… my granddad put an old tape in a taperecorder and told me that here was something I ought to listen to. I didn’t know what had possessed him … I was ten years old and just learning what pop-music was and why it was supposed to be awesome at that age, and here was the old man, wanting me to listen something HE thought was cool?
I loved my granddad, but at that moment, I admit I thought he had lost his marbles, but … as a good grandchild, I paid attention and listened.
And from the loudspeakers, scratchy and with background noise as all old tape-recorders were liable to have, streamed a song. I sat there with my mouth agape, listening in complete, stunned awe … the way only children can truly listen. I didn’t know what this music was. I just knew it was perfect. That it was beautiful, melodic, rhythmic, attention-grabbing …
What I was listening to was in fact Giuseppe Verdi’s “La Traviata”, and the specific aria was “Brindisi” … the famous drinking song of that particular opera.
It has never left me since. It created a deep seated love of opera in a child of ten, and I have never forgotten that first sense of awe.
Imagine that men and women could do that with their voices? For a brief moment, I wanted to be like them. I mean, I was ten … come on, give me some credit here. The next day I probably wanted to be a fireman and the day after that, I wanted to be an astronaut or a professional sports-star.
Well, I have, as I often say, a singing voice to offend every one of the many gods I pray to, which is why I don’t GENERALLY do much singing unless hideously & offensively inebriated. So much for my dreams of being an opera singer.
But the love of that beautiful, remarkable art has never left me. Not really. And in the last six or seven years of my life it has re-established itself -passionately-.
Tonight was a beautiful night for me. It was opera-night. At my favourite restaurant in Dublin … a place called Carluccio’s. It is actually a part of a chain. There are Carluccio’s restaurants in a number of British cities, some of them such illustrious places as Bury St. Edmunds, Muswell Hill and St. Albans (at least the latter can lay claim to fame for being sacked by Queen Boudicea of the Iceni during her revolt against the Romans). Carluccio’s in Dublin is, however, nothing like most chain-restaurants I have visited.
The food is -very- good. And plentiful. The staff are incredible … in fact, no other word will do it justice. They run a delicatessen/cafe/restaurant in the center of a European capital, and they get to be on first name basis with their regular customers, they remember you, they always greet you with a smile, they know what your favorite foods are … Hell, they even remember how thick or thin you want your Parma ham sliced (though they still ask to be certain every time). In fact, the service level in this place is amazing.
“Say, how long HAVE you lived in Dublin now? Oh really? I seem to recall you coming here for -years-?”
“So, how are your Italian-classes going.”
“Oh, would you like your usual piece of Pecorino Sardo with your order today?”
“That reminds me, let me get the Foccaccia for you!”
I’ve litterally heard all these things and more when going there. It makes you feel so incredibly welcome.
But tonight was opera night, and I have prevaricated long enough. I’m going to be grading this evening, on a scale of 1 to 5, with five as the highest score possible. Song, wine, food and service … all will be graded. And for all my exuberance, I will try to be fair.
I arrived at a few minutes to seven. The doors would open for people to take their seats at seven, according to the plan, and a glass of the house Prosecco (bubbly italian wine for those of you philistines who need me to elaborate on that ) or a glass of orange juice on ice was waiting for each guest as they arrived.
And arrive they did. In the end, only one table was left empty in the room. I counted 7 gentlemen, 32 ladies and one child (a girl in her preteens who was probably the most enthusiastic person present, which really is saying something). I may have missed a few around the corner, but that should give you some idea of the gender divide at this event. The waiters and waitresses began circling around the tables, taking people’s orders from the menu of the evening. The price was a mere 45 euro for three courses and entertainment, including the prosecco and hors d’euvres, mind you. Anyway, my choice for a starter was as follows:
The Antipasto Massimo, with roasted peppers, pesto, green beans, caponata, sun blushed tomatoes, buffallo mozzarella, artichokes and rustica olives and two wedges of the house foccaccia.
It was practically a full meal in itself. With this, I had a large glass of Frasciati Superiore white wine, (for those few of you who are interested in wine, it was a “Crio” from San Marino, Lazio) at 10 euro 25 cent for the glass.
Worth EVERY cent. I took my time with it and enjoyed every single sip. You know how the “cool” people always say they can taste this, that or the other in the wine? Berries, nuts, liqorice or whatever? Yeah? Well, I could. It was full of berries with a touch of vanilla … pure velvet, in so many words.
I give the starter a four out of five. There was plenty of it, and as usual the quality was excellent. The bread was the only disappointment, much to my surprise as Carluccio’s in Dublin normally has the most moist and delicious foccaccias, but this time it had apparently been left uncovered on the table for an hour or so. It was -not- enough to ruin the image however. The wine was a four out of five as well. It fitted the food excellently, and while it was expensive, it was probably the best white wine I have had in several years.
