Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Last chance to see Giovanni Bellini at the Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome

Nobody visiting the eternal city in late 2008 could have failed to notice that there's been a major exhibition of works by the 15th century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini at the Scuderie del Quirinale with an extensive advertising campaign featuring the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple on the city's transport system. Like the Etruscans at the Palaexpo this has been billed as one of the must-see shows of the season – if you haven't seen it yet, catch it before it closes because this exhaustive review of Bellini's work really is essential viewing!

Organised across both floors of the Scuderie galleries on a genre by genre basis, the exhibition includes not only smaller portraits and Madonnas but also, most impressively, entire large scale altarpieces such as the Pesaro Altarpiece in the first room, all beautifully and discreetly lit. Making full use of the potential of this exhibition space, the very large Vicenza Baptism of Christ is hung on the end wall of the final room on the ground floor allowing visitors the chance to admire its dazzling colours along the entire length of the gallery.

One of the most intriguing pieces is a panel, Dead Christ Supported by Two Angels, from circa 1470 which is dated and signed with Albrecht Dürer's highly recognisable AD monogram (the catalogue, incidentally, reassures us that this is a fake signature!)

Giovanni Bellini curated by Mauro Lucco and Giovanni C.F.Villa is at the Scuderie del Quirinale until 11 January 2009.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Buon Natale from Rome!

If you're in Rome over the Christmas holiday the traditional Piazza Navona Christmas market and fair is in full swing...whilst there, you can admire the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi by Bernini, which is now fully unwrapped after a long restoration.

Buon Natale!

Detail of Bernini's Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi with Christmas Fair
Originally uploaded by
Deborah Swain

Monday, December 15, 2008

River Tiber, Castel Sant'Angelo and Ponte Sant'Angelo

In spite of the mayor's warning - "this isn't a film - stay at home!" - people headed over to the Tiber in huge numbers this weekend to witness the event...after a brief break in the bad weather yesterday it's pouring again today and flood warnings about the river have been renewed.

River Tiber, Castel Sant'Angelo and Ponte Sant'Angelo
Originally uploaded by Deborah Swain

Friday, December 12, 2008

Flooding in Rome as River Tiber peaks

Too much rain
Originally uploaded by
koen ivens
After incessant storms and rainfall over the last couple of days there has been heavy flooding in Rome with the River Tiber predicted to burst its banks later this afternoon.

In fact, more rain fell during Wednesday night's storm than the average total for the whole of December. Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno has declared a natural disaster and encouraged people to stay at home.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Photography at The Museo di Roma in Trastevere

I admit that one of my bad habits is catching exhibitions shortly before they close – as luck would have it the photography exhibition at the Museo di Roma in Trastevere - Lisette Model and her school. Photographs from 1937 – 2002 - was popular enough to be extended until 30 November. 

This is another of the art galleries in Rome of which I'm particularly fond. Although it is reasonably small with narrow corridor-like exhibition spaces on the upper floor, and the ground floor gallery following the perimeter of an internal cloister, this difficult space lends itself well to photography shows or other smaller works and the Lisette Model show is no exception. Curated by Diana Edkins and Larry Fink (whose photographs are also on display) this is a highly enjoyable introduction not only to Model's spontaneous 'street photography' and candid portraits of unsuspecting 'sitters' but also an excellent overview of the later generation of photographers who either trained under her or were highly influenced by her style. I particularly liked the social commentary of Eva Rubinstein's works as well as the portraits by Diane Arbus and Bruce Weber.

In complete contrast, I also enjoyed the exhibition of very recent journalistic sports photography from the Reuter's collection - Un mondo di sport – on display on the lower floor of the gallery until 28 Decemeber. These stunning images in colour document sports from around the world – from a global event like the Beijing Olympics to the obscure and bizarre such as the Gloucestershire Cheese Rolling contest!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Yael Naim | The Auditorium, Rome | 24 November, 2008

Yael Naim
Originally uploaded by
Whilst Yael Naim's world-wide fame may have been jump-started in the US by her infectiously catchy hit single New Soul being used by Apple in an advertising campaign to launch its MacBook Air, in Italy she's possibly best known for her brief guest appearance at the San Remo Music Festival last year when she performed the song on Italian television. Although her self-titled CD (which recently won Album of the Year in the World Music category at the Victoires de la Musique annual French music awards) has been out for a while now this immensely talented singer and musician is on a world tour, entitled New Soul, to promote the album.

Switching effortlessly between songs in French, English, and Hebrew, Yael Naim's music defies categorization and drifts through folk, pop and jazz – in fact, her concert at Sala Sinopoli at the Auditorium last night was presented as part of the Roma Jazz Festival – all sung in a voice that has the richness and range of a young Joni Mitchell...but not quite, because after a short while on stage, particularly after her slowed down piano reworking of Britney Spear's Toxic, comparisons with other artists fade, and the only appropriate adjective to describe Yael Naim quickly becomes “unique". And "wonderful"... And "FUNNY"! Disarmingly self-effacing in her between-song chat, often breaking into spontaneous giggles and leaping around the stage throwing off shoes and dancing – or rather pogo-ing! – she had the small crowd at Sala Sinopoli on its feet clapping, dancing and singing along. The reprise of New Soul in the encore was one of those "you had to have been there" moments as she divided the hall into three sections and had us all singing different harmonies.

Equally at home playing the piano, guitar and even what looked like a ukulele at one point, she was backed by three consummate musicians – her musical partner, the percussionist David Donatien (who is incidentally given a co-credit on her album), Laurent David on the bass and Xavier Tribolet on keyboards and accordion. Sheer perfection.

As a side note, at the end of the show she even stayed behind on stage signing autographs and posing for photographs (something I've never seen happen with any other bands at the Auditorium before).

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Etruscans - The Ancient Cities of Lazio | Bill Viola - Inner Visions| Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Once again, the Palazzo delle Espozioni on Via Nazionale in Rome is proving to be one of most exciting exhibition spaces in the city with two major shows running simultaneously until January 6, 2009 exploiting the full potential of the sheer size of the galleries with the Etruscans - The Ancient Cities of Lazio (curated by Mario Torelli and Anna Maria Moretti) occupying the ground floor and Bill Viola's video installations – Inner Visions (curated by Kira Perov)– taking up the entire first floor.

