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Madama Butterfly [Photo by Foto TABOCCHINI courtesy of Sferisterio Opera Festival]
06 Aug 2009

On deception at Sferisterio Festival, Macerata, Italy

L’inganno is this year’s theme at the Sferisterio Festival in Macerata, Italy.

Sferisterio Opera Festival

Click here for program and cast information

Above: Madama Butterfly

All photos by Foto TABOCCHINI courtesy of Sferisterio Opera Festival


Derived from the Spanish word engañar (to deceive), inganno (deception) is presented by new productions of Don Giovanni, Madama Butterfly and La traviata, by the world premiere of Matteo D’Amico ‘s Le Malentendu,by Handel’s oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo sul disanganno and by Ugo Betti’s play Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia.

The production of Don Giovanni was specifically designed for the Teatro Lauro Rossi, a 400-seat gem from the 17th century. Staging is simple: two black walls, three large Plexiglas mirrors and an oversized white bed. Two of the mirrors are placed so that the theater’s boxes and loggione become an integral part of the scene. The third mirror is suspended from above showing the stage and bed. The metaphor is clear: sexual drive animates the protagonist and lives in all the other characters, but it is also a motor to deceiving, and cheating on, one another. However, this choice is not meant to narrow everything down to sex and to the cheating and deception involving sex. Don Giovanni’s tragedy descend from his determination to achieve happiness and power only through deceiving and cheating by the means of sex, irrespective of how this is obtained . This staging requires young, handsome and athletic singers with, of course, excellent voices and experience.

Pier Luigi Pizzi’s direction demands, literally, an acrobatic performance for many singers but acting was always of very high quality. The singers chosen for the production are all accustomed to large theatres in Italy and abroad (e.g., La Scala and the Met) and not to a small theater such as the Teatro Lauro Rossi. As a consequence, they sang too loudly. A stentoreous Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Don Giovanni) and a stubbornly passionate Carmela Remigio (Donna Elvera) were the stars. Both had perfect vocalisation and diction. Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna) tended to scream such that her diction was not understandable. Marlin Miller (Don Ottavio) had difficulties with the upper range. The remaining performers were good but not excellent. The music director, Riccardo Frizza, should have provided suitable guidance in establishing a proper balance. In addition, his conducting was deficient because of the lack of pathos and of the uncertain tempi throughout the performance.

Don-Giovanni_Macerata_Ildeb.gifScene from Don Giovanni

In the second opera in this series, Madama Butterfly, Pinkerton deceives little Butterfly by not taking his wedding vows seriously, by abandoning Butterfly and by subsequently marrying Kate. Performed at the open-air Arena Sferisterio di Macerata, Daniele Callegari, conducting the Orchestra Regionale delle Marche (the same orchestra as in Don Giovanni), evoked a remarkably better musical experience. We feel the subtleties of Puccini’s score (the familiar 1906 Opéra Comique version): from the Japanese folk melodies to the enthralling lyricism; from the matter of fact conversational pieces to the tragic denouement. The Coro Lirico Marchigiano “Vincenzo Bellini”, under the direction of David Crescenzi, ingeniously appear in Act II as a long procession on the 130-meter stage.

The sets and direction propose a “visionnaire” Japan – inspired by Pierre Loti’s blend of narrative and travelog. In front of the enormous wall of the Sferisterio is Butterfly’s white, spotless little house in a garden adorned by a cherry tree. By Act II, the verdant garden is transformed into a barren landscape. The widely-acclaimed Raffaella Angeletti performed the title role. Despite her petite physique, she possesses a powerful, yet delicate voice. She easily traverses the tonal range demanded by the role, her legato and phrasing being particularly noteworthy. Massimiliano Pisapia performed a credible Pinkerton with a generous tenor voice supported by a clear timbre. Although he is technically a “tenore spinto”, he has an excellent register particularly in the central tonalities. Claudio Sgura (Sharpless) and Annunziata Vestri (Suzuki) are deserving praise for their performances.

Madama-Butterfly_Macerata.gifScene from Madama Butterfly

The 61-year old Mariella Devia appeared as the protagonist in this production of La traviata, a role portraying a youngish consumptive. Nonetheless, she was magnificent, without the slightest sign of fatigue. She turned from bel canto in the first act, to hectic realism in the second act and to the pale voice of the third act. Alejandro Roy was an effective Alfredo with a big voice displaying good phrasing and a remarkable flexibility in the upper extension. On the other hand, the trim, athletic Gabriele Viviani was barely credible as Alfredo’s father, especially in the dramatic scene and concertato at the end of the second act.

Traviata_Devia-Roy.gifScene from La traviata

Violetta is on stage during the overture where the opera seemingly unfolds as a long flash back of the dying protagonist’s life. Her guests resemble ghosts. At the insistence of censors, the opera was originally set in and around Paris circa 1700. This production is set in Paris circa 1880-1890 (the Third Republic) not 1853 (the Second Empire) when the work was first performed. We smell the perfume (and the opium) of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things Past). It is not a realistic staging. For example, in the second act, Flora’s guests wore their large hats throughout the party—a symbol of the strong conventions of the upper class of the Third Republic. But this was not the custom at that time. Mariotti’s musical direction kept a good balance between the pit and the stage. It was effective, innovative and passionate in the first act overture and in the third act prelude. The remainder of the performance, however, was merely ordinary. Overall, this was not a noteworthy production or performance.

Giuseppe Pennisi –based on the July 23rd, 24th and 25th performances.

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