SPOLETO DAY 7
SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE
Assisi and Robert Wilson’s, The Old Woman
Today I was joined by my friend, Rosslyn Blundell, who was visiting me from her Archeological dig in Prato, Tuscany. Assisi is a short train ride from Spoleto, but with the Bob Wilson show starting in Spoleto at 17.30, we committed to see only the Basilica of St Francis to ensure we returned in good time.
Once more the day was very hot and we passed through fields and fields of sunflowers under a clear blue sky. My interest in Assisi stemmed from Sandra Shotlander’s play, Blibd Salomein which I played Bernice. Set in Assisi, the dramatic narrative depicts a contemporary relationship that attempts to echo the relationship of St. Francis and St. Clare but with a twist.
Arriving at the station at Assisi, I was astounded at the hilliness of the location and once more we relied on the community bus to transport us to the Basilica to view St. Frances’ tomb. The church is very grand indeed and scattered throughout the remainder of the hillside are other buildings of religious significance with tourists, and perhaps pilgrims, taking advantage of this special place. In all I think I would have preferred to visit a more humble St. Francis location. I believe that his garden, is somewhere near by but the day was scorching.
For me however another special place was a very cute Trattoria where we escaped the heat and had a beautiful lunch.
Back in Spoletto, the town was alive with excitement. This was the last night of the festival and the main event was The Old Woman at the Theatre Nuevo Carlo Menotti. This is a very grand Opera House that is highly ornamented in the Baroque style. There are 4 levels of boxes and our boxes were centrally located with a centre stage view. Booking tickets and finding they are in a box and not in conventional theatre seating is an experience in itself, in that one scrambles for any seat in any box that is empty if you find yours full!
And now to the show itself. A Robert Wilson production is an experience that I think defies genre. He is a master of light, sound and simple aesthetic in light box style. A good deal of the aesthetic pleasure is derived from shape and form being contrasted against a backlit cyclorama so that even a stage hand moving a piece of furniture has beautiful dark form and shape as she moves across the stage. How do we know its a she? By the shadow play of her body.
The show starts with a madcap front of cloth mime with Baryshnikov and DaFoe establishing a high camp sense of the ridiculous. The cloth itself is decorated in nursery rhyme style with the prominence of a bright red dog. My mind was in a whirl trying to decipher what this was all about. Looking for links and clues as to what I was seeing. Both Baryshnikov and DaFoe are in black suits, white face and Ginger Megs style hair dos which project marvellously in the light box. True, the publicity blurb mentions Absurdism, Beckett and Ionesco and so I was prepared for some degree of intellectual stretching.
Repetition of sparse dialogue, tableaux, and evocative sounds was a feature of the piece and slowly the narrative [?] begins to unfold. The Old Woman take is central to the action and the actors response to her death is another storyline. As a representation of the 20th century Absurdist writer/ poet Daniiel Kharms’ view of the world, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniil_Kharms, the mime and dance were stunning. While the text was in English,with Italian subtitles, there was also a good deal of Baryshnikov dialogue in Russian which seemed to provide a metaphysical element. Sadly this alluded me as it was also translated into Italian and was not part of my comprehension. However my sense of the piece was the self talk and repetition of the human mind and how images and situations are magnified out of proportion. This was achieved by a skeletal chair, bed, door and swing which dwarfed the actors and looke marvellous with the speciality lighting against the cyclorama. My mind was also trying to explore the notion of video or games media but there came a time when I made a conscious decision to let that and all other notions of explanation go by and just let the experience take me where it will. After all isn’t that the whole premise of Absurdism?
And that’s why I believe a Bob Wilson work is an experience. I sincerely hope you, too, have the chance to see this extraordinary work at some time in the future. Wilson’s works tour the world and Australia has had two productions this year. The touring programme can be seen at robertwilson.com/calendar
http://www.mif.co.uk/event/the-old-woman provides a review of the premiere of The Old Woman at the Manchester Festival with some great photos of Baryishnikov and DaFoe.
Spoleto Day 5
A Rest Day, Shopping and Student Jazz.
