My pilgrimage by sea to Pesaro on the Adriatic coast

I boarded the good ship Queen Elizabeth for the last trip I took away from the little rented house in the Italian village Gabicce Monte. I was on a pilgrimage, traveling along the Adriatic coast from the little  Gabicce-Cattolica harbour to Pesaro, the capital of the Pesaro-Urbino province of the region known as Le Marche. Fishing is still an important industry in these parts so it seemed only proper to spend some of my holiday on the water even if it was only for a short trip along the coast.

Pesaro and Rimini had a long history of enmity in the glory days of the Italian city states and, during this holiday, I kept coming across the cultural remains of those warring families, the Malatestas,  Montefeltros, and Sforzas, all, at different times in their lives either allies or enemies of successive popes who finally united the whole region into what became the Papal States. I however, put that glorious and blood-thirsty era of the Italian Renaissance behind me as I could only spend forty minutes in Pesaro before the Queen Elizabeth returned back down the coast. I only had time for my pilgrimage.

The voyage itself was entertainment enough with the opportunity to see the Adriatic coastline…

…to enjoy the sunshine…

..or even, for some, to have a little siesta. I thought of Luciano Pavarotti as we sailed past the beaches near the site of his Pesaro holiday villa.

The great tenor, still sadly missed after his death in 2007,  holidayed happily here for many years and, on this brightly sunny day, his equally sunny personality lingered in my mind. His voice was one of the great wonders of the century and it sung in my head as I thought about the object of my pilgrimage.

Some of the Queen Elizabeth’s crew were preparing our lunch. They were merrily gutting sardines freshly caught that morning.

Sardine guts are a favourite with Adriatic seagulls so they followed in our wake greedily fighting for their lunch.

Maybe I was hungry but watching them feast reminded me of the many excellent meals that I had had since visiting these parts thanks to this sea and the men who go out in their boats.

I had to wait until the return voyage before I was served these delicious and unpretentiously presented grilled sardines reminding me how fish never tastes quite so exhilarating as when it’s consumed on board ship. They were served with an equally no-nonsense plastic cup of sparkling white Lambrusco.

After lunch there was dancing to jaunty Italian accordion music where the highly versatile crew, after their stint at fishing, gutting and waiting at table, took on the role of lounge lizard and encouraged the female passengers to join them in a lively waltz. I escaped this fate and stuck with the Lambrusco and a conversation with a Sicilian farmer called Salvatore on holiday here from Bedfordshire, UK, who insisted that England would have fun like this too if we only had the weather.

It was unfair on Pesaro that I had such little time to see it but I was a man on a mission so I requisitioned a taxi with a willing young driver,  himself a singer who told me he was a major fan of The Beatles and he even invited me to go to his gig at a hotel back in Cattolica that night.

That wasn’t possible but he understood the urgency so we sped merrily along to the house that I wanted to see.

La Casa Rossini may not be a Renaissance palace or an impressive 15th Century cathedral but this, relatively humble house was the birthplace of one of my favourite composers, the very popular but still much under-rated Gioachino Antonio Rossini (1792 – 1868).

Gioachino Rossini (1792 -1868)

Rossini, the 19th Century’s Mozart, was the composer of operas such as his ebullient comedy, The Barber of Seville (1816), so successful that it has probably always been performed somewhere in the world since its first performance nearly two hundred years ago.  I also love his ironically suave comic opera, The Italian Girl in Algiers (1813),  his seriously dramatic Semiramide (1823) with roles so demanding in virtuoso technique that I have only heard it sung convincingly once and, finally, the piece that revolutionised grand opera and gave us the most well-known of all overtures, William Tell (1829). There is much much more but, fan that I am, I will not bore you with too long a list.

I have a particular love for his neurotic mix of the joyful and the disturbing, his sense of humour and for the extraordinary things he can do without straying too far away from the basic tenets of early 19th Century harmony. In the end, we all love his music because it is bewitchingly beautiful and yet very exciting.

I was here to pay my respects to one of the great heroes of my formative years.

The house is now a Rossini museum with his manuscripts and lithographs and busts of the great man at very stages of his career. For me, though, it was enough just to come to the place where he was born and to conjure up his spirit, as I could here, on my own, with a little help from the piped music from recordings of his operas. Now that’s what I call Musak – if only all elevator music could sound like this.

The taxi was waiting outside so there was no time to linger but, short though the visit was, it was a memorable moment in the life of  this musical fanatic.

Pesaro hosts the annual Rossini Opera Festival  (10 -23 August 2013) and one year I am determined to attend. If any of you can get there this summer, the phenomenal Juan Diego Flores will be there performing in William Tell.

I won’t be able to go but I was happy enough to have visited la Casa Rossini and to return to the little house in Gabicce Monte for my last day in Italy this year

It was pleasure enough to sit in the little courtyard with a glass of wine watching the full Moon.

Next morning, I took the train across Emilia-Romagna to Bologna…

..and a flight back to England from Bologna Airport.

I lied when I went through the nothing to declare door at London Gatwick Airport. There was so much I could have declared about my time on the Adriatic coast if anyone there had wanted to listen. I’ve tried to do that here in these blogs hoping to persuade some of you that this region of Italy is truly well worth visiting.

I feel I should bring these Italian blogs to a musical conclusion and, after my sailing trip to Pesaro, there really is no option than to bring together Signor Rossini and Signor Pavarotti. Luciano Pavarotti sings with wonderful nonchalance in this 1988  performance at New York’s Lincoln Center with a masterly James Levine on the piano. Listening to this music and that wonderful voice, I don’t feel like I’ve left the Italian sunshine behind. Here it is – Rossini’s La Danza:

It would be a very unusual Pavarotti recital without an encore so, here we go, more Luciano and, yes, more Rossini from the same recital. This time Rossini’s La Promesa:


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