I bought the tickets for Ronan as a Christmas present in 2019, Andrea Bocelli in the Theatre of Silence near his home in Tuscany. The concert was originally to take place in July 2021 the weekend of our 24th anniversary but of course, due to Covid, was postponed to the following year to our 25th anniversary, which would make it all the more special.
We stopped off for a quick lunch in a hilltop town on the way. It was 2.15pm, so we had to be quick. As everyone in Italy knows, restaurants open at 12.30 for lunch and usually close by 2.30pm. They don’t open again until 7pm for dinner. There are no ‘in between’ time dining places.
This takes a bit of getting used to, especially if you are a tourist… You have a leisurely breakfast at your hotel, set off to visit a small town, do some sightseeing and want to sit to eat at 3pm or have a drink. Not possible.
“No! You are in Italy,” I heard one waitress roar at a german tourist last week who had enquired about having a snack and some beers at 3pm just as the restaurant was closing. So you can’t eat. And not only that but you can’t shop, because all the shops close ‘for lunch’ until 4pm. So even if you time it right and go to visit a town in time for lunch at 1pm and finish by 2.30pm, you are left wandering the streets salivating at the things in windows you would like to buy, but can’t, because they are not open until 4pm.
I’ve asked Italians what we’re supposed to do during this ‘lull’.
“You are supposed to be having a siesta. To digest your lunch.”
“But if a tourist is visiting a town an hour or two from their accommodation, what are they supposed to do. Go sit in their car?”
“I don’t know, but the Italians need to digest their lunch.”
The concert was due to start at 8.30pm seating was open from 5.30pm. Refreshment and food stalls would be available. So we left the hotel at 6.15pm. With the plan to arrive by 7pm and get something at one of the food stalls. Nothing major just something to fill us up.
There is traffic entering the area from all roads but it’s all well organised. Lots of staff to direct and keep the traffic flowing. We park in the assigned field and walk through the fields and up the hill to the outdoor space. I had thought it would be bigger and more slopped, like some of the many amphitheaters visited throughout Italy and that we would sit on stone shelved seating, but this is flat enough for plastic chairs to be placed on the different levels. So it gives more of a feeling of a field than an amphitheatre. Some people are carrying picnic baskets. I had considered bringing food and drinks, but thought it would be like previous concerts I had attended back in Ireland, where this was forbidden. This event is much more casual. More of a Sunday picnic feel.
There are no food stalls. There’s a gelato cart with a long queue of people and there are drink stalls. These sell panini also. We queue and then notice it says no bankomat. Cash only. So we queue at another, but that is the same. We panic. Neither of us had considered getting cash out, but both usually have some on us. But not today. We are searching in our pockets and end of our wallets and scrape together 16 euro in coin. “That’s enough for a panino, €6, two bottles of water €2 each and one glass of wine €6 or a second panino.”
“I’m still okay from lunch, so I’ll have the wine and no panini,” I say, sacrificing myself.
“Do you think he’s going to come galloping in on his horse?” says Ronan jokingly.
“Don’t be ridiculous Ronan… that’s him there.” I point to his helicopter making a dip over the crowd before flying off to the other side of a hill.
“Although it would be pretty cool to see him coming across the hills on his horse.”
“He lives nearby, why not?”
Bocelli on horseback was the cover photo for our magazine two years ago, his horse looks amazing.
An hour after the scheduled start time, church bells toll over the speakers and the orchestra make their way to their seats. I feel quite excited. Just as they sit, a large drop of water lands on my lap. I feel like someone has spat on me. Not a good feeling during Covid. Within seconds, others around me are looking up to the sky at the large dark cloud that has formed above us. I’m wondering what they will do if it starts to rain. There must be a cover that goes over the stage to protect the classical instruments.
They do a warm up song and I remember how good a live orchestra sounds and pulls at your emotions. In walks Andrea. I settle in to be amazed. The gods spit on us again throughout his warm up. He then performs an operatic piece with another guy. Then another with a soprano woman. There’s a song in between by another excellent soprano who was one of their scholarship students. They are all great, but I am not an opera fan. I want to hear Andrea Bocelli classics. The other soprano woman does a solo and the skies open just as she finishes. The orchestra makes a run for it with their very expensive instruments that cannot get wet.
The conductor announces, “we’ll just wait a few minutes until the rain passes”. The rain stops after 10 minutes and the orchestra returns. They set up and it starts to rain again. So they run off with their precious instruments.
After five minutes, Andrea comes on and someone brings him a guitar. He sings ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Che Sera’. Obviously it was not part of the planned repertoire but at least it’s Andrea Bocelli.
The rain is spitting on and off, but too much for instruments. They announce they will have an early interval. It stops raining immediately. When the interval time is up, the orchestra makes their way to their places again. As soon as they are ready, it starts to lightly rain. The musicians make a run for it. We wait. It stops they make their way out again cautiously. The wind is picking up. It’s 11.15pm my back is hurting from sitting in the seat for three hours now, my stomach is growling and I’m not in the overcome with emotional state I expected to be in by this time. I’m just a bit damp from the rain. “If it happens again, will we go?” I say to Ronan.
He has been enjoying watching the bright orange fork lightening bouncing around the hills, that’s getting very close. “I don’t think this concert is going to happen. It’s weird they don’t have a backup plan, even a recording of the orchestra which he can sing to. I know it wouldn’t be the full experience, but Andrea doing karaoke would do me just fine.”
We wait. The rain stops. The orchestra return. I feel sorry for them. I’m sure they need to get into the feel of things more than I do to do their best and they can’t be happy participating in the Olympic style sprints off the stage as the gods tease us under dark skies. I see some stars above. A break in the clouds, that’s hopeful.
As soon as they are seated, they spit again. I see the stage manager arguing with someone. They all look demoralised as they walk off again.
“Come on, let’s go,” I say. “This is just feeling frustrating.” It’s the event planner coming out in me. I plan outdoor events and there always has to be a backup plan. I wouldn’t mind getting wet sitting in the audience, but I would expect a backup plan to keep valuable instruments safe and able to continue the performance.
We’re not the only ones who are leaving a little disappointed. We join a large crowd of mask wearers as we stream out of the theatre space and make our way down the beaten track towards the car park. To the right, there is a cluster of vehicles. There’s a temporary wall built of straw bales. People are leaning on one side chatting. On the other, there is a beautiful chestnut stallion with a long black mane. On his back, there is a man with a fantastic face. The horse is frisky, a bit freaked out by the lightening and distant thunder. We come close to being eye to eye. But I know by the man’s face he is in complete control.
“Oh my God, it’s Sir Cesar! I recognise him from the cover of the magazine.” I say to Ronan at the surreal scene in front of me of the snorting, frisky beauty dances as another flash of lightening strikes the hill behind.
“You know that guy?”
“No, the horse. It’s Andrea Bocelli’s. You were right, he must have arrived on horseback!”
It’s too late to get food anywhere, but we find a shop open on the way home and we buy a bag of crisps each for dinner.
It wasn’t exactly the romantic, memorable night I was expecting for our 25th anniversary celebration, but at least I got to be eye to eye with Andrea Bocelli’s horse.