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The noted writer Birgit Urmson spends a portion of every year in a stately Renaissance palace in the historic town of Barga in Tuscany, together with her husband, John. A distinguished clientele including authors and musicians may rent the building's magnificent main storey when the owners are abroad - see

This year, Birgit Urmson has sent us a brief but vivid description of some of her experiences at the Opera Barga Festival, which takes place every year around the feast of Saint Christopher in July. There is hardly another festival on earth as exclusive and dimininutive as Barga, having been in the world news only once, when a German court barred it from performing Antonio Vivaldis Opera Motezuma. Perhaps Barga will need the participation of an internationally famous conductor or composer in order to gain worldwide recognition. However, we can sense with every word the fascinating, spontaneous and lively way in which up-and-coming artists leave their mark at the festival:

Now then, the Barga Opera had a wonderful series of chamber music concerts. The first one was with the violinist Simone Bernardini, who is not only a very good musician and charming, but was also the real impresario of this series. He is making his career. The actual opera was DA CAPO, a one-act opera by Giani Gaetano Luporini. Nick Hunt had taken over the stage direction with success. There is an artist's soul in him. And that may be the explanation why getting the word out about the festival leaves something to be desired. The one truly embarrassing thing is the low number of visitors. This consists chiefly almost exclusively of foreigners. For years, these faithful followers have been appalled by the number of empty seats in the opera house and lament the obvious lack of effective PR. There had already been talk about a boycott, but the thought of young professional musicians from all over the world playing before an empty house induces us every time to buy a ticket after all, and to become part of the number of about 30, at the most. Fortunately by the end of the festival the attendance increased. The word had gone out by that time. And these young musicians are very inspiring. One quintet consisted of musicians, each of which came from from a different country, including China and Japan. Some of them have studied in Berlin, and some of them still live there.
I have given two receptions. One for Simone at the beginning and another one for the opening night of the opera. Especially the latter turned out to be a magical evening. Up to 100 guests were crowded into the rooms of our salon. The wine was poured, the canapés disappeared into hungry mouths in an instant. Then a wonderful thing happened. The maestro of the orchestra, Zennerini, asked me if I would like a serenade. I said yes. He had spotted the grand piano, which has now finally been restored. The male singers, two marvellous basses, a baritone and a tenor with a mellow timbre got into position and sang with all their heart and soul.
They got out their competition and audition material. There were Figaro, Leporello singing. Everyone stood around them, fascinated. All this happened with such effortlessness and playfulness that I got carried away and sang along. The maestro with his fine sense of hearing then asked me to sing something. I had just had two successful lessons with Alison Pearce and I took the plunge right into the middle. My anxiety disappeared and my voice soared effortlessly up to the high A. Our musicians consequently assumed that I am a professional singer. What a beautiful success! The perfect event for the magic Piano Nobile
Birgit Urmson
Birgit Urmson
accompanied by her sister
and her husband John Urmson
©Network for International Cultural Exchange
Summer 2008 fromBirgit Urmson