Dramaturgical study of the concept of “Anorexia mirabilis”
An emaciated body will more readily pass through the narrow gate of Paradise,
a light body will resurrect more rapidly, and in the grave a wasted body will be preserved best.
Tertullian, De anima, (early 3rd century)
The historical evolution of the significance of female self-starvation has appeared in many morbid guises – in the extremes of religious fasting and the abstinence of saints, in hunger strikes, the exhibitions of hunger artists, and the compulsion of the depressed and the possessed. In the 1800s it achieved the rank of a syndrome, anorexia nervosa, and has continued to inspire a glut of theories and a vast literature.
Many fasting women are reported by chronics or process documents, attesting the fame they have been able to reach. In the summer 1826 the Dutch fasting girl Engeltje van der Vlies receided more than 1000 visits and even appeared as an actraction in an english traveller’s guide. Also famous and recognized were Mollie Francher, the “Brooklyn Enigma”, Elizaneth Barrett, the “Angelic Invalid”, Clare de Serval, the “Apostle of Hunger”. From saints Catharine of Siena, Catharine of Genoa, Margaret of Hungary, Joan of Arc, Lidwina of Schiedam, Beatrice of Nazareth till the sophisticated Christina Georgina Rossetti, model and sister of Gabriël Rossetti, starving women give out a strong message, performing it with their own bodies.
The history of the concept of female self-starvation is the starting-point of a music theatre project in which a group of women performers, representing fasting saints and anorexics from early to modern times, appears together on the stage.
Around them, invisible, is positioned a second group, consisting of disembodied male speaking voices, commenting, condemning and speculating. They are hagiographers, doctors, priests, judges, heads of family and theoreticians who have, over the centuries, sought, ultimately unsuccessfully, to explain the causes of this condition.
The libretto will be realized by Guido Barbieri collecting documents, testimonies, oral histories and transcripts related to self-starving women in different historical situations, bringing to life some characters. Each character will be represented by one soloist of the female choir, doubled by a tremble female voice.
An ensemble of musical portraits of real women of the past, each telling her story and expressing her ideas through a specific vocal style, in a superimposition of different “solitudes” of female vocal idioms focused on starving.