Italy Grand Tour: Classical Performances at the Greek Theater of Syracuse

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This article is published in number 23 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until June 8, 2021

There is a moment, when the gong that starts the show resounds in the millenary quarry and the sun begins to descend towards sunset, in which it seems to hear the leap of hearts in unison. Because here in Syracuse it is not just a question of attending a formidable performance, it is not a question of making the usual magical pact with the theater: I know you are pretending, but I believe it. Here the viewer in that moment jumps to two thousand and five hundred years ago.

And he finds himself there, nailed to his uncomfortable place on the stones, sucked into ancient Greece as into a time machine, as if he had peplos, chiton, cloak, listening to the eternal words of Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, a tear the heart for Medea, the mother who kills her children, to suffer next to Antigone, the heroine who challenges the power to bury her brother; to get lost together with Oedipus, the man unaware of himself as we all are, to cry true tears for Andromache’s last farewell to the little Astianatte, son of Hector, condemned to be thrown off the cliff by the victorious Greeks so that nothing would remain of the Trojan lineage. Listening to the choir, which sings, dances, beats the chest.
We find ourselves naked, without shame to laugh and cry next to the neighbor of the cavea who also laughs and cries, oblivious to everyday life, projected into the eternal. To cleanse their pains, to face their fears, to work out their defeats. The ancients called it catharsis. A ritual that is repeated every year at the Greek Theater of Syracuse, for the classical representations of the Inda (the National Institute of Ancient Drama), which more than a hundred years ago was born with this intuition: to bring the Greek tragedy back to the natural place where it was staged in the 5th century AD, when Syracuse – born from a colony of Corinth – competed with Athens in power and prestige. The idea, in 1913, was of a visionary aristocrat, Tommaso Gargallo. There were not a few who called him crazy, as if he wanted to resurrect a corpse. It often happens to those who look longer than others. But in 1914, before the Great War exploded, he had time to represent Aeschylus’s Agamemnon. Then it was a runaway story, which saw actors such as Vittorio Gassman, Elena Zareschi, Salvo Randone, Valeria Moriconi, Giorgio Albertazzi pass by. And the translations by Pier Paolo Pasolini, Edoardo Sanguineti, Salvatore Quasimodo, Vincenzo Consolo. Last year, in time of Covid, instead of the grandiose installations, the Inda managed to keep the flame alive with monologues for four hundred spectators arranged on the stage, with the actors in the cavea. A parts reversed. This year, although moved forward compared to the usual early summer programming, the classic representations will return from 3 July to 22 August, balm for hotels that are always sold out with the event, while tourists swarm in dazzling whiteness. of Ortigia, the historic center. And they breathe the scent of the city that was the home of Archimedes, capital of the Byzantine Empire, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Syracuse public waits, never like this year, to elaborate the Covid season. He waits for Clytemnestra, Oreste, Elena, eternal traveling companions. To be reborn with them.

Photo: LE TROIANE (Maddalena Crippa in the role of Hecuba with the choir, in the re-adaptation of Euripides’ tragedy, directed in 2019 by Muriel Mayette-Holtz).

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