Music: Roman Holiday

Vittorio Abbati, a perfume salesman, had always wanted to lead a symphony orchestra. He spent nearly all he could save on phonograph records. At 52, he owned 1,500. For 15 years, standing on a leopard skin in front of his gramophone, he would wave a baton at an orchestra that wasn't there. Eyes closed, jaws set, he would signal with palm upraised to the imaginary brasses, pout at the piccolos, bend to the cellos. He knew the scores of several symphonies by heart.

Last week in Rome, the cellos that Vittorio Abbati bent to were no longer imaginary. He had spent 200,000...

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