The flute trills the opening bars of The Chinese Dance and Clem, Lucia and I all start to shake with suppressed laughter. It’s just as well we’re in a private box and not the stalls.
We’re at Teatro Bellini listening to a concert performance of The Nutcracker. My flatmate Clem used to work at the theatre as a costume designer and still has friends there, so she’s managed to get us free tickets in a box for the evening. It’s the theatre’s symphony orchestra playing, led by a guest conductor from Russia, Yuri Temirkanov, and up until now it’s been lovely. Well, it’s still lovely, but now it’s hilarious, too.
The three of us – Clem, Lucia and I – live in a flat that overlooks the back of the theatre. From the window over our kitchen sink we can see straight into the theatre dressing rooms, and we can hear all the rehearsals and performances that go on. So for the past month we’ve been hearing the same two bars of music rehearsed by the flautist, over and over – and over – again.
We catch each other’s eyes and bend double in our chairs, choking back the laughter. The Nutcracker Suite will never be the same again.
Later we sit outside on Via Landolina listening to a different kind of music: there’s an upright piano outside Bar La Chiave Bianca being played by a jazz pianist, who’s jamming with a sax player.
From the other end of the street comes the familiar tuneless suck and blow buzzing of the harmonica belonging to the gypsy girl who works this street with her mother. Her usual schtick is to work her way along the tables, playing a few bars at each one and then holding her plastic cup out for money. She’s maybe 10 or 11 years old and it’s routine for her. Rarely does she speak to the punters, and her eyes are dead underneath the garish make up and teased hair.
Tonight she works her way up the street as usual, ignoring the fact that there are two real musicians playing. She huffs and buzzes her harmonica at each table in turn, sometimes getting money, more often not. She’s getting closer and closer to the musicians and the sax player slides his eyes sideways at her. She reaches the table next to him. He could tell her just to go away and stop disturbing everyone, but instead he leans over and starts to play directly at her. She turns to him, a broad smile spreading across her face, and he winks at her without missing a note. She erupts into a peal of giggles as it turns into a brief musical question and answer, first sax then harmonica riffing. After 30 seconds she has to move on, but in those 30 seconds she’s become a child, rather than an old woman in a child’s body. She leaves with her round face split by a grin a mile wide, and her eyes shining. Tonight is music night for everyone.