Modena is only a 30-minute train ride from Bologna, and what we saw of it looked interesting and attractive. I did not take a systematic set of pictures, but see below.
At the opera, we were seated in the Ducal box, dead center in the lowest balcony. We tried to behave appropriately, as Dukes and Duchesses should. The opera was Pelleas and Melisande, as I wrote about in the last post. I took a few pictures of the theater, but none of the performance.
We went to see the opera Mirandolina on January 15 in Bologna. The libretto is adapted from a comedy by Goldoni, and the music is by Czech composer Boluslav Martinu. Since the Teatro Communale is being renovated (for the next 3-4 years), the opera was presented in another venue, a 10-minute walk for us instead of 2 minutes! Unfortunately, the Teatro Manzoni does not have a pit, so the singers had to negotiate a narrow stage area in front of the the orchestra. Martinu's rather beefy orchestra and fulsome orchestration meant that the excellent singers were often overpowered.
You might assume that a libretto drawn from a successful playwright like Goldoni would be a safe bet for a composer. In this case, the libretto is weak, and it sinks the opera. The title character is a woman innkeeper who is in love with another member of her class, Fabrizio; he happens to work for her. A pair of male aristocrats are in love with Mirandolina (or simply lust after her). She encourages and discourages them, trying to make Fabrizio jealous and (maybe) propose to her(?) The trouble with this is threefold: a) there really is nothing to keep Fabrizio and Mirandolina apart, b) the Mirandolina model of woman is a sexist construction and is vastly outdated, and c) there is not enough stage action - it isn't a farce, so everyone stands around doing silly, distracting things which aren't related to the spine of the story. Also, advice to opera composers: don't start the opera with a scene in which two characters talk about a third character for 10 minutes, then have the main character wander onstage for no discernible reason.
The music was lively and sometimes funny, and the musical performance was very good. I especially enjoyed an orchestral set-piece which formed a prelude to the third act. It's a bit odd to have a kind of overture in the middle, but it was fun.
Last night we went to see Pelleas and Melisande in Modena, at the Pavarotti-Freni theater, a real opera house with a pit, which meant that the voices always stood out clearly. The singers were again excellent, though we didn't like the vocal habits of the Melisande very much. It hadn't occurred to me before last night that Melisande is pregnant throughout the later scenes, and I'm glad that the staging showed that. The acting, costumes, and sets were appropriately atmospheric, though every major character wore a white wig, even Pelleas! We didn't like the wigs. There was also a scene of gratuitous nudity during an orchestral interlude after the first scene. We think we understand why they did it, but the nudity was completely unnecessary to the plot point.
Carping aside, it was wonderful to see this most singular and original opera. It really is moving at the end when, in his grief, Arkel sums up the life and character of Melisande. In fact, in this production, Arkel seems to be the moral/spiritual foundation of the dark world, while Pelleas at times seems to be breaking free into daylight. And Debussy's music just can't be beat. I had forgotten how much fast music there is; it is not all languid languishing in the gloom. It's a great opera.
There is a tendency for human beings to create discrete bits of meaning which are perfectly comprehensible. Then they stack them into archives, pile them into heaps, and evacuate them into dumps, where the meanings become muddled, buried, and lost. I have seen this happen in software development, and now I have seen it in a cemetery.
I mean no disrespect to the Italian people when I say that the Certosa Cemetary in Bologna is one of these monstrous heaps of decaying meanings. It is fabulous, beyond anything I ever imagined, and it is also appalling.
We took a long walk to the cemetery on January 4, a chilly, gray day. We went in through the front gate, along with a group of women who were supporting another, woman. Later we saw the woman standing on a ladder in front of a wall of tombs like those in the photo below. She was beating on the front of one of the upper tombs and weeping.
The cemetery is immense; we didn't even try to see it all. There are long porticoes filled with elaborate bas-reliefs and inscriptions, long avenues between field after field of tombs of all sizes and shapes. There are beautiful buildings with high roofs that shelter some large memorials. There are tombs everywhere, even hidden inside the blank walls of the porticoes, as we saw through a grungy door that was left open.
There is a lot of beautiful artwork and decoration in Certosa; there is also a lot of stuff that I found unappealing. In parts of the cemetery there is a heavy quality of decay that you can see and smell, though it might feel differently on a warm, sunny day. Seeing it was a powerful experience, which I recommend to anyone who doesn't mind being surrounded by a vast archive of death and mourning.
