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Opera in Southern Sicily - Five operas in historic theatres in beautiful Baroque cities

Five diverse operas, Baroque, Classical and Romantic, unknown and well known, unstaged and staged, with some of Europe’s finest ensembles and soloists. 

A sixth concert: a Scarlatti requiem mass performed in front of a Caravaggio masterpiece.

All are private performances, all in beautiful historic theatres – Sicily’s best-kept secret.

Based on the island of Ortygia in Syracuse, one of the loveliest city centres in Italy.

Packages including flights (optional), coach transfers, meals, and accommodation in 3- and 4-star hotels.

Optional art history walks with John McNeill and Dr R.T. Cobianchi.

Talks, a comprehensive programme booklet, optional pre- and post-festival tours.

  • © Teatro Garibaldi, Avola.
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Sicily is an island of many surprises, and its collection of historic opera houses must rank high among them.

Few visitors ever make it into any of the bewitchingly beautiful auditoria, many of which are well restored and in serviceable working order. With the exception of the three biggest cities on the island, performances and events are rare and of little interest to an international audience.

Nineteenth-century by date if basically seventeenth-century in design, these theatres are characterised by a horseshoe plan, several tiers of boxes and sumptuous decoration. Some are white and crimson and gold, others are elaborately painted with mythological scenes and symbols and trompe-l’oeil ornamentation.

Owing their genesis to the surge of pride and optimism that followed the unification of Italy in 1860, they were community facilities, funded by public subscription. Most, however, are tiny, echoing the court theatres which were their model, and can only comfortably seat between 100 and 300. So in the 21st century they are hopelessly uneconomical for classical music concerts of any ambition.

The unique formula pioneered by Martin Randall Festival enables us to mount five operas in these theatres – three Baroque (Charpentier, Conti and Handel), one Classical (Mozart) and one Romantic (Verdi). Most will be concert performances, one will be fully staged.

A sixth performance, a requiem mass, takes place in a church.

The audience is accommodated in hotels on the Island of Ortygia, the ancient heart of Syracuse, one of the largest areas of unremittingly picturesque townscape to be found in Italy. From here you travel by coach to performances in the other towns.

Perhaps the most amazing feature of the festival is the extraordinarily high quality of the singers, orchestras and directors we have chosen to perform for you. It would be invidious to name names: just keep reading through this brochure. 

The festival package

Access to the concerts is exclusive to those who take our festival package, which includes:

— All six performances (five of which are operas).
— Accommodation for six nights – choose between five options. See Practicalities.
— Choice of flights between London and Sicily (reduced price if you arrange your own). See Practicalities.
— Breakfasts, four dinners (including one picnic), one lunch and interval drinks.
— Talks on the music by Dr David Vickers.
— Travel by comfortable private coach.
— The assistance of festival staff and a detailed programme booklet.

In addition, there are extra services which can be booked:

— A choice of pre- and post-festival tours or a London Day. See Practicalities.
— Arriving a day early at your festival hotel. See Practicalities.
— Extra dinners, so that each evening is spent in the company of other participants. Details will be available at a later stage.
— A range of walks and visits led by art historians. Details will be available at a later stage.

The concerts

L’Issipile (1732)
Francesco Conti
Teatro Tina di
Lorenzo, Noto
La Nuova Musica

La traviata (1853)
Giuseppe Verdi
Teatro Comunale, Vittoria
Hampstead Garden Opera

Actéon (1685)
Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Teatro Garibaldi, Avola
Early Opera Company 

Missa defunctorum (1717)
Alessandro Scarlatti
Chiesa di Santa Luca alla Badia, Syracuse

Acis & Galatea (1718)
George Frideric Handel
Teatro Garibaldi, Modica
Early Opera Company

Così fan Tutte (1790)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Teatro Massimo Comunale, Syracuse
Classical Opera

More about the concerts

All of the theatres chosen as venues were built in the 19th century, and though they have been refurbished, some of the seats may be less comfortable than those in a modern opera house. Many are in boxes rather than in the stalls (orchestra), though we are limiting audience capacity so everyone has good sight-lines. If you are uneasy with the idea of sitting anywhere other than in the stalls, please talk to us before booking.

Private. All the performances are planned and administered by us, and the audience consists exclusively of those who have taken the festival package.

Seating. Specific seats are not reserved. You sit where you want.

Capacity. There will be up to 220 participants on the festival. At the one venue which cannot accommodate this number, the opera is repeated.

Acoustics. This festival is more concerned with locale and authenticity than with acoustic perfection. The venues may have idiosyncrasies or reverberations of the sort not found in modern concert halls. However, as most are theatres and therefore purpose-built for this genre of music, acoustics are generally very good.

Changes. Musicians fall ill, venues may close for repairs, airlines alter schedules: there are many circumstances which could necessitate changes to the programme. We ask you to be understanding should they occur.

The musicians

La Nuova Musica
Since its foundation in 2007, La Nuova Musica has rapidly established itself as one of the most versatile performing groups of its kind. Under the direction of founder and Artistic Director, David Bates, LNM has placed dynamism and discovery at the heart of every performance.

