to receive a little extra training. I learned a lot about the world of singing and what to do and not do in the future from them, which in itself was an invaluable experience.
I also realize that it was a really great opportunity for me to have had my first experience of a solo recital at such a young age. Most singers wouldn’t have the opportunity to do a solo recital of almost an hour and a half of material until at least the final year of undergrad, usually around the age of 22 or 23. Instead, I had this opportunity at 19! Although it was really difficult for me and many things were new for me, now I know how to do it in the future and I feel as though I’m a step ahead in my development as a singer because of this experience. I also had the opportunity to perform my entire program with a chamber trio of cello, violin, and piano. This was also a great learning experience, because singing with an ensemble is very different from singing with only a piano, and in many cases the performances were truer to the composer’s original intentions with the trio, and so it made the experience of both singing and listening richer. Georgina Sanchez-Torres was the cellist, and Jesus Reina was the violinist. They are both Spanish and working with artists of their caliber was an incredible gift. They brought such expression and beauty to the compositions and the experience of singing them.
The repertoire was also very diverse and challenging, and I look forward to continuing to sing several of the pieces I was assigned well into the future. Tackling a program in five languages that spanned almost 200 years of musical history and several different styles was not easy but an incredible learning experience.
I didn’t end up learning very much in German class, but that was not my German teacher’s fault! I blame it more on us not having very much time. 2 weeks just isn’t enough time to soak up a significant amount of grammar, and after concentrating for so long on Italian grammar it was really difficult for me to switch my brain and try to learn a new language! But Lele was a great teacher and tried her best to give us the most useful information and help us with our pronunciation. I learned several practical things, such as how to give and ask for directions, order coffee, and introduce myself. I also felt like my pronunciation of German lieder improved tremendously, which is great since I started out being pretty horrible at German diction.
Another huge thing that I am so grateful for is the opportunity to get to know Bishop Laun and his extended family. Staying with them was an incredibly beautiful experience, and they worked so hard to make me feel at home. He is a man with a great love of God and of life, and I am so glad to have gained such a wonderful friend in him.
In short, I can’t wait to go back to Salzburg. Next time I hope to speak more German, but I am already looking at some other programs for the future. The University of Miami has a vocal program in Salzburg similar to the program I did in Italy with Oberlin Conservatory that would probably be great, and of course there is the world-famous Summer Academy at the Mozarteum. I’m already planning my auditions and trying to fit German into my schedule for next year, so we’ll see what happens! I fell in love with the city’s beauty and the wonderful friends I met there, and hope to have the opportunity to further my studies there in the coming years.
But that is merely the second chapter in my story! Now I’m in the third, and final part of my summer travels. After Salzburg I took a train to Malnate, Italy to stay at the home of my friend Giulia for ten days. Giulia was in New York last spring for three months working as an au pair for a family I know, and we became good friends. When I mentioned I would be traveling around Italy during August, she immediately invited me to her house for a few days. Malnate is in the province of Varese, a city around an hour outside of Milan. I passed my ten days there in relative tranquility. This was my first opportunity to be in an environment where I was completely immersed in the language, and at first it was really challenging but I found myself improving every day. Every morning Giulia worked as a tutor for some local middle school students, and I attempted to teach English to her 12 year-old brother. It was a great learning experience for me, I found out (often the hard way) what techniques work for teaching a language and which don’t, and along the way my vocabulary improved a lot. Then, we would eat a large Italian lunch cooked by Giulia’s mother, and then in the afternoon Giulia and I would take a passeggiata to see some beautiful place in the area.
Varese was originally founded as a place where the rich people could build beautiful villas for vacation, so there are tons of beautiful villas with incredible gardens that are now open to the public. Another beautiful place in Varese is the Sacromonte, a collection of small chapels along a path up one of the smaller mountains in the area. Inside each chapel is collection of terracotta statues from the 1500s set up to depict a different event in the life of Christ. People can’t go inside, but there are large windows and lights so that the tableau of statues inside is thoroughly visible. Then, at the top is a beautiful church with a convent and (typical Italy) a bar with a little restaurant. The walk is incredibly beautiful if the weather is nice. As you go up you can see Varese and the entire countryside spread out below, and each chapel is an exquisite work of art. It’s a beautiful day excursion.
