by Enzo G. Cecchi

Notes on the performance

The performance  “Caravaggio… I furori” is a kind of imaginary autobiography based on fiction and real events. We have imagined a man in the last moments of his life, hiding in Naples waiting for the papal mercy, waiting to return to Rome. A feverish and tired man aware of his imminent death. With this awareness, Caravaggio goes through the different phases of his own life.

Michelangelo Merisi was born in Milan (more probably in Caravaggio, in the province of Bergamo) on September 29th 1571. Caravaggio spent his youth in a region of northern Italy, Lombardy, which was politically and artistically narrow minded like the Lombard painters who were the teachers of Michelangelo Merisi. Nobody knows for certain the reasons (the death of his parents, quarrels with his brothers, debts, restlessness, desire to see or to know something new…)  why he decided to move to Rome. How did people travelled  at the end of the 1500’s? Probably along the so called ‘holy  roads’  , full of every kind of humanity ( heretics, cheats, real and false monks…).

Rome: dusty and malodorous roads, colors, different scents and a river, the Tevere, that often overflew its banks. Mansions and slums, wealth and poverty. Rome where everything could be found and where great personalities met. Popes, cardinals, priests, merchants, solicitors, spies, thieves, prostitutes, painters, sculptors and also theologians and heretics, artisans and masons and carpenters from Brescia and Bergamo. Rome: where  dualities are not clearly defined.

Caravaggio, young and often ill (aftereffects of a horse kick or malaria?) starts living under the protection and in the house of the cardinal Del Monte, ambassador of the grand duke of Tuscany. The mansion of the Cardinal is like a mirror of the contradictions of Rome: artists, “donne honeste” (rich prostitutes, called ‘honeste’ because in the church they sat in first lines as they were generous in charity works. Practically the prostitutes that the great prelates held for themselves and for their own guests), young boys with portentous voices (the “castrati”). Lasts but not least a musician, Emilio Dè Cavalieri, precursor of Monteverdi and author of “Recitar Cantando”, a book explaining that a singer had  to play the music with certain postures of the body.

We will find some of these postures in the paintings of Caravaggio. A careful analysis shows that the  Madrigals of Lassus and Arcadelt had a strong influence on  the paintings of musical representation. Part of “Representation of soul and body” of Emilio Dè Cavalieri and the madrigals of Lassus and Arcadelt are the underlying music of the performance. It is not clear if the theories of Galileo Galilei or Giordano Bruno were known to Caravaggio, but let's suppose the environment of the Cardinal was cultural, gossipy, curious. The painter also knew Campo dei fiori, where Jordan Bruno was burned at the stake. Are certain glares in the fires painted by Caravaggio after the death of Bruno casual? “… I Furori” in the title of the performance are a tribute to Giordano Bruno.

Caravaggio liked  inns and brothels, and also Piazza Navona, meeting place of boys looking for a job, thieves and vagabonds. Caravaggio, man of his time, ugly, dirty, bad, generous and genial like his time, ran into accident: the killing of Ranuccio Tommasoni. We believe that the homicide is not the cause of the misfortunes of the painter, but that it happened when it was decided to remove from Caravaggio every kind of  protection. With the murder begins the time of the continuous flights: Naples, Malta, Naples, again Malta, Palermo, Messina and Naples, and finally Porto Ercole (where the painter dies. Very little is known of his stay in Malta:  first an important honour is conferred upon him, then he’s imprisoned and defined a “rotten and fetid man”. How did he run away, given that it was virtually impossible to escape from the jail of Malta? Was the imprisonment due to the Inquisition? Was Caravaggio a spy? and whose spy? Who wanted to kill him? The Guards of Malta?

Caravaggio, aware of his own end, runs away, paints in a hurry with cheap material, and conceal himself. In Porto Ercole not only his paintings are forfeited but also his ship leaves without him. Caravaggio will die shortly after. Malaria, infected wounds, homicide? It is now known that the pope was going to grant a pardon.

The language of the performance is the Italian language. However, when telling the most intimate memories of the painter, or in the moments of great tiredness or happiness, we have used the dialect of Bergamo. We believe that Caravaggio had really kept his Lombard attitude (as it can be seen in his paintings), we also wanted to stress this with the spoken word. Moreover, we have added in the text some sentences in the Italian language of the 1600’s. Sentences coming from the monologues of an unknown ravening preacher, Panigarola and from the transcripts of one of Caravaggio’s trials.

With the exception of a song of the Talking Heads, we have mainly used pieces taken from “Representation of soul and body” of Dè Cavalieri and different madrigals of Lassus and Arcadelt.

At the beginning of the performance the actor only ‘plays’ Caravaggio but in a second phase, he becomes, in a kind of hypnotic identification, the painter. Our Caravaggio is a wounded and humiliated man, but not defeated. A dieing man cursing with all his strength, not in Italian, but in his language, the dialect of Bergamo: “maledehe.”


Following the different scenes of the performance:

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