The magic of a spectacle at the Roman theatre in Cassino brings back ancient atmosphere and emotions that thousands of people came here to experience, from every part of the Roman empire.
The theatre lies on the side of the mountain, according to the style of the Greek theatres, with a view of the valley framed by cypresses and pines and the scents of summer that penetrates and invades the scene. Monte Trocchio dominates the landscape in the distance.
The music rises and fills the open theatre naturally, even without amplification, if the orchestras are located in the ‘orchestra pit’ at the foot of the stage. It is ancient Greek wisdom, then taken by the Romans, to take advantage of the natural acoustics of shells, shells and particular mountain slopes. Acoustic waves are reflected and even people sitting on the top row can hear sounds and words perfectly.
Classical music has a particular charm when it is without amplification. The violin and other string instruments give out the flavour of the wood that blends with the landscape. As well as the music of the chamber group, the presentations and anecdotes about the history of music seem to be conversations between friends.
The Frosinone Chamber Orchestra is perfect and the tuning of musicians makes the event dedicated to Vivaldi and Rossini special. The stories told by Master Maurizio Turriziani warm emotions. All musicians are exceptional: violins of Loreto Gismondi and Demi Laino, Alessandro Menci’s guitar, Donato Cedrone on cello and Maurizio Turriziani’s double bass.
While waiting for the musicians, the mind naturally drifts back to the past. Was this the same view as that of Cassino’s nobles of the Roman era? The same profiles of the mountains and the passage leading to the sea, at Formia?
The Roman theatre has a truly original story and its fortune is to have been forgotten in the Middle Ages and rediscovered only in 1936. Other theatres were taken over by houses and palaces and are lost, just thinking of the Marcello Theatre in Rome, and those in Palestrina and Terracina. Here it is very enjoyable, though not being in its original form.
Yet, those restorations have made it enjoyable again for shows and displays even with the construction of a new grand stage for larger ballets and shows. It still accommodates 3,000 people who are seated on the steps using 5 stairs and a horizontal hallway dividing the theatre into 2 sections.
Perhaps the theatre still had other steps and a final temple at the top, such as that of Palestrina or Pompeii. This can be deduced from the way the current stairs end today. But the last war has done its damage and many structures have been lost.
In the current form, one recognizes the places for nobles near the stage and one can understand the division into social classes. In the area next to the theatre, some remains of coloured plaster let you imagine how much structured it was its original form.
The Romans used fixed scenes with a masonry structure, rich in niches, columns and statues, including that of Ottaviano Augusto today in the Cassino museum. The Roman theatre seemed to be almost like a ‘closed place’, with a large background wall that could also be used to lay a ‘velarium’, a canvas awning that protected the audience from the sun and rain, and slay between the wall of the scenery and the final level above the stairs.
We must remember that most events were taking place by exploiting sunlight and not that artificial electric light.
The ‘forgeting’ of the theatre for many centuries can be understood if you think of Cassino’s somewhat ‘busy’ story. Over the centuries, the population has shifted to various parts of the plain and then back to the mountain depending on the various invasions it has suffered.
Cassino is crossed by Via Latina (today via Casilina) connecting Rome with Capua and the road connecting Abruzzo to the Tyrrhenian Sea. The great communication paths brought prosperity and wealth in peace, but they led to destruction in war time because they were filled by enemy armies.
Cassino is founded in a perfect place with water and fertile fields and a mountain of protection where an acropolis is built with cyclopean walls, at the site where the abbey is today. We are talking about many centuries before Christ, maybe 8 or who knows.
The beauty of the location attracted the Sannites and then the Romans, who used three great wars to defeat this proud and brave people. Cassino became more and more important, a ‘prefecture’, and the noble and wealthy come to live in this city.
The Romans brought roads, aqueducts, spas, theatres, entertainments and performances. The theatre dates back to the early years of Augusto’s empire, about 27 AD. Then Ummidia Quadratilla, daughter of a consul, built at her expense the amphitheater and temple where she is buried.
Today we can understand Ummidia Quadratilla and her desire to live in Cassino. We can hear the vibrations of history in a show at Roman theatre in Cassino.
Such a Roman theatre gives an energy that is not easily found in other structures. Its charm is unchanged and current.