Nature Plays a Role in Theater as Well

In July and August 2017, the Zermatt Open-Air Theater will present the premiere performance of "Romeo and Juliet at Gornergrat" on a stage 2,600 m above sea level at Riffelberg. Livia Anne Richard, who wrote this work, is staging a universal theme, which plays an essential role in a natural setting before the Matterhorn. The director spoke about the staging and the special characteristics of having Nature as a "cast member" at Gornergrat.

"Romeo and Juliet at Gornergrat" is a love story. Does a love story fit well into the harsh nature found at Gornergrat? 
I do not find the nature at Gornergrat as harsh but rather as primal, archaic, pristine and, in a way, even innocent. Furthermore, the major, universal topics of human existence are also part of that setting: birth, love, death, freedom, friendship, hatred. Up there, they are very much in flux. These are the topics that are understood everywhere in our world. There is nothing superficial happening at Riffelberg. This is nature with depth. This is why this story must also be profound.

So, as the author, do you assumethat a theatrical experience may become an even deeper experience thanks to this imposing natural setting?
Theater and nature together form a story, which moves us to a level far deeper than is possible in a theater hall. The stage in a theater is the construct of human hands. This natural setting here – depending on what one believes – is the creation of God’s hands. Here there is a Divine order, which one must subordinate oneself to. Nature and the story told touch each other directly and go right to the heart.

A classical matter provides the basis, but you have rewritten it in a play. What are the cornerstones of this new story?
The original is "A Village Romeo and Juliet" by the Swiss playwright Gottfried Keller. Actually, I wanted to dramatize that work by adapting it directly for Riffelberg. Keller wrote a novella in prose. This means that as the author one would have to write a compressed dialogue. However, over time, the vastness and view into the distance in the mountain world "got in my way." That is when I noticed that the flow of this story is allowed to be very different at that height. Because we are not in a village up there. We are "on the mountain." This opens up our view and takes the blinders off. But I really do not want to reveal too much.

While working, you have your eye on the Matterhorn the entire time. Why is this mountain so fascinating?
I believe that our fascination in the Matterhorn is because this mountain is what we all really want to be: independent, strong, a unifying trinity within itself. This trinity is symbolised by the triangular form of the mountain. This triangle is something that flows through all religions. The Matterhorn is the symbol for this. It does not have to lean on anything anywhere. It has neither a man nor woman at its side. It stands alone and embodies its own sovereignty. Every human being wants to be strong and autonomous and stand on his or her own. The Matterhorn is famous around the world because it stands alone.

Anyone seated in the grandstand does not just see the action on the stage. There seems to be additional action taking place on the mountain with the weather and the clouds. Does this disturb the theatrical story?
In my experience with open-air theatrical performances in general and specifically on Riffelberg, it is wonderfully always so that the mood of the weather plays along with the action on stage. For example, one can imagine a kiss scene. At the same time, a misty fog rises from the valley. This tells us that it is not always sunshine in play here. But it could also be that the sun breaks through the clouds just when the kiss takes place. This reinforces the romantic situation. The weather can thus strengthen or diametrically work against the mood in the action, which results in an unbelievably strong counterpoint.

You have selected a story, which is over 150 years old. Is the theme of forbidden love still a topic today?
I am always amazed! One does not have to travel to India to see strict caste thinking where whom one may marry is strictly prescribed. I also know of many examples from my own life where delicate constellations arose if a child brought a partner home who is not accepted by the parents. Today, parents also still have a word to interject – whether legitimately or not remains questionable. The dilemma faced by Romeo and Juliet is just as timeless as love itself.

The Author
Livia Anne Richard regularly writes and stages theatrical performances on the Gurten near Bern. In 2015, "The Matterhorn Story" was performed for the first time in the Open-Air Theater on Riffelberg at Gornergrat. Livia Anne Richard wrote and staged this piece at 2,600 m before an audience of more than 23,000. The play about the first ascent of the Matterhorn in 1865 is one of the most successful open-air theater productions ever in Switzerland.

In July and August 2017, the play "Romeo and Juliet at Gornergrat" will be performed as written by Livia Anne Richard. 30 actors and a fire performance artist have been rehearsing for weeks. Advanced ticket sales are going very well.