The 2020 summer programme of the Festival dei Teatri di Pietra (Opera Festival of Stone Theatres) opens in Sicily this week with a production of Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina.

Promoted by Coro Lirico Siciliano (the Sicilian Opera Choir), the Festival presents a series of classical performances at the three architectural jewels of the island of Sicily – the Ancient Theatre of Taormina, the Greek Theatre of Syracuse and the Greek Theatre of Tindari.

The Festival opens with Pietro Mascagni’s much-loved opera Cavalleria Rusticana. The Italian composer is probably best known for his role in introducing the concept of verismo to the world of opera, in the latter part of the 19th century. Already popular in theatre, verismo reflected the lives and passions, violence and honour of everyday people – as opposed to the somewhat distant existences of royalty and the gods – and it accentuated the importance of emotion over beautiful sound.

Cavalleria Rusticana, with a libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti, is based on a Sicilian melodrama by Giovanni Verga, and tells of the soldier Turiddu who returns from military service, to find that his fiancée, Lola, has married Alfio, a well to do wagon owner and driver. In an act of revenge, Turiddu seduces Santuzza, a peasant girl, and Lola becomes so jealous that she starts an adulterous affair with Turiddu. Santuzza publicly betrays the pair, Alfio challenges Turiddu to a duel, and Turiddu pays for his actions with his life.

Festival dei Teatri di Pietra

This one-act opera – which was composed for a competition held by the music publisher Sonzogno – was written in a hurry, and Mascagni was ultimately too nervous to submit it, but his wife did so on the last day of the competition. Although Cavalleria Rusticana opened to a half-empty house at the Teatro Costanzi in Rome, on 17th May, 1890, it was rapturously received, and has retained its popularity ever since, often being performed in tandem with Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci. Mascagni went on to succeed Arturo Toscanini at La Scala Milan, in 1929.

The role of Santuzza in this production of Cavalleria Rusticana is sung by soprano Elena Lo Forte who has appeared on the stages of major Italian theatres including the Arena di Verona, Teatro Communale di Bologna, Teatro Massimo, Palermo, Teatro San Carlo, Naples, and La Scala, Milan. She also played the role of Santuzza in Francis Ford Coppola’s film The Godfather Part III.

Tenor Angelo Villari takes the role of Turiddu – a role which he has sung at venues such as the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. Mr Villari’s recent engagements include appearances in Madama Butterfly in Astana, Rome and Palermo, Un Ballo in maschera at Rome Opera, and he also appeared in the European premiere of Marco Tutino’s La Ciociara in Cagliari.

The role of the jealous and passionate Alfio is taken by baritone Alberto Mastromarino, who has sung this role at Deutsche Oper Berlin, at Wiener Staatsoper and also at the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Mr Mastromarino has most recently been seen as Michonnet in Adriana Lecouvreur
for Opera di Genova at Teatro Carlo Felice.

This production of Cavalleria Rusticana is directed by rising young Sicilian Salvo Dolce, with design by David Brancato and lighting by Gabriele Circo. The Sicilian Symphony Orchestra and Coro Lirico Siciliano (directed by Francesco Costa) are led by Lorenzo Tazzieri. This performance takes place on Saturday, 1st August at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina.

The Festival continues at the Ancient Theatre of Taormina on 2nd August with the Guiseppe di Stefano International Award.

Giuseppe Di Stefano (24 July 1921 – 3 March 2008) was an Italian operatic tenor who sang professionally from the mid 1940s until the early 1990s. Known as the “Golden voice” or “The most beautiful voice”, he was regarded as the true successor of Beniamino Gigli, and inspired both Luciano Pavarotti and José Carreras. “Di Stefano is my idol,” said Pavarotti in an interview. “There is a solar voice… It was the most incredible, open voice you could hear. The musicality of di Stefano is as natural and beautiful as the voice is phenomenal.“

This year, once again, some of the greatest artists of the lyrical and cultural world will honour the great Sicilian tenor and receive the Giuseppe Di Stefano International Award. The performance will be directed by Francesco Costa, with Ruben Micieli (piano), and the voices of Coro Lirico Sicilano.

Sicilia Siracusa Teatro Greco

The Ancient Theatre of Taormina also hosts two gala evenings of operatic song. The Puccini & Verdi Opera Gala takes place on 20th August, and Opera Made in Sicily on 26th August features Stars of Sicilian Opera.

Appearing in these galas is Italian bass-baritone Simone Alaimo – well known for his performances in the bel canto repertoire, such as his portrayal of Mustafa in L’italiana in Algeri at Teatro Massimo di Palermo. Also appearing is Sicilian tenor Pietro Ballo whose appearances include the role of Rodolfo in La Bohème at Glyndebourne, and Jessica Nuccio, winner of a number of international awards and opera competitions who has appeared in many of the major opera houses in Italy, as well as in Munich, Berlin, with Welsh Opera and Opera Australia.

Two concerts are to be held at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse. Italian Love Songs on 9th August features Italian singer-songwriter, musician and record producer Mario Venuti who presents some of the most beautiful love songs of all time in a programme which combines pop and opera.

Nessun Dorma …. Three Tenors in Concert takes place on 24th August. In this performance Angelo Villari appears with Dave Monaco – who has appeared a number of times at Fondazione del Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Firenze, most recently as Nemorino in L’elisir d’amore for children – and Antonino Interisano – whose performances include Manrico in Il trovatore, Radames in Aida and Lt Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly.

Teatro Tindari

There are three concerts planned for the Greek Theatre of Tindari. Mario Venuti presents another evening of Italian Love Songs on 13th August, a Puccini Opera Gala takes place on 23rd August, and on 30th August there’s another opportunity to see Nessun Dorma …. Three Tenors in Concert.

In line with current regulations, audiences will experience a few changes in the seating areas of the amphitheatres, where social distancing will be observed and all safety rules will be guaranteed, and ultimately – with reduced numbers – the experience promises to be tranquil and highly enjoyable.

For further information on all performances of the Festival dei Teatri di Pietra, please visit the Facebook page of the Sicilian Lyric Choir.

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All images courtesy Sicilian Lyric Choir

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