Roma Opera Aperta Festival – Classic Performances in a Timeless Setting

The Baths of Caracalla form the majestic backdrop for the beloved Roma Opera Aperta Festival. For years, the ancient ruins of Terme di Caracalla have served as stage for innumerable breath-taking performances of opera, ballet and concert masterpieces. The festival has been a highlight of the Roman classical season for good reason. Year after year, this venue is home to opera classics such as the grand historical dramas Aida and Nabucco by Giuseppe Verdi, verismo masterpieces like Tosca by Giacomo Puccini, and belly-laugh comedies like The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini.

To the roster of all-time-favourite operas, the Roma Opera Aperta Festival at the Baths of Caracalla regularly adds standout ballet performances as well as classical and crossover concerts. The event thus grows into a celebration of music beyond genre and era. In its epic home and with a setlist to match, it habitually delivers magical moments to thousands of guests of the Eternal City. Read on to learn more about all the elements of the Festival that make it such a unique offering on the cultural calendar, from the history of the venue to the artists and performances that ensure every edition is remarkable and memorable.

The Baths of Caracalla – A Monument for the Ages

Rome Opera Aperta Festival finds its natural home at the Baths of Caracalla, an ancient Roman structure that first opened its doors to the public in 216 A.D., during the reign of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius Antonius, whose popular name was ‘Caracalla’. However, it is now widely believed that construction on the monumental project began during the tenure of his father, Septimius Severus. The credit for imagining and designing a gathering point for thousands of people also goes to him, and yet his son’s name remains imprinted both on the venue and in public memory. With their impressive size and majestic beauty, the Baths are among Rome’s most venerated sites.

The Baths of Caracalla were first used as backdrop for classical performances in 1937 when Teatro dell’Opera di Roma announced its first-ever open-air summer season. On 1 August 1937, Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti began a tradition that would become the highlight of the classical calendar. The following year, the Baths of Caracalla hosted no less than 40 unforgettable opera performances, and none was more memorable than the massive production of Verdi’s Aida. 20,000 spectators applauded nearly 500 lead and chorus singers, dancers and extras who all could fit on the vast stage.

Throughout the years, the Baths continued hosting performances of beloved opera and ballet classics as well as works by contemporary composers and choreographers, and concerts of classical and modern nature. Since 2001, a newly fashioned, movable stage ensures that the Roman ruins remain preserved while audiences can still enjoy first-class entertainment in the unique historical location.

Roma Opera Aperta – the Festival for Music Lovers

The programme of the Rome Opera Aperta Festival is as vast as the commanding stage of the Baths of Caracalla. Next to the classic operas by Verdi, Puccini, Donizetti, Rossini and many other masters of the genre, the festival has featured performances by contemporary and crossover artists, such as the ballet extravaganza Roberto Bolle and Friends or the dazzling violin acrobatics of David Garrett. Special concerts with famous classical and modern stars are also regularly on the bill, including the larger-than-life tenor Plácido Domingo, the accomplished contemporary composer Ennio Morricone whose scores have accompanied numerous movie classics, as well as modern pop and rock artists such as Paolo Conte, Björk and Mark Knopfler. Outstanding ballet performances, as varied as Romeo and Juliet, Serata Nureyev and Strictly Gershwin, round off the festival’s programme.

The Roma Opera Aperta Festival at the Baths of Caracalla is a labour of love and a quintessentially Roman affair. It is grandiose, colourful and refined, and it brings different periods, genres and artists together in one irresistible mix that is the highlight of the summer season by default. As far as outdoor music festivals go, this one is definitely for the books.

Attending Opera for the First Time: Do These Things and You Will Love It!

If you have never been to the opera, it is natural to feel awkward about your first time. A colourful cast of characters periodically break into song, most probably in a language you do not speak. The stage sets are elaborate and lavish, and there is a whole orchestra backing up the whole operation. All around you are well-dressed people who seem to understand all this folly much better than you. More importantly: they are enjoying it. They laugh at the right moments, gasp at the plot twists, and subtly sway with every turn of musical phrase. You are all but convinced you don’t fit in there. Right? Wrong!

