The Road Less Travelled: 7 Hidden Gems In Milan

Milan prides itself on being a trendsetter. The 2015 World Exhibition certainly helped to boost the city’s popularity for international tourism, which has kept on growing ever since. Here is a clue as to Milan’s success: you never run out of finding something new to see. Many of the city’s hidden gems belong to private estates: from incredibly beautiful buildings, to gardens and courtyards. Others are open to the public but remain ‘under the radar’. Don’t let this discourage your ‘treasure hunt’. It feels good to find a moment of peace in such a fast-paced city! Allow yourself to go off the beaten track. Take a good city map in hand, head to some of these selected spots, and I promise you will be pleasantly surprised!

1. Orto Botanico di Brera (Botanical Gardens of Brera) 

Warm, sunny spring days make Milan even more glorious. What better way to enjoy them than a walk in a park full of blossom, enjoying delicious gelato? Milan hosts many green areas, the most famous of which is Parco Sempione, just behind the Sforza Castle. This also happens to be right next to our lovely Bernardo penthouse. Immediately north of the park is Brera, possibly the city’s most picturesque district. The area is rightly renowned for its Art Academy and museum. Fewer people know about the Botanical Garden nearby, founded almost 250 years ago, and is currently run by the University of Milan. Its tranquil location and historical heritage make it one of the most charming Milanese gardens. Despite its small dimensions, it hosts many botanical species, including two gingkos and a tilia that date back to the 18th century. You can thank Napoleon for opening this green haven to the public! Opening times can be found here. And why not stay in our luxurious residence nearby?

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The botanical gardens are full of surprises (credit: Ylbert Durishti)

2. House-museums network and the Albergo diurno Venezia

Milan is today typically associated with modern architecture. However, the city has always played an important historical role and its past can be best understood thanks to its impressive relics.  Before the skyscrapers in the north were built, imposing palaces and elegant private villas would express the city’s wealth. And now, some of them have been opened to the public.

Are you fond of architecture? Do you want to feel like an old school Milanese aristocrat? The Porta Venezia area (north-east of the centre, not far from the luxurious via Montenapoleone) has many things to offer. Milan’s house-museums network – including Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Museo Bagatti Valsecchi, Villa Necchi Campiglio, and Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano – provide an insight into the Milanese past. Their elegant furniture, sophisticated art nouveau decors and interesting collections of art and history are frozen in time. Another point of interest in the area is Albergo diurno Venezia, a subterranean passage dating back to the 1920s, which was closed for restoration in 2006. Brought back to its full splendour, it was recently re-opened by FAI (Fondo per l’ambiente italiano). It is located right beneath piazza Oberdan and it includes beautiful public baths and some old-style shops, clustered in an elegant hall. The place recreates the timeless atmosphere of a spa resort, right in the centre of a bustling metropolis.

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Albergo diurno Venezia: old-school subterranean passages (credit: FAI)

It is worth emailing the FAI and asking for specific information on opening days and times, especially if you are staying in Milan for a little while.

3. Chiesa di San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore

Regardless of your religious views, no visit to an Italian city is complete without a look at the local churches. Milan is no exception: the white marble façade of its Duomo is the most iconic local landmark. And how can I not mention the spectacular Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, the early Christian basilicas scattered just north of Porta Ticinese, or Santa Maria delle Grazie, home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece The Last Supper?

Other beautiful churches, such as San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore, often remain unnoticed, which is a pity. When you have gone through the low-key entrance of this Renaissance church, you can witness magnificent interiors, entirely covered with beautiful, colourful fresco paintings. Located on Corso Magenta, a five-minute walk from piazza Duomo, this quieter piece of religious architecture is certainly worth a visit.

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Hidden gem: outside and inside (credit: Gruppo BPM)

4. Acquario civico di Milano (Milan City Aquarium)

Another exquisite piece of art nouveau architecture in Milan is the aquarium, located within Parco Sempione and embellished by colourful ceramic tiles. Opened in 1906 during the first Milan world exhibition, it is the third-oldest aquarium in Europe and hosts both freshwater and marine species. Today, the facility offers scientific itineraries, group visits and even a library. Just like the city’s Natural History Museum, the civic Aquarium has accurate reproductions of natural habitats, but here the species are alive. On the subject of animals: in 1992, Milan closed its only zoological garden next to the Natural History Museum, in the public garden dedicated to the late journalist Indro Montanelli. The same park, however, also hosts “Ulrico Hoepli” Planetarium, which is still functioning and open to visitors.

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A detail in the architecture of the aquarium (credit: Alida Franchi)

5. Cimitero Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery) 

Cimitero Monumentale competes with Père-Lachaise in Paris or La Recoleta in Buenos Aires for as the world’s most impressive cemetery. The Monumentale is easily recognisable by its grand entrance, the famedio, and it has many a famous Italian gravestone, amongst which Alessandro Manzoni, Giuseppe Verdi, Giorgio Gaber, the founding father of teatro canzone, and Davide Campari, the inventor of the famous drink. As it is in Italy, the cemetery mainly hosts Catholic graves, some of which are definitely over-the-top. However, the separate non-Catholic and Israelite sections are just as interesting. Whilst Cimitero Monumentale is peaceful and inspiring, it is also enormous (250,000 square metres!) and labyrinthian. It’s worth picking up a map at the entrance, or considering a guided tour.

