A young artist searches the shape of the Carrara marble, awaiting inspiration.
It is Michelangelo searching for David.
This scene opens a Rome cinematographic experience that immerses the audience into the mind of one of the greatest sculptors amid his journey of painting the Sistine Chapel.
Down the street from the Vatican, at the Auditorium Conciliazione, the famed sacred space is the focus of a one-hour, 270-degree projection laser show, “Universal Judgment: Michelangelo and the Secrets of the Sistine Chapel.”
Marco Balich, chairman of Balich Worldwide Shows, who has experience producing more than 20 Olympic ceremonies, used his artistic and technical abilities to create this multimedia spectacle that takes the viewer “into” the Sistine Chapel.
Narrated by actors, the story of Michelangelo goes beyond David — when Pope Julius II, in 1508, commissioned him to paint frescoes that covered the Vatican chapel’s ceilings.
The audience follows Michelangelo flying across stage in his interior and physical struggle of painting the creation story and the Last Judgment in the eyes of the Renaissance artist on a 5,000-square-foot upside-down surface.
Simulated by Balich’s light projections, the animated paintings bring the audience’s gaze around the theater in order to explore the chapel in its completeness. Scripture readings, theatrical dancers and even a musical composition by Sting emerge to enhance the reminiscence of the fine details and history of each painting.
“It’s a way that young generations can be closer to a universal place like the Sistine Chapel,” said Barbara Jatta, director of the Vatican Museums. With scientific and photographic support from the Vatican Museums, the resulting production is a multisensory experience.
From God giving life to Adam through the animated touch of a finger to smelling the incense initiating a new conclave, the visitors see, hear and smell the history of the chapel truly come to life. “I was anxious before I saw it because I wanted it to be proper for a Vatican show,” Jatta admitted, referring to backing a private company to produce the show.
After seeing the show with her 14-year-old son, Jatta was pleased. “It’s a wonderful way to tell you about history, art and about faith. It’s a show. It’s not a documentary.” Her son found it evoked his emotions.
Such an experience of the senses and the emotions is exactly what the show’s creator intended.
“I wanted to challenge ourselves to deliver something that touches the heart,” Balich told the Register. “My desire was to apply technology and celebrate values that are dear to us.”
Balich explained his aim was to plant seeds of curiosity and growth. “We always look to celebrate the good side of life, to look up at values and inspire the notion of respect,” Balich said.
Since the grand opening in March, the show has hosted 20,000 Italian students through the “Artainment at Schools” initiative, an in-depth educational project to discover and experience the Sistine Chapel through live entertainment and innovative visual applications. The show is translated into nine languages and has sold more than 100,000 tickets. An agreement with the Vatican Museums is being discussed to include a joint ticket to visit the real Sistine Chapel, which continues to welcome 6 million visitors every year.
Tourist Josef Breher from Munich, Germany, found the show impressive. “It was a good impression of every single picture and the story behind it,” Breher said. “It gave heaven many opportunities to speak to the heart,” Annie Bonner from Washington state wrote in an online review. “I found myself wiping away tears.”
The real chapel’s beauty will continue to speak for itself. As Jatta said, “Nothing can replace the real one.”
Rachel Lanz is the journalism intern for EWTN in Rome. The show runs through July 2019.