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La Fenice
25 May 2009

Italian Opera on the Road

You want to see Opera as the Italians do it? Go to Beijing, Tokyo, Savonlinna and Wiesbaden

Italian Opera on the Road


The weeks after the end of the winter and spring “seasons” and at the start of the summer festivals are those when the Italian opera houses are in a better financial position to tour abroad. Opera-goers abroad can see, and assess, opera as the Italians do it. Four of the 12 major opera houses are in dire financial straits. Although the tours normally pay for themselves and bring home a net profit, their artistic programs are inadequate to make them reliable partners of foreign houses and impresarios.

There is a strong demand for Italian opera staged and sang by Italians, especially in the Far East. I remember Donizetti’s Roberto Devereux staged in a Seoul movie house in 1973. While the staging was elementary, the Korean cast and singers were up to good standards. Recently I arranged a tour of the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale di Spoleto to ten Provincial Capitals of Japan, which included 17 performances of Traviata based on the 1953 La Fenice production designed by Nicola Benois for Maria Callas. It helped fill a hole in our accounts.

Asia is again the area to where the best Italian companies are heading. In the recently built Beijing National Center for Performing Arts — a modern house for an audience of 2000 — La Fenice brings a new glittering production of Madama Butterfly in the latter part of May. And Il Regio di Parma brings a juicy Rigoletto — a perfect “old style” grand staging originally created by Pierluigi Samaritani and updated by Stefano Vizioli.

La Scala will be at the center of attention of Japanese opera-goers in early September with two disparate productions of recent vintage. These are Zeffirelli’s colossal Aida (premiered in the 2006-2007 season) and Braunschwieg ‘s controversial Don Carlo (premiered in the 2008-2009 season). Spoleto Lirico Sperimentale will tour Japan in September.

No major company plans to the tour the US this year. However, the up-and-coming Orchestra Sinfonica-Fondazione Roma (the only private symphony orchestra in Italy) plans to tour the US in January 2010.

This July the well-run Teatro Massimo di Palermo will be at the Savonlinna Festival in a Finnish Middle Age Castle surrounded by forests and lakes — a real “must” for our Nordic readers. It will show a magnificent new production of I puritani (already performed in Palermo and Bologna and scheduled for next year in Cagliari and Beijing). Teatro Massimo has also scheduled the traditional double bill Cav/Pag.

The Parma Regio starts its program abroad in late May in Wiesbaden with the innovative production of Nabucco unveiled at the October 2008 Verdi Festival.

Giuseppe Pennisi

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