The Italian Girl in London

Cimarosa

Information

The Italian Girl in London
(L’italiana in Londra, 1778)

Intermezzo in two parts
Libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini
English translation by Gilly French and Jeremy Gray

The Deanery garden, Bampton 15, 16 July 2011
The Opera House, Buxton 18, 23 July 2011
The Orangery, Westonbirt 28 August 2011
St John’s, Smith Square 13 September 2011

Cast

Livia, an Italian girl, pretending to be a French maid Kim Sheehan
Madama Brillante, a hotel proprietress Caryl Hughes
Sumers, a Dutch travelling salesman Adam Tunnicliffe
Don Polidoro, an Italian tourist Nicholas Merryweather
Milord Arespingh, an Englishman and minor aristocrat Robert Winslade Anderson
A hotel maid Rosa French
A policeman Martin Havelock
   
Conductor Thomas Blunt
Director Jeremy Gray
Associate Director Nicola Samer
Set designer Nigel Hook
Costume designer Fiona Hodges
Répétiteur Charlotte Forrest
   
   

Orchestra
Mark Wilson (leader), Jane Gillie, Piotr Jordan, Julie Macrae, Claire Parkin, Steve Rowlinson, Sharon Warnes, Alison Cutting violin; Jordan Sion, Nina Kopparhed viola; Babette Lichtenstein, Judith Dallosso cello; Elizabeth Harré double bass; Emmeline Baines, Emily Ogilvy flute; Mana Shibata, Carolyn King oboe; Tom Hardy bassoon; Jesse Durkan, Fiona Parker horn; Samuel Ewens, Duncan McNaughton trumpet.

 

Synopsis

Act 1

Whilst war rages in the world at large, three men of different nationalities find themselves as guests at Madama Brillante’s downmarket London hotel.  The salesman Sumers, who is Dutch and terribly sensible, and Don Polidoro from Naples (but who has a poor sense of geography) can’t understand English manners and tastes.  At teatime they are diverted by the morose appearance of the English Milord, Arespingh: he faces the awful prospect of marrying Diana, a bride chosen by his father, rather than his beloved Livia whom he has been forced to leave behind in Genoa.

All the men are intrigued by Madama’s French waitress, ‘Henriette’, from Marseilles.  Milord cannot get over the uncanny resemblance ‘Henriette’ bears to his Italian love, Livia.  She in turn is horrified to realise that the man who jilted her has appeared in the very place where she works.

Madama is desperate to be married herself, and at first misinterprets the comments of the men who are all attracted to ‘Henriette’.  Livia explains her plight to Madama, who responds with worldly wisdom based on her own sad experience.

Madama has taken a fancy to Polidoro but is also determined to embarrass him over his infatuation with Livia.  She explains that the girl can make herself invisible by a magic heliotrope or bloodstone which she possesses, and teases him into thinking that ‘Henriette’ is actually present.

Sumers reads in the paper about Milord’s forthcoming marriage to Diana and feels that he must protect ‘Henriette’ from untoward advances.  Milord protests that he has no intention of going through with his father’s plan.

Polidoro hunts for his own bloodstone in order to further his amorous intentions with the girl.  Milord is suicidal, and wants Polidoro to run him through with a sword.  Livia is also desperate and would like to end her life.  Madama finds Polidoro with the sword and imagines he is both mad and dangerous, and soon everyone rounds on him to his utter bewilderment.  However Livia accuses Milord of infidelity and, as a storm breaks, he in turn becomes the focus of everyone’s anger.
Act 2

Milord hangs around at the hotel which he cannot bear to leave, despite Madama making it clear that he is no longer welcome. Nevertheless she begins to wonder if he is genuinely still in love with Livia.  Milord insults Polidoro, who threatens revenge, much to Madama’s concern who fears he will come off worse in a fight.

Madama teases Polidoro, explaining that ‘Henriette’ must love him despite her protests to the contrary: women always say the opposite to what they mean.

Livia overhears Milord assuring Sumers that he remains true to her.  Although Sumers disbelieves him, she begins to understand the truth.  Sumers adopts the moral high ground against the foreign men.

Polidoro at last finds a bloodstone and so assumes he is invisible.  He eavesdrops on a conversation between the women who of course know that he is present.

There is an uneasy meeting between the lovers, which is abruptly interrupted when a police arrives to arrest Livia.  Milord is alarmed and furious, but the others assume he has engineered the arrest.

With extraordinary speed and generosity, Sumers arranges bail for the girl’s release.  Madama reveals her love for Polidoro and her desire to return with him to Naples: he is not quite convinced, as ‘Henriette’ still appears to be available.

Livia writes a thank-you letter to Sumers but is observed by Milord, arousing his jealousy.  In a touch-and-go confrontation, Milord explains that Livia’s father was behind the arrest in order to punish her for running away from home.  Despite many threats and counter-threats, the lovers are at last reconciled and Madama is deliriously happy to see them together.

Sumers and Polidoro still plan revenge against Milord, but Madama convinces them that all is well.  A final trick is played against Polidoro with his bloodstone, but he is eventually persuaded that he may as well accept Madama.  It is announced that the war is over, and everyone celebrates peace amongst the nations.

Reviews

stylish and amusing
The Daily Telegraph, 15 September 2011

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stylish and amusing

The Daily Telegraph, 15 September 2011

There’s something fascinating about Cimarosa’s 1779 hit L’Italiana in Londra, but it’s purely academic. It embodies many of the opera buffa conventions which Mozart and da Ponte adopted a decade later in Così fan tutte: here is the same cynical Despina figure, running a hotel in Soho, here are the same confused lovers imagining infidelity, the innocently stereotyped foreigners, the extended ensemble finales.

The difference is one of genius. Cimarosa writes perkily vivacious music, but nothing in L’Italiana in Londra touches the heart or sticks in the memory. It’s all nicely seasoned and sweetened pap.

Bampton Classical Opera is an al fresco festival in Oxfordshire that makes a speciality of reviving such later 18th-century rarities. This summer’s programme presented L’Italiana in Londra in a briskly witty translation, imported to St John’s Smith Square for an end-of-season semi-staged performance. The five soloists were all stylish and amusing; I particularly enjoyed the singing of Caryl Hughes and Kim Sheehan. Thomas Blunt conducted an accomplished small orchestra with verve.

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Rupert Christiansen

 

beautifully paced and elegant… impressive cast
Opera Now, October 2011

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beautifully paced and elegant… impressive cast

Opera Now, October 2011

You wonder how long Bampton’s guiding spirits Gilly French and Jeremy Gray can keep unearthing 18th-century works with enough zip to earn a staging.  It’s a great cause, anyway, and to date they have excavated plenty of gems, including Storace’s Comedy of Errors, Soler’s Capricciosa corretta and Portugal’s Figaro, pieces which can hold their own in any company.

I’m not sure that Cimarosa’s Italian Girl in London is up to that, or even that of their previous foray into his work, The Two Barons of Rocca Azzurra; nonetheless it is a perfectly likeable bit of Neapolitan flummery though each half is about ten minutes too long even for the tolerant and easily-amused. The premise, if any, is that the eponymous girl is masquerading as a French maid in a London hotel patronized by her ex (an English Lord), a Dutch salesman and an Italian idiot.  All have their eye on the girl, but the proprietress fancies the Italian.  A magic stone which makes you invisible is also notionally involved.

Good things here started with the orchestra, playing to a really high standard under Thomas Blunt’s cultured direction, beautifully paced and elegant.  And as usual Bampton had assembled an impressive cast, led by the always disciplined and assiduous Kim Sheehan as Livia.  Adam Tunnicliffe sang the Dutchman stylishly, but the piece was stolen by the twin comic talents of Nicholas Merryweather as the absurd Polidoro and, most of all, by Caryl Hughes’s Madama Brillante: this young Welsh mezzo sang a stunning Cenerentola at Iford last year, and here added effortless comic assurance to her portfolio, singing with focus and great technique.

