Italian opera is an emotion unto itself. Sad tales of love, heartbreak and sorrow sung with over-the-top falsettos and booming baritones. It combines the purest form of musical talent with painstaking training and minutely intricate details, and here lies the duality of the opera, and of Italian culture. Part free-flowing, beautiful and romantic, part laborious, tedious and almost unattainable.
“Opera” means work in Italian, and to work for the sake creating beautiful art is the legacy of many of the greatest artists and musicians from this country.
In Rome, you can go to the Opera, but it’ll set you back 100 Euros or more. Alternatively, to get an opera fix, stroll through the various piazzas by night and you’ll usually find at least one tenor belting out an aria. If you’re in the ancient city centre, open your window and you’ll probably hear random men burst into song as they stroll slowly down the cobblestone streets. Another option is to wait until late at night and listen to the drunks as they stumble out of the bars singing their best rendition of O Sole Mio to the sleepy streets of Rome.
Rome, with its many gorgeous sculptures, romantic light, and expressive people, is the kind of city that makes people want to sing. This is Italy, after all. If you feel like singing – you sing!
A few weeks ago, I was walking by the Pantheon by night and came across a man singing a beautiful opera in the middle of the Piazza della Rotonda. A large crowd had gathered around him, mesmerized. The trained but potent emotion in his voice was the kind that leapt right out of his mouth and into your stomach, clenching it. It was razor-like. Delicate, but like a razor, it still draws blood when it cuts you.
Hearing his song made me think of sad things – heartache, losing people you love, disappointment. But the longer I listened, the more I could feel the darkest, coldest places within myself begin to thaw. Even though I wasn’t the one singing, I began to feel exposed, unglued. I felt that if I listened for long enough, this song might heal my wounds, mend my heart, help me start anew.
That’s the power of beautiful music – it speaks directly to the soul.
I watched Piazza Tenor for a few minutes, because any longer than that and the tears would have started to flow, and I continued on my walk to Piazza Navona. Navona a tourist hotspot, but it’s spectacular. I never get sick of seeing it anytime during the day or night.
Walking through Piazza Navona is like a trip to an enchanted, peculiar circus where…
…artists sell beautiful paintings of Rome and all of her many attractions,
…sketchers will draw your exact likeness, or a caricature of it, in under 10 minutes,
…performers paint themselves and dress up as statues and hold the same pose for hours on end as giddy tourists marvel over them and take pictures,
…foreign men sell light up toys that can be thrown into the air and caught with a spiral stick-like device,
…gypsies with folding tables sit patiently in front of cardboard signs that read “Italiano, English, German, Spagnolo, Portugese,” waiting to tell your fortune,
…guitar players jam, singers sing, drumming circles pound out beats that make you want to shake your hips, accordion players stroll slowly up and down the street, serenading the crowd with romantic classics.
And then, there’s Pavarotti’s Protégé.
Armed with a CD player, a little speaker and a microphone, Pavarotti’s Protégé is an old man whose lust for life shines dimly through his hazy eyes.
He’s so old that he seems to be shrinking right in front of you. His clothes are too big for his frail body. His shoes too large for his small feet.
From his loud-speaker comes a familiar voice: the booming tenor of the one and only Pavarotti. It’s boisterous, loud and beautiful.
The old man moves his mouth to lip synch along to the song, but he can’t keep time. In fact, he doesn’t seem to actually know the words.
His right hand waltzes along to the music, swaying back and forth in the air, and his left hand holds his microphone limply, as though it’s a ball and chain he’s tired of carrying.
Pictures of Pavarotti are posted up on his rolling bag, which stands beside him. A little wicker basket sits in front of his feet, collecting more ashes from passerby’s cigarettes than coins.
And there he stands.
A small old man pretending to sing a dead man’s masterpieces.
He is a spectacle for tourists to gawk at, but he doesn’t seem to care.
The opera he lip synchs along to is healing the ache inside of him.