Been here, listening to...well, Renee Fleming didn't sing very much Puccini last night at Torre del Lago. But she sang everything else, switching in a twink from Massenet and Gounod to rare Leoncavallo (who also wrote a Boheme) and - best of all - a Strauss group. Then she asked us all to sing along to 'I could have danced all night', so your blogger (and 2500 others) can now say they've sung with Renee Fleming.
Earlier on, I nearly met her touring the Villa Puccini, courtesty of the composer's granddaughter, Simonetta Puccini, who still lives there and runs the museum. It's one of the finest composer-house museums I've yet had the pleasure of encountering, lovingly preserved and full up to busting with Art Nouveau decor, letters, signed photos, memorabilia such as models of Puccini's yachts (named Cio Cio San I-IV). There is also a very friendly cat. Puccini himself, as well as his wife Elvira, their son Antonio and Antonio's wife Rita are all buried there, in a chapel which seems virtually dedicated to the worship of music and opera - carved female nudes to the sides represent each of these.
I wonder what Puccini would think today if he saw the festival: a stage on the lake, Highly commercial, at times artistically questionable (I'll gloss quickly over the presence of a composer-conductor aged 14); the emphasis is on money, beauty of surroundings and the occasional moment of great art. Still, with his penchant for hunting, yachting and fast cars (he had 14 cars, apparently), there's a good chance Maestro P would have been perfectly happy as long as he got a cut, si?
I am off to interview Renee Fleming now and there's a thunderstorm in full swing. Wish me luck.
Jessica Duchen is a music journalist and the author of four novels, two biographies and several stage works. She writes regularly for The Independent and BBC Music Magazine. Her latest novel, Songs of Triumphant Love, is published by Hodder.
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