Our finest musicians from the University of Sydney’s Conservatorium of Music are in Italy for the first European Chamber Music Summer School. They are staging daily concerts in Verona, Mantova and Venice at prestigious venues like The Bibiena Theatre, Palazzo Te and La Pieta.  Our students report from Italy.

This week has far exceeded my already high expectations. Working with Lella Cuberli has been brilliant. We spend about six wonderfully intense hours a day with Lella, rotating through technique and repertoire sessions. Working with her is informative, interesting and, most of all, motivating. However, I feel observing lessons is most valuable. Lella has such a wealth of knowledge, and the little pieces of singing gold she hands to us are invaluable. We all appreciate how generous she is with her time. 

As mentioned in the last post, we were all very excited to step inside the ancient Arena di Verona to be spectators of Verdi’s Aida. To claim the prime stone seating, it was recommended that we arrive at least two hours earlier than the start time of 9pm. Can you believe the opera was scheduled to finish at 1:30am?!

After a day of threatening thunderstorms, we had our umbrellas packed and our fingers crossed.

Walking into the colosseum was overwhelming. Row upon row of eroded stone, stretching between the remains of intricate carvings and gnarly rock face.

Once the audience took their seats, the sun started to set, the crew frantically mopped the stage, and the overture began.

The two giant orange scaffolds were at the centre of the stage, each supporting a crane and impressive stripes of fluorescent lights. Radames (The Egyptian General, played by tenor Walter Fraccaro) and Ramfis (the High Priest, baritone Raymond Aceto) storm onto the stage, surprising us with their volume and clarity.

Chinese soprano Hui He sang the title role with heart-wrenching lyricism and control. My jaw dropped as she ended ‘Ritorna vincitor!’ lying stretched out on the floor, singing so softly, yet every word reaching our ears. Also satisfying were the meaty sounds of mezzo soprano Sanja Anastasia who played the manipulative and jealous Princess, Amneris.

The large chorus filled the stage with bold costumes, fiery tridents, glowing bowling balls and, at times, on motorised scooters. The real spectacle began in act two, with a team of workers puzzling together a gigantic mirror on the scaffolding. The building was quite distracting to begin with, but as extravagant floats and life-sized robot elephants paraded past, my attention was drawn back down to the action.

Unfortunately as interval commenced, so did the rain. We were all sent home, huddling together under our flimsy umbrellas. Successfully navigating the dark cobblestone, crossing the Fiume Adige and not slipping out of my soaking shoes, we arrived back at our accommodation thoroughly content with the performance we had seen.

The next day we were granted a late start, so we took a stroll into the town centre to visit the Casa di Giulietta. Even though my brain knows it is such a cliché and tourist-driven attraction, my heart was warmed with fluttery love and girly romance regardless. It could have been the countless scribbles of lovers on the walls, or maybe the elderly couple posing under the balcony, perhaps the blooms of coloured locks clamped onto the iron gates. This is certainly a place of love.

This weekend I am fortunate enough to be travelling to the nearby town of Mantova with the Estivo Chamber Orchestra to perform Mozarts ‘Exultate Jubilate’. I am looking forward to continuing coaching with Lella and beginning our concert series!