Gian Carlo Menotti Fondatore                                                    Francis Menotti Presidente e Direttore Artistico

 

THE AFFAIR OF THE FESTIVAL

It is far from from easy to start up a discussion around the Festival, particularly at a time when on the one hand talk continues to surround it, but on the other hand – and on various fronts – the general impression is that of that Festival, the Spoleto Festival, Menotti’s Festival, very few traces remain. Talk of this kind has been rife for some time now, everyone in Spoleto is aware of it, many spoletini know the real state of affairs, how things have changed and who it was that wanted to change them by force: and yet those who changed the circumstances continue to make a pretence, to tell the story in a different way and to cry out their success – a success of which it is hard to see the slightest sign.

The spoletini knew their Festival well, just as they knew well Maestro Menotti. They knew all about his life, they listened to what he said, they followed his every step as if he was one of them, a relation, a family friend, they praised his decisions, they often criticized him, they loved him and they hated him: but despite the proverbial diffidence of the Umbrians, they were profoundly grateful to the Maestro for what he had done for their town. For the spoletini he was not just the father of the Festival, he was the embodiment of a style, which was unique, remarkable and unrepeatable. In early Spring, strolling through the streets of the town, the question on everyone’s lips was: “Has the Maestro arrived? Did you see him? Are there auditions at the Teatro Nuovo? For what opera? Is there going to be a Festival this year?” All of which was a sign that the town was beginning to burgeon and would soon bloom in all its glory.

Maestro Menotti was truly Spoleto’s magician. He could change the physionomy of the town, transform it into a crescendo of emotions and lead its inhabitants, its life and its stones into a dream-world. For 50 years. I know that this sensation is still strong in the hearts of many spoletini, but the feeling today is that what remains of that Festival – and of Maestro Menotti – is little more than a handful of sand running through our fingers.

Today, the Festival has lost all its sense of identity. And it is not just myself to say so: it is the feeling of Spoleto’s inhabitants, of all the aficionados that have followed the Festival over the years, of the public and of all those who have “lived” the Festival. Those who have taken over the Festival are making the clumsiest of attempts to be its natural heirs, imitating its style and structure, when the question of creativity is far more profound and admits no imitation. In the end, they have managed to create only an arrogant and tedious surrogate: such is the destiny of all those manoeuvres that imitate artistry and which are born from extraneous motives. And in this particular case the motives are envy, a greed for power and personal enrichment. This is not the stuff of art or of dreams.

In addition the Festival has been ”hetero-ized”, that is to say, by means of a subtle – but crudely managed – operation that has largely passed unnoticed, the Festival has been deprived of the greater part of its soul, which many identified as the fundamental essence of its strength and its aesthetic substance. Now everything seems to have been reined back within the confines of a politically defined conformity that is so pleasing for those who have taken over the artistic and technical management. It is quite extraordinary how Maestro Menotti, over 10 years ago, in his impassioned introduction (“Spoleto is not a Safari”) to the book “40 years of Festival”, hypothesized what might have happened to his Festival, not without a slightly ingenuous ray of hope: “And so, what do I wish for the Festival? Two things: that it should preserve its independent physionomy and continue to defend itself from political manoeuvres. In a country where it is unashamedly admitted that in the State-run opera houses, if the Chief Executive is a Communist, the Artistic Director has to be a Socialist and so on, it is an absolute miracle that in Spoleto, up until today, all the political parties have been in agreement not to interfere with the Festival”. That was in 1999.

The Maestro was already afraid of what in fact was to happen after his death: led by the ex-Minister Rutelli (“the worst Culture Minister Italy has ever had”, according to Franco Zeffirelli), the local political intriguers were to lay their hands on the Festival, dispossessing the Menotti family of every role in it and de facto destroying the Festival’s identity. The Maestro went on: “It is not exactly a picnic with the Foundation, either. They still refuse to recognize that the Festival is my creation, that they cannot decree what is to be its future and that the role of the Foundation – by law – is simply to administer the funds of the State […] What happens in reality is that they are only concerned to appropriate the patrimony of the Festival, which I personally – and with immense sacrifice – have succeeded in accumulating over 42 years of management”. This is precisely what has happened, and to a far greater degree than that feared by the Maestro.

