Filming with the Devil

first_imgIt’s an old story: wife has affair, husband catches pair ‘in flagrante delicto’ and violently murders them, before fleeing for his life. Perhaps not. For this cuckolded husband and double murderer was also one of the greatest composers in Renaissance Italy, and is soon to hit our screens as the subject of a no-expensespared biopic by the controversial Italian film director, Bernado Bertolucci. Don Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa, enjoyed huge notoriety in his time due to his scandalous love life and his radical musical style which, sensuous and wild, changed the face of the previously restrained Italian madrigal. In a recent interview with L a RepubblicaBertolucci himself commented, “Gesualdo, with his prophetic fury, confused me from the first time I heard him. I experienced a carrier of emotions that was almost expressionist.” The great Italian conductor Claudio Abbado, long a fan of Gesualdo, stated in the same article, “Gesualdo knew how to transfigure suffering with previously unheard harmonies. He exalted dissonance, rendering it an instrument of expression of the strongest and saddest emotions. And in this way, he thrust past the boundaries of his time”. And yet, until now, both Gesualdo and his works have been almost completely forgotten. But not for long: Bernado Bertolucci, of Last Tango in Paris and Stealing Beauty fame, has finally admitted that he plans to complete what sources close to him say is a tenyear project, that will reveal the life and music of the unjustly forgotten Prince. The film is to be called Inferno e Paradiso, or Heaven and Hell. The release date is still under wraps, but reports in the Italian press suggest that the first scenes, or “ciaks” as they are called in his native Italy, are expected to be shot this month. So, what can we expect from the famoso Italian? Like his subjectto- be, Bertolucci is no conservative; his notorious film La Luna shocked the world with its theme of mother-son incest set in the world of opera. Last Tango in Paris, the story of two people who meet anonymously for sex in a Paris apartment, was no less stunning or provocative. And his latest release, The Dreamers, caused yet more headlines in September last year by famously including an incestuous relationship between a young boy and his virgin twin sister. When Twentieth Century Fox announced that they wanted to cut some scenes involving sex and nudity in preparation for The Dreamers’ release in America, Bertolucci was outraged, allegedly accusing Fox of having “amputated and mutilated” the film, and suggesting wryly that, “some people obviously think the American public is immature”. Will Heaven and Hell be as controversial as the Italian’s previous efforts? It certainly seems that the combination of Gesualdo’s colourful love life and Bertolucci’s track record will give ample opportunities for sparks to fly. Gesualdo’s unfaithful wife, Maria of Avalos, was reputedly one of the most beautiful women in Italy, and when the Prince killed both her and her courtly lover it caused shock-waves in Neapolitan society which were recorded in many a lamenting madrigal. However, his crime passionellewas forgotten astonishingly quickly, and in 1594, a mere four years after the dirty deed, he was married to Eleonora d’Este, of the powerful Ferrarese Este family. His return to grace coincided with a very fruitful period of madrigal writing which, with their deeply pained, repentant texts, seem to mirror his anguished guilt. Bertolucci,as ever, has a different and juicier interpretation: “It really distresses me that, from which ever way you look at events, you can’t escape the fact that Gesualdo’s most beautiful music was composed after he murdered his wife. It is as if his works were fertilized in the blood of his wife. Gesualdo loved music too much, Maria loved love too much. I am convinced that Gesualdo killed his wife because she stopped him from being creative, deep down, and that he found the pretext of adultery to free himself.” There’s clearly a lot more to the Prince of Venosa than meets the eye, and anyone wishing to find out more could do worse than to dig into either the second edition of Glenn Watkins’ masterly Gesualdo, or Dennis Arnold’s BBC Music Guidewhich somehow manages to compress most of the content of the Watkins’ tome into about fifty very readable pages. Those not wishing to burden themselves with literature can always skip straight to the real thing and put on a CD; Gesualdo: Madrigals, sung by the peerless French early-music group Arts Florissants and conducted by William Christie, is one of the best. As for Inferno e Paradiso: box office heaven or hell? Watch this space.ARCHIVE: 0th week TT 2004last_img