6. WOW! Spazio Fumetto | Museo del fumetto di Milano (Milan Comics Museum)

Cosplayers, cartoonists and comics enthusiasts, rejoice! Someone in Milan loves you, and has dedicated an entire museum to your favourite hobbies. You just can’t miss its scenographic entrance, a big clue as to what the museum contains. Opened in 2011 by Fondazione Franco Fossati, WOW! offers interesting themed itineraries, events and exhibitions (listed here), featuring works by many famous Italian and international authors. Some more good news: the entrance to the ground floor, the library, the coffee shop and the bookshop is entirely free. You are only charged for exhibitions on the first floor.

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The front of the comics museum (credit: lombardia.abbonamentomusei.it)

7. MUBA – Museo dei Bambini (Children’s Museum)

Many gardens host playgrounds and museums often dedicate special guided tours for little visitors. MUBA goes beyond this, adopting the most child-friendly motto: Vietato non toccare (‘It is forbidden not to touch’), encouraging incomers to interact with their surroundings. Hosted in the beautiful historical complex known as Rotonda della Besana, the Museum includes a permanent exhibition, a space for temporary exhibitions, and holds several activities for children aged 2-11. Professional educators and entertainers take care of the museum’s little guests, and parents and older relatives and friends, are also welcome. On top of this, some of the museum’s spaces are available for birthday parties.

Tickets can be bought online here (where you can also find entrance fees and opening times), and there is a limited number of participants for each programmed activity. Therefore, it is highly advisable to check the museum’s calendar before planning a visit.

Looking for somewhere to stay in Milan? Book one of our many beautiful residences right now.

Paris: How To Spend A Day With Rodin

The year 2017 marks the centenary of the death of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin. This is why you’ll hear a lot about him, should you visit France this year.

If you’re staying in our apartments in Paris, here’s a suggestion on how you could spend a day with Rodin and learn many things about this great artist.

A centenary exhibition has been organised at the Grand Palais (3 Avenue du Général Eisenhower) until July 31st. It is a huge success, and in order to avoid queuing up for hours, you can book your ticket here. It is also a good idea to choose an audio-guide. Since many people are expected to visit this excellent exhibition, I would recommend heading there in the morning. Besides learning more about Rodin and his art, you will find information on the history behind many of his works as well as his influence on other artists.

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Home of the exhibition: Paris’s stunning Grand Palais (credit: Getty Images)

You may have heard of the sculptress Camille Claudel. This amazing woman met Rodin in 1882. He was 42, she was 18. Together with other young female artists, she was practicing her art under the direction of sculptor Alfred Boucher. As Boucher was going to be in Rome for several months, he asked  Rodin to replace him. Soon, Rodin noticed how talented Camille was. In 1884, she started working for him. Eventually, the two artists became passionate lovers and rivals.

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Camille Claudel and a fellow sculptress in her studio

The exhibition will enable you to compare what Rodin and Camille Claudel made of the same model, an elderly lady. Rodin saw her as “Celle qui fût la belle Heaulmière”, named after a poem on lost youth and beauty. More originally, Camille Claudel created “Clotho”, a strange statue representing the youngest of the Three Fates in Greek mythology, who decide human destiny.

You will also be able to admire a mask of Camille Claudel, assembled with a reproduction of a hand of Pierre de Wissant. This mask highlights the simple beauty and frailty of Camille as a young woman.

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Same model: Celle qui fût la belle Heaulmière (Rodin) versus Clotho (Claudel)

To continue your day with Rodin, you could spend the afternoon at Musée Rodin (77 rue de Varenne). The museum is in a mansion known as Hôtel Biron, and surrounded by a large and pleasant garden, right in the middle of Paris.

You can enhance your visit of the museum and of the garden with an excellent audio-guide. It will give you additional information on Rodin’s masterpieces. One room of the museum is dedicated to Camille Claudel. There, the outstanding originality and talent of this artist is made obvious.

However, the end of Camille’s life was tragic. After years of passionate love, Rodin and Camille Claudel parted. Camille wanted Rodin to marry her, but he seemed unable to separate from Rose Beuret, a seamstress he had met during his youth. Rodin tried to help Camille and boost her career, but she grew suspicious of him. She would refer to him as “la fouine”, the snoop. Gradually, Camille became so isolated and hard to deal with that after her father’s death, her family decided to have her locked in a mental institution. She remained there until her death in 1943. During the 30 long years of her seclusion, her mother and her sister never visited her. Her brother, Paul Claudel, who had become a well-known writer, visited her on 13 occasions.

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Scenic grounds: the setting of Musée Rodin

By the time Camille was put in a mental institution, Rodin was an old man. Apart from sending her money, he was not able to give much support. Rodin had many mistresses and never parted from Rose Beuret. However, Camille Claudel had a special place in his heart. When he planned Musée Rodin, he included an exhibition space for Camille’s works. In so doing, Rodin made the link between his work and the work of his unfortunate love unforgettable.

The Arts In Barcelona: El Grec Festival

El Grec is a big part of Barcelona’s identity. In July, this festival transforms the warm summer nights, bringing to the city some of the best theatre, dance, music and circus acts. If you are in the Catalan capital at this time, don’t miss the opportunity to attend some of the performances.

