Apart from the history, architecture and historical sights to see in Italy there are endless opportunities to experience the products of its thriving culture. So many people travel to Italy and simply tick off the main tourist sites off the bucket list. Colosseum, check, Ponte Vecchio, Check, Leaning tower of Pisa, Check,
Instead of being overwhelmed by the blur of a whirlwind tour of Italy why not visit some exceptional arts festivals and theaters which show off the best Italy has to offer?
To be honest this list of suggestions is very much biased towards the world of classical music but to be honest that’s what Italy does best (and also Sicily as Unwilling Expat is a Sicilian based blog.)
Visiting an Italian festival will give you the best of an Italian city, from a stunning setting, access to fine local products and above all performances which will stay in your heart forever.
Taormina (Greek Theatre), Sicilia
There are events throughout the year in Taormina, Sicily from art exhibitions, classical music concerts, opera, contemporary music and opera performances which are hosted either in the open air Greek amphitheater in the summer or the Cine Theatre San Giorgio in the centre of this mecca of tourism in Sicily.
This year the Taorminafest has been the victim of funding cuts which has resulted in the cancellation of some contemporary music concerts but the core events are held safe by locals and private sponsors.
Taormina is a tourist mecca and your visit will be enriched by the experience of an opera set in one of the most iconic open air theaters in the world.
Soundscape: composition and performance exchange, Lombardia
A unique festival that combines elements of new music, composition, collaborations, workshops, master classes, composers in residence, students ,conferences and workshops to create a vibrant festival filled with creativity.
All in the setting of Maccagno on Lago Maggiore, south of the Swiss border in the Italian Alps, every summer since 2005.
Arena di Verona
The Arena di Verona Opera Festival,is a focal point for opera lovers all over the world. From June to September every year the best opera singers from Italy and all over the world perform sumptuous productions by the best international artists and living legends like Franco Zafarelli, in the unforgettable ancient amphitheater of Verona.
The program usually includes many of Verdi’s most famous operas. In 2014 for example the opera going public enjoyed grand productions of Verdi’s Un ballo in Maschera, Aida, Bizet’s Carmen, Gounod’s Romeo et Juliette, Orff’s Carmine Burana, Puccini’s Turandot and Madama Butterfly.
Verona is a breathtaking experience and there are tickets available online for all budgets. Be sure to avoid scalpers as you can’t see the shows with fake tickets. And for those sitting on the stone steps be sure to take a blow up air cushion to sit on, to avoid having to rent one during the night, as opera’s are long affairs and you need to be comfortable.
Classical Greek theatre at Syracuse, Sicily
The International institute of Ancient Drama hosts a season of classics from ancient Greek theatre in the suggestive ruins of the natural amphitheater of Syracuse in Sicily.
The works are presented are from the classical Greek canon and are presented in the original languages or in Italian with traditional Greek masks and choruses and which attract the best actors in Italy.
A trip to the classical Greek theatre at Syracuse is like stepping back through time and the setting springtime sun is a true spectacle.
Be sure to pack a warm coat for the evening, a trusty comfy blow up cushion, sunscreen and a big bottle of water as the early spring (May-July) at Syracuse can be harsh.
Spoleto Festival, Umbria
The Spoleto Festival (festival di due mondi) is a mega arts gathering which happens every year around June/July in Umbria northern Italy. It has an amazing range of events from dance, theatre, classical and light music, jazz, visual arts, international and Italian performing arts groups and a literature festival. Spoleto Festival hosts the best of the Italian and European arts industry in a cavalcade of every possible type of creative expression.
Torre del Lago, Toscana
The Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago in Tuscany in the province of Lucca is the birth place of composer Giacomo Puccini and the inspiration behind this event.
Every July and August in the places in which Puccini grew up in, lived and spent his vacations, hosts a series of opera productions.
The operas are staged in an amazing open aired 3,400 seat theatre along the lake in front of the summer house of the composer which has now been turned into a museum.
Puccini composed his most famous operas at Torre del Lago including Tosca (1900), Madama Butterfly (1904), La Fanciulla del West (1910), La Rondine (1917) and Il Trittico (1918).
Every year the performance program celebrates the best known works of the Italian opera composer and is dedicated to creating new productions of his work.