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Robert Thicknesse

 

a barmy yet sentimental comic romp of the kind in which Bampton Classical Opera excels
Opera, September 2011

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a barmy yet sentimental comic romp of the kind in which Bampton Classical Opera excels

Opera, September 2011

Welcome to the dilapidated Victory Bar at the Hamilton Hotel, London!  It’s 1982: Charles & Di memorabilia adorn the shabby chic walls alongside assorted nautical relics.  Resident are an eclectic bunch of European metropolitans: an eminently sensible, if self-righteous, Dutchman, Sumers; Don Polidoro, an ardent Italian; and the morose English aristocrat, Milord Arespingh - their needs catered for by ‘on-the-make’ émigré Italian hostess, Madama Brillante, and her French waitress, Henrietta (ably assisted by gum-chewing maid, Rosa).  Except that Henrietta is actually Livia – formerly affianced to, and jilted by, Arespingh (ordered by his father to marry the horrendous Diana) – who is shortly to capture the fervent heart of Polidoro, who is himself to become the object of our landlady’s amorous attentions.  The scene is set for a zany tale of mistaken identity, courtship and duelling, with a dose of the pseudo-supernatural thrown in … a perfect scenario for a barmy yet sentimental comic romp of the kind in which Bampton Classical Opera excels.

Leading a fine cast was Bampton regular Nicholas Merryweather, whose relaxed, confidence and instinctive comic timing continue to impress (following recent performances for Longborough and ETO, he will surely catch the eye of one of the larger houses soon).  His warm baritone secure and resonant, Merryweather conveyed both the farcical bluster and appealing gaucheness of the passionate Italian, relishing the witticisms and neat rhymes of the effective translation by Gilly French and director Jeremy Gray.  Caryl Hughes, as a worldly, pragmatic Madama Brillante, was similarly engaging, while Adam Tuncliffe displayed a robust, pleasing tenor as the sanctimonious Sumers, effectively injecting a tempering note of seriousness into the chaotic intrigue. 

It is a major strength of this production that fun and farce never descend into foolishness and flippancy.  Thus, convinced that Livia possesses a bloodstone which renders her invisible, Polidoro is a perfect gull for Madame’s pitiless teasing, culminating in a mad-cap Act 1 finale in which supernatural vibes – or more prosaically, a storm – erupt in a swirl of smoke and flashing lights which set the light-shades jigging and the postcard rack spinning.  Yet, such antics are balanced by Kim Sheehan’s earnest, poised Livia, whose love and suffering were sincerely conveyed.  Sheehan certainly has the requisite stratospheric éclat in her musical arsenal, but at times her tone was a little two-dimensional.  As the hapless Englishman, bass Robert Winslade Anderson produced some fittingly tender moments, although he was occasionally adrift of conductor Thomas Blunt’s brisk tempi.  Blunt led a superb Northern Chamber Orchestra through galloping yet finely judged ensembles with assurance: punchy horns complemented a luscious string sound.  Overall, musical and dramatic details shone through naturally.  As one departing opera-goer was heard to remark, “a thoroughly agreeable evening – what more could one ask?”

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Claire Seymour

 

...delightfully funny... strongly sung... spirited style
The Oxford Times, 22 July 2011

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...delightfully funny... strongly sung... spirited style

The Oxford Times, 22 July 2011

Cimarosa’s first major opera is an engaging and light-hearted romp, and Bampton Classical Opera’s production at The Deanery Garden last weekend teased out the silliness of the plot to great effect. The story takes place in a single day at a somewhat seedy London hotel — here updated to the 1980s — and revolves around minor English aristocrat Milord Arespingh and Livia, the Italian girl he jilted in Genoa because his father has another bride lined up for him. When Livia turns up in London disguised as French waitress Henriette, she soon has three men vying for her attention — the Dutch salesman Sumers, Italian tourist Don Polidoro and Milord himself, who quickly sees through her disguise.

