‘Bel Canto’: ‘The Sea Beyond’ Stars & Others Join Rai’s Italian Opera Drama As Production Begins; Netflix Italy Nears Second Window Deal

EXCLUSIVE: The Sea Beyond stars Giacomo Giorgio and Serena de Ferrari are among several Italian actors who have boarded Rai’s ambitious opera drama Bel Canto, which went into production this week.

Notably, Caterina Ferioli (The Tearsmith) and Adriana Savarese have landed the key roles as teenage sisters Carolina and Antonia, whose close friendship is tested by desires to become Italian opera singers.

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Vincenzo Ferrera, another The Sea Beyond actor, has also joined the cast, alongside Andrea Bosca (The Beautiful Summer, Drifters), Nicolo Pasetti (The Queen’s Gambit, Industry), Carmine Ricarno (Loose Cannons), and Antonio Gerardi (The Last Paradiso, The Lions of Sicily).

The series is among the highest profile drama series coming to of Europe this year. Production on the €15M ($16.3M) budget series began yesterday, with filming set to to take place in Naples, Rome and other parts of Italy such as the town of Pavia in Lombardia. France’s Newen Connect is handling international sales. The show will debut on Italian state broadcaster Rai, likely in 2025.

We hear Netflix Italy is close to a second window deal, similar to the agreement for The Sea Beyond, which is among the biggest Italian hits of recent years. After launching on Rai to big ratings, the crime drama grabbed a second local audience when it later launched on the streamer. The hopes are Bel Canto will do the same.

As we revealed in September, Bel Canto is set to star Vittoria Puccini (The Trial) and be directed by Carmine Elia, who has directed multiple episodes of The Sea Beyond. Several other Sea Beyond production crew are attached, and the series comes from the same international co-productions unit at Rai.

The show was first pitched at Berlin’s Co-Pro Series Market last year, then known as Belcanto. Co-created by Mariano Di Nardo, Antonio Manca and Federico Fava, it is set in 1798, as 14-year-old Carolina, her 17-year-old sister Antonia and their mother Maria seek refuge in the city of Milan after stabbing their violent father to death.

The elder sister dreams of becoming a renowned singer, much as her mother once hoped for when she was the girl’s age. However, a well-respected singing teacher discovers that Maria’s youngest is the true talent in the family, and feelings of jealousy and competition arise. Character synopses we’ve seen say Antonia is “like a wild animal kept in a cage” and unloved by her mother and unaware of her talent, while Carolina has always had Maria’s unconditional love and aspires to a better life as a singer, which she is “determined to achieve at any cost.”

The Italian bel canto opera movement flourished in the early 19th century and is exemplified by the operas of Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and others. Literally meaning “beautiful singing”, it derives from the Italian stylistic singing school of the same name.

Recano plays Domenico, Maria’s lover and father-figure to Carolina, whose conscience is at odds with the cruel world in which he operates, while Giorgio — who is known as incarcerated gangster Ciro in The Sea Beyond — plays young, inexperienced writer and revolutionary Enrico.

Italian producer and distributor Lucky Red initially teamed with local pubcaster Rai on the drama series, which is about the roots of opera in Italy, but is set to closely ape the younger-skewing sensibilities of Netflix dramas such as Bridgerton.

France’s Newen, which has a strategy to become Europe’s premiere distributor of non-English-language content, boarded the show and is slowly introducing it to the market, with some materials expected to be available at the London TV Screenings.

For Michele Zatta, Commissioning Editor for International Co-productions at Rai, the decision to develop and then green light the show was down to its potential to draw in younger audiences through the storytelling, tone, music that mixes traditional and modern influences, and costumes, similar to the appeal of Bridgerton and Queen Charlotte: A Bridgerton Story.

He said Netflix has shown an interest since hearing about the project.

“The same elements Newen liked made the show exciting to Netflix,” said Zatta. “I chose to develop it because the pitch was interesting, and the pitch was more or less Les Miserables meets The X Factor.”

Producer-distributor Lucky Red has a close relationship with Netflix through an ongoing theatrical release pact, and makes shows such as Amazon series Gigolò Per Caso and movies including Venice titles Coup De Chance, Dogman and Daaaaaali!.

‘Tormented love story’

Zatta said Bel Canto will include reality TV-style competition, a “tormented love story with a tragic end, and a “fairytale touch and a Bridgerton touch” that will “add a visual value to the show,” adding: “The opera singers were beautifully dressed of of 1848 and the high society was full of color.” Social structures and human rights will also be explored, with Milan under the control of the Austrian Empire at the time.

Newen has already begun discussions with buyers in countries such as Germany and France, and plans are afoot to take the series to multiple seasons if it can recreate the success of The Sea Beyond, which stars Nicolas Maupas and Massimiliano Caiazzo as teenagers in a Naples juvenile detention center.

The show is shooting between now and May, so there will likely be a promo at Mipcom, where Rodolphe Buet, CEO of Paris-based Newen Connect, expects to have a promo. “It’s a show that we feel having first images and a first trailer will really give the flavor of the show,” he said. “Sometimes I like to wait to make the money, rather than pre-selling or pre-financing.”

Zatta, whose remit is to find shows that appeal to younger audiences, was the commissioner of The Sea Beyond. “It’s the is the most successful Italian show right now, so I’m allowed at least 20 flops now,” he quipped.

“Thanks to [French scripted format] HIP and Rai in Italy, I’m also in the position to make some flops,” joked Buet. “When we first read the script, we thought it exactly matches what we’re looking for: Big production values, comparable to massive epic shows in the Newen catalog like Bonfire of Destiny or Woman at War, it addresses a young audience like Marie Antionette, which we produce through Capa, and it reminded me of Bridgerton.”

Buet added Newen has sold Christian, a Lucky Red series for Sky Italia, into more than 20 territories.

“If we were going to pick up one Italian show on top of the other languages we are partnering in, this one was the right fit,” he said.

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