Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Baritone David Krohn's Diary of Summer Adventures in Italy

Il ragazzo abbronzatura cavalca il treno a Roma!
(Photo courtesy of David Krohn)
"Last season, after singing my first Don Giovanni with the Seattle Opera Young Artist Program, I decided to take a different approach to the typical summer training a singer my age might select. Digesting a five-hundred page score of complex Italian grammar and vocabulary like Giovanni made me realize how many gaps there were in my Italian training, and instead of taking years and years of language classes to compensate, but never completely learning what I needed to know, I opted to head to the source of opera itself, Italy. Where else would I truly obtain a sense of ease and comfort in this critical language? After finishing a couple of concerts with the Virginia Symphony with their Arts Festival, I dropped off my rental car at the local airport, checked in my big red suitcase, and
Castel Sant'Angelo
(originally The Mausoleum of Hadrian)
scanned my one-way ticket to Rome. While I was studying for my Master's degree at Juilliard, I was awarded a language study grant to learn German in Germany and Austria for a month, so I decided with my limited time there to sign up for a language school that met every morning from 7:00am to noon, at which time we were then dismissed to head out into Munich and explore the culture and live the language. To my frustration, I discovered that I was learning twice as much German outside of the classroom as I was while locked away inside, drilling grammar exercises on a white board with fellow English speakers. With that in
The Colosseum
(originally The Flavian Amphitheatre)
mind, I decided to do something different this time. I chose to go to Italy without the assistance of language schools at all; to get an apartment in Rome and live "as the Romans do," applying for work, getting haircuts, buying groceries, paying bills, taking the subways in the morning, reading the newspapers, watching TV -- in other words, complete and total immersion. Never having been to Italy in my entire life, I took a leap of faith and booked my first few nights at a bed-and-breakfast in a part of town which seemed conveniently central. I won't bore you in meticulous detail about all of the embarrassing moments in the airport and train station, where I asked for directions from official looking people with my jumbled grammar and limited vocabulary, gaining little more than confused looks, but I'll say that I somehow arrived in Piazza Crati hours later to meet my hosts at the B&B, neither of whom spoke more than a dozen words of English. And that's about how it went for the next few weeks. I
Teatro alla Scala
(originally New Royal-Ducal Theatre at La Scala)
carried a notebook around with me everywhere, scribbling down new word after new word, feverishly studying my new vocabulary in coffee shops, testing them out in poorly constructed sentences with the patiently amused waitstaff. Before long, I had settled into an apartment in Vitinia, a blue-collar section of town vacant of any other English speakers, forcing me out of my comfort zone any time I closed the front door behind me and ventured out into this new world. I was a fifteen minute subway ride to the Colosseum, a half hour to the Vatican City, fifteen minutes to the beaches at Ostia. It was all there. I got a job teaching English to business executives near the Trevi Fountain, using my slowly growing command of Italian grammar to help explain the intricacies of our
The famous "Pini di Roma" (Pines of Rome)
own language to them. While I enjoyed every minute of working with my students, as soon as Friday afternoon arrived, I raced over to Termini Station, the central train station of Rome, a weekend bag packed and slung over my shoulder, to figure out to which Italian city I would travel for the weekend. First, it was to see the canals of Venice, where Otello played in my mind (the '76 Kleiber La Scala performance with Domingo, Freni, and Cappuccilli, of course). Then, I was off to Florence to walk along the River Arno, this time hearing
Steps to the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara coeli
on the highest summit of the Campidoglio.
Schicchi. Genoa brought thoughts of Simon Boccanegra, Modena brought thoughts of countless recordings of the great Pavarotti and Freni, and a special trip to Busseto to pay homage to the great Verdi's hometown brought dozens of the greatest operas ever written into mind. Trips to Milan, Pisa, Bologna, Orvieto, Parma, Cinque Terre, Naples, Pompeii, week after week of endless adventures, each opening up my knowledge of dialects and the rich tradition of Italian culture. After another month, I found myself conversing with strangers everywhere, making fewer and fewer mistakes, and expanding my vocabulary every day. I stood atop Castel Sant'Angelo, from which Tosca threw
Vernazza in the province of La Spezia, Liguria.
It is one of the five towns in the Cinque Terre region.
herself in Act III of her eponymous opera, visited Scarpia's Palazzo Farnese, and Lodovico's Ducal Palace of Venice. It was a world of opera. Everyone who heard that I was an opera singer insisted that I sing for them, something I normally resist doing, but Italy put up a much stronger fight than I could resist. No matter what I decided to sing for the locals, they insisted on joining in, always knowing the words perfectly, proving that the music was in their blood. One particular night, about a month and a half into my time there, I found myself cooking a thank-you dinner for
Lunch in Monterosso at Bar Giovanni
while hiking along the Italian Riviera.
my new Roman friends, consisting entirely of local dishes - Bucatini all'Amatriciana, Saltimbocca alla Romana, a radicchio dish "in agrodolce," complete with antipasti and dolci, when the gas on the oven went out. Without hesitation, I knocked on my neighbor Cosimo's door and asked him how I could reset the gas to my stove, preventing a dinner party disaster. Since all of the units in the building had a similar gas hookup, he gave me precise instructions of how to reset things and continue cooking. On the way back into the kitchen, I began to laugh, realizing I somehow knew the words for 'pilot light, knob, restart, gas, circuit breaker, burner, stovetop' in Italian. I can't tell you where I learned them, but it was starting to feel like my goals were being realized. The next month and a half in Italy were just as magical as the first. Some of the many highlights included a performance of Nabucco in the legendary outdoor arena of Verona, conducted by
Visiting Marco Corelli, only living
relative of the late Franco Corelli.
Maestro Julian Kovatchev, who will be conducting Madama Butterfly at Seattle Opera this coming May; taking a trip to Ancona to visit the hometown of Franco Corelli, my favorite singer of all time, and spending a couple of days with his family and friends; eating in Pavarotti's favorite restaurants of Modena; hearing Maestro Asher Fisch conduct an Aida at the famous Terme di Caracalla in Rome; hiking the Cinque Terre of Liguria, Italy's Riviera; afternoons on the beach with my Roman friends; salsa dancing all night outdoors in EUR, Mussolini's section of southern Rome; and more than anything, learning that opera and music is part of the national pride in Italy. It's not looked at as "weird" to be a singer, but exciting and honorable. Leaving Rome after over three months of living there was difficult." A special thank you to David Krohn for providing the complete transcript of his Italian journey as well as approving the use of his personal photos.

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