Drawing inspiration from the groundbreaking 17th-century Italian treatise – ‘Le nuove musiche’ – La Nuova Musica strives for audiences to experience musical works as if hearing them for the first time. Masterpieces of the Baroque era sit at the heart of LNM’s repertoire, but the ensemble’s breadth of influence results in concert programmes drawing works from across the Classical period alongside new music from LNM’s active commissioning programme.

La Nuova Musica’s performance of L’Issipile at Wigmore Hall was described by Tim Ashley in The Guardian as ‘A knock-out performance…Bates and La Nuova Musica go from strength to strength.’

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Schola Cantorum in Basel, David Bates has rapidly established himself as one of Europe’s most exciting directors of Baroque music and a figurehead for a new performing generation.

Having initially embarked on a professional singing career, Bates founded La Nuova Musica in 2007, driven by a desire to articulate his own musical vision.

Irish mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon studied in Dublin, and her distinguished career has embraced an impressive diversity of roles. An acclaimed Baroque and bel canto singer, highlights include the title role in Giulio Cesare at Barcelona Liceu, Orlando at Opéra National de Paris and lead roles at the Met, ENO, Theater an der Wien and LA Opera.

Born in Staffordshire, Lucy Crowe studied at the Royal Academy of Music, to which she has recently been appointed a Fellow. With repertoire ranging from Purcell, Handel and Mozart to Donizetti and Verdi, Crowe has sung with opera companies throughout the world, including the Royal Opera, Glyndebourne, ENO and the Met.

‘Lucy Crowe…brings down the house with a soprano artistry beyond compare.’ The Independent.

Italian-born Raffaele Pe began his vocal and organ studies as a chorister at Lodi Cathedral. He continued his training in London, where he became a member of the Monteverdi Choir’s Young Artist programme. Hailed by critics for his versatile and expressive voice, his repertoire spans from recitar cantando to contemporary opera.

Lawrence Zazzo studied English Literature at Yale University, followed by Music at King’s College, Cambridge. He continued his education at the Royal  College of Music in London, and has since enjoyed a diverse and thriving international opera career.

‘Lawrence Zazzo’s outstandingly imperious title hero [Giulio Cesare] is the best sung and acted counter-tenor performance of the part I’ve encountered.’ Gramophone.

Since its debut in 1998, Odhecaton has won many prestigious prizes for its recordings, reflecting critical recognition of the group’s pioneering new interpretative approach to the performance of polyphonic music: a fluid and expressive reading based on textual declamation. The name of the group is taken from the Harmonice Musices Odhecaton, the first printed book of polyphony, published in 1501 in Venice by Ottaviano Petrucci. Their core repertoire encompasses the work of Italian, French, Flemish and Spanish composers of the 15th century.

Directed by Paolo Da Col, Odhecaton brings together some of the best Italian male voices specialising in the performance of Renaissance and Baroque music. The ensemble has made recordings dedicated to the music of Gombert, Isaac, Josquin, Peñalosa and Compère, and has helped rediscover the repertoire of 17th-century Spanish and Portuguese composers active in the Canary Islands.

Singer, organist, conductor and musicologist Paolo da Col completed his studies in performance and musicology in Bologna. Interested in Renaissance and Baroque music since his youth, for more than 20 years he has been a member of various Italian vocal groups, including the Cappella di San Petronio of Bologna and Ensemble Istitutioni Harmoniche. Since 1998 he has directed Odhecaton, alongside leading various Baroque vocal and instrumental ensembles.

He is a professor at the conservatory of Trieste and runs (with Luigi Ferdinando Tagliavini) the magazine L’Organo. He also contributes as a music critic to many specialised magazines (including Giornale della Musica) and oversees the catalogue of the Bolognese music publisher Arnaldo Forni.

Hampstead Garden Opera
Founded in 1990, Hampstead Garden Opera has risen to become one of London’s leading independent opera organisations, devoted to providing high-quality fully staged productions enabling rising young opera professionals to perform to an  enthusiastic public.

Critical acclaim has included regular nomination for the Off West-End Opera Awards (Offie), with HGO winning the award for its production of Così fan tutte.  Recent productions, apart from La traviata, have included Handel’s Partenope and Cimarosa’s The Secret Marriage. In late 2018, HGO will present La Bohème at Jacksons Lane Theatre, Highgate, London.

Sam Evans is a professional baritone, conductor and singing teacher. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the Royal College of Music International Opera School, graduating with the Tagore Gold Medal. A soloist at the BBC Proms, Opéra Comique and Sydney Opera House, he was formerly Music Director of Riverside Opera. He is Music Director of Battersea Choral Society, Teddington Choral Society and other London choirs. He has acted as Chorus Master for the BBC Singers, the Swedish Radio Choir and the Monteverdi Choir. He is a Head of Vocal Studies at Highgate School.

