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The Verona Shakespeare Festival

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Carlo Mangolini
Palazzo Barbieri – Comune di Verona, Piazza Bra, 1, 37121

The definition of “fair Verona” as a Shakesperean city (Romeo and Juliet and The Two Gentlemen of Verona) invoked the creation of a festival devoted to a celebration of the Bard’s plays. The Verona Shakespeare Festival was founded as a tribute to William Shakespeare in 1948 by Renato Simoni, the librettist of Puccini’s Turandot. It opened with a production of Romeo and Juliet with a translation by Nobel laureate Salvatore Quasimodo, a prestigious cast, and Giorgio Strehler as assistant director. Ever since that premiere, the Festival, which takes place in the Roman theatre, has marked Verona’s summer and become one of the most important Shakespeare Festivals in the world. It has attracted international directors and stars with shows including Peter Brook’s The Tempest performed in the nearby Giardino Giusti in 1991, a production of Antony and Cleopatra starring Vanessa Redgrave (1995), an RSC’s Romeo and Juliet directed by Michael Attenborough (1998), and Peter Stein’s Richard II (2017) – besides landmark Italian productions such as Giorgio Albertazzi’s Hamlet (1963), Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet (1964), Luca Ronconi’s Measure for Measure (1967), and Carmelo Bene’s Hamlet Suite (1994). 

The Shakespeare Festival holds a central position within the broader multidisciplinary programme called Estate Teatrale Veronese (ETV; Verona Summer Theatre Season, which in 2022 reached its 74th edition). In the past few editions, the ETV has added a full repertory of classical drama to the Shakespearean programme (the former in collaboration with the National Institute of Ancient Drama in Siracusa – INDA). As far as music is concerned, two distinct programmes have developed: Verona Jazz, with the best from the national and international panorama, and Rumors Festival, with innovative musical events in the area between pop and experimental. Finally, the dance programme continues to showcase major companies in prestigious venues and with particular attention given to contemporary choreography. Among the many cultural enterprises which have taken place from the festival’s very beginnings, intended to integrate the already extensive calendar of events, there is one element that should be singled out for the continuity of its connection with ETV. This is the “Premio Teatrale Renato Simoni per la Fedeltà al Teatro di Prosa” (Renato Simoni Drama Prize for Fidelity to Prose Drama), established in 1958, and assigned to the most outstanding figures of the Italian theatrical scene. 

For more than seventy years now the history of the Veronese summer seasons may be encapsulated in a long list of productions, actors, directors, scenographers, musicians, dancers, choreographers, and so on. And yet none of this could have happened without its prestigious headquarters, considering the historic and artistic value that this place perfectly embodies and which has constituted a central location for world level theatrical culture for centuries, from its founding during the first century AD until now. Over the years other city venues have joined the Roman Theatre: the Corte Mercato Vecchio and recently the various buildings of the Civic Museum System. Right from the beginning the direct collaboration of the Comune di Verona has been equally important. From 1974 onwards the organisation of ETV has been facilitated by the valuable organisational, managerial and administrative assistance of the Comune: it directly promotes the whole enterprise, today in the hands of the Unità Organizzativa Spettacolo which is coordinated by the manager and partly carried out by permanent staff on the Local Authority.