‘Corteo’ Director Creates ‘Aida’ Fueled by Gasoline
Published: June 8, 2011 (Issue # 1659)
Daniele Finzi Pasca directs Viktoria Yastrebova in the role of Aida in his new staging of Verdi’s passionate opera.
Guiseppe Verdi’s “Aida” that premieres at the Mariinsky Theater Concert Hall on June 11 and 14, Swiss-born director Daniele Finzi Pasca aims to do far more than offer a striking stage experiment. He wants his production to be a new word in human anatomy.
“The main component of a human body is not water; it is gasoline,” says Finzi Pasca, the man behind “Corteo,” the hugely popular show he created for Cirque du Soleil. “And my production of ‘Aida’ is going to prove it.”
“There is enough proof of my theory in real life: Look at the many burnouts, the many people exploding with emotions,” he explains. “But ‘Aida’ gives a most compelling illustration of how easily a human being can combust, destroying themselves, their loved ones — and even damage a whole nation as a consequence.”
“Aida” is a very personal opera, in which the characters fall victim to their own passions, says Finzi Pasca.
The eponymous character of Verdi’s 1871 opera is an Ethiopian princess who is taken prisoner and enslaved in Egypt. Radames, an Egyptian military commander, falls in love with her but is torn between his feelings for Aida and his loyalty to the Pharaoh. Radames is in turn loved by the Pharaoh’s daughter Amneris.
A sketch of Aida’s costume.
“Jealousy destroys Amneris, as it forces her to protect herself in a savage way, while Aida fights for the very same love in a noble manner,” Finzi Pasca said. “Radames acts in a most immature way: All he wants is to feel like an important person, a commander. If only any of them had been able to stop and think, if only the Pharaoh and Amonasro [Aida’s father, the King of Ethiopia] could have sat down and talked, if only there had been no slaves and generals, if only we weren’t all boxes of gunpowder ready to go off, if only we weren’t all such cannibals, such destroyers committing a betrayal in order to protect and to survive, like the characters in Aida.
“For me, it is important to depict human craziness, and what drives people into devastating wars,” the director said. “Our explosive capacities are genuinely enormous.”
Professionally, Finzi Pasca compares himself to a masseur. “The only difference is that I provide massage for the soul; but just like a masseur I am very sensitive to the response,” the director said. “I do not need big crowds, and would just as happily stage a show for one spectator. What is important is that my message gets heard.”
While with Cirque du Soleil’s “Corteo,” Finzi Pasca created a mystical show exploring issues of life and death, in “Aida,” the key topic for the director is what he calls “the madness of war.”
Finzi Pasca became a pacifist early on in life. After spending a year working as a volunteer with street children, and seeing the devastating consequences of children left orphaned or deprived by military conflict, he made the life-changing decision to boycott military service. It was a brave decision, considering that at that time — some 25 years ago — conscientious objectors in Switzerland were inevitably sent to prison for several months.
A sketch for Amonasro’s costume.
“The military culture — I mean, being trained to kill other human beings — was something I could not accept and be part of,” Finzi Pasca said. “And I was prepared to pay the price.”
Symbolically, it was in prison where Daniele’s own artistic philosophy began to shape up. “It was in jail where I experienced the most emotionally overwhelming moments: It was when I first met an innocent person who was serving his term owing to a judicial mistake,” he remembers. “Later I met several more such people — I don’t think that actually we all realize how much flawed justice there is that destroys people’s lives like this — but that first shock of listening to a tragic human story of an innocent victim, I will never forget.”
The philosophy of Finzi Pasca as a stage director, regardless of the genre he works in, is that of a peacemaker. What he seeks to do with any show is to encourage reconciliation, agreement and inner harmony among his audience.
“When there are barriers between people, you have to look for a solution,” the director said. “I would like the final words of ‘Aida’ — the whisper “peace, peace, peace” — to reach out to every heart. You can even take it as a direct call for a peacemaking initiative, whatever war or conflict is going on in your life.”
“Aida” premieres on June 11 and 14 at the Mariinsky Theater, 1 Teatralnaya Ploshchad. M: Sadovaya/Sennaya Ploshchad. Tel: 326 4141.