Sophie Gilpin is Artistic Director of HeadFirst Productions and Co-Founder of SWAP’ra: Supporting Women and Parents in Opera. She has directed productions for companies including Riverside Opera/Rose Theatre Kingston, Celebrate Voice and Re:Sound Music Theatre/Oxford Lieder Festival. She has worked as an Assistant Director for companies including Opera North, OperaUpClose, and Iford Arts.

Anna Bonomelli trained with award-winning designer Paul Brown. She designed a production of Don Giovanni for Pleasance Theatre and Falstaff for Les Azuriales Opera. Future work includes a revival production of Idomeneo with director Graham Vick at Lithuanian Opera Theatre.

Alex Aldren began his career as a doctor, but joined the Royal Academy of Music Opera School and is now in his second year of study there. Roles to date include Oronte (Alcina), Mercury (Orphée) and Bill (Flight). Alex is a Britten-Pears young artist.

Eleanor Ross trained at the Royal College of Music in London, Wales International Academy of Voice and at ENO OperaWorks. Notable engagements include Shepherd Boy (Tosca) with English Touring Opera; Handel’s Messiah at St John’s Smith Square; Cover Dalinda (Ariodante) at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence; and Konstanze (Die Entführung) for Pop-Up Opera.

Lawrence Wallington studied languages at Magdalen College, Oxford and voice at the Royal Academy of Music, London. He is a Lay Clerk at Westminster Abbey, and sings in the Monteverdi Choir.

Early Opera Company
Founded by its current Artistic Director Christian Curnyn, Early Opera Company’s vision is to celebrate Baroque music in ways that delight and inspire audiences. The ensemble collaborate with world-class partners, inspire audiences with outstanding productions, recordings and broadcasts of Baroque opera and Early music, and invest in the professional development of the next generation of Baroque-specialist musicians.

EOC is proud to work closely with the Royal Opera and has performed Handel’s Solomon at Covent Garden. It has a strong reputation for performances of Handel operas, and regularly features music of the French Baroque.

Christian Curnyn is widely recognised as one of the UK’s leading conductors specialising in the Baroque and Classical repertoire. He founded Early Opera Company in 1994 and the last 24 years have seen notable performances throughout the UK, along with award-winning recordings.

He has conducted for English National Opera, and has appeared at Scottish Opera (Handel’s Semele), Opera North (Handel’s Saul), Grange Park Opera (Semele and Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro) and with numerous productions at the Royal Opera House.

British bass-baritone Edward Grint was a choral scholar at King’s College Cambridge, and went on to study at the International Benjamin Britten Opera School at the Royal College of Music. He was a finalist in the 2014 London Handel Competition, and won the Clermont Ferrand competition in France.

Mhairi Lawson has performed in opera houses and concert halls worldwide with such companies as English National Opera, The Gabrieli Consort & Players, The Academy of Ancient Music, Philharmonia Baroque and The Scottish Chamber Orchestra. She regularly performs with the Early Opera Company.

One of the most versatile tenors of his generation, Mark Milhofer is as much at home in the music of Rossini as in the repertoire of Monteverdi, Mozart, Strauss or Benjamin Britten. He was a choral scholar at Magdalen College, Oxford, before continuing his studies at Guildhall School of Music.

Yorkshire-born Rowan Pierce was awarded the President’s Award by the Prince of Wales at the Royal College of Music in 2017. She won both the Song Prize and First Prize at the inaugural Grange Festival International Singing Competition, and is a Rising Star of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a Harewood Artist at English National Opera.

Nick Pritchard read music as a choral scholar at New College, Oxford, and studied at the Royal College of Music International Opera School. He won the 2017 Whatsonstage Opera Poll award for Breakthrough Artist in UK Opera.

Born in South Wales, contralto Hilary Summers has recorded over 40 CDs spanning works from the early Baroque period to the present day and has sung in most of the major concert halls and opera houses around the world.

Classical Opera

Classical Opera and conductor Ian Page specialise in the music of Mozart and his contemporaries, and are widely acclaimed as foremost exponents of the Classical period. Together with their outstanding period-instrument orchestra they have attracted considerable critical and public recognition for the high quality of their performances, their intelligent and imaginative programming, and their ability to discover and nurture world-class young singers.

In 2017 they launched The Mozartists, a new brand under which they are developing their ever-expanding concert work. The company performs at leading London concert venues including Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre, the Barbican and Cadogan Hall, and has toured to Austria, Germany, France, Italy and the Czech Republic. In 2012 it embarked upon an ongoing recording cycle of the complete Mozart operas, and in 2015 it launched MOZART 250, an epic chronological journey following the composer’s life, works and influences.

Ian Page is the founder, conductor and Artistic Director of Classical Opera and The Mozartists. As well as conducting many of Mozart’s operas, he has also directed the UK premières of Gluck’s La clemenza di Tito, Telemann’s Orpheus, Jommelli’s Il Vologeso and Haydn’s Applausus, and the first new staging for 250 years of Johann Christian Bach’s Adriano in Siria. In 2009 he made his Royal Opera House début conducting Arne’s Artaxerxes at the Linbury Theatre, and he has devised and conducted numerous recordings for Classical Opera and The Mozartists.