The Etruscans exhibition has been promoted as one of the must-see shows in town this season with much made of the admittedly impressive partial reconstruction of the temple of Apollo in the central octagonal hall, however I was slightly disappointed by how many of the artifacts had come from the permanent Etruscan collection at Villa Giulia in Rome. There was also a video reconstruction of an Etruscan tomb which sought to recreate its initial discovery putting the viewer in the position of a kind of virtual archaeologist – a nice idea but poorly executed with inferior quality projected images. The exhibition remains, nevertheless, well worth a visit, particularly for anybody in Rome right now who hasn't already been to Villa Giulia or seen any of the Etruscans sites in Lazio. It gives an excellent overview of the often exquisite and eclectic Etruscan artistic output and is well organized thematically around the main urban centres of Etruscan activity - Veii, Cerveteri, Vulci and Tarquinia. I particularly liked the traditional and uniquely Etruscan "Bucchero" funerary objects with their black and highly polished surfaces which resemble metal.

Bill Viola
Originally uploaded by
bata ez
The Bill Viola exhibition, on the other hand, is a major retrospective by an important contemporary artist. It's a demanding show requiring an empty head, patience and lots of time – his video loops run for anything from a few minutes to a couple of hours and are, for the main part, shot entirely in slow motion – but the images stay with you for days after. Viola's work eloquently tackles all the great and timeless themes of man's existence from birth (and rebirth) to death with the full gamut of human emotions and experience in between. Many pieces were reminiscent of Renaissance paintings with explicit references to the Resurrection, Annunciation, Sacred Conversations and the Pietà. Unmissable.

Glimpses of many of Bill Viola's works are available online at the official website of the exhibition.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Liza Minnelli | The Auditorium, Rome | 29 October, 2008

Liza Minnelli was in stunning form on the opening date if her Italian Tour in Sala Santa Cecilia at the Auditorium in Rome last night. I had bought the tickets in order to pay respectful homage to a living legend and hadn't been expecting such a dazzling performance - instead I was left, quite simply, in awe of the woman!

After years of ill-health Liza is well and truly back in a wonderful show in which she sings and dances with mesmerizing energy and enthusiasm, supported on stage by a 12 piece orchestra and four brilliant singers and dancers who play the part of the Williams Brothers in an affectionate tribute to her godmother Kay Thompson's review of the 1940s.

A natural raconteur, she shared personal reminiscences of her mother Judy Garland and father Vincente Minnelli between songs which included classics such as Cabaret and of course, her signature tune and concert closer, New York New York, as well as as some lesser known numbers – songs written for Chicago and Cabaret that never actually made it into the movies.

And what a voice – vulnerable and powerful all at once, she gave a faultless performance last night. The standing ovation and continued cheers from the audience at the end of the concert were rewarded by an extraordinary acapella version of I'll be seeing you – just Liza, no orchestra - you just HAD to have been there!

As a footnote...with Rome lashed by torrential rains and monsoon-like storms last night getting to the Auditorium involved wading ankle deep through flooded streets and praying that the bus we were on didn't aquaplane out of control! Some how we managed to get so very glad we did!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ben Barnes and Jessica Biel at 'Easy Virtue' Premiere at Rome Film Festival

A recent online survey named Jessica Biel as one of the worst red carpet autograph signers on the scene right now and indeed, true to form, she swished briskly down the red carpet last night at the premiere of Easy Virtue in Rome and although she did smile and wave briefly at the handful of waiting fans, her attention was focused firmly on journalists and official photographers and anybody after an autograph was left disappointed. Ben Barnes aka Prince Caspian, on the other hand, her charming co-star in the movie, stopped to chat to fans and signed numerous autographs along the red carpet route. They were both joined by the director, Stephen Elliott (of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert fame) for the red carpet photo call before entering Sala Santa Cecilia for the premiere. The film itself, an adaptation of Noel Coward's roaring twenties play of the same name, was met with an extremely warm reception. Diva or not, Biel gives an excellent performance in this sparkling comedy of manners, as the sexy American racing driver who marries into an upper class English family and finds herself at odds with the hypocrisy and stuffiness of the household and in particular, with her new mother-in-law played by a wonderfully droll Kristin Scott Thomas.

Viggo Mortensen in Conversation at the Rome Film Festival

Viggo Mortensen at the Rome Film Festival 2008

If this year's Rome Film Festival has seen a paucity of international A-list stars on the red carpet Viggo Mortensen has single-handedly done much to redress the balance appearing in no less than three events here this year! After two walks up the red carpet for the presentations of the films Appaloosa and Good earlier this week, yesterday he spoke to fans and film goers in Sala Petrassi in an encounter organised by Mario Sesti and Marco Giovannini. These conversations are always designed to encourage an intimate atmosphere and actors or directors are left to speak as freely as they wish, however, yesterday's afternoon with Viggo Mortensen seemed particularly special with a relaxed Mortensen talking at length in both English and Italian (and even, in response to a question from a member of the audience, in Norwegian) ostensibly about his film career, although the general impression afterwards, was that one had been left with an insight into his philosophy for living.

During the encounter clips from some of his key movies were shown and Mortensen was quick to praise his onscreen partnerships as being fundamental to the success of each performance, citing in particular the work done by Patricia Arquette in The Indian Runner, Sean Bean in The Lord of the Rings, as well as the intelligence and intuition of TJ, the horse which played the title role in Hidalgo and which he purchased after the film. There were also clips from Carlito's Way, A History of Violence – the highly intense sex scene on a staircase with Maria Bello, after which Mortensen quipped “Don't try that at home!” - and Alatriste, in which he speaks Spanish. Incredibly warm, genuinely interested in people and conversations, this charismatic actor then spent a good half hour after the event signing autographs and individually greeting his admirers.

Friday, October 24, 2008

David Cronenberg in conversation at The International Rome Film Festival

If the presence of iconic actor Al Pacino on Day One of the Rome Film festival was admittedly a tough act to follow, the presence of iconic film director David Cronenberg on Day Two was an equally thrilling encounter for fans of the maestro of body horror who was the star attraction yesterday afternoon. After a leisurely stroll up the red carpet where he signed numerous autographs and posed for photographs, he then spoke at length about his work as both director and occasional actor with Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti in front of a packed and enthusiastic audience in Sala Petrassi.

Following the familiar format for film meetings at the Auditorium the director spoke in between clips from some of his most famous movies – The Fly, A History of Violence, Dead Ringers and eXistenZ – as well as the extraordinary fight sequence featuring Viggo Mortensen in Eastern Promises which the curators paired with the Turkish bath house sequence in Orson Welles' Othello and which, curiously, Cronenberg said he'd never seen until that moment.

I'm a huge admirer of Cronenberg so this really was an enthralling experience. He discussed themes familiar to all his films – human violence, ageing, disease and mortality – in short, the human condition; it was also particularly refreshing to hear him speak in Italy, a country that dedicates huge amounts of space to what the Pope says and does on the main news most days, and to hear him declare himself as unashamedly atheist and as a person who doesn't believe in the human spirit existing outside the human body. He defined himself early on in the conversation as an “existentialist'”– however unfashionable that term may be nowadays! “Genius” will do nicely.

