The real Casanova
His infamy as an 18th century Lothario lives on, but a stunning new production about the life of Giacomo Casanova by the Northern Ballet shows there is so much more to his extraordinary story, writes RACHEL BULLER
Writer Ian Kelly on the truth behind the Lothario’s legend
THE NAME Giacomo Casanova is synonymous with seduction, romance and sexual exploits.
Yet according to East Anglian actor and historian Ian Kelly, who wrote the acclaimed biography about Casanova, that womanising caricature does great disservice to a hugely intellectual man who had the most extraordinary of lives.
This month, the Northern Ballet will be at Norwich Theatre Royal performing a new show based on Ian’s book and it promises to be a fascinating glimpse into the life of one of the 18th century’s most controversial characters.
“I am sure he would be appalled and bemused by his contemporary reputation. Tales about his love affairs were the first bits of his story published, but they were never written for that intention, they were his personal stories, just like love is part of most people’s lives.”
Ian, who lives on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, says the project has been the most rewarding thing he has ever worked on.
Commissioned by the Northern Ballet’s artistic director David Nixon, Casanova will take audiences through the sensual decadence of masque and masquerade in Venice, the party capital of 18th century Europe.
“The ballet journey has been utterly joyous and I have learned an awful lot working with the incredible choreographer Kenneth Tindall. It is definitely the most beautiful thing I have ever seen on stage and it is very accessible. It is a joyous, exuberant piece of theatre befitting of the story.”
Casanova had an extraordinary life which took him all over Europe, dabbling in many different careers – from writer and musician to soldier and spy. But it was also a life filled
with scandal and he was confidant to many famous characters – including Madame de Pompadour, Voltaire, and Catherine the Great.
Ian, who has an impressive stage and screen career as a writer and actor, including roles in Downton Abbey, Howard’s End and Harry
Potter and the Deathly Hallows, says as a keen historian and biographer, he was fascinated by Casanova’s writing.
“I love history and extraordinarily Casanova provides some of the most interesting writing about social history in the 18th century. He was a very unusual writer in that he was big on recording the little details of what was happening in society which no one else bothered to record. I was continually surprised by his story. I was intrigued by his incredible mathematical skill, by his interest in Kabbalah which got him into trouble with the Venetian inquisition, by his extraordinary relationships with some of the 18th century’s most prominent figures, by the fact that he spoke eight languages. He seemed indefectible, so it is such a surprise that he is only remembered for his sex life.
“There was also a great tenderness with the man and a need for love. His fight with depression is also something not really explored before.”
He says adapting the book for the ballet enabled them to give a voice to some of the women Casanova encountered.
“The impression of him as simply being a bedpost-notching Lothario is wrong. Many of the women of the 18th century he tangled with were actually immensely impressive and strong. It is their story as well.”
Ian is currently working on a number of projects, including a movie about Mendelssohn’s Messiah and a screenplay about Robert Burns. He is also filming the film adaptation of Ian McEwan’s book The Children
Act with Emma Thompson. Ian moved to Eye, near Diss, two years ago with his family and says he feels incredibly settled in East Anglia.
“Although I am a bit all over the place with work, it is now definitely home, the children are at school here and I love the house – it has links to the 18th century poet Alexander Pope so obviously that history immediately drew me in.” To mark the opening of the ballet, Ian is hosting an evening of Venetian music and ballet at Abbey Hall in Eye on April 3 in aid of local charities, which will give guests an introduction to Casanova’s life, with performances of music and excerpts from the ballet. Tickets are £20, see www. ticketsource.co.uk/eye-community-interest-group. Northern Ballet’s Casanova, April 4 – 8, Norwich Theatre Royal; box office 01603 630000; www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk
Actor and writer Ian Kelly Dreda Blow in Casanova, Northern Ballet
Above: Northern Ballet dancers in Cassanova Below: Casanova, Northern Ballet Bottom: Northern Ballet’s Casanova at Norwich Theatre Royal, with Kenneth Tindall, left, and Ian Kelly