It was a rare viola de gamba built in the 17th century. Sadly, the instrument was crushed after being forced into checked luggage by Alitalia Airlines.
We’ve heard airlines destroying guitars and flattening tubas. But this one takes the cake. The incident occurred earlier this month to viola de gamba virtuoso Myrna Herzog, regarded as a worldwide expert in viols.
Accordingly, Herzog is the owner one the rarest viola de gambas in the world. According to Herzog, the instrument was one two viola de gambas built in the early 1660s. Both instruments were created from the same tree — and actually, Herzog owns the pair.
Classical musicians with larger instruments typically reserve an extra seat to protect their instruments. That fers the greatest insurance against damage, because it’s basically as safe as a human.
So that was Herzog’s plan, and she purchased the extra seat 40 days in advance. She also arrived three hours early for her flight, per the instructions Alitalia Airlines (the flight — with a connection — was from Rio de Janiero to Tel Aviv; Herzog is a Brazilian-born Israeli).
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Unfortunately, Alitalia refused to allow the viola de gamba onto the flight, insisting that it was not permitted.
Apparently baby strollers and wheelchairs make it on, but larger instruments don’t. Or at least that was the ruling the Alitalia crew on the ground in Rio. Maybe they overbooked the flight — or just didn’t like Herzog (who knows).
So Herzog reluctantly checked the instrument.
That proved to be a serious mistake. When Herzog arrived on the other side, she couldn’t find her viola de gamba. Eventually, this came out:
What happened next was even worse.
According to Myrna Herzog’s Facebook account, Alitalia initially refused to release the instrument until she signed a release. After signing the release paperwork, the mangled instrument was presented.
(Without seeing the paperwork, we can only guess that Herzog was waiving her right to sue Alitalia for damages. By refusing to hand over the damaged instrument until she signed the document, Alitalia created extra pressure to sign the release without a proper review.)
After that, the musician couldn’t contact anyone at the airline.
In fact, it was only until an uproar emerged in the classical community that an Alitalia representative reached out. The reaction has included coverage across a number classical music sites, including classical.fm, with pictures the smashed instrument prompting outrage.
But Alitalia only fered partial compensation for the error. According to Herzog, the ‘reimbursement’ won’t cover the price the instrument or a new case (which was obviously smashed and useless).
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But there’s some good news. After the situation died down, Herzog reported that a repair was possible. The restructured instrument might have some playability differences, but at least it’s not dead.
Earlier this week, Herzog fered this detailed set answers to a barrage questions about the damaged instrument.
Here’s the letter.
AN OPEN LETTER regarding the damage the Lewis viol on Alitalia flights AZ673 and AZ806
“Before answering the many questions voiced over facebook, I wish to heartily thank all the amazing, outstanding people from different parts the world who generously fered support and help, with concern and empathy. I would like also to stress that no unfortunate event will ever change my great love and admiration for Italy, its people, culture, and music.