Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Homeless

There seemed to be a certain unsettling theme to this past Sunday in Palermo:  the Homeless. It was not an intentional theme - the day was bright and sunny, a bit cool in the shade but pleasant; people were out enjoying themselves, window shopping, strolling, going to mass then to lunch. We were amongst the people enjoying the day - nothing really planned other than Sunday lunch then later in the afternoon an opera at the magnificent, if sadly neglected, Teatro Massimo.  But the image of the homeless raised its head twice during the day.

The Greek Passion is an opera I had heard of but never seen and to be honest other than one symphony (the 4th) I heard last year in London at the urging of my friend David of I'll Think of Something Later I was not familiar with much of Bohuslav Martinů's work. When he heard I was going to see Greek Passion David told me I was in for something special - and as always he was right. It was one of the most emotional performances I have attended in a long while.  The orchestral and choral writing are superb, the performances was moving and totally committed and the staging, with a few caveats, exceptional.  And the emotional impact was overwhelming.  I am quite ready to admit I was on the verge of tears several times during the performance.

Based on Nikos Kazantzakis' Christ Recrucified it tells of the impact that the ritual of a traditional Passion Play and  the arrival of a group of refugees fleeing ethnic persecution have on the life of a small Greek village.  The arrival of these homeless people, though fellow Greeks, brings a less than welcoming response from the priest and leaders of the village but a compassionate response from the people chosen to represent Christ and his followers in the play.  Sadly once again the chief priests and pharisees triumph and the refugees are finally driven away - homeless once again. 

But that image of the homeless had appeared earlier in the day as we were strolling through the garden of Piazza Castelnuovo.  There in a bronze grouping by the Sicilian sculptor Pasqualle Civeletti were the homeless of another time and another place.  Italy of the 19th century - the streets of Palermo or perhaps Napoli or even one of the prosperous northern cities.  The figures of two lost boys sit in the middle of the terrace of the garden mostly ignored by passers by and badly scarred by graffiti.  They carry the simple title I Senza Tetto - the Homeless.

I Senza Tetto (The Homeless)  by Pasqualle Civeletti in the garden of the Piazza Castelnuovo has as powerful a message today as it did when he created it.
It took some time to find out anything about this piece - because of the graffiti I had trouble from my photo making out the signature of the artist. When I finally did what little information there was in English centered on the statue of Verdi that Civeletti and his older brother Benedetto cast for the City of New York in 1906 and little else.  An Italian search revealed a bit more: he was born in Palermo in 1858 and died there in 1952 - one can only imagine the changes he saw in his 96 years.  Though his brother was considered the major talent in the family Pasquale created many of the statues that are seen throughout the city of Palermo. The first mention I found of I Senzatetto indicates it was created in 1895 for a exhibition in Torino but the indication on the piece itself says clearly "fece 1904" - made in 1904. It is quite possible this is a copy - not an infrequent case with many bronzes. But why is it there? Who commissioned it? What is the story behind it? None of that appears to be recorded.

But what is recorded is the cold, the weariness, the hunger and the hopelessness of the two young boys. Barefoot, poorly clad, exhausted, hunched over, old before their time, their desperate state apparent even when viewed from behind - it is a powerful statement of what was seen on the streets of many countries at the time and sadly can still be seen in our own times. 

It was difficult to make out Civiletti's signature with all the graffiti that has disfigured it over the years.  A sad state for what is, to my mind at least, a work that deserves to be better seen and thought upon.
I would be fascinated to find out what inspired Civeletti to create the piece - a commission? a social conscience? or just an exercise in his art?  And I also wonder why it has been allowed to reach the state that it is in today - neglected except by pranksters and  love sick swains bent on expressing their love for Angelica.  What ever Civeletti's purpose the message is one that deserves to be better seen and better cared for. 

10 maggio - Santi Alfio, Cirino e Filadelfo

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1 comment:

David said...

Only willing to admit you were on the verge for the Greek Passion, Will? It's one of those I'll-have-to-be-careful-that-I-don't-sob-out-loud endings for me. So glad they were able to do it justice in Palermo.

I've encountered it twice at the Royal Opera with Mackerras - a sellout second time around - and once in concert conducted by Belolavek. Should have seen it at the Smetana Theatre in Prague, but they pulled the plugs on the day and substituted it with...Rigoletto. Glad I went because a baritone from Brno, Pavel Kamas, was the best Rigoletto I've ever seen.