Carol Singing at Villa Wolkonsky

The evening of carol singing at the British Ambassador’s Residence, Villa Wolkonsky, was an outstanding event. For the British Ambassador, Jill Morris, whose tour of duty in Rome is drawing to a close, this was her last Christmas concert.

The residence is approached by a dramatically curving road that climbs uphill and sweeps past the awe-inspiring ruins of a 1st century Roman aqueduct. A silent witness to the passage of time,  it keeps its eternal watch over the garden. 

In the dark, rainy night, the villa is a blaze of Christmas lights. Steps lead up to a beautiful balustraded balcony and the entrance to the hall, where Pietro Annigoni’s iconic 1955 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at the age of twenty-eight is displayed. An air of mystery surrounds her as she stands, lost in thought, in the robes of the Order of the Garter.

We wait for a while in an elegant room, enjoying the strains of Christmas music from an adjacent room. Occasionally we catch the elusive scent of mandarin flowers drifting from the designer diffusers. The warm Christmas atmosphere envelops us. The evening promises well.

In the concert hall, lit by twinkling crystal chandeliers, the choirmaster introduces the Campion Quartet and the pianist. The programme consists of  traditional carols. The soprano who sings the solo parts has such a pure, ethereal voice that if we close our eyes we can almost imagine we are in a cathedral. Audience participation is carefully orchestrated: the men sing the king’s part in Good King Wenceslas, and the women sing the page’s responses.  For Hark the Herald Angels Sing, the choir regales us with Mendelssohn’s glorious descant.

As the choirmaster emphasises, it’s not God Rest Ye, Merry Gentlemen:  it’s God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. For years we have been labouring under the massive misapprehension that we wanted God to give those jolly, red-cheeked gents a chance to put their feet up. The importance of the comma cannot be overstated.

For The Twelve Days of Christmas we act out the words, but remain seated, while the choirmaster and the quartet guide us through the different actions: nimble lords a-leaping, maids vigorously a-milking, squatting geese a-laying, etc. The easiest gift is the five gold rings, though some of us are a little confused and fling all ten fingers in the air. 

Even our Ambassador, Jill Morris, joins in the frolics. The Italians guests study the words of the carols in their booklet and listen intently, but must be somewhat puzzled by the bizarre mimicry. Have the phlegmatic Brits lost their wits?

Addressing the audience in Italian, the Ambassador explains the UK tradition of opening our doors to carol singers and offering them a drink and a bite to eat if  they have performed well. Since we have all been “molto bravi”, she says, our efforts will be rewarded with a buffet supper and mulled wine. 

After her closing speech, applause breaks out and the choirmaster leads us all into a rousing rendition of For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow.

We thank the British Embassy for the invitations to the event. We are most grateful to our Ambassador for her generous hospitality and unstinting work on our behalf, particularly during the UK’s departure from the EU.  

Mille grazie, cara Ambasciatrice, e tanti auguri di felicità

Posted by Julie Dixon, Association Member