At the Palazzo delle Esposizioni there is also an exhibition of digitally elaborated photographs taken from stills from his films - Chromosomes. Cronenberg beyond cinema and an accompanying retrospective of his films

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Al Pacino in conversation at The International Rome Film Festival

The road to this year's Rome film festival – now in its third edition – has been a somewhat rocky one with the controversial resignation in April of its president Goffredo Bettini and a great deal of discussion about shifting the focus of the festival away from glamorous A-list stars and Hollywood movies to European, and specifically Italian, cinema. The most notable change was that of its name – what was once the Rome Film Fest became The International Rome Film Festival – all rather ironic in the light of the organisers' desire to give the event a stronger Italian identity.

As it happens, the festival opened yesterday with one of the greatest international stars of all time (albeit of Italian descent) and a true Hollywood icon – Al Pacino – who was presented with the Marc'Aurelio Alla Carriera, an Acting Award given to the Actors Studio, of which he is one of the presidents.

After a lengthy stroll up the red carpet to cheers and scenes of general pandemonium outside the Auditorium Parco della Music, Al Pacino then spent the next couple of hours in conversation in Sala Sinopoli, where he chatted about his acting career and working techniques. With Pacino's wry sense of humour, enormous humility and generosity of spirit this was a wonderfully entertaining encounter. The audience were treated to some classic moments from some of his defining roles kicking off with Dog Day Afternoon, followed by Scarecrow, Scarface, Carlito's Way, The Merchant of Venice, Looking for Richard, The Godfather and The Devil's Advocate, and finally - with a respectful nod to Italian legend Vittorio Gassman's interpretation in Dino Risi's Profumo Di Donna - Scent of a Woman. Pacino discussed each film in turn and then answered questions from the audience – in answer to one in question about achieving iconic status in Hollywood the actors he named as being true greats in the younger generation working today were...Sean Penn, Johnny Depp, Russell Crowe and Leonardo DiCaprio.

The evening was rounded off with two pieces previously unseen in Italy – a 7 minute clip from Al Pacino's current project as writer and director - Salomaybe? This was followed by Chinese Coffee, also directed by Pacino, a bittersweet film that felt more like an intimate play, beautifully acted by Al Pacino and the late Jerry Orbach who are on screen together for almost the entire film. In fact, Pacino introduced it as his “off-off-Broadway movie”.

Festival del cinema di Roma © Alessandro Serranò 127
Originally uploaded by ErMaphia

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cranes | Circolo degli Artisti, Rome | 21 October, 2008

The Circolo degli Artisti is one of those small and sweaty standing-only venues where packed audiences are crammed into a tiny space and can almost touch the artists on stage – the perfect intimate setting for new and emerging musicians or more famous indie bands with cult status such as was the case with Cranes last night, on a European tour after a long hiatus to promote their new eponymously titled CD. The downside of the venue is that bands inevitably have to compete against the background drone of inane chatter from the people at the back who for mysterious reasons known only to themselves, have bought tickets for a concert but prefer to hang around the bar and talk all over the music! Romans, incidentally, win the prize for this – whether it be at concerts, the theatre or movies, shutting up and listening seems a major challenge in this city, so major kudos to Cranes who managed to quickly win over the entire audience last night. Admittedly, most people at the front where I was standing seemed to be hardcore fans and at times I felt conspicuous as a Cranes ingénue as they performed their classic songs to ecstatic cheers. I really enjoy going to shows as a way of discovering music that I don't actually know that well, however, and was so pleased that I'd been persuaded to go – Cranes are an amazing band to see live! I was completely won over by their fusion of jangly guitars and electronic pop - I was often reminded of Joy Division or New Order with a dash of Cocteau Twins – all held together by the ethereal vocals of the captivating Alison Shaw.

After playing two, maybe three encores – I actually lost count - they were immediately back out on stage after lights up to sign CDs, posters and chat and shake hands with fans. Great band, nice people – catch them if they're playing near you!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Poverty in Rome for Blog Action Day

Today, 15 October 2008, is Blog Action Day when tens of thousands of bloggers around the world write a post about one important topic. This year the focus is on poverty.

This blog usually looks at art and music and features concert reviews short, it highlights the best of Rome. This post looks at homelessness, poverty and degradation in a city in which - according to city council estimates last year - approximately 7,000 homeless people are sleeping on the streets.

I didn't take the five photographs here - if you'd like to comment on any of the images please click on them or the links below and you'll be taken to the Flickr pages of the photographer.

Io Vagabondo...
Originally uploaded by ibernato67

Flower Girl
Originally uploaded by vangruvie

In ricchezza e in povertà
Originally uploaded by Eleanza

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Adriana Varela | The Auditorium, Rome | 6 September, 2008

Whilst every local and national news station in Italy seemed to have joined the stampede to catch a few seconds of footage of Madonna at the Olympic Stadium last night, at the Auditorium Music Park world famous Argentine tango singer Adriana Varela inaugurated the second edition of the Buenos Aires Tango festival with a stunning show in Sala Sinopoli.

The festival - sponsored by the Ministry of Culture of the Government of the City of Buenos Aires - is a two week celebration of tango in all its forms with a series of concerts and events introducing tango musicians, singers and dancers to a wider audience. Before the concert I was unfamiliar with Adriana Varela's music and I'd bought the tickets on the recommendation of a tango-loving friend - but I left the show a fan, entirely captivated by her extraordinary voice and charismatic personality! Prowling up and down the stage talking to the audience, sitting on occasions, combining elements of cabaret with tango-as-torch-song drama and even squeezing in a glamorous costume change at one point (during which her band - Marcelo Macri on piano, Ernesto Molina on accordion and Horacio Avilano on guitar - treated us to an instrumental interlude) this felt like an intimate nightclub show performed by a major talent. I was on my feet with the rest of the audience who gave her a standing ovation and was rewarded by a surprise second encore after the lights were up. One of the highlights of the show for me was Con la frente marchita (see video below).

Stepping outside after the concert into a still stiflingly warm summer evening, the Argentine atmosphere continued with dozens of couples tangoing in the Cavea which had been transformed into an impromptu open air dance hall for the occasion.

Buenos Aires Tango runs until 18 September.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Italian Contemporary Art at the Quadriennale

With the reopening of the Palazzo delle Espozioni the Quadriennale D'Arte di Roma show has returned to its original home. In its 15th edition, this major Italian Contemporary Art show brings together 99 young and mid-career artists working in Italy who have emerged within the last twenty years, as well as a posthumous contribution by sculptor Luciano Fabro who died last year. With so many contributing artists the Quadriennale is necessarily a huge show covering both upper and lower floors of what is already a vast exhibition space and although I found it somewhat patchy overall there's still plenty there to make the exhibition well worth a visit and an encouragingly large number of women artists included.

Artists using video and short films were well represented throughout the show – I particularly liked Grazia Toderi's Rosso, an absorbing nocturnal cityscape video on a loop, with its man made constellations of twinkling headlamps, planes and street lights played to an increasingly noisy city soundtrack which soon seemed reminiscent of the rumble of a distant warzone, with the red glow of the city and sudden flashes of light echoing infrared footage of recent bombardments (which most visitors will have witnessed only on television). Other major social and contemporary issues were also represented – global warming and the eco disaster of endangered species was tackled by Maurizio Savini in Destined for Nothing which featured a bright pink chewing gum sculpture of a polar bear who is found washed up and desperate - quite literally on our front doorsteps - in an interactive piece that allowed the visitor to step into the installation, look through a spy hole and take a closer look at a doomed species. I also enjoyed Andrea Mastrovito's disturbing life cycle animation/projected video Eine Symphonie des Grauens.

The Rome Quadriennale runs until 14 September 2008

Friday, August 15, 2008

Books, music and theatre in the gardens of Castel Sant'Angelo

As Romans and tourists alike swelter through August in the city it's good to find summer events which continue throughout the holiday month. Although it remains a smaller event than in past years the book fair Invito alla Lettura in the gardens of Castel Sant'Angelo is well worth a visit.

As well as browsing through bookstalls, visitors can also meet authors, enjoy concerts and cabaret performances, or even learn more about alternative therapies.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Paul Simon | The Auditorium, Rome | 29 July 2008

Paul Simon's last appearance in Rome was in what has now become the historic final performance with Art Garfunkel on 31 July 2004 in a free concert in front of the Colosseum before a crowd of 600,000 spectators who filled the entire length of Via dei Fori Imperiali as far as Piazza Venezia. Two years earlier Paul Simon had given another amazing (and again, free) concert at the Galoppatoio in Villa Borghese Park to a capacity crowd of 50,000. Having seen him twice, therefore, and knowing what a brilliant performer he is live I didn't hesitate at getting tickets for his first paid show in the capital and the chance to see him in the smaller setting of the Cavea at the Auditorium. Yet such is the energy of the man that even on a sizzling hot July evening he had everybody in the audience clapping and cheering as if they were at a stadium! Early on he commented (as many other performers before him have done) about the physical distance that separated him from the audience who were seated way back from the stage – I wish we weren't so far apart... - although by the end people were on their feet and dancing at the foot of the stage regardless of what the Auditorium rules might say!

When you're Paul Simon choosing a set list must be an arduous task – what DO you choose with such a staggering back catalogue behind you? I really enjoyed the selection which showcased his entire career with tracks from most albums including some real gems like Train In The Distance from Hearts and Bones, Duncan from Paul Simon as well as three tracks from his latest outing SurpriseOutrageous, How Can You Live In The North East and Father And Daughter. Graceland dominated the set list (who's complaining...?) with five tracks in total lifted from that award winning album. The Simon & Garfunkel tracks predictably went down a storm – the intro to Mrs. Robinson included a wonderful reference to Mystery Train by Elvis, The Sounds of Silence with just voice and guitar was a masterpiece of understatement and The Boxer was the audience sing-along song in the second encore. The most surprising Simon & Garfunkel inclusion for me was The Only Living Boy In New York.

All in all there were too many high points to mention. Sheer perfection! Am looking forward to next time!

Full set list (I think this is complete...if there are any omissions please feel free to leave a comment below!)

The Boy In The Bubble
(intro Mystery Train) Mrs Robinson
How Can You Live In The North East?
Slip Slidin´ Away
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard
You´re The One
Train In The Distance
The Teacher
The Sounds of Silence
The Cool Cool River
The Only Living Boy In New York
Father And Daughter
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes
Still Crazy After All These Years
You Can Call Me Al
That was Your Mother
The Boxer
Late In The Evening

Incidentally, Paul Simon was supported by blues guitarist and singer-songwriter Robben Ford who played a really enjoyable half hour set as the Cavea filled. I'll admit I hadn't actually heard of him before but will now investigate his work - I was really pleased to have arrived early enough to have seen him perform.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Lucilla Galeazzi and Fabrizio De Rossi Re | Villa Doria Pamphilj, Rome | 28 June, 2008

Monday evening saw the closing concert in the series Concerti nel Parco in the wonderful setting of Villa Doria Pamphilj, the largest of Rome's public parks. The Umbrian singer Lucilla Galeazzi and the Roman singer and jazz pianist Fabrizio De Rossi Re both perform traditional Italian folk songs and this evening saw them revisit some classics in surprising and entertaining ways in a performance entitled Canti tra cielo e terra (Songs between Land and Sky).

I'm a huge fan of Lucilla Galeazzi and try to see her whenever she plays in Rome but thoroughly enjoyed De Rossi Re's exhilarating jazz reworking of some numbers, in particular the two songs which opened the show La storia di Isabella di Lorena and La mamma del mio amore and a duet with Giuppi Paone Mamma mia mi voi maridà.

From the second she stepped on stage, however, it was clear from the cheers from the audience, that most people were there to see the immensely talented folk icon Lucilla Galeazzi who, once again, gave an impeccable performance and literally stole the show with her incredible voice and charismatic presence. The set show stopper for me was the Luigi Tenco song Mi Sono Innamorato Di Te.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Björk | The Auditorium, Rome | 25 July, 2008

Originally uploaded by Maria Novella
Of the entire summer calendar of events in Rome this year this concert was the one I'd been looking forward to most eagerly...Björk last toured in Italy seven years ago so her appearance at the Cavea at the Auditorium on Friday evening was a major event. And what a spectacular show it was! The Volta Tour is a visually thrilling experience with the set draped in flags and medieval style pennants and a series of special effects throughout – explosions, lasers, strobes and a huge swirling snow storm of ticker tape in the finale – but at its heart there is the music of Björk and her extraordinary voice. She was proceeded on stage by the marvellous all-singing, all-dancing (and all-woman) brass band The Wonderbrass and then rushed out to ecstatic cheers and launched into Earth Intruders from Volta. From the first few bars it was clear that she was in stunning voice and this was confirmed as she then sang Unravel and the rapturously received Hunter.

An added instrumental bonus which served as a brief intermission of sorts was the Overture from Selma Songs, the soundtrack to Dancer in the Dark which was played by The Wonderbrass before Björk joined them again on stage to perform the oldest of the tracks that evening, Anchor Song from her first album Debut.