Meanwhile, Madama Brillante, the hotel proprietress, takes a fancy to Polidoro. Growing jealous of Polidoro’s interest in Livia, she tricks him into believing that Livia has a bloodstone that renders her invisible, and encourages him to declare his love to the unseen ‘Henriette’. The joke gets even better when Polidoro finds a bloodstone that he believes makes him invisible, and he eavesdrops on the two women, blissfully unaware that he can be seen.

The delightfully funny new translation by Jeremy Gray and Gilly French was occasionally lost in the exceptionally windy conditions, but the cast of five did their valiant best. Nicholas Merryweather tickled all the comic senses with his larger-than-life portrayal of the gullible Polidoro, grabbing the lion’s share of the laughs with his misplaced confidence that he had discovered the secret of invisibility. Robert Winslade Anderson was a wonderfully urbane Milord and Kim Sheehan (pictured with him above) a strongly-sung Livia, and both produced some movingly passionate and poignant moments. Adam Tunnicliffe (an Oxford graduate, incidentally) was full of youthful charm as Sumers, while Caryl Hughes had fun as the flirtatious and mischievous Madama. The orchestra played in spirited style under conductor Thomas Blunt. As always with Bampton Classical Opera, this production was an absolute treat.

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Nicola Lisle

 

Articles

Italians on Tour
Jeremy Gray

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Italians on Tour

There was certainly a lot of gadding about Europe in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Italian opera, from Anfossi’s L’americana in Olanda (1778) to Mosca’s L’italiana in Algeri of 1808, reset more famously by Rossini in 1813.  Domenico Cimarosa’s L’italiana in Londra of 1778 was turned on its head by Anfossi with L’inglese in Italia, premièred in London in 1786.  Earlier, there had been Piccini’s Li napoletani in America (1768), and the genre continued triumphantly to Rossini’s Il turco in Italia of 1814, using a libretto which had previously done service for Süssmayr as Il musulmano in Napoli.  All of these provided potential for amusing racial stereotypes and cheap jokes along the line of “do you know the one about the Englishman, the Scotsman and the Irishman?”  But nationalities could be readily transferable: in Germany in 1783 L’italiana in Londra became Das deutsche Mädchen in London and in London itself in 1788 (when the title was changed blandly to La locandiera – ‘The Innkeeper’) a new exotic setting was undoubtedly required and the setting was moved to – you’ve guessed it! – Amsterdam.

At the first performance, in the Teatro Valle, Rome, on 28 December 1778 (some sources prefer 1779) there may well have been further confusions: papal edict forbade the appearance of women on the stage, so the Italian girl was played by the 17-year old male castrato Girolamo Crescentini (whose later career was so illustrious that he was granted the Iron Crown of Lombardy by Napoleon), and Madama Brillante by Giuseppe Censi.  Of the truly male singers, perhaps the most notable was the Tuscan bass-baritone Francesco Bussani who sang Milord and went on to create Bartolo, Antonio, the Commendatore, Masetto and Don Alfonso in Mozart’s three Da Ponte operas.

Although subject in his lifetime to the fickle nature of public taste and complex shifting and dangerous political situations, Domenico Cimarosa (1749-1801) was one of the most illustrious of the troup of Italian opera composers (amongst them Gazzaniga and Paisiello) whose works formed the popular staple of opera houses from London to St Petersburg in the late eighteenth century.  Many of his eighty-or-so operatic works were regular features at nearly all the major European houses, and especially at the great court centres at Vienna, where he replaced Salieri as Kapellmeister, and at Eszterháza, where Haydn conducted thirteen of his works between 1783 and 1790.  Unlike many of his compatriots, his reputation held good well into the nineteenth century, founded especially on continued performances of his two acknowledged masterpieces, Il matrimonio segreto (The Secret Marriage) and the revolutionary opera seria, Gli Orazi ed i Curiazi.  Two of his works were directed by Goethe at Weimar, and amongst other influential voices who rated him even above Mozart were the painter Delacroix and the novelist Stendhal, who thought his genius equal to that of Raphael.  Indeed, such was his reputation in France that his bust was prominently placed on the façade of the most opulent of all theatres, the Paris Opéra, in the third quarter of the nineteenth century.

