Sunday, February 6, 2011


Warning:  Photos took forever to upload over here and my computer act very slowly and strangely. Spell-check on my blog highlights every word here, so is useless.  Forgive any mistakes and thanks.  

Apple fritters from Stefanone

Now that the luggage drama is over, I can hopefully settle down and get a better look at the city. I started this morning by going to my local cafe for a caffe latte, which they do differently than I've seen before. I was presented with a glass of hot, foamy milk with a tiny pitcher with a shot of espresso, which you pour into the milk.  My eye caught a scrumptuous looking croissant with chocolate strips baked into its puffy top. It was filled with a hazelnut crema--utterly obscene and completely irresistible.  One outside, I headed for the inside of the two churches flanking one end of the Piazza San Carlo  with my camera.  Chiesa San Carlo and Chiesa Santa Christina don't look anything alike despite the fact they are side-by-side.  Churches are always worth a look in Italy, mostly because they are fanciful, or opulent, or scary in their projection depending on your spiritual persuasion.  Their soaring spaces, generous use of marble, elaborate carving and competitively decorated side chapels are hardly tasteful, but that's the beauty of these amazing structures. Some have scary depictions of the Virgin swords plunged into her heart, such as the below.  Even crumbling churches in Italy inspire awe.

Circling over to the other side of the piazza I found Paissa, a store selling fancy packaged foods, wines, champagnes and spirits since 1884.  Everything is beautifully packaged and displayed and the staff is friendly and eager to please.  Around the corner, I was back on via Maria Vittoria, and stopped into Stefanone, an elegant small shop specializing in take-out foods.  I was able to talk to the chef, asking if I could take photos of the enticing foods on display.  We talked amiably as he described to me all the wonderful things the shop sells, such as

A chocolate croissant filled with hazelnut pastry cream.


I'm not Catholic and can't even begin to explain this.  

Some of the amazing foods found at Paissa

Chocolate confections at Paissa

The inner historical center of Turin has many of these retail arcades with soaring open areas completely enclosed and easy for shoppers to avoid the possibility of bad weather.

Christine invited me to lunch with her Parsifal, tenor Christopher Ventris, and Laurie Feldman, an American opera director who makes her home in Turin.  We ate at a restaurant specializing in deep fried foods, such as calamari, shrimp, zucchini blossoms, artichokes, etc.  You place your order and then eat your meal on benches with wire cones to hold the containers of cooked food.  They also sell beverages to go with your meal.  It was an unusual and tasty lunch. Afterwards, we decided to take in the sights at the Egyptian museum--the largest collection of Egyptian art and mummies outside of Cairo.  I found the museum a mixed bag of the bizarre--they have at least ten mummies, a mummy head, and they are just plain weird.  I don't get the mummy thing other than the odd fascination of seeing a completely dead but remarkably well preserved corpse with skin that is leathery and just plain strange.  The sarcophagus boxes held limited fascination, their heiroglyphics didn't capture my fancy, and the artifacts are just okay to these eyes.  The culture of the Pharoahs does little for me, and mostly I found the museum to be disappointingly musty. Christine however, loved all the sandals!

We had a 8:00 dinner.  Just down the street from her apartment is Trattoria La via del Sale, a place I had turned down the night before because it wasn't too busy.  I'm glad Christine suggested it, because our dinner there was not only delicious but fun.  She had invited another cast member to join us, and the baritone singing Amfortas in PARSIFAL, turned out to be a smart, funny, insightful dinner companion.  His name is Jochen Schmeckenbecher.  I had heard him in Philadelphia when Christine was singing Rosalinde in DIE FLEDERMAUS.  He is a very busy and in-demand German baritone--a fine singer and a good actor.  We hit it off, and had a fun evening eating good food (a delicious potato and anchovy salad with a parsley pesto for a first course, followed by gnocchi with cheese and cream, and then a rich braise of beef in red wine and lemon sorbetto for dessert).  Christine and I polished off a carafe of Barolo and I got lured into a grappa with Jochen (which I paid for with a nice hangover the next day).

Those are the Italian Alps that you see in the far background--an amazing sight on the city's horizon!

Saturday morning, I slept until nine--finally the jet lag is over.  After a leisurely morning, I met Christine at her apartment.  We were to meet Laurie plus Mark S. Doss, a baritone also singing in this Parsifal, and his lovely wife, Dawn, for lunch.  We meat at Dual--a very contemporary restaurant near the opera house.  Christine recommended the pizza, and in my case it was a red onion and gorgonzola pizza.  It was fantastic. 

After lunch we were to meet Laurie's husband, who is masterminding a big installation at the Palazzo Madama of a recreation of the first Italian Senate of 1871.  This was the famous senate created during the unification of Italy.  Giuseppe Verdi, the grand master of Italian opera was a member of that first senate.  We arrived at the Palazzo Madama, an imposing building on the same square as the Royal Place, home of the House of Savoy Kings and Queens of Italy.  Palazzo Madama is was created as a retreat for the dowager queens of Savoy.   by the Queen of Savoy. The installation, which opens in March is well underway with scaffolding supporting the recreation of the original senate hall.  The opera house's principal set designer is in charge of the physical recreation, while Laurie's husband is producing the event.  It was thrilling to see this production in its early state.  It looked like the creation of an opera house production and these pictures show just where the project stands at this point.  

Installation of the recreation of the first Italian Senate room during the unification of Italy in 1871.

Prior to this we were taken to the palazzo's tower where we enjoyed thrilling views of the city surrounded by the majestic Italian Alps.  The city is in a low valley surrounded on three sides by these huge mountain peaks. 

We later toured the museum, which houses a superb collection of art dating back to Renaissance Italy in the 14th century.  The museum was opened four years ago, and is quite beautiful.  They've restored the palace to it's original beauty, with new fabrics that recreate the orginals, restored ceiling paintings, and gilt plastering, and wall paint.  The museum's collection encompasses a vast array of paintings, sculpture, furniture, and household items such as silver and glass ware, a child's wagon, and other treasures. The top foor houses a stunning collection of pottery and porcelain objects, table settings, candelabra and other impressive decorative objects.  It was a very worthwhile visit and we later enjoyed a bicerin, a delicious drink of espresso chocolate and whipped cream after our tour.  This was a big highlight of my visit to Turin.  

This room is filled with these beautiful vitrines showing off the House of Savoy's bountiful collection of porcelain, pottery, silver and glass.  This "table top" comes from all over Italy with one display case filled with objects from Vienna.  You could set a proper table for a year and not use all of this stuff.  

A generous cup of bicerin, a locally created drink that combines chocolate, coffee and whipped cream. 

We enjoyed our bicerins in the palace's former vegetable "cellar" which is now a storing place for some of the palace's massive silver collection. 

The facade of the Palazzo Madama

This afternoon I'll see the final performance of this run of PARSIFAL and join the cast for a party at a local restaurant to celebrate the completion of a successful run. 

I can't believe tomorrow is my last day in Turin already!  Because of the difficulties getting to Turin, I had to sacrifice my plans to see Genoa.  But I'd love to come back here.  

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