So I’ve been back in the U.S. for 4 days now, and I haven’t written anything since the blackout last week because A) there is so much to write and B) I don’t want to admit that I’m not in Italy anymore. I really fell in love with that country, and I definitely want to go back someday (preferably when I’ve gotten a little more fluent with the language).

The last few days of the festival flew by, mostly because there was so much drama in and around the whole town. The Unicorn concert that had been rescheduled because of the blackout went very well, although our clarinetist was ill from food poisoning and did not play the first movement of the piece. Apparently (and this is rumor, so take it with a grain of salt), because the orchestra hadn’t been getting paid, they couldn’t even afford the cafeteria food they had been getting, and so some of the orchestra members, including our clarinetist, ate some tainted food that they had brought with them.

I don’t believe I mentioned this before, but the festival hired a Ukranian orchestra to do the job because they were super cheap and would work with no breaks (man, that irks me!). They drove for 4 days, 24 hours/day, from the Ukraine to Italy. They stayed in the police barracks and ate cafeteria food, and even though they were getting paid less than us (and that’s saying something), they still were getting paid a good half year’s salary by just playing in this little 3-week festival. They endured countless hours of abuse from conductors that only spoke English to them (their only translator was the concertmaster, who sort of paraphrased in two or three words what the conductor would rage in four or five sentences).

(Actually, a side note on that: it really amused me how the conductors would speak slower and louder English as if that would make any difference. At least our conductor, when he had to work with the orchestra, got an Italian-Russian translator, and spoke only Italian to the orchestra during rehearsal and only in small phrases, asking the interpreter to translate phrase by phrase. See, that’s actually communicating, not yelling in a foreign language and hoping that the orchestra will respond)

As if that didn’t make the situation dire enough, the technical staff decided to strike (they hadn’t been paid in 45 days), so our second rehearsal with orchestra for the finale concert was without light for about 20 minutes until someone figured out how to turn the lights on. Our conductor for the finale concert was less than empathetic with the situation, saying at one point to the orchestra during the dress rehearsal, “Are we going to make music, or are we going to strike?” This is after the food poisoning situation, and keeping in mind that the orchestra has been working nonstop since they arrived, with no days off and very few breaks. He made all of us in the chorus very angry, and not just for that one comment.

The day of the finale, Francis Menotti held a press conference in the middle of the day and said that he still didn’t have the money to pay anyone. He then begged those people who hadn’t been paid to do the concert for free, for the memory of his father. There was a little town meeting in which the orchestra members aired their grievances against the festival and some tourists showed support for the festival, and in which Francis blamed the festival for holding the money ransom because they want him to step down. It was a whole political to-do, and although I understood less than half of what was being said, we had a couple people sitting with us translating the gist of the conversations. The press conference came to a close with no firm answer of whether or not we were going to have a concert that night.

In fact, we did not know if the concert was going up until about 20 minutes before the concert started. I was so sure it wasn’t going to happen that I actually bet 5 cents (that’s Euro cents, so it’s about 8 American cents!) that we would have no concert. Alas, the show went on, and I am now 5 cents poorer.

Before the concert could start, though, the stagehands marched on stage and made an announcement in front of the TV cameras that were there to broadcast the concert. They reiterated that they had not been paid for 45 days, but that they were going to work the concert for the memory of Giancarlo Menotti. They wanted to show that they were the bigger people than the politicos that were holding their money to force Francis out.

Of course, the next day, which was Monday, they had clearly still not gotten paid because the stage and all the chairs in the piazza had not been broken down. I had dinner near the Duomo and saw all the stagehands have a meeting on the stage…I sure hope they are able to get paid! The bus company that had picked us up from Rome was now on strike because they hadn’t gotten paid, and so our manager found a private company to take us back to Rome. We were lucky…I believe it’s that same bus company that was scheduled to take the orchestra members back to the Ukraine, and who knows if they made it back?

On Tuesday morning, all the choristers got on the privately hired bus and started the 24-hour trip home. First the bus back to Rome, and then a flight from Rome to Paris (which half of us almost didn’t get on because of a travel agent mix-up and some surly ticketing agents), running to catch our connecting flight from Paris to JFK (we got an escort to make sure we got through the shorter lines at security), and then a bus from JFK to Philadelphia (we got another idiotic bus driver who got lost on the turnpike and decided to take a detour through Newark Airport. How do you get lost on the NJ Turnpike? It only goes two ways!).

Piazza del Mercato
But besides the actual travel part of the trip, I really enjoyed myself in Italy. Now that I am back, I’ve been busy organizing and storing all my photos onto my computer, so you finally get to see some of the places I’ve been talking about.

This first picture shown is the Piazza del Mercato, where I stayed. The building on the far right side of the picture was my apartment building, and the open window above the awning was my window. Every afternoon, a group called Concerto Strauss (or as one of my roommates called it, “The Lawrence fricking Welk Orchestra”) would start playing cheesy opera tunes and fun waltzes, making me feel like I was living on an opera set. I thought that maybe if I looked out of my window, perhaps I could see Musetta in the cafe across the street, or perhaps the commedia troupe would be coming around the bend, with Canio and Nedda at the fore.

Caffé Collicolla
This next picture is of the Caffé Collicolla, where everyone always gathered before rehearsal. The people who ran the cafe were so sweet, and I’m sure they were happy to have us spend all our money on coffee at their shop. Too bad they didn’t have gelato, because we would have bought it there!

There were some high school exchange students who also spent some time at Collicolla early in the morning, and one of them painted a picture very similar to this photo. I was inspired so much by her painting that I decided to take a picture of the porch of the cafe, empty because it was riposa (nap time) and at the heat of the day. The cafe stayed open through riposa, which was great, but they did close their doors and turn the AC on.

So that concludes my adventures in Italy. Actually, there are many more stories, but I think I must keep my eye on what adventures are to come. And I definitely know I want to go back to Italy, only next time I’ll bring Ray along with me.

Arrivederci, Italia
Tagged on: