Happy Belated Birthday Quinquin

Or perhaps I should say belated greetings to, to give him his full name, Octavian Maria Ehrenreich Bonaventura Fernand Hyacinth Rofrano. January 26th was the 100th anniversary of the first appearance of the young Count at the front door of the Von Fanninal residence bearing a silver rose for young Sophie and autumnal heartbreak for Princess Marie Thérèse von Werdenberg.

Throughout the week in Salzburg and Vienna we had heard Mozart, Berg, Haydn, Shostakovitch, Handel, Schubert and J.C. Bach but not a note of Strauss. As compensation we saluted the composer and Der Rosenkavalier, perhaps his most famous work, by stopping last Sunday at a small but beautifully curated exhibition at the Austrian National Library.

It was mounted among the towering book shelves in the baroque splendour of the State Hall (click here for a virtual view of this splendid room) – the great central room built in the 1720s for Emperor Charles VI by Joseph Emanuel Fischer von Erlach to plans drawn up by his father Joseph Emanuel. As the opera takes place the 1740s, the early years of the reign of Charles’ daughter Marie Thérèse, the venue was highly appropriate.

The room serves as the repository for over 200,000 books dating from 1501 to 1850 and includes display cases that change regularly of many of the great early treasure of incunabula, manuscripts and illuminations in the Library collection. The most fascinating, for me at least, was a Book of Hours written in silver ink on velum that had been stained black. It is one of only four known to exist and was more awesome in reality than these examples would indicated.

Arranged around the statue of founder Charles VI the Rosenkavalier exhibition showcased Strauss’s original score, Von Hofmannsthal’s manuscript with Strauss’ musical notations, photos, letters and documents from its premiere and the composer’s life in Vienna. And included a wonderful life-size display of Alfred Roller’s costume designs for that first performance, rotating mirrors reflecting both the designs and the relationships in the opera.

For the video in HD *just left click here to go to YouTube.

For such a old fellow I must admit that QuinQuin is looking and sounding pretty youthful and is still able to break hearts. As the Marschallin so rightly muses: Die Zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding – Time, it is a strange thing!

*And as I’ve just realized if you want to read the commentary!!!!

04 febbraio – San Giovanniccio

Clothing the Music

We were up in Milano in late July to see Il Barbiere di Siviglia and other than the opera had no planned itinerary. It was a weekend to wander Centro, window shop – though we did get break down and buy some fantastic sheets on sale at Frette and I did get that Borsolino – eat, drink, visit the miraculous Duomo and just relax. There was a great deal going on and as always some fascinating exhibitions but only one was on my must-see list: Il costumi veste la musica (The costumes [that] clothe the music) at the Palazzo Morando. It was a peek into the Wardrobe workshops at La Scala.

With the renovation of theatre in 2002-2004 the physical plant of the house was moved out to the Ansaldo Workshops on the outskirts of the city. All the productions are created there and transported to the theatre for final rehearsals and performances. The Benois Pavilion (named after famed designer Nicola Benois) houses the scenery workshop; the Visconti Pavilion (named after director Lucchino Visconti) has rehearsal halls and a stage area identical to the theatre’s; and the Caramba Pavillion is the costume atelier.
I had no problem identifying who the first two workshops were named after but Caramba meant nothing to me. A quick search revealed that Luigi Sapelli, who went by the name of Caramba, was a renowned designer of sets and costumes for La Scala, La Fenice, Regio di Torino, Opera di Roma and the Metropolitan Opera. A self-taught artist, he established his own costume design studio and from 1921 until his death in 1936 he was director of decor and costuming at La Scala. So the costume workshop at the new facility was named in his honour.

The photo of Joyce DiDonato from the La Scala Barbiere is by Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano, Archivio Fotografico del Teatro alla Scala

The shop houses pattern makers, cutters, seamstresses, tailors, milliners, boot and shoe makers and the various other artisans needed to bring a designer’s creations to life. In a normal season they will create between 800 and 1000 new costumes and up to 1500 are taken from the warehouse to be repaired and retailored to fit the current company of singers and dancers.

The warehouse currently has an inventory of almost 60,000 costumes for over 280 productions. Some of the costumes date back to 1911 and are kept for their historic value. Others – such as the one worn by Joyce DiDonato as Rosina (right) designed 40 years ago by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle – are used time and time again. The storage wardrobes take up 1400 sq metres (about 15,000 sq feet) of the workshop area.

There is also a full laundry on site as each costume is washed before being sent to the theatre and washed again after the final performance. There is a smaller laundry at the theatre for quick clean ups and freshening.

The exhibition allowed a view into the workshops with examples of costume books for productions, designers’ notes and buyers’ lists, the materials used and most important a chance to have a close up look at the costumes that are worn on stage.

A left click on the thimble and thread below will take you to a slide show of a few of the photos I took of the exhibition. (And if you wish to stop and look at a photo more closely just use the pause button and simply click through them – many of these costumes are worth a closer look for the sheer artistry involved in creating them.)

A left click on the poster will take you to a slide show of exhibition photographs.

More photos can be found at my friend Opera Chic’s – who had an article on the exhibition in August. It was while going through her archives that I remembered I had a few photos myself and should really put them to use.

As an amusing little side note – I saw the poster for the exhibition outside the opera house but no one at the La Scala Bookshop or at their Administration counter could give me directions on how to get to the Palazzo Morando. At least the receptionist had the good grace to apologize and say he hadn’t seen the exhibition himself.

16 settembre – Santi Corneilo e Cipriano

Siren with a Lens

I fell in love with the circus and Burt Lancaster when I was about 10 or 11. Back in 1956 my brother took me to see Ringling Bros Circus in one of their last appearances under canvas and I was enchanted. That same year Trapeze was released and I remember having the comic book and reading about it in one of the screen story magazines. And it had some poster! Lancaster and Tony Curtis in white circus tights. And standing between them Gina Lollobrigida all spangles, cleavage, doe eyes and pouty lips. But even at 10 the sight of Burt in tights did more for me than Gina in spangles.

La Lolla was one of those buxom foreign stars that came into the studio system as it was fading into oblivion. She was exotic, she was beautiful, she was Italian and she was hot. But she was always more than just T & A – she had a solid career in Italy and proved herself an accomplished actress in several other films that were popular in North America including The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Buona Sera, Mrs Campbell (the inspiration (?) for Momma Mia).

But there were other things besides film work that interested La Lolla. She began taking photographs of places she went and people she knew and saw. Her career as a photographer soon became as important to her as her movie stardom. She branched off into sculpture and painting and proved a major talent in those fields also.

We were fortunate to catch an exhibition of her work – 250 photographs – at the Palazzo delle Esposizion. We had gone in to see the Bulgari exhibition that Laurent talked about earlier this week -40,000,000.00 euros worth of bling!!!! A pretty spectacular show but frankly I was more impressed by the Lollobrigida exhibition on the 2nd floor.

Her photos range from the exotic to the every day – from unknown natives in jungles to world famous celebrities. And in everyone she has something to say about the human condition or the world she saw around her. Some really remarkable stuff.

I did a search on the web to see if I could find a portfolio of some sort and attempted the url for the website given in the exhibition catalogue but it was inactive. The best I could do was a few scans from the catalogue published by Damiani. It was difficult to choose there were so many wonderful photos but here are a few examples of the remarkable photographic talent of Gina Lollobrigida.

Perhaps the most loving photos are those of Italy. There are so many that truly capture the spirit of the country including one where the entire population of Subiaco, the village where she was born, showed up for a “family photo

Finally the show begins.
The Monks of San Miniato al Monte

Old age in the Old World and the New.

Waiting to go to church, Calabria
Waiting, Denver

Caught unawares or posed she captures the essence of her famous subjects.

The toughness of a Bette Davis
The chameleon face of Ralph Richardson

She said it took her a week before she could bring herself to go into the streets of Calcutta to take photos. Most of them are not as romantic as the Tomato seller, she captured the poverty and squalor as well as the beauty.

The Tomato Seller
The poverty of Calcutta

My first thought was that these were two grandmothers – one in Manila, the other in Shanghai. But apparently the top photo is a mother – old before her time – and her child. Such a contrast between it and the child with the noddles -a photo that brought a smile of recognition to Laurent’s face when he saw it.

Mother and Child, Manila
Grandma and a bowl of noddles, Shanghai

As I said it was difficult to choose what to scan without doing the whole catalogue, I only wish it was available online so I could share it with you. She is a remarkable talent.

13 settembre – San Giovanni Crisostomo

Valentino at 45

Before I arrived in Roma I had this vision of the woman: air and ice – elegant creatures in haute couture and Amalfi coast tans – La Bella Figura. Well I don’t see much of that on the number 84 bus in the morning or even at the opera – though I must admit there where some dressed-to-the-nines woman the night we went to the opera at the Baths of Caracella. I realize now they may well have been tourists.

But for five months in late summer and early fall there was a place where feminine elegance was supreme here in Roma. The newly housed Ara Pacis was the venue for a retrospective celebrating 45 years of the fashion style of Valentino.


Visually it was a stunning use of the incredible space that is the Ara Pacis and curators Patrick Kinmonth and Antonio Monfredo created colour groups that had impact and excitement. I honestly couldn’t believe that I spent two hours the first visit and over an hour the second looking at an exhibit of haute couture.

Its taken a while to get this video together – mostly because I can’t seem to get any music download that Windows Movie Maker finds usable. I know its a little long but there was so much to see and as always I took way to many photographs. Please let me know how it works as I may have to break it down into segments.

13 novembre – San Diego D’Alcalà