Torre del Lago - Puccini Festival

When he wasn't killing his heroines off in 'orrible ways (Butterfly by her own knife, Tosca over the ramparts and Mimi by that good old 19th century stand-by, TB) Puccini was very fond of shooting small birds and animals. So, he left the lovely town of Lucca where he was born and made his home in Torre del Lago, near Viarregio. As its name says, the little town lies on a lake. It's not so little these days. When Puccini arrived there were 7 families. Now the population numbers around 7000 which makes the town's decision to build an 2000 plus seat open-air theatre, a little bold to say the least. They've painted it a bold dark blue - to blend in with the lake that will serve as backdrop for all productions. I suppose if you wanted to be really authentic, the Castel San Angelo ramparts at the end of Tosca, could be wedged up against the back of the stage so that when Floria Tosca takes her leap (which theoretically should land her in Rome's Tiber) she could take a dive into the lake. Or, more romantically, the long-awaited Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly could sail in across the lake as Butterfly and the audience watch his return.

Torre del Lago's Festival has made some odd artistic choices in the past. (We draw a hasty veil over some barmy director's decision to have all the characters in Madama Butterfly represent insects. Didn't anyone tell the pretentious fool that Butterfly was a nickname. What's the Italian for nickname? Someone get me a dictionary.

That said, I'm optimistic about this year's festival - a big one to mark the 150th Anniversary of what the New York Met would probably call, the most 'beloved' of opera composers. They've got a premier in the form of Edgar with gorgeous designs by Roger Dean plus Turandot, Tosca and Butterfly. And when you're not at the opera, there's the Great Man's house to be visited. He's buried in the walls by the way.

Probably the sweetest moment of my visit to Torre Del Lago was an afternoon boat ride across the lake from in front of the composer's house. The captain put a recording of Tosca on the CD player and we sailed across the water to visit the church on the other side of the lake where the bells that inspired the third act of Tosca still ring to this day. And, as if to make up for all those poor dead birds and beasts, LIPU, the Italian equivalent of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Birds, has set up shop on that opposite shore.

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