Friday, September 12, 2008

Basilicata: An Evening With Brigands

Before our trip to the Motherland last fall, our landlord warned us to sta attenti (watch out) because "Basilicata is the land of brigands". Yeah, whatever. We were getting used to hearing rather derogatory comments about il Mezzogiorno so we passed it off as just one more offhand remark by someone who had never bothered to travel "down there" himself.

Turns out our landlord was correct. There *are* brigands in Basilicata, and they put on one helluva performance. Every weekend from the beginning of August through mid-September the era of i briganti comes to life at La Grancia outside tiny Brinidisi di Montagna.

In a huge open-air, natural amphitheatre below town, Il Parco Storico La Grancia is a multi-venue historical theme park with six areas for education, theatre, music and art. There is Il Borgo, a sort of Lucanian frontier-town where artisans in period costumes demonstrate traditional crafts, and -this being Italy-there are several stands and restaurants where you can eat locally-produced delicacies that would have been served during the brigantaggio years, the late 1800s. Music and dance performances are designed to reflect the area's particular history and culture.

But the main event of this park is La Storia Bandita, a grand production dubbed as a "cinespettacolo". It is a beautiful blending of impassioned live performance, dramatically-devised video projection, and astounding special effects, utilizing the bare cliff wall opposite and the ruins of the 11th century castle perched above Brindisi. Seriously, this is one amazing show.

Interestingly, La Storia Bandita means "the history of the bandits" but could also be translated as "banned history". It is a clever word play for the period when many Lucani felt that their culture and history had been marginalized, trivialized and tyrannized. Tired of invasions and overly dominating landowners that kept them poor, oppressed and disillusioned, the period of the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy) proved to be a flashpoint for many southern peasants who joined together and formed a band of bandits. They became known as briganti.

La Storia Bandita tells a dramatized version of this period, focusing on the charismatic leader of the pack, Carmine Crocco, who was called the General of the Briganti. From events in his childhood and disillusionment with the unification forces, the story shows how and why the briganti took things into their own hands to protect their lands and traditions.

The production is astounding, with hundreds of participants in an all-volunteer cast and crew. Dance and music reflect the rural Lucanian life at the time. Crocco authored an autobiography and some of his rousing prose is movingly recited. But the effects! When the forces invade, the castle is set aflame. Gunfire echoes loudly in the canyon and the flashes illuminate the mountain formations. Images are projected behind the set on the rock. A waterwall shoots up in a stirring finale.

You don't have to understand much Italian to follow the show. The performances play it all out before your eyes, unfolding in the peasant village, as well as tents and caves, representing how the briganti had to hide out in the hills. The performance was so rousing that Bryan decided he would dress as Crocco for Carnevale next year. This is a show worth seeing.

WHAT: La Storia Bandita, a live performance utilizing special effects

WHERE: Il Parco Storico La Grancia, Brindisi di Montagna (Potenza Province). It is located just off the Basentana superstrada.

WHEN: Every weekend from the beginning of August through mid-September

COST: 18 euro

NEED TO KNOW INFORMATION: The park also contains various areas of attractions and trails, so you can make a day of it. Picnic areas are provided. Restaurants and stands offer locally-produced foods at reasonable prices.

The hundreds of people who comprise the cast and crew are all volunteers.

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