L’italiana was Cimarosa’s fourth collaboration with the comic specialist librettist, the Roman Abbate, Giuseppe Petrosellini (1727 – after 1797), whose work with many of the most successful composers of his day, including Piccinni, Anfossi and Salieri was to culminate in Il barbiere di Siviglia, written for Paisiello in 1782.  As with other significant librettists of the day, Lorenzo da Ponte being the most famous, Petrosellini developed a genre which had been established by Goldoni, moving away from the tradition of repetitive sequences of arias so that the dramatic texture is more naturally broken up with ensembles and expanded finales.  It was this latter feature which Cimarosa was to make especially effective in his comic operas and the two lengthy multi-part finales are one of the most appealing features of L’italiana.  Petrosellini’s libretti may have limited poetic merits, but he was adept at inventing attractive comic situations, frequently involving disguise, and he had a sure sense of pace and stagecraft. 

The plot of The Italian Girl may lack sophistication and subtlety, but Petrosellini created an attractive set of characters within an appealing European context.  Bringing together a morose English Milord with the unlikely name of Arespingh (which English Grand Tourist visiting late eighteenth-century Rome inspired him, one wonders?), a middle-class and eminently sensible Dutch merchant, Sumers, and the flamboyant, gullible and homesick Neapolitan Don Polidoro, enabled the composer to provide a varied palette of colours for his musical depiction.  The Italian girl Livia comes from Genoa but claims to be from Marseilles, and Madama Brillante, the proprietress of a London hostelry, is perhaps a second-generation Londoner, not only looking for a husband but probably also longing for the Italian sunshine.  Livia and Arespingh provide a serious core to the general froth – Livia is genuinely bewildered and hurt by her experiences, and Arespingh is racked by the struggle between his own feelings and filial obligation. 

Like many opere buffe, the action unfolds through 24 hours, and the relaxed ‘bottega di caffè’ setting of the conversational opening scene (complete, we are told in the libretto, with splendid arches through which one can see the Thames and its shipping) happily anticipates that of Così fan tutte.  A certain piquancy is added by the knowledge that elsewhere war is waging – 1778 was a significant year in the American War of Independence, with France joining the field and siding against Britain.  Setting aside the unlikely coincidence that both Livia and the man who apparently jilted her in Genoa have both turned up at the same London hotel (but which of us hasn’t unexpectedly bumped into someone we know in London?), the way Petrosellini draws the other characters into their private story of distrust, hurt pride and longing, makes for an appealing and almost believable story.  There are parallels with another libretto probably also by Petrosellini, La finta giardiniera, written for Anfossi in 1774 and then reset by Mozart: both revolve around a sentimental core in which a girl of good birth has fled from a less-than-satisfactory lover and is forced to take on menial work to survive.  A false arrest of one of the protagonists (a strategy of which Petrosellini was clearly fond) helps them to find their eventualreconciliation, although in L’italiana they do not have first to lose their sanity.  The commedia dell’arte origin of the lovers is apparent, as is true also of the pompous Don Polidoro, quick to boast and to show off, but frequently revealing his embarrassing ignorance.  Madama develops a soft spot for him, but cannot resist teasing him into believing that a magic heliotrope or bloodstone will make him invisible and so further his amorous pursuits, a story Petrosellini derived from Boccaccio’s Decameron.  

