Hit by the coronavirus crisis, the organisers of this year's Festival della Valle d’Itria have built an alternative programme around the myth of Ariadne, in order to “find the thread” in the labyrinth of solitude, fears, anguish and nightmares. They started from the classic sources of the myth up to its elaborations of the 20th century.

<i>Il borghese gentiluomo</i> © Clarissa Lapollaph
Il borghese gentiluomo
© Clarissa Lapollaph

The main “thread” was found in the rarely performed works by Richard Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos and Le bourgeois gentilhomme. The two pieces were thought by Strauss and Hugo von Hofmannsthal as a unique project based on the combination of the subject drawn from the comédie-ballet Le bourgeois gentilhomme – with text by Molière and music by Jean-Baptiste Lully – and the legend of the girl abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos.

In 1912, the two plays debuted together at the Stuttgart Court Theatre, directed by Max Reinhardt and conducted by Strauss himself. However, the reaction of the public was not enthusiastic. Separated and revised, the two works found success, Ariadne as an opera and Der Bürger als Edelmann which became an orchestral suite.

<i>Il borghese gentiluomo</i> © Clarissa Lapollaph
Il borghese gentiluomo
© Clarissa Lapollaph

Molière's Bourgeois is a comédie-ballet written for the court, a character comedy. It ends with a great ballet attended by Jourdain and his guests, which Lully ennobled with his music. An old fashioned work, one could say, but Strauss found in it the opportunity to work on a very simple subject and with very limited means, thus responding victoriously to some criticisms of being redundant and complex, a reproach which he had sometimes suffered.

The two sources (the myth and the comedy), so distant in time and type, allowed Strauss and Hofmannsthal to enrich the character invented by Molière with unexpected depth. He is no longer just a parvenu, but someone who identifies with the ideals of nobility, courage, honesty, sociability and love for the arts, not realising that it clashes with the age of disenchantment in which he lives.

<i>Il borghese gentiluomo</i> © Clarissa Lapollaph
Il borghese gentiluomo
© Clarissa Lapollaph

As a matter of fact, Molière's play is more of a frame than a normal comedy.  And if dances and ceremonials were suppressed, it would be impoverished and lose unity, as the action is weak, and its structure is mostly arbitrary.

Everything stands up thanks to the actions and initiatives of the protagonist in a series of detached scenes, from the fencing lesson to the final party. A thin thread, indeed, unless a credible mise-en-scène is designed. In this revival in Martina Franca, in order to reinforce the thread, three monologues, written by Stefano Massini, were included. The subjects were (more or less) the claims for the reasons of artists in these grim moments, and the “disturbing” question of how money matters to the rich, and how they try to hide this concern behind a fake interest for culture and art.

<i>Il borghese gentiluomo</i> © Clarissa Lapollaph
Il borghese gentiluomo
© Clarissa Lapollaph

The enactment (which the director called mise-en-espace) was curated by Davide Gasparro. The fil rouge (the thread, again!) of the performance was represented by two young dancers – Matilde Gherardi and Fabrizio Di Franco – who were almost continuously on stage; a way to preserve the original spirit of Molière's comédie-ballet.

The few singing lines were changed to an Italian rhythmic version by Quirino Principe and Valeria Zaurino. The main role of Jourdain was taken by Vittorio Prato, while Pastore and Pastora were Ana Victoria Pitts and Barbara Massaro respectively. The three monologues were recited by Gasparro himself.  

The Orchestra of the Teatro Petruzzelli di Bari was conducted by Michele Spotti, a young but quite experienced conductor (born in 1993), who returns to Martina Franca after his last year's success with Il matrimonio segreto. Spotti conducted Strauss' incidental music with cleverness and wit.

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