One of the most important contemporary British stage and cinema directors, polyhedral artist and visionary, creator of images and “painter in celluloid” as he likes to define himself: Peter Greenaway, experimenter with languages and great connoisseur of Italian art, is one of the most significant names appearing at the 2016 Festival Verdi. Together with Saskia Boddeke he has created the highly anticipated production of “ Giovanna d’Arco” to be set within the precious baroque framework of the Farnese Theatre this coming October. The production will be unique, created by an artist who is himself used to pushing boundaries in the setting of the extraordinarily imposing wooden masterpiece from the XVI century built by the Farnese family as Dukes of Parma and Piacenza and used for rare and expensive representations. Originally the lower area of the auditorium would have been flooded for the ‘naumachy’ or naval battle; let us not forget the recurring theme of water in Greenaway’s work so the choice of the eclectic director to set his production in such a highly particular space is not entirely casual. After a lengthy period of decline lasting almost three centuries, the Farnese Theatre was almost entirely destroyed by a bomb during the second world war and then re-built in the 1950’s. Its rebirth in the XX century coincided with the emergence of the Festival Verdi and so it is fitting that this year’s Festival will see the ‘Giovanna D’Arco’ in this hallowed space.
Originally from Newport in Wales, Greenaway studied in London at the Walthamstow School of Art. His first interest was painting and in 1964 his first exhibition was at the Lords Gallery entitled ‘Eisenstein at the Winter Palace’. He then moved on to the cinema, as one of the many means of expression chosen by an artist draughtsman, author of documentaries, creator of multi-medial installations, opera director, curator of exhibitions and television experimenter. He also approached the art of the mural becoming an expert on fresco technique.
His first feature length film in 1980, “The Falls”, won the BFI prize and the Age d’Or prize in Brussels but he really came into the public eye with “The Draughtsman’s Contract” (the Mysteries of Compton House Garden 1982) when it was shown in Venice. This film also underlined the first chapter of his collaboration with the neo-baroque music of Michael Nyman. With the film that followed, “A Zed & Two Noughts” (Lo zoo di Venere 1985), Greenaway began to work with the Marienbad photographic director, Sacha Vierny, with whom he would collaborate on all his films up to and including 8 ½ Women (Otto donne e mezzo, 1999).
What are the characteristics of the artist ? The framing of his shots, the use of colours and the play of lights which take inspiration from pictorial and architectural works. His creations have often been criticized for excessive scientific rigour and maniacal attention to the aesthetic and they combine every possible expressive code and often assume an explicit and provocative form such as a list or a catalogue; whatever form they take one can never remain indifferent. Numbers, letters, maps, encyclopedias or chapters have, amongst the fundamental functions of Greenaway’s films, that of revealing the artificiality of the length and structure of the work on which cinematic language itself is based.
Peter Greenaway will be guest of honour in London on 15th March for the presentation of the forthcoming Festival Verdi. Just a few years ago in Parma he was the protagonist of an interesting exhibition of 200 oil paintings, water colours, sketches and drawings completed between 1963 and 1999 and his return here in October 2016 for this creation which will excite great interest in the panorama of World Theatre underlines the link with the Ducal City.