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Opera meets circus in ‘La Verità’ at Stony Brook’s Staller Center

A scene from

A scene from "La Verità," inspired by the art of Salvador Dali and the opera "Tristan and Isolde."   Credit: Viviana Cangialosi

No matter how serious the project, it originates from the clown within.

Daniele Finzi Pasca, born to a family of photographers and practically raised in a darkroom in Lugano, Switzerland, was mentored in circus skills by a clown named Fery. After a stint in India, where he cared for the sick, Finzi Pasca returned home to found Teatro Sunil and develop his “teatro della carezza” techniques — “theater of the caress.”

Finzi Pasca now returns to Staller Center to treat audiences for a third time to the caress of his circus-as-theater hybrid. “La Verità,” a visual and aural feast making its U.S. premiere, is co-inspired by the art of Salvador Dalí and the opera “Tristan and Isolde.”

He brings something new and different to Staller every few years, beginning with “Rain” in 2007 and “Donka: A Letter to Chekhov” in 2012.

Interviewed by phone from his hometown, the globe-trotting Finzi Pasca, 52, says he’s drawn to opera for its famously tragic endings. Yet he treats their themes with a lightness we expect from circus performers — acrobats, jugglers and clowns. His productions of operas in Europe feature moments of levity, even in “Requiem” in which a boy was seen flying astride some balloons. “We associate death with gloomy colors,” he says, “but there is always room for something bright and life-affirming. I tell tragic stories, but try to do it with lighter touch. That is a basic need humanity demands.”

TRAGIC ROMANCE

“Tristan and Isolde” is the story of forbidden love between the second in line to the British throne and a princess from warring rival Ireland, set during the post-Roman Empire Dark Ages. The Dalí connection comes directly from the Metropolitan Opera’s 1944 production that featured a scrim painted by the surrealist artist for the “Mad Tristan” ballet. That scrim is now a backdrop to “La Verità.”

The Dalí homage extends to giant horse and rhinoceros heads looming over dramatic dance scenes.

“The combination of physical reality and the imaginary world is told in the language of acrobatics requiring no words,” Finzi Pasca says. That’s why his work can tour the globe without translation.

OLYMPIC FEATS

Aside from his Compagnia Finzi Pasca creations, the director has produced ceremonies for three Olympics, beginning with the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy. His Swiss-based company of 45 performers and creative teammates also has produced shows for the Montreal-based troupes Cirque Éloize, where he met his wife Julie Hamelin — their collaboration spans 33 years — and Cirque du Soleil.

Following Saturday’s U.S. premiere performance, “La Verità” moves to the Brooklyn Academy of Music for four shows next month. “We’ve enjoyed a wonderful relationship with Staller Center,” says Finzi Pasca, “a very welcoming way to begin our U.S. tour. We always look forward to our journeys there,” he said with a smile in his voice.

Spoken like a clown with the happy-sad face of an aficionado of great theatrical tragedies.

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