I am skipping over a couple of the mosaic sites. If there is a vast public outcry, I will post more of them.
Ravenna has a very large and fine art museum, but I didn't have a lot of time to see it, so I focused on the currently featured exhibit, a show by the duo "Prodigy Kid" (Francesco Cavaliere and Leonardo Pivi). After that, I swept through the rest of the halls looking for contemporary art, of which there was some, but not a lot that interested me. I ignored most of the medieval, Renaissance, etc work up to the present, but I hope to go back and see it later.
The Prodigy Kid exhibit both repelled me and occasionally charmed me. I liked Cavaliere's sound sculptures and I liked the sounds that he chose to play through them. I didn't like Pivi's work very much; he likes pop culture and the grotesque rather uncritically, and I don't, much. I did like some of the non-Prodigy-Kid artworks included in the show.
I include a brief recording of some of the sounds that were being made by the Cavaliere sculptures.
Below are photos from the Prodigy Kid exhibit.
I include a photo of a very nice portrait head by Domenico Baccarini from 1903-4, and a couple of photos of the front of the museum.
The tomb (or memorial) of Galla Placidia was my favorite mosaic site, partly because it is small and the mosaics are relatively easy to see. I suggest that you read about Galla Placidia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galla_Placidia) - she had quite a dramatic life, and must have been quite a person. (There should be an opera cycle about her - anybody want to write a libretto for me?) The building looks unremarkable from the outside, but inside it is like a fairyland. The pictures really can't render what it is like to be surrounded by jewels.
Attached to San Vitale is the National Museum. I must apologize for the small number of pictures below; having been to both San Vitale and Galla Placidia before this, I was not very fresh and tired of looking. The pictures below make it look as if the museum has only ancient things, but that's not so. They have artworks right up to the present day. Here are some ancient things, many of them quite small.
I am skipping over a lot of interesting stuff that I was too tired to photograph. The contemporary art section (always of interest to me) had a number of works by artists unknown to me, some of which relate to the 'mosaic culture' of Ravenna.
The most impressive of the UNESCO sites, San Vitale is huge and visually confounding; you hardly know where to look, because almost every surface is decorated. The floors and columns have interesting patterns, and the mosaics are extensive. Stylistically it is a mixture of very old, old, and newer (Baroque?). But any description pales beside the reality - just go and see it. It is quite an experience to be there.
Our first stop after buying a combined ticket to the UNESCO sites is Sant’ Apollinare Nuovo, a huge, cold, and rather austere church, except for the mosaics, which are wonderful but rather high above us and distant.
At the front of the church to the left of the altar area, there is a chapel decorated with Baroque-style sculptures and decoration. It makes quite a contrast with the very formal and somewhat impersonal mosaics. The altar area seems to be trying to integrate the two aesthetic modes, with ancient pillars and an ornate altarpiece.
The first mosaic site we visited is located right behind the building that we stayed in. It is a baptistry, where Christians of the Arian persuasion went to be baptized. Arianism was eventually eradicated by the not-so-tender mercies of the winning theological party (Trinitarians), but the baptistry was preserved. It is a relatively simple and small brick building with a dome covered by a mosaic. In the center is a beardless Jesus, flanked by John the Baptist on the right, and the river Jordan personified on the left. We spent a lot of time looking at the faces of the Apostles; each face is different and you can almost imagine their characters from the way they are depicted.
The rest of the building is now bare brick, and, like other old buildings in Ravenna, it is sinking. I include a picture of a 'pop-up' gallery just across the alley from the baptistry; they were selling skateboards, 'street' art, and small images like the big red fellow in the picture.
By the time we left Dante's Tomb, we needed to sit down, so we went into a Mercato Coperto (covered market) and found a table. I ordered coffee, and I got a hot chocolate for Nancy. Her hot chocolate turned out to be very hot and very thick. I had one on a return visit, and it's the most intense chocolate experience that I can remember. Below is a view of the place and the chocolate.
That evening we went to Passarelli, a restaurant recommended by our hotel host. The food was really good (we splurged) and we also met the charming Lucretzia and her father, an engineer from Bergamo who makes machine tools. While Nancy conversed in broken Italian with Niccolo, I played toss-the-doll with Lucretzia, who was puzzled that an adult could be so stupid as not to understand her!