This year, El Grec will take place the whole month of July. Although the programme is not yet complete, we know that the main theme will be that of the ‘Mediterranean’. Some highlights will include the flamenco dance ‘La Baila’ of choreographer Israel Galván (Teatre Grec, July 4-5) and the new play by Dimitris Papaionnou, which will be both experimental and meticulously arranged (Mercat de les Flors theatre, July 2-4). In fact, Papaionnou is well-known for designing the opening and closing ceremonies of the Athens Olympics back in 2004.

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Legend of flamenco: Israel Galvan (credit: lerocherdepalmer.fr)

The story

The festival started in 1976 when the Assembly of Actors and Directors of Catalunya decided to give a platform to the innovative and independent performing arts. A lot of these appeared right after the death of the Spanish dictator Franco and the restoration of democracy in Spain.

In 1979, Barcelona City Council became the organisers of the festival. This meant that international actors and directors started coming to Barcelona, alongside Catalans already playing at the festival.

Since then, some of the best theatre writers, directors and performers have come to play at El Grec. Dario Fo, Lindsay Kemp, Robert Lepage and many others have enjoyed the July nights in Barcelona. Some famous musicians have also graced its stages, like Caetano Veloso, Bob Dylan and Santana.

The venues 

Teatre Grec

This is the heart of the festival. The main performances and events take place at this venue built in 1929 by Ramon Reventós and Nicolau Maria Rubió I Tudurí. On July 8, Santiago Auserón will play some of his songs, accompanied by the stunning Barcelona Municipal Band. Not far from the Teatro Grec, you can stay in one of our luxury apartments, our Plaza Espana II residence.

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Rocky backdrop and great acoustics: the Teatre Grec (credit: lameva.barcelona.cat)

Teatre Nacional de Catalunya

Opened in 1996 and designed by the famous Spanish architect Ricard Bofill, it us one of the most outstanding cultural facilities of Barcelona. The main building of this theatre takes is inspired by the Parthenon in Athens, with two halls (450 and 870 people can be seated in these theatres). Some of the main events take place here during the festival.

Teatre Lliure

Founded in 1976, its main stage is in the former Palau de l’Agricultura of Montjuïc. The main hall, Sala Fabià Puigserver, can seat more than 700 spectators. It is worth visiting it even if it is just for its beautiful exterior. The Teatre Lliure is also conveniently close to our beautiful Botadura residence.

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Teatre Lliure (credit: shbarcelona.com)

Auditori

This was opened in 1999. The venue has three halls: Sala 1 Pau Casals for 2.200 spectators, Sala 2 Oriol Martorell with 600 places, and Sala 3 Tete Montoliu with 400 places. Nowadays, some of the greatest orchestras of the world come to the Auditori. It also serves as the home of the Orquestra Simfònica of Barcelona, where the best upcoming conductors and orchestras are taught and perform.

Although main events and activities take place at all the venues mentioned above, a few shows of the El Grec are also hosted in other venues like the Teatre Romea, La Villarroel, Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB), the Joan Miró Foundation and the CaixaForum art centre. In particularly, it’s worth noting that the Sala Beckett (in Poblenou) will host “Un tret al cap” (July 5-30), the much-anticipated new play of Pau Miró, one of the most popular Catalan theatre directors.

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Playwright Pau Miro will present his latest work at the festival (credit: Xavier Solanas)

If you want to learn more about the festival as the full programme is announced, check out their website.

London: Best Paintings And Where To Find Them

London is an art lover’s delight. With artistic treasures spanning centuries and movements, the city’s many galleries and museums offer something for every taste. Even better, many of these innovative, beautiful and thought-provoking pieces are part of the national collection and are thus available to enjoy entirely free of charge.

Before your trip and stay in our luxury rentals, take a moment to get acquainted with some of London’s greatest artworks and where to find them.

Georges Seurat, Bathers at Asnières, 1884 (National Gallery – Free)

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Bathers at Asnieres, George seurat

Seurat’s monumental pointillist masterpiece Bathers at Asnières (Une Baignade, Asnières) depicts working class men relaxing on the left bank of the river Seine. The artist’s first large-scale painting, it juxtaposes the smoky industry of nearby factories with the simple harmony of leisure time spent on a riverbank. The work is suffused with a sense of hazy summer warmth and light lent by small brushstrokes and soft, muted colours. In both its subject and tones it can be seen in contrast to another of Seurat’s paintings from later the same year – A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The latter piece is set directly across the river from the Asnières scene and shows upper class leisure, this time bathed in shadow instead of light.

Jan van Eyck, Arnolfini Portrait, 1434 (National Gallery – Free)

The Arnolfini Portrait by van Eyck is one of the most celebrated paintings in European art, renowned for its originality, complexity and air of mystery (to this day there’s disagreement about the meaning of the painting). The domestic scene it depicts seems modest on the surface, but a closer look sees each detail brought to life in skilful reproduction – from status symbols and sumptuous fabrics to the convex reflections of the scene in the mirror on the wall.

Other prominent works at the National Gallery include: Hans Holbein the Younger, The Ambassadors; Monet, The Water-Lily Pond; Botticelli, Mars and Venus; Turner, The Fighting Temeraire and Van Gogh, Sunflowers.

