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Passion: Italian premiere with Janie Dee and Philip Smith

At 9.30 pm this evening, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine's Passion receives its Italian premiere, with Janie Dee as Fosca, Philip Smith as Giorgio and Anna Gillingham as Clara. The show opens the 44th International Art Workshop Festival of Montepulciano and is the first of 46 events celebrating "Love, Passion & Foolishness".

Passion tells the story of Giorgio, an Italian army captain posted to a remote barracks during the Resurgence. There, he encounters his Colonel's cousin, Fosca, a tortured figure who falls passionately in love with the new arrival. As the story unfolds – mostly in a series of letters between Giorgio and his love back home, Clara – we see Giorgio slowly succumb to Fosca's love… a love so intense that it's impossible not to reciprocate.

Sondheim was inspired to write the show after watching the movie Passion d'Amore, written for the screen by Ruggero Maccari and directed by Ettore Scola, and in turn inspired by the novel Fosca, by Iginio Ugo Tarchetti. It's one of only a few shows – among them Sweeney Todd – conceived by Sondheim, as opposed to any of his collaborators.

44th Montepulciano Festival

The Italian premiere is directed by British award-winning opera director Keith Warner, who was responsible for, among other Sondheim productions, Pacific Overtures at English National Opera and Being Alive, a gala for Aids Charities at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Roland Böer conducts an orchestra of mostly Austrian musicians, and the costumes are designed by Sondheim Society member Tom Rand, for whom I must thank for tipping me off about the opportunity to attend rehearsals and the opening night.

The production – which runs for just two performances – also serves an educational purpose, providing the opportunity for workshops with young artists and casting an ensemble drawn from the Bernstein School of Bologna. There is also a lecture before the premiere about the Tarchetti novel in the theatre's cafe at 6 pm with a recital by the mezzo-soprano Verena Gunz and Böer at the piano, and a cabaret of songs by Schönberg, Eisler, Weill and Sondheim on Saturday in the Salone di Palazzo Ricci at 6 pm.

The dances from West Side Story will also close the Festival (28 July), with Musical Director Böer leading the RNCM Symphony Orchestra in an outdoor concert that also includes Berlioz, Mozart and Tchaikovsky.

Passion: 12–13 July, Teatro Poliziano, Montepulciano (9.30 pm)

Director: Keith Warner

MD: Roland Böer

Assistant Director: Katharina Kastening

Design: Ashley Martin-Davis

Assistant Designer: Jeremy Daker

Costumes: Tom Rand

Costume assistant: Joanna Johnston

Lighting: John Bishop

Cast: Janie Dee, Philip Smith, Anna Gillingham, Eric Roberts, Richard Berkeley-Steele, Michael Kristensen, Florian Plock, Adam Temple-Smith, Jake Muffett, Peter Marsh, Ben Smith, Verena Gunz, Malcolm Rivers, Maren Favela, Bernstein School di Bologna.

For tickets, visit the official Festival site


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