I’m having dinner on the hotel terrace overlooking the Roman Theatre and a performance of dance is taking place below me and its very good indeed – but then ballet is not my expertise. But at last I’ve seen something in that theatre and that’s the thing with Spoletto activities are taking place everywhere. The jazz performance also adjacent to the dei Duchi Hotel, drew me from the terrace into the gracious 16 c building next door to see a 30 piece band going through its paces – again it was of a very high standard, perhaps a little too controlled, but the addition of 6 female singers provided good variation from the intensity of so many instruments. Of course it’s all about show and tell and I’m sure there were many parents present and encouragement of art is always important.
Shopping was good too and Duty Free helps to soften the expense. The shops are beautiful and can be found in rather extraordinary lane ways that you’d think would go nowhere much less to exquisite boutiques of leather, luggage, fashion, wine, olive oil, nappery and cashmere. And on and on it goes…..
The reason for my rest from theatre is that the show I wanted to see was out in the county with no transport provided and the opera alternative was €55 for a show that was not on my must see list. Accordingly the money went on shopping and cashmere was highly favored.
I’ve just included a few random photos of Spoleto, I love the green shutters on the buildings. Blue shutters in Greece, green in Spoleto.
SPOLETO DAY 4
Debussy, A Roman Ampitheatre and The Tempest.
SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE
A very hot day which started for me with a lunchtime piano concert in the Teatro Caio Melisso, an opera house originally built in the 17th century and remodelled and renamed after a Spoleto writer in the 19th century. It is on a much grander scale than the Bevagna theatre, and as the second opera house in Spoleto it was instrumental in Menotti’s decision to reside in Spoleto and to establish the festival here. The photos show the highly decorated cloth and the Roman theatre masks on display in the foyer. The music was charming and included works by Debussy and Satie.
The remainder of the afternoon, I devoted to locating the Roman ampitheatre. In the heat I walked for ages thinking I was going to discover a ruin similar to the ampitheatres in Greece, but not so. As I got to the lower part of the town, I could trace the town wall, discovered the empty moat and some Cyclopean walls similar to those on Agamemnon’s palace. Walking alongside the city wall, it eventually became evident that this was a part of the ampitheatre and that what I was looking at was a colosseum type of building that presented spectacles including the martyrdom of St Gregory.
Anfiteatro Romano – MySpoleto
http://www.myspoleto.it/citta/…/Anfiteatro-Romano.html – confirms it was a site for gladiatorial games and seated 10,000 people!
I’ve taken a photo of the street sign because it took me so long to find, but what a find, a colosseum/ampitheatre that is in the process of being restored. It is not in my theatre research unless I can establish that plays were performed here, but a gem nevertheless. Other photos are of the walk and the shady respites along the way.
The 1st century AD ampitheatre beside my hotel, had not only collapsed in the terrain but had been engulfed in the adjoining monastry and then a prison until 1954. It has finally been restored and unveiled as a ballet and concert performance space.
penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/…/Spoleto/Spoleto/Roman/theatre.html elucidates on the rarity of the paving on the stage, which I have not seen, as it is well covered.
So where does this lack of continuous theatre performance lead me? … to Merida in Spain! Closer to Lisbon than Madrid, it is the site of one the most authentic extant Roman theatres in Europe with all the features of the changes in theatre architecture associated with the Roman developments in theatre. I will be visiting it on the last leg of my journey to see Apuleius’ The Golden Ass. And although I knew of the existence of the theatre, my discovery of The Merida Classical Festival came as one of those freakish things that happen when one is surfing the web. So it this site that I will be exploring in the link between Greek and Roman Theatre long before Italian theatre developed its mystery plays and of course, Commedia del’ Arte – all of which came later- and which in due course, I will explore.
But for now, back to Spoleto and the main reason I am here, even if it is yet another variation in the development of theatre, is to See the World and See World Theatre.
And here, on Day 4 I witnessed exactly that.
Irina Brook is the daughter of the esteemed director and theatre academic, Peter Brook, and as well as being an actress in her own right, she has become an esteemed director, working with Mnouchkine and in developing her own works.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irina_Brook provides a good overview of her work.
