A Masterclass in Tuscany

It’s 04:30h on a Saturday morning – way too early for me, but I had no choice because my destination has poor train connections and the event I am attending, a singing masterclass, starts at 10.30h. Ahead of me lies a day full of uncertainties and surprises. My travel plans couldn’t possibly be any tighter while I’m not even sure where exactly the masterclass is happening. I’m also not sure who is teaching me, wondering whether I should have prepared a piece of music. On top of that, having to cope with everything in Italian doesn’t exactly boost my confidence and I have no idea if it’s going to be worth the 100€ travel expenses in the end. Why all this chaos? Because my email had been “overlooked” so that a free spot for me was only confirmed 24 hours prior to the event. Doesn’t get more last minute, does it?

Back to that brutally early morning. I get up, drink a lot of hot water since I feel like I’m getting a cold, check my backpack one last time. And off I go. I had planned to walk 15 minutes to Milan’s central station since metro trains don’t operate before 6 o’clock, but the universe is against me. It’s pouring rain outside and I’m quickly convinced that my little umbrella won’t save me. I give up and take a taxi, hoping that this is the only part of my elaborate travel master plan that’s not working. There’s no plan B, no room for changes.

At the station, I have to wait for the announcement of the track number. Being used to the German Railways that sets and announces track numbers six months ahead, having to wait until 10 minutes before departure makes me nervous. But everything turns out allright and I end up in a small cabin with a young American family. The first thing I do is nap. When I wake up, it’s snowing outside! Beginning of March in Italy and snow?! For a split second, the only solution my sleepy brain finds is that I’m on the wrong train, perhaps to Switzerland. But the shock has woken me up and rational thinking helps me calm down. The rest of the train ride turns out nice. It’s a wonderful coast route and even though it’s cloudy and grey, I can’t help but think that Italy is truly beautiful no matter where you go.

I arrive in Viareggio after four hours. It’s the closest I get to my final destination Torre del Lago Puccini by train without losing time. I hastily leave the station and hop into another taxi that takes me to the seat of Festival Puccini (famous annual open air festival – google it!) where the masterclass is going to start at 10.30h. I calculated everything meticulously with the help of Google Maps and I arrive just in time. With something like five minutes left, I step out of the taxi.

There are two people on the parking lot who seem to be taking a smoking break. I ask them, but they don’t know anything about singing lessons or a masterclass. “Okay,” I think, “I’ll just try this door”. Hahaha. Turns out it’s the door to a sayling club that does not belong to the festival complex. That marks the beginning of a long and seemingly hopeless search. I enter the lakeside festival park, I walk past closed cafés and ticket offices, searching for signs that don’t exist. It’s stormy, drizzling and cold and I find the void, abandoned complex unsettling. Inwardly, I’m damning the highly incompetent organizers. I walk around the open air theater, up the stairs until I realize they lead to the audience seats. I walk back. Then back to the front. Nothing. I walk back up the stairs to the seats. I’d almost given up when I discover a door left ajar behind a projecting piece of wall that I hadn’t noticed before. I find myself in a hallway with many adjacent offices where a cleaning lady is vacuuming the floor. Turns out she’s my hero of the day. She notices me and instead of kicking me out, she takes me down to the ground floor in an “authorized only” elevator. There, she tells me to follow another woman who finally, finally, takes me to a big room where other people are already waiting, including two students of my singing teacher. Feeeew. I was a little late, but the important people were also late. Such relief!!

The masterclass turned out fine. The teacher, famous bass singer Alfredo Zanazzo, made an impressive first appearance. He listened to everyone of us sing, analyzed our voices, our problems, and talked about many general rules in music and singing. Here and there, he shared little bits of his wisdom with us, things he learned from people he sang and worked with, including two of the greatest singers of the 20th century: Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland! Even though he – naturally – said everything in Italian only, I got along very well and I found it highly interesting and fascinating to listen to him.

Then came the teaching, a true disappointment. I strongly believe that in music, but particularly in singing, teaching goes hand in hand with imagery, metaphors and also phsyical excercises. If you are straining your vocal chords, telling yourself not to do so won’t solve the problem. But maybe walking around the room, drawing something in the air and imagining water coming out of your mouth will. And sadly, that’s what Maestro Zanazzo did not include in his teaching. He told me to open my mouth, free my throat and chords, to connect my diaphragma with my voice. I tried, I really did, but without supporting exercises, I knew I would probably fail to improve. Rather than frustrated and angry due to his direct, sligthly rude and eager style of teaching, I left the event sad. Sad because there are endless things I could have learned from him. So much wisdom and experience was left unshared, I really wish I was either more apt to his methods or affluent enough to afford long private singing lessons with him.

Overall, as you can tell, I’m very grateful for having had the opportunity to attend the masterclass and I deeply respect Maestro Zanazzo who is an extraordinary good and accomplished singer. Apart from that, this day trip removed my doubts by showing me that I can actually travel alone in Italy without getting completely lost and I’m going to take advantage of that newly found confidence in the future. And last but not least, I got to see a little bit of rural Tuscany!

So in the end, it was worth the 100€.

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