Against all the odds, green shoots are starting to appear in the arid soil of the Covid-19 musical landscape. Italy is leading the way, announcing that the Ravenna Festival and the Rossini Opera Festival will go ahead this summer, with some big names bringing much-needed cultural solace to a country that suffered so badly as the first European nation to be struck by the pandemic. 

Rocca Brancaleone, Ravenna
© Montanari Tazzari

Ravenna will be first with a re-imagined programme, featuring some 40 events staged between 21 June and 30 July, beginning with an open-air concert conducted by Riccardo Muti in the city’s 15th-century fortress, Rocca Brancaleone. The full schedule is yet to be announced, but Bachtrack can reveal that Ivan Fischer and his Budapest Festival Orchestra will bring a programme including Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, Britten’s Les illuminations, and Haydn’s Symphony  no. 104, the London. The period instrument ensemble Accademia Bizantina will present Handel’s Il Trionfo del tempo e del disinganno, while fast-rising countertenor Carlo Vistoli (born in Lugo, close to Ravenna) will sing works by Monteverdi and Cavalli, with Ensemble Sezione Aurea.

Just down the Adriatic coast from Ravenna lies the seaside resort of Pesaro, birthplace of Gioachino Rossini and for the past 40 years home to the opera festival that bears his name. The town is going to ingenious lengths to ensure live music can be heard this year. Five performances of a new production of La cambiale di matrimonio will be staged at theTeatro Rossini between 8 August and 20 August. Imaginatively, the Orchestra Sinfonica G. Rossini will be placed in the stalls and the audience seated in the tiers of boxes that line the pretty opera house, creating instant social distancing.

Piazza del Popolo, Pesaro
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

The last performance of La cambiale will be both streamed online and screened outdoors in the Piazza del Popolo, which will also be hosting a revival of Emilio Sagi’s production of Il viaggio a Reims on 12 August and 15 August, under the umbrella of the Accademia Rossiniana Alberto Zedda and featuring academy alumni who are now launched in international singing careers. 

In Ravenna, Riccardo Muti will be joined on opening night by more than 60 members of the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra and soloist Rosa Feola in a programme featuring Scriabin’s Reverie, Op. 24, Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate and his Symphony no. 41 in C major, K.551, "Jupiter– a suitably celebratory programme to launch a season, particularly one staged when live performances were once thought impossible. 

Tight social distancing regulations have been established for the safety of the artists, staff and 250 members of the audience. Concertgoers will be expected to wear masks and to follow a staggered, mandatory access system. The Luigi Cherubini Orchestra, created by Muti in 2004 as a training ground for young Italian professional musicians under the age of 30, will perform five different programmes during the run of the festival, which was founded 30 years ago with a concert at the Rocca Brancaleone, conducted by Muti. Returning to the same venue almost 30 years to the day under very different circumstances will be an important and emotional moment for Italy, as music once again begins to blossom in il bel paese.

Riccardo Muti conducting the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra
© Silvia Lelli

Pesaro has announced an additional six recitals with orchestra to be held in the Piazza del Popolo featuring some starry Rossini interpreters: Olga Peretyatko (9 August ), Nicola Alaimo (10 August), Jessica Pratt (14 August), Juan Diego Flórez (16 August), a trio of “buffo” basses – Alfonso Antoniozzi, Paolo Bordogna and Alessandro Corbelli (18 August) – and Karine Deshayes (19 August). The piazza is a great meeting point for the people of Pesaro and over the past 40 years has hosted many illustrious recitals. Marilyn Horne, Montserrat Caballé, June Anderson and Luciano Pavarotti have all graced its stage. 

The new production of La cambiale di matrimonio will be conducted by Dmitry Korchak, making his festival debut, and the cast will include Carlo Lepore, Dilyara Idrisova, Davide Giusti, Iurii Samoilov, Alexander Utkin and Martiniana Antonie. With direction by Lawrence Dale, sets and costumes by Gary McCann, the one-act opera (Rossini’s professional debut, written when he was 18) will be co-produced with the Royal Opera House Muscat where it will be staged in January 2021. The opera will be paired with Rossini’s cantata Giovanna d’Arco, sung by Marianna Pizzolato.

Teatro Rossini, Pesaro
© Studio Amati Bacciardi

As in Ravenna, strict adherence to Italian health measures will be observed. At the Teatro Rossini, a maximum of 200 audience members will be allowed into the boxes. Concerts in the Piazza del Popolo (including Il viaggio a Reims) will accommodate a maximum of 1,000 people, with access monitored closely and social distancing paramount.

The body temperature of audience members, artists and anyone involved in performances will be measured. Anyone whose temperature is more than 37.5℃ will be denied admission. Face masks will be mandatory. Pesaro says it will guarantee periodic sanitation and aeration of every closed environment, including lavatories. There will be access to hand sanitizers at all times and the sale of food and drink will be forbidden.

“We have never given up,” says Daniele Vimini, president of the Rossini Opera Festival “and in these past weeks we’ve worked hard to try to explore options and scenarios. Ernesto Palacio, the sovrintendente [general administrator], has done an extraordinary job.”

He explained that the festival, which usually makes use of the massive Vitrifrigo Arena on the edge of the town in addition to the Teatro Rossini, will this year take place entirely in the centre of the old town which he hoped would have a great impact on the Italian audience and visiting music-lovers alike – if travelling will be possible.