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Thursday May 28th, 2020 3:32AM

Muti to conduct classical music's return to Italian stage

By The Associated Press
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SOAVE, Italy (AP) — Riccardo Muti will conduct a youth orchestra in an open-air concert launching the annual Ravenna Festival next month in what organizers billed Friday as Italy’s first live classical music performance since its strict lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The Italian government is permitting concerts and other live performances to begin on June 15, a time when most theaters are winding down their calendars and as summer festivals begin.

Italy’s famed La Scala theater is looking at re-opening only in September, with a performance of Verdi’s Requiem in the Milan Duomo to remember Italy’s coronavirus dead followed by Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9.

The open-air opera festival at the Verona Arena was canceled before the start date was even announced, substituted by plans for classical music concerts in August.

Inspired by Italian industry, the Ravenna Festival prepared its own protocols during the lockdown, which were approved by the Italian government, allowing the quick start, said festival general manager Antonio de Rosa.

The festival will open June 21 with Ravenna native Muti conducting the Luigi Cherubini Youth Orchestra, featuring musicians under age 30, inside the 15th-Century Rocca Brancaleone fortress. The audience will be limited to 250 people, with mandatory masks, staggered entrances and physical distancing.

On stage, the performers will maintain a distance of one-meter (three feet), expanding to 1.5 to 2 meters (4 1/2 feet to 6 feet) between woodwinds. There will be a single singer, soprano Rosa Feola.

The festival, founded 30 years ago by Muti's wife, Cristina Mazzavillani Muti, will present 40 performances, with the full program to be announced shortly. While the audience is limited, de Rosa said the performances would also be streamed to a global audience.

‘’We have the confirmation in these months of the great importance of culture and performance. We listened to music, we read books and we watched many musical performances on television,’’ de Rosa told the AP. ‘’Now it is the moment to return to the stage with a live performance, with streaming online, to give everyone the possibility to keep alive the flame of music burning within and that must never go out.’’

Italy’s native lyric opera is suffering the most even as the country slowly eases its lockdown, due to the increased threat of contagion among a chorus and singers acting out dramatic roles on the stage. The Verona summer program — popular with foreign tourists — was canceled due to such concerns.

La Scala’s general manager, Dominique Meyer, said during a video conference on Thursday that the crisis for the classical music world will deepen in 2021, when there are no longer government programs to help cover theater workers’ salaries and when attendance is likely to still suffer.

"There are not so many moments in history when the future for society is so uncertain,’’ Meyer said. ‘’We need to continue, to bring our art ahead, and make the audience return to the theater to be together, to experience emotion in front of the performance.’’

Meyer said a longer-term solution lies in bringing families and children closer to the theater, inspiring a lifetime love of performance, but also lowering ticket prices — he said they too often are set by “people who don’t have to pay, or don’t have problems paying.”

He also appealed for help for contract singers and performers who have been unable to earn during Europe’s lockdowns, and who are not covered by various unemployment schemes covering orchestras or theater workers.

“I would like La Scala to have this role that it has always had in the relaunch of society after a low moment,” Meyer said. He added that the planned performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 — a choral symphony — will carry “a message of home, of friendship and of warmth.”

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