Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Checking in from Italy — Mantua

If it’s Friday, it must be Mantua.

The potential downside with a tour the likes of the one I am presently engaged in is that it IS a tour: we climb on a bus and thus cocooned, we journey forth to various locations. We must adhere to the almighty schedule lest people get lost and chaos ensue. Once we arrive at a particular destination, we travel primarily as a pack with locale guides, who describe in magnificent detail the features of yet another Renaissance fresco in yet another ancient and beautiful church. We walk together, dine together, take pictures of each other while still doing our level best to absorb something of the ambience of the places we are visiting.

Gratefully, the upsides of such a tour far outweigh the down. One, the people in our group are wonderful: fun, smart, and extremely diverse in life experience; I’ve no doubt that we (my wife and I) are making friends we will keep for a long time. Two, because we’re travelling by bus (and with local guides), we’re seeing the towns and landscape of the Po River valley with a detail we could never achieve on our own. Three, we’re visiting a variety of cities and killer, out-of-the-way restaurants the likes of which would be difficult – if not impossible – for an independent traveller to find and visit. We have been to Cremona, where we visited the brand-new “Museum of the Violin” and heard a solo violin recital featuring both a 1706 Antonio Stradivari and a 1655 Nicolò Amati. We have been to Milan where we heard Verdi’s “Don Carlo” at La Scala. We have been to Parma to attend both the opera and an orchestral concert; to Modena to hang and eat and taste the balsamic vinegar; to Bologna to attend the opera and to tour; to Ravenna (on the Adriatic coast) to see its extraordinary late-Roman mosaics and walk the city. On Friday last, as the first sentence of this post indicates, it was off to the spectacular medieval/Renaissance city of Mantua, where Monteverdi composed “L’Orfeo in 1607 and where the hunchback jester Rigoletto (supposedly) prowled the streets. Today – Sunday – we toured Verdi’s hometown of Busseto and visited his house and estate, called “Sant’Agata.”

Oh, and lest I forget, for those interested there was a trip to nearby Fidenza to visit the local outlet mall.

Okay, I know this post sounds a bit like an advertisement, and I suppose it is, but in truth, this has been a great tour. The person I work for – a polymath, gastronome, and raconteur extraordinaire named Jose Tobar Pratt – has a penchant for organizing amazing adventures and a genius for acquiring tickets (it was no small thing, for example, to acquire 40+ seats in the orchestra at La Scala for Verdi’s “Don Carlo”). So while the bad news is that this tour is almost over, the good news is that three more such tours are presently planned for 2014: to Vienna, the south of France, and Switzerland. Check them out at:


  1. Luther visited Rome as a young priest at the height of the Renaissance and noticed nothing of the art. He crawled up some steps on his knees, praying at every step, secretly wondering if it would save him. Later he discovered (in the Wartburg Fortress, the same one Wagner used) that faith would. but he remained indifferent to art. He wasn’t one of those zealots who went around smashing art, though. Some people are deaf to music, some are blind to art. More to follow.