Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


When I win the lottery . . . I’ll take Close to Paradise, by Robert Fisher, with me to go house-hunting around the Bay of Naples. A picture book with plenty of text also, its main title is correct, but the subtitle isn’t quite accurate—it really is just as much if not more about the residences and their residents/caretakers, past and present, as about the gardens themselves.Fisher starts us off just north of Naples on this tour of houses and gardens, which are in the “Italian language with an English accent.” The English are responsible for many of these spots from about the mid-nineteenth century on, having discovered them on grand tours. But, of course, the stars of the book are the photos, where I’m struck by the presence of the human hand—ancient, medieval, and modern—in the most enchanting pictures. Plants, trees, and flowers are great and all, but we should remember that gardens are really the work of humans. The English, especially, had a penchant for lawns, which some of us know take a lot of work and plenty of water. Yet, nature does provide the canvas . . . and some pretty good views. 

Monday, October 8, 2012


The age of the castratos was one of the most dazzling and remarkable in European music history. Seldom has there ever been such a complete fusion of sensuousness and splendour, form and content, poetry and music, and, above all, such a perfection of vocal virtuosity, as was achieved in the glory days of the Baroque era. 
Until now, however, there has been no comprehensive presentation of the art of the castratos in music, word and image. In our attempt to portray this musical phenomenon as fully as possible, Naples and its inestimably rich musical culture have served as our model. Thanks to its historical, demographic and cultural situation, this city developed towards the end of the seventeenth century into the centre of the Western musical world -the true capital of European music, as it were -and its influence extended well into the eighteenth century.
The pivotal character in this story is the Neapolitan composer, composition teacher, vocal pedagogue and impresario Nicola Porpora {1686-1768}, who quickly attained a reputation as the foremost voice trainer of the eighteenth century -"premier maitre de chant de l'univers" (George Sand). Porpora achieved renown through his singing pupils: Farinelli, Caffarelli, Salimbeni, Appiani and Porporino, an illustrious quintet which includes the most famous castratos of all time. Besides these singers, Porpora also taught the great opera librettist Pietro Metastasio and, to a certain degree, the composers Johann Adolf Hasse and Joseph Haydn.