Based in stunning Bergamo, one of Italy’s loveliest cities
Three Donizetti Festival operas staged at Bergamo’s Teatro Donizetti
Visits to three private palaces & Bergamo’s first-rate picture gallery
Private recitals at a private villa to the north of Milan
Comfortable four-star hotel close to the Teatro Donizetti in Lower Bergamo
Bergamo, though small, is a most handsome city, divided into two districts, one in the plain and the other on a hilltop eminence, Basso and Alto. Situated at the eastern border of Lombardy, history has placed it on the edge of significant political and cultural events, given it lies between Milan and Venice, the Po Plain and the Alps.
Each November Bergamo hosts an annual celebration of the operas of Gaetano Donizetti (1797 – 1848), one of Italy’s most engaging and prolific operatic composers and a Bergamo native. He was a leading exponent of the Bel Canto tradition, as we shall discover during our three exciting opera evenings at Bergamo’s newly restored Teatro Donizetti. To mark the theatre’s reopening, two of the featured operas will be new productions of Marino Faliero and La Fille du Regiment while the festival will be inaugurated with a concert performance of Belisario, with Plácido Domingo in the title role.
There is much to see in Bergamo, its wealth made possible by its position on the trade routes criss-crossing the north of the Italian peninsula, long-established since Roman times. It was also one of the most important early medieval Lombard duchies and hosted a glittering court. Subsequent periods of civic independence and wider political allegiances are reflected in some lovely late medieval and renaissance churches, chapels and secular buildings, scattered throughout both the Upper and Lower parts of the city.
Bergamo’s independent status did not last forever. The nearby Duchy of Milan conquered the city in the fourteenth century and within a hundred years it fell under Venetian dominion when trade, civic and artistic life flourished as never before. The fine Venetian walls and gates garlanding the upper town are but one reminder of Bergamo’s strategic importance as a guarantor of Venice’s developing land empire.
In addition to all the wonderful buildings in Bergamo, one of the great, smaller art galleries in Italy is the city’s Accademia Carrara, rich in Venetian and Lombard paintings and sculptures. The highly regarded works of the Venetian painter Lorenzo Lotto can be seen throughout Bergamo whilst his near contemporary, the local artist Giovanni Battista Moroni, is one of Italy’s greatest sixteenth century portraitists. We shall see his works in one of a number of impressive palaces we shall visit privately, all still owned by Bergamo’s great merchant and noble families. An apt finale to our five-day tour will be a private recital in a fine villa north of Milan.
We shall stay in the well-located 4* Excelsior San Marco in Lower Bergamo, within short walking distance of Teatro Donizetti, the principle shopping district and the funicular to Upper Bergamo’s historic centre.
Day by day
- Day 1: Wednesday 18 November
- We fly from Heathrow to Milan Linate, arriving mid-afternoon. We transfer to Bergamo and our hotel, the 4* Excelsior San Marco and check-in for four nights. Later in the evening we have dinner in our hotel’s excellent roof-top restaurant – water, wine and coffee are included with all group meals.
- Day 2: Thursday 19 November
- The city’s old historic medieval centre sits on a hill (Bergamo Alto) joined to its lower, newer counterpart (Bergamo Basso) via a panoramic funicular which we shall use frequently. Our day begins with the handsome buildings in and around Piazza Vecchia - the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore is a very fine Romanesque church whose many highlights include intarsia panels designed by Lorenzo Lotto, set into the choir screen. The adjoining Cappella Colleoni, named after the fifteenth century condottiero, is a renaissance addition to this marvellous architectural composition. After coffee and a visit to the Duomo, we end our morning with the first of a number of private visits to some of Bergamo’s noble and mercantile palaces. Palazzo Terzi was extended from its original sixteenth century nucleus into one of the city’s finest eighteenth century palaces. Its gilded and frescoed reception rooms give an indication of the ambition of Bergamo’s ‘great and good’. Following a group lunch, we end our activities with a visit to the small, yet informative Museo Donizettiano which outlines the work, life and personality of the composer through scores, letters, portraits and personal objects. We return to our hotel where the remainder of the afternoon and early evening will be free. The festival begins with a ‘Gala’ concert performance of Belisario, a work of the mid 1830s. It tells the story of the famous Byzantine general with Plácido Domingo in the title role, under musical director Riccardo Frizza.
- Day 3: Friday 20 November
- This morning we visit two sites in Lower Bergamo. We walk to the newly arranged picture collection at the Accademia Carrara. Rich in Venetian and Lombard pictures we shall see a surprisingly good group of paintings and sculptures. After coffee, we continue to Palazzo Agliata for a private visit where a member of the owning family will show us this fine eighteenth house, rich in baroque and rococo decoration and a charming terraced garden! Lunch (not included) and the remainder of the afternoon and early evening will be free. Our second opera at the nearby Teatro Donizetti will be La Fille du Regiment, one of the composer’s most popular works and this will be the very first performance of a new critical edition of the score – be there when operatic history is made!
- Day 4: Saturday 21 November
- We have a leisurely start and begin at the nearby Church of SS Bartolomeo e Stefano, a Baroque church containing one of Lorenzo Lotto’s finest altar paintings. We return to Bergamo Alto via the convenient funicular and visit the restored Church of San Michele al Pozzo Bianco. Retaining its medieval plan, fine fresco cycles from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries include important works by Lotto. We continue to the splendid Palazzo Moroni for a private visit, its rooms full of lively early seventeenth century frescoes and an enchanting walled garden. The real surprise is the remarkable portraits by the sixteenth century Lombard painter from Bergamo, Giambattista Moroni. We have lunch in one of the palace’s reception rooms, after which the remainder of the afternoon and early evening will be free. Our third and final opera at Teatro Donizetti will be a new production of Marino Faliero, a three-act tragic opera based on a work by Lord Byron which tells the story of the eponymous fourteenth century Venetian Doge.
- Day 5: Sunday 22 November
- This morning we drive to the north Milan to the Lombard village of Briosco for a splendid day at Villa Medici-Giulini. Built in 1643, the private estate has had many owners including the Medici of Marignano. Signora Fernanda Giulini and her family restored the villa in the twentieth century and it is where she displays part of her extraordinary collection of historic keyboard instruments. We shall be guided round the formal Italian gardens and the villa’s historic keyboard collection, many of which will be played for us. After a group lunch in the villa we end with a private recital in the estate’s charming theatre – an apt finale to the musical pleasures enjoyed during our week. We continue to Milan’s Linate airport and our return flight.
- Price: £2,035 per person
- Price without flights: £1,915
- Deposit: £300
- Single Supplement: £95 (Single Room)
£225 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
4 nights with breakfast at 4* Hotel Excelsior San Marco, Bergamo
Couples and those sharing will be allocated a Deluxe Room. Single travellers will be allocated a Superior Room with a French Bed (140cm wide). If single travellers would like to upgrade to a Deluxe Double for Sole Use the supplement is £255.
Outward: BA562 Depart London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1145 arrive Milan Linate 1445
Return: BA569 Milan Linate 1850 arrive London Heathrow (Terminal 5) 1955
1 dinner and 3 lunches with wine, water & coffee, 3 opera tickets in stall seats, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, City tax, services of Tom Duncan & our local tour manager, James Hill
Travel to/from Heathrow, 3 dinners & 1 lunch
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.