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The Arnolfini Portrait, Jan Van Eyck

Mark Rothko, Seagram Murals, 1958 (Tate Modern – Free)

Though the Seagram Murals were originally commissioned for the Four Seasons restaurant in New York, Rothko was repulsed by the overtly pretentious atmosphere of the setting and withdrew from the project before the series was complete. He kept hold of the paintings and they were subsequently sold off in separate groups. Room 3 at the Tate Modern unites their own eight murals with a selection of those from Kawamura Memorial Museum of Art in Sakura and the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

The wash of deep tones marked a dramatic shift in Rothko’s palette and the pieces were, according to him, intended to inspire feelings of invited entrapment and the sense of being ‘walled in’. Though they were explicitly intended to imbue negativity in viewers, there is also a quiet grandeur and warmth to the large and sombre frames.

Other prominent works at the Tate Modern include: Picasso, Weeping Woman; Frampton, Marguerite Kelsey; Kandinsky, Swinging and Matisse, The Snail.

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Room 3 at the Tate: Seagram Murals by Mark Rothko

Édouard Manet, A Bar At The Folies-Bergère, 1882 (Courtauld Gallery)

Manet’s painting of a barmaid at a Paris music hall was recently hailed as the best painting in London by Time Out, who called it ‘one of the most psychologically-charged paintings you’ll ever see, a glittering world of misleading reflections and skewed perspectives.’ The last of Manet’s great works, its most intriguing element is perhaps the ambiguous expression of the barmaid and how that relates to the powerful gaze present in the painting (whether that of the man in the mirror or our own gaze as viewers).

Other prominent works at the Courtauld Gallery include: Degas, Two Dancers on a Stage; Cézanne, Mont Sainte-Victoire with a Large Pine; Gauguin, Nevermore and van Gogh, Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear.

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A Bar at the Folies-Bergères, Edouard Manet

Associated with John Taylor, William Shakespeare, c. 1600-1610 (National Portrait Gallery – Free)

The ‘Chandos portrait’ of William Shakespeare (reputed to be by John Taylor) is perhaps most distinguished by its provenance; the portrait is the only depiction of the playwright with a reasonable claim to have been painted from life. The pale skin of Shakespeare’s face almost glows against the rich background tones and his black doublet, appropriate for such an incomparable luminary of English literature. What’s more, our Covent Garden residence is close by.

Other prominent works in the National Portrait Gallery include: Unknown, Queen Elizabeth I (the ‘Darnley portrait’) and Austen, Jane Austen.

 Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, 1767 (Wallace Collection – Free)

A sensuous masterpiece of the rococo era, The Swing (Les hazards heureux de l’escarpolette) symbolises the hedonistic and flighty spirit of the time. A young lady – gliding through the air with abandon, dress billowing and shoe flying – is observed rather indecorously by the reclining young man in the bottom left. According to the memoirs of the writer Charles Collé, this risqué composition originated with the courtier who commissioned the work, originally from a different artist: ‘I should like to have you paint [my mistress] on a swing that a bishop would set going. You will place me in such a way that I would be able to see the legs of the lovely girl…’

Other prominent works at the Wallace Collection include: Hals, Laughing Cavalier, Velázquez, The Lady with a Fan and Titian, Perseus and Andromeda.

Visiting: Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930 (Royal Academy of Arts, 25th Feb – 4th June)

American Gothic is one of those rare paintings, in the company of the Mona Lisa, The Creation of Adam or The Scream, which has taken on a life of its own through cultural appropriation and parody. As of last year, its dour (or perhaps impassive) subjects, their pitchfork and the quaint ‘Dibble House’ backdrop, have left US for the first time. Catch sight of the modern classic at the Royal Academy of Arts America After the Fall: Painting in the 1930s exhibition, running till 4th June.

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American Gothic, Grant Wood

Other prominent works at the America After the Fall exhibition include: Hopper, Gas and New York Movie, O’Keefe, Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses and Benton, Cotton Pickers. If you’re staying in our nearby Knightsbridge residence, it is definitely worth heading there.

Paris: The Must-See Ballets This Season

Paris is a city of many wonders and its inspiring artistic tradition is a big reason for its magic. A visit to Paris would not be complete without going to see a show at one of the wonderful stages the city has to offer, the most famed being that of the Palais Garnier, a majestic building and source of inspiration for The Phantom of the Opera. We are approaching the end of  ballet’s summer-spring season, but Opéra de Paris still has plenty of contemporary dance and classical ballets to suit your tastes:

À Bras-le-Corps – Dimitri Chamblas, Boris Charmatz

Palais Garnier, March 16 – May 2

Dimitri Chamblas and Boris Charmatz became friends during their studies at the Paris Opera Ballet School. They co-authored À Bras-le-Corps in 1993. Their work has been described as ground-breaking for French dance. With music by Niccolò Paganini, the ballet was first shown in a type of boxing-ring and is still performed by the two choreographers, who have let the ballet evolve with them.

Get tickets here.

Merce Cunningham / William Forsythe

Palais Garnier, April 14 – May 13

You will also have the chance to see a French take on the American style through three works: one choreographed by Merce Cunningham and two by William Forsythe, united as one representation lasting just under two hours. Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time (1968) is a modern ballet, set to David Behrman’s music. In Paris, the sets are inspired by the works of surrealist Marcel Duchamps. On his side, William Forsythe explores the limit of classical ballet with his two offerings created in the 1990s, while Trio contains Beethoven’s composition.

Get tickets here.

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Rehearsals for the varied performance (credit: Ann Ray / OnP)

Robbins / Balanchine/ Cherkaoui, Jalet

Palais Garnier, May 2 – May 27

These are three symphonic ballets set to the music of Maurice Ravel: inspired by  different music styles, namely valse, jazz and boléro. Le Boléro – the third ballet performed for this consecrated show, is considered one of his most famous works, which he composed on a recommendation from his friend Ida Rubinstein and then dedicated to her. An interesting fact about this piece is that Ravel was rather dissatisfied with the international success the ballet received and felt that the piece was « empty of music ».

