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Emperor Nero’s divine life (and death) told by a rock opera at Rome’s Palatine

by Morena Pivetti

What could be more exciting and magnificent, at sunset, than being sat among Roman ruins, on the Palatine hill, with the Colosseum and the Constantine Arch just on your right, and in front of you no less than a reborn Emperor Nero and newly “reconstructed” imperial palaces ? This is exactly what you are going to experience thanks to the spectacular musical “Divo Nerone - Opera rock,” which opened on Wednesday, June 7, and will be playing in Rome until September 10.

The gigantic stage and the 3,000-seat arena have been erected overlooking the remains of Nero’s “Coenatio Rotunda,” (the revolving circular dining room in the Domus Aurea the Emperor used for his fabulous banquets), in the middle of the most famous archeological site in the world, adding the tasty flavor and the unique opportunity, beside of course seeing the show itself, to be among the ruins at night.

To stage the crucial fourteen years in the life of “Divo,” “the star” Nero, from 53 AD to 68 AD, the year of his death, producers Jacopo Capanna and Cristian Casella and director Gino Landi managed to put together a number of movie “stars,” who in between them count eight Academy Awards and two Grammy Awards: lyricist Franco Migliacci (two Grammies), musician Luis Bacalov (one Oscar), art directors and set decorators Dante Ferretti (three Oscars) and wife Francesca Lo Schiavo (three Oscars) and costume designer Gabriella Pascucci (one Oscar).

Make sure spectators notice their hands in the production: the pomp of the Roman Empire revives in tri-dimensional sceneries reproducing the architectural sumptuousness of the time, and in the revolving and moving pieces of furniture, in the dominating purples and golden colors. The rich stage costumes add just the right touch.

On stage for two dazzlingly, breathless hours of rock and pop music and dancing the cast of 26 dancers and acrobats and 12 actor-singers make Nero’s life and times come to life. Starting from adolescence in the country to his first years in Rome as Emperor, mingling with the urban plebs and dealing with the Roman Senate, facing his ambitious and rigid mother Agrippina and his tutor Seneca, making love with dreamy and faithful Atte and with sensual and ruthless Poppea and Messalina. Then the terror years, the many murders of family and friends, the great fire of Rome. And in the end the suicide.

Giorgio Adamo’s Nero is convincing and full of energy and passion: two hours in the spotlight singing, dancing and changing costumes almost without a break. And the same can be said of all the cast: absolutely enjoyable the scenes in which the performers - dancers, acrobats and singers - are on stage together, thanks also to choreographer Marco Sellati. To notice also the performance of Simona Patitucci, acting as Locusta.

A technical troupe of a hundred persons - lights (deserving a mention), special effects and machinery, scenery - guarantees that everything goes on smoothly.

The 74 page script and the lyrics have been not just translated but re-written in English: on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday the show is in English, while on Saturday it is in Italian. The aim is to capture the attention of the thousands and thousands foreign tourists that visit Rome during the summer: “Our goal was to create a unique event, an absolute novelty for Italy, a pop-rock opera. And also to offer a special treat to international visitors, so we made and extra effort to enhance the city’s cultural offer during the summer season,” Jacopo Capanna explained at the press conference.

(“Divo Nerone - Opera rock,” in Rome until September 10. On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday English version, on Saturday Italian version. Ticket: Parterre Senators, €180; Bleachers Knights €90; Bleachers Colosseum €45. Also on