An Unexpected Invitation

Aula Paola VI

Aula Paola Lobby

At choir practice during the week, we were offered invitations to a performance of music at the Aula Paolo VI, the auditorium within the Vatican walls where the Pope gives his public audiences. The performance was being held to commemorate the 96th birthday of Cardinal Bartolucci who taught music composition at the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music, was appointed ‘Maestro Perpetuo’ of the Sistine Chapel, and has composed a vast array of sacred music as well as an opera. I figured we were being given these invitations because our own Maestro del Choro (My Choral Debut) also teaches music composition at the Pontifical Institute and collaborated with Cardinal Bartolucci on some of his works. How this poor man ended up as our choir master is a mystery to me. It must have been an obligation he could not get out of as our choir is small, amateur, and of debatable talent (which is the only reason they accepted me as I have never sung in a choir before now).

The invitation specified ‘abito scuro’ as the dress code which means dark suits for the men and semi-formal wear for the women. So off we went dolled up in our finery, feeling lucky to enter the Vatican city gates which are manned by two Swiss Guards (see Pontifical Swiss Guards). Aula Paolo VI was designed by the engineer Pier Luigi Nervi who has been described as one of the most inventive exploiters of reinforced concrete of the 20th century. Completed in 1971, it does not look like much from the outside but the interior is vast and seats 6,300 people. The concrete, barrel vaulted ceiling is a marvel of engineering according to Fidz who is an engineer. Two gigantic, oval stained glass windows flank the sides and the lighting changes to cast a glow of different colours over the hall and stage which is dominated by a massive bronze sculpture representing ‘The Resurrection’.

The performance was executed by a full symphony orchestra, a large choir and seven operatic soloists. Needless to say it was spectacular and at the end, Cardinal Bartolucci came up on stage and said a few words. At 96, he is still quite agile and with it. His final words were to give thanks to the Lord for giving him and all of us the opportunity to hear his music in such auspicious surroundings. We couldn’t have agreed more!

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