Important theatres in Catania, such as the Teatro Massimo Bellini and the Teatro Stabile, risk the closure after financial cuts imposed by the Sicilian government. Catania has seen on its stages many of the greatest musicians of the twentieth century: from the Valzer of Gino Marinuzzi to the Nabucco of Vittorio Gui, from the stage-managing of the choral director Riccardo Muti to the voices of Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti. Catania is the city with the highest theatrical density in the southern Italy, also taking advantage of the cultural influence from various historical dominations, from the Greeks to theArabs and Persians. The Teatro Massimo Bellini, in particular, is considered one of the most important and historic theatres in Italy, but the recent government’s decisions threaten its financial activities which has led to protests and strikes.
Hundreds of people have protested outside Catania’s municipal hall against the closure of the Teatro Massimo and other theatres. The demonstration attracted people from all over the Sicily, including children and their parents. It has been a true social revolution against what would be a major artistic defeat.
Tuccio Musumeci, 81, one of the most famous Sicilian actors, told me: “Sicily is governed by impolite people, many of whom are involved in legal trials, and this is the reason why the culture is in danger. Whenever politicians take such decisions it is a disaster. The Teatro Stabile of Catania, in previous years, had 16,000 members. It was without question, if not the best, certainly one of the top five theatres in the country.”
“I decided to leave the Teatro Stabile to found the Teatro Brancati, the first private Sicilian theatre, which, despite the economic problems, has a large number of members. The Teatro Massimo was the most important theatre in Italy and now is reduced to poverty by politicians.”
“The situation is depressing and it will be hard to find a solution. One of the biggest problems in Sicily, now, is the lack of an artistic director able to limit the Sicilian government’s power. Many years ago, the Catanese theatre was famous all over the world. Its operas have also been enjoyed by the American audience at Broadway, in Brazil, in Argentine and in Australia. But today is sadly going to die.”
The Teatro Stabile is one of the last theatres in Sicily where it is played the Opera dei Pupi, the historic Sicilian tradition of the marionette theatre. The “pupi”, as they are known in Italian (from the Latin “pupus” are marionettes created to stage plays inspired by the great epic tales of knights. The puppet plays reworked and adapted narrative material contained in the great chivalrous novels and poems, such as The Song of Roland, featuring the battle between Charlemagne and the Saracens, Orlando Furioso by Ariosto and Jerusalem Delivered by Tasso.
In Italy, the theatre does not occupy such an important place in the national culture as Shakespeare does for the British, but lives thanks to culture of cities such as Catania. But since 2002 , grants to culture have been halved by the government.
Armando Pugliese, 72, a Neapolitan director, said: “After the deaths of Turi Ferro and others important Sicilian artists, the theater of Catania collapsed into nothingness and now everything is in the hands of politicians who with their work are destroying centuries of culture.”
Catania is also the city of Giovanni Verga, best known for Cavalleria Rusticana and the novel I Malavoglia. Verga is one of many artists who made Catania one of the most important cultural centre in Europe and in the world.
The Teatro Massimo Vincenzo Bellini is the centre of the opera of Catania. The theatre was designed in 1870 by the architect Andrea Scala. The inauguration took place in 1890, when went to the stage, for the first time, the Norma of Vincenzo Bellini, one of the most famous operas in the world.
However, Sicilian people don’t want to give up. The Coordination of the General Assembly of Entertainment in Sicily is going to organize other protest actions against cuts on culture by the government.
Lina Mari Ugolini, 52, a Sicilian playwright and poetess, said: “In Italy the audience has lost its identity criticism. People attending theatres in Catania looking for entertainment shows, that are enormously different from what it is possible to enjoy at the Teatro Massimo or Teatro Brancati. This kind of audience is the mirror of the contemporary society. This is the same audience accustomed to watch television shows that are contaminated by the marketing strategies of politicians such as Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Renzi.”
Angela Rotondo, 49, an important Swedish opera singer, talks about the differences between the theatre in Catania and Stockholm, in Sweden: “I worked at Teatro Massimo in Catania for six years in the 90s. The Catania’s theatre, where all the greatest artists have sung and recited, is prestigious and famous all over the world. Especially the Teatro Massimo is part of a world cultural heritage. But the excessive cost of tickets and subscriptions cuts out all the people belonging to the average social class. This is one of the problems that have undermined the Sicilian theatre. In Stockholm, I worked at the Royal Swedish Opera House, one of the most important theatres in Sweden where the situation is different from the Catania’s one. In Sweden the actors are less talented and professional but they receive a higher salary. The Swedish government has always invested in the theatre, providing important structures and allowing all citizens to enjoy operas and shows. And this make a difference.”
The theatre must be safeguarded. The theatre is an important part of the art and tradition of Sicilian culture. It is a heritage to pass on to the future generations. The government is trying to kill history, folklore and the soul of a country. Sicilian people are protesting in defence of their identity. Catania’s Mayor Enzo Bianco, plus all the councillors and politicians of the Sicilian government should resign following the damage they are inflicting. Because in a period of social and economic crisis, they cannot also deprive us of art.