After arriving in Rome on the day of the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that shook the Abruzzo region just east of the city, Solveig Robinson was told that there was a possibility that she and the choir ensemble she was traveling with would not get to perform on Easter Sunday. Much to her relief, the concert was allowed to go on, but without the attendance of the Pope.
Robinson performed at the Basilica Santa Maria Ara Coeli, a sixth-century church with extravagant Renaissance décor, illuminated chandeliers and the lingering scent of incense. “We had originally expected to perform in the Hall of Audiences in the Vatican City itself. The change in venue was really to our advantage as performers,” said Robinson.
She went on to describe the scene on the night of the performance. With a packed venue, the décor and the incense “lent a real aura of worshipfulness to the evening,” said Robinson. Additionally, with a packed venue, “The audience applauded after each movement and gave us a spontaneous standing ovation – two things that are fairly common in the States but almost never happen in Europe,” she noted.
Prior to the big night, Robinson rehearsed with the ensemble for at least four hours a day. “Rehearsing for four hours a day when you are seriously jetlagged is kind of dreamlike – but it’s more surreal than anything,” said Robinson. “Cultural differences also led to a minor misunderstanding during our first rehearsal with the Italian orchestra,” she added. “One of the soloists had just sung particularly beautifully, and when he finished, a number of people in the choir whooped with appreciation. To the Italian musicians’ ears, however, it sounded as if the choir was being critical, not appreciative, because whoops and whistles are considered by most Europeans to be insulting or derisive. Everything was smoothed over once it was explained, though, and the choir got used to calling out ‘Bravo!’ and ‘Brava!’ instead—which is nicer, anyway!”
Outside of practice, Robinson had the opportunity to immerse herself in the culture, participating in the Holy Week events. On Good Friday, she attended the Way of the Cross at the Colusseum, where she was a mere 50 yards away from the Pope, and on Easter Sunday she was able to attend mass in St. Peter’s Square, seated in the first third of the square.
Robinson also got to enjoy the cuisine of the country throughout the entire trip. “I think the basic food groups should be pizza, pasta, vino, and gelato, so I was very happy!” said Robinson.
This report was complied by student worker Brielle Erickson. Photo provided by Solveig Robinson.