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Beyond Sardinia’s Stylish Costa Smeralda, the Island’s Splendid Countryside Hosts the 2024 MusaMadre festival

Sardinia's white-sand beaches and gleaming turquoise waters have drawn jet-setters

Photo: The medieval village of Rebeccu, home to Sardinia’s MusaMadre festival by Fabrizio Pinna and Alessandra Cocco


for decades. But few visitors venture into the island’s interior, a verdant, endlessly variegated world of forests, mountains and plains punctuated by ancient sacred springs, Neolithic tombs, and thousands of conical stone forts left behind by Sardinia’s indigenous Nuragic Civilization, which also left behind spellbinding tales of witches and fairies.


From July through November, the fourth-annual MusaMadre festival invites visitors to Sardinia’s northerly reaches, less than a hundred miles inland from the tony beaches and yachts of the famed Costa Smeralda. There, in the medieval hilltop village of Rebeccu and in nearby archeological sites like the Sant’Andrea Priu necropolis, the MusaMadre arts festival presents more than 30 events for two weeks, July 23-August 8, followed by artists’ residencies lasting through November.


Bringing life to Rebeccu, a recently restored but long-abandoned village of stone houses and cobblestone streets, come artists and performers of every description, from Sardinia and nearby Italian cities like Rome and Venice, but also from abroad, reflecting foreigners’ age-old fascination with Sardinia.


Presenting (and creating) theater, music, dance, photography, film and fashion, they’re joined by such seemingly unlikely allies as journalists, political activists, yoga teachers, psychologists—even renowned university professors.


Adding to the creative merrymaking is “The Long Night,” or “White Night.” Stretching from late-evening till dawn, it’s a festival within a festival, with shows, concerts, street performers, artisans, and stalls offering Sardinian culinary delicacies.


Sardinian-born Artistic Director Valeria Orani says MusaMadre was deliberately designed to reflect Sardinia’s very soul. Second-largest island in the Mediterranean, Sardinia is both ecologically and culturally diverse, enriched by layers of civilization brought by successive waves of Phoenicians, Romans, Aragonese and, most recently, Italians, who invited Sardinia into their union in 1861.


Approached by the Municipality of Bonorva, which governs Rebeccu, Orani, who has 40 years’ experience creating and staging theatrical performances around the world, was asked to create a festival showcasing the best of the Sardinian motherland, what city leaders referred to as “the feminine.” Her ultimate mission: To draw expatriate artists back to Sardinia and revive the long-abandoned village of Rebeccu.


MusaMadre is “the call of the mother to return to the land,” explains Orani, who now divides her time between Sardinia and New York City. “The land was a kind of mother who was recalling me. It was a recall from my mother’s heart.”


For MusaMadre’s 2024 edition, “Imperfection” is the theme, a reference to the ground-breaking work of Professor Telmo Pievani, author of Imperfection: A Natural History (MIT Press, 2022).


Professor of Philosophy of Biological Sciences at the University of Padua, Pievani theorizes that all creation—including art—owes itself to serendipitous errors or accidents of nature.


Blending music and words, science and art, Pievani explores the theme of global warming in the theatrical presentation, “Canto d’Acqua,” joined by fellow Renaissance man Christiano Godano, singer, guitarist, artist, writer, actor, professor and frontman for the popular Italian rock band Marlene Kuntz.


“Culinary Biographies,” another intriguing collaboration, connects food, music and theater. Created by Sardinian violinist Adele Madou, now living in Spain, the show features a dinner table with 100 guests from Italy and around the Mediterranean eating and conversing on various topics as musicians play instruments made from kitchen utensils. “I love this format!” exclaims Orani. “Every time it’s different.” Different—and, as Professor Pievani might say, imperfect as nature itself.


“ANIMAS” showcases the work of Sardinian-born musician Beppe Dettori and experimental harpist Raoul Moretti, whose unreleased album of the same name is a compilation of songs in Italian and various Sardinian dialects, interspersed with bits of English, Latin, and Lagée, a dialect from Italy’s western Lombardy province.