With an early evening tempest hitting Spoleto, I borrowed an umbrella and headed up the hill to San Simone to enter the dilapidated medieval church that is now mostly used for performances. And what a great space to house Brooks’ Island Trilogy: The Tempest, The Odyssey, and The Isle of the Slaves.
This evening I was seeing The Tempest and as soon as I entered the dark and gloomy space, I could see the Mnouchkine influence. Pockets of the huge church were scenic display areas. One was a beached and overturned row boat over which young children were playing. Another was a deckchair, a beach umbrella and a young piano accordionist providing jaunty tunes while we queued for the scaffold seating before us and lastly, a somewhat insignificant ladies dressing table and mirror with an empty suit case strewn on the sandy floor.
Sand was everywhere and as we made our way into the playing space we were on an island. One of the players was cooking a meal amongst the immense paraphernalia on a kitchen table. A young woman was writing on a pillar and two surly males were huddled in a corner, one trying to unravel a fishing net, the other being incredibly still.
When the play flew into action, Prospero, is an Italian restauranteur, Ariel, his flashy Maitre D, the fishing net unraveller is Caliban and of course the beautiful young woman writing poetry on the wall is his daughter Miranda.
The play, in French with Italian surtitles, plus some English is a magical romp that only occasionally uses the Shakespearean text and often injects other Shakespearean and Byronic quotes. It is all a truly delicious, magical mayhem. The cast is wonderful, especially Miranda and Caliban and the range of genres that the work employs ranging from hip pop to waltz to replay parody a la Buster Keaton was a delight….in fact it was one delight after another. I congratulated Ms.Brook after the show and she told me it had been 2 years in development in France and that The Odyssey had been 10 years in development. What a marvellous accomplishment. I see both The Odyssey and the Isle of the Slaves on Day 6. I can’t wait to see how she again utilizes the space and how the actors adapt so quickly to two new plays. This production of The Tempest is a must see and I hope it gets picked up for the Melbourne Festival some time soon.
See the World and See World Theatre
PORNOGRAPHY by Witold Gombrowicz
This was a programme I chose from a deep resistance to the subject material and because I knew very little about this acclaimed Polish writer.
My first surprise came when I realized that the theatre for this event, Teatro Francesco Torti of Bevagna was not on the Spoleto map. Where is Bevagna?’ I asked the incredibly helpful Festival Office attendant, ‘in the country’ was the reply, ‘but there is a festival bus to take you there, however you need to book 48 hours in advance.’ I’ve encountered a couple of examples of this sort of bureaucracy in my travels and managed to solve it with a big smile and pleading the ignorance of a foreigner. Anyway, Chiara secured a seat on the bus and in the meantime I took advantage of a free concert in the Largo Di Clementi. It was a 6 piece wind ensemble with the emphasis on saxophones of all sizes plus a clarinet made of gold. When the concert finally got under way, the music was charming.Then off I went to Bevagna with another 60 or so Pornography revellers.
Once more the countryside was beautiful with fields and fields of sunflowers in the 7 pm sunshine.
Arriving at Bevagna was like arriving on a film set that one had seen many, many times.
The town is medieval and Teatro Francesca Torti absolutely amazed me. I am told that these sorts of theatres exist all over Italy, but for me it was a first in that it was a provincial Teatro and did not have the gaudiness of Renaissance theatres. I had booked a ticket in the gods as this production was not high on my list of must-sees, and on arriving in the dizzy and hot heights of Loggione, I was greeted by a swathe of Roman murals on the ceiling and walls. The charming Senorita, informed me that if the theatre was not full I could venture down to the stalls. This I did, prompted by a Philosophy student, and I ended up in a box! What an adventure.
And then 3 hours of the play, thankfully with an interval, when I crossed square for a gelato.
Pornography is set during WW2 and is more a question of voyeurism than pornography. As an adaptation, and an Italian premiere, I believe it could benefit from concerted cutting. One delight for me was the use of the tracks in the stage which could make items of furniture and other paraphernalia appear and disappear at will.There was a performance by a strikingly attractive 40-something woman that was a standout. Not only did she shake with every fibre of her body to indicate her state of anxiety, she later appeared totally naked and blood smeared as a victim of rape and murder. That performance was truly arresting.
