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Prog Goes Italian With Tarja

Holly Wright travels to Florence to chat with Tarja and watch a screening of her new classical cross-over DVD Beauty And The Beat

Prog has flown off to Florence for the premier of Tarja's new DVD... and indulged in a spot of gelato while we're at it.

There comes a time in every rock star's life when they want to push the boat out, whether that's parading a monolithic inflatable pig through the O2 Arena or covering Led Zeppelin with a full symphonic orchestra. Opting for the latter is Tarja Turunen who last year undertook an ostentatious production with long-term collaborator, drummer Mike Terrana. For those not lucky enough to see the tour for themselves Beauty And The Beat is now available to watch in the comfort of your own sitting room. Putting aside the concerns of the Environment Agency for a moment Prog has flown off to Florence for the premier of the DVD... and indulged in a spot of gelato while we're at it.

"I live one hour from here, near the beach," Terrana says. "Lucky bastard," says Turunen echoing everyone's thoughts. Indeed, the setting for a premier couldn't be more auspicious. The epicentre of the Renaissance, housing masterpiece's from Michelangelo and da Vinci to Giotto and Botticelli, not to mention it's famed architecture in various shades of terracotta, Italy's Tuscan capital is a decadent but very fitting place to watch a DVD and if it's good enough for Terrana then it's good enough for Prog.

The day starts with a chinwag with the stars in the hotel's less than salubrious conference room. Terrana in his signature bleach blonde Mohawk, Turunen in a svelte black number. Both are amiable and in high spirits (it's a gorgeous day outside and hey, we're in Florence). We chat about the Beauty And The Beat tour, the hurdles they overcame to achieve the production, the selection process for the orchestras and conductors and drumming to classical - all of which you can read in the next issue of Prog - before we're politely ushered out for Finnish Radio Rock.

There's time before the screening of the film to explore a little of what Florence has to offer so unperturbed by the label's public transport catastrophe the day before (involving a ticket collector, a policeman and a lot of bureaucratic nonsense) Prog hops on the number 22 bound for the city's cultural hub. The best way to explore Florence is on foot and from this vantage point we marvel at the imposing Duomo, cross a plethora of operatic street artists and aim for the Ponte Vecchio festooned in pokey, glimmering jewellery shops. There's even time for a gelato by the Arno river but what of the multitudinous flavours to opt for? Prog goes for Tiramisu. Well, when in Tuscany... We are joined by Terrana, Turunen and her husband and daughter (who is besotted with Terrana's drum skins and shows early signs of a fledging drum career) for dinner.

After a hearty feast of Italian fare the nearby Puccini Theatre is our destination. Here we watch the DVD on a screen bigger than any in-home entertainment system and with sound that makes hairs stand on end. This intimate screening showcases Beauty And The Beat in all it's glory - the soulful soprano, Terrana's earth quaking beats, a collection of top notch musicians and a choir to add even more verve to the proceedings. The setlist is mostly classical numbers (Puccini, Dvorak, Bach, Strauss. The list goes on) with a few of Tarja's own thrown into the mix and even some rock covers, the highlight undoubtedly being the Led Zeppelin medley.

Watching the show, regardless of it being on the big screen, two things occur to us. 1) What talented people these stars are 2) this is how music works - listening out for cues, observing that nod from the conductor, the symbiosis of musical architecture. This is where it all began and 300 years later we're still using it as blueprint for rock, prog and heavy metal. It might sound like an Alan Partridge idea (Arm Wrestling with Chas & Dave, anyone?) but Beauty And The Beat makes perfect sense.

(You can read the full interview with Tarja in Prog 47, on sale July 2)

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