The Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo’s the Last Judgement, an iconic piece of work that has been celebrated for its innovation and artistic design, is to be transformed into a theatrical piece. Producer of the opening ceremonies of the Rio, Sochi, and Turin Olympics, Marco Balich, is at the helm of the ambitious project that premiered 15 March 2018.

The "Universal Judgment: Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel," debuted at Auditorium della Conciliazione near St Peter’s Basilica (Vatican). Described as "artainment", Balich's show, aims to take a new audience inside the Vatican's Sistine Chapel, one of Rome's most famous sites that is so swamped by camera-clicking tourists it can hardly be fully appreciated. Balich has taken over Rome's former symphony hall in the hope of giving the art masterpiece back to the people of the eternal city.

For a long time the Vatican Museums have been collaborating with Sting and the Olympic ceremonies producers to create a surround-sound, live show telling the tale of Michelangelo and his frescoed masterpiece.
Technicians work during a rehearsal of the show Universal Judgment: Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel. Image by GettyImages/ALBERTO PIZZOL


"Rome is the only major European capital that
doesn't have a permanent show about its own history,"
said Balich.



Marco Balich, the show’s artistic director, has had to counter many critics. Using the techniques learned during his Olympic experiences he makes audiences feel as if they are sitting in the middle of the iconic chapel. Photo: Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times


The show, created in cooperation with the Vatican Museums, who are acting as advisors, looks at Michelangelo and his frescoed masterpiece. With a soundtrack composed by Sting and starring A-list Italian actor Pierfrancesco Favino (World War Z, Angels & Demons), as the Renaissance master artist, the project is said to have cost around €9 million (US$10.6 million). It has sold nearly 50,000 tickets.
Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP


The high-definition photographs provided by Vatican Museums which are projected on the stage, walls and ceiling. The four-part spectacle features live performances and special effects; viewers will see Adam and Eve up close and Noah’s Ark embraced in a storm. The immersive show was presented by “actors, dancers and acrobats,” state-of-the-art 4K projections onto giant ceiling screens, and 9.1 surround sound.


Микеланджело Буонарроти. Потолок Сикстинской капеллы
Потолок Сикстинской капеллы
Микеланджело Буонарроти
1512

Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling between 1508 and 1512. It is largely regarded as one for projects that fuelled the course of Western art and is a major artistic accomplishment.


The Sistine Chapel comes to life in this epic show. Image by Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images


The show starts with blocks of rough marble sliding mysteriously around the stage, before Michelangelo appears revolving around the unhewn rocks, evoking "beauty" until a sculpture emerges from the grey mass.

"Everything is in there," Balich says. "I seek beauty, the beauty is everything. It is my obsession."


Next comes Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484), who had called upon the great artists of his time like PeruginoBotticelli or Ghirlandaio, to paint and restore an old medieval chapel that would eventually be named after him.

Then in 1508 Michelangelo is summoned from his hometown of Florence to paint the ceiling of what we now call the Sistine Chapel, at the request of Pope Julius II (1503-1513). Just 30 years old and up to that point a sculptor, he recoils at the madness of having to paint one thousand square-metres — 500 hundred days work — despite having no knowledge of fresco painting techniques. Three decades later and another patron pope, Clement VII (1523-1534), calls him back to the chapel to create his most famous fresco — the Last Judgement.
The characters of Michelangelo and Pope Julius II in “Universal Judgement.” Photo: Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times

“We want to imbue the fruition of a work of art with a strong emotional impact,” Balich told Vatican News, “using the codes that relate to the younger generations that have grown up with Playstation, that go to the movies in 3D, watch Netflix, but are on the other hand almost distracted with respect to this wonderful artistic patrimony.”

"I want to show younger generations that beauty and art are an important way of learning about their own roots," says Balich. "An hour is the attention span of the younger generation, if we tell the story well we can get them interested."

The grand finale of the show called Universal Judgement: Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel is a prelude written by Sting, and sung in Latin by the British pop star, along with 16 minutes of narration approved by the Vatican.
The final scene of “Universal Judgment” features Michelangelo’s masterpiece with lighting that imitates a sunset. Photo: Nadia Shira Cohen for The New York Times


As Sting said in his video, the song is based on the famous 13th century Latin Catholic hymn, "Dies Irae" (or, "Day of Wrath," about the Second Coming of Christ and Judgment Day). The author of the anthem is the Franciscan monk and poet Foma Chelansky (this is the 13th century, 1200-1265).  The singer made an original musical arrangement for the modern orchestra and choir, and he himself performed the composition in Latin. He apologized that due to a large amount of work he could not attend the premiere of the show, but promised to visit the Eternal City in the near future.

Balich refutes any comparison of his show with the spectacular failure last summer of the ambitious rock opera "Divo Nerone", which was financed by public money but quickly closed in disgrace.

He much prefers to remember the wildly successful "Viaggio nei Fori" sound and light shows, which for the last two years have lit up the Forum of Caesar and the Forum of Augustus and attracted thousands of visitors.

After two-and-a-half years of work and $12 million (RM 47,049,600.00) of public funding, Balich hopes his gamble pays off by creating something that will last like its subject

Title illustration: Fragment of “Universal Judgment" Show. 

Based on materials Artdaily, NY Times.