In my initial research tracing the development of theatre from Ancient Greek to Ancient Roman theatre, I had been unsuccessful in locating any extant theatres of the medieval period in Italy, let alone theatres presenting early Roman or Christian material. So here I was in a 251 seat Medieval theatre that had been beautifully renovated in the 19th century. Mr Google translated some details for me:
Teatro Francesco Torti, Bevagna
Piazza Filippo Silvestri 06031 BEVAGNA PG Tel 0742 368123 Fax 0742 361647 Type: Theatre E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org – email@example.com Disabled access: YES Monumental building: YES Visits: YES Capacity seats: 251
Torti The theater is located in the main square of Bevagna , a charming medieval village situated on a small hill at the western edge of the Umbrian Valley.
Today the theater is part of the Circuit City Museum which includes a visit to the Museum and the Mosaic of the Roman Baths . In this circuit, recently, it has been joined another, the Cultural Crafts Medieval , with separate ticket or cumulative.
It was once
The theater is housed in Palazzo dei Consoli, built in the thirteenth century.
On the ground floor is still the loggia, covered with three large Gothic arches and a quarter smaller, probably used as commercial space.
One of the smaller theaters of Umbria, only 251 seats, is dominated in its limited size by harmony and perfection.
Tastefully decorated, contains interesting paintings nineteenth century, the particular location within a historic building nell’asimmetrica Piazza Silvestri, makes the visit even more striking.
Made in 1886 by architect Antonio Martini, is named after the local scholar Francesco Torti.
The theater has a plant in a horseshoe, three tiers of boxes and a loggia; railings are made from cast iron columns.
The ceiling is the work of Mariano Piervittori and represents the Muses dancing. The original curtain was painted by Domenico Bruschi with Propertius Torti who points to his homeland in 1886 during the restoration of 1994 was another curtain created by the painter Luigi Frappi Bevagna with’ll Clitunno river with poetic and memorial temple.
The coat of arms above the curtain in 1380, donated by Pope Innocent IV, it states “OSF”, which stands for “Ob servatam Fidem.”
After the structural restoration, the theater is regularly active.
The construction of the theater was strongly supported by the citizens who in 1871 had gathered in an organizing committee. The inauguration took place on the evening of August 28, 1886, for the occasion, the impresario Alfredo Wolves staged the ‘Ernani, along with The boarders of Sorrento.
http://www.regioneumbria.eu/default.aspx?IDCont=2570 has a lovely (professional) photo of the theatre.
http://www.teatrostabile.umbria.it/pagine/bevagna-teatro-torti – has a wonderful photo of the ceiling fresco depicting the muses and thus evidence of the carry over from Greek to Roman.
OK so I saw a 20 century piece of theatre, but just finding the theatre was gold and I would certainly include it as a must see if organising a tour. I think this is the first time the theatre has been utilized in the Spoleto Festival but wouldn’t it be great if they could stage a medieval piece in there? Perhaps some of my actor friends and I could do it under Angela O’Brien’s theatre history
Any of my theatre cronies up for it? 🙂
Athens Day 5 Island Hopping and Iphegenia in Aulis
This is a photographic record of an Island Hopping Tour. The Greek Islands are everything everyone says about them and there is nothing other than to experience them for oneself.
Iphigenia in Aulis, once more a postmodern interpretation, highlighted Euripides’ doubt in the current status quo. The play is regarded as an ironic drama and this production was certainly played for humour and the audience responded with guffaws of laughter.
The setting is the port of Aulis where Agamemnon and his army are setting sail for Troy to recapture Helen. However, Artemis has becalmed the seas and requires a sacrifice to enable the army to get under way.
http://www.ancient-literature.com/greece_euripides_iphigenia_aulis.html provides a very good synopsis of the plot.
As an aside, it seems that Aulis is a port in Thebes, where I passed through yesterday.
The staging has the sensibility of down and out. There is a metal watch tower, discarded and dysfunctional shipping apparatus, small sand dunes which provide isolated performing areas and strips of shallow water.