Indeed, in the Autumn of 2007, only a few months after the Maestro’s death, Minister Rutelli announced with great pomp the relaunching of the Festival and the replacement of Francis Menotti by Giorgio Ferrara as Artistic Director, abolishing the Association of the Festival and dismissing all its employees in the blink of an eye (at a conservative estimate, 80% of the administrative and technical staff found themselves without employment from one day to the next, to the complete indifference of the local politicians). For its part, the Foundation completely rewrote its charter, thus allowing Giorgio Ferrara to be nominated in the double role of Artistic Director of the Festival and Chairman of the Foundation, with Mayor Brunini and municipal councillor Gilberto Stella as vice-Chairmen and with further space accorded to other local politicians of the Regione Umbria and the Province of Perugia. The end result is that the Foundation has not only appropriated the Festival’s patrimony – doggedly defended for 50 years by Maestro Menotti and his son – but it has also taken its place, annihilating the Festival’s soul. And it should be remembered that the Foundation is a non-profit organization.

Nobody can deny that Minister Rutelli had every good reason for cutting a fine figure in Spoleto, given that he was at the top of the candidates proposed in Umbria by the Democratic Party for the national elections in 2008. So much so that, on top of the funds offered to Spoleto and to “his” Festival – and when the Prodi government began to be in serious difficulty –, he lost no time in lavishing an extra €300,000 on Perugia’s Umbria Jazz Festival (see Corriere dell’Umbria, 30 January 2008). In short, for the first Spoleto Festival of the post-Menotti era, Rutelli endowed the hyperbolic sum of €4,000,000, four times as much as the State normally gave it every year.

From the 1980s onwards, the Festival managed by the Menottis was the beneficiary of State funds endowed by Ministerial decree (more or less €1,000,000), but these funds never arrived intact in the coffers of the Association: when they did arrive, it was always with a long delay, and on occasions they were used for other purposes (for example, when – in 2007 – sums were re-routed to the Municipality of Spoleto for the completion of the restoration of the Teatro Nuovo, particularly deplorable when the Festival was in dire financial straits and many employees never received the full payment of their salaries).

During a public meeting in Spoleto on 1st February 2008, Minister Rutelli announced: “For 2008 the Spoleto Festival can count on more than €4,000,000 assigned by the State. These are exceptional resources: €918,000 come from the funds of the “Beni librari”, to which are added €1,000,000 – the sum that has been granted to Spoleto up until 2007 and which will continue to be granted – and a contribution una tantum of €2,200,000 which is forthcoming from the funds for “Great Events”, funds that were approved in the last Budget and are limited to 2008”. One cannot help but wonder why such generosity was not shown by Rutelli one year earlier, when, in occasion of the 50th Festival, there was all the more reason to support and “relaunch” the Festival by means of funds allotted to “Great Events”…

Let us now take a look at the 2008 programme (the one that cost €4,000,000 of public money) and that of 2009, along with the results produced by the new management. But first, a word or two about the Artistic Director Giorgio Ferrara. I remember walking around the streets of Spoleto in Novembre 2007, shortly after Rutelli had appointed Giorgio Ferrara as the Festival’s new Artistic Director: the news had spread quickly and aroused no little surprise. It seemed impossibile that Menotti’s Festival had been transferred with such nonchalance into someone else’s hands and once a certain bewilderment had passed, the questions began. Not so much about what would be the new direction of the Festival, whose “relaunch” was insistently announced at every public meeting, but rather about the identity of this man “Ferrara”. I recall a lady trying to convince me that it was Giuliano Ferrara – the journalist, the “elephant” of Radio24 – who would be arriving in town, whilst another spoke to me of a director of well-known films, from “L’ultima donna” to “Storie di ordinaria follia” and “La grande abbuffata”, forgetting that this director was called “Ferreri” (and not “Ferrara”) and that amongst other considerations he had been dead for some time. Another maintained that it was the Ferrara who had directed “Il caso Moro” and “Cento giorni a Palermo”, but he was “Giuseppe” and not “Giorgio”. It took only a few days for the enigma to be solved, when on 26 November 2007 the Ministry promptly issued an official declaration about the “lines of action for the relaunch” of the Festival, together with a curriculum of Giorgio Ferrara. At the time, we all thanked the Ministry for putting us out of our agony and for introducing us to Giorgio Ferrara.