Get tickets here.

La Sylphide – Pierre Lacotte

Palais Garnier, June 1 – June 16

La Sylphide was created in 1832 by Filippo Taglioni at the Opéra de Paris, with music by Jean Scheitzhoeffer. Filippo Taglioni created this ballet especially for his daughter, Marie Taglioni, who danced in the first representation of it with what some say was the first tutu! He took into account his daughter’s peculiar body with her long legs and arms, large hands and ill-formed toes of the same length, allowing her exceptional balance on her tips. The ballet received immediate praise in 1832, but was forgotten by the end of the century. Pierre Lacotte revived La Sylphide for the Paris Opera Ballet in 1972, and it is this version you can attend in June.

Get tickets here.

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A previous representation of La Sylphide in Paris (credit: Ann Ray / OnP)

Drumming Live – Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s

Opéra Bastille, July 1 – July 15

Head to a representation of Drumming Live this season at the Opéra Bastille to see what is considered to be the Belgian choreograph Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s best work. This contemporary dance piece’s musical score was created by the minimalist New York composer Steve Reich. Performed several times since its creation in 1998, this original and quite abstract ballet follows particular music with 12 dancers bathed in a fluorescent orange light.

Get tickets here.

By the way, if you can’t get tickets for your preferred date, try La Bourse aux Billets for additional sales: http://boursechange.operadeparis.fr/.

Bon ballet!

 

From ‘Teatro Canzone’ To Jazz: Milan’s Great Music

Relatively few Italian artists chose to perform in other languages which is why most of them remain unknown abroad. In reality, Italy’s music scene is incredibly wide and diverse. This is no big surprise when you consider the complex historical, artistic and linguistic background of the country, a country always open to cross-cultural influences. There’s much more to offer than first appears. The sweet-sounding Italian language even lends itself to more ‘hardcore’ genres such as metal and hip-hop, not to mention the booming indie scene.

As I have mentioned previously, Milan has grown into the hub of contemporary Italian culture. Thousands of people move here every year to study and work, the city is being blessed with a continuous rise in international tourism, and the local musical production largely reflects the city’s ‘rebirth’. Talent shows and contests, music festivals and live concerts are all important features of the Milanese scene.

Let’s venture into the studios, clubs and pubs, and onto the stages scattered all over Milan to take a closer look at Milan music.

Teatro-canzone: Milan onstage

In the early seventies, a typically Milanese form of art was created out of the fusion of music, poetry and the city’s bustling theatrical environment. I am talking about teatro-canzone. Major figures include Giorgio Gaber and Enzo Jannacci, often mentioned alongside eminent comedians, actors and playwriters, including the late Nobel Literature Prize Dario Fo.

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Giorgio Gaber: teatro-canzone pioneer (credit: alchetron.com)

Teatro-canzone can have many styles: performers are known for their fun anecdotes as well as sophisticated monologues discussing politics, religion, or philosophy. However, the Milanese spirit – witty, wry and somewhat melancholic – remains the main feature of this genre. Though its pioneers have passed away, Milanese theatres make sure to keep the tradition alive. On May 3at 8.30 PM, Piccolo Teatro Grassi (via Rovello 2, right by via Dante) will host Milano per Gaber – Canzone e Teatro Canzone. During this event, Paolo Dal Bon, chairman of the Fondazione Gaber, will discuss the art of teatro canzone with the famous Italian songwriter Ivano Fossati. Tickets are very cheap, starting from 5 €, and can be purchased directly from the theatre’s website. Whilst very  interesting, it is advisable for attendees to be familiar with the Italian language. Recommended if you are staying in our Bandello Luxe residence nearby.

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Piccolo: the hub of the genre in Milan (credit: passipermilano.com)

Modern Milan in Music

Over the last century, Milan has undergone many transformations. Wealthier and more cosmopolitan than Rome, the city has welcomed thousands of newcomers, initially from the southern and the north-eastern regions and then from abroad. Back in the day, ‘adopted’ Milanese and their children would often live in the outskirts and feel alienated from the rapid modernisation of the city. A good example of this is the famous ballad ‘Il ragazzo della via Gluck’ by Adriano Celentano (himself the child of a Southern family) about a narrator lamenting how his rural childhood residence has been taken over by the big city.

Decades later, Italian music has grown more familiar with foreign influences. Society has also changed, even though the contrast between the centre and the suburbs remains sharp. The Milanese hinterland is home to several artists of different genres. Hip-hop plays quite an important role, often breaking into the mainstream scene. Punk-rock and metal have also grown popular since the 1990s, thanks to a number of groups among which we can mention Afterhours and Lacuna Coil.

Of course, this does not mean that a more ‘vernacular’ musical tradition has disappeared. Theatre and cabaret have played a key role in shaping the Milanese music scene. An example of this is Elio e le Storie Tese, a one-of-a-kind group combining hilarious, sometimes nonsensical lyrics with interesting instrumental arrangements and themed videos. They rose to fame on the stage of the Zelig cabaret theatre and they are nothing short of legends to many Milanese and Italian people.

