MILAN (AP) – As a sign of rebirth, the Donizetti theater in the northern Italian city of Bergamo, which was ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, is reopening this weekend after three years of renovation.
But planned gala celebrations had to be postponed, and new productions for the annual festival dedicated to the city’s original composer Gaetano Donizetti had to be broadcast online from the empty theater.
Festival music director Riccardo Frizza said the fall festival was envisioned as a life-affirming moment for the city and province, where 6,000 people died in one month last spring. In the summer he presides over Donizett’s Requiem, appearing outside city cemeteries as a tribute to the dead.
“You have to know that in my festival orchestra and in the choir section someone has lost two or three family members,” said Frizza. “We cannot organize a festival without paying this tribute to those who are not with us anymore.”
Plans for hearings had to be scrapped after the virus started resurfacing in October, even if Bergamo itself had a milder contagion than spring, when images of army trucks transporting the dead to other areas for cremation showed victims of the pandemic. The calendar was cut into three productions.
All three of Donizetti’s weekend shows “Marino Faliero,” “Le Nozze in Villa” and “Belisario” are available online indefinitely for a subscription price of 59 euros ($ 70). Frizza said the money was needed to help freelance singers and musicians recover some of their income during a year in which classical music has been shut down by the coronavirus.
Italy closed all cinemas in February, and there is a tentative reopening during the summer.
While several other theaters offer free online streaming of their archives, Frizza says few offer new opera productions. The Donizetti theater package includes extras such as commentary, interviews and a virtual tour of the renovated theater, frescoed ceilings giving off a fresh glow. Another Donizetti opera filmed last year, “L’Ange De Nisida,” will be released on Wednesday.
In comparison, Milan’s famous La Scala theater will broadcast the December 7 concert on state television, replacing its traditional season gala opener.
To ensure the health of the Donizetti Festival orchestra, singers and choirs, strict protocols are in place, including weekly testing and separate rehearsals. During weekend performances, the choir section, most of the orchestra and the Frizza wear masks.
At La Scala, more than 40 choir members have tested positive for the virus, plus another 18 in the orchestra.
Frizza, who suffered a light attack with the virus during the height of March when Italy was under complete lockdown, said no one at the festival contracted the virus during practice. It was essential to allow live shows to go on despite the partial lockdown in Lombardy.
“Nobody can imagine a March closing without music, without books, without television shows,” said Frizza. “The pandemic has taught those who did not previously understand the importance of culture, art and beauty in the world.”