Benjamin Appl has been described by Gramophone as ‘the current front-runner in the new generation of Lieder singers’. The German baritone was a BBC New Generation Artist and an ECHO Rising Star artist. He records exclusively for SONY Classical, and his recordings include ‘Heimat’ with pianist James Baillieu and Bach cantatas with Ensemble Concerto Köln.

Born in Istanbul and raised in Vienna, tenor Ilker Arcayurek was a finalist in the 2015 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition and was a BBC New Generation Artist in 2017. He was hailed by Opera Now for his ‘golden tenor’, and described by The Guardian as ‘in a class of his own’.

Rebecca Bottone was one of Classical Opera’s first Associate Artists in 2006,
and has also performed regularly at the Royal Opera, Théâtre du Châtelet, ENO, WNO and Scottish Opera. She studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music.

Australian mezzo-soprano Emily Edmonds was a member of the Jette Parker Young Artists Programme at the Royal Opera House from 2015 to 2017, and is a current Associate Artist of Classical Opera. She attended the Sydney Conservatorium of Music, and was the Dame Nellie Melba Scholar and Patrick & Vivian Gordon awardee for the Melba Opera Trust.

Soprano Ana Maria Labin is emerging as one of the leading Mozart singers of her generation. As a student, she won First Prize at the inaugural Concours Ernst Haefliger in Switzerland. She has appeared as Countess (Le nozze di Figaro), Donna Anna (Don Giovanni) and Fiordiligi (Così fan tutte) in Marc Minkowski’s acclaimed Mozart – Da Ponte cycle.

Baritone Mark Stone studied maths at King’s College, Cambridge, and singing at the Guildhall. In 1998 he was awarded the Decca Prize at the Kathleen Ferrier awards, and has had an extensive and varied career throughout Europe and the USA.

Discover the place

The south-eastern corner of Sicily – from the ancient city of Syracuse southwards to Capo Pássero and including the Baroque towns of Modica, Ragusa and Noto – is distinctive in so many ways.

The landscape is varied and beautiful, with a limestone scarp running parallel to the shore and with hill country and great ravines to the interior. This is the most fertile and well managed part of the island, with dry-stone walls reminiscent of the Cotswolds, and a prosperous and diverse agriculture.

Evidence of the ancient past is all around, never more strikingly than in the Doric temples and fortifications of Ortygia in Syracuse and the Greek theatre a mile away on the mainland. 

As Cicero informed the Roman Senate: ‘You will often have been told that Syracuse is the largest of Greek cities and the loveliest of all cities. Gentlemen, what you have been told is true’. This is the base we have chosen for this festival.

In 1693 an earthquake devastated Sicily’s Ionian seaboard. In the following half century the huge campaign of rebuilding that occurred was testament to the native wealth of the island, even though in the hands of feudal landlords and religious orders. A very particular form of Baroque architecture, based on Roman prototypes of a hundred years
earlier, is manifest in sumptuous palaces, churches and monastic houses. Locally quarried limestone was used – although friable and vulnerable, its golden yellow colour is distinctive and beautiful.

These Baroque cities are also astonishing for their dramatic streetscape: churches with soaring belfries, such as San Giorgio at Modica, or the surging curvilinear façade of San Domenico at Noto.

The many theatres, opera houses and concert halls that were constructed are indicative of the sophistication and love of entertainment of the Sicilian aristocracy and townspeople, and of the aesthetic elegance they valued so highly.


Arrive a day early, Monday 4 November

We are offering the option of arriving at your hotel in Syracuse a day before the festival begins.

Fly from London to Catania, via Milan or Rome, or make your own way independently. Coach transfer to Syracuse. For travel options, see Practicalities.

Optional walks and visits: If you choose to arrive on Monday 4 November, a range of visits will be available on 5 November. Where there is free time in Syracuse and elsewhere, optional walks and visits will usually be offered. Full information will be sent to all participants.

Day 1: 
Tuesday 5 November

Fly from London to Catania, via Milan or Rome, or make your own way independently. Coach transfer to Syracuse. For travel options, see Practicalities.

The Island of Ortygia, the ancient heart of Syracuse, is densely packed with structures from ancient Greek to Stile Liberty. Meandering alleys lead to little piazze and seaside promenades, past romantically crumbling or lovingly restored Baroque palaces and churches.

Depending on the arrival of your flight, there is free time to become acquainted with Ortygia.

Settle into your chosen hotel before a drinks reception and dinner.

Day 2: 
Wednesday 6 November

You have a free morning in Syracuse before setting off by coach at c. 1.45pm for the early afternoon opera in Noto. There is the option, however, of leaving for Noto at 10.00am to have time to see something of it before the performance.

Spread across a broad hillside, Noto was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1693 to become one of the loveliest and most homogeneous Baroque towns in the world. A striking feature is the extraordinary number of religious foundations that built for themselves premises of palatial grandeur. The whole city is constructed of honey-coloured stone, with façades enlivened with sculpted balconies and elaborate ironwork.

