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Tarraco Viva – legions, thespians and music

Tarraco Viva has been building up over the weekend to its apex, showcasing the many different imaginative way to tell and teach about ancient Roman history.

At the Camp de Marts, set amongst the mediterranean pines were  stalls  representing the many museums and archaeological institutions in Spain, stalls selling books, roman artifacts reproductions, and serving  Roman food. There were basket makers and black smiths and children being instructed in the basics of Roman warfare.

A Roman imperial legion marched under the blazing midday sun in a display of defense tactics and combat, their armour meticulously recreated in every detail by an incredibly dedicated team of enthusiasts.

The thespians were out in full force giving  life to the protagonists which surrounded Augustus.  In small, almost improvised stages set  we had Virgil,  the veteran soldjer Lucius, Maeceneas, the nouveau riche Caius Baebius showing off his silk robe, Agrippa, Octavia the faithful daughter, Tiberius, Livia the enigmatic wife and the poet Horace.  On the walk along the Roman walls we encountered a tragic Marc Antony giving his farewell to the world after his final defeat by the hands of Augustus.  Enacted with sanguine passion by Joan Gibert it was a 25 minute tour the force!

Further down the path is was the turn of  Mercè Rovira as Julia the Elder, the daughter of Augustus, and her extraordinary story of growing up in wealth but being traded as a commodity for the sake of allegiances. She was married of to her first cousin, then Agrippa and, after his death, Tiberius. Yet, for a brief moment she found her freedom amongst the new intellectual of the times only to be caught under the suspicion of treason by allegedly plotting against the emperor.  Her lover, Sempronius Gracchus, committed suicide and Julia was disowned  and exiled in harsh conditions to the island of Pandateria (Ventotene) where she died of despair and starving  to death. It is a harrowing, powerful  story and its somehow surprising that no writer has sized upon it yet with Julia still seen as a marginal figure. 

And there was Roman music, principally by an critically acclaimed Italian group  called Ludi Scaenici which provided a full immersion in the the rich tonalities of woodwind instruments accompanied by percussions, choir and lyre.

Ludi Scaenici are Daniele Ercoli, Rossana Damiani, Roberto Stanco, Cristina Majnero and Gaetano Delfini and all come from a musical background, mainly jazz. But their dedication and enthusiasm in researching and recreating the sound of two thousand years ago are remarkable and they are now the best known groups specialising in ancient roman music. The energy in their performance is magic, uplifting, a spell: you just want to get up and leap in the air.  At the Bacchanalia, a week earlier,  they stormed the stage accompanied by satyrs and maenads in an intoxicating crescendo.   

If you ever see the name of Ludi Scaenici set on a programme go and see them , they are exceptional.

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