Caravaggio Chiaroscuro

“Caravaggio Chiaroscuro” is a new, experimental, one-act opera written and conceived by Gian Marco Lo Forte, composed by Duane Boutte and directed by George Drance, which presents Caravaggio’s Roman life and his struggles as a young artist. Caravaggio was one of the great painters of the Italian Renaissance and his work, though highly regarded, was censored. He painted saints and holy subjects, but used the “street” poor–marginal and common people he encountered in the piazze of Rome–as models for his paintings.

The performance style of “Caravaggio Chiaroscuro” is experimental, drawing upon Camerata Fiorentina’s stile rappresentativo of 1600, a hyperemotional recitation of the words that followed the natural rhythms, accents and inflections of the language, which is accompanied by sparse instrumentation. Like Monteverdi’s “Orfeo,” it employs choral ritornelli, lyrical recitative and songs. Language is the focal point of the drama and the music is utilized as accompaniment and to create another dramatic layer to tell the story. The score combines modern musical idioms with classical forms to create something new and dynamic: most of the key moments in the scenes will have music passages that develop with different layers of sounds and noises sampled from everyday life activity as well as rhythmical and virtuoso vocal sounds. The piece is sung and spoken in both English and Italian.

The design features a dynamic performance space that will interact with the audience. Sliding walls and a removable ceiling will continually transform the basic cube-shaped structure. The audience themselves will become part of these evocative settings such as the Piazza Navonna and the Campo dei Fiori, eternal fixtures of Caravaggio’s Rome.

Matt Nasser as David, and Duane Boutte as Goliath re create the Carravaggio painting
Matt Nasser (David) and Duane Boutte (Goliath) recreate David with the Head of Goliath, a painting by Italian Baroque painter Caravaggio, which is now housed in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. Photo by Jonathan Slaff, 2007.

In the performance, Caravaggio is twenty years old when he arrives to Rome, Capital of the Arts, with the dream of becoming an acclaimed painter. During his first years in Rome, Caravaggio struggles to survive; from time to time, he has no shelter or food to eat. Hanging out in Piazza Navona and Campo De Fiori he meets other struggling artists including Mario, who becomes his lover, and Longhi who becomes his faithful friend. He will make Cardinal Del Monte’s acquaintance. This Cardinal, Ambassador of the King of France in Rome, will be fundamental in Caravaggio’s career as his Roman protege. The artist’s first public commission is “The Calling of Saint Matthew” for the church of San Luigi of the French, which earns him immediate fame for the realistic way the saints are portrayed. With fame arrive detractors, like Baglione, a powerful painter for the Vatican, who paints stylized and sublimated portrays of the Saints, as opposed to Caravaggio’s passionate and pain-suffering portraits of similar subjects. Baglione publicly condemns Caravaggio’s art and life style as being amoral and godless and Ranuccio, a violent swordsman and the son of the Captain of the Vatican Guards at Castel Sant’ Angelo, joins the criticism. Caravaggio ends up in many fistfights with Ranuccio and other men he encounters in his wild nightlife in Rome. He will go to prison on several occasions for his violent behavior and Cardinal Del Monte will get him out of trouble. In brothels and inns, he meets Annuccia and Fillide, two prostitutes. Mario and these two girls will become his favorite models for many paintings.

The jealousy and hate between Caravaggio and Baglione is known in Rome and gets out of hand when Ranuccio and Caravaggio get into a fight that will leave the swordsman dead. Cardinal Del Monte helps Caravaggio escape from Rome; the painter will live the rest of his life as a fugitive and die a few years later abandoned by all of his friends.

Baglione, two decades after Caravaggio dies, will write a book of Art History in which he defines him as a mediocre painter. His genius as an artist, due to the censorship of the subjects he portrayed and due to his violent life, was obscured for many centuries and has only recently been rediscovered.

