Saturday was a day and a night for inventive combinations of ancient and modern in Rome. Everyone had been telling me that I should go to Centrale Montemartini, so I did and was glad to have done so; the former power plant located in an older, more run-down section of Rome that is not especially easy to get to, but is worth it, housing a number of Roman statues from the Capitoline Museum. Let’s face it, the big museum on the Capitoline is enormous, the sort of thing nobody can see in a day. In an inspired move, the museum has sent some of its collection–statues from the Republican and early imperial periods–to the Centrale Montemartini, whose steampunk allure is very pleasing in their own right.
Getting there, as I say, requires walking through a gritty, sort of hip urban area. When you get there, it’s striking how beautiful the old power plant is, built in a day when people cared about such things. Inside, the juxtaposition of the classical and industrial is thought-provoking, and I found myself pondering the nature of power and its presentation. Before going, I had worried that there would be a sort of post-modern irony in putting gods alongside machines, that either ancient religious ideas would be subtly mocked or that contemporary dependence on technology would be chastised. I need not have feared–the aesthetics of the antique and of the factory speak to each other in a way that is not easy to put into words.
That evening, I went to the Baths of Caracalla to see La Boheme. I had been wanting to come here for some time, and when I saw that Puccini’s masterpiece would be on in July, I had to buy a ticket. Early this month, as I posted about before, I went to see “Rent” at the theatre in Tullahoma–I figured, I’d see another bohemian rhapsody while I was at it. As I’m thinking of bringing students nxt summer, I thought I should see what the dress code was. Some folks, particular the women, were dressed up beautifully. More were tourists like me without evening clothes in the back-packs. Taxis dropped off couple after couple to walk up the red carpet, past hawkers selling libretti.
The baths are an enormous set of ruins, quite spectacular– when arranged as part of the set, it’s just a real pleasure to take in. Projected onto the ruins were images from fin-de-siecle French art–Toulose Lautrec, Monet, and Van Gogh. The second act at Cafe Momus featured dozens and dozens of performers in colorful and elaborate costumes. Children chased the toy-maker, ballerinas pirouetted about, and a clown on stilts skilfully looked to be toppling every so often. When Musetta sang her waltz, all the color went out but on her, and the whole troupe began to move in slow motion, even Mimi and Rodolfo who danced off to the side alone. Alas, no photogrpaphy we were told, and I did my best to obey.