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Few people have ever visited the long network of underground tunnels under the public baths of Caracalla, which date back to the third century AD and are considered by many archaeologists to be the grandest public baths in Rome. This underground network, which is due to be reopened in December, is also home to a separate structure, the largest Mithraeum in the Roman Empire, according to its director Marina Piranomonte. The Mithraeum has just reopened after a year of restoration work which cost the city’s archaeological authorities around €360,000.
To celebrate the reopening, Michelangelo Pistoletto has installed his conceptual work Il Terzo Paradiso (the third heaven), which he first presented at the 2005 Venice Biennale, in the gardens surrounding the public baths. The work, made of ancient stone fragments and pieces of columns arranged in a triple loop, represents the harmonious union of the natural and technological worlds, according to the artist. It will be on view until 6 January 2013.
Federico Castelli Gattinara and Ermanno Rivetti
The Art Newspaper
The Pantheon’s Dome: Five thousand tons of concrete and the sun.(Photo: Vanni / Art Resource, NY)
Visitors to Rome overwhelmed by all it has to offer—”the abundance of its pasts” in the words of the poet Rilke—can find relief with a stop at the Pantheon. Embodying the city’s pagan and Christian identities, the Pantheon is Rome in microcosm.
Built in the second century by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple to all the Roman gods, it is the only major work of Roman Imperial architecture still intact. It owes its survival to having been consecrated a Christian church (Santa Maria ad Martyres) in the seventh century, which placed it under papal protection.
The architect? Candidates range from Anonymous to Apollodorus of Damascus, designer of Trajan’s Column. Whoever he was, he created a work of soaring beauty that epitomizes the Roman revolution in architecture.
Seen from its north-facing front, the concrete-and-brick Pantheon consists of a pedimented entrance porch, a domed rotunda and a boxlike intermediate structure joining them. Their forms—triangle, hemisphere and rectangle—announce the underlying theme of pure geometry.
Inside, rising from a circle-and-square-patterned floor, the hemispherical coffered dome rests on a drum. The drum’s bottom level is ringed with tabernacles alternating with recessed spaces screened with columns, its upper one with blind windows and framed marble panels.
But it is what’s overhead that draws the gasps: the largest masonry dome ever built—142 feet in diameter and weighing five thousand tons—it is the paterfamilias of every structure like it erected since. At the top is one of the most famous features in architecture, the oculus. It focuses a circle of light into the Pantheon that, tracking the transit of the sun, passes slowly across the interior surfaces as the day progresses. This moving disc—glowing, silent, inexorable—transforms the Pantheon from bricks-and-mortar house of worship into an almost living thing.
Wall Street Journal
On a recent afternoon, a group of American diplomats gathered on Rome’s cobblestones with buckets and rollers, spreading peach-colored paint across the weather-beaten façade of a medieval storefront. Their mission: To cover up the swirls of graffiti lining one of Rome’s oldest neighborhoods.
“It’s just so sad and so devastating,” said Rebecca Spitzmiller, an American lawyer living in Rome, who donned rubber gloves and a dust mask. “We’re retaking Rome.”
Margherita Stancati and Stacy Meichtry
Wall Street Journal
Art experts in Rome are analysing what they believe is a previously unknown painting by the Italian Baroque master Caravaggio.
As his homeland marked the 400th anniversary of his death this weekend, the Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano published the newly discovered work on its front page. Depicting the martyrdom of St Lawrence, it was found recently among the possessions of the Society of Jesuits in Rome. It shows a semi-naked young man, his mouth open in desperation with one arm stretched out as he leans over flames. If the suspected provenance is confirmed, it would be the first painting by the Baroque genius to emerge since The Calling of Saints Peter and Andrew, which went on display two years ago.
The interior of Maxxi, the new contemporary art museum designed by Zaha Hadid, looking up from the lobby. (Photo: Roland Halbe)
What would Pope Urban VIII have made of Maxxi, the new museum of contemporary art designed by Zaha Hadid on the outskirts of this city’s historic quarter? My guess is that he would have been ecstatic.