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Pride of Milan: the Elio e le Storie Tese group (credit: sorrisi.com)

Much like the rest of Milan, alternative culture moves at a fast pace. And music does not lag behind. Several important cultural centres have been opened or restored over the past few years, hosting interesting artistic exhibitions, workshops and performances while spreading the word of emerging Italian artists. A major alternative music event in the Milanese Spring is the Mi Ami festival, taking place on 25th-27th May in the eastern area of the city, at Parco dell’Idroscalo (a reservoir area) and at Magnolia, one of the major ARCI clubs in the city’s area. Jazz and world music is also flourishing in Milan: Blue Note (via P. Borsieri, 37) is an interesting location for jazz amateurs in the city.

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Great jazz music can be heard at Blue Note (bluenotemilano.com)

Last, but not least, the club and bar scene in Milan is unrivalled in Italy, making the city the country’s main hub for international artists.  Whether you are more into mainstream or alternative, electronic or acoustic music, or whether you prefer luxurious, hip or informal locations, the list of venues you might like to attend is virtually endless. The centre of town and the Porta Garibaldi – Corso Sempione area, near our Anta Moscova residence, hosts many high-end clubs and bars, whereas a more alternative ‘movida’ resonates around the Navigli area.

Barcelona’s Music Scene: Jazz And Rock

Barcelona’s alternative nightlife

Live music in Barcelona bars is one of the reasons why they are always crowded. There is a real range of concerts to suit every taste. I will talk you through just a couple of the many rock and jazz venues the city has to offer.

Heliogàbal

Having held more than 4000 concerts since its inception in 2008, it is the musical spine of the Gràcia district. Heliogàbal has seen some of the leading Catalan and Spanish bands, such as Manel or Mishima, grace its stage. The bar doesn’t technically have a separate stage area for band performances, but this is not a hindrance. The intimate bar is well-known for its alternative bands, from acts that are just starting out to some who are already more established. They say the bands that play here today could be famous by tomorrow. Either way, it is a great place to have a drink whilst listening to good music. Find it at: C/ Ramón y Cajal, 80 08012 Barcelona.

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Intimate music night at Heliogàbal  (credit: seriebcn.net)

Sala Apolo

Located in the trendy neighbourhood of Poble Sec, this venue hosts some of the best local, national and international bands (Eagles of the Death Metal and the famous Spanish rock band Lori Meyers have played here). All genres are welcome. During the world-famous Primavera Sound music festival, some bands also play on this stage. Find it at: Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 113, 08004 Barcelona.

Milano Cocktail Bar

If you are a fan of jazz, blues and groove, this is your place. Every night, blues ensembles, pianists and trumpeters do their thing here. Situated in the Eixample district, the entrance looks like a clandestine bar. You have to walk down some dark stairs before reaching the basement, where the bar is actually located. But, once there, the name of the bar doesn’t disappoint: they have a large menu of cocktails, serving everything from mojito to daiquiri. What’s more, when the concert is over, you can still enjoy your drinks over music, thanks to local DJs who provide a lively atmosphere until the bar closes. Find it at: Ronda de la Universitat, 35, 08007 Barcelona. 

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Grooving music and excellent cocktails (credit: camparimilano.com)

JazzSí Club

This small music venue is located in Raval, the centre of Barcelona. It belongs to Taller de Músics, the veteran music school, pioneers in the area for teaching jazz and flamenco in Catalunya. They host concerts and jam sessions of jazz, blues, pop, rock, flamenco and Cuban music on a daily basis. Don’t miss their excellent jam sessions every Wednesday night. Find it at: Carrer de Requesens, 2, 08001 Barcelona.

Gipsy Lou

A famous establishment known for its local bands, most of the time this place has free entry. Its location in the Raval makes this bar a good place to start the night if you are planning on continuing on to other venues across the city. You can try a variety of local beers, like Estrella Damm and Moritz, or stick with a glass of wine or a classic cocktail. If you are hungry, they also serve food, and I recommend their Gipsy burger. Find it at: Carrer de Ferlandina, 55, 08001 Barcelona.

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Draw of a concert at Gipsy Lou

Razzmatazz

This is the place where the big bands come to when playing in the city. Placebo, Future Islands and the Led Zeppelin Live Experience all feature on this year’s billing. It is good to book in advance because the place usually gets crowded, hosting thousands of people. Aside from hosting concerts, there are more than five halls with all kinds of music being played. Find it at: Carrer dels Almogàvers, 122, 08018 Barcelona.

Michael Collins

This Irish pub is really close to La Sagrada Familia. Thanks to its location, you can meet local expats and tourists, with the mix of visitors making the atmosphere of this pub unique. You can enjoy some solid rock band performances, covering everything from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Presley. It’s worth looking out for their night dedicated to Irish traditional music. Find it at: Plaça de la Sagrada Família, 4, 08013 Barcelona.

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An expat’s home away from home (credit: michaelcollinspubs.com)

Paris And Piaf: A Match Made In Heaven

Here’s a test: close your eyes and think of Paris. Now, what do you hear? Many will hear some kind of music, often involving an accordion. This is probably the result of watching numerous films where a scene set in Paris is heralded by some romantic music. Or maybe you’ll hear a powerful voice singing “La Vie en Rose” or “Non, rien de rien”? That is Edith Piaf, the wonderful Parisian. In this case, you must be a true fan.

