Santa Maria Novella (with Madama Butterfly) - 8th Sept 2015

In Via Veneto in Lucca there is a very small shop, one of the very exclusive Santa Maria Novella shops – among other cities world-wide they can be found in London at Piccadilly Arcade and Walton Street, Kensington, Paris of course, Cologne and also New York and Hollywood. I had the good fortune to go with friends Mattia and Michelle to the perfumery in Florence known as the Officina Profumo – Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella thought to be the world’s oldest pharmacy. First founded in 1221 in Florence by the Dominican Friars who started making herbal remedies and potions to use in the monastery. Their reputation became world renowned and the pharmacy, sponsored by the Grand Duke of Tuscany and supported by Catherine de Medici, opened to the public in 1612. Meeting up with a Brazilian tenor Max Jota and a Japanese soprano, we were given a pre-arranged guided tour by Marketing Director Gianluca of the sale rooms, the old manufacturing rooms and private rooms that included views of the inner courtyard of the old monastery.

It was in and around the 16th century that the perfume was first produced with alcohol rather than olive oil which meant it benefitted from drying on the skin instead of leaving the skin oily.

To the amazement of customers in the busy sale rooms, and with the permission and encouragement of Gianluca, my friends, old and new sang several arias from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly to great applause. The impromptu singing was just a taster for the opera that we were going to see that night but I had no idea that I had just met the star performer herself soprano Yasko Sato.

A brief glance at Yasko’s website (details below) reveals her talent,

‘After graduating and obtaining a doctorate with highest honors at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Yasko Sato completed her training in Italy with Raina Kabaivanska…She thereafter explored the scope of the role of Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly, publishing a work in Japan entitled “Madama Butterfly: evolution of a woman”, which investigates the ultimate intentions of the composer through the analysis of the evolution of the character among the various revisions of the work.’

After watching the Madama Butterfly at the new opera theatre in Florence my day got even better when we were invited to meet the whole cast back-stage and chat about the performance which was the last of this particular run. Considering they had all just finished a full opera the singers and actors were delightful even sharing chocolates, cake and prosecco. We left the theatre by strolling across the stage and out the back stage exit. After arriving back in Lucca in just under one hour, I walked back home with Puccini’s arias still ringing in my head and reflecting on a very magical day in Florence, not forgetting carrying the beautiful gift of expensive perfume and soap courtesy of Gianluca and Santa Maria Novella.