While people were being served, the Maitre D’ announced that it was the Chef, Luigi’s, last night at Carluccio’s as he was going back to Napoli (Naples, for you Americans out there) to get married. Luigi, in his chef’s hat and checkered apron and perfect paunch for a man of his profession, was given a solid round of “Awww” and applaus, while he was given a bottle of good wine as a present.
He then shamefacedly told us that, since this was an opera evening, and since he had enjoyed a “wonderfulle sex yearsa in Dublin …” (his pronounciation, not mine), he had been hoodwinked into singing a song for everyone. He wanted to apologize for this in advance, as he REALLY couldn’t sing.
People fell for it. I was probably one of few who didn’t, as I had seen “Luigi” the last time I was there for an opera evening, singing his heart out as one of the performers, but most of the audience actually did fall for it. It was well done, I’ll grant you.
And then he sang.
My good gods, did he sing. And it was “Brindisi”. Probably AS good a live performance of it as I have ever heard anywhere, and I am quite, quite serious about that. He NAILED it. Walked amongst the tables, clinking glasses with everyone, myself included, smiling, giving it his absolute everything. And then suddenly, at verse two, his wife … this beautiful, wonderfully talented Soprano who had been there last time I was attending an opera night in this place … came through the door, launching into the soprano’s half of the song. People were practically swaying from side to side already, and we had only just gotten started. This was the first clean five out of five of the evening. I nearly had tears in my eyes. It was a truly beautiful rendition, and it was delivered with both heart and soul.
Opera has to be, or it loses something important.
Next, while we were all still eating, they performed “O Sole Mio”. Unfortunately, the music they had chosen was a slightly modernized version. It had a pop-like beat to it which I did not like much, but the delivery of the song was still beautiful, and believe me … for this, probably the MOST famous lovesong of all classical music, it REALLY helps if you can see that the people singing it feel that way about one another. These two … aw you should have seen the glow in the eyes of the soprano every time she looked at her husband. My goodness, even a cynic like me half-melted. Their song and the genuine emotion gives this a three and a half star. The music, sadly, detracted, but it is a matter of personal taste only. O Sole Mio is one of those songs that is often “reinvented” for a new audience, and that’s fine. I am just a purist when it comes to opera, I guess.
After this, they left, and we guests had time to finish our starter. The servant who took care of, amongst others, my table, was a young Spanish fellow by the name Javier. Constantly darting to and fro, without ever becoming intrusive, he was polite, smiling and helpful … offered people who bought a bottle instead of a glass of wine to taste before deciding finally, handling himself professionally and courteously at all times. I’ll even say he was a handsome young man, which I am sure made some of the guests who were past their first youth blush a little more whenever he smiled at them while serving. His service that evening is a four star experience. I’ve seen a lot of waiters over the years, but Carluccio’s restaurant-area is not very large, and he literally had to dart in and out between tables while serving six tables in turn, and he never got in the way.
Next came the main course (in the meantime, any guests who wisehed it had been given another glass of prosecco on the house, compliments of the REAL chef). I had chosen a grilled lamb steak, medium done, with pepronata, meaning peppers and green olives.
I’ll say it this once … Irishmen REALLY know how to breed mutton that taste well! Goodness gracious. That meat was tender, full of taste, juicy and cooked just long enough. Lamb that is not cooked properly tends to have either a taste of lanolin to it, or it is tough as shoeleather. This steak was neither, and I -very- much enjoyed it. Four out of five for that. However, the next clean five came with the red wine I had with this. I went for a Chianti Classico Riserva at 12 euro 95 cent for a large glass (about the price of two bottles of cheap red wine, for comparison). For those of you who truly appreciate good wine out there (yes, I’m talking about you SC), it was a “Ser Lapo”, Mazzei 2007 from Toscana. Matured for 12 months in oak. The moment I took in the bouquet, it nearly knocked me over in my seat, it was -that- powerful. The taste was even better. I realize you can get wines in truly, truly expensive places that makes this look like nothing at all, but bear in mind, I am a working class person and this entire review is based on what someone like me can possibly afford. While eating, we were once again treated to a musical experience. First “Parigi, o cara, noi lasceremo”, also from La Traviata, and again with that genuine emotion between the two performers to give it an extra little something. It is not my favorite aria but it -is- a beautiful piece, and I will give it three and a half for that. Next, the soprano alone sang “O Mio Babbino Caro” and that very nearly blew people off their chairs. This is one of the most famous arias in opera, and it is -utterly- heartbreaking, with the young woman in the song pleading with her father to let her follow her heart and marry the man she truly loves, or she will have to throw herself off the bridge, rather than live without him. I saw grown people with tears in their eyes at this point. I had to take my glasses off at a strategic time here as well, simply to give myself an excuse to rub my eyes.
