Wednesday 9 April 2008

Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio

A few weeks ago I was part of an Easter week performance of Osvaldo Golijov's La Pasión según San Marcos at the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio in Milan.

At the time, I was not aware of the historical significance of the site. There was so much travelling and rehearsing, and witnessing and discovering, that it was not always easy to keep informed about where I was exactly, or what I was doing. (Nothing new there!!)

It wasn't until right before the show that I became rather curious about Sant'Ambrogio and his Basilica. While we were waiting for "the curtain to go up" Dan Brantigan suggested I check out the crypt beneath the altar, which was serving as our "stage" that evening. The crypt contained three skeletons.

Earlier in the day I had an experience that literally left me lying at the giant door of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio. I should have known then that something was strange about the place. I am not prone to collapsing really.

We had just finished up our first rehearsal in the Basilica and all the musicians were packing up. María Guinand, the incredible Beatrice-like conductor of the Schola Cantorum de Caracas, made an announcement.

"We are very fortunate to be here, to perform La Pasión in a church for the first time. We have a gift for everyone"

And she proceeded to conduct the choir in a performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff's Ave Maria

I proceeded to leave my body.

Someone has posted the actual performance on youtube. Click here to watch it: Ave Maria

Everyone was frozen. Some people were crying, others dazed. When it was over, many people appeared to "get over it" somewhat quickly and went about their business. All I knew is that I needed to lay down and look at the sky. So, I made it outside the giant doors, put my accordion down, and stretched out on the ground.

To my complete surprise Dan Brantigan sent me the photo at the top of this page a few days later . (Just who is this Dan Brantigan anyway? His website may offer a few clues, but I think it is a far cry from the big picture.)

I can not describe what I felt really. I saw some colours and recited some impromptu poetry to a friend. Then I fell asleep. I awoke to the sounds of a woman shouting to get my attention. It turned out to be the undercover Italian police who were outside the gate observing. They wanted to know why I was collapsed at the door of the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, one of the oldest churches in Italy.

I managed to convince them that I meant no disrespect, and after a few tense moments, they decided to let me go.

The next day I learned a lot more about the Basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, which used to be called Basilica Martyrum because it was in an area where numerous martyrs of the Roman persecutions had been buried. The Basilica was built by Bishop Ambrose in 379-386. The three skeletons under the crypt are Saint Ambrose and Saints Gervasius and Protasius.

There had never been a musical performance in the church until La Pasión, of course.