Along with “Imperfection,” MusaMadre 2024 represents the festival’s “internationalization,” which organizers kicked off with a two-day presentation in New York City, May 31 and June 2. The May 31 panel at New York’s Italian Cultural Institute, led by institute director Professor Fabio Finotti, included American, Italian and Sardinian luminaries like Massimo D’Agostino, Mayor of Bonorva.


A day later, IN SARDINIA in New York: Sardinian Choral Music, Sculpture and Literature in the City premiered. Conceived by American playwright Jeff Biggers, author of the acclaimed book, In Sardinia: An Unexpected Journey in Italy (Melville House, 2023), the event included a performance by thencolorfully attired Sardinian folkloric group Pauliccu Mossa Choir of Bonorva, known for its haunting polyphonic melodies as multifaceted as Sardinia itself.
If you missed the New York City premiere, Biggers’ work, accompanied by the Pauliccu Mossa Choir of Bonorva, will be reprised at the MusaMadre festival as IN SARDINIA in Rebeccu.


Other foreign voices will enrich the multilayered pastiche that is MusaMadre. The improvisational work, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour, throws a spotlight on a lone actor who crafts an impromptu performance from a text drawn from a sealed envelope.


Since its 2011 staging, White Rabbit Red Rabbit has attracted a Who’s Who of actors, including F. Murray Abraham, Brian Dennehy, Whoopi Goldberg, Nathan Lane and Cynthia Nixon—and now Matteo Porru, Roman-born son of a Sardinian father and Venetian mother, named one of the “40 Under 40” most influential people in Italian culture by Fortune Italia magazine in May 2024.


“Come Tutte Le Ragazze Libere,” or “Like All Free Girls,” a comedy featuring 7 girls in 7 scenes giving 7 comic monologues on the importance of women making decisions about their own lives and bodies, is the brainchild of Yugoslavia-born playwright Tanja Šljiva.


Speaking of women’s rights, Italian journalist and sometime professor Giuliano Battiston brings Afghanistan: An Imperfect Story to MusaMadre. Inspired by his ground-breaking research, the presentation includes his well-informed musings on the Taliban, on those currently making culture in Afghanistan and on the resistance of Afghan women against gender apartheid.


There’s much music and theatricality at MusaMadre, but also plenty to see in the graphic arts—painting, illustration and photography as well as their kinetic relative, film.


Hailing from the Sardinian capital of Cagliari, young artist Maria Giulia Corona, known as Sadzylla, presents illustrations and writings from her 2020 book, Emoziani, peopled by phantasmagorical angels and demons, aliens and anthropomorphic animals, inspired, no doubt, by creatures that people Sardinian legends.


Venerable Sardinian filmmaker Sergio Naitza draws viewers back more than a half-century into time with his exhibit, “The Adventures of the Cliff of Desires,” 20 photos from the film set of “La Scogliera dei Desideri.” The Italian version of the 1968 cult classic “Boom!” it was filmed on the Costa Smeralda’s vertiginous Capo Caccia by director Joseph Losey and stars none other than Liz Taylor and Richard Burton.


With creativity-stirring walks like “Serendipitous Microenvironments” and artistic gatherings like “Imperfect Afternoons,” as well as nighttime d.j. sets, MusaMadre offers plenty to keep everyone entertained and engaged.


While in the region, visitors should also explore the archeological riches of the Sardinian countryside, as well as Rebeccu, whose cobblestone streets and winding lanes offer lots of atmosphere, if only 30 houses. That’s the result of a curse cast centuries ago by Princess Donoria. Daughter of the legendary King Beccu, she just happened to be a witch.
“There are good and bad witches in Sardinia,” explains MusaMadre Artistic Director Valeria Orani. “Rebeccu is coming alive thanks to a new white witch—that’s me!”


For more information on MusaMadre, visit To book the 1 1/2-hour nonstop flight from Rome or Milan to the Olbia Costa Smeralda International Airport in Olbia, visit Aeroitalia at or ITA Airways at Rental cars are available at the airport for the 1 to 1 1/2-hour drive southwest to Rebeccu. (Alternatively, make the 6 or 11-hour ferry crossing from Rome or Milan to Olbia’s Golfo Aranci, and pick up a rental car there.) For more information on Sardinia, log on to Visit Sardinia at and the Italian Government Tourist Office at

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