One of the challenges of the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma is to expand the boundaries of the Musical Theatre. For this reason we have asked one of the greatest contemporary artists, William Kentridge, and given him free hand to create an “artistic composition” to be put on stage together with a stage setting which was designed especially for the Teatro Costanzi in 1968 by another great modern artist, Alexander Calder.
“Pure joy of balance” – this is how André Breton defined Calder’s work – and Work in Progress, his only artistic creation for an opera theatre, is perhaps the most clear example. The theatrical event, commissioned by the then artistic director Massimo Bogianckino, was staged on 11 March 1968 under the direction of Filippo Crivelli, it still remains a unique experience in the history of the Teatro dell’Opera. It is a work which is a sequence of suggestions and images that the American artist, inventor of kinetic sculptures called mobiles, conceived day by day, during his stay in Rome, contributing personally with his technical skills in the creation of the stage setting. Calder on the occasion said “I decided to call this project Work in progress, a title which is not new but it is not compromising.” It is a real work in progress that went through several changes and additions during the realisation. Without having a real subject, the show is characterised by a narration which is full of unpredictable surprises; nature with the sun and the moon, the sea with its fauna, flowers and birds chirping, but also the fast pace of life with cyclists who draw colourful arabesques. To support the visual part, Calder chose the evocative electronic music of Niccolò Castiglioni, Aldo Clementi and Bruno Maderna, thus creating a symmetry between a collage of sounds and a collage of images. “I could have called it my life in nineteen minutes,” he said when he finally saw it on stage.
With the premier of his artistic creation, Waiting for the Sibyl, William Kentridge returns to the Teatro Costanzi after his extraordinary production of Alban Berg’s Lulu in May 2017. “I thought that the paper, the fragments of paper with which I have always expressed myself , were the right elements to start the dialogue with Calder”. In the mind of the South African artist, the floating papers immediately evoked the image of the Cumaean Sibyl, the priestess who wrote her prophecies on oak leaves. The floating papers, like loose leaves, with the prophesies written on them, are blown away by the wind – in the idea of Kentridge they become similar to the movements of Calder’s sculptures. On stage will also be represented the Sibyl of Dante’s Paradise, a book in whose pages it was written all the knowledge and wisdom of the world. “But that book has now disintegrated, today there is nothing left.” On the stage there will be a large text-book , built with collages, projections, paintings. This is an intense and poetic thirty-five minute work, accompanied by the recorded music of one of the greatest South African pianists, the composer Kyle Shepard with the vocal arrangements of Nhlanhla Mahlangu. Divided into eight short scenes, interrupted by curtain falls, this artistic work has no words. The topic is revealed through sentences, phrases, puzzles projected both on the screen and as shadows on the background.