Vintage Italian Postcards

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Festival del Sole

It is a triumph of all that is best about Italy. Music, art, wine, food and literature take centre stage among the narrow streets and vineyard-strewn slopes of Cortona during the Festival del Sole from August 2 to 10.

Now in its sixth season, the Festival is the brainchild of Barrett Wissman, head of arts management corporation IMG Artists, who first launched it in 2001 to celebrate “the art of life.”
This year, stars of the Bolshoi Ballet will open the event with an outdoor performance against the ancient tower and elegant palazzos of Piazza Signorelli, one of Cortona’s most scenic squares. Alexander Volchkov, Maria Allash and other soloists will dance old favourites from the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Cinderella and Don Quixote. It is the first time that ballet is included in the festival’s programming and, in the words of Wissman himself, “what better way to do that than to start with the renowned Bolshoi.”

Music on the other hand has long been the mainstay of the event, and this year’s packed calendar hardly disappoints. Tenor José Cura and soprano Ana Maria Martinez will sing some of Puccini’s most yearning arias—the heart breaking E lucean le stelle, from Tosca, Un bel dì vedremo from Madama Butterfly and Che gelida manina from La Boheme. Soprano Danielle de Niese and the Venice Baroque Orchestra will perform a selection of Handel’s concertos and arias, and violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Natasha Paremski will play Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi.
Wissman has also drafted in actors Gabriele Lavia and Robert Redford to read poems by Giacomo Leopardi and Robert Frost, marked by the mellow notes of Nicola Luisotti on the piano. And at lunchtime, Piazza della Repubblica will turn into an open-air theatre staging free concerts by the UBS Verbier Festival Chamber Orchestra. Pianist Piotr Anderszewski, together with Joshua Bell and the Verbier orchestra, will close the Festival with pieces by Mozart, Wagner and Mendelsshon.

“The Tuscan Sun Festival is a unique annual celebration of the arts set against the backdrop of the beautiful landscape of Tuscany,” says Wissman. “We are honoured to present this international festival every year and to once again welcome such a stellar list of artists to Cortona.”

But the Festival del Sole titillates the eye and the palate as much as the ears. Behind the sober façade of the Chiesa di Sant’Agostino, artist Sybille Szaggars will bring The Shape of Colour to life with her abstract paintings. The convent next door will be home to the Espontaneas exhibition of photographs by tenor José Cura, which focus on friendship, human dignity, poverty, old age, loneliness. It will also be the backdrop to cooking demonstrations by local chef Donatella Balducci, who will tease the tastebuds with nettle ravioli, lamb fricassee and almond brittle.
Art will also meet wine at the 13th century Palazzo Casali, where twenty-one artists, including Mimmo Rotella and Mark Kostabi, will display their works exploring music in art, while the Wine Consortium of Cortona, restaurateur Tonino and local shop Delizie Toscane will hold tastings of velvety wines, creamy cheeses and flavoursome cold cuts. And should this not suffice, there will also be wellness sessions, literary lectures and tai-chi every day around town.

To buy tickets to Festival del Sole performances,
+44 (0)20 8133 5571 (UK),
+1 646 797 2915 (US)
+39 0575 606 887 (Italy).

For further information visit the festival’s website,

Monday, July 14, 2008

Jazzy 35th birthday for Umbria Festival

Umbria's renowned jazz festival kicks off this weekend, with another dazzling line-up of top Italian and international stars from the world of modern music.
Umbria Jazz, the largest European event of its kind, gets under way on Friday morning with a traditional street parade through Perugia's medieval centre, led by the New Orleans-based Coolbone Brass Band.
The festival, celebrating its 35th birthday this year, still refuses to be pigeonholed, insisting on a mix of old and new, as well as a variety of jazz-related genres spanning experimental, instrumental, vocal, pop and rock.
The top international names appearing include legendary jazz greats such as tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins in his only European performance of the summer and pianist Herbie Hancock.
Stars from a slightly younger generation range from the celebrated guitarist Pat Metheny, through award-winning vocalist Chaka Khan, to R&B singer-songwriter Alicia Keyes.
Alternative rock band R.E.M. will play the festival's closing concert on July 20.
But as well as giants from the US jazz scene, the festival also promises a host of Italian greats.
Top of the list is Italy's most famous jazzman, trumpeter Enrico Rava, who will perform a tribute to Chet Baker on the 20th anniversary of his death.
Internationally acclaimed pianist Stefano Bollani will appear alongside Brasilian guitarist and singer Caetano Veloso in an unexpected and keenly awaited pairing.
Other names on the program include jazz clarinettist Gabriele Mirabassi, saxophonist Stefano di Battista with trumpeter Fabrizio Bosso, and the pianists Ramberto Ciammarughi, Danilo Rea and Riccardo Arrighini.
Umbria Jazz, which was founded in 1973 by Carlo Pagnotta, will host around 300 concerts over 10 days.
As usual, it takes place in a variety of different venues throughout the region, including public squares, gardens, theatres, monuments and even restaurants, although the big-name events are staged in the open-air Santa Giuliana Arena in Perugia.
Events at the arena require tickets but many of the festival's other events are free.
Throughout the festival, two outdoor platforms stand at either end of Perugia's central thoroughfare with free concerts of accessible, popular jazz music.
In total, around 30 concerts are staged each day, running from late morning until well past midnight.
Umbria Jazz runs from July 11 until July 20. For more information and a complete program visit the festival's website at: