A CLASSROOM WITH A VIEW
A unique voice program in the heart of Tuscan wine country
BY MARGARET SHAKESPEARE
Several decades ago, fresh from studies at the Juilliard School and armed with a Fulbright fellowship, Daniel Ferro discovered that Tuscany, so full of culture and history, could nurture not only sangiovese grapes and leccino olives but also his budding vocal career. Having come full circle, he is now a Juilliard faculty member who - mindful of his own Italian sojourn, especially in Siena at the Accademia Chigiana - created the summertime Daniel Ferro Vocal Program (this year July 16 through August 6), now in its twentieth year, for young singers.
Singers apply to the program, which is designed to give them intense professional training and experience, either by submitting an audio-videotape or by auditioning live. Ferro places them at the advanced or intermediate level. Generally, participants are less than thirty years old; some may still be in conservatories and a few, mostly at the intermediate level, are as young as eighteen.
Ferro has thought of everything: master classes, along with daily private lessons, coaching, intensive language lessons - even an audience. To make true captives of that audience, appreciators of vocal music who fancy spending three weeks immersed in the Chianti Classico countryside, he designed a concurrent program, Insider's View of Tuscany (this year July 16 through August 6). Insiders have the rare opportunity to follow these nascent professionals closely as they learn and perform music of Mozart, Schubert, Puccini, Mahler, Bernstein and others, in an atmosphere that has fostered many a friendship. Besides attending concerts and post-concert receptions, Insiders are encouraged to audit Ferro's advanced-level morning master classes, or those of Janice Harper-Smith for the intermediate level, and to participate in daily Italian-language study in small groups with the singers. Each day, singers, coaches and Insiders gather for a typical Tuscan family-style meal at La Torre delle Civette in Greve in Chianti - fresh mozzarella with olive oil and basil leaves, prosciutto with melon, risotto with artichokes, pasta al pomodoro fresco, roast chicken or veal, or pizza.
Concert repertory, some of which is set by Ferro, Harper-Smith and the other coaches well before everyone arrives in Tuscany, is chosen with particular voices in mind and also according to music the individual singers will be working on in their lessons and master classes. More familiar opera excerpts, performed by veterans of the program, usually are heard at the gala opening concert, which is always attended by the mayor of Greve in Chianti, consular and embassy officials and dignitaries from nearby Siena and Florence. Concerts held later in the summer might delve into songs of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler. Intermediate students are presented in their own concert.
The gala opening performance is held at the hilltop terrazzo at Castello di Verrazzano (birthplace of the explorer for whom New York's Verrazano Narrows Bridge was named), in a festive, friendly atmosphere. Last summer, the concert featured Australian mezzo-soprano Teresa Fanning and American tenor Don Frazure, among an international group. The audience, many regulars from Greve, supplemented gentle evening breezes by fanning their programs, as the page-turner propped himself on the terrazzo wall next to the piano. The program that followed mixed opera - "Soave sia il vento" from Mozart's Così Fan Tutte, with American soprano Amy Allen and American baritone Peter Castaldi joining Fanning - and art song - Castaldi singing Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares.
The vocal program typically includes at least four concerts, built on individual voices and singers' needs. Other concert venues include the Chiesa di S. Angiolo Vico L'Abate, a sixteenth-century former monastery perched in the vineyards at Castelli del Grevepesa; Chiesa di S. Leonino, a church dating from the ninth to the fourteenth centuries in Panzano; and the peculiarly triangular Piazza Matteotti in Greve.
While the singers come here to work long, hard hours on particular goals - learning new repertory, smoothing out diction, perfecting technique - Insiders have leisure to take advantage of the broader picture. One can easily visit any of several Chianti Classico producers within a twenty- to thirty-minute drive from Villa Le Barone, a gracious hotel that was formerly the country residence of the della Robbia family.
Chianti Classico, the grape-growing region between Florence and Siena, is the most famous of the seven demarcated Chianti zones, recognized since the thirteenth century for producing outstanding red wines traditionally vinified from Sangiovese grapes with the addition of smaller amounts of Canaiolo, Trebbiano and Malvasia. Today, other varietals, such as cabernet sauvignon, which improves the wine's ability to age and its fruity character, are allowed in limited amounts. Besides Castello di Verrazzano and Castelli del Grevepesa, recommended producers include Querciabella and Bottega Badia a Passignano, historically a center for theological, literary and scientific studies and still a working monastery, with vineyards owned by the Antinori family, who have been producing wine in Tuscany since 1385. They recently opened Osteria Badia a Passignano nearby, a choice spot for leisurely dining and sampling local wines.
For further information on the Daniel Ferro Vocal Program and the Insider's View of Tuscany, call (212) 605-0594, e-mail email@example.com, or visit www.ferrovocalprogram.org.
MARGARET SHAKESPEARE, a New York writer and musician, never tires of traveling to Italy.
OPERA NEWS, May 2001 Copyright © 2001 The Metropolitan Opera Guild, Inc.