The Sferisterio Arena in Macerata, in the Marche region, has become a unique destination for opera lovers of all kinds thanks to its summer calendar of productions enriched by English and Italian surtitles, audiodescriptions, as well as tactile experiences and sign language translations. This innovative program of accessibility offers free services to inter/national audiences and spectators with special needs both during the performance and backstage both before and after the show. Located in a region with a long opera tradition, the Sferisterio has taken its mission to a new level and has therefore received much media attention and general recognition for its sensitivity to different needs (of the 31.000 spectators in 2017, over 300 took advantage of special services). It has also launched collaborations with the University of Macerata and Montclair State University in New Jersey in order to expand its accessibility project.
On Wed. Feb. 7th at 6pm at the Italian Cultural Institute (see link), the MIA (Marchigiani in America) association and the Inserra Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at Montclair State University will present a panel about opera and accessibility with participants including Elena Di Giovanni (University of Macerata) and Manuela V. Hoelterhoff (former music critic for Bloomberg and Pulitzer Prize winner for Criticism). We have asked some of the speakers to provide an introduction to the various topics that will be covered: the Marche and Macerata as destinations for opera lovers, student internships for accessibility projects, a new and inclusive approach to opera season design for theater directors, and the role of accessibility in the growth of Italian Studies.
What is the history and role of opera in the Marche region at large?
Silvia Carlorosi (MIA)
“Opera tradition and history have deep roots in the Marche region.The region can count on a rich and successful cultural heritage that spans the visual arts, music and literature. The heritage dates back to the Renaissance, when the family of Montefeltro, based in Urbino, excelled in promoting and supporting the arts. Gioacchino Rossini, who was born in the nearby city of Pesaro into a family of musicians, is today considered one of the most prolific and renowned Italian opera composers of the 19th century. Recanati, in the province of Macerata, was also the birthplace of Beniamino Gigli, who is regarded as one of the greatest tenors of the beginning of the 20th century.”
The Marche is a less traditional destination for tourists despite its rich cultural heritage, beautiful landscape, and lively entrepreneurial economy. How do you think the Macerata Opera Festival activates the best of the Marche to provide an overall experience for the opera lover visiting the area?
Riccardo Lattanzi (MIA)
“The Marche is one of Italy’s little-known treasures and one of its most picturesque regions. You can go from beautiful white-pebble bays to high-rise mountains in one hour, driving through breathtaking rural landscapes. Macerata is at the heart of Marche shoe district, easily reachable from the Adriatic coast, or from Umbria and Tuscany on the other side. Every summer, the Macerata Opera Festival stages beautifully adapted productions from the classic opera repertoire, which attract people from all over Italy. The overall experience of the spectators is enhanced by the magic atmosphere of the Sferisterio Arena, a truly impressive setting for open-air opera. Numerous outlet stores, visited weekly by hundreds of people, and renowned seafood restaurants on the coast, are among the attractions that visitors can enjoy before or after opera nights.”
In what ways is Macerata an ideal destination for a foreign student and especially an intern for a translation and accessibility project that provides surtitles, audio-descriptions, etc.?
Rosanna Coviello (Montclair State University)
“Macerata is an ideal destination for foreign students studying abroad because it is a vivacious small town that captivates through its art, history and culture. It is not hectic like big cities, which helps in exploring it at a nice pace. In particular, it is an ideal place for an intern who is engaging in a translation and accessibility project that entails surtitles and audio-descriptions because the Sferisterio in Macerata houses a wonderful opera festival every year that enables interns to get first-hand experience on surtitling as well as assisting in the production of audio-descriptions.”
How and why are artistic directors and managers of international artistic programs incorporating accessibility in their vision?
Francesca Campagna (New York City Opera)
“In the past few years theatre managers and their teams, like those at the Macerata Opera Festival, have placed a strong emphasis on the audience experience to ensure that there is an increasingly broader attendance at live performances. At the heart of this approach there is of course an artistic vision that takes into consideration the final message it wants to share with the audience. The preliminary stages of planning a season are very important. Yet, key decisions today are not only related to the selection of the works, directors, singers, actors, sceneries, etc. but also to the creation of an overall positive experience that eliminates any form of exclusion even for simple actions such as the ticket purchase. The accessibility of culture is a must in this era. Managers and artists give a service to the community and the community should feel welcomed at every stage of the process. Take the surtitles, for example: even those in Italian for an Italian audience are a great service. As a young opera lover, I remember how much they enhanced my comprehension of an opera.”
How can accessibility be a new area of expansion for Italian Studies and as a result of promotion of the country?
Teresa Fiore (Montclair State University)
“Translation is one of the most convincing areas of growth for Italian Studies at a time in which foreign languages at large need to be more competitive as college degrees to respond to reductions in student enrolments. Translation, and in particular audiovisual translation (sub and surtitles), has the unique quality of safeguarding the centrality of language acquisition as well as of cultural competence (opera, theater, film, literature), while involving students in an activity of transfer of meaning which is intrinsic to their intellectual endeavors.
For a country that continues to be the unsurpassed worldwide leader in the field of culture, according to the 2018 U.S. News & World Report Best Countries, it is of utmost importance to make its artistic heritage and live performances or films as accessible as possible in terms of language: audio-tours, printed and web materials, captions for artworks in museums as well as sub- and sur-titles for opera, movies, theater, etc.. Italy’s vast patrimony needs translation from Italian to be understood by foreigners both in Italy and abroad, and it therefore needs qualified translators, trained by university programs. Translated culture means more accessible culture as titles serve hearing impaired people and audiodescriptions visually impaired people The more Italian culture is translated (and accessed) the more it circulates and the more it maintains the centrality of the country’s position vis-a-vis this attribute on a global basis.”