13-18 July 2004. Conducted by Nello Santi, directed by Jacopo Kaufmann, with Alberto Gazale, Roberto Scandiuzzi, Micaela Carosi. Terme di Caracalla.

The opening of the Italian opera festivals is one of the most eagerly awaited of this summers events with the festival Arena Sferisterio in Macerata causing much of the excitement. This years programme follows a dual theme: on the one hand, relatively unknown works are included, and on the other there are the tried and tested works by interesting artists. The festival begins with Offenbachs Les Contes dHoffmann (17 July-8 Aug); Vincenzo La Scola will once again play the unhappy poet after winning over public and critics in the role at the inauguration of the Massimo in Palermo in 2002. Ruggero Raimondi and Dsire Rancatore will also be singing. Returning to fill the parts of the tragic pair of lovers (24 July-13 Aug) will be Daniela Dessi and Fabio Armiliato who sang in Zandonais Francesca da Rimini last November. Carlo Guelfi also returns in a familiar role as the protagonist in Verdis Simon Boccanegra (31 July-14 Aug). He sang in Florence in 2002, under the conductor Claudio Abbado and two months ago at the Festival Verdi in Parma.

If novelty alternates with tradition at Macerata, it is novelty that reigns at the 30th festival of the Valle dItria at Martina Franca. As is the custom there will be two works making their debut in modern times and one re-interpretation after decades of silence. The inaugural opera will be Antnio Carlos Gomes Salvator Rosa (22 and 24 July). A figure of prominence on the musical and theatrical scene of Brazil in the late 1800s, here Gomes reveals a musical score that contains elements of Italian melodrama, strongly influenced by Verdi. Despite the occasional use of some folklorist elements, the work seems far removed from national Brazilian music. One of the two operas makings its modern debut is Donizettis Pietro il Grande, Zar delle Russie (25-27 July). Critics regard the opera as an accomplished work that allowed Donizetti to show off his talents as well as to write music that appeals to the public. The other first-time production of modern times will be Charles Gounods Polyeucte (8-10 Aug). It is one of the last works of the French composer to return to the traditional opera structure. It has been announced that the soptrano Anna Caterina Antonacci, much-appreciated by high-calibre directors Riccardo Muti and Claudio Abbado, will sing at the recital on 31 July. Paolo Di Nicola

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Address For tickets and information, Teatro Costanzi, Piazza B. Gigli, tel. 0648160255-064817003.

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Nabucco by Verdi.

For tickets and information, Teatro Costanzi, Piazza B. Gigli, tel. 0648160255-064817003.