From the vast Arena di Verona to the ancient Terme di Caracalla in Rome, it seems every città e villaggio has something musical simmering on the mid-summer stove. Planning and punctuality might not always be Salzburg perfekt organisiert but that’s all part of the fun and charm of bella Italia.  

Castello di Magione © Sagrivit srl
Castello di Magione
© Sagrivit srl
Many smaller festivals, frequently al fresco, focus on Baroque and Early Music in spectacular historical settings with fabulous food and outstanding local wines as a gourmand-pleasing bonus. The programming is often inventive and the music generally of a high standard but it is the totality of the experience which makes these insider-tip events in Italy so enjoyable.

Topping the musical menu is Angela Hewitt’s Trasimeno Music Festival in the idyllic Umbria region of central Italy, which opens on 28 June. The première performance is by the Zürich Chamber Orchestra with Sir Roger Norrington and the Festival Director herself at the piano. The venue is the splendid Basilica di San Pietro in Perugia which dates back to the 10th century. Further Festival performances take place in the crenellated Crusader castle of the Knights of Malta in the nearby hilltop hamlet of Magione.

Anne Sophie van Otter and the Brooklyn Rider String Quartet perform more recent music on 30 June. Due to the Director’s origin, Canada’s National Day will be celebrated in the exquisite Teatro Morlacchi in Perugia with a pot-pourri of music for four pianos, featuring Canucks of the keyboard Janina Fialkowska, Angela Hewitt, Jon Kimura Parker and Charles Richard-Hamelin. Gala dinners with delectable local wines usually proceed the concerts. The Festival closes with a Scarlatti and Beethoven recital, again by the indefatigable Hewitt.

Santuario di Mongiovino, Panicale © Odhecaton
Santuario di Mongiovino, Panicale
© Odhecaton
There must be something magnetic about the portals of Perugia, because after the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, the second oldest music Festival in Italy is the Sagre Musicale Umbra founded by Duke Guido Carlo Visconti di Modrone (uncle of Luchino) in 1937. Artists who have been lured to the Umbrian hills over the years include Herbert von Karajan, Carlo Maria Giulini, Maria Callas, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and just last year, Martha Argerich.

Although based primarily in Perugia and utilising historic local venues such as the Cathedral of San Lorenzo, the Basilica di San Pietro and the Teatro Morlacchi, Sagre Musicale Umbra concerts also take place further afield, for example in the superb Santuario di Mongiovino in Panicale which is a perfect setting for Paolo da Col’s remarkable “Odhecaton” vocal ensemble. The Basilica di San Francesco in Assisi provides an even more spiritually uplifting venue. This historic Festival occurs throughout September.

Antonio Vivaldi died in 1741 and for nearly 200 years his music was essentially forgotten. It wasn’t until Alfredo Casella inaugurated the “Vivaldi Week” in 1939 that interest in the “Red Priest” revived and surprisingly not in Venice but in the exquisite Tuscan town of Siena. Using the seemingly unlimited largesse of Count Guido Chigi Saracini, Casella created the Settimana Musicale Senese which apart from its resurrection of Vivaldi, has an impressive history. Internationally acclaimed musicians such as Daniel Barenboim, Maurizio Pollini, Mischa Maisky and Matthias Goerne have all appeared in the imposing Palazzo Chigi Saracini. This year’s Chigiana International Festival runs from 7 July- 31 August with a diverse roster of composers and performers including the Orchestra della Toscana and Salvatore Accardo. Concerts are held in the sybaritic surrounds of the palazzo, the stupendous 13th-century Romanesque cathedral of Siena, the delightful 500-seat Teatro dei Rozzi and other attractive venues around town.

Cathedral of Siena © Terre di Sienna Tourist Office
Cathedral of Siena
© Terre di Sienna Tourist Office
Just down the gentle Tuscan slopes lies the halcyon Val d’Orcia, which was not only the location for The English Patient but is home to the renowned Brunello di Montalcino vineyards. It is also the site of the splendid gardens of the Villa La Foce where the Incontri in Terra di Siena Festival takes place between 29 July and 5 August. The immaculately maintained gardens were designed by English landscaper Cecil Pisent and provide a magical backdrop for this year’s broad selection of music under the direction of Alessio Bax.

A bit like Glyndebourne without the Wallops, this stylish Festival began in 1989 and was for many years under the aegis of Yehudi Menuhin. Current Board Members include Maxim Vengerov, Maurizio Pollini, Vladimir Ashkenazy and actor Colin Firth. The Financial Times described La Foce as “One of the most enjoyable musical experiences of the Tuscan summer”. Complimenti!

La Foce gardens © Incontri in Terra d Siena
La Foce gardens
© Incontri in Terra d Siena
A recent addition to the late-summer musical calendar is the Festival Barocco Alessandro Stradella. Stradella’s life was as fascinating as his music was groundbreaking and in many ways he was a cross between Casanova and Caravaggio. A series of scams against the Church and a habit of seducing the wives of his wealthy patrons led to a life virtually on the run. Stradella came to an untimely demise in Genoa in 1682 at the hands of paid assassins acting on behalf of a not so sanguine cuckold.

The Festival was originally held in Stradella’s nondescript little home town of Nepi but will expand in 2017 to nearby Viterbo, the fabulous Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola and significantly, the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome.  

The opening performance on 2 September will be the opera La Doriclea with Joyce DiDonato’s favourite Baroque musicians, Il Pomo d’Oro, led by the Festival’s Artistic Director Andrea de Carlo.

Viterbo ancient walls © Guida touristica Viterbo
Viterbo ancient walls
© Guida touristica Viterbo
Maestro de Carlo with his dedicated “Mare Nostrum” Early Music ensemble is the motivating force not just behind the FBAS but the entire Stradella reawakening. The Festival is part of a broader “Stradella Project” which has already made acclaimed recordings of the oratorios Santa Pelagia and Santa Editta for the prestigious Arcana label.

Early Music experts predict that the Stradella revival will be every bit as significant as the Vivaldi renaissance 80 years ago and the Festival is the chance for anyone curious about this long neglected composer to hear his music before it becomes as ubiquitous as the “Quattro Stagione”.

Ci vediamo in Italia!