An opera of imagination
Music Maria Kallionpää
Libretto Stefano Simone Pintor
Loosely inspired by H. Rider Haggard’s book of the same name
Conductor Sara Caneva
Stage director Luca Bargagna
Set designer Giada Abiendi
Costume designer Chicca Ruocco
Lighting designer Marco Alba
Production Teatro dell’Opera, Roma
Prof. Geoffrey Truce, an Egyptian scribe and Prof. L. Horace Holly Murat Can Guvem
Kallikrates and Leo Vincey Timofei Baranov
Amenartas and Ustane Valentina Varriale
Ayesha Erika Beretti
Actors Alfredo Calicchio, Luca Carbone, Gloria Carovana, Matteo Cecchi, Flaminia Cuzzoli and Flavio Francucci, Zoe Zolferino (Accademia Nazionale d’Arte Drammatica Silvio D’Amico)
Orchestra Youth Orchestra of the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome
The production was staged at the Teatro Nazionale, Rome in November 2017
Produced as final work of the biennial residency project “Fabbrica” Young Artist Program - First Edition 2016/2017 of the Teatro dell'Opera, Rome
Apart from the beauty of the story itself, we decided to create a transposition of the book “She” by H. Rider Haggard because of its ability to examine some of the most common subjects of our time. Despite being a book written more than a century ago, the story expresses numeous racial and evolutionary conceptions (especially notions of degeneraion and racial decline) as well as themes such as female authority, feminine behaviour and sexuality that are still extremely discussed today (it takes just a look at the newspapers to understand how present these themes are in our lives).
The will to reach the heart of these topics is even mirrored in the structure of the book, which presents a “chinese nest of boxes“ model, a literature structure where the story is told in the form of a narrative inside a narrative (and so on), giving views from different perspectives. Examples include Plato's dialogue “Symposion”, Mary Shelley's 1818 novel “Frankenstein”, Jostein Gaarder's “The Solitaire Mystery”, and Joseph Conrad's “Heart of Darkness” that, together with “She”, is one of the most popular books which gave voice to the genre of the “lost world” and “lost civilization”.
Instead of losing this important aspect of the book as many film transpositions did, we decided to keep it both in the structure of the libretto and of the musical dramaturgy. By means of a travel in time and in space, and by means of the use of the same few soloists playing different characters in different eras, we can somehow find a way of telling the same story repeating through the different periods of time, as a proof of the fact that even if the world goes on and on, some of the norms that rule it are always the same. Therefore all the characters become like “functions” of a character, which means different persons but actually the same ones: Amenarta in the Egyptian time becomes Ustane in the Amahagger time; Kallikrates in the Egyptian time becomes Leo Vincey in the English time, etc. The only character who will not change at all is the millenial Ayesha, also known as 'She-who-must-be-obeyed', as she is described in the story. She represents the center of the Earth, the arrival point of the voyage of all the men who travel to reach her and to reach the truth about the world and themeselves. On top of that, the more these characters will get close to Ayesha, the more they will change their way of being and their morality ideals, forcing us (meaning the audience) to think about our ethics as well.
Prof. Geoffrey Truce from the university of Cambridge receives from his student a box containing a potsherd with ancient writing. In his public lecture in Rome in November 2017 he discusses the secrets of the potsherd and its possible connection to a mysterious story of Henry Haggard´s novel “She”. The legend says that back in the Victorian days Prof. Horace Holly and his stepson Leo Vincey went to Africa to trace down the secrets of the very potsherd and a mythical female god called “She”.
Suddenly, Geoffrey Truce´s lecture is cut off by an ancestral voice that takes over the whole theatre and drags the professor and his audience right in the middle of the happenings in East Africa, 339 BC. The professor soon realises himself to be an Egyptian scribe who gets dramatically shipwrecked together with Leo Vincey, his wife Ustane (who were called Kallikrates and Amenartas at the time, during their previous lives), and his guardian Holly. After the storm in the sea has calmed down, it turns out that they are being held captive by the female God “She-who-must-be-obeyed” alias Ayesha, who falls in love with Leo/Kallikrates. She kills him after he refuses to leave his wife for her, after which Ustane withdraws herself to die.
Leo and Ustane are born again in another historical era. In their next lives in 1884 AD, Leo, Holly, and Ustane are again stranded in East Africa. Leo is haunted by the dreams about his father, who was obsessed with finding “She”. Also Leo wants to find “She” and kill her in order to end the “craziness”. However, he cannot resist Ayesha´s beauty, who this time ends up killing Ustane. “She”/Ayesha suggests that Leo and her should go back to England together to rule there as “an eternal queen and her immortal lover”. To gain immortality, they should both go through a pillar of fire that would fortify them. To encourage Leo, “She” enters the pillar first. However, instead of intensifying her divinity, she slowly burns into ashes and finally vanishes. A terrible explosion follows.
November 2017: after a powerful explosion Prof. Geoffrey Truce is found dumbfounded from his lecturing stage. All that he can mutter is: “The terror… The terror…”