Emilio Isgrò for Theatrum Mundi Festival 2024

Marking the seventh edition of the Pompeii Theatrum Mundi festival, Teatro Grande of Pompei will be transformed into a gigantic video installation entitled Odissea cancellata by the artist Emilio Isgrò, on display from the 13 to 15 June 2024.

Directed by Giorgio Sangati, Isgrò stages his Odissea in verse together with an installation conceived in situ.

It is a work of irreverent and incredibly ironic rewriting that overturns every stereotype of the epic starting from Ulysses, a multifaceted, “broken” and very modern antihero, trapped in a journey without end or beginning.

While the verses of the Odyssey imprinted on the stone of the steps will be erased on sight, the text will come to life from the erasures themselves. In fact, Isgrò’s dramaturgy proceeds in the same way: he erases Homer (returning to the primary source of the epic) by selecting only the fragments that he considers essential and, uprooting them from their context, giving them back new and unexpected strength. In fact, it is not possible to orient oneself in this “sea” after the deception of Aeolus with his waterskin from which all the winds of the world came out like evils from Pandora’s box. It is a timeless sea, beaten by a “digital” wind that extends the boundaries of the myth up to our time and also reminds us that the classic does not belong to the past but rather to the future.
Around the protagonist there is a bizarre and disturbing chorus of “dwarves”, in which it is not difficult to recognize a humanity reduced to its minimum terms. From time to time fleeting ghostly apparitions: Penelope, Nausica, Circe and Polyphemus in the form of dreams, nightmares or hallucinations come from afar to visit/torture Ulysses, rewriting their story, without censorship.
At times it seems like we are witnessing a trial, a very singular auto-da-fé; but there is neither condemnation nor solution; there can’t be because we would have to judge ourselves.
Isgrò’s verses, written in 2003 in the middle of a war (and never performed), twenty years later remind us how we continue, tragically, to repeat our mistakes since the dawn of time.

A few years ago, when I wrote the canceled Odyssey, I didn’t know how and when this opera would be performed. I had concluded the Gibellina experience some time ago – precisely with that Orestea di Gibellina which gave rise to the great Orestiadi – and in some way I wanted to free myself from a theatrical model that I myself had created thanks to the support of Ludovico Corrao, mayor at the time of the city, who believed like me in a theater capable of making the human word the backbone of the show.
I knew the risks well. A certain aligned critical opinion, although strongly inserted in the climate of the neo-avant-garde, considered the word “reactionary” in the name of a theater of image or gesture that was then raging on both sides of the ocean.
On the other hand, I was not unaware that having removed the word beforehand with my deletions protected me enough from this risk. But there was more. Having worked for years in the field of visual poetry, where the coexistence of multiple disciplines and languages freed the word from its Gutenbergian rigidity, it would not have been difficult for me to levitate those experiments to the level of a real show.
On the one hand I regained the literary quality of the text which to many seemed to limit the rhythms of the theatre. As if to say that the power of Shakespeare’s words subtracts strength from the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet, where it instead enhances its frankly spectacular strength. For this reason alone, for the Oresteia and the other texts composed for Gibellina – Gibella del Martirio and San Rocco reads the list of miracles and horrors – I resorted to writing in verse which is one of the most ostentatious and visible signs of literariness; and if at that time hordes of actors exhibited their desolately mute and silent bodies on the stage, I gave those bodies a voice, so that their physicality would spill over onto the spectators more easily.
The canceled Odyssey comes from that experience, when, thanks to an inspiration that came from Aeschylus and Greek tragedians in general, I attempted to envelop the audience in a cloud of sound.
The second provocation was the hope of breaking with a high language, distant from the twentieth-century “theatre of poetry”, the so-called “theatre of prose” that led from Pirandello to Beckett.
It is certainly no coincidence that this work is also composed in verse: to give more solid and binding support to the actors, the director and all the creators of the show. Then I dreamed of a different theater. A dramaturgy that erased silence. Who knows if that hope of mine has already had an answer or is still waiting for it. At a certain point I got distracted from the theater as in other times I had deliberately distracted myself from the visual arts. However, my friend Roberto Andò, director of the National Theater of Naples, knew this canceled Odyssey, the only text of mine ever performed. He urged me to bring it out for the Roman Theater of Pompeii. A deleted text for a deleted country. But we know that in Latin two negatives affirm, transforming death into life.

Portrait of Emilio Isgrò, Ph. Valentina Tamborra, 2016