by Ilaria Gelichi
1) Sylvia tell us something about yourself. How was your passion for the Italian language and culture born?
I come from a small town in South Carolina and I’m a musician, so I’ve always been attracted by sounds. As a young girl I played the piano, so I came to the language through music – Bellini, Donizetti, Verdi, etc… The 24 Italian hits, as we call them. Hearing Italian for me is like listening to music: the sounds are very beautiful.
2) Why did you decide to study Italian?
I decided to start the study because of music, which was my profession. I’m here also to improve my pronunciation, so that I can speak better Italian with Italians. For me it’s not difficult to pronounce Italian sounds, probably because at school we were taught the use of IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) – and because I have an ear for music, which is important also with languages. I think it’s very important to know the IPA if you want to start studying a language; nowadays young people do not know it anymore.
3) Why did you choose Florence?
Because Florence is where the music was born! We could mention the Florentine Camerata, a group of poets, musicians and intellectuals who, during the Renaissance, gathered under the patronage of Count Giovanni de’ Bardi to discuss about music and arts. Florence is not only the home town of music, but also of Italian language - with the masterpieces of Dante, Boccaccio and Petrarca.
4) How long have you been studying Italian?
I came to Italy – and specifically, Florence - to study Italian for the first time in 1980. I stayed 1 month in this beautiful city, trying to hear the sounds of the language in my ears. I’ve taught music for 25 years, so sounds are really important for me!
In the USA I studied Latin, then I had a wonderful teacher who taught me how to translate opera’s librettos. I understood the music fairly well but the root of the language, not as well as the music. So I learned a lot of ancient, difficult words, which I couldn’t use in everyday language. My objective is now to improve all these skills.
5) What do you like most of Italy and Florence?
Well, all the things I haven’t done yet! I will never forget my first visit to Uffizi, when I saw for the first time a painting by Botticelli. It was an incredible emotion. I like Florence because it’s the birthplace of a lot of things: language, art, Renaissance. I have to stay in Florence not only for the language, but also for the air you breathe here: there is something fascinating in it.
6) How did you know Istituto Europeo?
By accident. I had a student, a wonderful pianist who works in Germany, who had studied at Istituto Europeo in 2011. He told me “Why don’t you study here?”. I was in touch with an organization in Chicago, I got a scholarship and finally came here at the Istituto. I think that musicians and above all opera vocalist absolutely need to spend time in Italy, because hearing the language in its country it’s far better.
7) How was your experience at Istituto Europeo? Would you recommend it?
Fabulous, absolutely wonderful. I’ve studied Italian in other schools and Institutes, but I think that this is a better program. Here classes are small, we have a lot of attention and can ask questions. The atmosphere is so tranquilla here! You give the students the opportunity to do what they like. I would strongly recommend this experience.