An Italian opera director turns a painted Renaissance masterpiece on its head…

And much, much more.

PARIS — You can’t always expect to understand the work of Romeo Castellucci. But you’re sure to be awed by its beauty.

Especially when the Italian director — really, a polymathic theatrical artist — stages opera. His productions are rich in symbols and enigmas; each movement leads to a picture-perfect tableau….Mr. Castellucci’s latest project, Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” (“The First Homicide”), which continues at the Paris Opera’s Palais Garnier through Feb. 23, is…relatively direct, yet still striking.

“It’s a portrait of Cain,” Mr. Castellucci said of Scarlatti’s 1707 oratorio, an account of the Cain and Abel story, in an interview under the ornate chandeliers of the Garnier’s grand foyer. “But it’s really about innocence.”

The switch from adult singers to children happens the moment Cain murders Abel. “We are in the domain of childhood,” Mr. Castellucci said. “It is a childish mythology.”

A story of jealousy and murder, in his telling, becomes one of rediscovering lost innocence, of adults in search of their youthful doppelgängers….a journey abounding in imaginative stage magic — with layers of lighting and scrims, Mr. Castellucci conjures vast Rothko canvases that have the soft seamlessness of a James Turrell — reaches its end.

 

 

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The soprano Birgitte Christensen, center, as Eve.CreditJulien Mignot for The New York Times

For the scene in which Eve learns she will be a mother, Mr. Castellucci thought of the Annunciation — the angel Gabriel delivering the news to the Virgin Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. So he turned to “Annunciation With St. Margaret and St. Ansanus,” an Italian Gothic triptych by Simone Martini and Lippo Memmi that now hangs in the Uffizi in Florence.

But he turned it upside down. As Eve sings of her coming motherhood, the massive altarpiece is lowered, slowly, above her head. “It’s a kind of guillotine,” Mr. Castellucci said. “A menace.”

 

Fascist Italy, 1930s

 

Student of the Orvieto Fascist Academy of Orvieto on the snow fields

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Student of the Orvieto Fascist Academy of Orvieto on the snow fields

Mandatory photo credit:

Archivi Alinari, Firenze

WARNING:

Permission must be required for non editorial use. Please contact Alinari Archives

Photographer:

Unidentified Author

Image date:

1930-1940

Place of photography

Italy

Collection:

Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections, Florence

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“The fascist Academy pennant”

Mandatory photo credit:

Archivi Alinari, Firenze

WARNING:

Permission must be required for non editorial use. Please contact Alinari Archives

Photographer:

Unidentified Author

Image date:

1930-1940

Place of photography

Italy

Collection:

Fratelli Alinari Museum Collections, Florence

Crèche scenes in Italy

Every church, chapel, and town in Italy has a crèche scene.  Sometimes an entity can have multiple crèche scenes.  They are always fun to examine.

 

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Last week in Vernona, I saw this crèche  in the duomo there.  It is a sweet crèche and reminds me to tell something I have only seen in Italy. The figure of the baby Jesus is always left out of the scene until midnight on December 25.  Only then can the baby be added, for indeed, he was “just born.”

 

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