The opera house opened in 1870 and is dressed in exceedingly pretty, enriched Neo-Classical garb. As with most of the other opera houses in this festival, four tiers of boxes surround the horseshoe-shaped auditorium.

Pre-performance talk, 3.15pm
Performance, 4.00pm
Teatro Tina di Lorenzo, Noto

Francesco Conti, L’Issipile (1723)
La Nuova Musica
David Bates conductor, Lucy Crowe Issipile, Raffaele Pe Giasone, Lawrence Zazzo Learco, Patricia Bardon Eurinome.

Employed for over 30 years at the Hapsburg court in Vienna, Francesco Bartolomeo Conti, originally from Florence, was one of the most gifted composers of his time. But there have been very few modern revivals of his works. The score of L’Issipile, Conti’s last opera, languished in the Austrian National Library until its first modern revival at Wigmore Hall in 2014 revealed its magnificence. As today, David Bates was the director and La Nuova Musica the ensemble.

Conti’s arias are richly contrapuntal, and there is an unusual abundance of orchestrally accompanied recitatives. The plot is based loosely on a story from Ovid’s Heroïdes and other classical sources: Jason and the Argonauts arrive on the island of Lemnos, where the women seem to have murdered all men in revenge for their adultery with Thracian women while away at war. Queen Hypsipyle falls in love with Jason, but a pirate suitor returns….

Dinner in Noto is included for everyone, during a long interval. Coaches return to Syracuse by c. 10.00pm.

Day 3: 
Thursday 7 November

Leave by coach at c. 10.30am and drive to Ragusa, where lunch is included for everyone. There is also the option of leaving for Ragusa at 9.00am, for free time there before lunch.

Ragusa Ibla is a wonderfully picturesque hilltop city surmounted by the great dome of the cathedral of St George. The street pattern remains that of a medieval hilltown, a maze of stepped streets with breathtaking views. (Ragusa Superiore, occupying a neighbouring hilltop, was rebuilt after 1683 on a regular grid plan.)

After lunch, continue by coach to Vittoria.

Vittoria is one of those small towns in Sicily whose allure is enhanced by the absence of tourists. While pleasant enough, it possesses no set piece to draw the crowds, and the one exception is hidden – the opera house. Behind an imposing Neo-Classical façade in the tree-lined Piazza del Popolo there lies an auditorium of breathtaking beauty: white, pale blue and gold with red plush drapes and upholstery.

Pre-performance talk, 3.45pm
Performance, 4.30pm
Teatro Comunale, Vittoria

Giuseppe Verdi, La Traviata (1853)
Hampstead Garden Opera
Sam Evans conductor, Sophie Gilpin director, Anna Bonomelli designer, Eleanor Ross Violetta, Alex Aldren Alfredo, Lawrence Wallington Germont.

La Traviata was first performed in Venice in 1853. The libretto by Francesco Maria Piave was based on La dame aux camélias, a semi-autobiographical stage play by Alexandre Dumas the younger. It tells the story of the tempestuous and ill-fated love affair of the courtesan Violetta Valéry and young gentleman Alfredo Germont. Marking Verdi’s development towards a new kind of operatic drama, closer to spoken theatre, La Traviata is the apex of the composer’s fusion of innovation and tradition.

This fully staged production was first performed in Jacksons Lane Theatre in Highgate in 2018 to widespread acclaim.

Drive back to Syracuse, arriving by c. 9.30pm. A picnic dinner is provided on the coach.

Day 4: F
riday 8 November

Avola is another rarely visited little town half an hour from Syracuse. A poem in gold and crimson, the auditorium of the Teatro Garibaldi is the smallest of the festival, seating comfortably not many more than a hundred. The audience therefore splits, and the ensemble performs the hour-long opera twice. Half the group have free time in Syracuse in the morning followed by an afternoon performance; the other half attend the opera in the morning and return to Syracuse at lunchtime.

Pre-performance talk, 11.00am or 2.30pm
Performance, 11.30am or 3.00pm
Teatro Garibaldi, Avola

Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Actéon (c. 1685)
Early Opera Company
Christian Curnyn conductor, Mark Milhofer Actéon, Mhairi Lawson Diane & Daphne, Hilary Summers Junon, Rowan Pierce Hyale & Arthebuze, Nick Pritchard & Edward Grint Deux Chasseurs.

Charpentier composed Actéon in c. 1685, possibly for a performance hosted by his Parisian patron Marie de Lorraine, Duchess of Guise. Charpentier lived at the Hôtel de Guise as her resident composer and haute-contre from about 1670, soon after returning from his studies in Italy, until the Duchess’s death in 1688.

Based on a tale from Ovid, the hunter Actaeon inadvertently stumbles across Diana and her virgin companions bathing naked in a spring, and the incandescent goddess transforms him into a stag; he is then devoured by his own hounds. Much musical diversity and dramatic intensity is packed into this hour-long pastoral.

Dinner is independent, unless you choose to attend an optional dinner.

