It’s said that the Fascist Mussolini made the post-war trains run on time in Italy (not true) but they don’t run on time now. Our train to Milan was quite late, but the trip itself was pleasant. We were seated with two women (mother and daughter) who spoke English fluently so we felt quite at home. The mother, Dawn, is about our age and originally from Long Island, New York but moved to Florence to get her Masters Degree and stayed. Her daughter was born in Italy and lives in Rome. We talked about American politics, music, art, education and our children. Dawn is recently widowed and has turned her home outside Florence into an Airbnb and if she sends us a link to her site, I’ll share it.
Milan is not like Florence where you can walk to almost everything, so we were often lost. We did manage to find the Metro and get to the Basilica di Santa Maria delle Grazie where we got a tour including Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper. This is an image we all grew up with, and seeing the original was especially satisfying.
You can’t just walk in and look at it, you have to have reservations or be with a group. The room is entered and exited through rooms that serve as air locks, and each group is allowed only 15 minutes of viewing time. Our tour guide explained that Leonardo did not like to use the fresco technique of painting on wet plaster because it dries quickly and once dried cannot be changed. He liked to work slowly so he used tempera paint over the plaster, and over the years the humidity and other factors have done a lot of damage. It’s still impressive and much bigger than I expected.
Our tour continued on to the Church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore where the walls and ceilings are covered with Renaissance frescos. It’s often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Milan. The church is divided by a wall forming a separate nuns’ hall where there’s a huge organ built in 1554. From the church we went to the Sforza Castle, a large citadel that was impressive and extremely crowded. There are several museums there that we could have visited, but it was getting late and we had to get some dinner and make our way to the Piazza del Duomo.
The Piazza del Duomo in the heart of the city is a happening place. There were tour groups, street performers, and a group of people marching for animal rights (we first saw them at the Sforza Castle). Our destination was the renown opera house La Scala because we had tickets for the last performance of their 2016-17 season, Verdi’s Nabucco. We got our tickets online in August, and the only ones left had a limited view of the stage and weren’t together, but we jumped at the chance to see an opera in the most famous hall in the world. Our seats were in separate boxes, and it was hard to see, but it was still La Scala!
We recently saw the Met Live in HD production so it was hard not to compare. I have to admit that I prefer the Met production. The opera is set in Babylon in the time of Nebuchadnezzar, but sometimes directors choose to change up things a bit and set the opera in more modern times, so this one looked like a black and white movie from the 30s. I know I should be more open minded about such things, but I really prefer the original settings (same with Shakespeare plays). Sometimes it almost works, but not this time. I was also disappointed in the chorus, probably because I was comparing it to the Met. There’s a chorus in the third act, Va, pensiero, or the The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves that was so beautiful and moving in the Met production that the audience demanded an immediate encore. That was not the case with this production. The chorus was not together and did not project that same sense of melancholy I was expecting. Still, it was La Scala! I’m happy we had the experience.