Throughout its rich history, opera has been predominantly an artform for wide consumption. It is an inclusive and welcoming genre, full of genuine human emotion, relatable characters, and familiar stories that bring people together. So, the first step before seeing your first opera is to drop the false prejudices and misconceptions! There is no reason you should deprive yourself of this pleasure. Here are a few tips to help you make attending opera for the first time a success that will set you up for many happy returns.

Pick an Opera You Know You Will Like

What we generically call ‘opera’ is in fact a whole family of different works of art. Think of ‘film’ as a category: there are dramas, comedies, romance and action movies, thrillers, as well as crossovers between two or more genres. Opera is no different, and you are truly spoilt for choice. Do a little research and use your taste in other art forms to pick a great first opera to attend.

For example, if you enjoy comedies, why not start with The Barber of Seville by Gioachino Rossini? If you long for a good romantic comedy, then surely L’elisir d’amore by Gaetano Donizetti will satisfy. If you like adventure and fairy tales, The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Turandot by Giacomo Puccini are both great picks. Should you be in the mood for something more serious, Giuseppe Verdi’s epic dramas Rigoletto, Otello or Nabucco will take you right in. If crime, action, and quick plot development are your thing, then look into Puccini’s Tosca, Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni, or Pagliacci by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, all of which are renowned for their fast-paced, nearly real-time flow.

Do a Little Homework

Once you have picked the genre and specific opera you will see, do a bit of research. Nowadays, information is at your fingertips after all. Read up on the plot, learn the major characters’ names, maybe even listen to the stand-out arias. Many operas are performed in their original languages, so if you are not proficient in Italian, French, or German, you might not be able to follow the dialogue closely. Many modern productions include subtitles displayed above the stage to help guide you through the performance, but doing a little homework will definitely improve your understanding and maximise your enjoyment.

Make Yourself Comfortable and Enjoy

Before attending your first opera, you are surely thinking about what to wear. Perhaps you are even feeling a little self-conscious about not having anything ‘proper’ to wear. The good news is that modern opera performances do not come with a strict dress code anymore, so no need to don a smocking, a pressed shirt, and a bowtie – unless you want to, of course! As a rule, dress in a way that feels presentable and that would let you feel comfortable in the company of other typical operagoers. They, too, will likely be dressed along the spectrum from ‘fancy’ to ‘smart elegant’.

When you are in your seat and the performance begins, let the music and the onstage action take you in. If you feel like applauding or even shouting out your appreciation after a particularly moving aria, duet or orchestral passage, there is no need to hold back. The artists will appreciate your positive feedback, too! Especially when attending opera for the first time, it is important that you connect with this wonderful artform in the way that is best for you. Only then can you develop a long-lasting, sincere appreciation that will keep you coming back for more.

The Past, Present, and Future of Opera

Opera – the undisputable queen of the classical music genres! We associate it with rich, opulent stage sets, intensely emotional arias and duets, over-the-top acting, and orchestral interludes that take us on the most marvellous musical journeys. Fantastic ensemble events like the ‘Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago’ or ‘Puccini e la sua Lucca’ showcase collections of masterpieces back-to-back and amplify the genre’s grandeur. But was opera always so extensively produced, so colourful and overwhelming for all the senses? And what does the opera of tomorrow look like?

You might have a similar view of opera, and you probably believe it has its origins in post-Renaissance Italy. If so, you are only partially correct. Even though that time and place played a pivotal role in the genre’s rise to international fame, opera itself is considerably older, and its rich and varied history may hold the key to how it will develop in the coming decades. Let us take a trip through the centuries in our quest towards the future of opera!

From Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages to the Renaissance

Music historians trace the origins of opera as far back as Ancient Greece. The famous tragedies of Euripides, Aeschylus, Ovid and Sophocles were combinations of poetry, music, and drama fused together in one transporting stage performance. Even in those old times, the production was quite advanced: elaborate costumes, realistic stage sets, and inventive mechanical devices to represent ‘deus ex machina’, the divine intervention that resolves the central problem in one fell swoop. Dragon-drawn chariots, fiery towers and actors flying on strings, therefore, set the opera production values high already in ancient times.

Later on, the spread of Christianity also nurtured a tradition of musical dramas, in which sacred texts were performed as part of liturgy. Then came the Renaissance. Its renewed interest in the art and times of Ancient Greece and Rome revived the musical theatre of the old dramatists. Before long, contemporary composers began emulating the ancient genre, reinventing and modernising it along the way. With the generous support of the Florentine Medici aristocratic family, Jacopo Peri’s Dafne was staged in Florence in 1598. Though the score did not survive to present day, its impact certainly did.