The Baroque church of Santa Lucia alla Badia in Piazza del Duomo houses Caravaggio’s Burial of St Lucy.

Concert, 9.00pm
Chiesa di Santa Lucia alla Badia, Syracuse

Alessandro Scarlatti, Missa defunctorum (1717)
Paolo da Col conductor

Sicily was the birthplace of several composers who had a considerable impact on Italian music, none more so than Alessandro Scarlatti (1660–1725). A pioneer of the chamber cantata and a master of dramatic oratorio, his Missa defunctorum (1717) is a requiem mass in the polyphonic stile antico with exquisite dissonances and harmonic twists, and four-part polyphony that represents a late baroque updating of the Renaissance liturgical music of Palestrina and Lassus. Although sung at Stravinsky’s funeral (Venice, 1971), it is rarely performed. It was recorded for the first time by Odhecaton in 2016.

Day 5: 
Saturday 9 November

There is an entirely free morning in Syracuse, before departing for Modica at 1.30pm. Alternatively, depart at 9.30am for time to explore Modica.

The exceedingly lovely town of Modica is dramatically situated at a conjunction of valleys at the foot of Monti Iblei. The theatre is in a broad meandering tree-lined avenue in Modica Bassa (‘lower Modica’), the more recent (though still historic) part of the town. Its gorgeous interior was recently restored and is embellished with trompe l’oeil decoration and paintings.

The land rises steeply to the east, where there is a delightful congestion of amber buildings, including the great churches of San Pietro and San Giorgio (the cathedral). A net of alleys, narrow streets and steps leads to the oldest part of the town, Modica Alta (‘Upper Modica’).

Pre-performance talk, 3.30pm
Performance, 4.00pm
Teatro Garibaldi, Modica

George Frideric Handel, Acis & Galatea (1718)
Early Opera Company
Christian Curnyn conductor, Mark Milhofer Acis, Mhairi Lawson Galatea, Nick Pritchard Damon, Edward Grint Polyphemus.

A tragic-pastoral tale in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the sea nymph Galatea and the shepherd Acis are blissfully in love, but the monstrous Polyphemus burns with lust for Galatea. When his grotesque serenade fails, he resorts to violence; while Mount Etna shakes, he crushes Acis to death with a boulder. By godly intervention his gushing blood becomes a bubbling spring, the source of the River Aci – thereby the tragic lovers are united eternally in the Sicilian sea.

Having already set the story to music in Naples (1708), Handel returned to it with entirely new music for an English masque as an entertainment hosted by the Earl of Carnarvon at his country estate, Cannons, in midsummer 1718. Handel’s first great English masterpiece is a charming journey through pastoral, affectionate, ardent, sentimental, ominous, hilarious, tragic, cathartic and magical elements that was both unprecedented and never replicated by him in his settings of the English language.

Coaches return to Modica in time for an independent dinner, or an optional dinner if you choose to attend.

Day 6: 
Sunday 10 November

The day is free until the final performance in the afternoon.

Syracuse’s Teatro Comunale is the largest and grandest of the theatres engaged for this festival – though there are only about 300 seats with good sightlines. Unused for 70 years, the recent refurbishment allows occasional access to an auditorium with sumptuous ornamentation and an elaborate ceiling painting.

Pre-performance talk, 2.15pm
Performance, 3.00pm
Teatro Massimo Comunale, Syracuse

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Così fan Tutte (1790)
Classical Opera
Ian Page conductor, Ana Maria Labin Fiordiligi, Emily Edmonds Dorabella, Benjamin Appl Guglielmo, Ilker Arcayurek Ferrando, Rebecca Bottone Despina, Mark Stone Don Alfonso.

Alternatively titled La scuola degli amanti (‘The school for lovers’), Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto is descended from stories in Boccaccio, Ariosto, Cervantes and Shakespeare, with hints from Ovid. Set in Naples, the philosopher Don Alfonso wagers with two naïve young men, Ferrando and Guglielmo, that their fiancées (sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella) are not as perfect as they insist. The cynical Alfonso enlists the aid of the ladies’ servant, Despina, in order to instruct the four innocent youths in a cruel lesson about love.

It was Mozart’s last opera buffa: the characterful arias, ensembles and hilarious finales – illustrated by his mature orchestral writing at its most sensitive – are paced flawlessly throughout each
of its two acts. The drama explores every possible facet of love and fidelity (and various shades of their opposites), a lesson that people invariably must learn the hard way.

Dinner for everyone follows the performance.

Day 7: 
Monday 11th November

Coaches take participants to Catania airport. Fly to London via Milan or Rome, or leave the festival independently. For travel options, see Practicalities.

Accommodation & prices

There is a choice of five hotels in Syracuse (Ortygia): 3- or 4-star. 

Your choice of hotel is the sole determinant of the different prices. The prices given are all per person. Price without flights: subtract £180.

These are the best hotels on the island. They differ in size, architecture and style, and have Sicilian charm of varying degrees, but none is luxurious. Coaches cannot enter Ortygia, and so stop at the bridge that connects the island with mainland Syracuse. Walking distances are indicated below. Luggage is transferred separately by minivan.

