Saturday, 31 May 2008

Venice - the real thing!

This is St Mark's Basilica in Venice. I have sung there. It doesn't get much better than that. What a privilege!

As is so often the case, I have too many photos, and not enough text, so you may struggle slightly to connect the words with the pictures.

We flew from Stansted on Friday, 23rd May.

Ryanair is just the absolute pits.
Squalid, cramped, uncomfortable, disorganised and late. There will have to be no alternative before I'll fly with them again. Full stop.

Italy, on the other hand, was just a complete delight. For reasons that never became clear, we flew to Verona Brescia airport, and had a 2 hour coach transfer to Venice. We were perfectly happy with that as it was our first visit to Italy, so a drive across the country showed us sights that were all new, and therefore, worthwhile.
Right outside our hotel was a shoe shop. For weeks, I've been wanting to replace the rather ratty old trainers I've been wearing, so of course, we looked in the window and saw some really good-looking shoes. Then we saw our conductor inside, with his girlfriend, so we had to go in. They came out with 4 pairs, I with only 2!

First I bought a beautiful pair of flip-flops, then the shoes you see somewhere to the left here. Now tell me those aren't cool shoes, dudes!

And they are wonderfully comfortable. They weigh nothing, and feel like a pair of gloves. I've walked miles in them since day one and had nothing but joy from them. I don't rave about shoes, ever. Shoes are just shoes. I'm raving about these, 'cos they're fantastic! Sadly, when I wore them to work, no-one was impressed. Philistines!

I did, however, stick to the male shopping ethic. I was in and out of the shop in 20 minutes!

Our guide/translator walked us to our first church on Saturday morning. This was Saint Nicolo dei Mendicoli, where we rehearsed, then followed the guide to a bar where we had canapés and wine. Afterwards, she took most on a guide around the city, but Jenny and I wanted to just wander, so that's what we did.

Venice is a city of buildings planted on the sea floor, more or less, with canals between and occasionally a walkway. It's easy to misread the map, and to walk up blind alleys. After a while, it became rather wearing, so it was a relief to find the Grand Canal and a vaporetto (water bus) stop. Two sympathetic English women explained the procedure and we rode the canal back to our hotel, taking a brazilian photographs on the way, of course.

This is the inevitable Rialto Bridge photo. I was glad to have the good fortune to get a gondola in the foreground. I didn't actually spend much time looking at the bridge, being far too busy taking photographs. There's a balance to be found there, but I haven't located it. I either take photos, but don't see much, or I gaze in wonder, and take no pictures.

I thought the scaffolding-enclosed dome was rather sculptural, and almost regret the fact that some time they'll take it all down. Almost.

At 6.30 we sang mass in St Nicolo's. We did 3 or 4 pieces beforehand, the Byrd 4-part mass during the service and a couple of anthems, then 3 or 4 pieces afterwards.

I think the congregation found the Byrd rather hard work. Mostly the mass was just said -
Kyrie elieson, kyrie elieson, kyrie elieson, move on. A quick recital of the Gloria, move on. The Byrd probably added 15 minutes to the service.

On the Sunday we made our way to St Mark's where there was a parade of paratroop veterans, stamping and shouting through the piazza. Fortunately it had stopped by the time we got to sing. This picture was taken by one of our groupies, John Henderson, and it's miles better than the same shot I took. As you can see, St Mark's is big, and cool, and ornate. Not really my style at all, but I'm keeping stum.

After some discussion between the conductor and the high priest, we were informed we could sing 4 pieces, but he did agree we could have a warm up, so we did. Then it was time to sing. We sang a piece, there was no sign of any clergy, so we sang another, and another. Eventually the service started.

In the mass we sang the Lotti Crucifixus (Lotti was organist at St Marks) and something else. After 3 masses in 2 days, I can't remember which we did when. It may have been the Richard Deering Ave Virgo Gloriosa. At the end, we did the Gabrielli Jubilate Deo (Gabrielli was also organist at St Marks) and then a couple more pieces, so having been limited to 4 pieces, we actually sang 8, and the congregation applauded when we'd finished! Our smugness was magnified when the conductor of another visiting choir came up and told our conductor that we were much better than the preceding choir! Lovely!

The evening mass was in Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a vast brick-built church with fabulous accoustics. The decay lasts about 7 seconds. The place has a huge bell tower which is sinking into the ground. Various attempts to stabilise it, including connecting it up to the main building, have failed, and now that corner of the church is sinking, too. The latest effort involves injecting concrete underneath the whole thing. I seem to recall a similar-sounding project on the Leaning Tower of Pisa in the 20th century made matters worse.

Montiverdi is buried in this church, so of course, we had to sing something of his. We did Cantate Domino, which is just such a great piece. Same pattern, 3 or 4 beforehand, a couple in the mass, then 3 or 4 afterwards. These included the Pärt Magnificat, Rachmaninov Bogoroditsye, Harris Faire is the Heaven and Gorecki Totus Tuus.
This latter I was almost sight-reading, whereas with most of the rest of the program I was just seriously under-rehearsed and depending heavily on my fellow second tenor.
After quite a few pages of rather repetitive phrases I was getting bored, and imagined the congregation feeling the same, until we really did start to approach the end, getting slowly quieter and quieter, until we were hardly making any sound at all.
It's amazing how quietly you can sing in a building with such a good accoustic, and still be heard perfectly well. I was completely wiped out, snivelling in the back row, barely able to read the music, my voice quavering with emotion. Fortunately the altos in front of me are used to it!

In the evening, Jenny and I found a really nice little restaurant with a garden by a canal, where we had great food, but more particularly, a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon from le Fraghe, which is a local winery. Sadly, they don't import it into the UK, though the Wine Society does stock their Bardolino, so maybe I can persuade the WS to get some of the cab sauv.

There's a certain inevitability about the last photo!


A Mother's Place is in the Wrong said...

Gosh Rob, I have been catching up with your life and can hardly believe what you've been doing. What an exciting time you've had - some lovely photos and wonderful experiences. And all that time I was in one boring old place in France. I see what you mean! M xx
PS I love that photo of the Betjeman statue - must go and have a look soon.

Rob Clack said...

The Betjeman statue is brilliant and definitely worth finding.

I have been having an exciting time, and I'm absolutely knackered! Not complaining one bit!

It's great to have a few weekends at home, but somehow, I'm still knackered! Too little time looking after the garden means ... well, you get the gist!

Rob Clack said...

Sadly, when I visited the Wine Soc's website, I couldn't find any Bardolino either.