The Cavea is an intimate venue seating only 2000 people and concert goers tend to stay seated longer there than they maybe would anywhere else, and certainly the over zealous security guards often try to stop any keen fans from nearing the stage, so it was down to Björk herself to get everybody up on their feet – You're too polite! Stand up! she cried - and stand we did and those lucky enough to be sitting in the stalls could at last rush the stage! During Hyperballad too she encouraged the audience to sing along saying We are in Italy! closing the show with a frenetic Pluto which the audience kept on chanting throughout the applause till she reappeared for the Volta Tour anthem Declare Independence – Roma, Raise your Flag! An unforgettable evening.

Full set list:
Earth Intruders
Pleasure is All Mine
Desired Constellation
Hidden Place
Anchor Song
Army of Me
Triumph of a Heart
Declare Independence

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Sigur Rós | The Auditorium, Rome | 12 July, 2008

Sigur Rós
Originally uploaded by fanny_
From the moment that Icelandic band Sigur Rós walked on stage and the opening notes of Svefn-G-Englar floated into the air above the Auditorium in Rome last night it seemed that more so perhaps than any other performer I've seen play there, here was a band whose music seemed made to be heard in that venue with its perfect acoustics. For those of you who have never been there, Renzo Piano's extraordinary design houses the three main theatres in insect-like pods so the whole effect is part organic, part other worldly, with those pods grouped around an open-air amphitheatre – the Cavea. Even the simple yet ethereal stage design set seemed perfectly attuned to the setting – a series of balloons hung like seven moons at the back of the stage.

A sell out concert - less fortunate fans were sitting just outside the entrance to listen - this was a stunning spectacle in every way. The four men moved around the stage playing glockenspiels to keyboards to percussion, as well as the electric guitar played with a cello bow, and were joined by an all woman string quartet and five piece brass band (who first marched on stage in a wonderful moment of showmanship as an interlude during Se Lest) with Jónsi Birgisson's extraordinary falsetto being the glue which somehow held the eclectic musical strands together into a wonderful whole.

When the audience were invited to get to their feet and clap during the pre-encore finale Gobbledigook I honestly believe that every single person was out of their seat and clapping and stamping their feet – and continued applauding till the band reappeared for a stunning encore closing the show with Popplagið (Untitled 8) – and then we applauded even louder and longer till the entire cast of players reappeared and took their bows. And yet after two hours of music the audience still wanted more and weren't happy till Sigur Rós came out one more time to take yet another curtain call. Unmissable.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Mercedes Sosa | The Auditorium, Rome | 9 July, 2008

Every now and again a concert is more than just a's an event that one feels privileged to have been there to witness. Wednesday night at the Auditorium in Rome was one of those special evenings when the Argentine singer - and certainly in Latin America, living legend - Mercedes Sosa performed in the open air Cavea at the Auditorium. The concert coincided with the singer's 73rd birthday and she seemed delighted by the spontaneous chorus of Happy Birthday in a mixture of Spanish and Italian from the enthusiastic crowd as she slowly came on stage and settled into an armchair. She then held court for over two hours singing the traditional Latin American songs she is most famous for (Todo Cambia was stunning) as well as tracks from her most recent album, the Latin Grammy Award-winning Corazón libre, accompanied on occasions by the numerous guests who joined her on stage to perform some of the songs - Franco Luciani on harmonica was astounding!

At the finale of the concert she removed the red shawl which she had worn throughout the evening and was helped to her feet to sing the Argentine National Anthem - Himno Nacional Argentino - for 9th July is also Argentine Independence Day.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Patricia Arquette at Roma Fiction Fest 2008

Roma Fiction Fest is an annual international television festival celebrating the small screen with showings on the big screen (at Multisala Cinema Adriano) of TV movies, series, sitcoms and mini-series. Yesterday evening the ever-lovely Patricia Arquette spoke briefly to a small audience about playing the part of psychic Allison DuBois in the Emmy Award-winning series Medium before two episodes from season 4 were shown.

Roma Fiction Fest runs until 12 July.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Alanis Morissette | The Auditorium, Rome | 24 June 2008

The annual season of open air music events during July in the Cavea at the Auditorium Music Park - Luglio Suona Bene - got off to a wonderful start on Tuesday evening with a sellout concert by Alanis Morissette.

The atmosphere was incredible and the enthusiasm, (word perfect) singing along and spontaneous shouted declarations of adoration were rewarded with a blistering performance of classics from her multi-Grammy winning back catalogue as well as a smattering of tracks from her latest album Flavors Of Entanglement.

Alanis Morissette has an incredibly charismatic stage presence - in fact she seemed determined to connect with each and every member of the audience regardless of where they were sitting in the Cavea, rushing backing and forth across the stage with dynamism in between bouts of headbanging! And on a personal note - I'm a sucker for girls with guitars who play the harmonica! In the words of the song which closed the concert Thank You Alanis for a wonderful evening!

Full setlist (with thanks to Italian fan site )

Moratorium I
All I Really Want
Eight Easy Steps
Citizen of the Planet
Underneath (Piano Solo)
Versions of Violence
That Particular Time
Hand in My Pocket
Moratorium II
You Oughta Know
Head Over Feet
You Learn
Thank You

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Danny DeVito on the set of When in Rome

If you're in Rome for the next couple of weeks take a wander over to Piazza Borghese for a curious new tourist attraction – a fibreglass Baroque-style fountain created on the set of the new Walt Disney movie When in Rome which is currently being filmed in the city.

According to the Cinecittà Website local residents have become so attached to the fountain that they have written to the mayor requesting that it stay in place a little longer!

Mark Steven Johnson (Daredevil) is directing the film which stars Kristen Bell of Veronica Mars fame, and Danny DeVito who we spotted in Piazza Borghese yesterday.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Giovanni Baronzio and the Rimini School in the 14th Century | Palazzo Barberini

Taking as its centre piece a recently restored multi-panelled Dossale from Villa Verucchio depicting various scenes from Christ's Passion by Giovanni Baronzio - exhibited for the first time in its newly reassembled state - this small exhibition at the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Palazzo Barberini also offered several other gems from the 1300s from other lesser known artists working in Rimini in that period. In fact, my favourite room was the very first in the exhibition which focussed primarily on tiny devotional panels created in the main part for private alters such as Pietro da Rimini's 1330 pair of panels – The Resurrection and an exquisite Noli me tangere. Giuliano da Rimini's Byzantine-looking Head of Christ painted in c.1320 in Room II was also a fascinating fragment of what was once a much larger panel allowing us to view from close up the incisions in the inlaid halo and a tiny square of the painted background draperies decorated with abstract motifs.

