Stella Performance: Roberto Benigni does Dante

Roberto Benigni's TuttoDante 2012 in Piazza Santa Croce, Florence Italy

For the last decade or so, Roberto Benigni, the Italian Oscar-winning actor, comedian, screenwriter, director, singer and all-round nice guy has undertaken the enormous challenge of bringing Dante to the masses.

And, as possibly only a guy with such a smile could do, by gosh, he has succeeded.

Having travelled all around Italy several years ago on his ‘TuttoDante’ tour (‘Everything Dante’), recorded DVDs and doing live performances on television and the like, almost half the population of Italy (that’s nearly 50% of some 60.8 million people!) have heard Benigni recite Dante, with 70 thousand of those in attendance at his live performances.

Now, as if Florence weren’t already special enough, from 20th July to 6th August, night after night in Florence’s beautiful must-see Piazza Santa Croce, Benigni is presenting TuttoDante 2012, with the focus on Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’.

Last night, we were lucky enough to be amongst people of all ages who gathered in the stunning Florentine piazza, with the stage back dropped by the breath-taking Santa Croce church.

And we were in good company – last night, Florence’s mayor Matteo Renzi was present along with Tuscany’s much-loved singer, Lorenzo Cherubini (better known as Jovanotti).

Renzi has been quoted as saying that a night with Roberto Benigni is a wonderful joy, adding, ‘This event ennobles Piazza Santa Croce, enabling it to play its role. This square is not a museum or a ‘postcard’, but a place to stay together.”

And together we were, with the domineering statue of Dante himself standing by, when Benigni sprang onto the stage, leapt about a bit, and then launched into a hilarious introduction, missing no opportunity to rib (good humouredly) into his VIP audience members.

Benigni then went through one ‘Canto’ of the Divine Comedy, line by line, translating from Italian to, well, Italian (or rather, antique Italian to more the more modern version spoken today).

Then, just when you would think that after some two hours of speaking about Dante, the lights dimmed, the crowd perked up even more and Benigni went about proving to us all just why he is such a living legend…

He recites, no notes needed, an entire verse of the Canto (this night it was Canto XX). Word for word, emotion for emotion, thousands of people mesmerised, silenced by the passion and love Benigni has for Dante.

As Benigni spoke, the full-bellied moon rose behind the elegant façade of the Santa Croce church, passing up and over the bell tower, like a cosmic hourglass reminding us of the distance between us in this time in history and Dante who scribed these words between 1308 and 1321.

But it wasn’t the moon, nor the lights set up around the square, nor the spectacular way the Santa Croce façade was illuminated that truly lit up the night – it was rather the star of the spectacular, the brilliant Roberto Benigni that truly sparked most brightly.


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