The actors were attired in modern dress and the chorus in this production consisted of two flapper-style bathing beauties who decorously draped themselves amongst the sand and watery shallows.
On another note, I couldn’t help but wonder if the play could be interpreted as a parody on Greece’s currently becalmed financial situation and what sacrifices are needed to change the tides of good fortune.
My lack of Greek did not impede comprehension of this piece and while knowing the story helps, it was the production design, direction and attention to detail that captured my attention and my admiration. Agamemnon was a sorrowful fellow with a big problem. Iphegenia was a fey young women, who went to her sacrifice like a lamb to the slaughter – please pardon the cliche, sometimes they are useful.
The first time director, but acclaimed actor, Maria Protopappa, did not entertain any histrionics and the beauty of the text was apparent by each of the actor’s complete and unselfconscious immersion in the narrative. I do like listening to Greek when delivered well. There is such charm and power in the sounds and phrasing.
This production, also in the industrial conversion space, utilized the emptiness of the space with its most engaging set. Again, the audience loved the show; they laughed heartily, we’re incredibly silent in the most intense moments and erupted into wondrous applause at the play’s conclusion. It is becoming more and more apparent just how important the arts are to the locals and I consider it a great privilege to be a part of such appreciation.
SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE
THE THEATRE OF APOLLO AT DELPHI
Today I utilized the knowledge and experience of a conducted tour, and as I had already seen the main Festival offering, Ibsen’s, An Enemy of the People, at the 2012 Melbourne International Arts Festival, I opted for a leisurely Greek taverna dinner with an Athenian friend in the evening.
The exceedingly well organized tour was headed by an exceptional guide who cheerfully imparted her wealth of historical, mythological and topical material. Leaving Athens, the bus took a 2 hr drive through its urban sprawl, fertile plains and seaports, into the dizzying heights of the mountains. Amongst the urban sprawl was the location of Marathon, the plains of Thebes, the Sanctuary of Olympia, the site of The Muses, and the Temple to Demeter, which is of great interest to me as it is the Temple associated with the Mysteries School.
In terms of Greek Theatre, David Wiles has devoted a good deal of scholarship to the notion of the significance of place. Indeed this was an element I engaged in my own Masters thesis in as much as a playwright will make reference to a place and by association, the audience will appreciate the deep meaning. Although associations of place had already been aroused in me, in view of actually passing through the places encountered in ancient literature, it is an area I would like to explore in my future studies of Greek drama texts.
The Temple of Apollo is located on Mount Parnassus. The extraordinary rugged beauty of the place in high summer belies its existence as a winter playground for cross country skiing and snowboarding and other snow activities I know nothing about!
Arriving at the Temple of Apollo, and passing through the agora, one is seemingly greeted by the imposing columns of the altar at the entrance to the temple, and at which, supposed sacrifices took place prior to performances in the theatre.
Theatre, according to one source, http://www.coastal.edu/ashes2art/delphi2/sanctuary/theatre.html, was a sacred act with the priest of the temple officiating. Actors were also sacred and highly revered, and from my observations, this attitude seems to persist amongst modern Greeks.
The ampitheatre, which seats 5000, is well preserved and overlooks the The Temple. As the patron of Delfi, Apollo is the god of light, music, poetry, healing, prophecy and more, and is the twin brother of Artemis, goddess of hunting.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo, gives an excellent account of Apollo’s duties as the Patron of Delphi/Delfi and also makes clear the positioning of Delphi as the navel of the world. Indeed the ancient ompholos is represented by a concrete replica on site with the supposed original ? or at least, another replica housed in the site museum.
Our guide explained that the site is exceptionally high in magnetic energy, which in turn, is associated with prophecy. I watched as a tourist carefully placed his hands on the concrete ompholos and I hope he was blessed with a suitable Delphic response.
When I asked the guide about contemporary use of the theatre, she informed me that several years ago, Vanessa Redgrave had performed Phaedre here. Wow! (even though it’s unsubstantiated.)
The visit to this site has revealed just how much more I want to learn about Ancient Greece. It is very inspirational. For my next trip, I intend to have expanded my knowledge and to have obtained a passable amount of basic Greek. For the most part, people working in museums and tourist places speak English, but everyone responds very well when you greet them with kalimera and acknowledge them with efpharisto.
