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Ravello Festival 2005
Boccaccio, Rufolo, Wagner,
& the World's Loudest Trombone Section


WARM UP BY LISTENING TO THIS FIRST!

OK, now you can read.


In his Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio (1313-1375) devoted an entire tale (Second Day, Tale Four) to the adventures of one Landolfo Rufolo, a contemporary of his from the town of Ravello on the "delightful...slope of Amalfi." Rufolo was rich but wanted more; thus, he set off to seek his further fortune, became a pirate, went down at sea, was rescued and eventually found his way home to Ravello again where he built his villa on a spectacular slope overlooking the sea. He then "lived in honorable estate" until his death.

Poster of first Wagner
Festival, 1953


As if from Snoopy's Dark-and-Stormy-Night school of great coincidences, just a few years earlier (c. 1200) in far-off Germany, Wolfram von Eschenbach had written his Parsifal, which, centuries later, would inspire Richard Wagner's (1813-83) last work, a tale involving the evil sorcerer, Klingsor and an enchanted garden. Wagner visited the Villa Rufolo in 1880 and was so inspired by the beauty of the garden that he declared, "Here is the enchanted garden of Klingsor." Did Eschenbach know Boccaccio? And what were Mommy and Daddy von Eschenbach thinking when they named their kid "Wolfram," a word that means "tungsten" in German? And how would young Tungsten have rated Wagner? (answer: "Really loud. Say, do you guys know anything by Hildegard von Bingen?") And why is "Parsifal" a pseudo-anagram for "Laugh His Rap"? Alas, we may never know the answer to some of these questions, but see how it all ties together?
 
Wagner apparently rode up to the Villa Rufolo from Amalfi on a mule. (What did mules ever do to God?!) Wagner was a notorious deadbeat and left an unpaid tab at the Palumbo Hotel, but, as it turned out (70 years later), more than made up for it by transforming the villa and all of Ravello into a money magnet. Ravello held its first Wagner music festival in 1953. The yearly affair has since grown in scope and continues to attract hordes of music lovers and performers of world renown every year.

The gardens that so moved Wagner were actually the result of a renovation of the villa in 1851 when Francis Neville Reid,* a Scottish botanist, bought the property and went crazy with the plant life. The restoration of the villa, itself, was in the hands of Michele Ruggiero, a gentleman who then took over the excavations at Pompeii. Significant parts of the original villa are still intact, including the main tower and intriguing Norman-Arab columns (photo, right)  along a passageway through the villa and to the back of the property where the outdoor concerts are held. The stage is set up at 1000 feet over the slope and sea looking due east along the folds of the mountain range of the Amalfi coast. The view is stunning.

This year's festival started July 3 and will run through September 17; it has "sections" for orchestral, chamber, and film music, visual arts, experimental theater, and discussions on education. I went for the orchestral music—specifically, Wagner, because that is why one goes to Ravello. We heard the Orchestra and Choir of the Marinsky Theater from St. Petersburg. It wasn't all Wagner, but it was close enough and included, on two successive evenings, a prelude from Parsifal,  the funeral march from The Twilight of the Gods, the overtures to Tannhäuser and The Flying Dutchman, and the introduction to the third act of Lohengrin. One non-Wagner item was Prokovief's great score to the Eisenstein film, Alexander Nevsky. I recall noting that there were two bass trombonists in the Parsifal excerpt, thus giving the collective low brass section the most lethal attack of decibels since the eruption of Krakatoa. It was fine!

*Obituary notice of Neville Reid from The Times, July 21, 1892.

Mr. Francis Nevile Reid, who died at Ravello on the 12 inst. at the age of 66, will be greatly missed and sincerely mourned throughout the beautiful region of southern Italy where he had lived for something like 40 years. A member of a wealthy Scottish family, he suffered, as a very young man from delicacy of the chest; and as, during a journey in Italy, he found great good from the air of Ravello, above Amalfi, he bought land there, and the half ruined Palazzo of the once famous Rufoli family, and there he henceforth made his home. In those days the hill country of the kingdom of Naples was about the most backward and barbarous part of Italy; and Mr. Reid set himself to introduce some kind of civilization into his commune and neighbourhood. He made the Palazzo habitable, while preserving its ancient features with loving care; he gave employment to the underfed and underpaid people; he gradually organized a decent municipality; and, in the end, a few years ago, he succeeded in getting the excellent carriage road made to Amalfi, thus opening up the district and immensely increasing its chance of prosperity. Many were the difficulties that he had to overcome, especially from the small bourgoizie, who complained that he raised the rate of wages that they had to pay; and on one occasion, a few years ago, the ghastly murder of a local friend and partisan of his, in a quarrel arising out of this partisanship, reminded him of the real savagery that still remained among the people of Ravello. More than once, in the old days, he had a narrow escape from the brigands, who, in the last years of Bomba and after his overthrow, infested the mountains of the Surrentine peninsular. Once, as Mr. Reid, his wife, and her mother were about to sit down to dinner, the village cobbler ran in to tell them that 70 of these scoundrels were assembling in the Piazza, and that he would be seized in ten minutes. He and the ladies just succeeded in slipping away down a narrow path to Minori, the little seaport 1,000ft. below. where they took boat for Capri, staying there till order was restored. General Pallavicini swept the mountains clear of brigands, and since that time Mr. Reid has been able to live and carry on his career of quiet beneficence undisturbed. It is hard to estimate what a loss his death will cause throughout that lovely but very poor region, to which, for a generation or more, he has literally been a Providence. His heir is his nephew, the son of Sir James Lacaita.



(Also see Ravello 2008 and 2014)


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