Opera is one thing when experienced on a stage and you are sitting quietly in an audience, but with the singers walking around amongst you, it tears at the heartstrings. It becomes so powerful … just so very, very powerful. Four stars for this, and the only reason I am not giving it more is that the acoustics in Carluccio’s are non-existant … but wow, she gave it her all.
And then, after this solo performance, the tenor stepped in and gave us his rendition of the famous “Nessun Dorma”. This is probably the most famous piece written in any opera for any male lead, and it ends in this incredibly powerful, incredibly heartbreaking moment where the hero sings in defiance, knowing he will die at first light, “Tramontate stelle, al alba vincero” … “Now set, stars, I will be victorious come dawn”. This is one of those pieces that needs to be drawn out, sung with a set of lungs belonging in an elephant, and that last “vincero needs to be held for ten-fifteen seconds if possible … and sadly, that didn’t happen. However, the tenor here DID make this his own rendition and he had a couple of beautiful high points, so three and a half out of five regardless. It was definitely worth remembering.
Finally, it was time for desert. I was a bit apprehensive as the desert for the day was tiramisu. And I do not get along with coffee … at all. However, preconceptions be damned, I was determined to enjoy it.
What can I say … I will now have to make another attempt at liking coffee. I had my Tiramisu with a cup of tea and a small glass of amaretto, along with some wonderfully pleasant conversation with the young couple at the table next to mine.
In case you do read this (the lady asked why I was taking notes and wondered if I was a journalist, but I explained it was for use on my blog … at which time she asked what the address for that was), I thoroughly enjoyed the company. Thank you for making the evening even nicer.
So tiramisu, almond liqueur and tea went along beautifully with the final performance. This included Nella Fantasia from the 1986 movie “The Mission”. I have loved that movie for years and didn’t remember where I had heard the song before until after we were done eating and I had a chance to ask the performers title of the actual song. That made things click in my mind. Sometimes, you just need to be reminded I guess. This is not opera in its strictest sense as it is a piece of movie music but I actually rather like that they finish off with songs of this type. People go home on a high note, and it was very, very nicely delivered. Again a four out of five for this one. This was followed by the waiters and waitresses coming around with a piece of paper with the text for “Funiculi Funicula” which is an Italian song, excellent for singing along to even with limited Italian-skills, and that was the whole point. People roared along happily and while the guest’s performance was probably only a one or two out of five, the fun of it pulls it up to a three and a half. I will grant that the professionals did it very well indeed … and it was even sung twice from start to finish to give everyone a chance to get the idea.
The last song was the same as last time I was there, and seems to be their “parting”-piece, “Con te Partiro”, one of Andrea Botecelli’s more famous pieces, in fact. This too was a four out of five.
Now, before you all go about groaning at my high grades throughout this, here is why:
All this food … all this fun … all this -gorgeous- music, all this amazing wine and excellent service … and I ended up paying 45 euro for the entrance and 29 euro for wine, tea and liqueur. Even on my budget, that is INCREDIBLY doable. Seventy four euro for an evening like this? I fail to see where I would find a similar offer anywhere else, and mind you, I consistently went for the most expensive wine on the cart (not because of the price but because it genuinely looked like the best there was). I could have been stingy and gone home paying fifty or fifty five euro, and made do with cold water and a glass of lower end red. I didn’t want to do that … I wanted to LIVE a little and treat myself, and frankly, all this for under 75 euro does not exactly strike me as unfair or unreasonable in any way.
As I got up to leave, I went by the two performers to thank them for a lovely evening. It was not until I had left that the one single omission I had made … was to ask for their names. I felt awful about that, but I will find out. They actually remembered me from last year. I was there in September and they -remembered- me. I admit I must have blushed a very nice shade of crimson at that. I asked the tenor if next time, he would please consider singing E Lucevan le Stelle, as it is my favorite piece. He smiled and sang the first three lines, right there, just to show that he knew it by heart, and told me he had sung the part of Cavaradossi last year in a Dublin performance of Tosca … by which time I was practically a puddle on the floor. Highly undignified, I admit … but I love that particular aria. He then pulled the real rabbit out of his hat, and said they had both noticed that when they had been there, I had clearly known the songs. “It looked like you knew every word,” he said … and he genuinely smiled, like he was happy that someone was passionate about the music. At that point, words actually failed me. I didn’t know what to say, and as you probably all know, that practically never happens.
Apparently, they are fully booked on Wednesdays until november. If I have to wait that long, I -will-. But I hope the restaurant will simply make their next opera evening a different day of the week.
I, for one, will be right there …
It is worth every single cent. Overal, this evening gets a four out of five for me.
And on that note, I am going to bed, with Brindisi playing in my head and a smile so big on my face it is bordering on ridiculous.
This entry was posted on Thursday, June 14th, 2012 at 12:05 am and is filed under Blog. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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