Summer programs in Europe: 4 things to do on your day offEditorial
There’s a reason that young singers and pianists search out their own kind of summers abroad. European-based summer opera programs are a great way to check off two major career points in one go; programs like the Centre for Opera Studies in Italy (COSI) bring North American artists to Sulmona, Italy, where they pair lessons and stage experience with often their first taste of a far-away culture.
We’ve written before about how to reap the rewards of these summer program teachers and coaches; yet it’s equally important to take advantage of life outside of the rehearsal room. Here are four ways to make the most of your time off during a summer program in Europe.
To market, to market
North America boasts a proud tradition of farmer’s markets, and our food truck culture is nothing to scoff at. But there’s no substitute for the bi-weekly, or often daily markets that are littered across Europe. Doing some al fresco shopping is a great way to work on your language skills, particularly the words for various foods and units of measurement. You can also get an idea of what different foods cost, and save yourself from getting swindled on future shopping trips. Plus, you can reap the great benefits of a friendly relationship with the woman who sells all the garlic in Sulmona, Italy.
One word of advice: be careful not to assume that bartering is the norm. You can come across as insulting to the vendors if you low-ball them too much; sure, the vendors are trying to make a buck, but don’t assume that their products are overpriced.
If you’re staying in a small city, hop on a train to the nearest metropolis. If you’re smack dab in the middle of Rome, venture out to the stunning landscapes of Abruzzo, or the freshwater beaches of Lago Scanno. Spending your day off in a new place is a fantastic way to recharge, and it’s often the memories on these day trips that last longer than that concert you sang.
It’s also valuable to figure out how the train system works across Europe. Discover for yourself the benefits of taking a fast train, or spending a little less money for a slower, more scenic trip. Sometimes the journey can be as memorable as the destination.
Alone time during any summer program - European or otherwise - is a thing of beauty. But alone time outside an Italian café with a book (or a score, if you’re a masochist) is just divine. The great coffee and the pedestrian lifestyle of European opera program hubs make for a lovely afternoon of people-watching and espresso-tasting. In Italy, the baristas are particularly good at remembering your order (especially if you’re a woman), and there’s no downside to being chummy with the person who can make your perfect doppio espresso. For the full effect, leave your phone in your bag and get to know that great book you’ve been neglecting.
Be a tourist
Nobody wants to stand out in a crowd like Mister Tourist Man (also known as Madam Pickpocket Magnet); but it would be a shame to deny yourself simple joys like buying a dozen Mozart balls in Salzburg or one of those Duomo umbrellas from Florence. In Sulmona, they make these gorgeous arrangements out of confetti (the candy, not the litter), wrapped in coloured cellophane. Yes, everybody who ever visited Sulmona has bought confetti in the shape of sunflowers or bunches of grapes, but that’s because they’re fab - and tastier than those purses wrapped in plastic at the market.
There’s something empowering about doing really touristy things when you visit a place for the first time. If you’re serious about pursuing an operatic career, you’ll likely return to these places to sing auditions (and hopefully some gigs). On that return trip, you’ll have gotten the obvious tourism out of the way, and you can start to feel a little bit like you own the city. When it comes to audition tours, any confidence boost will do, right?