Opera Takes Europe by Storm

Following in the footsteps of Peri, composers across Western Europe quickly picked up the new genre of musical drama. Claudio Monteverdi, Heinrich Schütz, Jean-Baptiste Lully and Henry Purcell all made a mark in their national contexts and helped popularise the new stage form. The Italian dominance continued in the coming centuries, and even non-Italians like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart or Christoph Gluck made immense contributions to the genre.

Alongside Italian Maestros like Gaetano Donizetti, Gioachino Rossini, Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini, we count Carl Maria von Weber, Richard Wagner, Georges Bizet and Richard Strauss who helped develop new movements within the rich operatic tradition. Through wars and attempts at nation-building, the whole of Europe was equally abuzz with singing and dancing.

The 20th Century and the Great Beyond

With the dawn of the 20th century, music as a whole became increasingly experimental. The first atonal operas by Arnold Schönberg and Paul Hindemith raised eyebrows. The minimalist, repetitive scores of Philip Glass and John Adams demonstrated that opera does not always need to be florid and colourful. This musical austerity soon spread to the stage production, too. Complex masterpieces like Verdi’s La Traviata or Puccini’s Tosca could now be performed against a monochrome background, with a single spotlight and a bottle as the only prop. Opera’s ‘holy grounds’, such as Milan’s Teatro alla Scala, are no longer reserved for classical music alone. On La Scala’s lavish opening night concert, the splendid outfits by Giorgio Armani garnered as much attention as the performers who wore them.

All this history begs the question: What will the future of opera be? We know for sure that, throughout the centuries, opera has been intimately connected to real life. Many of humanity’s greatest minds have worked in the genre in an attempt to reflect on society and on the human condition. As such, opera is one of the most inclusive art forms. Its heroes are aristocrats and royals but also paupers, prostitutes and criminals.

Because of this, opera will retain its place in our lives, and it will embrace the trends and technologies of the day as it always has. Perhaps in the near future we will enjoy it on our virtual reality headsets; perhaps we will even take part in the onstage action. Maybe holograms of great artists like Luciano Pavarotti, Maria Callas and Boris Christoff will share the stage with live actors and thus reprise their landmark roles. However opera performance develops in the future, one thing is certain: It will continue telling the stories that make us laugh and cry, and we will keep listening keenly.

 

The Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago: Follow in the Maestro’s Footsteps

Pretty rustic houses find their reflection in the marble-like waters of Lake Massaciuccoli, caressed by gentle rolling hills. Giacomo Puccini’s encounter with Torre del Lago was love at first sight. The great composer was looking for a serene, secluded place to let his creativity flow, and he had found just that. Masterpieces like Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Il Trittico trace their origins to this almost magical location.

Puccini thus made Torre del Lago his home for the last three decades of his life. During this time, he penned some of his most memorable operas and enjoyed the locals’ admiration and support. In honour of the composer’s legacy, the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago takes place here regularly since 1930. In addition to live performances of the Maestro’s beloved operas, a visit to Torre del Lago can also include historical tours across important stations of Puccini’s life, a little museum dedicated to the composer, and pleasant escapades to the neighbouring towns. To borrow a famous line from Turandot, nobody will sleep during this most special event!

A Festival for the Ages

Much like its namesake, the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago has become a timeless classic. Each year, the programme revolves around the composer’s greatest masterpieces, like La Bohème, Tosca, Manon Lescaut, Madama Butterfly, and the sadly unfinished Turandot. Some more of Puccini’s great titles make it into the setlist on a rolling basis, too. Even though the festival’s backbone is more or less stable, each edition manages to feel unique.

Perhaps it is the magic of the Italian summer in the countryside or the long, warm July and August evenings that make the Puccini Festival a unique experience every time. The multiple notable sites across Torre del Lago and the open-air theatre where the performances take place certainly make the event that much more impressive. Against the backdrop of the lake and the majestic hills around it, Cio-Cio San’s wistful ‘Un bel di vedremo’, Cavaradossi’s romantic ‘E lucevan le stelle’, or Prince Calaf’s triumphant ‘Nessun dorma’ reach a whole new level of beauty and emotional impact.