The exhibition is a preview of works which be housed in the soon to be opened (end of 2008 according to the gallery Web site) ground floor section of Palazzo Barberini dedicated to works from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

500,000 at Roma Pride Parade 2008

If the local authorities had hoped to spoil the party by denying Rome's annual gay pride march - Roma Pride - access to Piazza San Giovanni they failed miserably in their attempts because the 2008 event was a staggering success – 500,000 people marched and sang and danced their way from the starting point at Piazza della Repubblica arriving several hours later at Piazza Navona. Here are a few highlights!

CinaviCina Festival | Chongqing Acrobatics Troupe

In another of the free performances in the Cavea at the Auditorium Music Park (Friday 6th June) as part of the CinaviCina Festival, audiences were treated to a further aspect of Chinese Culture – traditional circus and the extraordinary acrobatics of the Chongqing Acrobatics Troupe.

Moving through an hour long programme of increasingly difficult and improbable feats of balance and strength the show ended in a breathtaking display of gymnastics as five of the acrobats leaped through impossibly high and narrow hoops, encouraged all the while by an enthusiastic audience.

They'll be performing again (weather permitting) at the festival's close on Sunday 8th June at 23.00...

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Roma Pride at Piazza Navona

The final destination of the Gay Pride march in Rome on Saturday 7th June has been finalised - according to RomaPride the Parade will finish in the historic setting of Piazza Navona, instead of Piazza San Giovanni.

Full route as follows:
Piazza della Repubblica (gathering at 15.00 for 16.00 departure)
Viale Luigi Einaudi
Piazza dei Cinquecento
Via Cavour
Largo Corrado Ricci
Via dei Fori Imperiali
Piazza Venezia
Via di San Marco
Via delle Botteghe Oscure
Via Florida
Largo di Torre Argentina
Corso Vittorio Emanuele II
Piazza di S. Pantaleo
Piazza Navona

Visualizzazione ingrandita della mappa

Countdown to Rome Pride!

RomaPride, the capital's Gay Pride Parade has suffered a last minute bureaucratic attack and been refused permission to conclude the march at Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano only days before the event (last year saw a huge gathering in the square which is traditionally used for large demonstrations and the annual 1st May rock concert).

The final route should be confirmed later today, but the STARTING point is at least certain - be at Piazza della Repubblica at 16.00 this Saturday, 7th June, 2008 if you'd like to lend your support. Italy’s new minister for equal opportunities has angered gay rights groups by refusing to back a gay pride march because, she said, gay people no longer suffer discrimination in Italy...Given that the centre-left government which collapsed earlier this year, failed spectacularly to honour pre-election promises and to win legal status for same-sex unions, ostensibly because of opposition from Roman Catholic politicians, discrimination against gay people in Italy is, regrettably, still very much a fact of life here.

Further details in English on the Roma Pride Web site

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

CinaVicina Festival | Gongfu Monk Group of the Shaolin Temple

The Festival of Chinese Culture, organised by the Fondazione Musica per Roma in association with the People's Republic of China's Ministry of Culture, continues at the Auditorium with theatre, music, dance, circus acts, art and literature. On Sunday evening there was a spectacular display of traditional Shaolin Kung Fu by the Gongfu Buddhist Monk Group in a packed Sala Sinopoli. Shaolin Kung Fu was first developed during the Tang dynasty, both as a form of exercise to keep monks fit between long periods of meditation and as a means of defence against aggressors - the Emperor Li Shimin even maintained a troop of warrior monks who put down a revolt with their fighting skills. This present group of performing Shaolin Monks was formed in 1987 by Shi Yongxin, the abbot of the Shaolin Temple, to help spread knowledge of this traditional skill worldwide. Sunday's performance was certainly a testament to the enormous physical and mental training and discipline required - a stunning display that was applauded by an enthusiastic audience. In the ten minute interlude there was even a brief lesson in Shaolin Kung Fu for the children present in the theatre who were invited on stage to practise their moves under the tutelage of a real Shaolin maestro!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Cina Vicina Festival | Cheng Ying Saves the Orphan of the Zhao | Henan Opera House

The journey to the Auditorium yesterday evening on the back of a moped was decidedly hairy – as I've mentioned in previously posts, I'm not keen on Rome traffic and have abandoned driving a car here - but yesterday was sheer pandemonium. As it happened, veteran Italian rocker Vasco Rossi was playing to a packed Olympic Stadium last night, attended, by the look of the roads, by just about everybody – except us. In fact, on arriving at the Auditorium, the place seemed strangely empty – we entered in a side door and walked the entire length of the entrance foyer without seeing a soul – clearly traditional Chinese Yu Opera was less of a crowd puller in Rome than Vasco!

Thankfully, however, Sala Petrassi turned out to be reasonably full for what turned out to be an absolutely enthralling performance by the 2nd Corp of the Henan Opera House of the Yu Opera Cheng Ying Saves the Orphan of the Zhao. I'm a huge fan of Chinese and Hong Kong cinema and loved every second of this tragic tale of personal sacrifice, vendetta and revenge. Li Shujian, in the lead role of Cheng Ying was extraordinary – his long anguished lament for his slain friend Gongsun (played by Gao Hongqi) and his own newborn son – was mesmerizing. The actors were rapturously applauded at the opera's close as were the musicians of the Second Yuju Orchestra of Henan Province who had actually taken no formal bows at the end of the performance, but whom somebody from the gallery had spotted as they discreetly packed up their traditional Chinese instruments and made to leave the stage.

For full cast details of the performance click here.

Monday, May 26, 2008

CinaviCina Festival | Dongguan Shipai Lion Dancing Troupe

The Dongguan Shipai Lion Dancing Troupe delighted visitors to the Auditorium yesterday afternoon with a spectacular display of acrobatics in the Cavea as part of the CinaviCina Festival.

On Sunday afternoon there was a sizeable crowd of both adults and children - the show went down particularly well with kids who rushed to stroke the lions as they wandered about the upper levels of the Cavea!

They'll be performing again at 11 and 17 on 31 May and 1 and 2 June. Admission is free - catch them if you can!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Myth of Speed | XXI Century China | Palazzo delle Esposizioni

Quite soon after moving to Rome it became very clear to me that I would not be driving in the city – the relationship that most Romans seem to have with their cars combined with terrifyingly cavalier attitude to dying at the wheel quickly put paid to any hopes I may have had of “getting the hang” of driving in Rome. Dino Risi said it all in 1962 with the classic film Il Sorpasso – little seems to have changed – there are just more and more cars in a city already choked by traffic. The recent exhibition at The Palazzo delle Esposizioni entitled Il mito della velocità - Arte, motori e società nell'Italia del '900 (The myth of speed - Art, engines and society in 20th century Italy) took this Italian love affair with speed and the internal combustion engine in particular as its focal point, taking a chronological look at its influence on art, fashion, design and society as a whole from the Italian Futurist movement through to Casey Stoner's 2007 Moto GP winning Ducati Desmosedici. Exploiting to its full potential the extremely large exhibition space this really was a stunning show featuring vintage racing cars and motorcycles – even a hydroplane and numerous pieces of related memorabilia.

