28 July 2016 - Karina Mamalygo
The Italian word sferisterio derives from the Latin sphaeristerium (which is also used in English) and the Greek σφαιριστήριον and describes particular spaces used for playing a number of ball games. These include pallone col bracciale, where balls are struck back and forth with a wooden cylinder, called a bracciale, worn over the forearm; and tamburello, where teams hit a ball against a wall using an implement that resembles a tamburine (hence the name). These games have been popular in Italy for over 500 years and special buildings called sferisteri were built to house the games.
One of these is the neo-classical Sferisterio in Macerata, which was constructed in 1823 by the architect Ireneo Aleandro. It was built with bequests from the townsfolk and was destined for sports events, circuses and bullfighting. Inaugurated in 1829, it was completely restructured a century later and in 1921 it became an arena for opera. The first opera to be performed here was the glorious Aida by Giuseppe Verdi, followed by Amilcare Ponchielli’s La Gioconda in 1927.
Unfortunately in the difficult years of the Second World War and the post-war period the arena was abandoned. However, in 1967 it rose once again
from the ashes and operas have been performed there ever since. The last 50 years have seen numerous masterpieces from the world of opera including Verdi’s Otello and La Traviata; Madame Butterfly, Turandot and Tosca by Giacomo Puccini; Mozart’s Don Giovanni; Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti; Gounod’s Faust among others and the stage has been graced by world-famous performers such as Montserrat Caballé, Plácido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti, José Carreras and Raina Kabaivanska. In fact the fantastic acoustics have lead to the Sferisterio being recognised as the best open-air theatre in Italy. «Macerata Opera» won the Franco Abbiati Italian musical critics’ prize and in 2006 the event was transformed into “Sferisterio Opera Festival” by the artistic director Pier Luigi Pizzi. In 2012 the festival, directed by Francesco Micheli, changed its name once again, becoming the «Macerata Opera Festival». Every year this event continues to receive the plaudits and acclaim of journalists and critics. The festival continues its work and invites opera lovers from all over the world to take part in the next season.