Puccini’s Traces in Torre del Lago

In addition to hearing the composer’s masterworks in the unique setting of his chosen hometown, Torre del Lago offers you the special opportunity to walk into Puccini’s footsteps. The house he bought after the success of Manon Lescaut and La Bohème now holds the Puccini Museum. You can gaze upon the pianos, on which the Maestro composed his melodies for the ages. You can also immerse yourself in the artistic atmosphere of his home, with paintings by Ferruccio Pagni, a close personal friend.

A walking tour of Torre del Lago reveals further little Puccini landmarks and highlights how well the composer fit into the local landscape. An avid hunter, he regularly took a boat from the small pier in front of his house to scout out his favourite game, the bald coot and the snipe. You can take a boat tour of Lake Massaciuccoli and admire the meandering shore yourself. Perhaps your gaze will dance among the gentle ways the same way Puccini’s once did.

A Place in and Out of Time

In a certain pleasant way, during the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago time flows differently. It does not stop and does not go backwards. Rather, it dissolves and gives you the chance to immerse yourself into the past without ever fully leaving the present. The town’s unpretentious nature and its famous resident’s timeless art combine into a singular event that beckons you to dive in. Year after year, the Puccini Festival creates unforgettable moments.

On the Traces of Belcanto

‘Belcanto’ – also often ‘bel canto’ – is one of these words that merge form and meaning perfectly. It derives its name from the Italian phrase for ‘beautiful singing’, and it is just that: a vocal style that emphasises control, articulation, and agility. Originating in the royal courts of 16th-century Italy, belcanto made its way into opera and became the gold standard for generations of composers and singers. In the second half of the 19th century and beyond, the dramatic operas of Giuseppe Verdi and the verismo works of Giacomo Puccini required a more forceful vocal style and pushed belcanto out of the spotlight. However, recent revivals of Romantic operas have reminded the keen opera fan of the inimitable qualities of belcanto. Let us trace the origins and development of this landmark singing style together!

Belcanto: from the royal court to the opera stage

The symbolic birthplace of belcanto were the Italian courts of the Renaissance where kings and aristocrats demanded a special kind of musical entertainment. Practitioners of this form of ‘beautiful singing’ stood out with their vocal brilliance and ability to effortlessly change from legato to staccato, to achieve dramatic effect through skilful tempo variations and body language, and to articulate the text clearly with proper emphases and accents. The beauty in belcanto thus came from the full artistic control a performer exercised over the vocal delivery, tonally and linguistically.

Given these special characteristics, it was no wonder that belcanto quickly made its way into the major vocal genres of the 17th and 18th centuries. George Frideric Handel incorporated belcanto elements into his famous oratorios. Without this special style of singing, the operas of Gioachino Rossini and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would not sound like themselves. Could the Queen of the Night’s coloratura acrobatics ever be as impressive had they been forcefully belted out? Could the playful Barber of Seville make you laugh as hard without his clear enunciation and carefully metred lines? Innumerable opera characters you know and love made their way into your heart thanks to belcanto.

The rise and fall of belcanto

The 19th century marks at once the height and the gradual decline of belcanto in opera and beyond. Thanks to the works of Vincenzo Bellini and Gaetano Donizetti, the vocal style reached an unprecedented level of popularity. These two composers in particular struck a unique balance between belcanto’s smooth and pleasant qualities on the one hand and the emotional charge of the musical and narrative text on the other. Masterpieces like Norma, L’elisir d’amore, or Donizetti’s ‘three queens’ cycle are full of passion and carry their dramatic and comedic weight, and yet the vocal delivery they necessitate is belcanto, pure and unadulterated.

In the latter half of the 19th century, however, opera took a hard dramatic turn. Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Wagner and Giacomo Puccini still wrote beautiful and emotional melodies, but the stories they told required a different singing approach. Beautiful and rounded phrasing had to make way for raw emotion and sheer vocal power. Thus, belcanto gradually went out of fashion, and by the turn of the 20th century, it had become a thing of the past. Today, the revival of the beloved Romantic operas by Mozart, Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, among others, let us enjoy ‘beautiful singing’ again.

