The 53rd cycle of classical performances at the Greek theatre of Syracuse this year is presenting two tragedies from the legend of Oedipus and his cursed descendants, Eteocles and Polynices: Seven Against Thebes by Aeschylus and Phoenicians by Euripides.
The thirst for power of Eteocles is the catalyst for all the events: he has breached the agreement with his brother Polynices to rule the city of Thebes in alternating years and as a consequence his brother has gathered together an army of Argives and declared war to the city.
The director Marco Baliani, completely in keeping with Aeschylus’ idea, wants to convey the sense of fear of an enemy who is about to strike a city under siege. He has transposed the action into an imaginary indigenous community and the tribal elements are the main component of the staging and the music: a tree at the centre of the scene symbolises the gods, the prophet Tiresia dances to the insistent rhythm of percussion instruments wearing of a bird-like mask, simple stones mark the seven doors of the city and masks of African inspiration cover the faces of the seven warriors who will defend the seven doors of the city. All this shifts the attention to the primordial needs of safety, of belonging but also of spirituality.
Aeschylus focuses mainly on the dialogues between Eteocles and the choir or his sister Antigone rather than the action. The messenger has a pivotal role: in this staging he speaks often from above and outside the perimeter of the stage thus creating a sense of spatial displacement. By describing and articulating the horror of the war he exacerbates the terror of the inhabitants, which is evident as they narrow down around the sacred tree. Religion is seen as the last hope by the women, whereas men see war as the solution to save the city.
However, the curse of Oedipus falls as a nemesis on the two brothers: the gods punish their hubris in the worst possible way as an adverse fortune leads them to confront each other and to death. As war breaks up within the city visual and sound effects give to the audience a vivid experience. In the end Thebes is safe, but it has been destroyed in its inner essence, the tree is torn apart and a dictatorship, announced by a megaphone reminiscent of the fascist era, has taken over the government of the city.
The tragedy revolves around Eteocles, who here is interpreted by Marco Foschi; however, his portrayal is not convincing as a leader and his rage appears a bit contrived. By contrast Anna Della Rosa gives a superb and touching interpretation of Antigone, convincingly portraying her religious feelings and her deep family piety for the brother Polynices, who was supposed to be left unburied by order of the new, autocratic ruler. All the other interpreters gave very good performances, including the dancers; the music was apt to the action on stage and enhanced the experience.
A prologues and epilogue, wonderfully declaimed by Gianni Salvo, helps us to make sense of the story represented: Aeschylus portrays the thirst for power of individuals as ruinous but he is not sure that governments necessarily pursue the common good. This is as true as now as it was in Ancient Greece.