What made you choose UC Davis?
The UC Davis music department has a terrific team of scholars and artists and many talented and motivated students. Right now, in my personal ranking, it is one of the top three music departments in the world. If I were a music student, either an undergraduate or graduate, I would be very proud to be at UC Davis. The performing spaces and facilities, the Pitzer Center and Mondavi Center, are amazing and, even without counting the proximity of San Francisco and Sacramento, there are a lot of opportunities here to listen to good music. As an opera scholar, I understand this is an area that is still growing, but we are on fertile ground.
What inspires you?
What inspires me most is the interest and enthusiasm of my students and colleagues. We cannot do research in a vacuum. Academic work can be isolating, and when that happens, it is the end of academia. Academia should be a place where people exchange ideas, show intellectual generosity, respect and care for each other.
What research are you currently working on? What makes it unique?
I am working on a project about opera and food. I study both the representation of conviviality in opera and past rituals of opera-going involving eating and drinking at the opera house. This project is opening up new perspectives insofar as it is the first “gastro-musicological” approach to opera. UC Davis is a good place for this kind of daring research, considering how valued the study of food and wine is on our campus. I am also working on a project on violin concertos and sonatas by an 18th century composer and violinist, Giuseppe Tartini. It involves the study of rare manuscripts from the era at UC Berkeley, which is not too far.
If you could impart one piece of advice to our undergraduates seeking a course of study/career path, what would it be?
I would tell them to believe in themselves, in their dreams, but also to seek help and advice; reaching a healthy balance between self-confidence and trust in peers and mentors. As a first-generation college graduate and faculty, I could not rely on my immediate family for guidance on how to orient to higher education. My “Irish-twin” sister (we were born less than a year apart) majored in Chinese language and culture at university in Venice and graduated one year before me. When we started we were both clueless, but we made our parents both sad and proud to see us pack our bags to go to college. After I graduated from my university in Rome, and before going to graduate school at Cornell University, I took private lessons from a great scholar, Harvard emeritus professor Nino Pirrotta, who was living in Rome. I did not know him personally, but I knew his work well, and finding myself unemployed, I asked him if I could go visit him and talk about musicology. He was almost 90 and still passionately working on a research project involving representations of music in Renaissance maiolica (pottery). He taught me at least one thing: that musicological research, and research in general, is not simply a job, and that it gives immediate gratification even without immediate results. Research is a life mission, a passion that guides us throughout our lives, before, during and after institutional employment. I hope our undergraduate and graduate students will not let their worries and anxieties about a career path and employment perspectives stop their aspirations and dreams.