Edith, whose real name was Édith Giovanna Gassion, had such an incredible life that one might think she is a fictional character. Born in Paris in December 1915, her mother was a café and street singer, her father a street acrobatic performer. Her mother left her with her maternal grandmother, who did not take proper care of her. Later, her father took Edith from that grandmother, and left her in Normandy, where his own mother ran a brothel. Edith was raised surrounded by prostitutes. Later, when she was nine, her father took her back to Paris, and she helped him collect money as he performed in the streets. One day, he asked her to sing to add to the show.

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Pensive Piaf (credit: Stafford Marilyn/SIPA)

At 15, she decided to leave her father. To survive, she took odd jobs and sang in the streets with a friend, until she was discovered in 1936 by a cabaret owner. He asked her to sing in his cabaret and that was the beginning of her career, which ended all too soon, in 1963. She died, exhausted by a life of tragedies and triumphs, abuse of alcohol and pain-killers for her polyarthritis – but happily married to her last love, Theo Sarapo, who was 20 years her junior.

Should you be an Edith Piaf fan, you could enhance your stay in Paris with a tour of some locations. Would you like to visit one of the apartments where Edith lived early in her career? One of her fans has transformed it into a small private museum dedicated to her, Le Musée Édith Piaf (5 rue Crespin-du-Gast). Here, you will be able to see one of the little black dresses she wore onstage and many objects that belonged to her. Remember to make an appointment by calling the number 01 43 55 52 72.

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An insight into Edith Piaf’s mind (credit: Getty Images)

After this, why not visit the places where she sang, that are still open to the public?

Bobino (14-20, rue de la Gaîté) hosts concerts, one-man shows and musicals. Piaf sang there in the late 1930s. It is also just a small walk away from our Tuilerie Parc residence.

Here’s an excellent reason for spending an evening at the Moulin Rouge (82 boulevard Clichy) and enjoying their slightly “risqué” shows: Edith Piaf sang there in the spring of 1944.

It is thanks to her that the music hall L’Olympia  (28 boulevard des Capucines) still exists. Bruno Coquatrix was its manager in the early 1960s. When he realised it was going bankrupt, he asked his friend Edith Piaf to help him out of his predicament. At the time, her health was in decline, but she could not resist the challenge. Besides, she wanted to introduce her new song “Non, rien de rien” to the public. As her first 30 performances were a triumph, she went on, despite her increasing frailty. At the end of Piaf’s 90 performancess, the financial situation of L’Olympia was no longer a problem. Nowadays, a wide variety of singers and groups perform at the venue. If you’re staying at our Michodière residence, it is worth the 10 minute walk.

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Crowds gather for Edith Piaf outside L’Olympia (credit: Getty Hulton Archive)

Have you ever visited Père Lachaise cemetery (16 rue du Repos)? It is an extraordinary, beautiful place, where many rich and famous Parisians are buried. Edith Piaf is one of them, and you could finish your pilgrimage with a walk through Père Lachaise to visit her tomb.

Edith Piaf loved Paris and sang various songs about the French capital. She hasn’t been forgotten by Parisians yet, and many can still sing a few of her songs.

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Edith Piaf continues to inspire art in Paris today (credit: francedailyphoto.com)

 

Listen Up, London: Must-See Music Exhibitions

Listen Up! London is a vibrant city full of cultural events. Here we tell you the most important events you can’t miss this year.

The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains

V&A Museum, 13th May – 1st Oct 2017

This year sees the 50-year anniversary of the release of Pink Floyd’s debut single, ‘Arnold Layne’. To mark the occasion, the V&A Museum is unveiling the first major international retrospective of one of the most successful and influential bands of all time: ‘The Pink Floyd Exhibition: Their Mortal Remains’.

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Find out about the band’s artistic history (credit: Pink Floyd Exhibition)

The show promises an immersive and theatrical journey that will channel the band’s reputation for pioneering sonic and visual experimentation. Featuring 350 artefacts from handwritten lyrics to stage props, the exhibit will chart Pink Floyd’s inimitable music, staging and design from the 1960s to the present day in spectacular and multi-sensory style.

The Spencer Collection: A Musical Banquet, 3rd Jan 2017 – 31st Mar 2018

And Hands, 28th Feb 2017 – 31st May 2017

Royal Academy of Music

The eminent permanent collection of the Royal Academy of Music Museum is accompanied this year by two rather different temporary displays. The first, ‘A Musical Banquet’ showcases pieces from Robert Spencer’s collection of early music instruments, manuscripts, printed music and curiosities. With items spanning 500 years, the exhibition offers a rich and beautiful array of artefacts to intrigue and delight music enthusiasts, including guitar songs printed on playing cards and fine 16th century guitars and lutes.

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Top-notch exhibition space (credit: Royal Academy of Music)

The second, ‘Hands’, is a little less conventional for a music exhibition. It’s dedicated to musician’s hands, the most powerful tool in the arsenal of composers and performers alike. The exhibition seeks to question what hands might say about musicians by means of casts and photographs and includes specimens from such venerable composers as Chopin, Mendelssohn and Paganini.

The Vault

Hard Rock Café 

London’s only rock ‘n’ roll museum and part of the flagship Hard Rock Café, The Vault is quite literally what it says on the tin: a cosy basement room inside an old Coutts Bank, complete with hefty steel door. The small permanent exhibition of rock ‘n’ roll treasures includes clothing and personal items (Madonna’s Jean Paul Gauthier Bustier, John Lennon’s army shirt) but pride of place is the collection of guitars and other instruments (owned by the likes of Hendrix, Dylan, Bowie and Cobain).

