The Musical City of Ravello
Each summer Ravello forms the breathtaking backdrop for a program of music, art, and culture
It was a warm May afternoon in 1880 - one of those languid days of sea breezes spreading the rich scent of Mediterranean flowers that still characterize the Amalfi Coast today - when a carriage from Naples began slowly climbing the winding road up to Ravello. It was a long trip in those days (at least five hours in a jostling carriage) along a treacherous road with waning horses, but the carriage finally stopped in Piazza Duomo and out climbed an distinguished gentleman, the composer Richard Wagner.
He settled into Villa Rufolo's garden for a refreshing lemonade and a visit from his muse. Indeed, it was here where the scene from the second act of his opera Parisfal came to him, in which the imposing Medieval tower is replaced by the enchanted garden of Klingsor, lush with tropical flora which transform into flower-maidens.
It is a cool June evening almost a century and a half later, and this same breeze rises up from the sea to rustle the elegant evening wear of the ladies in the audience. The doors of Villa Rufolo have been thrown open for the inaugural concert of the 2014 edition of the Festival di Ravello.
Not much has changed in the breathtaking panorama between the 19th century when Wagner found it so inspiring and today: the Medieval tower still juts out above the tropical foliage and the scent of blossoms is still intoxicating. Perhaps the only difference are the twinkling lights which now light up the coast, surely brighter than they were 150 years ago.
The road up the cliff to Ravello, the terrace over the Amalfi Coast, is more or less the same winding series of switchbacks it was when visitors arrived by horse-drawn carriage, drawn to its beauty and culture.
Ravello is always a bit quieter than its bustling neighboring towns along the coast, and to reach this clifftop village you need to leave the busy coastal road behind. There are no beaches here, nor nightclubs...even the restaurants are few and far between. Visitors here come for the villas, the gardens, the heart-stopping terraces overlooking the coast as far as the eye can see. And, above all, they come for the cultural festival which has been enlivening the evenings in Ravello since 2003..
Each year the Ravello Festival is organized around a theme which unites the rich program of classical, jazz, and pop concerts, dance, and art from the end of June to the beginning of August.
The most important event during the annual program is the dawn concert on the 15th of August, when an orchestra accompanies the rising sun to the background of birdsong. Like most of the events, this unique concert takes place at Villa Rufolo, which is so spectacular a venue that it's hard to know if is just a backdrop, or part of the performace itself. The stage juts out over the sea, giving the impression of being suspended in midair, and the coastline below is lit by tiny points of light from the nearby villages. The vantage point from the highest seats is truly unforgettable.
As the strains of the orchestra waft through the air, it's not hard to understand how Wagner was so inspired that May afternoon so many years ago by Ravello's own enchanted garden.
(The top photo is by salernorss)
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