But nobody could have imagined that the frequenters of Spoleto and the Festival in 2008 would have had the privilege of getting to know Mr Ferrara at close quarters. I remember an evening when I was walking in Piazza della LibertÓ and happened upon an impromptu show of the neo-Director who, seated at a bar, seemed to be at war with the whole world. To whom he was referring is not clear, but at the top of his voice he was shouting: “They approved the budget and now they won’t keep their promises… I’ll end up by taking them to court and telling them to f… off”. He went on: “I’ve had enough, I’ve a good mind to take everything off to Venice. And the Regione, too, has given €80,000, just loose change. I might as well give it back!” And he finished: “When I took on this job, I found a town that was desperate… Everyone here talks about the past, I couldn’t give a s… about the past… When they talk about it, I feel like throwing up!” At these last words, it seemed wise to move on elsewhere: besides, it was getting really cold. Walking to the car, I reflected on how fast things had changed in Spoleto, and how the charisma, the elegance and the style of the Menottis would never come back. I also recalled that, despite the rough periods when many had tried to discredit Francis Menotti as a madman and a thief with all the means at their disposal, I had never heard him pronounce oaths, swear-words or insults against anyone, either in public or in private. And this is a big difference. The following day, the incident was the talk of the town: there were even those who tried to minimize the episode, maintaining that in public and official meetings, Mr Ferrara had always been extremely courteous, a model of diplomacy and bon ton. Thank goodness.

But let us return to the 2008 Festival programme. In the same Ministry announcement to which I have already referred, the relaunch of the Festival was couched in the following terms: “The new Festival will open itself up to other cultures, so often shown on film but rarely in live performance. Asia, together with China, Corea, India and Japan, Latin America, the Africa of the Maghreb and the black continent, the Caribbean: creative melting-pots which will make us a present of unusual and fantastic visionary. We will get to know their languages: from the marionettes of Japanese “bunraku” to Latin American and African rhythms… Spoleto must enter into a dialogue, with co-productions and exchanges with other Festivals: Avignon, Edinburgh, Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg, Venice, Festival d’Automne, Madrid… The activity of the Festival will not be limited to a few weeks in the Summer… ”

Giorgio Ferrara followed up with an interview in the Corriere della Sera on 29 November 2008: “The real challenge will be above all to transform the town of Spoleto into a cultural laboratory open the whole year round, so that the Festival will not be limited to the three short weeks of the Summer… In the second half of 2008, this project of a “laboratory town” will take shape… We will organize seminars to last the whole year and which will go to make up performances for the Festival… The basis of this operation is in taking root in the region… ” And again, at the press conference which took place in Spoleto on 1st February 2008: “The Festival will have important productions from China and from Germany. Ample space will be given to opera and to artistic expressions from America and South Africa… International research laboratories will be set up, as pointers to the programme of the following year’s Festival”. After all of which, it seems only natural to ask how much of this has been put into action. Would it be exaggerating, to say “little or nothing”?

Let us take a look at a few specific points:

1 – The international dimension of the Festival

First of all, one wonders where the novelty is to be found. The international nature of the events and the exchange between different cultures were always prerogatives of Menotti’s Festival. It was this happy intuition of the Maestro that gave birth to the Festival in 1958 (why otherwise would he have chosen to call it the Festival of the Two Worlds?) and which characterized it up until 2007, the year of the 50th anniversary. If proof were needed, it is sufficient to leaf through the programmes of all the 50 years. What is less clear is the question of how much cultural interchange took place in the multimillion 2008 Festival and how much is proposed for the 2009 edition, just around the corner. With the exception of a touch of cumbersome and expensive exoticism in the figure of an elephant (at the cost of various tens of thousands of Euros) which graced the stage of the Teatro Nuovo in an admittedly colourful production of “Padmavati”, and of a choir of Gospel singers (of which we felt no particular need), it is not hard to perceive that the Festival is not promoting, either last year or this, any contact with the cultures of Asia, China, Corea, India, Japan, Latin America, the Maghreb, the black continent or the Caribbean, as promised.

