Federico Fellini’s underrated film Orchestra Rehearsal (Prova d’orchestra) was released in 1978, and told the story of an orchestra going on strike against its conductor. This restaging of the film at the Birgitta Festival wittily put the Italian conductor Simone Fermani in charge of the unruly orchestra of the Moscow State Opera and Ballet Theatre for Young Audiences, and let chaos ensue. Fermani is, fascinatingly, the great-great-grandson of Giuseppe Verdi and his second wife Giuseppina Strepponi, who had a daughter, Luigia Fiandrini, out of wedlock and raised her as a cousin or niece at their home in Sant’ Agata. Fermani, a lively, tousled figure straight out of the mad maestro mode, is proud to acknowledge the relationship, and filled this programme with a selection of overtures from his ancestor’s most famous operas. Readers will want to add the sibilant Estonian word for ‘great-grandchild’ to their vocabularies: it is ‘lapselapselaps’.

The Moscow State Opera and Ballet Theatre for Young Audiences was established by Natalia Sats, and is run by Giorgiy Isaakyan, an Armenian director who created this production from Fellini’s film. Members of the company played the roles of rebellious instrumentalists who, one after another, stood up and denounced the bourgeois, capitalist structures of the symphony orchestra, and protested against their working conditions and the superior role adopted by the conductor. These performers, although holding musical instruments, were in fact actors, sitting alongside the actual orchestral players. A press team arrived, to interview the players for the television news, leading them on to further uproar. After the interval, all-out war broke out, and the orchestra downed instruments and went on strike. Unfazed by this, Fermani conducted his orchestral excerpts with authority and style: we had the prelude to La traviata, the  Triumphal March from Aida, and a number of other operatic lollipops, all played with authority and style by the orchestra.

This useful work could quite well be rolled out from orchestra to orchestra as a kind of ‘young person’s guide’, as it gives instrumentalists an opportunity to speak for themselves about the difficulties and possibilities of their instruments, and illustrate them with an appropriate piece of music. The way in which this show was presented was cheerful, lively and fun, while it did not skimp on discussing the more serious matters of authority, funding and repertoire.