Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Sophocles at the Colosseum Volume 53 Number 5, September/October 2000
by Darian Totten

Rome's Colosseum, once the preserve of gladiators and wild beasts, is back in business with entertainment of a more refined sort: Sophocles for the masses. The first of the series, Oedipus Rex, performed by the National Theater of Greece, premiered July 19. Critics judged the performance favorably, although actors complained of poor acoustics caused by modern Rome's hustle and bustle. Dim lighting hindered the audience's reading pamphlets with an Italian translation of the modern Greek adaptation; many used cigarette lighters to follow the program. Completing the trilogy were Antigone, staged by the Dramatic Arts Center of Tehran, and an operatic version of Oedipus at Colonus with music by Felix Mendelssohn, performed by an Italian company and orchestra this past August. When asked why these Greek classics were chosen, Vassilis Papavasiliou, director of the Greek company, cited their universality and adaptability to the modern-day stage.

The performances celebrate the completion of an eight-year restoration project aimed at cleaning and stabilizing the Colosseum (see "Rome 2000," January/February 2000). Constructing the stage over ancient underground tunnels and corridors where gladiators and animals awaited slaughter was no small feat. Although it covers only one-seventh of the Colosseum's arena, the stage took more than five years to complete. The careful planning and restoration reflected concerns about possible strain on the ancient monument. The Italian Ministry of Culture says it will not exploit the site for entertainment purposes and insists that preserving the unique character of the Colosseum is its primary goal. Experts will survey wear and tear as the theater program evolves. "This place is full of blood." one actor told the Times of India, "But I hope to fill it with soul."

© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America