It's viva la diva, by George

Marian McGuinness resorts to impromptu opera to enjoy a musical masterpiece.

We were late for the dress rehearsal of Puccini's opera Gianni Schicchi. Even though my husband and I had left ample time to walk from our hotel on the northern side of Siena to the gothic church of Sant'Agostino, where the rehearsal was taking place, we hadn't factored in eliminating so many churches on so many hills trying to find it.

As I sucked on my asthma puffer, we could hear the orchestra tuning up. We had instructions not to be late as the maestro did not like interlopers once rehearsal had started. The massive doors at the front of the church were closed. And in front, as gatekeeper, stood Brunhilde. All she was lacking was a horned helmet, spear and thrusting breast-cups. “It's no use,” sighed my husband. “Nothing's getting past those boobs.” He was right.

Brunhilde stood with her arms across her chest and her hair screwed into a towering bun. She glowered at us. “Chiuso (closed) ... chiuso,” she boomed.

But I was not going to be defeated by a Viking lookalike. Others were getting through the door, even if they were the soundies and lighting guys setting up for opening night.

I put my acting skills into gear. I mimed playing a few instruments and then jumped around and started conducting with an imaginary baton. I pointed to myself, saying “bambino” and “mamma and papa”, hoping she would let us in after realising, with the help of my charade, that our son was the student conductor for the opera. A young man was resting against the railing next to Brunhilde. He smiled. Must be one of the soundies having a break, I thought, and damn ... how gorgeous. How George Clooney.

Slightly put off by his presence, I continued in my quest to get into the rehearsal. I knew the main aria – it was famous.

As a last resort I began my pathetic, Aussie “la ... la” version of it. Mr Gorgeous seemed amused. He broke out into a smile and, warding off Brunhilde with his open palms, motioned for us to follow him inside.

Holding his finger to his lips, he ushered us into a pew towards the back. As we slid along the kneeler, he disappeared. The orchestra began the opening movement.


On cue, the baritone, on loan from the famous Rome Opera, strode from the back of the church, down the aisle and on to the stage.

Those tight jeans, that pec-hugging shirt, that full-bodied-glass-of-Brunello voice.

That Mr Hunky, gorgeous George Clooney-lookalike ... soundie?

After singing the last phrase of his opening, he strode back down the aisle and, with a cheeky bow and a wink, greeted me with a wry, “Buongiorno, signora.”

Be still, my beating heart.