Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Passion in Pisa

It's almost Easter and stores in Pisa are filled to  overflowing with Easter eggs and cakes. Like Thanksgiving in America, Easter in Italy is a time for families to be together.

In Roman Catholic Italy, the week before Easter -- Holy Week -- also means church services, concerts of sacred music and reenactments of the Passion of the Christ. The most famous reenactment takes place in Rome, but others can be found in cities and towns all over Italy. The drama recounts the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Crucifixion. 

We went to a Passion in Arezzo a few years ago where the whole town was transformed into a theatrical scene. It was dramatic and interesting, but for my tastes just a bit too realistic and violent. Throughout history, passion plays have also been associated with the fostering of anti-semitismSo I hesitated when we were invited to a Passion performed in the Church of San Stefano dei Cavalieri here in Pisa. Our friend Fabrizio, an Italian Linguistics specialist, assured me, however, that this Passion was different.  

It was performed by the Pietro Frediani Maggio Theatrical Company of Buti, a Tuscan hillside town not far from Pisa with a centuries-old theatrical tradition.  A maggio is a popular drama based on legends and the lives of the saints.  Sung in metric poetry, they are similar in structure, but the singing style varies from town to town. For at least two hundred years, they have been a tradition in the western part of Tuscany and the nearby region of Emilia Romagna.  

The theatrical company of Buti is made up entirely of citizens of this small town. Their Passion, dramatically acted and hypnotically sung, was nonetheless understated in its tone. Its backdrop was the Passion, but its story is a tragic one of love, hate, friendship, betrayal, death and salvation -- topics that are universal.  

To see more photos, click here.


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

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