Verdi Festival, Emilia Romagna
The Verdi Festival is another one for lover’s of Italian opera, dedicated to possibly the greatest and most prolific Italian composer of all time. The festival is hosted in the medieval city of Parma in the heart of Emilia Romagna.
Inspired by the music and art of Giuseppe Verdi the event includes full productions of his works as well as concert performances, chamber music, special talks, masterclasses, concert performances dedicated to Verdi’s arias and the inspiration behind him.
The Festival occurs in early Autumn (October) which gives the city of Parma a chance to show off its Autumnal colours amongst the creations of Verdi’s immortal genius.
Jazz Festival in Umbria
Umbria Jazz is a must for lovers of contemporary Jazz music.
Hosted by the University city of Perugia in Umbria it is one of the longest running festivals in Italy and attracts musicians from all around the world. The program is easily downloaded every year and there are many free concerts held in the beautiful historical centre of this beautiful City in early July every year.
The Berkley college of music also hosts a summer school as part of the Umbria Jazz Clinic. The festival combines fine music, food and wine to create a carnival like atmosphere.
Local restaurants, performance venues and theaters host intimate concerts with artists from Italy and around the world.
There is a vibrant series of outdoor concerts from R&B, jazz piano, big bands and singers.
In recent years Umbria Jazz has begun to host events in the winter too, so the music continues throughout the year.
Teatro Massimo, Sicily
Teatro Massimo, Palermo is known as the ‘la Scala’ of the South and is the premier historical theatre of Sicily.
A visit to Palermo is never complete without a tour of the architectural splendor of this building. The performance season begins in early February and includes a mouthwatering array of orchestral concerts, operas and ballet.
While the opera performances includes a wide variety from the classical opera canon, Teatro Massimo also hosts new interpretations and works from contemporary composers, ballet, new theatrical works, concerts, workshops and chamber music.
Teatro Massimo Bellini, Sicily
Teatro Massimo Bellini, Catania was opened in Catania on the 31st of May 1890. The event was celebrated by a debut performance of Bellini’s Norma, a masterpiece from the great Catania composer who gives the theatre its name.
This splendid baroque theatre is a true work of art, visiting it on a day tour is wonderful, while seeing it during a performance is unforgettable.
The opera season is usually reserved for the autumn/winter months but there are generally ballet and classical music concerts throughout the year.
There is a particular dedication to Bellini opera for obvious reasons, located in the centre of Catania it reserves a special place at the heart of the Sicilian capital.
La Scala, Milano
La Scala, Milan is the most famous Italian theatre in the world.
Destroyed during world war two it was lovingly rebuilt and has never been out of action since. It hosts the creme della creme of Italian and international opera, ballet, classical music and even works dedicated to children.
The opera season begins in February and usually closes for the summer, to reopen towards the end of the year. The performance season is filled with lavish productions of the world’s most famou operas featuring the best talent from all around the world. La scala offers special priced tickets for under 30’s, children and evening performances with half price tickets.
If you find yourself in Milan during the summer without a live performance to see be sure to tour the theater and the most extensive museum dedicated to the world of classical music. Often during the summer La Scala hosts a season of cinema dedicated to legendary performances which are projected inside the theater itself, even if it isn’t the live thing at least you can say you’ve seen opera at La Scala!
San Carlo Theater, Naples
San Carlo, Naples The San Carlo opera house is one of the busiest in Europe and produces endless new opera productions which are often toured through Italy and the continent.
Together with a varied symphonic program and ballet performances it is simply irresistible for anyone who loves theater. For lovers of ballet the San Carlo school of dance has a rich succession of new interpretations. The opera season usually runs throughout the year.
La Fenice, Venice
The final and by no means the least significant is Venice’s La Fenice which was tragically burnt down in a fire and has been painstakingly rebuilt to its former glory.
Even if you don’t get a moment or manage to find tickets to a performance as they can be hard to get, a tour through this baroque masterpiece will no doubt form a part of your fondest memories of Italy.
It is easy to make a booking for a tour through of La Fenice’s Baroque, gilded beauty.
The Theatre is generally open for tours every day from 9:30 am to 6:00 pm, though variations in the schedule may occur for artistic or technical reasons.
For an added cost you can choose to take the deluxe version of the tour with a personal guide which takes you through the entire theatre and its spaces from the Foyer, behind the scenes in the theatre, the Royal Box and the magnificent Sale Apollinee.
Happy travelling and enjoy creating the memories.