Dante ad Auschwitz

Ravenna Festival also offers every year, in collaboration with the Società Dante Alighieri, an opportunity for young Italian actors, instrumentalists, dancers, directors and stage designers. Last year, a Milan ensemble, Compagnia Exire, arrived with an impressive play, Dante in Auschwitz (author and playwright Sergio Di Benedetto), in which Homer’s Odyssea and Dante’s Commedia meet.   The author was inspired by the 11th chapter of the novel If this is a Man; there, the famous Italian writer Primo Levi described a moment of respite from the horrors of the camp, which the hero and the narrator of his story found when he tried to translate for a fellow French prisoner part of Dante’s Inferno (which describes Ulysses’s final pilgrimage).

With minimal means – just two actors a dancer participated, and a violinist playing traditional Jewish music – the ensemble, performing in the courtyard of the Renaissance monastery, has managed to capture the tragic atmosphere of the camp, but also the hope that Levi expressed in his novel.   Since my knowledge of Italian is rather limited, I worried that I would not be able to understand, but I was really surprised how clearly the meaning came across in the play, even for non-Italian speakers.  As Levi, Matteo Bonanni (who also directed) gave a first-rate performance: his interpretation of a young writer who had, in Auschwitz, once again discovered the strength and depth of Dante’s poetry, was absolutely convincing.