Festival at the Arena di Verona is one of the great operatic spectacles. Staged in the vast Roman arena in Verona, the stage is probably the world's largest. The program for 2012 was unique in the Festival's long history, since it featured the first Mozart opera to be staged there, Don Giovanni, in a production by Franco Zeffirelli.
For once the venue was worthy of Zeffirelli's tendency to monumentalism. The Don of Erwin Schrott fairly dominated the stage, capably aided and abetted by his somewhat loyal retainer Leporello, sung and acted with verve by Marco Vinco. Rarely does Don Ottavio threaten to steal the show, but the creamy lyricism of Mozart's music as sung by Saimir Pirgu almost managed to accomplish the feat. The ladies were sung capably but with no particular distinction, and Daniel Oren's conducting was nothing if not lively, almost to a fault. The performance of July 12 was interrupted briefly by some sprinkles of rain in Act II, but it failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the artists or of the public's reception of a fine performance.
Aida is a fixture at Verona, and this season was no exception. Gianfranco di Bosio's staging was appropriately grand, but the singing was only adequate. Unfortunately, Dolora Zajick, the eagerly awaited Amneris, cancelled the July 15 performance due to illness. Jorge de Léon sang Celeste Aida with distinction, however. Lucrecia Garcia, who sang Aida, demonstrated an appalling moment of amateurism by stepping out of character and waiving to the audience after only an adequate rendition of Ritorna vincitor!.
Audiences love Carmen, and Franco Zeffirelli's new production at Verona was no exception. The staging was appropriately spectacular, with lighting design effects that cannot be equaled elsewhere, given the vast venue of the Arena. Anita Rachvelishvili, who sang Carmen, has a vast voice and knows how to use it. She is originally from Tbilisi, Georgia, and she has not yet reached her 30th birthday. Although not exactly a refined singer at this stage in her career, she has the dusky good looks and rich mezzos-oprano voice to make her a convincing Carmen. Marco Berti sang Don José's music with his customary suavity. Julian Kovatchev's choices of tempo ran from the brisk to the frantic. For color, spectacle, and sheer fun this Carmen will be difficult to equal.