The interview of the month

15 February 2023

Manuela Gasperoni is Head of Stage Set Design at the Festival, where she has worked since 2012.
What was your first contact with the ROF? How did you end up working in Pesaro?
“The first time I worked in Pesaro was in 1996, I was Pier'Alli's stage assistant for Matilde di Shabran at the old Palafestival. The experience was very interesting and formative for me, because although I had already had the opportunity to work in great theatres such as La Scala, the Filarmonico in Verona, and the Teatro Massimo in Palermo, it was the first time I had worked at a Festival. The energy that one could breathe, the passion that involved all departments, and the precise perception of being part of a great event were the characteristics that struck me the most and still give me the same sensation today”.

Tell us about your career path: from architect to stage manager and set designer in major Italian and foreign theatres...
“My training started far from the stage... I graduated in Architecture in Florence and even before finishing my studies, like many of my colleagues at the time, I was working at a design studio dealing with construction, design and sports facilities. While at university, for an exam with Professor Pettena on Tools and Techniques of Visual Communication, I had to prepare a thesis on Pier'Alli, a director, set and costume designer who also used film projections in his performances. It was 1988, the Internet did not exist, and to find out more about the artist I went to the offices of the daily newspaper La Nazione in Florence to talk to the journalist in charge of the Culture pages. I managed to get the contacts that led me to personally meet Pier'Alli and interview him, drawing on his personal archive for the repertoire material. He is also an architect, and his approach to the set design, extremely evocative but at the same time precise and technical, struck me in a particular way, so much so that I made myself available as a designer if he needed help with the stage design. He contacted me, a few months later, to do the executive technical drawings for a Trovatore that was to be staged in Zurich. It was my first opera! And I had never set foot on a stage until then... Pier'Alli turned out to be a great maestro for me, everything I knew he passed on to me through a collaboration that lasted until a few years ago. As his assistant, I had the opportunity to work in the most important theatres in Italy and abroad, participating in productions that will remain in the history of opera theatre, such as the Wagner Tetralogy at the Teatro Comunale in Bologna, Lucia di Lammermoor, Mefistofele, Beatrice di Tenda at La Scala, Simon Boccanegra in Venice, Genoa and Warsaw, the inauguration of the Teatro Reina Sofia in Valencia with Fidelio and many other productions. Over the years I have then worked with various directors and set designers such as Hugo De Ana, Nicola Rubertelli, Quirino Conti and others, following them on their travels around the world, having the opportunity to get to know technical teams of all types and nationalities, shaping and enriching my professionalism in relation to the stage. The Teatro Comunale di Bologna first gave me the opportunity to collaborate with their Stage Direction in 2001. Over the years this opportunity was offered to me again by the Rossini Opera Festival, where I started in 2012 as Assistant to the Technical Director until replacing him at the end of his career in 2018”.

Over the years, you have had to face some very demanding production challenges: among many, the 2020 Festival at the time of Covid. What do you remember of that summer? 
“2020 was a year that no one will be able to forget.... We, with the ROF, returned from our trip to Oman two days before they blocked all the airports, at the beginning of March... I must say that despite the total closures of all the performance venues, we continued almost immediately to hypothesise the Festival, with various possible options, and I tried to get all the necessary data if there were any openings permitted by the Ministry. I remember very well the phone call I received from the General Director on May 16th (I will never forget this date!) in which he asked me if on a technical level we would be able to present performances that season, and I replied that we were ready. I had worked with my collaborators so that we would have the conditions to produce at least two performances complete with sets and costumes. On that occasion, the determination of our Intendant struck me powerfully, and I admired his courage in deciding to go ahead and face the 2020 Festival. And we succeeded in our intent: at the Teatro Rossini with La cambiale di matrimonio, completely covering the stalls with a large platform to allow the orchestra to play at the required distances and accommodating the audience only in the boxes, and creating an open-air theatre in Piazza del Popolo for Il viaggio a Reims and the concerts. It was a magnificent summer! Having overcome the initial dismay and the difficulties due to the Covid situation, we all worked on the project with tireless commitment, certain that the result would remain in the Festival's memory... and luckily everything worked in our favour! It never rained during the entire performance period!”.

Explain to us what the absence of the Teatro Rossini will mean from the point of view of staging work... 
“After describing the Covid period, talking about what the absence of the Teatro Rossini will entail seems like a small thing... but in reality not having such an important and strategic space for the Festival is a big problem that we are trying to interpret as a new challenge. From the point of view of staging, we will have to share the stage of the Vitrifrigo Arena with three performances instead of two, as has been the norm in recent years, and we will move Il viaggio a Reims and the concerts to the Teatro Sperimentale. It won't be easy, but with the collaboration of the creative teams present this year we are trying to maintain the artistic level that the event requires, working on technical solutions and developing a rehearsal programme that the Artistic Direction is adapting to the new requirements. I make no secret of the fact that sometimes I wonder how we will manage to pull it all together, but the professionalism of my collaborators and the trust they show in following the proposals I am working on to solve the various problems, reminds me that we are a great team and that this time too we will manage to turn a limitation into a possibility, tackling the ROF 2023 with the same enthusiasm as always!”.