One thing about Milan that always surprises Opera Chic, is that this is a city of ghosts.
And in Opera Chic's own neighborhood, it's especially a city of the ghosts of great musicians.
Walking down the via San Marco, you see the church of San Marco where Giuseppe Verdi conducted the first performance of his Requiem, and in the monastery of that church almost a hundred years earlier young Mozart had stayed with his father, and had written the (now lost) aria Misero Tu Non Sei (a few years later, in Milan, he would write and perform for the first time Exsultate Jubilate).
A few blocks from San Marco church to the right and you walk down via Borgonuovo to find the Grand Hotel Et De Milan, where Verdi -- who would take long strolls each morning walking up and down via Manzoni -- wrote parts of Otello and most of Falstaff (his desk is still in that suite) and where he died in 1901, the surrounding streets paved with hay so that the carriages would not make too much noise, disturbing the last days of the maestro.
It's the same hotel where, the following year, Enrico Caruso had his first recording session; and where Rudolf Nureyev loved to stay during his la Scala engagements.
If instead you walk left from San Marco, it's just three blocks and you find yourself in front of the building where Giacomo Puccini lived and finished Edgar and wrote Boheme and Manon Lescaut and Tosca. Three blocks south from there and you arrive to Arrigo Boito's house, where he used to greet unannounced visitors who had sneaked through the doorman's post by pointing a shotgun in their faces. It's nice to picture those poor saps who just wanted to pitch an idea to the great, cranky poet run down the stairs and breathlessly find refuge in the via Montebello.
From the church of San Marco it's only a ten minute walk north -- maybe less -- to reach Cimitero Monumentale, the cemetery where Boito and Francesco Maria Piave and Toscanini and Vladimir Horowitz and Catalani and Amilcare Ponchielli and -- for a brief period before being moved in the little church in the home for the elderly he built with his own funds, Verdi himself -- all rest.
But Opera Chic's favorite ghost is Carlo Maria Giulini's: the stories that Opera Chic's Milan friends and neighbors often tell, that the maestro, tall and handsome to the very end, always in a three-piece suit, double-breasted chalk-stripe charcoal-grey overcoat and black fedora in the winters, used to walk around the streets of Brera, a few steps from la Scala and his own apartment, often to go to Church, and politely acknowledge a "buonasera, maestro" from a particularly bold passerby, or respond with a smile of recognition to a friendly nod from people who saw him during his passeggiata, all proud of their concittadino.
It seems incredible that it's been already two years exactly today since Carlo Maria Giulini died, isn't it?
And because we don't really want to be sad today, because today at Opera Chic is a all-Giulini-CDs day, in memory of that humble giant of classical music, we'd like to point out that, among his countless achievements, one of the greatest conductors of all time also managed to tame, of all people, Kathleen Battle (and oh how we love to hear Battle anecdotes):
Once, during a rehearsal with soprano Kathleen Battle, he left the podium and stood a few inches away from her face,"Your singing is very beautiful, but your acting is too human," he said quietly. He proceeded to conduct her from a distance of six inches, and she sang like the angel he expected.
Reader "rompicolleone" (who's anything but) has this fantastic personal anecdote in the comments:
The month I spent playing Falstaff with Giulini in Florence was like working with God. Talk about concentration and intention! --but also an incredibly profound love and respect for the music. During a rehearsal he stopped once, pointed to a guy a few rows in front of me, and sternly said, "Suona meglio!" I swear to God if it had been me, I would have left the rehearsal and thrown my instrument into the Arno, basta, finito. Before each performance, before a note had been played, the Florentines gave him a standing ovation as he entered the pit. A friend in the LA Phil told of one of his friends auditioning for the orch during Giulini's time there. After the guy played, Giulini leaned over to my friend and asked, "Is he a good person?" "Oh yes!" my friend answered, and with that, Giulinli let him in the orchestra.