Nowadays, the time occurred from Dante Alighieri’s life is measured over the centuries and in 2021 we will be celebrating seven hundred years from his death. But the power of his words is measured in distance from human nature, shot like arrows in the fourteenth century and still capable of capturing with incredible precision the deepest character of the contemporary individual, the tenacious and dark roots of Western culture. Today Dante’s poetic lens still looks closely at the human kind, especially during an extreme moment such as the pandemic we are going through, which once again forces Humanity to face itself as in the work-world of the Comedy: free will, individual conscience, human kind, community and its time, politics and the common good, immanent and afterlife. Furthermore, Death and its own way of bringing light to life, without compromises. It is from the will to give voice to Dante in modern times that a new project is born, a project which brings all together the instinct of the actor, contemporary music and translation of verses looking up to the future. Massimo Mercelli, renowned flutist and artistic director with tireless intuition, invites to Hell an actor known for being a daredevil in human labyrinths, with the complicity of the Dante’s Society of London in the translation of Dante’s triplets.
Created for an international audience, this crossing of Hell takes place in the wake of the long relationship between Dante’s language and English language over the centuries, in a meticulous work on the word and the universal character of the work. English is the language that records the greatest number of translations of Dante’s works over the centuries: think just of when, in the fourteenth century, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer retreived Count Ugolino from the thirty-third canto in order to bring him into the Anglo-Saxon imagination in the Canterbury Tales. Here Malkovich descends into the circles of hell to meet once again the characters carved in history and in their destiny, each of those is an eternal guardian of his message for today’s world. Malkovich chooses from the poem the places where the more controversial the sentence is, the closer is the sin to the contemporary sensibility. Which is why it is impossible to forget the 5th Canto and the whirlwind of the lustful, the power of desire and poetry, the song in which Dante himself confesses how close this temptation is to his feeling: he met Semiramide, Dido, Cleopatra, Paris and Elena, and especially Paolo and Francesca and the story of that book which sparked adulterous passion between them bringing them to a violent death. This is the case of a short circuit between art and love, the infernal storm that overwhelms reason. Similarly, with a completely modern spirit, the soul of Ulysses in a tongue of fire describes the vertigo of knowledge, the knowledge that is never enough, the desire to go beyond what is known.
The ninth circle where eternal ice imprisons the betrayers of the homeland offers a political reflection, an insight into ambiguity and the fratricidal forms of ambition. Malkovich describes the betrayal of Gano di Magonza from the cycle of chivalrous poems, but above all he deals with the dark violence of Ugolino della Gherardesca, whose horrible death in prison with his children due to the starvation without the possibility to escape is a well-known and ferocious piece of literature: Dante turned this into a symbol of the political struggles that tore apart the municipalities of Italy at the end of the thirteenth century.
Music, entrusted to a contemporary composer influenced by different genres and London atmospheres, can be compared to Virgil during the journey of the moral topography of Dante’s chasm. Grandson of the well-known Sergei, Gabriel Prokofiev is a modern composer, DJ and producer at the same time inspired by the power of classical music and the more contemporary hip-hop, grime and electronic music genres. His music productions can be placed between the past and future, in a perfect challenge between the conventions of symphonic music and the new genres, going from film soundtracks to dance, from chamber music to opera. Prokofiev is also the artistic mind behind a huge number of events between stage and Club where new artistic languages are always experimented. The music, created in this multifaceted perspective, completes the alchemical relationship between Malkovich’s voice, Mercelli’s flute and the orchestra, for a reading of Hell which perfectly reflects the dark mirror of our age.
Musical Theatre Voyage for actor, chamber ensemble + electronics
John Malkovich (voice)
Massimo Mercelli (flute)
Gabriel Prokofiev (electronics)
with original music by Gabriel Prokofiev (2021)