Seeking – and finding? – Wagner’s ghost at Villa Rufolo in Ravello

June 12, 2009 at 2:32 am (Italian journey, Italy, Music, Travel)

I bought this book when it first came out ten years ago. It quickly became emblematic of my desire to return to Italy.

Amalfi Coast Escape Cover

Although published by Fodor’s, this is not your standard travel guide. For one thing, the writing (by Robert I.C. Fisher)  veers from sardonic to rapturous. And the pictures, also taken by Fisher, are spectacular.

Of course, it helps that the subject happens to be the Amalfi Coast, considered by many to be one of the most  beautiful places on Earth. I quoted Gore Vidal to that effect in a recent post. (Vidal lived for many years in Ravello.)

Travel writer Lucia Mauro vividly and poetically evokes the experience of “Seeking Wagner’s Ghost in Ravello.”

And here is Robert I.C. Fisher: “A veil of celestial blue extends as far as you can see when you stand on the upper terrace of the Villa Rufolo. The cerulean hue is not merely a color–it is a miracle, defining ‘blue’ once and for all. ”

Here is that view:

villa1Fisher continues:

“It’s no small mystery why Landolfo Rufolo, described in Boccaccio’s Decameron as one of Italy’s richest men, chose this matchless mountain perch for the site of his 13th century estate. A Scheherazadian extravaganza of Norman batttlements and terraced  gardens, with an Arab-Sicilian cloister, his villa  was designed to welcome Moorish emirs and French kings. But it found its immortality centuries later when Richard Wagner unexpectedly arrived at its gates in February 1880 and stayed the night, banging out the second act of Parsifal on an untuned piano, accompanied only by his giant ego and a fierce thunderstorm. “Klingsor‘s garden is found once again!” the great 19th century composer crowed of the wizard who ordered the seduction of the opera’s saintly hero.

Before I left for Italy, I wrote about my sense of mission with regard to the Villa Rufolo. So, when I found myself actually there, I was already primed for an extraordinary experience. I had seen pictures and done a fair amount of reading, always with my Wagner-loving brother in mind.  And as luck would have it, I had discovered that we had a Wagnerite in our group: Christine, an exuberant, adventurous person and a passionate opera lover, was traveling with her sister Judey.



As we entered the grounds of the Villa, one of the first things we saw was this plaque:


Cameras were held aloft, shutters clicked repeatedly. Christine cried out, “Roberta, this is our moment!” She was right.

But it was only the beginning…







Accompanying all this loveliness was the occasional faint sound of musical instruments. Villa Rufolo plays host to Chamber Music on the Amalfi Coast, a music festival that runs from March to July, and again from September to November. What we were hearing was the musicians practicing. Our guide told us that when the stage is set up, it looks as though it is suspended over the water.


Our precious time at the villa was drawing to a close. I wished we could stay longer. I was expressing this wistful sentiment to one of my fellow tour members when I heard the clarion call of the trumpets from the Prelude to Parsifal. It came crisp and clear, much more immediate than the snatches of music I’d been hearing up until that moment.I broke off, exclaiming. “Oh my God – Parsifal!” I don’t what became of my interlocutor; I just knew I had to find those brass players. Following the already-dying strains of the Prelude, I found a small room with no door, that opened onto a remote part of the garden. The room was empty, save for a television that was the source of the music. The Prelude faded away;  it was followed by pleasant, albeit mundane video of people coming and going along a street in a village. The music became soft, unexceptional pop tunes. There was voice over narration, in Italian.

I turned and left, not sure what had just happened. Christine and I, alas, had gone our separate ways. I regretted that she had not been there to share this moment with me as well.


Later, when we went to visit the shops in Ravello’s piazza, we discovered that the name “Klingsor” had taken on a life of its own in the world of local commerce!




Here is an excerpt from the Good Friday Spell.Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts the   Berlin Philharmonic in this historic performance:


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      Thank you so much for this comment. It took me hours to get this post completed to my satisfaction, and there are times when I wonder why I am knocking myself out like this! Then I get a comment such as yours, and I feel that the hard work has indeed paid off.

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