Presepe Vivente Morcone 2018

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!

Ci Vediamo.

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Carols Set the Tone for Christmas

Casa di Babbo Natale (He is waving in the upper left window)

Christmas is my favorite holiday. I love the lights festooned on our village’s streets, the house of Babbo Natale created by the talented Nicola Ciarlo, the presents wrapped under the tree and I love most of all the music. Christmas without carols is like a night without stars. From the time I was in the children’s choir to today, I cry whenever Silent Night is sung, cheer on Joy to the World and feel the bells of Ring the Christmas Bells.  Carols personify, the spiritual side of what unfortunately has become a very commercial time of year.

Last night, in Pontelandolfo,  voices filled the theatre of Sala Giovanni Paolo II with joy and the power of the messages of Christmas. Student vocalists from the music and dance high school, Liceo Musicale G. Guacci, under the direction of Maestro Daniela Polito, put their hearts and talents into last night’s concert.

Selene Pedicini opened the concert with a plaintive violin solo.  Singers entered carrying candles and joined solemn voices on the stage.  It was the appropriate way to gather the attention of a talkative audience.  Ms. Pedicini also acted as the program’s narrator, not only announcing the song but sharing the back stories.  Saverio Coletta accompanied on the piano.  Both Pedicini and Coletta are teachers at Liceo Musicale.

Having heard the Westminster Choir, I’m spoiled.  That said, these fourteen to eighteen year olds knocked my Santa Claus socks off.  Tight harmonies that blended into one melodic message. The Maestra, Daniela Polito, had them perform Silent Night in a variety of languages.  It was stellar. Great articulation in not one, not two, but four languages.  These kids are fortunate.  Their Performing Arts High School is on a campus that includes the magnet school for languages.  They get to study languages under teachers who are native speakers.

Two other pieces that not only moved me but had me embarrass my husband by shouting during the applause were a gospel piece – complete with clapping and choreography – and Can You Hear Me not only sung but done in sign language.

Ms. Polito needs to be complimented.  Having been the director of a Performing Arts High School, I know how tough it is to encourage students in a variety of grades to work together as a cohesive performance unit.  There are thirty students in the music track and all thirty are in the chorus.

Students audition for acceptance to Il Liceo Musicale and  – Westminster peeps can relate to this – if the students do not cut it they will be asked to leave.  Most of these kids go on to University level conservatories and their passion and drive is evident.

After the concert, I interviewed the faculty and of course my first question was – are there any students from Pontelandolfo?  Of Course – Annalaua Tranchini!

Tranchini concert

Maestra Polito, Annalaura Tranchini of Pontelandolfo and I

There is something about young voices sharing the historic songs of praise, happiness and love that brings the spirit of Christmas to everyone in the room.  I must admit, that I was saddened by how few people were in the room.  It was such a fabulous concert that everyone in town should have heard it.  But then, what do I care – I heard it and it made my Christmas bright.

Buon Natale.

Ci vediamo.