These past two weeks have made me realize the incredible connections that the IES Abroad program has established in Milan, specifically regarding music. Opera was invented in Italy so it is much more prevalent in Italian culture than American culture. In addition, one of the five most prestigious opera houses in the world, La Scala, is in the center of Milan. Being aware of all these facts, I was already expecting to broaden my knowledge and understanding of opera by coming to Milan. However, my expectations have been surpassed! Not only are the teachers incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their respective areas of studies, but the program has found a way to take the learning experience for students outside of the classroom. Two weeks ago, we all went to Lake Como to see the premiere of a modern opera, Ettore Majorana, written and directed by my teacher! The entirety of the trip was paid for by our program and it opened our eyes to a whole new side of opera, a more contemporary one, which none of us had seen before. Our teacher also showed us the backstage and explained a lot of technical things about the action going on behind the scenes to put the opera together.
Just last week, we were given the opportunity to see an opera, Tamerlano, at La Scala for a different class. Our program is planning on taking us to La Scala at least three more times, and this is all made possible thanks to our teachers and music director who over the years have all made important connections in the musical world of Milan. Most people would consider themselves lucky to be able to attend this beautiful opera house just once in their life, but thanks to the IES Abroad music program, I will have gone a minimum of four times in just three months!
There are many days when we take field trips instead of sitting in a classroom. For example, we once did a walking tour of every important place related to Giuseppe Verdi, one of the world’s most famous composers, who had a very special relationship with Milan throughout his life. Last week we also went to the museum of La Scala with our teacher who knows so much that he is able to recites more information than any museum program or tour guide could provide. I really enjoy this approach to learning because I feel as though being able to visualize what we learn in class makes me understand and remember the information so much better than attempting to learn it by heart from notes or textbooks. I have also noticed that this way of teaching has made us connect with our teachers much more than I have with those at Northwestern.
Another great opportunity made possible by the IES Abroad music program is the Coro Verdi. This is the second-best choir in Milan, after that of La Scala, and we were given the chance to try out for it at the beginning of the semester. The choir is made up entirely of adults, and rehearsals are from 7:30 to 10:30 on week nights in the center of Milan. This is a very big commitment, but as an undergraduate music student, it is also a chance you shouldn’t pass up. The conductor of the Coro Verdi is a tough but efficient woman who, rumor has it, may be asked to be the next conductor for La Scala’s choir. Everyone in the choir was kind and welcoming to us, and we covered a repertoire that is way out of the ordinary for me: Prokofiev’s Cantata for the 20th anniversary of the October Revolution; a ten-movement work in Russian. Though rehearsals were long, they were not very frequent until the week of the concert, but the addition of the orchestra during that week made time pass rapidly. Friday night was the concert and that will mark my first performance in Italy!
Though IES Abroad is great, Milan itself deserves a lot of credit for making my time abroad an incredible experience! This weekend, we found a food truck festival which served every type of food one could imagine and all of it tasted delicious. As winter is now approaching, I got to enjoy one of the last sunny days sitting outside with my friends surrounded by people of all ages and listening to an outdoor music concert! I also went to a modern art museum next to the town hall which was free for the weekend to incite young people to come see the exhibits. To top off the weekend, I found a chocolate festival in Navigli. The canals were filled with little merchant tents that sold every type of chocolate, in all kinds of different shapes. What is great about Milan is that there is always something to do, whether it be another exhibition, a concert, or a new neighborhood to discover. Italians are spontaneous and have a very active social life; therefore, there are constantly more events to attend and sights to see. The best part is that most things here are very affordable. Food in supermarkets is cheap and this incites a lot of students to cook more than they would at home, however many restaurants are also inexpensive and serve a variety of food. All museums have student discounts and IES Abroad pays for all class field trips and extracurricular activities required by teachers. I think these factors have made a lot of students in the program hope to take this active mind set back home, and I surely hope to spend more time discovering Chicago once I return.
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<p style="margin-bottom:12.0pt">Hi! My name is Lily and I am a junior at Northwestern University studying voice performance (opera) and French. I was born in Paris and grew up in France before moving to America with my parents and my older brother. I have always liked traveling, specifically throughout Africa and Europe and now I’m really looking forward to discovering Milan! I think that as a European, I think I can offer a different perspective of the IES Milan program than an American student.<span style="text-autospace:none"><span style="font-size:16.0pt"><span style="font-family:"Times",serif"> </span></span></span></p>