After a busy and rewarding two weeks performing in Cambridge, Germany’s Black Forest and the now familiar rolling green hills of the Herefordshire borders, Joseph and I set off early for Bristol airport to meet up with our Italian friends Odhecaton in Naples. In-between rehearsals and the performance in Wagner’s garden in Ravello, we managed to sneak in a little sightseeing in Campagna… Odhecaton’s concert featured music by contemporary Italian composer Mirco di Stefani and Carlo Gesualdo alongside works by Tallis and John Tavener, and was very pleasing it was too to see a little British influence on our European friends’ repertoire!
A spare morning provided an opportunity to visit Carlo’s house and tombstone at Gesù Nuovo in Napoli. I was particularly keen to visit Carlo Gesualdo’s hometown in the hills near Avellino and the morning after the concert Joseph and I jumped in a tiny Neapolitan hire-car and headed for the hills, weaving through the infamous Italian traffic. We stopped first in Pompeii, having driven around the foothills of Vesuvius, and we enjoyed a flying visit of the Roman ruins, including Joseph’s impromptu debut in the amazing acoustics of the Amphitheatre.
Feeling a little toasted by the midday Mediterranean sun, we hopped back in our battered Toyota and whizzed past the Amalfi coast to Salerno for a spot of lunch. Spurred on by what may well have been acute sunstroke, it occoured to us to hire a little boat from the nearby marina and (once Joseph had been satisfied that our rental acquisition had an impressive enough turn of speed) the next three hours we spent very happily dipping in and out of the Mediterranean just below the cliffs that supported the concert venue the night before in Ravello. Finding the bluetooth connection on the way back to Salerno, we skipped across the waves to Joseph’s choice of a mix of Supertramp and Gerald Finzi.
Taking encouragement in rumours of a festival happening in the small town of Gesualdo, we plumped for the more direct, much more winding road from Salerno. We were both completely astounded by the journey. Rounding one of many breath-taking corners, we finally spotted a sign for the town and, looking that way, saw the hill-top castle of our namesake. Our first stop under the setting sun was the Cappuccin Monastery which we had been told housed the only known portrait of Carlo, Il perdono, which he commissioned near the end of his life. Seeing the small chapel from afar, we were very pleased to find it still open at 8pm and it was particularly moving to see the dark portrait above the main altar in the dim light from the doorway.
Having read a few things about the man and his life it was very moving to see his image and feel so connected to the over 400 years since the picture was painted. Charging back the short distance to the castle, we saw that the Saperi e Sapori festival was getting into full swing. We were amazed to find a drama taking place in the gardens of the castle, and a man being referred to as ‘Principe’, in renaissance garb plucking a lute.
Gesualdo is normally a quiet town of around 3000 people, but we learnt that the weekend festival attracts over three times that number. Wondering the castle’s exhibitions of reconstructed instruments and outfits from Carlo’s time we met the extremely helpful and friendly Alberico, who very kindly adopted us for the evening and showed us round the town. We were treated to davvero Southern Italian hospitality! It was amazing to see the Castle’s ruined chapel, and see the space that the Carlo’s famous Tenebrae Responsories were first performed in.
Having sampled a few of the festivals many culinary delights and feeling extremely fortunate and more than a little overwhelmed, it was soon time to get the car back to Naples. A flying visit this time, we hope to return to the town to stay and hopefully perform one day!