Optional extras. Two extra dinners and a programme of walks and visits will be offered nearer the time.

Hotel Royal Maniace
Situated on the curve of the Lungomare at the tip of the island, looking south-east. This is the much quieter side of town. Corridors and stairways have cream-coloured marble floors and steps, white walls and modernist dark furniture. Bedrooms have parquet floors. It is a comfortable hotel but rather plain, and more the standard of a 3-star. All of the 21 rooms are reserved for our audience.

Rooms have all modern amenities: air-conditioning/heating, hairdryer, safe, WiFi. Bathrooms mostly have showers. There is no restaurant, but good restaurants are nearby. Walk to coach: c. 20 minutes.

Arriving 4 November

Two sharing
Superior double (sea view) £3,250
Deluxe double (sea view) £3,380

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,300
Superior double £3,400
Superior double (sea view) £3,510
Deluxe double (sea view) £3,640

Arriving 5 November

Two sharing
Superior double (sea view) £3,160
Deluxe double (sea view) £3,270

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,180
Superior double £3,270
Superior double (sea view) £3,380
Deluxe double (sea view) £3,490

Hotel Gutkowski (3*)
This boutique hotel occupies two 19th-century palazzi located on the Lungomare which looks onto the open sea. Decor is minimalist but quirky, featuring local art and artefacts. It has the feel of a seaside hotel, light and airy with wood painted in greys and blues, exposed sandstone and terracotta tiles. There is a roof terrace. Some rooms are quite small, and there may be details in need of maintenance or renewal, but most guests would feel the charm of the people who run it compensates for such minor defects. 

There is a small restaurant, which has become known locally for its good authentic food. The barman mixes a mean Negroni. All rooms have air-conditioning/heating, hairdryers, safes, WiFi. Some have showers, some have baths. Walk to coach: c. 10 minutes.

Arriving 4 November

Two sharing
Classic double (sea view) £3,250
‘Plus’ double £3,270
‘Plus’ double (sea view) £3,410

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,380
Classic double (sea view) £3,440
‘Plus’ double £3,460
‘Plus’ double (sea view) £3,620

Arriving 5 November

Two sharing
Classic double (sea view) £3,160
‘Plus’ double £3,180
‘Plus’ double (sea view) £3,300

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,250
Classic double (sea view) £3,320
‘Plus’ double £3,340
‘Plus’ double (sea view) £3,480

Antico Hotel Roma 1880 (4*)
A relatively basic 4-star hotel situated near the cathedral in a pretty pink palazzo. Despite sometimes haphazard service, the location could not be more convenient and staff are friendly in the main – most are local and have worked here for a long time, so are able to give extensive and reliable advice.

Decor is simple, featuring a peach/yellow palette. Standard rooms have parquet floors and slightly dated furnishings, but are comfortable and well maintained. Most rooms only have showers although a bath may be available on request. All rooms are equipped with air-conditioning/heating and have safes and hairdryers. Free WiFi is accessible in the rooms as well as in the public areas. There is a restaurant. Walk to coach: c. 15 minutes.

Arriving 4 November

Two sharing
Classic double £3,390
Superior double £3,630
Junior suite £4,000
Deluxe double £4,050

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,750
Superior double £4,110

Arriving 5 November

Two sharing
Classic double £3,280
Superior double £3,490
Junior suite £3,810
Deluxe double £3,860

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,590
Superior double £3,900

Grand Hotel Ortigia (4/5*)

The Grand Hotel Ortigia is in a Stile Liberty palazzo, on the waterfront overlooking the sheltered bay of Syracuse. It is the best-located of the festival hotels, close to both the coach stop and the Duomo. What was once Ortygia’s grand hotel now feels dated, but with a fin de siècle nostalgia that is welcoming rather than depressing. It retains its 5-star status but we do not feel this is merited any longer, not having been renovated since 1995. Decor is old-fashioned but bright, light and comfortable, and the hotel is well maintained. Staff are exceptionally friendly.

Free WiFi is available throughout the hotel, and all rooms have safes, air-conditioning/heating and hairdryers. The restaurant is on the top floor and has fabulous views to mainland Sicily. Suites may be available on request and for a supplement. The price also includes lunch in a 2* Michelin restaurant in Ragusa. Walk to coach: c. 5 minutes. Junior suites have a mezzanine (where the bed is) which is reached by a slightly vertiginous metal staircase.

Arriving 4 November

Two sharing
Classic double £3,610
Classic double (sea view) £3,910
Junior suite £4,040
Junior suite (sea view) £4,180

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,890

Arriving 5 November

Two sharing
Classic double £3,490
Classic double (sea view) £3,760
Junior suite £3,870
Junior suite (sea view) £3,990

Single occupancy
Classic double £3,730

Algilà Ortigia Charme Hotel (4*)

A delightful 4-star hotel in two adjacent Baroque palazzi overlooking the Ionian Sea. There are sea views from many rooms (those listed below as ‘sea view’ have direct views, but many not in this category have lateral sea views from windows or balconies). Designed by Syracuse-born theatre designer Manuel Giliberto, decor features majolica tiles, kilims and antique furniture. It has the most charm and best taste of all the hotels on Ortygia. It is slightly further from the Duomo than some of the other hotels (c. 10 minutes on foot).

