Friday, June 12, 2009

Travel Journal: Naples

The previous entry described the breathtaking vistas of leaving Sicily: the following morning's arrival at the port of Napoli was equally stunning. Our day began with an excursion to Pompeii, the fabled city preserved under ash for some 1800 years. As is my wont, I followed my own path and left the group to wonder and explore the ruins alone. It was fitting I found the group again an hour later, after coming upon one of the oldest and most interesting of the preserved floor mosaics, a black dog, marking the house of the mad poet.

It would be unfair to call a place as storied as Pompeii a tourist trap. It is, however, as crowded as Disney, and attracts some of the same set. Leaving the main colonnade of the forum, I explored the perimeters of the ancient city, heading to the alluringly named House of Mystery, following one of the few paths lined with vegetation. In so doing, I came upon the brightest field of poppies I'd every seen. I was one of several visitors snapping shots of the field, so vibrantly alive a sight after the ruins.

Following the morning trip to Pompeii, we headed into the center of Naples to prepare for our next recital. Appropriately, we programmed Neapolitan songs from both the 18th & 19th centuries (Amy sang from the ubiquitous "24 Italian Songs & Arias" --a collection every voice student in the U.S. knows, whether they like it or not! I sang a couple of the Neapolitan "standards," hyper-aware of essaying a distinct Italian dialect in front of the natives). The heart of the program was music of Puccini. In addition to the Act I arias and duet from Boheme, we offered the Butterfly duet, Amy sang the Canzone di Doretta from La Rondine, and I threw discretion to the Mediterranean wind and sang Nessun Dorma (with Amy joining me for the climactic line--not quite 3 tenors, but 1 tenor & soprano sufficed just fine).

We were duly humbled and grateful to be so well received by our Neapolitan hosts, the tour guides, and the staff at the amazing 17th century Palazzo, Pio Monte della Misericordia. Attached to the cathedral of the same name, the space housed both a long-established charitable foundation and a stunning collection of Neapolitan Art. We could not have asked for more beautiful surroundings in which to sing. If the Mediterranean cruise was not inspiring enough, the historically significant venues only fueled our performing desires further. The centerpiece of the Misericordia cathedral is a Caravaggio altarpiece depicting the 7 fundamental virtues and centering the focus and mission of this important space.

We were shuttled back to the ship and left another memorable port, with the historic fort of Naples receding into the background as we passed alongside Vesuvius. On the way out we passed more famed Italian islands like Capri, but even more important to me, Ischia. A haven for 20th century artist including William Walton, W. H. Auden & Chester Kallmann, Hans Werner Henze, and Ingeborg Bachmann. It was Auden & Kallmann's cat, Lucina, memorialized in a poem Henze set, that inspired the name of my own Luci. Auden told the composer his little elegy was modeled on an ancient Icelandic verse form:

In Memoriam L.K.A. 1950-1952

At peace under this mandarin, sleep, Lucina,
Blue-eyed Queen of white cats: for you the Ischian
wave shall weep,
When we who miss you are American dust, and
Epomeo in peace and war augustly a grave-watch

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