Belcanto’s heroes

We cannot follow the traces of belcanto without acknowledging some of its star performers. Many of the style’s great names, such as the male soprano Farinelli, were undoubted virtuosi. Manuel del Popolo García was the Spanish tenor who inspired Rossini to write The Barber of Seville, while his daughter María Malibrán was the muse behind Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi and Donizetti’s Maria Stuarda. Surviving recordings by late-19th-century singers like Jenny Lind, Fernando de Lucia and Pasquale Amato serve as examples of belcanto and inspire modern vocalists to revisit and recreate this truly special style for our enjoyment today.

Antonio Vivaldi’s Secret Venice

Venice is a city of continued fame, and it counts many notable Italians among its sons and daughters. In that long list, the name of Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) shines especially bright. The undisputed star of Italian Baroque, he spent most of his life in the city affectionately known as the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’. As a masterful composer and a violin virtuoso, Vivaldi achieved great success and international recognition during his lifetime. However, the marks he left on his hometown were scarce and subtle.

Thus, a Vivaldi tour Venice could involve a bit of detective work, but it is all the more exciting and rewarding. The composer’s Venetian life centred in Castello, a quarter on the city’s eastern outskirt where tourists seldom go. Still, to the history fanatic and Vivaldi admirer, the district is a veritable goldmine. Here are some landmarks and sightseeing ideas that will take you off the beaten path and into the Baroque giant’s footsteps.

Vivaldi’s ground-breaking early years

On the night Antonio Vivaldi was born, 4 March 1678, an earthquake shook Venice, as if to signal his arrival and the ground-breaking role he would play. Because of this ominous circumstance, his family brought young Antonio into the protective realm of the Catholic church. He was baptised at San Giovanni in Bragora, a small yet beautiful Gothic church. It is an important station in your Vivaldi Venice tour. Look for the commemorative plaque that confirms the future Baroque composer’s baptism there.

The Vivaldi family house is not known or preserved till the present, but young Antonio’s spiritual home was undoubtedly St Mark’s Basilica at Piazza San Marco. Giovanni Battista Vivaldi, a barber-turned-violinist and head of the Vivaldi family, was an active member of the church’s orchestra. He brought infant Antonio into the musical craft. Soon enough, father and son were staging violin concerts across town, and the student would greatly surpass his teacher.

The Red Priest takes Venice by storm

Young Antonio’s family directed him towards the study of theology from an early age. He pursued that path with zeal, driven equally by piety and by the opportunity to continue his musical studies as part of his religious training. With regular performances at St Mark’s, Vivaldi soon became a violin virtuoso. He also started learning composition from the basilica’s musical director Giovanni Legrenzi and quickly developed a bold, adventurous style of his own.

In 1703, Vivaldi concluded his religious education and became chief violin instructor at Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage in his home district of Castello that also bears a commemorative plaque today. Over roughly three decades, il Prete Rosso (or ‘Red Priest’ as Vivaldi was known for his ginger hair) composed most of his timeless concertos, symphonies, and operas within the ospedale’s walls. The success of his compositions and his highly technical, flamboyant style on the violin also earned him a management position at the famous Teatro Sant’Angelo on the Grand Canal. Today, the theatre has been converted into a hotel, but it retains some of its original architecture and all of its opulence and charm.

Vivaldi’s abrupt departure and lasting legacy

After the decades of performances, compositions, and international fame, Vivaldi left Venice in the early 1730s and never came back until his death in Vienna in 1741. In his beloved hometown, he left a few landmarks and many memories that slowly faded over the centuries. As your footsteps echo on the volcanic rock that paves much of Castello since the early 18th-century, you can imagine walking in the Maestro’s elusive footsteps.

What better way to round off your Vivaldi tour around Venice than with the Maestro’s inspired compositions? The talented musicians of the Interpreti Veneziani string ensemble offer regular performances of Baroque classics by Antonio Vivaldi as well as some of his fellow greats, like Johann Sebastian Bach, Tomaso Albinoni, or Luigi Boccherini, to name a few. After visiting stations of Vivaldi’s life, you can hear his best works live with newly found appreciation!

Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival

Mention the word, festival, and certain ideas immediately come to mind. An event, or series of events, not to be missed; something to be enjoyed, certainly; a party that everyone can join in but which sadly only lasts for a short time. The Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival in Lucca is different. The brainchild of Andrea Colombini, the Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival ensures that the music of Giacomo Puccini is heard in his birthplace every week of the year.