All the rooms are air-conditioned/heated, and are equipped with hairdryers and safes. All rooms have walk-in showers (not many have baths) and WiFi is available throughout the hotel. The hotel also has a restaurant. The price also includes lunch in a 2* Michelin restaurant in Ragusa. Walk to coach: c. 10 minutes. Junior suites and suites are available on request and for a supplement.

Arriving 4 November

Two sharing
Classic double £4,000
Superior double £4,140
Classic double (sea view) £4,280

Single occupancy
Classic double £4,410
Superior double £4,650

Arriving 5 November

Two sharing
Classic double £3,830
Superior double £3,950
Classic double (sea view) £4,070

Single occupancy
Classic double £4,180
Superior double £4,390

Travel options – 
joining & leaving the festival

Flights with Alitalia from London to Catania, via Milan or Rome, are included in the price.

There is the option to fly out on 4 November, the day before the festival begins – see the previous two pages for accommodation details and prices.

We have opted to travel to and from Sicily indirect with Alitalia because the only direct flights to the island in this period are with low-cost airlines, with whom it is not currently viable for us to make a group booking.

Alternatively you can choose to make your own travel arrangements, for which there is a price reduction.

It is not possible for us to book flights until early 2019 so times are subject to change.

Arriving 4 november (a day early)

Option 1. 4 November: London City to Catania via Milan Linate (AZ215 & AZ1721), depart 11.55 and arrive 17.20. 11 November: Catania to London City via Milan Linate (AZ1714 & AZ222), depart 12.05 and arrive 16.20.

Option 2. 4 November: London Heathrow to Catania via Rome Fiumicino (AZ201 & AZ1711), depart 7.25 and arrive 13.55. 11 November: Catania to London Heathrow via Rome Fiumicino (AZ1756 & AZ204), depart 11.50 and arrive 16.00. 

Option 3. 4 November: London City to Catania via Milan Linate (AZ227 & AZ1727), depart 13.55 and arrive 20.20. 11 November: Catania to London City via Milan Linate (AZ1716 & AZ220), depart 14.15 and arrive 19.25.

Arriving 5 november

Option 4. 5 November: London City to Catania via Milan Linate (AZ217 & AZ1723), depart at 09.00 and arrive at 16.10. 11 November: Catania to London City via Milan Linate (AZ1714 & AZ222), depart 12.05 and arrive 16.20.

Option 5. 5 November: London City to Catania via Milan Linate (AZ215 & AZ1721), depart 11.55 and arrive 17.20. 11 November: Catania to London City via Milan Linate (AZ1716 & AZ220), depart 14.15 and arrive 19.25.

Option 6. 5 November: London Heathrow to Catania via Rome Fiumicino (AZ201 & AZ1711), depart 7.25 and arrive 13.55. 11 November: Catania to London Heathrow via Rome Fiumicino (AZ1734 & AZ208), depart 14.40 and arrive 19.10.

Note that if you choose options 5 or 6, there is a chance that you may miss the welcome drink on the first day of the festival.

The no-flights option

You can choose not to take any of these flights and make your own arrangements for joining and leaving the festival.

Price reduction: £180.

In November, some low-cost carriers operate direct flights to Catania. We are happy to advise on timetables and routes.

If you book your own flight, you are welcome to join our airport transfers from Catania to Syracuse, if your flight times coincide with ours.


Pre- & post-festival tours

Those on pre- and post-festival tours have different flight arrangements. In each case you can opt to make your own flight bookings and to pay the ‘no-flights’ price. See options below.


Travelling to the venues

For the performances that are outside Syracuse, there are drives in comfortable coaches of between 30 minutes and an hour – and one (only) of two hours. These are mostly through attractive green countryside, with the longer journeys being largely on fast motorways.

Fitness for the festival

This is a physically demanding festival and fitness is essential. Within towns and cities, you will be expected to walk for anything up to 20 minutes and at a pace which is unlikely to slow others down when moving together.

Many streets are uneven or cobbled and there are some ascents and descents, although mostly you will only need to be capable of this if you opt to spend more free time in Noto, Ragusa or Modica. There are often stairs to negotiate in the theatres, which do not have lifts.

There is a lot of driving. Average distance by coach per day (not including airport transfers): 63 miles. Some hotels are a 20-minute walk from where we can stop.

If you think you will need a wheelchair at any stage, including at the airport, then this festival is unlikely to be suitable for you.

If you have a medical condition or a disability which may affect your holiday or necessitate special arrangements being made for you, please discuss these with us before booking – or, if the condition develops or changes subsequently, as soon as possible before departure. There is no age limit but we do ask that you assess your fitness by trying the simple exercises on the booking form.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Travel advice

Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.