Feature: Rome Opera restaging productions in ancient stadium to meet health rules

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ROME, July 18 (Xinhua) -- A star-studded audience greeted the first post-coronavirus lockdown performance of Rome Opera company Thursday, relaunched in Circus Maximus, with specially built stages and seating designed to allow for adherence to health rules including social distancing.

The performance of Giuseppe Verdi's masterpiece "Rigoletto" -- an iconic love story first performed in 1851 -- had the high standards the Rome Opera is known for, though the context was new.

Most of the time, Circus Maximus is a large, rectangular-shaped open field built on the site of an ancient Roman stadium used for chariot races. Its most common guests are joggers and dog walkers.

But starting last month, workers began meticulously constructing rows of seats and a massive stage. Circus Maximus is far larger than the Baths of Caracalla, another ancient Roman site, allowing for much more space between bystanders. In Circus Maximus, most seating is paired off in sets of two, with extra space between the seats.

The summer season is usually a highlight of the Rome Opera company's annual schedule, which was shut down in March as part of the coronavirus lockdown.

Among those on hand for the opening night: Italian President Sergio Mattarella; Rome Mayor Virginia Raggi; Roberto Fico and Maria Elisabetta Alberti Casellati, the heads of the two houses of the Italian parliament; Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini; and ambassadors to Italy from a few countries.

The following day, the Italian media praised the performance. The Rome newspaper La Repubblica hailed it as a "blockbuster," while Il Messaggero, another major newspaper, called the performance a "triumph."

For opera fans who attended the event, it was also a much-needed return to "something close to normal" after weeks of coronavirus lockdown, economic hardship, and related restrictions.

"It brought me to tears," Antonio Figarello, a retired bank manager who in recent years attended the opera a few times each summer, told Xinhua. "The performance was beautiful, yes, and that was a factor. But I was also moved by being able to take my wife to dinner and the opera again. A few weeks ago, we were locked inside and tonight we were able to admire this wonderful performance."

Alice Pons, Figarello's wife, agreed. "All the worries from the last few weeks dripped away for a couple of hours," she said in an interview.

There will be two more performances of "Rigoletto" this month, followed by "The Barber of Seville," written by Gioachino Rossini; Antonio Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons"; "The Merry Widow" by Franz Lehar -- all opera classics. The abbreviated season will conclude in August with a special homage to Rome.

Elena Santi, a music teacher, said she planned to attend at least two more performances before the season closed.

"I wanted to see how the first night went and it was wonderful," Santi told Xinhua. "This is the kind of thing we need right now. I have to admit it's not quite as great a setting as the Baths of Caracalla, but who cares? It's something close to normal when so many things are different and sometimes even upsetting." Enditem

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