L’italiana in Londra is one of eight comic operas, termed intermezzi, which Cimarosa wrote between 1777 and 1784 for the Teatro Valle, a handsome neo-classical Roman theatre built in 1726, which still stands today.  The intermezzo, chiefly in Naples and Venice, grew out of small-scale comic pieces which were inserted for light relief between the acts of weightier seria works.  They usually had only two singers, perhaps with the addition of actors.  The most famous is Pergolesi’s La serva padrona of 1733; typically characters were drawn from ‘real’ life, and often servants were pitted against their betters with a fair sprinkling of satire.  As the intermezzo developed, so did its scale, but a sense of modest proportion remained.  Cimarosa’s Roman intermezzi, which effectively sealed his success, were two-act operas, in contrast to the usual three-act form of the opera buffa, and were carefully tailored to the modest forces available at the Teatro Valle. Cimarosa himself directed the première from the harpsichord and the work proved by far his greatest success to date.  The following July, it was the first of his operas to be presented at La Scala, Milan, soon followed by the Teatro Regio in Turin and La Fenice, Venice.  In the 1780s it became one of the most travelled of all operas of its era, with performances in (amongst others) Dresden, Graz, Vienna, Prague, Warsaw, St Petersburg, Barcelona, Madrid, Lisbon, Cologne, Weimar, Hanover, Hamburg, Versailles, Paris, Aachen, Ghent – and, of course, London.  Translations were made into French, German, Polish, Danish and Russian.

As with most successfully touring operas at this time, adjustments were made to the score to suit local conditions, singers and tastes.  Cimarosa himself added some new music for a revival in Naples in 1794 but refrained from further alterations “because this opera has always been well-received in places where it had played”.  However, when it was given abroad, the composer had no effective control, and revisions and interpolations were made by Cherubini, Haydn (who gave fourteen performances at Eszterháza) and Paer.  Nevertheless its unprecedented success did not survive the changes in the comic genre effected by Rossini and Donizetti, and L’italiana disappeared from the stage until its first modern revival at Geneva in 1929.  The preparation of a score and performing materials by the well-known publishing house Ricordi in 1979 has helped to promote it since, but Cimarosa remains a one-opera composer (Il matrimonio segreto) despite the undoubted charms of many of his others (another of the Roman intermezzi, I due baroni di Rocca Azzurra was given by Bampton in 2002).   In 1989 it was the Buxton Festival which gave the first modern times production of L’italiana in the UK (not strictly the “British Première” as the programme claimed) in a new translation by Amanda Holden, conducted by Anthony Hose and directed by Jamie Hayes.   Michael Kennedy’s informative book, Buxton: An English Festival, points out that the choice that year was necessitated by the recession (plus ça change?) but it was clearly a successful choice, with a late 19th-century setting and a production which caused the audience to “laugh long and loud”.  By accounts it was more successful than the original London performances of La locandiera in 1788: The Post then considered that although the music was “light and airy” there “was nothing of striking or prolific imagination”, although The World considered the music “at once very ingenious and very gay”.

As for the music, it is typical both of Cimarosa and of the late eighteenth-century Italian style, very different from (and somewhat more successful than) that which Mozart was beginning to develop in Vienna.  Harmonically restrained, the interest derives from the infectious energy of repeated rhythmic phrases, creating textures which are always deft, elegant and light.  The vocal lines are surprisingly restrained – there is little by way of flamboyant coloratura – but this helps to clarify text and action.  David Shengold has said “Cimarosa’s fresh orchestral accompaniments are more memorable than the vocal lines he crafted on top of them, unfailingly pleasant though these are”, but the constant variety of figuration, alternation of legato and staccato and the placing of accents keeps the music constantly vital and never dull.   Whilst there is certainly no attempt to create any music which might convey English allusions, the Neapolitan yearnings of Polidoro and Madama are apparent in tarantella passages in the Act 1 Finale and in Madama’s Act 2 Cavatina – although it must be admitted that Milord also appears to be ‘bitten’ in his Act 2 vengeance aria.  The two large-scale chain finales are glorious and typical of their composer.  That to Act 1 lasts more than 16 minutes and moves through six tempo changes which help to propel the mood and action towards the chaotic ‘rising tempest’ which concludes the act in typical buffa cliff-hanger fashion.

