After an absence of eight years we returned to seeing a “Maggio” (see my post at https://longoio.wordpress.com/2013/05/21/il-canto-del-maggio/ for more of this). As part of the wonderful season of events in Teatro della Verzura (garden theatre made up of topiaries and a standard feature of many old Luccan aristocratic villas) at Borgo a Mozzano the Partigliano company put on a performance of “Joseph of Arimathea” under the stars. The play was written by local man Giuseppe Pasciutti and dealt with the legend that Joseph of Arimathea, who collected Christ’s blood, at his crucifixion, in a cup known as the holy grail (such a central feature in the Arthurian legends) visited the UK and, in particular Glastonbury – where today music and mud mix in equal measure, (although I’m told that this year there it was almost Italian summer weather).
In the evening’s quite moving performance we noted there are some differences as regards other Maggi representation. In fact, we realised there are at least four Maggio variants coming from different parts of the northern Apennines: Emilia-Romagna, Lunigiana, Garfagnana and Serchio. One of the participants explained to us that although they still declaimed (or rather sang) in octo-syllables, they wrote in quatrains rather than quintains and, moreover, they used no instrumental accompaniment but sang plain monody. (The chair in the following photos is that of the prompter.)
If the verse form was ABBA then the music was ABAA. The melody was generally the same for all actors, although each one chose their best key in which to sing it. For climactic moments the melody was slowed and lengthened out. All the voices were excellent with a wonderful purity of tone from the girls and dramatic intensity from Joseph himself.
Joseph of Arimathea united three world-stages: the Middle Eastern stage of the drama in the last days of Jesus, the Italian stage of anti-christian persecutions under the Roman emperors and the northern Celtic stage where the Holy Grail became a central quest in the great cycle of Arthurian legends. Pasciutti managed, with some virtuosity, to combine these worlds, referencing the apocryphal gospel of Saint Nicodemus (he, incidentally, who carved Lucca’s greatest relic and archetypal symbol – the holy face or crucifix in its cathedral) and the Parsifal legends – so beloved of Wagner (whose birth bi-centenary it’s this year too) in his last creative period.
This unique folk-theatre is in danger of disappearing fast from the Italian landscape. Formerly spread throughout the peninsula it is now restricted to a few areas of the Tosco-Emilian Apennines. Moreover, its financing depends very much on the whims of local governors who, considering their region’s economic plight – exacerbated this year by the hundreds of earthquakes and earth tremors which have shaken it and made other financing areas a priority) – are not always sympathetic to the Maggio.
It was, therefore, a pity that there was not more audience that night as this folk-theatre, descending from pagan fertility rites and celebrating the triumph of good over evil, needs all the support it can get to survive. Behind us, however, were two brits that lived in the same county where Glastonbury is situated and, having the language, they thoroughly enjoyed the performance. Also, next to us was a student doing her thesis on the Maggio. She recorded the whole performance and made copious notes.
All art forms need some getting used to – once you’re accustomed to the form it reaps its rewards for you – as in the case of the affecting play we were privileged to see that clear, moon-lit evening at Borgo a Mozzano.