Vandaag is het precies honderd jaar geleden dat de allereerste “Mistero Buffo” in première is gegaan. Die was uiteraard niet van Dario Fo, maar van Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), die zelf ook de kostumes tekende (zoals hierboven for the roles of the Seven Pairs of the Unclean).
Misteriya-Buff, zoals de Russische titel luidt, is a socialist dramatic play written for the anniversary of the 1917 revolution, and was accepted by the Central Bureau to be part of the festivities. The title is likely a reference to the opera buffa or opéra bouffe, comic opera genres popular at the time. This original version was directed and produced by Vsevolod Meyerhold, and the art was done by Kazimir Malevich. The premiere was in the Theatre of Musical Drama on November 7, 1918.
Mayakovsky himself (zie foto onderaan) played the role of the “simple man”, as well as some bit roles including Methuselah and one of the demons. This version of the play lasted three seasons.
After two years, Mayakovsky reworked the text of his play. This second version premiered in the First Theatre of the RSFSR on May 1, 1921. A printed edition of the second version was released in June of that year. This version of the play lasted about 100 shows. Mayakovsky stated in a preface to the 1921 edition that “in the future, all persons performing, presenting, reading or publishing Mystery-Bouffe should change the content, making it contemporary, immediate, up-to-the-minute.” En dat is exact wat Dario Fo een halve eeuw later heeft gedaan. It is recognised as one of the most controversial and popular spectacles in postwar European theatre and its broadcast in Italy prompted the Vatican to denounce it as “the most blasphemous show in the history of television”.
Mistero buffo is a series of brief monologues with Biblical themes, drawn from the Biblical apocrypha and popular tales of the life of Christ. Fo’s work originates in the surviving texts and descriptions of the giullari, itinerant players of medieval times, who would travel to towns and villages, bringing the latest news.
Tegen het eind van de jaren twintig raakte Majakovski meer en meer gedesillusioneerd in het bolsjevisme. Zijn satirische toneelstuk De wandluis (1929), dat handelt over sovjethypocrisie en -bureaucratie, toont deze ontwikkeling. Omdat Stalin hem slechts zag als een lakei van het regime raakte hij meer en meer gefrustreerd in zijn artistieke vernieuwingsdrang. Dit, en de druk van zijn ruchtmakende driehoeksverhouding met het echtpaar Brik (*), dreef hem zo in het nauw dat hij in april 1930 zelfmoord pleegde.
A 60-minute animated film adaptation of the play was made in 1969, directed by David Cherkasskiy. It was the first animated feature to be made in Ukraine. The Soviet government banned screenings outside of the Ukrainian SSR. In 2015, the director of the film uploaded it to Youtube.
In 2007, after several decades of the play not being seen anywhere, the Moscow A.R.T.O. theatre put on an updated version of the play which was dubbed “Mystery-Bouffe. The Clean Variant”, based on the texts of the first and second versions. It premiered in France on May 1, 2007. [Wikipedia]
(*) In de zomer van 1915 werd Majakovski verliefd op Lili Brik. Zij was de vrouw van Majakovski’s uitgever, Osip Brik.