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Giorgio Strehler's Faust Project: Signification and Reception Strategies

  • Christopher Balme


In the ten years between 1982, when Giorgio Strehler announced his intention to stage both parts of Goethe's Faust over six evenings, and the eventual two-evening performance amidst a ‘Faust Festival’ in 1992, the Faust project underwent a series of modifications and manifestations, in parallel with the struggle to create the Teatro Grande in Milan as a new house for the Piccolo. The progress and realization of the project are here charted by Christopher Balme, who not only describes the work processes involved, but how these became enmeshed both in the politics of Strehler's relations with the city of Milan, and with his own identification, as actor of Faust as well as director of the project, with the role of the hubristic artist, in quest of a climax to a controversial career. Christopher Balme is a lecturer in theatre studies at the University of Munich's Instituttür Theaterwissenschaft. He has published on modern German theatre, theatre theory, and post-colonial drama and theatre. He has previously held posts at the University of Würzburg, and was Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow in Theatre Studies at Munich University. He has also been a Visiting Lecturer at the Department of Theatre and Film at Victoria University in New Zealand.



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Notes and References

I would like to extend my sincere thanks to the Piccolo Teatro di Milano and Giorgio Strehler for permission to witness ‘closed’ rehearsals, and particularly to Alessandra Vinanli without whose help this research could not have been undertaken.

1. Stein does not work exclusively in this way, but his most renowned projects – Peer Gynh (1971), Shakespeare's Memory (1976), Oresteia (1980) – reflect this method of working. See Patterson, Michael, Peter Stein: Germany's Leading Theatre Director (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).

2. For this reason I will not be offering a detailed analysis and scene-by-scene description of the actual mise en scène; this has been provided by Lamont, Rose in her two-part article for Western European Stages I, No. 1 (Fall 1989), p. 57, and III, No. 2 (Fall 1991), p. 5–9.

3. Interview with Ronfani, Ugo, II Giorno, 21 06 1988. Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are by the present writer.

4. See Strehler's interview with Chiusano, Italo Alighiero, Storia Illustrata, 08 1988.

5. ‘II lavoro con Faust è comminciato’, Spettacoli a Milano, July 1988.

6. ‘Ai collaboratori del progetto Faust’, December 1988, typescript, n. p.

7. Tian, Renzo, ‘Faust, mistero che fa spettacolo’, II Messaggero, 20 03 1989.

8. See Note 4, above.

9. Tian, Renzo, II Messaggero, 21 03 1989. See also Lamont, Rose, ‘Giorgio Strehler's Faust’, Western European Stages I, No. 1 (Fall 1989), p. 8: ‘It takes immense skill and courage for an actor to explore both the male and female aspects of his personality’.

10. Iden, Peter, ‘Wie eine Summe des Lebens’, Frankfurter Rundschau, 30 03 1989, p. 16.

11. Raboni, Giovanni, ‘Audace e grandioso Faust di Strehler’, Corriere della Sera, 21 03 1989, p. 25.

12. Renzo Tian, op. cit.

13. Strehler, Giorgio, ‘I Faust d' Europa’, Teatro in Europa, Nos. 8–9 (1992), p. 90.

14. Tofano, Gilberto, ‘Faust frammenti parte seconda:alle radici della storia europea’, Faust: frammenti parte seconda (Milan: Piccolo Teatro, 1991), n. p.

15. ‘L'Attimo Eterno di Faust’, Corriere Cultura, 28 April 1991, p. 1.

16. Strehler is a member of the Italian Senate, and for the past nine years has been a member of the European parliament in Strasburg, initially for the Socialists, and then as an independent but on a Communist list.

17. Ibid., p. 2.

18. Groppali, Enrico, ‘Grandioso teatro–saggio questo Faust’, Sipario, 06 1991, p. 10.

19. See the commentary by Trunz, Erich on these lines in Faust: der Tragödie erster und zweiter Teil (Munich: C. H. Beck, 1972) p. 634: ‘The image emphasizes that Faust's present state is different to what is was in life, but still completely different to what it will become.’

20. Erich Trunz, op. cit. p. 547, explains the concept of the Mothers as follows: ‘they are the eternal protectors of Being and … represent mythical figures that Goethe himself created and for which there is no Classical model.’

21. Strehler, Giorgio, ‘Vi presento il mio Faust’, La Repubblica, 28 04 1991, n. p.

22. Op. cit. (see Note 15, above).

23. Chiusano, Italo Alighiero, ‘Di fronte al Secondo Faust’, Sipario, 06 1991, p. 13.

24. In translation the lines read: ‘And so the whole cycle of creation steps across these mere boards and transforms swiftly from Heaven through Earth to Hell.’

25. Carlson, Marvin, Places of Performance: the Semiotics of Theatre Architecture (Ithaca; London: Cornell University Press, 1989), p. 2.

26. The reasons for the controversy surrounding the Grande Teatro are quite complex and involve a spiral of political infighting coupled with ever-increasing construction costs caused by the politically-motivated delays.

27. Strehler, ‘II lavoro con Faust è comminciato’, op. cit. (Note 5, above).

28. Ibid.

29. Interview with Volli, Ugo, La Repubblica, 18 03 1989.

30. Gregori, Maria Grazia, ‘“Apocalypse” Strehler’, L'Unità, 27 04 1991, p. 19.

31. Gaipa, Ettore, ‘Appunti su una ricerca’, Faust frammenti parte prima (Milan: Piccolo Teatro, 1991) n.p.

32. d' Amico, Masolino, ‘Il Faust nel Paradiso di Strehler’, La Stampa, 21 03 1989.

33. Raboni, Giovanni, ‘Faust di Strehler in cinema-scope’, Corriere della Sera, 3 03 1991.

34. Quinn, Michael L., ‘Celebrity and the Semiotics of Acting’, New Theatre Quarterly, VI, No. 22 (05 1990), p. 154161, here p. 155.

35. Quinn, Ibid., points out quite rightly that in the theatre this distinction is never entirely clear and is not exclusively a problem associated with celebrity acting: ‘The personal, individual qualities of the performer always resist, to some degree, the transformation of the actor into the stage figure required for the communication of a particular fiction.’

36. Interview with Ronfani, Ugo, Il Giorno, 21 06 1988.

37. Interview with Chiusano, Italo Alighiero, Storia Illustrata, 08 1988.

38. See Note 6, above.

39. Interview with Volli, Ugo, La Repubblica, 18 03 1989.

40. Gregori, Maria Grazia, ‘”Apocalypse” Strehler’, L'Unità, 27 04 1991.

41. d'Amico, Masolino, ‘Il Faust nel Paradiso di Strehler’, La Stampa, 21 03 1989.

42. A notable exception here is Peter Iden, who actually attempts a dispassionate analysis: ‘He bases his acting on a pathos which appears to come from another theatrical epoch; his performance is always physical and with strong gestures; his arms are often stretched heavenwards and he directs himself almost exclusively along the middle axis of the performance space’. See ‘Wie eine Summe des Lebens’, Frankfurter Rundschau, 30 March 1989, p. 16.

43. See Wolter, Christine, ‘Faust in Mailand’, Neue Züricher Zeitung, 1 04 1989, p. 47.

44. Kruntorad, Paul, Rheinischer Merkur/Christ und Welt, 11 05 1990.

45. This is how Strehler, explained the system in an interview: ‘Strehler accusa: partiti degenerati imparate del Faust’, Europeo IV (24 01 1992), p. 102.

Giorgio Strehler's Faust Project: Signification and Reception Strategies

  • Christopher Balme


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