The show “I prodotti”, programmed for this year, with Kenyan acrobats, is an Italian production from start to finish. What is more, it is announced as a first performance in Italy, when in fact it has already been performed in Turin on 26 February 2009. The rest of the 2009 programme presents productions that are almost exclusively Italian (to the tune of around 90%). And yet, Mr Ferrara was proud enough to announce at the recent public meeting in San Nicol˛: “There are some 30 productions going the rounds in Europe which are asking to be invited to Spoleto. Alas, we will have to choose only three or four, even if I would like to have them all”. It is not exactly clear where they are to be found.

2 – Music at the Festival and the new productions for 2009

Music has always been the mainstay of the Festival dei Due Mondi, reflecting the will and the passion of Maestro Menotti himself. One wonders quite what Mr Ferrara means when he speaks of “ample” space for opera in his Festival. If last year there was no “classic” opera in the programme, this year we will have all 50 minutes of “Gianni Schicchi”, along with the musical comedy “Mozart”. A propos Gianni Schicchi, it should be pointed out that Puccini’s opera, directed by Woody Allen, has already been performed in Los Angeles in September of last year, in its original setting (the “Trittico”) together with “Il tabarro” and “Suor Angelica”. Allen directed Gianni Schicchi, whilst William Friedkin (director of the film “The Exorcist”) was in charge of Suor Angelica and Il tabarro. I cannot help asking myself why the production has been distorted and truncated, and why it will not be performed whole in Spoleto (where, in 1996, the complete Trittico was performed in a memorable staging by Maestro Menotti), especially when taking into consideration Mr Ferrara’s declarations about giving greater importance to opera.

The wording of the presentation of the event also seems somewhat inexact: in the 2009 programme we read that the production is by the Los Angeles Opera in collaboration with Spoleto52 Festival dei Due Mondi. But if the opera has already been performed last year in Los Angeles, in what does the collaboration of the Festival consist? I underline this point, because I believe that much confusion has been stirred up regarding the presence of Woody Allen in Spoleto and the direction of Gianni Schicchi. Let us clear up any doubt over the matter: the opera was directed by Woody Allen in 2008 on a commission of the Los Angeles Opera and the same production will be repeated in Spoleto for three evenings. Hence, no new production for the Festival nor, still less, any personal undertaking by Allen with regard to Spoleto.

We all recall how directors of the calibre of Ken Russell, Roman Polanski or Carlos Saura, engaged by Maestro Menotti, came in person to Spoleto to work at the Festival, or how, in 2007, three famous film directors – Oliver Stone, Paul Mazursky and Terry Gilliam – were in town, invited by Francis Menotti with the precise intent to discuss projects for future Festivals. Obviously, it all came to nothing, given that Francis would shortly be substituted by Ferrara.

But to return to 2009. Reynaldo Hahn’s “Mozart” is, by contrast, a new production, directed by Pizzi and choreographed by Jancu (back in the theatre, after his television work for Maria de Filippi’s “Amici”). The opera is in fact a musical comedy, with music made up from quotations from Mozart. The production is announced as a “first performance”, but it is not hard to discover that part of the musical cast has already taken part in a staging of the same opera last January at the OpÚra of Tours in France, giving the impression that the idea of a “first performance” is slightly debatable. Those times are truly passed, when operas were entirely produced in Spoleto and the singers were chosen by the Maestro and his collaborators during the course of exciting auditions in the Teatro Nuovo.

As for the other musical events, last year’s programme was threadbare and the situation in 2009 has not changed a great deal. Compare what preceding Festivals, those of the Menottis, had to offer and the difference is obvious. Those who came to the Festival all remember events such as “Ora mistica”, “Umbria segreta”, the Midday Concerts, the “Concerti in Piazza”, the “Concerti alla Rocca”, music every day and everywhere.

This year, perhaps the events that are most eagerly awaited are the concert wanted so much by Caterina Caselli, “Copynight”, with Carapezza and Paola Turci, along with “Figaro il barbiere” with Elio (but without the “Storie tese”), shows of leftist-populist inspiration which will fill the theatres, just as Lucia Littizzetto did last year.

