Liberty and Destiny: Preview of the Sferisterio Opera Festival

Preview of the Sferisterio Opera Festival: Macerata 2011 (JB)



What an extraordinary coincidence. The theme which Pier Luigi Pizzi has chosen for the 2011 Sferisterio Opera Festival at Macerata – Libertà e Destino (Liberty and Destiny) is the same theme I have chosen for the postgraduate students in the Faculty of Philosophy at La Sapienza, Rome, who are seeking to extend their philosophical competence in English.

At first sight, Liberty and Destiny may seem mutually exclusive. Or maybe complimentary, as one of my bright students suggested early in the course. Can you really have one without the other? he added. Even the brightest students were at first perplexed by Isaiah Berlin’s approval of what he calls negative liberty (where the individual may enjoy all the liberty he chooses so long as it does not infringe on his neighbour’s liberty), as against Berlin’s disapproval of what he calls positive liberty (where society as a whole decides what shall constitute liberty, which may then be enjoyed by the individuals that make up society).  [Berlin’s ideas are much more complex than this; I grossly oversimplify them here in the interests of conciseness.] Even at this superficial level, you will see that Sir Isaiah’s positive liberty seems to be getting a wake-up call from Destiny.

Such has been my Friday morning entertainment for the first eleven weeks of the academic year. And what about the aberrational? asks one bright spark. (That is not the irrational nor the accidental, but the unexpected, unpredictable result of the trajectory of thought process, individual or collective: the kind of surprise result  that causes us to look at a problem afresh.)

The distinguished philosopher and former mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, opens this year’s Sferisterio with a talk on Libertà e Destino at the deconsecrated church of San Paolo on 22 July at 18:00. Two gold stars if he explains Berlin’s concepts clearly, and five if he is lucid on aberrations.

Since I wandered into philosophy, friends have begun to accuse me of treating music criticism as though it were a branch of philosophy. To which my usual reply is, Well isn’t it?

I am quite sure that Pier Luigi Pizzi would have no quarrel on this score. He has all the inter-disciplinary enthusiasm of the Renaissance man, trained and practiced as an architect, world-renowned as a designer and even more as a stage director, humane and witty as a thinker and all-embracing in his understanding of music. Under the umbrella of Libertà e Destino he has programmed this year three operas: Un ballo in maschera (22, 26, 29, July and 5 August), Rigoletto (23, 27, 30 July, 4, 6 August), Cosi fan tutte ( 24, 28, 31 July)

The Sferisterio itself is architecturally unique, an immensely long Arena, constructed in neoclassical style in handsome stone in the 1820s for a now defunct handball game, pallone col bracciale, with tiers of boxes in stone, on today’s arrangements, seating some four thousand spectators. The stage is only 14.5 metres deep, but 40 metres long (wide), with a further ten metre wing at each end. One end of the orchestra cannot hear what the other end is playing, but the acoustic in the centre – and this includes the central seats as well as the conductor – is remarkably good.

It takes an architect to know how to turn a unique arena into an Opera performance space.  In Pier Luigi Pizzi it has found one. He is in charge of staging, sets and costumes of Un ballo in maschera. His invention knows no end and I wait to see what he will do with this Verdi. He has chosen to stage the Boston rather than the Swedish version. The outstanding young soprano, Teresa Romano, repeats her success of last year’s Macerata, this time as Amelia. Elisabetta Fiorillo is Ulrica, Stefano Secco, Riccardo and Alessandro Battiato, Silvano. The conductor is Paolo Carignani.

The moment I heard that the twenty-three year old conductor, Andrea Battistoni, would be conducting Rigoletto, the dates were in my diary. Young conductors of this stature arrive only once in a lifetime. (See my review of his Viaggio a Reims at last year’s ROF here: This, too, will be staged in the Sferisterio by Massimo Gasparon, who also signs for the sets and costumes and is himself a trainee of the Pizzi school. Giovanni Meoni is in the title role, with Désirée Rancatore as Gilda and Ismael Jordi as the Duke.

The Teatro Lauro Rossi is an eighteenth century court theatre with only one hundred seats. A perfect jewel for the intimacy of the Mozart opera Cosi Fan Tutte. Staging, sets and costumes by Pizzi, Riccardo Frizza conducting. Carmela Remigio and Ketevan Kemoklidze are the two sisters, with Andreas Wolf and Juan Francisco Gatell as their suitors and Giacinta Nicotra (Despina) and Andrea Concetti (Don Alfonso) thickening the plot with their mischief.

The Teatro Lauro Rossi plays host to an evening dedicated to Monteverdi, conducted by the excellent Marco Mencoboni with Anna Caterina Antonacci on 3 August at 21:00.

On the final evening (11 August), the Sferisterio hosts Svetlana Zakharova and stars of the Bolshoi Ballet at 21:00.

Macerata may be a mere provincial capital in the Marche, but as you see, its festival is anything but provincial.

Further information at

Jack Buckley