On deception at Sferisterio Festival, Macerata, Italy

Derived from the Spanish word engaÒar (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

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. MyrtÚ 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

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 OpÈra 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 ¿ la recherche du
temps perdu
(In Search of Lost Time or Remembrance of Things
). 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

image_description=Madama Butterfly [Photo by Foto TABOCCHINI courtesy of Sferisterio Opera Festival]
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All photos by Foto TABOCCHINI courtesy of Sferisterio Opera Festival