When I first heard about the Presepe Vivente presentation in Morcone – the town that clings to the mountain just down the road from Pontelandolfo. I thought – a theatre or film crew couldn’t find a more perfect location to stage the Christmas story. This ancient village dominated by the Rocca (ancient rock fortress) has all the elements of a characteristic Neapolitan nativity scene.
My theatre brain imagined a 21st Century Location Scout: I’m tellin’ you this place is freakin’ perfect. It could be Bethlehem. Sits on a high mountain ridge. Surrounding hills terraced, covered with grape vines, fig trees, olives. Cave and grotto waiting to host the couple. The buildings – man they are so old we would barely have to spend a shekel on set construction. Settled 5th or 6th century BC – way before the big day. (Pause – he is listening.) I’m not lying! Morcone – a hill top town in Compania – is the perfect place to stage a reenactment of the birth of Jesus!
This year, I was blessed to be able to see the 34th Annual Presepe Vivente Morcone. Every January close to Epiphany, the entire community comes together to create a site specific theatre piece in two acts. Hundreds of volunteers donned period costumes, dressed the sets staged in ancient buildings, hung lights, wired the city for sound and produced an incredible living history theatrical work.
The well organized event begins in centro storico, the historic center. We climbed ancient stone steps, crossed small alleys, stopped in the tiniest of piazzas and witnessed daily life as it may have been lived thousands of years ago. Ancient crafters, washerwomen, children racing through lanes, merchants, tax collectors, Roman soldiers, housewives, fishermen in the stream – all in period dress go on with their lives as we wend our way on the guided path.
The second act is staged in a huge field outside Porta San Marco. At the far end was the illuminated grotto serving as a stable. Not knowing what to expect, I only had my iPhone – next year telephoto lens and binoculars. A great sound system kicked into high gear with music and a narrator. Suddenly lights came up far off in the woods to our right. In a small room, Gabriele talks to Mary. Each segment of the Christmas story is staged in a different part of the woods – perfectly lit for its brief moment. On donkey, Mary and Joseph begin their journey to Bethlehem. Shepherds arrive illuminated by hundreds of torches. Of course the spectacle ends in the manager with a blinding pyrotechnic flash that is the star leading the Magi on horseback to Jesus. It was incredible! I have the attention span of a gnat and there wasn’t one moment when I wasn’t engaged.
For next year’s details visit their website – Presepe Nel Presepe. For a glimpse of what I enjoyed this year, click on the video!
I hope to see you in Pontelandolfo! Visit us this May – we still have a few spots left in our Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo. Or contact me and set up your January adventure and visit Morcone!