Covid-19: Italian art and culture adapt to new rules

Italian cultural organisations restart by thinking outside the box and moving events into the open air. 

Italy's cultural sector has been hit particularly hard by the coronavirus crisis which has dashed the plans of many festivals and seen the cancellation of long-planned concerts and exhibitions up and down the country.

However, in addition to being steeped in culture, Italy has the good fortune of being renowned for its ingenuity.

This summer these two qualities come together as Italy struggles forwards against the stringent logistical constraints imposed by covid-19 restrictions - by looking to the great outdoors.

All over Italy, artists and arts organisations are moving outside, staging open-air cultural events, engaging in social distancing and salvaging what would otherwise have been a lost summer, as audiences return in masks, sitting far apart.

Opera in Italy

Rome's opera house, Teatro dell'Opera di Roma, is known for thinking big. Tonight, 16 July, it will pull off one of its most ambitious projects to date by moving its summer opera festival to the Circus Maximus for the first time.

Workers have spent weeks erecting a giant stand, sheltered by high walls and equipped with spaced-apart seats, framing a stage whose backdrop is the ancient chariot racing track and the Palatine Hill.

Daniele Gatti will direct Verdi's Rigoletto, with the premiere of the new production being attended by Italy's president Sergio Mattarella, and broadcast live to the nation at 21.15 on RAI5.

Earlier this month Riccardo Muti conducted a concert at the majestic archaeological site of Paestum, for the Ravenna Festival, which also forges ahead valiantly.

Concerts in Italy

In Rome, the Accademia Nazionale di S. Cecilia celebrates 250 years of Beethoven in July, with Antonio Pappano conducting the orchestra in the open-air cavea venue at the Auditorium Parco della Musica, soon to be renamed after the late Ennio Morricone. Here too spectators have plenty of space in between them in line with Italy's social distancing rules.

Also in Rome, classical musicians from the Roma Tre Orchestra perform from the windows of Teatro Argentina, filling the archaeological ruins below with music and delighting passersby each Saturday evening in July.

Photo S. Cecilia

Outdoor Cinema in Rome

Cinema in the capital also steps outside. When the Cinema in Piazza festival opened against the odds, in Trastevere on 3 July, the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte lent his support by making a surprise appearance. After a difficult start obtaining film rights, the festival has just published its full summer programme of movies.

This summer Europe's largest drive-in cinema comes to Ostia, the coastal area outside Rome, with space for 485 cars, while the capital's famed Cinecittà Studios have also opened for drive-in movies this summer.

Exhibitions in Rome

The embattled art world has responded to covid-19 by limiting its visitors numbers to time slots and opening late; with the Raphael blockbuster at the Scuderie del Quirinale staying open until 01.00 at weekends, and the capital's MAXXI Museo nazionale delle arti del XXI secolo hosting a summer-long programme of cultural events in its generously proportioned interior and exterior spaces.

Art in Florence

In Florence, Piazza Pitti and Piazza S. Annunziata are currently filled with 100 fierce-looking wolf sculptures by Chinese artist Liu Ruowang, to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Italy and China.

The giant metal wolves, all placed outside, arrive amid talk that centrally-located squares in Rome will welcome massive works by Spanish artist Manolo Valdés later this year, as exhibition organisers look outside traditional gallery spaces.

Opera in Milan

Milan's La Scala opera house reopened recently - to a much-reduced audience - for a series of concerts before closing again until its official reopening in September, with the strong possibility that some future productions will take place outdoors.

Looking towards the autumn, Rome's multidisciplinary arts festival Romaeuropa has confirmed that its 40th edition will go ahead, with 62 events being held over two months, in full respect of anti-contagion regulations.

Ravenna Festival - Riccardo Muti at Paestum. Photo Ravenna Festival / Silvia Lelli.

Yesterday the organisers of the 2020 Quadriennale di Roma also confirmed that the prestigious art fair would indeed open on 29 October, with the participation of 43 contemporary Italian artists.

Opera in Venice

La Fenice opera house in Venice, however, wins the prize for reinventing itself imaginatively. The theatre reopened in recent days with Vivaldi's first opera Ottone in villa, with the audience seated in the boxes and onstage - one metre apart from each other - while the singers and orchestra shared the stalls area which has been emptied of seats.

The Venetian opera house, whose name translates in English as Phoenix, might suggest that although the road ahead is far from smooth, Italian arts and cultural organisations have the ingenuity and drive to rise from the ashes of tragedy and despair.

Cover image: Il Cinema in Piazza.