Two venues in northern Italy have recently hit the headlines. They are quite different, including their locations: One is in the small provincial town of Soncino, and the other in the center of Milan, the country's business capital. But they have two things in common: impeccable class, and Clay Paky lighting rigs.

Opened in 1970 on the banks of the Oglio by Roberto Torrisi, The River is well-established on the Italian club scene, attracting its faithful clientele from the surrounding provinces and even further afield. Never ones to rest on their laurels, partners Torrisi and Gerardo Ghitti (and Torrisi's son, Massimo) have ensured that The River remains a true leader by paying close attention to even the smallest details in this splendidly refurbished country villa. They offer patrons a homey, but sophisticated, atmosphere: paintings on the walls, embroidered curtains on the tall veranda windows, parquet flooring, and a welcoming fireplace for winter months.

But as aficionados know, The River is by no means just a tasteful, cozy spot--it's also renowned for its cutting-edge technology (and is also the home base of the winner of Italy's recent "Best Barman" contest). Says Ghitti, "Having given The River a strong, distinctive character, we always make certain we have the best show equipment on the market."

With that philosophy in mind, a recent demo by Antonello Barcella of Sangio Sound convinced Torrisi and Ghitti to install nine Clay Paky Stage Zoom 1200s. Says Torrisi, "Just a few minutes of seeing the units at work were enough to convince us to renew our rig. We've dealt successfully with Sangio Sound (a local Clay Paky dealer) for years, and Clay Paky scanners and effects units have always ensured trouble-free operation as well as great performance."

Installed in the dance floor's suspended ceiling, the Stage Zooms are backed up with a series of strobes and four Astroraggi Power effects fixtures. The club's experienced light jockey has endless lighting possibilities at his disposal: The CMY color-mixing system's nearly infinite palette, a frost effect with linear transition from a hard-edged beam to a diffused wash, and graphics effects such as static and rotating gobos, and rotating prisms that enable passages from subtle pastel washes to electrifying barrages.

During summer months, the windows leading to the garden are opened, and the venue regularly draws capacity crowds (some 3,000 plus). Outdoor facilities include a swimming pool, two bars, and two more dance floors, equipped with 16 Clay Paky Golden Scan HPE scanners.

The second exclusive venue opened recently in uptown Milan: La Banque, as the name suggests, was a turn-of-the-century bank and the designers have done a masterful job of transforming a cold, austere building into a sumptuous nightspot. It offers patrons the possibility of an intimate candlelit meal, an after-theatre drink (La Scala is just a stone's throw away), or a chat with friends in its refined setting. Facilities include a disco, two bars, and a restaurant, for which the cuisine is supervised by Antonio Piccinardi, author of dozens of books on cooking, and editor of well-known magazines such as Grande Gourmet. The menu, which varies with the seasons, is selected from the various regions of Italy and the 200-plus wine list is chosen with equal care.

The responsibility of restructuring the venue was entrusted to three notables: Milan architect Daniele Berretta, who has designed some of northern Italy's best-known clubs (including City Centre, Matisse, and Alcatraz); Claudio La Viola, noted for his work in the fashion and design world; and his sister Enrica, an architect with numerous important works to her credit.

Patrons enter the imposing reception area, encircled by mirrors, marble columns, and luxurious velvet curtains (held open by "embrasses" designed by Claudio La Viola), through a glass and etched-iron door, then pass through an octagonal salon which has already been used for fashion shows and similar events and features a huge glass cupola. The club's disco is in the basement (formerly the bank's vault) but when the need arises it can be rapidly transformed into a conference room, complete with two 42" plasma screens and an audiovisual system with an ISDN linkup for video conferences.

Ambient lighting throughout the venue, designed by Claudio La Viola in collaboration with Mario Nanni (owner of Via Bizzuno) highlights the wall fabrics, mahogany woodwork, and the architectural lines of the stairways, doors, bars, and the reception area in particular to great effect. More than 300 floor, wall, and ceiling recessed fixtures (some custom-built to La Viola's specs and manufactured by Nanni's firm) have been installed, using a combination of Osram Sylvania Dichroic, Halopar, and Dulux lamps.

Show lighting was installed by Light Video Sound of Milan, which is also the Clay Paky distributor for the Lombard and Piedmont regions. The firm's owner, Eliano Girola, reports, "In the restaurant, we installed eight Clay Paky Miniscan HPE HTI 300s and two Clay Paky V.I.P. (Versatile Image Projectors) HTI 300s with prism effects. In the disco, we put in four Miniscan HPE HTI 300s, eight Clay Paky Pin Scans (Halospot 12V/75W), two V.I.P. HTI 300s with wind/sea effects, 10 S.I.P. (Simple Image Projectors) 300s with fire effects, plus four Pulsar Monster strobes and three UV floods. The ground floor and the basement rigs each have their own Pulsar 108-channel Masterpiece desks." With a little help from contemporary technology, nightlife is alive and well in northern Italy.

Mike Clark is an Italy-based UK journalist specializing in lighting and entertainment technology, and can be reached at mclark@rimini.com.