I sip a glass of prosecco on my rooftop terrace with a book by my side, but nothing can divert my attention from the sunset view of Lake Como and the mountains beyond. Opera music drifts from my neighbor’s suite, which is fitting, given the setting.
I am at the former home of 19th-century opera diva Giuditta Pasta. The mansion, which Pasta called Villa Roda, is the centerpiece of the CastaDiva Resort, the first five-star hotel to open on Lake Como in a century. Pasta lived here in the town of Blevio, about 30 miles north of Milan, from 1830 until her death in 1865. During that time, she collaborated with the composer Vincenzo Bellini, who, according to legend, caught her attention by sailing across the lake from Moltrasio to reach her villa. Pasta also hosted other cultural luminaries of the era, including composer Gioachino Rossini and the French author Stendhal.
When the property was purchased in 2002 by a Como native (now the hotel’s co-owner, who wishes to remain anonymous), the villa was a dilapidated wreck that had been vacant for 65 years, its historical significance all but forgotten. The discovery of a personal letter and a pillow monogrammed with Pasta’s initials led the owner to realize he had acquired her home. It is now one of nine villas, three historic and six newly built, on the 6.4-acre property.
Pasta’s restored villa—its colonnaded façade inspired by Milan’s La Scala opera house—has been decorated by designer Erasmo Figini in a bold style that evokes the romance of life in the theater. He commissioned local artisans to replicate 19th-century furniture that he upholstered in rich fabrics in shades of persimmon, olive, and gold. My suite’s living room is connected to the bedroom by a long hallway lined on one side by mirrored, gilded closets and on the other by a wall of sliding glass doors. Gracing the walls are portraits of Pasta, with her almond-shaped eyes, and the debonair, curly-haired Bellini.
I have entered their world, and I can hardly wait to attend a performance at Como’s 198-year-old opera house, Teatro Sociale. Before heading off to Bellini’s La Sonnambula, I dine on squid-ink ravioli stuffed with lobster at the resort’s restaurant, L’Orangerie.
CastaDiva’s special relationship with the theater offers guests VIP access. When I arrive, I am ushered backstage to meet the director, Massimo Lambertini. I peek at the set as costumed actors mill about, chatting and laughing, before the performance. During intermission, Barbara Minghetti, the theater’s president, invites me to the Pasta Hall, a spacious room decorated with portraits of the soprano and Bellini. Minghetti points out that Pasta probably would have been more famous than Maria Callas had she lived in the age of electronic recordings. “She is our diva, our star of Como,” says Minghetti.
As I sit in my private box feeling rather noble, soprano Jessica Pratt hits the high notes of a lilting aria in act 1 of La Sonnambula. Bellini was living in Como when he wrote the 1831 opera for Pasta to show off her incredible range. The work was hailed as his first masterpiece. I close my eyes and try to imagine Pasta’s voice, which writer Stendhal described as “beauty, always alive with that unmistakable, burning energy, that extraordinary dynamism that can electrify an entire theater.”
After the final curtain falls, I return to CastaDiva and ascend a grand spiral staircase to my suite. The music has faded, but in these surroundings, I remain under its spell. —Laurie Kahle
CastaDiva Resort, Blevio 39/031-32-511. From $460. This appeared in the March/April 2011 issue.