Zandonai’s most popular creation “Francesca da Rimini” was commemorated in Macerata, the provincial capital of the northern Italian region of Marche, in 2004. Massimo Gasparon (former assistant to the celebrated scenographer Pier Luigi Pizzi) was responsible for the direction, set and costumes of this production for the Sferisterio Opera Festival. With its all-star cast including Daniela Dessì and Fabio Armiliato as the passionate lovers (the singers are regarded as two of the leading interpreters of Italian soprano and tenor roles respectively, both hail from Genoa and are in fact also real-life partners) and the baritone Alberto Mastromarino as the ideal “villain”, the production follows in a long line of significant post-war performances of Francesca da Rimini. The Sferisterio – a 4,500-seat arena originally used as a venue for the traditional ballgame gioco del bracciale (a game played with spiked arm protectors and a heavy wooden ball) – was built between 1819 and 1829; since 1921 it has been home to the annual opera festival held in late July/early August. As has come to be associated with staged events in Verona, the representative open-air nature of the performance turns this lavishly costumed production in a historic setting into something out of the ordinary.
The Met's first production in more than 60 years is "treated with a keen appreciation for the special requirements of verismo and a practically vanished performing tradition. Scotto has found her ideal role…a great performance… Domingo sang glamorously… Levine's affectionate concern for the music told in every measure… The massive sets by Ezio Frigerio serve the work exquisitely … Piero Faggioni’s graceful direction strikes a perfect balance” (New York Magazine)