A permanent celebration of Puccini’s music

From Manon Lescaut to Madama Butterfly, from Tosca to Turandot, Puccini composed some of the world’s greatest operas. Colombini wanted to ensure that the idyllic city of Lucca became synonymous with the music of its famous son. Its name in Italian, Puccini e la sua Lucca (Puccini and his Lucca), perfectly sums up what Colombini wanted to achieve when he established the festival back in 2004.

In the tourism high season – roughly speaking, from April to October – not a single day goes by in Lucca without Puccini being performed. During the rest of the year, the festival continues on three days every week. Venues include the outstanding acoustic space of the Church of San Giovanni, where Puccini was baptised, and the Oratory of San Giuseppe, part of the Museum of Lucca Cathedral.

A different concert every day

Colombini has ensured that lovers of Puccini are always spoilt for choice. Each night has a different theme – “Puccini and Verdi”, “Puccini’s Women” and “A Night at the Opera”, to name just a few – allowing enthusiasts of the composer to indulge their love for his music as often as they like.

Each performance features one or two professional singers accompanied by a pianist. The composer wrote some of the most beguiling melodies in opera. The Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival in Lucca is an opportunity to hear his work in a way that a full opera doesn’t allow for: close-up, intimate and focussed just on the music. Every concert begins at 7 p.m. and lasts for about an hour, giving those attending the opportunity to explore Lucca’s restaurants later in the evening.

Where else can you find Puccini in Lucca?

Puccini is brought further to life in Lucca by the museum created in the home he was born in. Today, Number 9, corte San Lorenzo, outside which visitors are greeted by a magnificent bronze statue of the composer, is the Puccini Museum. The home was bequeathed to the city by Puccini’s daughter-in-law, Rita Dell’Anna, in 1974.

The museum includes many unique artefacts from Puccini’s career: scores of his music, the Steinway grand piano he worked at and, perhaps most exciting of all, the costume worn by Maria Jeritza at Turandot’s New York premiere at the Met on 16 November 1926. A visit to the museum by day is the ideal way to whet one’s appetite for the music that follows in the evening.

Customer recommendations for the Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival

Those who have experienced Puccini e la sua Lucca invariably leave events singing its praises. “Fantastic”, “Spine-tingling”, “Fabulous” and “Wonderful” are some of the words they use. One new fan of Puccini’s music has said that they had come to Lucca to see the city’s Renaissance walls, but would return in future for the concerts.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Puccini created music that captures all our emotions: at times, sad; at others, defiant. Throughout his work there is a pervasive sense of melancholy that Puccini chose to embrace rather than be overwhelmed by. It is the reason why his music is so enchanting; it has the quality of being ethereal and familiar at one and the same time.

Time spent in Tuscany demands that you visit this captivating city and take your seat for the Puccini e la sua Lucca Festival in Lucca. It is an experience that should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Venice Carnival

The annual Venice Carnival offers as much fun today as it has for centuries, with dressing up and masked balls being only the start of the merriment.

Marking one of the most exciting times in the city’s calendar, the Venice Carnival is world-famous for its use of masks. The atmosphere generated at carnival time is second-to-none and it is unsurprising that the city gets particularly busy at this time. Held each year, the Venice Carnival begins two Saturdays prior to Ash Wednesday and finishes on Shrove Tuesday. It is not known when the carnival began, but its existence has been found on official Venetian documents as far back as 1296, so it can most certainly be described as a long-established tradition. Back in 1094, the then Doge of Venice allowed for some celebrating prior to Lent, but it took several centuries for the carnival to evolve into something that we might recognise today.

Carnival Over the Centuries

Over time, the Venice Carnival became more and more elaborate. Tumblers, jugglers and acrobats all joined in the mix and little tributes were staged, often celebrating the endeavours of the heroes of Venetian history, such as Marco Polo. Carnival soon became a time when the social differences of Venetian society were broken down. The wearing of masks became popular and this was regarded as something that brought all people together on the same level, even if this was a temporary phenomenon. The masks worn by ordinary and high-born Venetians alike became symbolic of equality – largely due to the fact that people could hide behind them. Soon wearing masks and costumes together meant that Venetians could completely alter their identities and overcome barriers of social class, along with those of gender and even religion, to some extent, too. With a mask and a costume, anyone could take on the identity they preferred. Therefore, it became the custom to interact with people by addressing their mask – and not their person – with the greeting, “Hello, madame mask.”