During the evenings we had a different itinerary every day, usually involving meeting up with Giulia’s friends and eating gelato. Although I didn’t understand everything all the time, it was really beautiful to meet so many lovely people and spend time with them. I’m not going to attempt to make any kind of comparisons between how Americans are with their friends vs. Italians, but I found I really enjoyed the Italian way of going out and spending time doing relatively simple things with friends, such as bowling or playing monopoly.
One day, when Giulia had a free day from teaching, we went and met up with a mutual friend of ours, Pietro. Pietro is from Milan and was a visiting scholar at Columbia during the Spring semester studying Philology, and he became a great friend for me at school last year. When he found out we had some free time, he invited us to come to his house in the mountains near Lake Como. It was a beautiful day. Pietro is working on finishing his PhD in Philology and so had come to the mountains with some of his other friends who also study classics to stay together and concentrate on their studies, since Italians have to study during the summer also. When we arrived they took some time off from their studies to hike up Monte Premio with us, where we could see mountains as far as Switzerland and the entirety of Lake Como spread out beneath us. It was breathtaking, and I completely forgot to bring my camera! Afterwards we went to a rifugio that served amazing polenta and had a gigantic lunch. The polenta basically consisted of cornmeal, garlic, butter, and olive oil. Probably not healthy, but who cares? After the exercise of the hike we certainly deserved it. Then in the afternoon we went to Bellagio, which is probably better known in the states as also being the name of a hotel in Las Vegas. In reality, the hotel in Last Vegas was named after this vacation town on Lake Como in Italy, and the town is incredibly beautiful, if a little tourist-heavy. We walked around the lake and saw some great views, but unfortunately only Giulia and I had remembered their bathing suits so we didn’t go swimming in the lake. Then we returned to Pietro’s home in Caglio and had a lovely dinner with his parents and friends and finished the night singing together. All in all an incredible day! I still can’t believe I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends who also happen to live in such a beautiful place.
The last day I was at Giulia’s we also went to Milan briefly to see some other friends from New York, Costanza and Christina. Costanza is originally Italian from Milan but went to Fordham in New York, and Christina goes to NYU. We walked around and caught up since I hadn’t seen them all summer, and saw some of Costanza’s favorite churches and sights. I was glad we didn’t do the normal ‘tourist’ destinations since it was more important for me to spend time with my friends and a few days earlier I had gone to Milan by myself to see some sights while Giulia was working so I had already seen the Duomo, some museums, and La Scala (of course!).
I also found out that it costs around 2,400 euro to get a master’s degree in Opera from the Accademia della Scala, one of the most prestigious conservatories in Italy. That’s not 2,400 euro per semester, that’s in total. Before scholarships. When the average cost of an American conservatory/private university is close to $50,000 per semester, this concept is a little mind-blowing for me, and definitely makes me want to look into auditioning for the program. It was founded by Riccardo Muti, and has incredible professors, the best of the best as far as European classical music is found. It’s also really great because you can sing in the chorus of La Scala productions while you’re in school and after and all the major opera houses in Europe take grads from the program for their productions so if you graduate from there your European career is basically set. We’ll see what happens, it’s definitely a tempting possibility.
And now I’m in Turin! I arrived four days ago, and the first three days my friend Catherine from Pittsburgh was with me, but now she’s already left. She was visiting her grandparents in Dublin for a week, and found a way to come and see me in Italy! She’s one of my closest friends and I haven’t seen her for the entire summer, so I was really happy. We went around to see all the beautiful churches in Turin and many of the other beautiful civic structures and castels, and then we went to the museum of Film in La Mole, which is world famous. Turin has a fascinating history. It was the original seat of the Pope and the King of Italy once upon a time and so it has a very prestigious position in church and government history, but it also was historically one of the cities most famous for Free Masonry and Black and White Magic, so it also has a mystical side to it. I really enjoyed getting to have a little taste of the diverse and beautiful sights Turin has to offer. While I’m here I’ve been staying with my friend Maria Giulia, who I met while she was an exchange student in the US for a year while we were in high school. Now Maria Giulia studies Electrical Engineering at the Politecnico Institute in Turin, and she is one of three women in the program and two in her graduation year (!!). She is doing really well, already a professor has offered her a position doing research with him and PhD students in the fall, which is a very uncommon and incredible opportunity! She was a great guide when we were going around the city, and it’s amazing to me how we are still friends although we haven’t seen each other in three years.
