Posted by Allison Scola |
Villa Palagonia is a Baroque villa located in Bagheria, a town in Sicily, Italy near Palermo. The villa was built to be the country home of the fifth Prince of Palagonia, a baron under the realm of the King of Spain. In 1749, Ferdinando Gravina, the seventh Prince of Palagonia, commissioned over six hundred statues of monsters, fantastic characters, imaginary animals, knights, ladies, peasants, and musicians in order to decorate the outer walls and grounds of the estate. Goethe visited Villa Palagonia in 1787 and noted that it was remarkably unique, commenting that the statues were a menagerie of egos.
Today, only 72 of the peculiar statues remain. Each one seems to hold its own story or represents a caricature of someone we each may know.
As musicians, what fascinates me and guitarist Joe Ravo are, of course, the statues of musicians—specifically the instruments they are playing and the combinations of them. Not only do the players represented possess a lute-like mandola/bouzouki, a chitarra battente, a flute, and a tambourine—instruments common in Western European folk music of the 17th century, but they also hold a double bass-like violone, an early clarinet, some kind of eastern-Mediterranean bowed lyre, Persian and Asian drums, and maraca-like shakers—further-afield and rhythmic instruments that tell us that there was more to the parties the Prince hosted in the villa’s Hall of Mirrors than our history books lead us to believe.
My paternal grandmother, who immigrated to New York in the 1920s, grew up in the shadow of Villa Palagonia in Bagheria. It’s a place I’ve visited many times; a place that I find intriguing and inspirational. Bagheria is at the crossroads—between barons and peasants, between lemon orchards and fig orchards, between mountains and sea, between Europe and Africa, and between ancient mysteries and modern realities.
Eclectic, acoustic pop brushed with hues of Mediterranean folk is the avenue on which our new band Villa Palagonia perches—yet the side streets and dusty alleyways that we travel offer engaging timbres that are woven together by songs imparting tales of the old world and the new.
Joe Ravo is a versatile guitarist who has performed alongside the likes of Dave Brubeck and Stanley Turrentine and traveled around the world as a cultural ambassador for the US Department of State. Percussionist and drummer Dave Mancuso has been heard throughout the US in The Lion King, in the orchestra of Broadway’s Spamalot, and as a member of various New York ensembles.
I’ve (Allison Scola) performed at venues as grand as Shea Stadium and as intimate as my cousin Evelina’s patio in Bagheria—a place where North, South, East, West and humanity collide.