Via Rovello, a funeral home in the sunny December chill of 1997. Valentina Cortese is astonished “the great light has gone out”, she whispers with the stamp of her unforgettable Ljuba Checoviana: Giorgio Strehler is dead.
From Trieste – or rather Barcola, a waterfront district of villas and winter storms – he had come as a child to Milan. The Dalmatian face, the Austrian name, the Slavic mother, remarkable violinist. She is a widow, he is an orphan. He then grew up in the city of the thirties and forties, a college and then the amateur dramatics to give himself that theatrical education that he will transfer to the Italian and European public in the next half century.
Milan was the perfect square for a daring and Central European type like Strehler, or perhaps the only one possible. The nuclei of city resistance during fascism were irreducible; Turati’s lesson for a reformist socialism open to the culture of government has been metabolized. In the first post-war period, the intuition of his friend and partner in crime Paolo Grassi had convinced the municipal council of the Reconstruction: the theater – for the people – had to count as much as the trams and as much as the milk plant. Here then is the concession of the miniature stage in Via Rovello, the epiphany of the myth: from the people to the cultured theater, for everyone, or for a few? Just don’t ask Fedez. Perhaps a few before the Strehler-Grassi-Brecht triumvirate (which was born after the first ten years of artistic reconnaissance of the Piccolo), and certainly no one after that, was able to respect and consider the public as a traveling companion. A sincere friend with whom to question oneself, laugh, be moved or hurl, like Arlecchino, punctual jokes because they are meta-historical, that is, able to cross Goldoni’s eighteenth century and speak frankly to today’s Republic, to the Palazzo as well as to civil society.
Grassi dressed like Djagilev; he was a cultured man, reluctant and aware of the limits of others reflected in his personal nostalgia for a lofty, lofty past (the cult of Russian literature, Thomas Mann, the minor Italian actors of the nineteenth century); Strehler, on the other hand, defined himself as a South Slav, Levantine, irascible: an intellectual who did not conceive of a gap between thought and action. In short, both démodé and Risorgimento. Two unique pieces.
How unique was the story of the Piccolo Teatro, the great Strehler family. These are the greatest names of the Italian scenes of the second half of the twentieth century (Tino Carraro, Giulia Lazzarini, Giancarlo Dettori, Pamela Villoresi, but also the musicians: Fiorenzo Carpi and Gino Negri), all under the protective wing of Nina Vinchi, capable of translating into practice almost Gramscian the contracts, the disputes, the logistics, but also the reconciliation of sudden discontent, the terrible depressions, the addictions that hurt the genius of the Master.
Celebrations for its centenary
The great relevance of Strehler, today 14 August 2022, the day that closes the celebrations for his centenary, is ultimately all in its out of date. It is in what we have lost (this year Ezio Frigerio, the set designer of immortal rooms and atmospheres, like Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, has also gone) and without too many hypocrisies we miss every day, at every opening or closing of curtain, at the Piccolo as at the Scala, where he was also an amazing protagonist. and bulwark of culture. Faustian flashes of that last evening remain: the emotion in the room of Andrea Jonasson – the beloved wife, the last Muse – and the lonely candle in the dark with the penitent applause, almost held back. Mute scream of a naked city. But it doesn’t matter, the night of Giorgio Strehler, a Galilean harlequin, is clear.