The Midday Concerts? Handed over in their entirety to the Fiesole Music School, they will once again give us pleasure in the late morning, but, as our friend Andrew Starling has noted, “we should not delude ourselves into thinking that we will discover the Yo-Yo Mas and the Jessye Normans of tomorrow”.

Jazz? No problem. A tribute to Nat King Cole will be performed in Piazza Duomo for 10 consecutive evenings by the Allan Harris Quintet… Rather a shame that the Quintet already performed repeatedly last December for Umbria Jazz Winter in Orvieto, at the Palazzo dei Sette (Bar/Snacks/Enoteca), free entry with compulsory consumption.

And the closing concert? Music by Gershwin, to which the ever-imaginative Mr Ferrara is on record as auguring that the public might want to get up and dance, like at a rock concert, and – who knows? – wave their hands in the air and sing together in chorus. Whether they want to or not, the fact remains that, like last year, there is no concert exclusive to Spoleto. The tradition which Menotti stood by is gone. If in 2008 the London Symphony Orchestra came with the same programme that it had just performed in Palermo (the only difference being that the cost of the ticket in Spoleto was six times higher than in Palermo), this year’s conductor and pianist, Wayne Marshall, brings Gershwin to Spoleto after having performed his music the length and breadth of Italy.

Another company already seen throughout the country is the Compagnia dell’Accademia Perduta Romagna Teatri, which has the unenviable task of filling the void left by the historic Marionette Colla. Their programmes for children include Hńnsel & Gretel and “Pollicino”, this last performed not more than three months ago at Perugia’s Teatro di San Sisto.

And does Maestro Menotti have a concert dedicated to him? Certainly, Mr Ferrara did not forget this time. A grand inaugural concert with music by Menotti at the Roman Theatre, as well as a concert of Baroque music in the Duomo. But curiously, this second concert is announced in the Festival programme not as “in honour” or “in memory” of Maestro Menotti, but simply as a “concert on the birthday of Gian Carlo Menotti”.

3 – Collaboration with the Festivals of Avignon, Edinburgh, Aix-en-Provence, Salzburg, Venice Festival d’Automne, Madrid

I remember perfectly well the enthusiastic reaction of actor friends of mine when the news was announced, towards the end of 2007 and by both Rutelli and Ferrara, of an innovative period of collaboration between Spoleto “new model” and the most important European Festivals. But the results in 2009 are nothing. Absolutely nothing. Unfortunately, I have now lost contact with these friends and have not seen them for ages. I expect that they have left Spoleto to look for work elsewhere, perhaps in Avignon, or Edinburgh, or Madrid…

4 – Collaboration with Charleston

This chapter could be discussed for a whole month, resembling as it does an unending soap-opera. Without wishing to explore too exhaustively all the meanders of a matter that has not a few obscure facets, I prefer to stick to the facts, those at least which have been rendered public.

The story is a long one. Does anyone remember the trips to North Carolina, as long ago as 2003, made by Mayor Brunini with the intent of weaving a new web of collaboration between Charleston, the Festival and the Municipality of Spoleto? And this when Maestro Menotti was still alive and his son Francis was trying desperately to organize his Festival. The official beginning, however, is in the press release of the Ministry of Culture on 26 November 2007, when Minister Rutelli, referring to the relaunching of the Festival, underlined the will to “consolidate relationships with Charleston”. Just four months later, on 31 March 2008, and accompanied by a substantial delegation from Spoleto, Mayor Brunini was once more in Charleston for meetings with Mayor Joseph Riley (and to be immortalized in a photograph in front of a statue of Abraham Lincoln).

Two months passed by and Brunini was yet again in North Carolina, this time to sign a twin-city pact between Charleston and Spoleto, a courtesy repaid on 27 June with the visit of Mayor Riley to Spoleto’s Town Hall. On the following 13 July, at the closing press conference of the Festival, Mr Ferrara affirmed that in 2009 “we will have an opera conducted by Emmanuel Villaume with the orchestra from Charleston, which will be resident in Spoleto from the first few days of June until the end of the Festival”. On 14 November 2008 Brunini announced another American trip, the precise intent of which was to sollicit funds for the Festival through the good offices of the Mayor of Charleston. Brunini also had meetings with members of the influential National Italian American Foundation (NIAF) and returned to Italy affirming that “Charleston will guarantee the chorus and orchestra for the Festival, which is no small matter”. He then talked about Melbourne and the necessity of renewing relationships with the capital of the State of Victoria, where Maestro Menotti had staged two Festivals.