By the later Middle Ages, clubs began to organise balls during the carnival season and other events – including dog-baiting and bull fighting – were held. In the mid-Eighteenth century, the carnival was so popular with Venetians that it went on for almost two months. This came to an abrupt end in 1797 when Bonaparte took over Northern Italy and the carnival went into something of a decline. In the early twentieth century Benito Mussolini outlawed the use of masks and the carnival was no longer held at all. However, the appetite for a good time among Venetians remained undimmed and it was revived in 1979, soon becoming one of the world’s greatest festivities.

Contemporary Carnival

Today, anyone can join in during the carnival. All that you need to take part is a mask. There are many different types of mask that you can opt for, including historic ones such as the Moretta, an oval mask of black velvet; the Larva, which is typically worn with a tricorn hat and a cape; and the Bauta, which is more veil-like than being an actual mask. In addition, there are many mask styles which hark back to the seventeenth century carnivals which were often inspired by the famous characters of Commedia dell’Arte, such as Columbine, Zanni, Harlequin and Pantalone. Many public events are held at carnival time. These include the arrival of the twelve beauties, or Festa delle Marie, which uses fencing and many period costumes of Venice. There are also various award ceremonies for the best costumes and masks which the public can attend.

Despite the varied programme that visitors to the city can enjoy, one of the best things about the Venice Carnival is the private events that are also put on. These run throughout the carnival period, almost every day, and are ticketed events that it is advisable to book in advance for. Popular private events include ‘Minuetto’, a refined dinner and dance, and the Tiepolo Ball which is widely-regarded as one of the finest balls held in Venice. Staged in the Hall of the Ridotto, Carnival Dream is a stunning theatrical experience which is full of Venetian glamour and performed in English. Many of these events are held in the carnival season each and every year.

Why Classical Music Benefits Children

Parents know instinctively that a lullaby can be one of the best ways to soothe a baby and help it fall asleep. But how often have they given thought to who wrote its music?

Johannes Brahms’ “Wiegenlied: Guten Abend, gute Nacht”, more popularly known as Brahms’ Lullaby, is often the song of choice on a child’s music box. Meanwhile, it is probably thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s twelve variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je maman” that we can all hum the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”.

Classical music isn’t just for adults

From our earliest moments, classical music is all around us. Some composers wrote music specifically for children. Claude Debussy’s collection of six piano pieces, Children’s Corner, and Serge Prokofiev orchestral suite, Peter and The Wolf, are well known while Camille Saint-Saëns’ musical menagerie, Carnival of the Animals, has been adopted by school teachers everywhere to introduce their children to the world of classical music.

Children’s experience of classical music should not be limited to these compositions. We make the mistake of assuming that most of the classical repertoire is too complicated for children. But at no point did any classical composer suggest that their music was beyond a child’s understanding. Even the youngest are able to say how a piece of music makes them feel: sad, happy, excited, even a little scared. They may not have the analytical skills of a musicologist, but they can immediately get to the heart of what music is all about.

How classical music helps children

Learning to share your views with others is a skill that demonstrates empathy and emotional intelligence. But classical music can help children build other types of IQ too. The “Mozart Effect” showed that listening to classical music could increase spatial intelligence.

Mastering a musical instrument will improve one’s dexterity and fine motor skills while listening to, reading and playing music is, for some, the equivalent of a whole brain workout: the best possible way of strengthening communication between the right and left hemispheres. Performing in front of others can help children overcome their fear of social situations.

Why classical music and not pop music?

Marc Neikrug, a contemporary classical composer argues that listening to Schubert and Schumann, amongst others, is the perfect antidote for one of the major concerns of our times: our shortening attention spans.

Classical music may indeed have benefits over popular music for the development of children’s minds. The repetitive nature of popular music, both rhythmically and melodically, is part of its appeal. But classical music, in comparison with modern jazz or Schoenberg serialism, is just as accessible. It shares the same harmonic rules as popular music, but it tends to do a little more with its themes; by modulating a motif into a different key, improvising a variation or inverting the accompaniment and the melody, there is an inherent variety of ideas in classical music that popular music struggles to compete with. Put another way, classical music thrives on the element of surprise; popular music on the tried and tested.