Dinner in a back street taverna near Monastiraki was wonderful. Angela Makris ordered a wide range of local delicacies ranging from deep fried feta with honey and oregano, local salad, meatballs, and I can’t remember what else. Although I do remember the ouzo. I really enjoy the freshness and relative simplicity of Greek food and the taste of tomatoes and other salad vegetables is very different from Australian salad vegetables. Maybe Greek soil is magic!
Walking through the main streets of Athens at night was without incident and at no time have I felt unsafe.
SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE
ANTIGONE at the Benaki Museum
I have heard it said that many theatre lovers become despondent when the Ancient Greek classics are reinterpreted. And despite my desire to also see a grand chorus and Tiresius making his sightless entrance, this production, with just 6 actors sans Tiresius, was a well executed representation of societal limitation. The architecture of the museum Atrium was intrinsic to this notion with floor to ceiling glass window frames boxing the frustrations of each of the characters. The grand chorus was a one – woman tour de force. Antigone was lithe and athletic in her earthy despair while Ismene was a tall, detached vision of loveliness in blue. Kreon, was huge in stature and in his delivery. For me, subtlety is always a winner but the audience seemed to enjoy his expansive gesture and vocal delivery. My handy ipad with the English text was not a success on this occasion as I had few pointers to connect to within the adaptation. Once again the audience appreciation was vast and it is apparent how greatly culture is revered in Greece. Indeed the Festival Director, in his opening gambit, suggests how culture eases hardship and reignites qualities of hope and beauty. He also comments on the deliberate choice to focus his festival on Greek content with Greek performers. Selfishly this pleased me enormously. The day was spent making the acquaintance of a dentist. My first bite into a Greek apricot meet with resistance from a molar. Sadly for me, the apricot won. Dr Theodoros Papadakis was a delight. The surgery, an aesthetic feast of works of art and interior design and he just happens to have the same name as my Theodore. As a theatre lover himself he was immensely interested in this project and was curious to get my impression of the local cultural content and appreciation which in turn elicited my admiration and a query as to whether it was just because of the festival. Not so, he assured me and spoke of the excitement surrounding the upcoming all-male version of Medea. I, too , am greatly looking forward to it as the finale to the Athens leg of this journey.
SEE THE WORLD AND SEE WORLD THEATRE
SCHILLER’S LOVE AND INTRIGUE
Today I explored the Acropolis and despite the heat and the hard the climb, one is humbled by the achievements of the Ancient Greeks and the truly awesome expression of excellence in architecture and religion. For me the highlight was sitting in the Theatre of Dionysis – the birthplace of Western Theatre. Also on the Acropolis, is the Odeon of Herodes Atticus which symbolizes the next phase in the development of theatre – that of the Romans. Sadly for me the festival programmes showing at the Odeon while I am here are showcasing contemporary singers and other genres that are not part of my thesis. So instead I went to a production of Schiller’s Love and Intrigue. While this is an 18 century German text, my reservations about the language for a modern audience were totally dispelled by the adaptation of the piece into Greek tragedy. The adaptation was superb and ticked all the boxes for the elements of Greek Tragedy while the delectable sounds of the Greek language translation coupled with Greek emotional sensibilities enlivened the piece significantly.
The setting for the production was a great adventure to an industrial area of Athens where a factory complex was turned into a theatre space. The sparseness of the set and mere suggestion of German period costume were ideally informed. The playing of a complex plot with many characters was executed by just 2 female and 4 male players all of which was handled with perfect suspension of disbelief including a beautiful mime sequence which served as a prologue to the piece as the audience entered the auditorium. For me, a non Greek speaker, I tested out the use of my iPad with an English translation of the German text and page turning as the play went on. It worked marvelously and knowing the plot and the characters, I could quickly skip through the cuts and doubling of characters. In all it was a very worthwhile experience including the festival’s consideration in supplying a bus to return patrons to the Athens city centre. This was followed by a short walk on a balmy evening back to my hotel. Another really great day of seeing the world and seeing world theatre.