We also had the opportunity to meet some of her friends, first when we went out to see falling stars, and the next night at a going-away party for a Scottish friend of theirs who was studying in Turin this past year. Her friends are really incredible and I am so happy I got to know them, albeit briefly.
The last day Catherine was here we went to Maria Giulia’s parents’ house in Busca, a small town in the mountains around 80 km from Turin. We met up with a large group of their friends and had polenta together in the mountains and then sang together (sound familiar? I’m doing that a lot in Italy!). They cooked the polenta outside over an open wood fire, and man was it delicious! I am in love with polenta. My mom made it sometimes for dinner at home, but I have a feeling I am going to be making it a lot more often in New York this year… After our gigantic lunch that took most of the day, we went to Cuneo, one of the larger-ish cities near Busca where some of Maria Giulia’s friends live and had gelato and saw the town center.
Piemonte is such a beautiful region, every day my breath was taken away by the incredible combination of mountains and countryside. I guess I have to say that all of Italy is taking my breath away because I can’t say this without also acknowledging the beauty of Lombardia and Toscana. I love this country.
Then it was time for Catherine to go back to Dublin, so we took her back to the train station so she could get to the airport. Because it’s August and all the stereotypes about Italian bureaucracy being horribly disorganized are true, although Trenitalia had written on the schedule that the train was stopping at Busca, we arrived at the station only to discover that because it was August (vacation month), the train would not be arriving. With minutes to spare, we jumped in the car and drove to the next train station twenty minutes away, making just as the train was getting ready to leave. When we explained to the conductor that we had been waiting at the other station he let Catherine ride the train for free to make up for the trouble we went through!
Then that afternoon Maria Giulia and I and her family went through Saluzzo, the town where Maria Giulia’s mother grew up. Saluzzo is really exceptional because during the Renaissance for whatever reason many of the artists who studied in Florence came to Saluzzo to perfect their craft, and so for this reason many of the churches have incredible frescoes just like the frescoes usually found in Florence and Toscana. It reminded me of my time in Arezzo and my visits to Florence. Then we finished the evening with delicious pizza at a restaurant in Saluzzo.
And now I arrive at today! Today was a relatively low-key day. I had to return to Turin because I had only brought a few days worth of clothes to Busca so I needed to get the rest of my things, so we ate lunch at Busca, went to meet Maria Giulia’s grandmother, and then took a bus back to Turin. Tomorrow we’re leaving in the morning to go to another town called Busson for Ferragosto, the celebration of the Assumption. Ferragosto is a huge holiday in Italy, and in Busson there is a convent of sisters who are dedicated to the Assumption and so they have a gigantic party every year to celebrate the feast day. We’ll be going there to the party, and then we’ll go back to Maria Giulia’s parent’s house for a few more days before I go to Rimini. I’m very excited, it should be really fun!
I feel like my Italian has been improving by leaps and bounds! I feel more and more comfortable speaking every day, although I still make mistakes. My vocabulary is expanding a lot, too. I’m learning the way in which Italians express themselves, which is often quite different from what I learned in school. Today I felt especially proud of myself because I was able to talk to Maria Giulia’s grandmother for an hour and a half and understood basically everything (except for the parts when she spoke in Piemontese, but Maria Giulia ‘translated’ those parts in to Italian for me). At the end of the conversation she told me she couldn’t have guessed I only studied Italian in school, she thought I had Italian parents and had grown up bilingual!
Piemontese is an entirely different thing though! It sounds like a mixture of French and Italian, and I have absolutely no idea what people say when they speak it. Unfortunately in the mountains it’s pretty common for family and friends to speak Piemontese to each other in casual situations so I end up not understanding a lot, but as long as someone explains the gist of it in regular Italian I understand more or less what’s going on, which is great.
Tomorrow we have to get up quite early to go to Busson so I’ll leave it here, hopefully my next update won’t take so long!