And the result of so much travelling? A twinned city, a fat dossier of newspaper articles, meetings in grand style and a Festival, in both 2008 and 2009, with no Charleston, despite all the promises.

5 – Spoleto, a cultural laboratory town open the year round

No doubt about it. The proposal put forward by Mr Ferrara to make Spoleto a cultural laboratory town open the whole year is excellent. As is excellent the idea to involve in this project the various cultural expressions of the area, contributing to “take root in the region”.

It is rather a pity that the same ideas have been going the rounds for at least 30 years and that Francis Menotti himself proposed to expand the activity of the Festival in other periods of the year (does someone remember the “Spring Festivals”?), although he succeeded only in part. And it is a pity that, so far, we have seen nothing of the cultural laboratories mentioned by Mr Ferrara. And yet he himself fixed a date, saying that “in the second half of 2008, the project of a “laboratory town” will take shape… We will organize seminars to last the whole year and which will go to make up performances for the Festival”. We are in 2009 and still nothing. If anything, it seems to me that things are going in the opposite direction.

But to return to reality. Everyone in Spoleto knows that the Festival, with 50 years of theatre production, has made possible the formation of excellent professional personnel – who are recognized nationally and internationally –, from scenographers and costume designers to stagehands, dressmakers, lighting designers, electricians, sound engineers and administrators. The Festival has been the town’s biggest industry in a very real sense, offering the possibility for hundreds of people to start a profession, to know it from the inside, to make it their own. Many of these people have travelled the world, they have worked in international theatres, they have met the most famous singers, directors and actors. And this is an exclusive merit of the Festival.

For this very reason, a shiver ran down our backs a month ago, when the news was confirmed that Mr Ferrara had decided to have the scenery for the 2009 Festival created in a Rome workshop, leaving empty-handed the local workforce. Rumours had been circulating for some time that there would be a drastic reduction in personnel, but nobody had imagined for a moment that it would come to this. It is the first time in the entire history of the Festival that the local workshops will remain with their shutters down, or – at most – with some small routine job to do.

Already at the press conference on 24 April, Mr Ferrara had advanced a doubt or two about the capability of Spoleto’s technical staff, when he stated: “The sceneries will be made here in Spoleto, provided that the workshops are up to it. If not, they will still be made in Italy”. This did not go down well with some of the workforce present at the time, and after only 10 days the news was official: the sceneries were to be made in Rome, where the necessary €90,000 would be spent, leaving the local workers to their own devices.

Everyone in Spoleto is extremely angry and they have not forgotten the joint declarations of Mayor Brunini and Mr Ferrara at the press conference on 24 April: “It is our wish to increase the involvement of the town. We want Spoleto to regain confidence in the Festival: we want the town to be alive during the Winter as well, at Christmas, at Easter and on the main weekends of the year, always keeping open the workshops for scenery and costumes”. It was the same story on 15 July 2008, at the end of the Festival, when Brunini declared: “Obviously, we must not forget the role of the town and the importance which it will have from now onwards. The Festival dei Due Mondi is a precious possession for Spoleto and we must be united and ready to take an active part”.

It remains only to add – and nobody can maintain the contrary – that the Menottis, even in the worst moments (such as the 2007 Festival), never failed to produce at least one opera each year, taking full advantage of the local workforce to make scenery and costumes, with a firm belief in the quality of the work done by “their” technicians and knowing how essential it was to sustain the local economy. More than once, Francis received offers from outside Spoleto, offers for the creation of both scenery and costumes that were financially more appetising, but he never accepted such offers. He saw to it that the town’s workshops participated in every Festival and remained active, always siding with “his” workers and “his” technical staff, made up for at least 80% by personnel from Spoleto. This too was the Festival; these too were the Menottis.

And it is no coincidence that, in his last and desperate attempt to save the 2007 Festival, Francis appealed in the square for support precisely from those people that he had always welcomed, believing in their capabilities and trusting ingenuously in their love for the Festival. A motley crowd, that to many must have seemed like a big family that came together every year to produce a miracle.

