Vatican plans punk version of Divine Comedy

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The Independent Online

The Vatican has challenged purist Roman Catholics by disclosing plans for a daring rock, punk and jazz opera version of Dante's Divine Comedy with a soundtrack written by an avant-garde priest.

Monsignor Marco Frisina uses rock music as background for the Inferno, Gregorian chants for Purgatory and lyrical and symphonic classical and modern music for the advent of Paradise in the musical set to be staged in the autumn.

After a premier in a leading Rome theatre sponsored jointly by the Vatican and Italy's two houses of parliament, the extravaganza will tour other major Italian and European cities "to bring back the attention of the widest public to Dante's immortal poem", Riccardo Rossi, director general of Nova Ars, the company producing the opera, told La Repubblica newspaper.

The director, Elisabetta Marchetti, is recruiting a cast of 20 singer-actors, 30 ballet dancers led by the choreographer Anna Cuocolo, a 100-piece orchestra and 50 extras while as many as 250 costumes will be designed by Alberto Spiazzi. The screenplay for the ambitious production, which is officially entitled The Divine Comedy, the Opera, and subtitled "The man who seeks love," is being written by Gianmario Pagano, with the sets being designed by Paolo Micciche.

The story will be represented by 150 images, projected by six advanced technical systems, which will give the audience the impression of sitting next to the actors and dancers.

Rehearsals are due to start at the end of this month, meaning that the casting for actors to play Dante, Virgil and Beatrice should be disclosed imminently. "The only thing certain is that Dante will be interpreted by a very well known Italian singer-actor," said Mr Rossi.

Dismissing suggestions that Dante's haunting literary work might be considered to have little relevance to modern life, Mgr Frisina, who has written the screenplays for popular Italian television films on the lives of two previous popes, John Paul II and John Paul I, said he was dedicating the unusual work to Pope Benedict XVI.

"It is highly relevant... the poem is an inexhaustible source of stories, messages and teaching... his characters, while belonging to past epochs, speak to the men of today with their desire for knowledge, their fears, but essentially with their wish for elevation toward divine beauty," he told la Repubblica. "This is the poem of our Christian roots, of our faith, the opera of man in search of love, of the true sense of life... that is why I dedicate this musical version of the Commedia to Benedict XVI, the Pope who dedicated his first encyclical to love."

Mgr Frisina said that he would use heavy metal rhythms, punk rock and jazz to recount Hell, Gregorian mystical music for Purgatory and a triumphant explosion of lyrical and symphonic music, modern as well as classical, to usher in Paradise.

Recent years have seen a revival of interest in the Divine Comedy in Italy, with numerous public readings.