The Reimagined 85th Maggio Musicale Festival

Conductor Daniele Gatti & the musicians of the Maggio Musicale Orchestra

This year marks the 85th edition of Italy’s oldest music festival, second only in Europe to the Salzburg Festival.  Founded in 1933, the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino (with a recently updated program that took into account budget cuts) this year will run from April 22 through July 13 and offers a program of three staged operas, 11 concerts, an opera for young people and an international conference about Maria Callas on the 100th anniversary of her birth. 

Music Director Daniele Gatti opens the Festival on April 22 with a symphonic concert of German music. The concert begins with selections from Richard Wagner’s Götterdämmerung or Twilight of the Gods, the final opera of his epic Ring Cycle. Follows is Richard Strauss’s tone poem op. 40 Ein Heldenleben or A Hero’s Life. Completed in 1898, it is generally agreed to be autographical in nature, where the composer uses musical quotes from many of his earlier works. 

The first opera on the program is Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in performances from April 30 through May 12. One of the most popular of Mozart’s operas, it tells the story of a gentleman—Don Giovanni—and his never-ending quest to seduce as many women as he can. Zubin Mehta will conduct a staging from the Spoleto Festival directed by Giorgio Ferrara with scenes by Oscar-winners Dante Ferretti and Francesca Lo Schiavo. Luca Micheletti sings the title role. 

The next two operas on the program are Giuseppe Verdi’s two final compositions – Otello (1887) and Falstaff (1893), both based on Shakespeare, and both conducted by Daniele Gatti. Otello takes the stage in four performances from May 20 through May 31, with Arsen Soghomonyan in the title role of the Moor and Anastasia Bartoli as his wife, Desdemona. Luca Salsi plays the conspiring Iago in this tragic tale of passion, jealousy and betrayal.  

Falstaff, Verdi’s only true comic opera, was largely based on Shakespeare’s play The Merry Wives of Windsor. The plot revolves around the aging, rotund knight, Sir John Falstaff, who is down on his luck. He hatches a plan to seduce two wealthy women, Alice Ford, and Meg Page, hoping to steal their husbands’ fortunes. The women discover his plot and join forces to teach Falstaff a lesson and have some fun in the process. German baritone Micheal Volle sings the title role of the jolly but unlucky knight, joined by Eva Mei as Alice Ford and Markus Werba as Ford. Performances from June 16 to June 23. 

The festival includes a number of symphonic concerts including a complete cycle of the six Tchaikovsky symphonies to be led by Gatti on three dates. Myung-Whun Chung returns to Florence to conduct a program of Beethoven. Zubin Mehta takes the podium in two concerts of Mahler and Beethoven. The Orchestra of the MMF will join rock icons, The Who, celebrating 60 years of career at the Visarno Arena in the Cascine park on June 17.  (Anne Lokken)

Full program and ticket details can be found on the MMF website.