When did you first go to the theatre?
To see Rigoletto at the Teatro Comunale in Florence on 10 October 1939 for my tenth birthday, with Gino Bechi, Ferruccio Tagliavini, Lina Aimaro and the young Giulietta Simionato as Madelena.
Why did you want to work in the theatre?
In Florence, we give out presents for the Epiphany. When I was six there was a wonderful gift for my brother, a model theatre, but I thought, “This is mine!” It was large, more than a metre wide with 32 different sets. We had to use it for firewood during the war.
Which performers do you remember most from your childhood?
Charlie Chaplin, Eduardo De Filippo, Titina De Filippo, and Jean-Louis Barrault.
Which performance do you remember most from your childhood?
Puss in Boots at Florence’s Teatro della Pergola, in which the 10-year-old Franco Zeffirelli played the Marquis of Carabas.
Which director do you most admire?
What theatrical piece that you directed are you most proud of?
The Italian première of Samuel Beckett’s Play (“Commedia”) in 1964, and the first staging of Isac Babel’s Maria; also a production of The Tempest at the Forte di Belvedere in Florence.
What theatre piece would you have liked to direct?
An unrealised dream was to create a ballet based on André Gide’s sublime book La symphonie pastorale with Carla Fracci and Erik Bruhn using, obviously, the music of Beethoven’s symphony, together with Lizst piano transcriptions.
What’s your favourite ballet?
What’s your favourite opera?
That’s impossible, but La Sonnambula, L’Elisir d’Amore, Un Ballo in Maschera and Le Nozze di Figaro are at the top of the list: perfect librettos by magnificent dramatists.
Who is your favourite choreographer?
Balanchine… and… and… and…
Who is your favourite writer?
Shakespeare… and… and… and…
Who is your favourite actor?
The actor who plays Hamlet.
Who is your favourite singer?
Jessye Norman when she sings Gustav Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (‘Songs of a Wayfarer’).
What is your favourite book?
I’ve learnt that my favourite book is the one that I’m reading, so at this time it is David Grossman’s latest book Falling Out of Time.
What is your favourite film?
At this moment it’s Chaplin’s The Great Dictator because I’m working on a project based on the friendship between athletes Jesse Owens and Luz Long during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, and the character in the play who is the deus ex machina is “l’esprit” of Charlie Chaplin.
Which is your favourite city?
What do you like most about yourself?
The ability to tell untruths that seem the truth.
What do you dislike about yourself?
Badly saying the truth making it sound like a lie.
What was your proudest moment?
When my youngest grandson, Ariel, first said “Buonanotte Nonnino” (Goodnight Grandpa).
When and where were you happiest?
In New York when I met all the following people at the same time: Erik Bruhn, Katherine Dunham, Antony Tudor, Margot Fonteyn, Tennessee Williams, Alexandra Danilova, George Balanchine, Tanaquil LeClercq and Jerome Robbins.
What or who is the greatest love of your life?
The theatre and all the crafts you find in the theatre.
What is your greatest fear?
Not to be aware when I’m dying.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To tell less lies and more truths.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The esteem of people who know me, and the esteem of friends which can transform into passion which for me is to reach ecstasy.
What is your most treasured possession?
A painting of Marie Taglioni in La Gitana, which all the ballet experts think doesn’t exist, but it does. And my grandchildren shall have it!
What is your greatest extravagance?
Always wearing a t-shirt with an image of Barack Obama under my shirt.
What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
To tolerate the defects of others, and oneself.
On what occasion do you lie?
When others say insupportable truths.
If you hadn’t been a director what would you have liked to be?
I would have liked to create and sell pottery.
What is your most marked characteristic?
To use the same shoes for almost 70 years. My nickname was “yellow-shoes”.
What quality do you most value in a friend?
To tolerate all of me, even my lies.
What quality do you most value in a colleague?
The willingness to accompany me during long dinners over which we can talk about personal problems, and confide in each other.
Which historical figure do you most admire?
Which living person do you most admire?
What do you most dislike?
What gift would you most like to have?
To be a writer.
What’s your idea of perfect happiness?
To be able to embrace everyone, good and bad.
How would you like to die?
With my eyes and ears open, knowing exactly that moment when life no longer exists. I firmly believe only in life.
What is your motto?
“Vita, vita, vita, vita!” (Life, life, life, life)… and as the English used to shout out to their queen: “Vivat! Vivat Regina!” And there are many, many, many queens…
Beppe Menegatti — a biography
Beppe Menegatti is an Italian theatre director, born in Florence in 1929. He won a scholarship to the National Academy Silvio D’Amico in Rome, and soon after in the mid-1950s he becaome Luchino Visconti’s assistant and later collaborated with Vittorio De Sica and Eduardo De Filippo. He directed first performances by authors such as Samuel Beckett and Isaac Babel, and many opera productions in the important opera houses.
Menegatti is widely known for creating original works which combine ballet, prose and music which have largely featured his wife, ballerina Carla Fracci, who he married in 1964. He has been responsible for recreating, alongside various choreographers, many ballets whose original choreography has been lost. Recently at the Rome Opera Ballet he has presented various rarities of the Ballets Russes repertoire, and reconstructed the ballet The Red Poppy.
Photo: Beppe Menegatti reveals his Barack Obama t-shirt.