For some critics, too, the musical is a symbol of how commercialism has increasingly and clumsily encroached on the country’s cultural heritage, once seen as a sacred bastion for research and learning.
“There’s the growing idea that the only way to connect with our historical patrimony is to bring it into the contemporary world through events with mass appeal,” said Tomaso Montanari, an art historian and leading cultural critic in Italy. “The country’s cultural patrimony should be outside logics of consumerism or marketing.”
But the producers of the show, which was created by a Who’s Who of mostly Italian Oscar and Grammy winners, counter that every precaution was taken to safeguard the site. And the rent for the space — 250,000 euro (around $280,000), with an additional 3 percent of all ticket sales — will help underfunded restorations.
“It took more than two years of work” with public officials and archaeologists to overcome stumbling blocks, said Jacopo Capanna, one of the producers. The production came under scrutiny after a Roman newspaper disclosed that public funds had been allocated toward the project. Mr. Capanna said the funds were venture capital financing that would be reimbursed.
“Judge the product,” he urged critics. “We all want to increase tourism to Rome, and this is one way to do it,” he said.
The biographical musical, which opened on Wednesday, is a mishmash — think Disney meets “House of Cards” meets History Channel. It challenges the mostly negative depictions of Nero relayed by Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio — ancient fake news, as it were — with the portrait of a more nuanced antihero, who was thwarted from pursuing what his heart really desired: a life declaiming poetry and song.
“He’s a bipolar Nero,” Giorgio Adamo, who plays the athletic and tuneful protagonist of the musical, explained at a news conference on Tuesday. “This Nero is very fresh, modern, he filters a pop-rock personality that anyone can understand.”
The performances are mostly sung in English, except on Saturdays, when they are sung in Italian.
Ernesto Migliacci, the production’s artistic director, suggested that Nero himself would have loved the idea of the musical on the Palatine. “In this case, pop means popular, for the people, and Nero was for the people,” he said. So the controversy over using the Palatine falls flat “when it comes to his mentality,” he added.
Despite the criticisms, Francesco Prosperetti, the superintendent of Rome’s archaeological sites, explained in the show’s program that events like the musical “enhanced the archaeological site,” and in this case drew people to an often neglected area of the Palatine, “making it attractive for visitors again.”
But the event hasn’t made life very attractive for a small group of nuns who live in the convent of Saint Sebastian at the Palatine, which abuts (and is overshadowed by) the stage, who have put up with a month’s worth of rehearsals.
“It’s impossible not to hear,” said Sister Rosalba, the mother superior here, who confessed, nonetheless, that she found some tunes catchy.
Musical considerations aside, Sister Rosalba said that she was concerned that the loud music might be having an impact on the ancient convent. “The windows certainly vibrate,” she said. “It’s not our style to fight back, but I wish there had been some dialogue,” she added, noting that she had not been informed that the musical would be staged in the Palatine. “This is a beautiful space, and we need to conserve it.”
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