Greek Tragedy In Syracuse

Among the best spring and summer festivals in Italy is the Greek Theatre in Syracuse, a theatre that makes many of the Roman monuments seem just adolescent and brings Greek Tragedy to the fore.

The people of Sicily are proud of their mixed history, having been invaded, captured, infiltrated, and seeded by just about every megalomaniacal empire builder in history, right up to the current day. Yet, maybe one of the earlier and less fearsome forces to bring its culture to island, has left its mark for the greatest time. The Greeks arrived about 700 BC and in the next 200 years built Syracuse to become at least equal to Athens in size and importance to the empire.

Unsurprisingly, in the quarries near a grand cave they built a magnificent theatre. It has suffered two modifications with time, conversion by the Romans for their games, and more recently theft by the locals for building blocks.

Fortunately, pride in their heritage resulted in the protection of this part of the Syracuse UNESCO heritage site. It is more than a centenary of the creation in 1914 by the INDA-National Institute of Ancient Drama of the performance of many a Classical Greek Tragedy at the Greek Theatre.

The tragedies are presented in Italian and commence at sunset. The stage is large and completely open with only a great gate barring the entrance from the bowels at the back of the stage. We are told that, in ancient times, you could look from your seat across the stage to the bay in the background where marine activities formed a backdrop to and part of the entertainment on the stage. Today that space in the foreground is filled with grand trees and the park and then the railway closer to the water line.

We arrive at about six for a glass of local ‘vino bianco’ and to watch the wide mixture of guests arriving. On taking our seats, which fortunately are cushioned, it is noticeable that the seats on the left of the amphitheatre, in the sun, are empty. We become aware of local knowledge, as these seats, maybe a little cheaper, rapidly fill as the shadows of dusk slide over the theatre.

The Greek tragedy? Agamennone is reasonably a universal story not differing too much from normal life in the suburbs with minor exceptions. Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter to the gods to give him luck in the war with Troy. After ten years of hard toil he returns victorious (with a lady in hand) to his wife Clytemnestra, who has become bitter over the years and engaged in her own liaison and power play. She has decided that the future should be with the new lover and proceeds to dispose of Agamemnon and his lover, meanwhile justifying her crime of passion to all and sundry.

The play is interspersed by evening calls of the local bird life and a soft rustling of the trees as the breeze flows in off the sea. The performance outdoes the banality of the story line and the production is outstanding –plus unusually a male chorus. The arrival of Agamemnon is a particularly striking return from ‘the dead’. Nearly in time with the fall of night, the Greek tragedy is complete with maybe just a hint that there is more to come for Clytemnestra and her beau.

For visitors fear not the Italian language, the play is in the emotional outpourings of the players.

Thanks to photographer Franca Centaro.