This 17th-century pope, one of the most prominent cultural patrons in Roman history, understood that great cities are not frozen in time. He loved dreaming up lavish new projects over breakfast with his artistic soul mate, the Baroque sculptor and architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini. When Bernini needed bronze for the baldachin in St. Peter’s, the pope simply ordered it torn out of the Pantheon. Neither was afraid to make his mark on the city.
Since then the architectural scene here has become a lot duller. True, Mussolini commissioned some impressive civic works, most notably for the fascist EUR district. But for most of the last half-century Romans have been content to gaze languidly toward the past. The handful of ambitious new cultural buildings that have appeared, like Renzo Piano’s marvelous Parco della Musica, tend toward the dignified and respectable.
Maxxi, which opens to the public on Saturday for a two-day “architectural preview,” jolts this city back to the present like a thunderclap. Its sensual lines seem to draw the energy of the city right up into its belly, making everything around it look timid. The galleries (which will remain empty of art until the spring, when the museum is scheduled to hold its first exhibition) would probably have sent a shiver of joy up the old pope’s spine. Even Bernini, I suspect, would have appreciated their curves.
New York Times
For months the Piccola Lirica company has been staging “Tosca” here, as its slogan says, “in miniatura.” The other night I stopped by to see it. It lasted about as long as some Italian governments: in just 90 minutes Scarpia was dead, Tosca had hurled herself off the parapet…
In America one of the few bright spots for classical music now is said to be opera, with younger crowds attracted by trendy marketing and new works often dealing with topical issues. But it’s another story in the country of Verdi and Puccini, where, like Mimi, opera has been dying forever. When the soprano Cecilia Bartoli recently told a German newspaper that “opera in Italy is a museum with dusty exhibits,” she echoed the composer Luciano Berio, who in exasperation a dozen years ago called Italian opera administrators “cretins” and said half the Italian opera houses should be closed because production standards had fallen so low…
Enter Piccola Lirica, which advertises itself as youth-friendly, meaning it hires fresh-faced singers and shrinks grand operas like “Tosca” from “Godfather” to “Pinocchio” length. It’s the CliffsNotes version of Puccini, fondly abridged.
“When opera was born, there was no cinema, no TV, no fast food,” said Rossana Siclari, the company’s director, a thin, wide-eyed, 40-something Calabrian. We talked before the performance over proseccos at one of the tables in the theater’s lovely little whitewashed cafe, which doubles as the lobby.
“Our society wants everything quickly,” she said. “Everything changes in the world.”
Gianna Volpi, who condensed “Tosca,” stopped by. She supplied brief narrative links to make up for cuts, and even added a happy ending: the dead lovers reappear for a postmortem smooch. “We’re giving the audience more, not less,” Ms. Volpi said.
That’s a matter of opinion.
But with 200 performances scheduled for this year alone, her “Tosca” may become the most often performed opera production ever in Italy, albeit without a costly cast and orchestra in a theater seating thousands. Piccola Lirica employs five singers; the theater, Teatro Flaiano, where Anna Magnani, Monica Vitti and Aldo Fabrizi once performed, seats just 170.
Toscanini lamented three-quarters of a century ago that the advanced age of patrons for his NBC Symphony spelled imminent doom for classical music. But “the opera audience constantly renews itself, just at an older age,” Mr. Vergnano said about the current demographics of the Italian scene.
He has a point about the serious music audience generally. Then he added, “I’m always surprised in these days of the Internet, television and special effects to see that people are still moved to tears at an opera, just as they were 150 years ago.”
Which is the real issue. Stripped of spectacle, Piccola Lirica’s “Tosca” proved that immediacy and a little genuine pathos can suffice for a casual evening at the theater. Never mind that the orchestra was a quartet of eager young electronic keyboard players making sounds that seemed to emanate from tin cans and string — or that there hasn’t actually been an opera company of distinction in Rome for years.
From the Castel Sant’Angelo, where the opera’s last act takes place, to the ancient neighborhood around the Teatro Flaiano, mobbed in the autumn evening with tourists and Romans doing what they always do, dodging traffic, looking at one another and the city, it briefly seemed as if not much had actually changed since Puccini’s day, that opera was still in the bloodstream here. Clearly Italian opera is like Rome, which is always said to be over the hill but remains indispensable.
It survives every attempt to save it.
New York Times