In July and August the Sferisterio Opera Festival is held in the 3,500 to 4,500 seat (depending upon each opera’s sets) Arena Sferisterio. It is a huge neoclassical arena erected in the 1820’s as a stadium for a form of handball by the architect Ireneo Aleandri. The orchestra pit is so wide that musicians at each end cannot hear each other. The first opera performed was Giuseppe Verdi’s Aida in 1921. It was promoted by the association “Società Cittadina” led by Count Pieralberto Conti. The arena was transformed into a real outdoor theatre with an enormous parabolic stage. The orchestra was placed immediately behind it and the seats were located around it. In the middle of the front sidewall was built a large door that allowed the entrance of the Egyptian conqueror. Posters were created by Verona’s official Aida employee Plino Codognato and the painter Emilio Lazzari. The opera, and its Triumphal March employed a lot of people (about one thousand props and also different animals such as horses and camels). Francisca Solari interpreted Aida and Alessandro Dolci sang the great tenor role in the robes of Radames. The hospitality of Macerata grew quickly and new ways were created to stay longer in the town, so the opera was repeated 17 times with more than seventy thousand appearances, a record never equaled. The next year the opera La Gioconda was sung. Until 1927 no more shows were performed at which time the famous tenor Beniamino Gigli sang a unique concert for invalids of the Great War.
After the Second World War until the sixties it was rare to have operas in the local “Bel Canto”. In 1967, Carlo Perucci, a San Benedetto (Marche) native, established the first stable local band with the song Circuito lirico delle Marche, so when he was in Macerata he asked the city hall to offer new spectacles. With enthusiasm the local administrators allowed him to offer new extraordinary contracts: Giuseppe Verdi’s Otello (with Del Monaco and Protty), Giacomo Puccini’sMadama Butterfly (with Antonietta Stella and Nicola ruggeri). Finally, on August 3, the musical season began and continues to today.
Overall it is very relevant, compared sometimes to the Italian famous Arena di Verona and Caracalla operas. During this period, about 28 years, when Carlo Perucci was artistic director, the “Sferisterio” Arena, because of its perfect acoustics, housed the most important international voices of bel canto. The ballets of Fracci and Nureyev were performed. The presentations of Bohème by Ken Russel in 1984 and Enrico Job’s Don Giovanni were memorable. Other outstanding shows were La Traviata and Lucia di Lammermoor, with stage design by Czech scenographer Josef Svoboda, Hugo De Ana’s Turandot and De Flò’s Faust and Tosca. In the late nineties, led by Orazi as artistic director, the most important singers of the world performed in the Macerata Opera, performing in both the Sferisterio and the Lauro Rossi theaters: Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo, Montserrat Caballè, Marilyn Horne, Fiorenza Cossotto, Ruggero Raimondi, Mariella Devia, Josè Carreras,Katia Ricciarelli, Renato Bruson, and Raina Kabaivanska.
Since 1990, some operas have been performed in the 550-seat Teatro Lauro Rossi following extensive renovation which was completed in 1989. Originally named the Teatro Condomini and built by Antonio Bibiena in 1767, it opened in 1774 with Pasquale Anfossi’s Olimpiade. In 1872, it was renamed for the musician Lauro Rossi who was born in the town.
This positive situation made the Sferisterio Opera a success. Three times by 1992 the organization won the “Franco Abbiati award of Italian musical Critics”. Other prestigious Italian lyric events reproduces Sferisterio’s events: Opera di Roma, Teatro Comunale di Bologna and La Scala di Milano.
2006 was the year of transformation led by the new artistic director Pier Luigi Pizzi. The summer event became a “Festival”. He gave all of his 50 years experience. Pizzi’s career as the opera’s director, designer, dresser earned many awards. The season started with a dominant theme that marks all the shows and their sets. The parabolic stage was recovered, reviving the old atmosphere of the Handball Stadium. In that year, Mozart’s 250th anniversary, the theme of “initiatory journey” opened with the Magic Flute by the Austrian musician. From that moment in every season the choice of operas was marked by a fil rouge theme, demonstrating the great intellectual vitality of opera: il Gioco dei Potenti in 2007 with Macbeth, Maria Stuarda, Norma and the gala dance with Roberto Bolle and Alessandra Ferri; “La seduzione” in 2008 when the two-time Oscar-winning citizen of Macerata, Dante Ferretti, was hired as director; L’inganno in 2009 with Don Giovanniand Madama Butterfly.
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