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Head downstairs for more surprises (credit: Mail Experiences)

Entry is free and includes a guided tour from a member of staff. The Vault is accessed through the Hard Rock Café’s gift shop across the road from the café itself.

Handel & Hendrix in London

Beyond sharing a staggering musical talent, George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix have at least one other thing in common: both called the same street in Mayfair home, separated by a wall and 200 years of history. Today, 25 and 23 Brook Street are home to Handel House and the Hendrix Flat respectively – both featuring historically restored rooms that invite the public to step back in time and view the spaces as they would have been.

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Music history, side by side (credit: Hendrix and Handel Museum)

Handel House features four restored rooms complemented by a roster of temporary exhibitions around Handel’s life and times and by live music performances. The Handel House series explores music of the Baroque period across multiple programmes between now and April.

Opened just last year, the Hendrix Flat has the distinction of being the only one of his homes open to the public. As the setting for many jam sessions and hours of song writing, the flat provides a unique insight into the creative space of the celebrated and mythologised musician.

Abbey Road Crossing

The most famous musical landmark in London and probably the world, the zebra crossing outside Abbey Road studios was immortalised on the cover of The Beatles’ 1969 album Abbey Road. Today, it’s a pilgrimage site for fans of the Fab Four and anyone with an enthusiasm for pop culture. Check out the ‘crossing cam’ online for a glimpse of what to expect. Do remember that the nearby Abbey Road Studios are a working studio and unfortunately aren’t open to the general public.

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An Abbey Road outtake, Paul wears sandals (credit: Iain Macmillan)

Classical Music: Barcelona’s Finest Venues

In Barcelona, you can find music to suit every taste. But if you specifically love your classical music, there are three main venues that stand above the rest. Throughout the years, they have been visited by some of the best opera singers, orchestras, and conductors the world has to offer. Here is why you should visit them.

Liceu

The Gran Teatre del Liceu is an impressive establishment. Opened in 1847, its history is interesting and quite tumultuous.

In fact, the venue had to be rebuilt two times due to fire damage. The first one struck in 1861, requiring  some minor adjustments. One year later, The Gran Teatre was up and running again. The second fire came in 1994, caused by a spark that accidentally set light to a curtain during a routine repair. After that event, the theatre had to be rebuilt and it re-opened its doors only five years later, in 1999.

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Circle upon circle of stunning decor

There was a gap in performances too. During the Spanish Civil War, from 1936-39, operas and other plays were suspended in the theatre.

Aside from catastrophic events, there are of course moments of bliss. Liceu has seen the most famous opera singers in the world grace its stage, including the likes of Enrico Caruso, Luciano Pavarotti and Barcelona native, Montserrat Caballé. Operas of Catalan, Spanish and Italian composers have premiered within the famous walls. Several masterpieces have also been performed in this theatre, from composers Tchaikovsky, Wagner, Rossini, Verdi, Stravinsky, Dvořák, to name but a few.

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Catalan native Montserrat Caballé performed here many times (credit: Warner Classics)

Liceu is not only a place for classical music and opera, performers of other genres also make use of its beautiful stages, profound acoustics and richly decorated halls that seat up to 2292 guests. A great example of this is Icelandic singer, Björk, who famously performed here in 2001.

These days, you can enjoy contemporary and classical ballet, classical operas and famous orchestras from all over the world. This March, you can enjoy Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, so remember to book tickets in advance. It is worth checking the schedule of upcoming events as there is a lot coming up this season.

Palau de la Música

Opened in 1908, the Palau de la Música also has a rich history. It is ideal if you’re staying in our Plaza Catalunya residence nearbyToday, more than half a million people annually attend Palau’s musical events, ranging from symphonic and chamber music to jazz.

In 1997, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is not surprising when you see it in person. Its design is typical of Catalan modernism, when curves predominate over straight lines, dynamic shapes are preferred over statics forms, and rich decoration, that emphasises floral and other organic motifs, is used extensively.

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A seat with a view

Its concert hall, seating about 2 200 people, is considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It is the only auditorium in Europe that is illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light.

In its beginning, the Palau de la Música paid special attention to promoting local composers and artists, such as Enric Granados and the orchestra of Pau Casals. Many of the best soloists, orchestras and conductors have visited this venue, such as Emil Sauer, Maurizio Pollini, the Berliner Philharmoniker with Richard Strauss, amongst others.

Popular singers and bands, like Norah Jones and Juanes, have performed at the Palau. Some events in March are include renditions of The Fourth by Tchaikovsky and Gran Gala de Flamenco. Check the following link to know what’s going on at the venue.

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Look up to this: the stunning ceiling in the Palau

Auditori

Not far from our Sagrada Familia Residence, you will find the newest of the three major venues, opened in 1999. Architecturally, it is also the most modern.

Nowadays, some of the greatest orchestras of the world come to the Auditori. It also serves as the home of the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, where the new great conductors and orchestras of our century are being taught. On average, they perform 75 concerts a season. The venue has 3 halls (Sala 1 Pau Casals for 2.200 spectators; Sala 2 Oriol Martorell with 600 places; and Sala 3 Tete Montoliu with 400 places).

Don’t miss the string quartets this spring.  The programme for the upcoming season has something for every classical music fans and looks very impressive.

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Modern setting: Barcelona’s Auditori