And yet those same people did not respond to his appeal. Many chose to add their voices in his denigration, jealous of the Menottis’ lifestyle and wealth. Others preferred to bow their heads and look away, some afraid of reprisals, some under the spell of the siren songs of the Spoleto Municipality, whose major representatives had long been chanting the refrain: “Under us, the Festival will be reborn”. Well, the results of so much singing are now clear to all.

6 – Data and results of the 2008 Festival

During the notorious press conference that was held on the final day of the Festival, 13 July, when the Artistic Director, after rolling off a few figures, suddenly disappeared behind the wings of the Teatro Caio Melisso, to the astonishment of all the journalists present, the following official information emerged:

Overall, the performances had taken place before a 48% capacity audience. This was presented by Ferrara as a success, considering that the estimate had been for 40%. In all honesty, I wonder what Artistic Director would admit to being happy at the fact that the events which he himself had chosen played to houses that were less than half full. Nor should it be forgotten that the trio of Ferrara-Rutelli-Brunini, when presenting this multimillion edition of the Festival as its “relaunching”, promised a massive audience, which would be made up principally of Americans and foreigners in general. Internationalism, first and foremost.

In reality, at the end of the day, the principal interest seemed to be whether the local inhabitants – and how many of them – had attended the Festival, or how many discounted tickets (at the knock-down price of €2,50) had been sold to the workforce and members of their families, to municipal councillors and their families, or who had paid full price and who had had a discount, and so on and so on.

The second piece of information given to us by Ferrara was that the overall audience for the Festival had totalled 20,000, and this too was also considered a success. Admittedly, it was rather far from the 150,000 that Rutelli had expected: about 130,000 short, in matter of fact. Not only this, Mr Ferrara maintained that he had quadrupled the audience with respect to the last Menotti Festival (2007), which hence had added up to a mere 5,000. Quite how he arrived at this figure is something of a mystery, since it has never been rendered public either by Francis Menotti or by the Foundation, but it is relatively easy to give the lie to Mr Ferrara: the two “Concerti in Piazza” which took place in 2007 gathered alone over 5,000 spectators. One may therefore presume that, by virtue of the various sold-out performances of the last Menotti Festival (from the two performances of Andy Garcia to the concert of the Berlin Philharmonic ‘Cellists), the number of spectators present in 2007 was far in excess of 5,000. In any case, leaving aside official or unofficial data, whoever lives in Spoleto or follows the Festivals knows exactly how things went.

On the one hand Mayor Brunini has spoken of a “new departure for the Festival after 10 years of agony” (10 April 2008, during a meeting with local businessmen) and of a “success obtained by the 2008 Festival which has the total appreciation of the Municipality for an edition and an organization which have met all the expectations for a relaunching” (15 July 2008, at a press conference two days after the end of the Festival). On the other, the inhabitants of Spoleto know that things went rather differently.

The Festival had hardly ended, when insistent rumours began to circulate that Ferrara would be substituted as Chairman (the name of Innocenzo Cipolletta even surfaced), a sure sign that not everything had gone smoothly. The shopkeepers, the hoteliers and the local industrialists all know that the town was not crowded, as everyone had hoped, and that it suffered a heavy down-trend, reaching its nadir at Easter this year, when the tourist presence crashed by around 70%. I recall that, walking through the streets of the town, the litany of the “man on the street” was always the same: “Spoleto is empty, the Festival is finished”. How to convince him of the contrary?

The third piece of data can only concern the finances: over €4,000,000 of public money lavished on the Festival by Minister Rutelli, €800,000 given by local banks in the form of sponsorship, €80,000 assigned by the Regione Umbria, together with other introits from public and private institutions, for a total figure that still today has not been divulged, but which is certainly well over the already extraordinary sum of €5,000,000. From the moment that it is hard to understand how so much money was spent (with the same sum Menotti would have organized four Festivals, not just one), one wonders why at least a part of it was not invested in creating productions. The multimillion 2008 Festival will go down in history as the only edition that did not create the production of at least one opera.

