Ever since its first edition, the Spoleto Due Mondi festival has been characterised by a strong openness to interdisciplinarity, offering a playbill not only of different performance genres but also as a moment for different cultures to meet. The same openness – while obviously not planned or studied in advance, especially when terms such as “gay friendly” or concepts such as “inclusion” were distant in the Italian dictionary – obviously applied to the sexuality and gender of those who participated in the festival as artists, organisers or spectators.
Schippers e Visconti (1973)
There has indeed always been a strong presence of artists belonging to what is now called the Lgbtqia+ community, who in the first editions of the festival were often portrayed by the press as ‘extravagant’ – so much so that the first edition of the festival was greeted with an air drop of leaflets, expressing fear for the future of Spoleto as a land of vice for homosexuals. A well-known columnist at the time expressed concern that questionable morals would be promoted in this free-for-all.
This may of course all seem strange today, but it is indicative of the novel and powerful role (and not only artistic) the Festival dei Due Mondi has played in the history of entertainment and customs in our country. In 1958, Gian Carlo Menotti wrote in his presentation Why the Festival?: “Perhaps our only merit is that we have discovered a serene and enchanting corner where young artists can express themselves freely, freed from the commitment of political creeds, discharged from the worries of the various aesthetic fashions and without the impositions of autocratic directors (…). It is a well-known fact that it is usually rather the young people who teach us and with their real enthusiasm support or destroy the values of experience”.
Valli and Menotti (1972)
The Italian Socialist Movement once organised a leaflet campaign to protest against the ‘homosexual invasion’ of the city when the festival was on. And it was Menotti, the inventor and guiding force of the festival, who gave the best answer to a well-known reporter concerned about this new outpost for homosexual culture in Italy, arguing that artists in Spoleto were the same as those who went to Vienna, New York or Venice and that the only thing that changed was their visibility (because of the size of the squares). He closed with a declaration of freedom: “On the other hand, what do you want to do? I refuse to put a fig leaf on statues”.
In the 1960s, there was also space for poetry at the Due Mondi. “Allen Ginsberg Is Charged With Obscenity in Spoleto”, read a headline of the New York Times in July 1967. The poet was at the Festival dei Due Mondi for a reading in the original language accompanied by the harmonium played by Fernanda Pivano. At the theatre entrance there were a few – very few – printed copies with the Italian translations of the poems from the reading. That was enough to get him arrested for obscenity.
Clearly, not even Spoleto was ready for verses like these: I want the orgy of our flesh, orgy / of all eyes happy, orgy of the soul / kissing and blessing its mortal-grown / body, / orgy of tenderness beneath the neck, orgy of / kindness to thigh and vagina / Desire given with meat hand / and cock, desire taken with / mouth and ass, desire returned / to the last sigh!. *
The journalist Giuseppe Videtti recalled in La Repubblica: “Artists felt free in Spoleto. Conformism had been defeated by Menotti, who injected passion into the city (at the Gattapone hotel there was a ‘Franciscan room’, that no one knew existed, where Marina Cicogna and Florinda Bolkan hid from sight, together with all the couples that in the eyes of the world were not couples). There must be a reason why the charismatic and charming director Thomas Schippers wanted his ashes to be buried on the wall in Piazza Duomo, in front of the Teatro Caio Melisso – renovated by the Fondazione Carla Fendi – instead of next to his beautiful wife Elaine Lane Phipps, who also died young four years earlier.” In the 1970s, however, homosexuality was no longer restricted to people’s private lives, and therefore also to reporters’ articles and theatre foyers filled with gossipers. Instead, it became a theatrical fact (in 1976, with the character of the femminiello in Roberto De Simone’s musical fable La gatta cenerentola) or an intellectual fact (in 1978 with the first Italian exhibition dedicated to the photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden, with contributions by Michelangelo Pistoletto and Andy Wharhol). That sense of freedom, which owes partly to the innate humanity of the figures associated with the festival, still exists and endures.
*I want the orgy of our flesh, orgy
of all eyes happy, orgy of the soul
kissing and blessing its mortal-grown
orgy of tenderness beneath the neck, orgy of
kindness to thigh and vagina
Desire given with meat hand
and cock, desire taken with
mouth and ass, desire returned
to the last sigh!