This week’s post is by Penny Ewles-Bergeron, a British artist living in Naples since 2005. You can see some of her work on the Saatchi site. She blogs at Italiannotebook.com and tweets as @ABrushwithItaly.
We all think we know Naples by reputation – noisy, chaotic, corrupt, lively, messy, menacing, beautiful, under threat, under rubbish and overpopulated. It’s the perfect setting for a film noir with lashings of silver nitrate glow or a classic crime novel with local colour. These days it’s often a place to sprint through on the way to Roman ruins further round the bay.
It was in 1787 that Goethe noted a local expression in his Grand Tour journal: ‘Vedi Napoli e poi muori!’ – ‘See Naples and die!’, evermore to be misinterpreted as a pronouncement on the likelihood of surviving a visit to the city. What he meant, of course, was that seeing Naples was the summit of a lifetime of rich experiences and I must say I concur. It’s impossible to be bored in a city where so much beauty, history and natural street theatre jostle for your attention.
I’ve lived on via Monte di Dio for over six years. From my balcony looking right I can see the 16th century Castel Sant’Elmo on top of Vomero hill; to my left at the end of the street is the Nunziatella academy, which by coincidence was founded the year Goethe came to town. That makes it the oldest military academy in Europe. Twice a year cadets parade by in their beautiful uniforms on their way to ceremonies in nearby Piazza del Plebiscito.
In just two minutes I can be in that piazza facing the Palazzo Reale. San Carlo opera house connects to the palace at the rear on the left. Santa Lucia (cue that song) with the deep blue sea-view and the vast cone of Vesuvius is to the right. Of course, when I go there I walk at street level, but this is a city with an underground dimension because Neapolitans have always carved chunks out of the volcanic tuff rock. The rock provided building materials; Roman water systems channeled water to the city and beyond. Fast forward to the 1840s when King Ferdinand II, King of the Two Sicilies, looked around riot-torn Europe and decided he needed an escape route from his palace should the population become too lively. He commissioned a tunnel giving him access from his palace towards the sea and allowing soldiers from the nearby barracks to rescue their monarch at the double. So in 1853 work began; enormous ingenuity was required to complete the tunnel since it intersected water channels, wells and cisterns constructed in the 17th century. Poor Ferdinand never saw the benefit; he died in 1859 and his kingdom was tidied up into a unified Italy a few years later.
Today, thanks to a courageous team of cavers and volunteers, visitors can walk through most of the Bourbon Tunnel, inspecting the arches and stonework and marvelling at the sad evidence of WWII human habitation – thousands of people sheltered from bombs here in the last war. I’m sure the tunnel runs directly under the palazzo where we live. Just another layer of this extraordinary and captivating city I’m happy to call home.
This is the first novel in the Commissario Alec Blume series, about an American-born Commissario who has lived in Rome for many years and is now as Roman as the locals. Alec is called to investigate the brutal murder of Arturo Clemente, apparently connected to his involvement with an animal-rights movement and a local mafia boss.
Blume is not convinced the prime suspect is actually guilty, and encounters not only the usual bureaucratic obstacles typical of the country’s system but also what seems to be no ordinary manipulation from up high. He will uncover a crime ring involving organised mafia as well as illegal dog fights.
Blume is a very interesting and credible character, refreshingly he is not a sociopath like many other characters in the fictional world of police investigations, but is a bit stuck in his career path and doesn’t have a very healthy social life. Nonetheless, we are drawn to him and to his American friend who turns out to be some sort of wonder woman – or maybe it’s just his eyes viewing her so?
Conor Fitzgerald lives in Rome and despite few description of places, captures very well the geographical, political and social atmosphere of the city, including the occasionally stifling hot temperature – to which Blume never seems to get used. The book delves into some socio-political aspects of Italian culture like the local mafia, and the illegal dog fights environment, revealing some deeply distressing people and attitudes. It doesn’t however dwell excessively on the politics, which can be a frequent flaw in other (generally Italian) writers, and this keeps the book going at a speedy pace.
The only shortcoming I could find in the book was the typeface, which was very small and sometimes unpleasant to read (especially by night-lamp!). All in all, a very pleasant novel which runs very smoothly for its 400+ pages.
The Theatre, which features prominently in I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio de Giovanni, was built in 1737 by King Charles de Bourbon who wanted to have in Naples a new symbol of his power.
The building contract was fulfilled with astonishing precision and on 4 November, 1737 – the king’s nameday – the San Carlo theatre was inaugurated with Metastasio’s opera Achille in Sciro.
On 13 February 1816 the building was ravaged by a fire, but it was rebuilt in only six months.
Now carefully restored to its former splendour, the San Carlo is the oldest working theatre in Europe (older than Milano’s La Scala and Venice’s La Fenice). Its performances were not stopped even during the Second World War when concerts for the armed forces were staged instead of operas.
Composers in residence have included Rossini and Donizetti, and also Giuseppe Verdi wrote an opera for the theatre. By the nineteenth century other composers such as Giacomo Puccini, Pietro Mascagni (Cavalleria Rusticana), Ruggero Leoncavallo (I Pagliacci) had their works performed there.
As well as the traditional operatic repertoire and many nineteenth-century little-known masterpieces, the Teatro di San Carlo has been hosting performances of many eighteenth-century Neapolitan Opera Buffa, including works by Cimarosa and Pergolesi.
Theatre’s official website is here, while the Guardian has an article on the theatre here.