Backstage

The Christ of Sancta Susanna

In the Opera studios — By José Sciuto

Playing alongside Cavalleria rusticana this season, Paul Hindemith’s smouldering opera Sancta Susanna, recounts the story of a young nun torn between morality and sensual desire. A turmoil embodied by the figure of Christ, to whom director Mario Martone wanted to give a spectacular appearance. José Sciuto, deputy director of the technical department and the artistic director of the Opera’s Studios, tells us about the conception of this particular component of the set.

“Without wanting to reveal all the surprises that Mario Martone has reserved for audiences in his production of Sancta Susanna, at a specific moment in the performance a monumental statue of Christ appears. The body is visible only as far as the pelvis. It evokes the burden of religious morality, intertwined with the themes of sensuality and sexuality which forms of the main themes of Mario Martone’s interpretation, both for Sancta Susanna and for “Cavalleria”.

The idea was to create the impression of sculpted and painted wood. We were inspired by a rather morbid, “suffering” Spanish Christ with droplets of blood trickling over his knees, similar to those found in the work of painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) for example. The director also insisted that the nail be clearly visible to further emphasise the impression of suffering. He wanted the sculpture to look like an old crucifix from the 14th or 15th centuries. It had to seem to be in poor condition as if it had been manhandled, broken and patched up again.

Just as painters sometimes do, to better represent the appearance of the human body – irrespective of its state –, we used a “cut-away”, or a model which allowed us to study the appearance and connections of the muscles and joints.

Le Christ de Sancta Susanna - Dans les ateliers de l’Opéra
Le Christ de Sancta Susanna - Dans les ateliers de l’Opéra 7 images

Five sculptors worked together to create the imposing eleven-meter-high Christ. The statue is sculpted entirely out of polystyrene and reinforced with resin and fibreglass on the outside for structural solidity.

For the perizoma – Christ’s loincloth – stage designer Sergio Tramonti wanted us to use a simple plastic tarp, like those used to protect floors during renovation work. This material, with its rather sordid and seedy appearance, goes well with the idea of a dilapidated crumbling old cross. It was also necessary for the loincloth to retain some of its transparency to reflect Susanna’s own turmoil.

The Opera often makes use of statues of Christ. Even so, the originality of Mario Martone’s approach lies in the fact that his crucifix is not just merely decorative: He asked us to build it in such a way that at a specific moment in the performance, Susanna could interact with it. What is the nature of that interaction? What does Susanna do with the statue? I’d rather not say too much as I don’t want to undermine the element of surprise…”    

Interviewed by Juliette Puaux

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