Festival di Spoleto vs the Proms

ABOVE Cecilia Bartoli during her recital with pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet at Teatro Caio Melisso, Festival di Spoleto
ABOVE Cecilia Bartoli during her recital with pianist Jean Yves Thibaudet at Teatro Caio Melisso, Festival di Spoleto

At the Festival di Spoleto, the last note of each performance hangs in the air; stepping out from the Proms, it fades fast back into the tuneless roar of London’s traffic


LOCATION Spoleto is a large medieval town in Umbria, central Italy, 80 miles (130 km) north of Rome WHEN Late June/early July

NUMBER OF VISITORS 20,000 spectators attend 95 different performances


For 16 glorious days each summer, Spoleto transforms itself for a performing arts extravanganza: the town’s Roman theater shakes off any dust and fills with the echoes of its orchestra; the medieval duomo (cathedral) becomes a backdrop for the finest operas; and the Teatro Nuovo polishes its exquisite 19th-century boxes.

In contrast, at London’s Royal Albert Hall, BBC technicians fiddle and fuss in front of the audience, intent on relaying the music to far-flung television viewers. At the end of each performance, the flushed crowds file out into a city that barely pauses to take note of the extraordinary music pouring from its heart.

In creating the Festival di Spoleto in 1957, the Italian composer Gian Carlo Menotti wanted to bring together the best young performers of the day, and to encourage directors, choreographers, and composers to share ideas in order to re-invigorate old classics and to find ways to perform innovative new works. Menotti scoured Italy for a suitable venue.

He came upon Spoleto, a slumbering storehouse of Roman remains and medieval buildings which was already blessed with several theaters and a supportive mayor.

The festival, dedicated to theater, music, and dance, grew to be one of Europe’s finest. In its early years, unknown artists including Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn danced here, and Jacqueline du Pré and Jessye Norman gave debut performances.

Each summer, Spoleto’s cafés fill with the sounds of rehearsals and the cathedral square is transformed into a stage You may rub shoulders again with your neighbor from last night’s Row B during the evening passeggiata or see a young ballerina bounding up Via Apollinare for her rehearsal at the Roman theater. It sure beats lining up on Kensington Gore for tickets to the Proms.


Getting There and Around

Spoleto’s nearest airport is in Perugia, 30 miles (48 km) to the northwest, but most international airlines fly into Rome – a 1 1/2 – hour train ride away. There is an excellent network of buses in the Valle di Spoleto, and small shuttle buses operate inside the medieval town

Where to Eat

There is a big emphasis on simple, local ingredients in Umbrian cuisine and even the most basic dishes can vary from village to village. One of Spoleto’s best restaurants is the Tempio del Gusto

Where to Stay

You will need to book very early, or consider staying outside of town. In Spoleto itself, the Hotel Residenza d’Epoca Palazzo Dragoni is right in the middle of town. Its dining room has breathtaking views over the medieval city.

When to Go

The Festival di Spoleto is a 16-day event, starting on the last weekend of June (or first week of July) and finishing in mid-July. It’s well worth keeping an eye on the official website for dates and venues.

Budget per Day for Two

With inflated hotel prices and watching two shows a day, you will need at least US$430

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