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AROUND NAPOLI
Boccaccio, Rufolo, Wagner, Ravello 2005
& the World's Loudest Trombone Section
by Jeff Matthews
In his Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) devoted an entire tale (Second Day, Tale Four) to the adventures of one Landolfo Rufolo, a contemporary of his from the town of Ravello on the "delightful...slope of Amalfi." Rufolo was rich but wanted more; thus, he set off to seek his further fortune, became a pirate, went down at sea, was rescued and eventually found his way home to Ravello again where he built his villa on a spectacular slope overlooking the sea. He then "lived in honorable estate" until his death.

As if from Snoopy's Dark-and-Stormy-Night school of great coincidences, just a few years earlier (c. 1200) in far-off Germany, Wolfram von Eschenbach had written his Parsifal, which, centuries later, would inspire Richard Wagner's (1813-83) last work, a tale involving the evil sorcerer, Klingsor and an enchanted garden. Wagner visited the Villa Rufolo in 1880 and was so inspired by the beauty of the garden that he declared, "Here is the enchanted garden of Klingsor." Did Eschenbach know Boccaccio? And what were Mommy and Daddy von Eschenbach thinking when they named their kid "Wolfram," a word that means "tungsten" in German? How would young Tungsten have rated Wagner? (answer: "Really loud. Say, do you guys know anything by Hildegard von Bingen?") And why is "Parsifal" a pseudo-anagram for "Laugh His Rap"? Alas, we may never know the answer to some of these questions, but see how it all ties together?

Wagner apparently rode up to the Villa Rufolo from Amalfi on a mule. (What did mules ever do to God?!) Wagner was a notorious deadbeat and left an unpaid tab at the Palumbo Hotel, but, as it turned out (70 years later), more than made up for it by transforming the villa and all of Ravello into a money magnet. Ravello held its first Wagner music festival in 1953. The yearly affair has since grown in scope and continues to attract hordes of music lovers and performers of world renown every year.

The gardens that so moved Wagner were actually the result of a renovation of the villa in 1851 when Francis Neville Reid, a Scottish botanist, bought the property and went crazy with the plant life. The restoration of the villa, itself, was in the hands of Michele Ruggiero, a gentleman who then took over the excavations at Pompeii. Significant parts of the original villa are still intact, including the main tower and intriguing Norman-Arab columns along a passageway through the villa and to the back of the property where the outdoor concerts are held. The stage is set up at 1000 feet over the slope and sea looking due east along the folds of the mountain range of the Amalfi coast. The view is stunning.

This year's festival started July 3 and will run through September 17; it has "sections" for orchestral, chamber, and film music, visual arts, experimental theater, and discussions on education. I went for the orchestral music--specifically, Wagner, because that is why one goes to Ravello. We heard the Orchestra and Choir of the Marinsky Theater from St. Petersburg. It wasn't all Wagner, but it was close enough and included, on two successive evenings, a prelude from Parsifal, the funeral march from The Twilight of the Gods, the overtures to Tannhšuser and The Flying Dutchman, and the introduction to the third act of Lohengrin. One non-Wagner item was Prokovief's great score to the Eisenstein film, Alexander Nevsky. I recall noting that there were two bass trombonists in the Parsifal excerpt, thus giving the collective low brass section the most lethal attack of decibels since the eruption of Krakatoa. It was fine!
28/7/2005