In our Mozart-obsessed age it is always refreshing to reconsider those operas which perhaps more truly reflect the tastes of their day.  If we are tempted to condemn Petrosellini as facile, let us not forget how desperately trivial is the story of Così fan tutte.  Will we end up agreeing with Delacroix that Cimarosa displays “this pervasive leaven that enhances all other qualities – incomparable elegance, elegance to express tender sentiments, elegance to convey humour, elegance to indicate gentle pathos”?  If so we may, with the final ensemble of The Italian Girl, find ourselves rejoicing.

Jeremy Gray
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The snares of geology
Jeremy Gray

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The snares of geology

The simplicity of Calandrino, a jobbing Florentine artist, was endearing to two other painters, Bruno and Buffalmacco, men of high spirits and intelligence.  An associate of theirs, a young Florentine called Maso del Saggio, also came to hear of Calandrino’s naivety and resolved to have a little fun at his expense, ganging up with his friends to enhance the ruse.  One day in the church of San Giovanni they allowed Calandrino to overhear their conversation as they loudly discussed the unusual characteristics of certain geological specimens.  Calandrino was willingly drawn into the conversation and heard with amazement as they explained the remarkable properties of magic stones to be found in the district of Cockaigne in the Basque region of Gluttony – a land of geographical and culinary wonders.  No wonder Calandrino’s eyes grew ever wider as they described the mountains made of finest Parmesan cheese, the rivers flowing red with deep Vernaccia wine, and the countryside awash with the freshest macaroni, ravioli and rich chicken broth.

Sadly, the great distance of this plentiful land was too off-putting to the eager Calandrino, but his enquiries soon revealed that there were indeed small outcrops of magical stones much closer to home, in the valley of the little River Mugnone which flows into the Arno.  One particular stone seized his imagination as his friends described it: the blackish heliotrope, a specimen of remarkable power which rendered its holder quite invisible to all.

Although the curious name of this stone proved troublesome to Calandrino’s memory, the appeal of it grew in his desires – what immense riches would accrue when he could invisibly steal from the money-changers’ tables!  He convinced Bruno and Buffalmacco – who of course were well aware of their falsehood – to accompany him on a Sunday morning geological hunt, when not too many people would be around to trouble them.  They left the city and went down to the glistening banks of the Mugnone.  Calandrino was beside himself!  Everywhere there seemed to be shiny black stones and he soon amassed a heavy collection, gathered safely into the folds of his gown.  Is it a surprise that Bruno and Buffalmacco were less assiduous and soon began to tire of their charade?  But lunchtime was approaching and as they had previously planned, one turned to the other and asked with great surprise “But where’s Calandrino?  Just a moment ago he was right here beside us – he must have left us here without a word and gone home for a good tasty lunch”.  But of course Calandrino was not at home – he was still there, just a stone’s throw in front of them.  What else could he conclude but that he was in possession of a – what was it called? - a heliotrope!  He must be quite invisible, utterly transparent and undetectable!

There was now no point now in labouring further and the joyous Calandrino, fully convinced of his invisibility, set off home.  His friends followed close behind, loudly cursing him (for his benefit of course) for leading them on a wild goose chase: surely the perpetrator deserved a stoning!  To drive the point home, from time to time they aimed a stone with some precision at poor Calandrino’s back or leg or head - all the way back into Florence.  And because they had previously made arrangements with the customs officers at the gate, not a word was spoken to Calandrino as he entered the city. 

The painter, somewhat bruised by the stoning, was nevertheless ecstatic and arrived home in triumph.  Now he would surprise his wife!  But why did she immediately greet him with abuse and chide him for his lateness?  Surely she couldn’t see him?  Where was his precious invisibility now?  Calandrino was furious – livid – incandescent, and sadly took it out on his poor wife with a degree of violence quite unwarranted.  She was only saved by the fortunate arrival of the painters who now merely mocked Calandrino for his gullibility.  The moneychangers’ tables evaporated from his dreams and poor Calandrino was left with a heart full of melancholy, and a house full of stones.

A story told by Elissa, abridged from the Third Story of the Eighth Day of Boccaccio’s Decameron, written c1350.

Jeremy Gray
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Production Photos