Speed was also at the heart of another enjoyable exhibition on the upper floor of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni Cina XXI secolo. Arte fra identità e trasformazione (21st Century China.Art between identity and transformation) – which examined the impact of the alienating changes taking place in the new communist-capitalist China through the work of some of the most important artists working in China today. I particularly liked Fang Lijun's 2006 consisting of 16 bronze portrait heads finished in gold foil, all with eyes closed appearing rather like death masks; Weng Fen's photographic bird's eye views of rapidly changing cityscapes dwarfing young girls; Wang Qingsong's complex and troubling Dream of Migrants, which rather like the Crewdson photographs earlier in the year seemed to encompass an entire film in one elaborately staged composition, with the addition of traditional Chinese history and imagery mixed with western elements; and finally, Liu Xiaodong's brilliant Prima Mangia, a lay revisiting of The Last Supper painted in situ at the gallery in February of this year.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

An evening of poetry and music!

Francesca Merloni will be appearing tonight in a poetry concert at the Teatro Palladium at 21.00 - Call 06.4200711 for further details.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Mimmo Paladino and Brian Eno at the Ara Pacis Museum

Mimmo Paladino Scuplture at the Ara Pacis Museum in Rome
Richard Meier's dazzling white modernist building, which is both a museum housing Caesar Augustus's Ara Pacis (altar of peace) and an art gallery showing temporary exhibitions, took ten years to complete and was met with a mixed reception from Romans. I'm one of those people who actually really like the glass and travertine marble structure and have been therefore appalled by Rome's new mayor Gianni Alemanno's suggestion that he’ll be holding a referendum to allow Roman citizens to decide the fate of the Ara Pacis museum - if it gets the thumbs down the neo-fascist politician will take down the $24 million building and move it to the suburbs. Rather embarrassingly this outburst from Alemanno has made headlines all over the world - all of them posing the question He can't be serious...right?

Meanwhile, the current installation at the museum is a perfect demonstration of what works best about the structure and brings together the work of sculptor Mimmo Paladino and musician Brian Eno. Paladino fully exploits the crypt-like lower floor of the building with his recumbent figures and charred disembodied torsos taking on a distinctly archaeological feel as if surrounded by broken fragments of burial goods. Hints of something much darker, perhaps augmented by Eno's music, pervades the entire installation with associations with the Holocaust inevitable, particularly in the piece with hundreds of old wooden shoe lasts with small bronze birds attached to them which covered an entire wall. Brian Eno's music uses the auto-repeat and random-shuffle controls on numerous CD players placed throughout the exhibition to achieve infinite permutations of sound in space, with a variety of speakers installed - including Eno’s trademark speaker flowers.

The photograph show the upper floor on the beautiful sunny day I visited with sunlight streaming through the glass walls. It also shows how busy it was - in spite of Alemanno's protests, L'Ara Pacis is now the third most visited site in Rome.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

M C Escher's Puzzling Art in Rome

Spring afternoon in Rome
Originally uploaded by Axel Antòn
Quite by accident yesterday I happened on a wonderful M C Escher exhibition at the Auditorium – Parco della Musica. It actually opened back in March as part of the Festival of Mathematics, which is undoubtedly why it slipped my attention. Entitled L’arte del puzzle e il puzzle dell’arte (The art of puzzles and puzzling art) the curator Federico Giudiceandrea has brought together 66 original linocuts, lithographs, etchings, and even watercolours which brilliantly take us through the Dutch artist's entire output and interests, beyond the widely known fantastical and often maddening architectural landscapes.

So much has been written about how these apparently decorative patterns are based upon mathematical concepts of the infinite, yet on seeing the original works I was surprised by just how beautiful they are. I particularly liked The Puddle (1952, lithograph printed from three blocks), Three Worlds (1955, lithograph) and Rippled Surface (1950, linocut) which all seem to have a distinctly Japanese influence. The symmetry drawings on squared paper in pencil and watercolour (Eagles) were also really lovely, as were the colour woodcut prints of tessellated animals, and the large and rather dramatic black and white woodcuts of beetles, ants, serpents and grasshopper.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Rome Celebrates Earth Day

After Rome (indeed Italy as a whole) distinguished itself by being one of the few European capitals to have totally ignored Al Gore's global call to action and last summer's Live Earth concerts, it's refreshing to see that Rome will instead be joining other cities across the planet to celebrate Earth Day with a free concert at Campidoglio featuring Cesaria Evora and Vinicio Capossela amongst others.

The concert will be transmitted live on LifeGate Radio

Happy Birthday Roma!

Natale di Roma
Originally uploaded by Daniele Muscetta
Probably more than any other city in the wold, the history of the city of Rome is apparent at every turn; after all, a stroll through Rome is rather like walking through an open air museum. It may come as no surprise therefore to learn that it's celebrating its 2,761st birthday today! Although the eternal city is probably much older, its foundation – il Natale di Roma - is officially noted as 21 April 753 BC. A series of events and concerts to celebrate the event will be continuing through till 9 May, 2008. Full programme available here.

Monday, March 10, 2008

An Evening with EELS | The Auditorium, Rome | 8 March, 2008

Originally uploaded by fasterwallace
It's not often that one goes to a concert and instead of a support band the lights go down and the audience is treated to a BBC documentary about quantum physics! However, the acclaimed Parallel Worlds, Parallel Lives film about Eels front man Mark Oliver Everett and his relationship with his father, Hugh Everett III originator of the many-worlds theory of quantum physics , proved to be the perfect introduction to what was going to be an intimate Evening with Eels – after all, Mark Oliver Everett or 'E' has always used his music to process the family tragedies that have beset him over the years. What was surprising, perhaps, was just how warm and funny he was during the show, interspersing the heartbreaking intensity of the songs with mocking self irony – at one point he read his own fan mail and rave reviews. He was accompanied on stage by Jeffrey 'The Chet' Lyster , who switched with remarkable dexterity between drums, guitars and the musical saw (which sounded very much like a theremin) and also read excerpts from E's recent bestselling autobiography Things the Grandchildren Should Know. I've read recent reviews of this tour that described their on stage relationship as symbiotic – certainly their blistering Flyswatter in which they swapped back and forth between the piano and drums whilst never dropping a beat was an astounding feat of both musicianship and showmanship!

