Last Saturday, June 16th, 2018, Ennio Morricone gave a concert in the emblematic place of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome (Italy), as part of his 2018 tour (read news), being the first of the 4 concerts that he was going to celebrate there.
Gorka Oteiza from SoundTrackFest was there and has written this article about that evening, comparing it with the same concert Morricone gave in Turin in March 2018, which he also attended (read article).
Rome, one of the cities considered the cradle of the ancient civilization, one of the cities with the most monuments and ruins per square meter (with the permission of Athens), was the place where on Saturday, June 16th, a special concert conducted by maestro Ennio Morricone was going to take place; a concert included in the tour ‘The 60 years of Music Tour’.
The place, the Baths of Caracalla, the ancient Roman baths of the 2nd century (dated between 212 and 217 AD), where today only some walls and part of the original structure remain, which have been complemented by a grandstand and a stage for concerts, and where the summer performances of the Opera of Rome (Roma Opera Aperta) are performed.
It was 7:30 p.m., and although the concert was set for 9:00 p.m., people were already gathering in front of the main entrance. Inside and behind the entrance gate, a box office where people who had bought their tickets online could collect the physical tickets. After 8:00 p.m. the gate was opened and the public entered in order but in a crowd.
After walking a long way in the open air, surrounded by ancient ruins on both sides, we turned left and suddenly we found ourselves on the right side of the stage and the grandstand. It was the place of the main entrance to the venue, next to the official merchandising shop, but it was closed as the orchestra was finishing the rehearsals and sound tests.
So they gave us a paper sheet with the hand program of the concert for free (something that did not happen at the concert in Turin), and they invited us to walk around the stage to get to the other side, while the orchestra rehearsed the last pieces of the concert. The truth is that the experience was at least bucolic … walking there with Ennio Morricone‘s The Mission playing in the background? What more could you ask for?
When we reached to the other side of the stage, there was a small esplanade where a bar and tables had been set up, so that people could have a drink both at the beginning of the concert and during the intermission. After waiting a few minutes, approx. at 8:15 p.m., the access to the stands was opened and the people could calmly enter to occupy their places.
Once in the seats, it was possible to verify that the visibility of the stage was perfect from any place, since the rows were staggered in height, allowing a complete vision both of the stage and of the ruins of the baths that were behind (and that were only partially covered by the stage). There were about 4,500 seats in total; all sold out a long time ago.
The program of the concert had some slight variation compared with the concert of Turin in March of 2018. Besides the order change of some of the themes and the change in beginning with the suite The Legend of 1900 instead of with The Bible (a better choice, in my opinion), the biggest difference was the presence of Dulce Pontes at the concert, who brought her fantastic voice to a good number of themes.
The full program of the concert was the following:
As it already happened in Turin, the concert was structured in several blocks, each one dedicated to a specific theme, including pieces from various movies. These pieces usually formed a suite, so the music flowed from one to another without pauses and without transitions, in a smooth way and with very good arrangements, so you could think that it was a single suite of many minutes instead of several pieces “stitched together”, if you didn’t know the music well.
Having the majesty of the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla behind, there was no need for visual reinforcements such as videos or images accompanying the music, and lights were used to focus the soloists, Morricone, or to illuminate the ruins in different colors depending on the theme that was played or who was on stage (Susanna Rigacci or Dulce Pontes).
The concert began with a slight delay, after 9:15 p.m., getting first on stage the chorus Nuovo Coro Lirico Sinfonico Romano followed by the orchestra Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra, receiving both a great applause.
Shortly after, Ennio Morricone appeared, who received a warm and grand applause along with a standing ovation from a committed Roman audience, recognizing the achievements and greatness of one of their own (Ennio Morricone was born in Rome in November of 1928).
With a slow but firm pace and without any help, he approached the center of the stage where he had a chair waiting. Behind the chair, there was a large bar that helped him go up and down the pulpit, in which he would lean when he turned around to greet the audience in the brief breaks between blocks.
Since I already wrote a detailed description of the themes of Turin’s concert on March 2018, which shares 95% of the content with this concert (read article), from now on I will talk mostly about the highlights and differences of this concert.
The show in Rome started with the suite The Legend of 1900, sweet, melodic and with an elegant crescendo, which was a formidable introduction to the concert, compared to the suite of the television series The Bible that started the concert in Turin. A very good idea!
However, as the theme took shape and the music grew and instruments were added, we could feel one of the biggest problems of the concert, over-amplification, and inadequate sound equalization. The place had two groups of loudspeakers on each side of the stage, so loud that muted the natural sound of the orchestra most of the time.
