After achieving a level of popularity allowing him to do essentially whatever he wants, Ligabue in Sette Notti in Arena fulfills the rock star's dream of performing his music with a classical orchestra. The occasion is appropriately rendered in this CD/DVD package, which sees Ligabue and his band live at the unbeatable setting of Verona's legendary Roman Arena, backed by its 70-piece orchestra directed by Marco Sabiu. While the DVD includes the full concert, the CD only contains the 13 selections with the orchestra. For all of the accomplished orchestral arrangements that propose intriguing new readings of Ligabue's classics (and a few lesser-known gems), one cannot help but conclude that Sette Notti in Arena is probably the least significant entry of the entire Ligabue discography. This is not a judgment on the quality of the music or the performance, which are both excellent, but rather on two facts that render this ambitious project less than essential. The first is that Ligabue's terrific songwriting and honest, rootsy rock music are doubtlessly best served by an electric rock band. When one considers that Ligabue's main influences as a songwriter and singer are probably Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan, it is easier to realize why his songs do not adapt well to a classical revamping -- even if he has epic stories and heroic choruses to spare. The second is that Sette Notti in Arena is the third live album by Ligabue, and that the first two, 1997's Su e Giù da un Palco and 2003's Giro d'Italia, were absolute scorchers -- not to mention that, since the former was a double set and the later a three-disc collection, it all adds up to six Ligabue live discs to his modest studio output of seven albums in 20 years.
Moreover, as is often the case in recordings of this kind, the orchestra sits rather back in the mix, with the front all but taken over by Ligabue's voice and acoustic guitar, the enthralled audience's word-by-word singing, and even Ligabue's band in the second half of the album. Not surprisingly, the best moments are the quietest, such as the slow renditions of "Non è Tempo per Noi," "Viva!," and "Piccola Stella Senza Cielo," when the subtleties of the orchestral arrangements can be fully appreciated. On the other hand, when the band joins in, it becomes evident that, in terms of sheer sonic power, an orchestra can easily be drowned out by drums, piano, and electric guitars and bass. In all fairness, this may be a consequence of the difficulty of capturing and balancing such a recording; being present at one of these shows at the Arena was most likely a very different, even majestic experience, one that the DVD captures much better than the CD. There can be no argument, however, as to the excellence of Ligabue's repertoire. From his early hits, now classics, to the brilliant new songs introduced in the previous year's retrospective, he makes a resounding case as Italy's foremost rock songwriter. Then again, it is precisely because his talents seem to be in such peak form (as his most recent two or three records amply demonstrated) that another live collection like Sette Notti in Arena offers scant consolation for fans eagerly waiting for the much anticipated new studio album.