News from FRANQUE



“Composer, sculptor, painter, poet, prophet, sage – these are the makers of the after-world, the architects of heaven. The world is beautiful because they have lived. Without them, laboring humanity would perish.”

– James Allen, As A Man Thinketh


It’s the birth of a new year, new life, beauty and sensibilities. It’s a fresh start; a time to acknowledge that although there is sadness in the world and unspeakable situations, our commitment to freedom of expression and to artists (the “architects of heaven”) is eternal. It is a time to appreciate how art feeds our hearts, minds, bodies and senses.We are proud to announce a night of Opera here in Melbourne sponsored by Santa Maria Novella. This highly anticipated event is guaranteed to make the spine tingle, activate the tear ducts and inspire. Read on.

“Music, the greatest good that mortals know,

And all of heaven we have below.”

– Joseph Addison











Catherine de Medici is a true muse for so many reasons.


  • Scholars describe her as a “great creative artist”, who staged epic court festivals of art – often referred to as “spectaculars”.
  • Catherine is said to have taught the French how to eat with a fork, and introduced foods and dishes such as artichokes, cakes, cream puffs, custards, parsley, pasta, truffles and zabaglione.
  • She made women’s waists appear smaller after too much spaghetti al tartufo nero with the invention of the corset. (Not sure whether to love her or hate her for that!

The Medicis were great patrons of the arts in Florence and beyond. The clan staged one of the earliest opera performances at a Medici wedding. Opera’s birth in Florence marks a very important milestone in the development of music.

(Psssst: But we love CdM most of all for her for her passion for fragrance. With our senses we can directly connect with the spirit of Catherine de’ Medici. We thank her for being the inspiration and muse of perfumier Renato Bianco who created the exquisitely citrusy Acqua della Regina (Water of the Queen) that remains a Santa Maria Novella bestseller.)


Santa Maria Novella is a champion of Italian culture supporting a gorgeous array of artists, artisans and “architects of heaven”.


Two star performers of the Lucca Opera Festival, Mattia Campetti and Michelle Buscemi are in Melbourne for a special performance. Santa Maria Novella are proud sponsors of the evening.


Book your tickets (from $25-$91).


Franque: So how did the connection with SMN come about?

Mattia: The story is really like a fairytale. Last summer I was producing The Elixir of Love by Donizetti in Lucca and went to nearby Firenze (Florence) with Michelle and her parents (visiting from Australia) to the historical Profumeria di Santa Maria Novella. There I saw some bottles of Santa Maria Novella Alkermes liqueur that would have been ideal to put on stage for the opera. By chance I met Gianluca Foà (Santa Maria Novella’s commercial director). He was so enthusiastic and donated four boxes of Alkermes liqueur for the opera. I discovered in Gianluca, a great person, supporter of beauty and the arts, truly passionate in opera and he has also become a great friend.


Now a word from Gianluca Foà:

The meeting with Mattia confirmed to me the conviction that life has unknown roads and rules apparently dictated by the case. According to the guidelines decided by Eugenio Alphandery, president of Santa Maria Novella, we never advertise and instead invest the profits into the quality of the products. On the other hand we like to guest cultural events, art exhibitions and concerts; supporting such expressions of art somehow. Introducing to me the beautiful Michelle as his partner in life and work, Mattias told me that in a couple of days they would perform Donizetti’s The Elixir of Love in Lucca and would like to use our liqueur bottle in the scene as the famous elixir made by Dulcamara. I liked his idea and enthusiasm and I decided right away to cooperate, never imaging this could be the first brick of a future collaboration (Michelle and Mattia performed the Christmas concert in our historical store in Florence) and a nice friendship made of songs, laughs, good food and excursions in the beautiful countryside.


Franque: Mattia, you have just announced two of Australia’s most celebrated singers of Italian opera will join you in concert at The Athenaeum.  

Mattia: We are very proud to announce the participation of the tenor Rosario La Spina, the mezzo soprano Milijana Nikolic and pianist Dario Tondelli. Brisbane-based, Rosario and Milijana sing all over the world. As part of their international educations, they both studied at the Accademia Teatro all Scala in Milan. Like Michelle and me, they are partners on the stage and also in the life.




















Franque: Why do Italians love opera so much?

Mattia: I think, because is a part of our culture. Opera is the communion of all the arts: music, drama, sing, dance, paint, sculpture… a full show that has mirrored the taste and the mode through the ages.

What is the best reaction an audience member has had to your singing?

Mattia: Well… I remember a kiss… I must have been in a good shape that night!

Michelle: Crying always touches me but one in particular a man with Alzheimer’s disease actually started to respond to the music and started moving his hand to conduct after being in total oblivion for five years. I love watching children’s reactions either they squirm and block their ears or they sit in total awe.

Franque: How have you chosen the arias for the concert at the Athenaeum?

Mattia: In the first part of the concert we will perform arias and ensembles of the greatest Italian composers, with particular regards to Giacomo Puccini (I grew up few steps from his home in Lucca). In the second part we will perform the most beautiful Italian songs.

Franque: Why did you become an opera singer?

Mattia: I was only 14 when I went to see Turandot in Firenze, an amazing and unforgettable production. That changed my life. I became completely immersed in the world of opera and when I started to sing. My teacher was encouraging, then I debuted in concerts and opera productions, from there I never stopped to follow my inspiration.

Michelle: After being introduced to musicals at a young age I had a strong desire to be on the stage. My voice just went that way. My first singing teacher was an opera singer and it went in that direction. The first opera I saw was Opera Australia’s La Boheme. When Mimi arose in her aria…” ma quando vien lo sgelo, il primo sole è mio… Also when I was younger I would time myself to see how long I could hold high notes for. I knew even as a child.

Franque: What are your favourite SMN products?

Michelle: I would have to say Acqua di Sicilia, the Melograno soap, and also the beautiful Pot Pourri Wax Tablets.

Mattia: My favourite products are the Melograno cologne; the best soap Tabacco Toscano; the best shaving product Contro il Fuoco del Rasoio. And a must of SMN is the historical pot-pourri.

Franque: What is your favourite place for coffee in Melbourne?

Mattia: Pellegrini… like being in Italy.

Franque: Is there a piece of music you both most love to sing together?

Mattia: Don Giovanni, so every time that we perform I must try to seduce her… but at the end…

Michelle: The duet from The Magic Flute. Papagena, Papageno!

Franque: Salt in bread or no salt in bread?

Mattia: Really depends where you are but a bit of salt is always fine. Michelle agrees.

Franque: Do you like Vegemite?

Michelle: Yes. I’m a happy little vegemite!

Mattia: I must be really hungry to open the jar.

Franque: Ferrari or Ducati?

Michelle: Ferrari.

Mattia: Me too.

Franque: Favourite dish to cook together at home?

Michelle: A good one is pasta, aglio, olio and pepperoncino.

Franque: Why do you think opera is such a sensory experience?

Mattia: It is an amazing experience that you can get only live. From a stereo you can enjoy the beautiful melody… but live you get all the power of the resonance of a body (and instrument) that is put in resonance with another body.

Michelle: I agree, it’s a vibration that travels through your body.


In case you weren’t sure about the power of opera, here is the science to back it up. Watch: Stephen Fry Hosts “The Science of Opera,” a Discussion of How Music Moves Us Physically to Tears

“Opera is well said to be the speech of angels. In fact, nothing among the utterances allowed to man is felt to be so divine. It brings us near to the infinite.”

– Thomas Carlyle

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