One of the reasons I wanted to spend a long weekend in New York last December was so I could strike one off my bucket list.
That one would be attending the Metropolitan Opera at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.
Here’s a pro-tip: If you’re going to go see the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center, take along a native New Yorker. And here’s another: If you’re going to go see Nabucco by Verdi, take along an Italian.
I was lucky enough to get to do both.
My New Yorker friend and I made plans to meet for dinner across the street from Lincoln Center. And so, after a long day of sight-seeing, I made my way uptown, making sure to leave myself plenty of time to pick up our tickets from the Will Call window, and so I could take some photos. But I was taken aback when I saw the playbills outside Lincoln Center.
“Plácido Domingo is singing tonight,” I told my friend when she arrived at the restaurant. I had paid absolutely no attention to who was performing when I had purchased the tickets online some months before.
“He’s directing,” she told me. “He doesn’t sing anymore.”
“Oh,” I said. Well, that made sense. Slightly deflated, I gave myself a shake. What did it matter who was performing? I was in New York City and I going to the opera.
But after we made our way across the street to Lincoln Center, walked up the grand staircase, found our seats, and opened our programs, we soon realized our mistake. Plácido Domingo was performing, in the title role. And conducting was the legendary James Levine. We were in for a memorable, you might even say, historic evening.
Over dinner, my friend had told me about the political significance of Nabucco for Italians. Composed in 1841, it was Giuseppe Verdi’s third opera and his first big hit. But he almost never wrote it.
While Verdi was composing his second opera, his wife died, only a few years after their two young children had died. The opera bombed. Devastated, Verdi declared he was done composing.
But a friend persisted in showing Verdi a libretto he thought was worth a look. It was about the Jews after they were conquered and subjugated by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (in Italian, Nabucco). Verdi’s attention was caught by a single line of text in the libretto, “Va pensiero, sull’ ali dorate” (“Fly, thought, on golden wings”). This line, inspired by Psalm 137 (“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept”), became the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.
And that chorus, my friend told me, became a rallying call for the oppressed Italians during the unification of Italy. Many consider the chorus to be an unofficial Italian anthem that lamented how the Italian people were occupied by other forces (namely, the Austrians) on Italian land. The Italian audiences would cheer and holler until the opera companies repeated the chorus as an encore.
Which is also what happened that night not four weeks ago when my friend and I heard Nabucco performed live by the Metropolitan Opera. In post-election America, the significance of the encore was not lost on us.
Nabucco was first performed by the Metropolitan Opera in 1960. The performance we saw was the 329th time that James Levine and Plácido Domingo had performed together, over a period 45 years. (And here’s a fun bit of trivia: none of the other soloists performing that night had been born when those two began their professional relationship.)
I’ve written before about how my love of opera intersects with my love of travel. What I had forgotten until I started writing this post was how it had been my mother who had introduced me to opera. She had an album of opera choruses and would play it, full volume, on our brand new component stereo. That album was my introduction to “Va pensiero, sull’ ali dorate,” and the tune has stuck in my head ever since.
Long before I began attending live opera performances, I used to listen to CBC Radio Two’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera, which is a live broadcast of the Saturday matinee performances at Lincoln Center. I don’t know why I stopped listening to them, but today I made a point of tuning in.
This afternoon’s broadcast was Nabucco. Live from the Met. I closed my eyes as I listened to “Va pensiero, sull’ ali dorate” and was instantly transported back to New York. Not in body, obviously, but certainly in spirit.
I expect it will be that way every time I hear the chorus from now on. As I told a friend after I got back from New York, seeing Nabucco live at the Met was pretty much a religious experience for me. I don’t want that feeling to ever go away.
I took this photo from the Palatine Hill, the centremost of Ancient Rome’s seven hills. It overlooks the Forum and is the oldest part of Rome.
My friends and I explored the Palatine ruins at the end of a full day of sight-seeing. The Golden Hour arrived just as we did, and the soft light gave the place a magic quality.
There are hundreds of wondrous and beautiful churches in the Eternal City, some of which have left me speechless and some of which have moved me to tears. But, to my mind, the Palatine is the most sacred and holy space in all of Rome.
Today’s cloister has a splash of colour, which I thought appropriate considering it is Palm Sunday ― always a joyous day of celebration in the Lenten calendar.
This is the Majolica Cloister of Monastero di Santa Chiara in Naples, Italy, which was built in the fourteenth century as both a Franciscan monastery and a convent of the Order of Saint Clare, also known as the Poor Clares. During the eighteenth century, the garden of the cloister was completely transformed by the addition of the majolica-tiled pillars you see in the photo. (Majolica tiles are common throughout the Mediterranean region.) The pillars line two intersecting pathways that divide the garden into quarters.
It had only just stopped raining when we popped in to take a quick look at this cloister in October 2002. It was far too short a visit ― my friends and I had a train to catch ― but someday I hope to go back and photograph it properly.
I can’t help myself.
It’s not like I need a reason to post a photo from Italy ― give me five minutes and I can come up with the slightest excuse.
Today’s pretext? Two friends of mine are on their way to the Amalfi Coast for what I’m sure is a much-needed and well-deserved taste of la dolce vita.
I took this photo from the top of the island of Capri in October 2002. That’s the Sorrento Peninsula off in the distance.
Shooting a memorable photo is often a matter of being in the right place at the right time. A good zoom lens doesn’t hurt either.
I took this photo in Venice’s Piazza San Marco in October 2007.
Many years ago, I spent an evening at a friend’s place, looking at the many photos he’d taken on his months-long Eurail jaunt. When he got to the last page of the last album, he looked at me thoughtfully.
“You’re the first of my friends to sit through them all,” he said. I smiled. He seemed surprised. I was not.
I am as fascinated by everyone else’s travel photos as I am with taking my own ― particularly when the photos are of (a) places where I’ve been or (b) places where I want to go. And these days, thanks to inventions like Facebook, I get to see a lot of photos. Particularly around this time of year when everyone begins posting their holiday photos.
Since I’m not too motivated to write much right now, I’m going to keep it simple over the next few weeks by posting a series of travel photos of my own. The only link regarding the subject matter is they are all photos of places my dear friends and family have had (or will have) the good fortune to explore this summer. You could say I’m continuing the conversation they started by the photos they’ve shared on Facebook.
First up: a photo I took of a passageway in Siena, Italy, in October 2007.
Today is Palm Sunday, and we’re moving on to Rome. Rome is also known as the Eternal City ― the ancient Romans called it that because they thought the Roman Empire would go on forever. (Look how that turned out.)
One of my favourite Roman churches is this one, the Pantheon. I like it simply because it is so ancient ― almost 2000 years old.
For more on the Pantheon, check out the photo I posted a couple of years ago.