Duane Boutte (composer) was composer of a critically acclaimed musical, “Lyin’ Up A Breeze,” based on African American Folk Tales, with book by Terry Miller, which debuted at Good Company Players in Fresno, CA in 2002 and was a finalist for the National Alliance for Musical Theatres festival in New York that year. He studied at UCLA and the National Theatre Conservatory, Denver (MFA). Boutte is also an NYC stage and film actor and Shakespeare coach. He is well known for his appearances in the films “Stonewall” and “Brother to Brother.” His stage acting credits include Broadway musicals and leading roles in classical and contemporary plays Off-Broadway and throughout the country.

Gian Marco Lo Forte (libretto, set design) is a member of La MaMa’s Great Jones Repertory Company. He has been an artist-in-residence at La MaMa since 2001. In 2005, he founded the Pioneers Go East theater company. Lo Forte graduated from the University Theater Conservatory in Perugia, Italy, and studied at the International Center for Performing Arts in Rome. He has worked as a director and set designer in NYC and Italy for the past six years. His directing credits include “Bastiano e Bastiana” (2000) by W.A. Mozart in Perugia and a dance adaptation of Checkov’s “The Seagull” at La Mama E.T.C. (2003). He wrote and directed “Butter Melts away my Letters,” a multimedia dance theater work that premiered at La Mama E.T.C. in 2005. He has also collaborated on several projects directed by visual artist Sam Samore and was his assistant director on his multimedia piece, “Love, Death, Beauty” in Firenze Pitti Immagine(2002). He has been set designer of La MaMa Productions by Kim Ima, SLANT, Zishan Ugurlu. He was assistant to set designer Donald Eastman on “Frog and Toad,” “The Servant of Two Masters,” “M. Butterfly” and “Death in Venice.” He was assistant to set designer John Conklin on “Orphee et Eurydice” He has also been a contributing designer in a variety of Great Jones Repertory productions. As an actor, he has appeared in productions of the Great Jones Repertory and in works by Ping Chong, Elizabeth Swados, Federico Restrepo, and Roberta Nicolai; he has toured to Poland, Austria, Croatia, Slovania, Italy and around the U.S. He is M.F.A. Candidate at NYU in Design for Stage and Film with a graduate assistantship.

George Drance (director) has performed and directed in over twenty countries. Most recently, the New York Times for its theatrical skill and daring praised his production of C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce with the Magis Theatre Company. His production of Life is a Dream received critical acclaim for its fascinating and dynamic conception. A proud member of La MaMa’s Great Jones Repertory for the past eleven years, Drance has toured throughout Europe and Asia, performing in several of Ellen Stewart’s original works and in the Serban/Swados epic “Fragments of a Greek Trilogy”; most noted for his performance as Jason in “Medea.” He has been a guest artist and lecturer at Columbia University, Cornell University, Hebrew Union College, Marymount Manhattan College and Boston College. He is currently on the faculty of Fordham University at Lincoln Center, as an artist-in-residence in the Theatre Department. As Artistic Director of the Magis Theatre Company, his work focuses on a new approach to intensively training the actor’s physicality and energy, and an integrating these in what Stanislavki and Grotowski have called “the physical action.” He has given workshops at the Voice Foundation, the Austrian Voice Symposium, the Tirana Arts Academy, and the New York State Theatre Educators’ Association. He received his MFA from Columbia University’s School of the Arts.

“Caravaggio Chiaroscuro” features Duane Boutte (as Caravaggio), Sara Galassini, Silvia Giampaola, Jeffrey Glaser, Erika Iverson, Elizabeth Mutton, Matt Nasser, Daniel Nelson, Gabriel Portuondo, David Rudd, and Kat Yew.

The show runs September 27 to October 14, 2007 at La MaMa E.T.C. (First Floor Theater), 74A East Fourth Street, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 2:30 and 8:00 pm.

Tickets are $18 general admission, $13 for students. For tickets please call (212) 475-7710 or visit

Jonathan Slaff
Jonathan Slaff writes on cultural events from the brainy, the edgy and the good. He helps us keep ahead of the curve in the world of the arts and culture.