For an Eels fan it would be difficult to pick a best bit in what was quite simply a perfect evening which showcased the very best of E's song writing with the man, incidentally, also in excellent voice. The event was only slightly marred by the lack of an encore – after five minutes of applause, foot stamping in anticipation of a return to the stage by E and the Chet the lights in Sala Sinopoli suddenly came back on to an audible gasp of disappointment from the audience. Fan forums are abuzz with inside information that blame the Auditorium for curtailing the show because of time constraints... leaving us wondering which additional couple of numbers would have been added to the twenty song set list.

The full set list as follows – (thanks to Altoclef at Estranged Friends, an Eels fan forum.)
Grace Kelly Blues
It's A Motherfucker
Strawberry Blonde
The Last Time We Spoke
After The Operation
Souljacker, Pt. I
Elizabeth On The Bathroom Floor
Climbing To The Moon
My Beloved Monster
I Like Birds
(Fan mail readings and concert reviews spoken interlude)
(Chet reading excerpt from E's autobiography about meeting Angie Dickinson)
Jeannie's Diary
The Sound Of Fear
(Chet reading a further excerpt from E's autobiography about his neighbor seeing his sister's ghost)
Last Stop This Town
I Want To Protect You
Bus Stop Boxer
Novocaine For The Soul
Good Times, Bad Times (Led Zeppelin cover)
Somebody Loves You
Souljacker, Pt. II

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chinese New Year Dragon in Rome

Chinese Dragon in Rome, Italy
The Chinese New Year which officially began on 7th February was celebrated by Rome's Chinese community yesterday with a Dragon Parade along the entire length of a packed Via Del Corso passing Piazza Colonna and winding its way through the enthusiastic crowds to Piazza del Popolo.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

John Turturro in Conversation - A Journey Through American Cinema

The hugely talented and immensely prolific actor John Turturro met critics and the public last night at the Auditorium in Rome as part of an ongoing series of interviews Viaggio nel cinema americano (A Journey Through American Cinema). A relaxed and entertaining Turturro talked at length about working with Spike Lee and the Coen brothers, as well as the experience of playing Primo Levi in La Tregua under the direction of the highly respected Italian film director Francesco Rosi, who was also present in the audience. The conversation was interspersed with clips from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, Miller's Crossing by Joel Coen, Robert Redford's Quiz Show and the musical Romance & Cigarettes directed by Turturro. The closing clips chosen by John Turturro himself were from La Tregua and one of his personal favourite movie scenes from On the Waterfront with Marlon Brando and Eve Marie Saint.
The actor seemed reluctant to rush off stage at the end of the event and instead stayed behind chatting to members of the public and signing autographs.

The event was curated by Antonio Monda and Mario Sesti and presented by the RomeFilmFest, Studio Universal (Sky), and the Fondazione Cinema per Roma.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Lang Lang | The Auditorium, Rome | 25 January, 2008

There was something rather appropriate about Chinese pianist Lang Lang opening his concert on Friday night in the Santa Cecilia concert hall at the Auditorium in Rome with Mozart's Sonata K. 333; at twenty-five Lang Lang could almost be considered a veteran having given his first performance, like Mozart himself, as a child prodigy of five! The adult Lang Lang now tours the world promoting the piano and classical music - indeed, he is so passionate about the need to introduce children as early as possible to the benefits of musical tuition that he has been made a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Lang Lang excites praise for his thrilling virtuoso performances wherever he plays, along with some criticism for his flamboyant showmanship which is frowned upon in some stuffier classical music quarters! However, for me his stage presence makes Lang Lang all the more an exciting and charismatic player to one part during Schumann's Fantasia op. 17 it almost looked like he might stand up and smash the Steinway to pieces ala Hendrix or Townshend with their guitars!

Prior to opening the second half with a wonderful set of six traditional Chinese pieces transcribed for the piano (featured on his Dragon Songs CD), Lang Lang introduced and explained each song in a brief presentation in English, indulging the Italian audience with a buonasera and grazie! He then went on to play a piece from Goyescas by Granados, Liszt's transcription of The Death of Isolde from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, ending with Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No.6, treating us to a surprise encore of Chopin after numerous curtain calls and rapturous applause. And yet there was more to come – after almost two hours of extraordinary intensity on stage, Lang Lang then met fans and signed CDs in the bookshop. A superstar – catch him if you can!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

500,000 coloured balls tumbling down the Spanish Steps!

Love him or hate him, it's certainly hard to ignore Graziano Cecchini, a self-proclaimed modern day Futurist artist.

Last October he made headlines around the world when, instead of making a wish and tossing a coin into the Trevi Fountain, he tipped a bucket of dye into the water and turned it a spectacular blood red.

This week he struck again with another of his peaceful protests - to the amazement of Romans and tourists alike he launched 500,000 red, green, yellow and blue balls from the top of the Spanish Steps at Trinità dei Monti, which then rolled their way down until they reached Piazza di Spagna below, filling the Barcaccia Fountain. The balls were up for sale on eBay within hours!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pop Art 1956 – 1968 | Scuderie del Quirinale, Rome

The Scuderie del Quirinale art gallery and exhibition centre, as its name suggests, is found on the Quirinal Hill opposite the Quirinal Palace (the official residence of the Italian head of state), and is housed in the Quirinal Stables. Originally built between 1722 and 1732, the Quirinal Stables were restored and converted into a gallery between 1997 – 1999. Situated on the highest of Rome's famous seven hills, the views from the Scuderie del Quirinale are breathtaking and whatever the exhibition one has seen, there is the guaranteed treat of gazing out over the Roman skyline from the purpose-built great window, designed by Gae Aulenti. I took this shot at dusk on a visit to the current Pop Art show. San Pietro can be see in the distance...

View from the great window at Le Scuderie del Quirinale

The exhibitions at the Scuderie are usually reliable with a good selection of pieces from international collections. I found the Pop Art show a little patchy as regards consistent quality with a little too many also-rans in the mix, although there were plenty of surprises to make it an enjoyable show overall. My particular favourites were the two David Hockney paintings on display in the upper gallery – the 1963 Renaissance Head and the gorgeous 1962 Picture Emphasising Stillness, with its tiny Letraset caption THEY ARE PERFECTLY SAFE THIS IS A STILL. Peter Blake, another early British Pop Art exponent was also well represented in the show, as was Richard Hamilton. Predictably, there was a large group of visitors gathered in front of Andy Warhol's iconic Marilyn series, although it was another, smaller icon which drew my devotion in the first room – Ray Johnson's Untitled Elvis No.2 - with it's collaged, mosiac-like single image of Elvis...but then, as a sworn devotee of the church of Elvis that's hardly surprising! Other favourites were Christo's 1965 Brigitte Bardot, which naturally consisted of a wrapped picture of BB and made me laugh, and Italian-born Eduardo Paolozzi's painted aluminium sculpture Diana as an Engine (1963-1966), which was vaguely reminiscent of his later decorative works for the London Underground.

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