Also when several solo instruments were played at the same time, and when their sound was supposed to be complementary, what really happened was that the sound overlapped and distorted, giving way to unclear, “dirty” and saturated high tones. We also could hear cracks and noises coming out of the speakers on many occasions (as if a membrane was broken or as if they were over-powered), making me forget the real concert experience in more than one occasion.
And here I would like to clearly differentiate the sound from the acoustics of the place. The Baths of Caracalla, an open-air venue, is a difficult place in which to achieve an adequate acoustic and sonic experience. But the basis for this is to have a good sound system, with a good sound design and a correct equalization, which delivers the sound clear and without distortions, which did not happen in the concert.
A real shame, since the concert in Turin, which took place in a large arena where sound properties and acoustics were also difficult to control, had a great sound. In favor of the concert of Rome, I must say that in the second part there was a slight improvement in this aspect, as if some changes had been made during the intermission, although in general the experience was not the optimal one for a special concert of these characteristics.
But returning with the analysis of the concert, the first block of themes, Scattered Sheets, had a fabulous performance, ending with the animated piece Rabia e Tarantella. Following came a round of applause to welcome the presence on the stage of Susanna Rigacci, who was part of the performance of the great Nostrosmo suite, and who stayed on stage until the end of the block devoted to the far west, the block called The Modernity of the Myth in Sergio Leone’s Cinema.
This block, which culminated with the fabulous piece The Ecstasy of Gold, made the audience vibrate and generated a tremendous standing ovation, closing the first part after 1 hour of concert.
Throughout the concert, many birds could be seen flying over the ruins and over the stage, birds that would surely have their nests in the higher parts of the ruins, and who, incited or even surprised by the music, would go out for a flight and satisfy their curiosity.
After a 25 minute intermission, around 10:40 p.m., the second part of the concert started with the delicious and long theme The Hateful Eight – Stage Coach to Red Rock, leaving way almost without pause to the delicate music of Nuovo Cinema Paradiso.
Next, the longest block of the second part of the concert came, dedicated to the Social Cinema. There, the unmistakable voice of the Portuguese Dulce Pontes was going to be the main protagonist, starting with a fabulous interpretation of the theme La Luz Prodigiosa and continuing with the emotional ballad of Saco e Vanzetti.
However, in the final piece of this block, Abolição, the powerful orchestra along with the intensity and strength of the choir, left no space for Dulce Pontes‘ voice, and she couldn’t find a gap to be part of the group in an appropriate way. Even though, this did not lessen then performance, but it would have been better to apply the rule “less is more” in this case.
It was almost 11:30 p.m. and we were heading to the end of the concert with the themes that we heard when we arrived at the baths; the block dedicated to The Mission, with about 9 minutes of music of a celestial grandeur, which shone with their own intensity on the stage of the baths. In the end, there was a magnificent standing ovation offered by the entire audience to the choir, the orchestra, the soloists and of course, to maestro Ennio Morricone commanding the whole ensemble.
A round of intense and almost endless applauses, which gave way to the encores, which consisted of three themes, two of them having the solo voices of the two protagonists of the night: Susanna Rigacci and Dulce Pontes. In total, 15 minutes of encores, fabulous as a whole, where I missed having The Mission and being able to leave the place ‘levitating’. And so, when there were just 5 minutes left for midnight, this great evening ended.
The performance of the orchestra was spectacular and the choir was wonderful. The soloist Susanna Rigacci, was excellent as always, providing an essential voice to charismatic pieces such as The Ecstasy of Gold. The participation of the Portuguese singer Dulce Pontes, was a difference of this concert compared to the concert in Turin, having her performance in a block called ‘Social Cinema’. Her peculiar and characteristic voice made those themes shine, except in the piece Abolição, where it would probably have been better to leave only the choir and the orchestra, as it was already mentioned above.
The excellent performance of all the artists, under the vigilant and diligent baton of Ennio Morricone, was unfortunately slightly faded by the poor sound of the concert. As it has already been mentioned, it was not a matter of acoustics, since it could be foreseen that the open-air acoustics of the Baths would not be perfect for this type of concert, but rather a matter of sound design and equipment adjustments.
The sound that came from the speakers was not clear nor sharp, and it was saturated on many occasions, especially when there were several instruments playing treble notes at the same time. In addition, on more than one occasion big failures could be noted such as cracks or background noise in the speakers. I think that a concert of this category cannot have those kind mistakes, and although the audience forgave everything because it was Ennio Morricone who was conducting the orchestra, in any other concert, probably there would have been complaints.
In short, a concert that could have been scored with a 9 or a 10, stayed as low as 6 or a 7 (… well … let’s leave it in a 7), where great performances turned into a pretty good experience, but not into an excellent experience as it should have been.
Anyway, having seen maestro Ennio Morricone conduct in his hometown, in a place as special as the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla, is something that the audience present there will not easily forget.
Article by Gorka Oteiza