Are there any more perfect settings for hearing an opera aria than a palazzo or piazza in Tuscany? For one month each summer it's possible to enjoy just that, thanks to Daniel Ferro.
Daniel Ferro, the Julliard School's famed vocal coach (he fine-tuned Kathleen Battle, Anna Moffo, Evelyn Lear) has run a music program teaching opera every summer for the past 18 years in picturesque Greve-in-Chianti. Students from all over the world come to stay, sing, learn Italian, perform and be inspired by the beauty of Italy. This year the 20 students came from places as diverse as China and New Jersey; the dozen coaches and musicians from Switzerland and Russia and Italy, of course.
Ferro takes over various charming farmhouses and rooms at the Hotel Verrazzano overlooking Greve's central piazza for accommodations. His team transforms the local grammar school with bunting on the walls to improve the acoustics and grand pianos for accompaniment. And once a week the students perform in castelli or villas or piazzas for the public.
Opera buffs interested in seeing the program from the inside can sign up for weekly "Insider's View" stays that allow them to sit in on master classes, take daily Italian lessons and enjoy lunches and activities with the students and teachers, as well as get VIP seating at the concerts. With accommodations for seven nights and daily breakfast included in all the above, the 2012 price was $1,599 per person, double occupancy.
Because Ferro and his wife Joy are now considered local institutions, they can arrange other special "Insider's View of Tuscany" experiences throughout the year, featuring wine tastings, cooking classes and special meals. I sampled a mini-version recently, which included lunch at foodie favorite Dario Cecchini's restaurant in Panzano followed by a meet-and-greet with the famous butcher at his shop. Joy Ferro also took me to a little boutique that makes gorgeous shoes and leather goods by hand, and a ricotta (my favorite!) tasting at the shop that sells cheese made by the goats grazing up the hill.
We also visited the lovely Villa le Barone, one of the places where Ferro's Insiders can choose to stay. The Villa's owners, the gracious Count and Countess Aloisi de Larderel, showed us around the estate that has been in their family (the Della Robbias), for centuries, finishing with drinks on their terrace, overlooking the pool and a view of the Chianti hillside that swept past Roberto Cavalli's horse and donkey cavorting in his field.
We ended my mini-tour at Il Palagio, an agriturismo where the Ferros stay during the program. Their apartment was lovely, with thick stone walls, a four-poster bed and a country kitchen to die for. Other apartments look just as charming, with balconies and terraces and archways. All have access to the grounds and gardens, the pool and an outdoor grill and table under a pergola for entertaining. Through this fall, the Ferros have been able to secure a special rate at Il Palagio for guests booking through them and, even more good news, a portion of the proceeds will go to help fund the vocal program.
For those voyaging no further than New York City, the Ferros hold musical evenings in their and friends' apartments throughout the year to help raise funds to support the program. The evening includes cocktails, dinner and a performance by -- who knows? -- perhaps the next Kathleen Battle.
For more: www.InsidersViewofTuscany.com.