Cold, blustery weather required us to postpone a visit to the Neapolis Archeological Site, but we got lucky the following day.
Orecchio di Dioniso
Caravaggio, on visiting the archeological sites in Siracusa, dubbed one of them “Dionysius’s Ear” (Orecchio di Dioniso).
According to legend, Dionysius used the cave as a prison, spying on his captives from the small opening at the top of the cave where even whispers from the cavern below could be clearly heard. Recent investigations, however, have found this myth to be implausible . . . . Another more gruesome tale holds that the sadistic emperor, rather than listening for secrets, took satisfaction in hearing the amplified screams of his prisoners as they were tortured. [citation]
I’m pleased to report that, while we were there, the only sound we heard was from a young man testing the acoustics by singing an aria from inside the cave.
Perhaps the only thing more unimaginable than standing on the very spot where it’s said that plays by Sophocles, Euripides, and Aeschylus were performed—in some cases with the playwright in attendance—was to be there without another soul around. I only wish I’d thought to bring along Anne Carson’s An Oresteia; perhaps I could have read a bit of her translation of Agamemnon aloud:
Gods! Free me from this grind!
It’s one long year I’m lying here watching
Waiting watching waiting—
propped on the roof of Atreus, chin on my
paws like a dog.
[from Anne Carson, An Oresteia, p. 11]
Or perhaps best not . . .
In the afternoon, the day was fine, so we took the opportunity to walk along the Ortygia waterfront. At the edge of the sea is a freshwater spring, dubbed the Fonte Aretusa. John Julius Norwich wrote of it, “So fresh and copious was the water than in June 1798 Nelson used it to provision his fleet of fourteen ships.” [Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History, footnote, p. 6]
Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001), Oresteia for chorus and 12 instruments (1965–66)
Solo Bar; children’s chorus, mixed chorus (18 men and 18 women, or multiples thereof) doubling perc: wood simantras/metal simantras/whips/sirens/metal sheets/maracas
1(=picc).1.0.Ebcl.dbcl.0.dbn-1.1(=picc.tpt).1.1-perc(3):2timp(sm,lg)/2bongos/SD/BD(lg)/2wdbl/2lion’s roar/2gongs(sm,lg)/2tamb(without jingles)/whip/4tom-t/2nylon brushes(long bristles)/2maracas/thunder-sheet(lg)/glsp-vlc
Each instrumentalist (except percussionists) doubles on each of tgl/tamb(varying pitch,without jingles)/siren/glass chimes/whip/metal sheets/lion’s roar/rattles
Audience plays metal simantras [citation]
Like other composers writing music for the Oresteia in the 20th century . . . Xenakis evidently strove for the elemental and the hieratic, as if to evoke the remoteness of the source material in the act of making it so very present. . . . Many of the chorus’s contributions . . . suggest that the lineage of Greek drama can be traced straight through to the chant of the Orthodox church. . . .
In 1967, Xenakis recast his . . . score as a 40-minute concert piece. Twenty years later, he brought the music back to the stage and added a new section, Kassandra, for a performance amid the ruins of Gibellina, Sicily. This was only a few kilometers from the burial place of Aeschylus at Gela . . .
Full program notes from which the above excerpt was taken may be found here.
Credits: The sources for quotations may be found at the links in the text. As always on the blog, the photographs, unless otherwise indicated, are mine.