In Italy, the grand old arenas prove to be the perfect place for scaled-down open-air opera festivals this summer. It is easier for them to comply with health measures, especially social distancing, and to provide a safe environment for their audiences who rush back to their cherished summer events. This is also the case for the Macerata Opera Festival at the Sferisterio, an arena built in the first half of the 19th century to host pallone tournaments. Here, Davide Livermore directs a Don Giovanni using cars on stage as Damiano Michieletto did for his Rigoletto a few weeks ago in Rome. While those cars were parked untidily in what looked like a drive-in cinema, the tires of Leporello's yellow cab and the Commendatore's black limo screech on the colossal empty stage of the Sferisterio.

<i>Don Giovanni</i> © Tabocchini Zanconi
Don Giovanni
© Tabocchini Zanconi

Livermore's staging was originally created for the Théâtre Antique Orange in Southern France and only a few changes were made to adjust to the new location. The video projections (designed by D-Wok) create a classic facade with a pediment and a Roman emperor statue (which, obviously, becomes the Commendatore's statue), dreamlike landscapes, starry skies, a photo album of the seducer's preys or a wall covered with graffiti for Masetto and Zerlina's working milieu.

Tommaso Barea (Leporello), Mattia Olivieri (Don Giovanni) and Valentina Mastrangelo (Donna Elvira) © Tabocchini Zanconi
Tommaso Barea (Leporello), Mattia Olivieri (Don Giovanni) and Valentina Mastrangelo (Donna Elvira)
© Tabocchini Zanconi

Livermore's staging implies two different storylines. At the beginning, the duel ends with the Commendatore's death, but Don Giovanni is also shot, his stunt double remaining on the floor for most of Act 1. As in the film Sliding Doors, the possibility that the story takes a different course is open and what we see on stage is the result of Don Giovanni's hallucinations. In fact, during “Fin ch'han dal vino” the corpse rises and once again the scene of the duel is relived. A third and final duel is performed during the finale, when the other characters, holding suitcases in their hands, are prepared to leave without Don Giovanni – a listless life awaits them.

Mattia Olivieri (Don Giovanni) © Tabocchini Zanconi
Mattia Olivieri (Don Giovanni)
© Tabocchini Zanconi

Livermore's Don Giovanni is deprived of the revolutionary aspects that the character might have displayed in his era and the Romantics. He is a modern character obsessed with death and who shows a hyperkinetic disorder: he jumps on the car which he drives recklessly, he doesn't walk, he always run. But he's also obsessed with sex, the final “banquet” being a sex orgy. But not even Donna Anna is immune to her sexual drive. In the first scene she clings to Don Giovanni – and not only to prevent his escape. Donna Elvira presents herself in a provocative red dress; her physicality is emphasised through twelve dancers. She is the epitome of femininity and blind passion for a husband who cheerfully betrays her.

Valentina Mastrangelo (Donna Elvira) © Tabocchini Zanconi
Valentina Mastrangelo (Donna Elvira)
© Tabocchini Zanconi

Francesco Lanzillotta, Musical Director of the festival, conducted Don Giovanni for the first time, but his interpretation showed a rare ripeness and sensitivity. He decided not to amplify the sound because of the open air setting, but gave the score an 18th-century dimension instead. The peculiarity of the wide orchestral pit highlighted the different instrument families and made room for the three orchestras of the party. They are often placed on the stage, but here they could show their individuality even from the pit. The sound cohesion was not affected by the distancing and the Orchestra Filarmonica Marchigiana played at its best.

Valentina Mastrangelo (Donna Elvira), Lavinia Bini (Zerlina) and Karen Gardeazabal (Donna Anna) © Tabocchini Zanconi
Valentina Mastrangelo (Donna Elvira), Lavinia Bini (Zerlina) and Karen Gardeazabal (Donna Anna)
© Tabocchini Zanconi

The excellent cast was young and many of the singers gave their role debuts. Mattia Olivieri has a clear voice which perfectly suits the youthful and athletic figure of the title role. His phrasing may lack a certain nobility, but his performance was robust and his acting theatrically effective. Tommaso Barea was a convincing Leporello, while Giovanni Sala's Don Ottavio was appreciated for his masculine timbre and elegant phrasing. Antonio di Matteo was vocally and scenically authoritarian, a Commendatore not from the afterlife, but a fearful worldly mafia boss. Hats off to the female trio as well: Karen Gardeazabal, a Donna Anna of surprising sound volume and beauty of timbre, Valentina Mastrangelo, a passionate and vocally sensual Donna Elvira, and Lavinia Bini who portrayed an adorable Zerlina.

****1