We can never be quite sure when we hear a piece of classical music for the first time where it might decide to go. So we keep on listening. Young children, unencumbered by conventional ideas or current trends, are always eager to discover new things. The sheer variety of classical music can provide the ideal accompaniment for their journey of exploration into the world around them.

Graffiti, vandalism or art?

All over Italian urban centres it is possible to see a wide variety of graffiti. Some of it is displayed on underpasses and other city infrastructure, such as bridges and embankments. However, you also see graffiti, in all of its various forms, depicted on public and private buildings, too. In contrast to many other European cities, much of Italy seems to be overrun by it. Why is this? Are Italians more tolerant to this street art or are they simply in no hurry to get rid of it? The answers lie in Roman culture which dominated the Italian peninsula for centuries. This is because urban graffiti dates back to the earliest Roman times, well before even the first Emperors took over in the wake of the assassination of Julius Caesar.

The Graffiti Culture of the Ancient Romans

The Italian noun graffito literally means a scratch and graffiti, the better-known plural version of this word, derives from it, too. Early examples of people scratching words and images into walls can be found in Pompeii, the well-preserved ancient ruin of a Roman city that was destroyed almost instantaneously by a volcanic eruption. However, humans have always made their mark on their surroundings and older versions of scratched out graffiti can be found in ancient Greece, too. Even further back, neolithic man has left graffiti in caves. Nonetheless, what marks ancient Roman graffiti out from its predecessors is that can be found in such abundance. Furthermore, it seems to cover a wide variety of subjects – anything from important and often insulting political propaganda to banal personal messages. In Pompeii, examples of graffiti include one which simply says, “Marcus loves Spendusa”. Elsewhere, a pearl of wisdom such as, “a small problem gets bigger if you ignore it” can be read. It seems that almost everyone in Pompeii’s society was at it. So much so, in fact, that a graffito legend on the wall of its basilica reads, “You have held up so much tedious graffiti, that I am amazed that your walls have not already collapsed in ruin.”

Why Was This Artform so Popular?

A restoration project of the famous Colosseum in Rome has revealed centuries of graffiti. By clearing away the accumulated grime and calcification that had built up on the structure’s stonework, experts have found multiple layers of inscriptions, much of it faded from ancient time and with lettering inscribed over the top that had been left by more modern visitors. Ultimately, graffiti was popular in public places, like the Colosseum, because it gave people a chance to express themselves and for their expressions to be viewed by as many people as possible. For people without access to other forms of mass communication, scratching an idea or a rude picture – possibly of your rival – was a means of reaching out. Although social media has largely replaced this function in today’s culture, the spirit of graffiti, especially in the form of large artworks, lives on in Italian towns and cities. You can see it in many places just as you would have done walking through the street of ancient Rome, Herculaneum or Naples. Whether it refers to the crude sexual prowess of the artist or makes a political point during an election, newly formed graffiti in Italian cities shows no sign of stopping.

Modern Italian Graffiti and Its Superstars

Indeed, graffiti nowadays is such an essential part of the urban landscape that many Italian cities actively recruit talented artists to add colour to the once-bland facades. A number of street art festivals across the country further confirm the growing acceptance of graffiti as a modern artform. Many famous graffiti artists have left the ‘underground’ and enjoy the respect and admiration of their peers and fans, their works proudly on display. Stroll down Via del Porto Fluviale in Rome and you are sure to notice the colourful faces with windows for eyes. The massive mural is the work of Blu, the mysterious Bologna-born graffiti artist whose street art is reminiscent of Banksy’s in its large scale and political undertone. In Milano, Davide ‘Atomo’ Tinelli has been stirring local spirits with his political graffiti since the 1980s. In his ‘home turf’, the Ticinese quarter, many younger artists still follow in his footsteps. Besides politics, football is another hot topic here. You can find it immortalised in many murals across the Isola neighbourhood. In Turin, Francesco Camillo “Millo” Giorgino has beautified the Corso Palermo with 13 murals that explore the topic of urban habitats and the role of citizens in them. These are just a few examples that show how Italian graffiti has decidedly stepped out of the shadows to claim its place as a full-scale form of modern art that is here to stay.