Monday, August 13, 2007

The Nuncio's Command Performance

This time last year, my Tablet colleague Robert Mickens reported that, during a midday meeting at the papal summer villa, a group that happened to hear the sound of a piano wafting from a nearby room was told to pay no mind -- "It's only the Pope."

As shown above, the music-loving B16 had a piano brought to his first vacation stop last year. But this time around, after hearing his nuncio to Brazil Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri tickle the ivories during the pontiff's visit to Latin America in May, the Pope asked for an encore... at Castel Gandolfo.

Talk about your performances of a lifetime.
After a dinner with a few guests Aug. 7 at the papal residence in Castel Gandolfo, Baldisseri played for 50 minutes on the pope's Steinway piano.

The archbishop told Catholic News Service by phone from Brazil that he played classical compositions by Frederic Chopin, Claude Debussy, Isaac Albeniz and others, including the late Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos.

The pope "was very pleased, very happy" and praised him for providing a "tranquil, serene musical interlude," Archbishop Baldisseri said.

The nuncio said he felt very nervous before playing. "I almost wanted to flee" from the scene, "but then, once the program began, it went very well," he said.

Among the handful of people present for the dinner and concert was the pope's brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who for decades had directed the boys choir of Regensburg, Germany.

The archbishop said the pope made the invitation after he heard him play some challenging piano compositions during the May 9-13 papal visit to Brazil.

"As apostolic nuncio I was with the pope and accompanied him (during the Brazil trip), and there was a moment when I just played a few pieces. The pope heard me play and invited me to Italy to Castel Gandolfo," he said.

The archbishop was unable to give the pope his first and still-untitled CD, due to be released in October.

He said the program he played for the pope Aug. 7 "is more or less what is on the CD," for which the proceeds from sales will go to charity.

The 66-year-old archbishop studied at the Italian conservatory of Luigi Boccherini near Florence and then at Rome's Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music before being called to study at the Vatican's school for training diplomats, the Pontifical Ecclesiastical Academy.
It wasn't noted whether the Pope evinced regret for passing Baldisseri over for a Roman appointment; the legate to the world's most-Catholic country had been widely mentioned as a potential candidate for either of the two second-in-command slots in the Secretariat of State before the posts went to other prelates.

Maybe the CD could be called "I Left My Heart in San Damaso".... The Pope would gladly get the hint.

AP/L'Osservatore File