In today’s Philadelphia Inquirer Nancy Haller reviews “Antigona,” a flamenco version of Sophocles’ Antigone. Here is a clear case of classical reception, and in Philadelphia–but does it belong in Classicizing Philadelphia? Or to put the question another way, is mere location enough to establish locality? Local reception projects like Classicizing Philadelphia, Classicizing Chicago, and the projects now getting under way in Washington, D.C. and New York face this question constantly, especially as they shift their view from the 18th and 19th centuries into the 20th and 21st.
The Internet is not the first technology to smooth out variations in civic cultures. It makes sense to talk about local ways of doing theater in America before the Civil War, but in the postbellum era the increased ease and range of railroad travel facilitated the rise of touring “combination companies,” and from 1896 the domination of the New York-based Theatrical Syndicate led to a decline in the variety of local and regional theatrical cultures. When an event like “Antigona” appears in Philadelphia, it comes as spectacle from afar, as an occasion for disengaged aesthetic admiration. Philadelphia audiences go to see what is being done elsewhere and to admire artistic technique, just as, perhaps, they admired Adelaide Ristori and Francesca Janauschek when those actresses played Medea at the Academy of Music in the 1860s and 1870s.
Ironically enough, Haller’s review suggests, the flamenco “Antigona” is grounded in a local history: the case of Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón, who lost his job in 2008 because of his investigations into brutal crimes committed during the Spanish Civil War and Franco era. “In the most emotionally charged aspect of this case,” Heller writes, “Garzón ordered that 19 mass graves be opened, and the bodies identified and returned to relatives for proper burial.” Antigone’s decision to defy authority and bury her brother reminded Martín Santangelo, artistic director of Noche Flamenca, of Judge Garzón. Sophocles’ play clearly speaks to current trauma in Spain. What does it say to Philadelphia?