Rossellini can’t resist the lure of Epidaurus

I know it will be unforgettable, says Isabella Rossellini of her upcoming appearance in Epidaurus. The theater is intimidating, but you can’t resist. Speaking to Kathimerini English Edition from her New York City home, just a few days before flying to Athens to attend a press conference and immediately swirl off to the Peloponnese to start rehearsing, Rossellini sounds relaxed as well as eager to embrace the new and exciting experience that lies ahead. This Friday night, following a production of Igor Stravinsky’s opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex with a text by Jean Cocteau and starring Gerard Depardieu, Rossellini will make her way on stage to interpret the leading role in Stravinsky’s dance-melodrama Persephone with lyrics by Andre Gide. (Both performances will be repeated on Saturday) Gide portrays his ‘Persephone’ as a heroine, rather than as the victim, notes Rossellini, referring to the classic tale of the daughter of Demeter. In Gide’s version, the young woman becomes curious about the underworld and when Pluto senses her attraction to his world, decides to take her. Down in the underworld, the young woman reacts with compassion, touched by the sorrow she encounters. When she rises again she proclaims that ‘Once you’ve seen the darkness, you can’t ignore it.’ She says that she would go back to bring hope to the souls there, says Rossellini, who talks about the work in terms of paganism and Catholicism. She is willing to return of her own will. At home in Italy It was a good friend of Rossellini’s, director Jean Paul Scarpitta, who invited her to interpret Persephone and Depardieu to appear in Oedipus Rex at Naples’s Teatro di San Carlo in January, in one of the rare occasions both works were performed in their original form. Following those performances the double production was invited to Greece by the Attica Cultural Society and the Municipality of Asklipieion. Given Rossellini’s respect for the ancient theater at Epidaurus, she remains hopeful that her experience will be similar to her recent one in Italy. The Teatro di San Carlo was wonderful, and Naples is one of my favorite cities in the world, she says. I stayed a month there and had three weeks of rehearsals which was longer than anybody else. Where does the anxiety stem from? ‘Persephone’ has not been done much, it has mostly been performed in concert version, without a ballet, says Rossellini. My hesitation was that it was not my language, it is difficult to recite and speak in cadenza. I have no experience in acting in French. She does, however, have tremendous experience at being versatile. A citizen of the world long before multinational companies took over, Rossellini’s family history is well-known. She was born Isabella Fiorella Elettra Giovanna Rossellini in Rome in 1952 to the Swedish actress Ingrid Bergman and Roberto Rossellini, the Italian director credited with the neo-realist movement in film. One of her first jobs was working as an entertainment reporter out of New York City for an Italian show hosted by Roberto Benigni. This brush with the media world was followed by a highly successful career in modeling, culminating in a highly lucrative contract as the face of cosmetics giant Lancome. Meanwhile, her first credit as an actress came in 1976 in Vincente Minelli’s A Matter of Time where she played opposite her mother. This was followed by a part in the Taviani brothers’ critically acclaimed Meadow, in 1979. Since then, she has appeared in more than 35 films and television series, a number of them rich in their diversity, from Abel Ferrara’s The Funeral to Lawrence Kasdan’s Wyatt Earp, Peter Weir’s Fearless and even Death Becomes Her by Robert Zemeckis. Just as her gracious face went on billboards for Lancome, she appeared as an unrefined Russian housewife in 1985’s White Nights, followed by often unpleasant roles, like that of portraying a brutalized torch singer in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet in 1986. And for all of her iconoclastic approach to stardom, she was twice chosen by People magazine as one of the world’s 50 Most Beautiful People, while she has demonstrated her sense of humor by appearing, for instance, in a Tales from the Crypt episode where she plays with her mother’s Casablanca Image. Taking a step forward And while Rossellini says that a number of the things that have happened over the years simply fell into her lap, a good number have also taken place due to her strong will and hard work. Becoming a businesswoman was one of them. My most successful career was in modeling which has many similarities with acting, I always compare it to being a silent movie star. What was a big stretch for me was that as a model went I went on to develop a cosmetic line, says Rossellini of her Manifesto products. That was new, generally because in the modeling business a lot of young people feel that they are restricted. I was older. A took a step forward to evolve it. I cultivated it to become a businesswoman, I went for it. She also went for theater, where she has no classical training. In New York, for instance, she has worked with Bob Wilson and has done some comedy but lacks extensive classical theater experience. The fact that in America actors have to commit to projects for six months made it difficult for me, as my modeling career stipulated that I spend at least one week per month traveling, she explains. What draws Rossellini to acting today? I don’t see much difference between film and television today, no difference in technique that is, she says. The theater is different. As for ‘Persephone,’ I think without thinking, and the music takes me. Assessing Rossellini’s wealthy mix of what she inherited and what she achieved on her own is no easy task, though the actress published an anecdotal autobiography in 1997. ‘Some of Me,’ says Rossellini, somewhat startled at the mention of the book, is not a straight memoir, it is quirky, funny and episodic. While it seems to capture a number of essential Rossellini facts, offering a splendid cover, a good laugh and an insider’s look at several monstres sacres, this gifted woman is keeping a good amount of what really matters all to herself. Igor Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex and Persephone at the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus on Friday and Saturday. Tickets at the Hellenic Festival box office, 4 Stadiou, in the Spyrou Miliou Arcade, tel 322.1459, Asklipieion Municipality tel 0753-23544, Select Tours, tel 321.9182.

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