Ferrara justified himself by saying that he had not had sufficient time, ignoring the fact that every year, and for every Festival, the new productions were normally created in the space of three months, and often more than one at a time (in 1996, there were even four productions: “Semele”, “Ahmal”, “Eugene Onegin” and “Sebastian”). However that may be, it remains difficult to understand where so much money was invested, considering that there is still today so little news about the final balance sheet and that Mr Marco Aldo Amoroso, Chief Executive of the Festival, abruptly left his job on 18 December last year, substituted by Flavia Masetti.

Another piece of data regards the 37 events and the 75 curtain-ups of 2008, publicized with much emphasis and pride by the Festival’s organizers. Perhaps someone has forgotten – or fails to know – that, in Francis Menotti’s 2007 Festival, the events were 86 and the curtain went up 146 times in 17 days (and this, we repeat, with a quarter of the public funding received under the management of Ferrara).

Lastly, some data about the controversial business of the sponsors. Everyone knows that the Festival has a law suit pending with Raffaella Gabetta’s “Etheria Consulting”, the first sponsoring organization that began to work for the Festival, only to be suddenly shown the door and substituted by another firm, “Mediavip” of Michele Costantino. The law suit is still under way and only the Tribunal will pronounce whether the Festival will have to pay out the €600,000 of damages requested by “Etheria”. And the 2008 Festival had not yet even begun.

Hardly a year has passed and history has repeated itself. This time it was Costantino’s “Mediavip” to be in trouble, shown the door in their turn by the Festival Foundation on 12 May 2009, and regarding which the Foundation “prefers to maintain the strictest reserve”. “Mediavip” made a swift reply on 14 May, stating that it had “instructed its lawyers to examine the feasibility of legal action against the Festival Foundation for breach of contract”. This position was confirmed by “Mediavip” during the course of a recent press conference held on 4 June at the Hotel Albornoz in Spoleto, when the firm’s request for damages was calculated at €2,500,000.

In short, Mr Ferrara finds himself in something of a fine mess, when only a year ago, referring to Mediavip’s work, he announced (perhaps with an excessive touch of optimism): “The sum raised by sponsorship was good, but we estimate that it will be double next year”. A pity that it is “Mediavip” which is no longer held in estimation.

To conclude, a final reflection on the new poster of the Festival, designed by Bob Wilson. Someone has said that, like his work in the theatre, it is rather too minimalist, and this is perhaps true. To my mind, however, the use of the word “minimalist” is a way of avoiding another interpretation, more provocative perhaps, which could be summed up in the phrase “always the same self-imitation”. I have no hesitation in saying that Wilson’s poster is a precise mirror-image of what the new politicized management of the Festival represents. That is to say, it is the re-proposal of a cultural and aesthetic formula which today is feeble and drained of its original essence, a formula that had every reason to exist in a particular historic period (I refer to the 1970s), but which is now manipulated for the convenience of politics and power, with the precise intent of standardizing cultural dogmas that mask a profound incapacity for creativity.

It is of course a sign of the times, but also the consequence of a form of politics, tentacular and omnivorous, that professes itself in favour of renewal and continues to call itself progressist, with shouts from the rooftops that increasingly resemble a litany and to which nobody listens any more. That same kind of politics which, having kept under its control for decades every kind of cultural activity in the area (from theatres, festivals and museums, to conservatoires and art schools), is incapable of the slightest creative impulse of any significance, having detained – narcissistically, and for too long – an absolute power that has gone so far as to deny the existence of anyone who might have a different point of view.

Today’s Festival is the latest fruit of the cultural vocation of this politicking, which is engrossed with itself, conformist, self-referential, atrophic, removed from the world, capable only of self-glorification. It is the Festival of the armchairs of power, of public money which ends up we know not where (what with the merry-go-round of balance sheets that are more or less official), of political party intellectualisms, of drawing room chatter, of art that is suffocated at the point of birth, of bourgeois leftists dressed up as potentates, of the compulsive meddling with power.

It is the Festival of the “charge” of the 70-year olds, such as the acclaimed Wilson or the genial Allen, Maestro Ronconi or the histrionic Pizzi, all still up there giving us lessons about theatre and art, putting forward formulas and thoughts that are increasingly self-imitations.

But above all it is a Festival that is by its own nature bankrupt, born from the wish – what a miserable ambition! – to appropriate the dream of another individual, of the artist that was Maestro Menotti.