Torino (Turin) is opening up to travelers. Besides the Slow Food Festival whose white tents line the main square and several streets, there is the Mito September Music Festival with up to four concerts a day, many of them free. We are not here because of either. We are students of our admirable guide Alessandro who explains the arts and art history of this place—Turin has plenty of both art and history.
We start our tour in a 16th century palazzo of the Savoy family to view the collection of the art and ethnographic material of ancient Egypt, second only to that of the Cairo Museum. The news is that a young director has made this collection one of the most popular in Italy by using new techniques of displaying, lighting, and describing the material. The collection itself was assembled largely by the Savoy family at a time when they were thinking about promoting themselves as future leaders of Italy. Our guide Alessandro suggested they were aware that Turin played but a minor role in Roman history. Turin has few Roman ruins to justify its being considered an historic center.
By outflanking Rome with the more ancient monumental sculptures of Egypt, the Savoy family was making a bid for prominence that turned out to be rewarded with success. They became the first kings of Italy and continued in leadership roles well into the 20th century. We were impressed not only by the cool majesty of the carved stone sculptures but by the ingenious contemporary architectural design of the spaces, culminating in the black vault of space housing the finest large sculptures, each highlighted by artful lighting. The aura of transcendence was enhanced by the music of a string trio that played among the rows of ancient artifacts that had come from tombs. The objects on display were from 5,000 to 2,500 years ago, reminding us that there is much history we can yet learn.
After an afternoon of Renaissance art in another palace of the Savoy family, I broke away to hear a concert performance of Schubert’s mass at San Filippo. The large church was packed with an audience of about 600. A chorus of 60 voices and string ensemble filled the large hall, resonating off the walls festooned with plaster putis. The director, Guido Maria Guida, had the group under firm control, modulating singers so as to emphasize clarity and mood. The soloists were strong and convincing. When the stops were opened, the music soared. The audience rewarded the performers with such vigor they sang an encore of the Gloria. It was the first time that I heard an encore in a church concert.
We have two more days in Turin, a well laid out city with rectangular layout and many squares, the Po River lazing along one side, snow-covered Alps in the background.