King of spectacle Balich puts Sistine Chapel on stage

King of spectacle Balich puts Sistine Chapel on stage

King of spectacle Balich puts Sistine Chapel on stage

The producer of the Rio Olympics opening ceremony, Marco Balich, is used to making flashy spectacles, but entering into the artistic world of Michelangelo and his frescos of creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel may be his most ambitious project yet.

Described as "artainment," Balich's show, which premiered on March 15, 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.

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

Using the techniques learned during his Olympic experiences he makes audiences feel as if they are sitting in the middle of the iconic chapel.

High definition photographs provided by the Vatican Museums are projected onto the stage, walls and ceiling of the hall, which have been covered with canvases.

Adam and Eve frolic in front of a close-up of a fresco of the Garden of Eden with plants climbing the walls toward the ceiling, while Noah's Ark heaves in a stormy deluge that soaks actors on stage.

"We've tried to apply the language and technology of the Olympics to a pillar of humanity," says Balich.

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."

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.

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 9 million euros of public funding, Balich hopes his gamble pays off by creating something that will last like its subject.