The Italian festivals of music and dance are back. Last year most were saved in extremis during the summer lockdown lull, but this year there was time to come up with some more suitable, creative solutions.
Nimbly jumping through the hoops of restrictions has kept theatre and festival managements on their toes, though many of their inventive remedies to the current problems cannot be long-term: the pit of debt could get frightening deep if the pandemic continues for too long. However, some of the current rethinking has thrown up innovative new procedures from automating tickets sales to inhouse streaming, and managements in lockdown have been given time to reflect on the importance of making theatres more democratic, accessible, and inclusive and implement ways of facilitating change.
La Scala's intendant, Dominique Meyer has pushed forward a plan to make the opera house greener with initiatives to reduce the ten tonnes of paper that the theatre consumes each year (he's looking to introduce electronic music scores, for example) and cutting down on waste. Cost saving measures have become essential for all organisations, big and small, as they aim to stamp out inefficient behaviour. The future will almost certainly not be the same as the pre-pandemic situation when many of Italy's artistic directors were resting on their laurels, with their extravagant budgets and the presence of sold-out signs guaranteed, helped by the captive audiences of tourists: at Verona 50% of the spectators were foreign tourists, with 85% of those from nearby Germany and Austria.
Cecilia Gasdia, the artistic director of the Arena di Verona, says,
I am intrigued by the kind of approval this edition of the festival will receive… a kind of laboratory for the future.
Verona's opera season is welcoming 6,000 spectators to its vast Arena (which would normally host 13,576) for its 42 performances of six operas and five galas, including dance with Roberto Bolle & Friends. Compliance with the Covid safety requirements was helped by a permanent set consisting of 400 sq metres of LED walls and masked actors filling in for the chorus, which this year has been spread out on the marble steps at the side of the stage.
Teatro Carlo Felice, Genova's opera house, programmed its summer season, the Nervi Music Ballet Festival, in Nervi's coastal park with an audience of 1,000, like most large-scale outside events. It programmed a month of dance and music during July, from jazz to Stravinsky, from Svetlana Zakharova to well-known Italian popstars. The wide-ranging programme had something for almost everyone.
The 42nd edition of the Rossini Opera Festival opened last night, with Moïse et Pharaon, with scenery and costumes by 91-year-old Pier Luigi Pizzi. Since 6 August, spectators are required to produce the new Green Pass, a digital certificate that can be printed on paper or shown on an app, which is proof of vaccination or a negative molecular test or a rapid antigen test within the past 48 hours. The inside venues at Pesaro can be filled to 50% of their capacity.
Rome Opera's summer season concluded on 6 August, held, as last year, in the huge Circus Maximus instead of the customary Caracalla Baths which is a smaller (though still large) venue. With a 37% increase on last year's numbers, the box office takings were almost €2 million for the opera and ballet programme.
The many well-known annual events are complimented by the festivals of Baroque music in churches, like Milan's 15th International Festival of Early Music which runs during July and August, as well as the small-scale festivals in town squares, such as Cervo's six weeks of chamber music concerts (Festival Internazionale di Musica da Camera di Cervo) in the enchanting medieval town overlooking the sea in Liguria.
These are some of the events that I've been able to attend, and there are many more still underway. However, often overlooked are some high-quality festivals mounted through private initiative with little or no subsidy or sponsorship, where they must rely on ticket sales alone. The Balletto di Milano receives subsidies from the Italian state, the Lombardy region, and the Milan City Council for its activities, but its summer season was possible because of the resourcefulness of the company's directors, Carlo Pesta and Agnese Omodei Salè. It was organised in the beautiful grounds of Villa Figoli, just off the coast at Arenzano in Liguria, and the town council offered the company the use of the venue and stage.
The small company has been led by Pesta and Salè since 1998, with largely a touring calendar, taking it around Italy and on many international tours, especially in the area of the former Soviet Union; Pesta, before joining the La Scala Theatre Ballet, spent a year at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.
The twelve dancers for La Vie en Rose…Bolero that opened the season were hard-working, personable and communicative, and technically assured. The music for the first piece was a compilation of French chansons' greatest hits with songs by Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf, Jacques Brel, and Yves Montand. It was wittily choreographed by Adriana Mortelliti with crisp timing and many demanding passages, especially for the men. She also gave new steps to Ravel's Bolero which was impressively slick and brought the audience to its feet. An ideal programme for a summer evening under the palm trees.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.