Swiss artist Daniele Finzi Pasca designs the 2019 Fête des Vignerons

Daniele Finzi Pasca at the launch of ticket sales for the Fête des Vignerons, aboard the Vevey paddle steamer on Lake Geneva last September. © Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Switzerland’s once-in-a-generation Fête des Vignerons opens on July 18 in the lakeside town of Vevey. Swiss director and choreographer Daniele Finzi Pasca designed the 2019 edition of the traditional winegrower’s festival. He promises to deliver a magical opening pageant in this interview with

Ghania Adamo

In the opulent setting of the Grand Théâtre in Geneva, Finzi Pasca looks like an elf who has escaped from a children᾽s tale, with his trim figure, bright eyes, agile gait and lively gestures. The artist from Ticino is a wizard on the stage who can also juggle with words. His speech flows, interwoven with metaphors.

Stage director, choreographer and actor, Daniele Finzi Pasca was born in Lugano in 1964. He designed the closing ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Turin in 2006 and Sochi in 2014. He creates shows for the Cirque du Soleil and Cirque Eloize in particular. His company is based in Lugano and Montreal. Viviana Cangialosi - Compagnia Finzi Pasca

A much sought-after international artist who is always on the move, he is pressed for time. We are taking advantage of his visit to Geneva to interview him. His press officer warns us that we will have 15 minutes, and not a second more.

The task ahead of him is no small feat. The Fête des Vignerons takes place roughly every 20 years and is recognised by UNESCO on its list of intangible cultural heritage. It has grown from a simple pageant to an epic spectacle featuring thousands of participants. 

Telling the winegrowers’ tale

Here we are in one of the theatre boxes, where Finzi Pasca receives us. Despite all the pressure, he is relaxed. In a silent, almost reverent atmosphere, he whispers and we listen. “Seven years ago, the Abbé-President of the Confrérie des Vignerons – the local winegrowers’ guild - asked me to design the festival. He had found the 1999 edition a little too dry and wanted this one to be more emotional, more moving.” 

So let's go for grandiose! Finzi Pasca is using all his talent to thrill the public, as he did at the Olympic Games in Turin (2006) and Sochi (2014), whose closing ceremonies he designed. The Confrérie knows that for these two world events the artist was able to speak for Italy and Russia. It therefore expects him to do even better for Switzerland, his homeland. 

“You are not the son of winegrowers, so how are you going to tell their tale in your show?” we ask. Without hesitation he replies: “You do not have to be a soldier᾿s son to talk about war.”

Extras taking part in a dress rehearsal for the Fête des Vignerons festival Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Champions of physical effort

Together with the other festival artists (librettists, musicians, sound technicians, etc.), Finzi Pasca undertook some preliminary historical research. “We asked the guild members to tell us about the age-old tradition of the festival, in order to better understand its meaning. Many people think that the ceremonies (which will last three weeks and attract thousands of spectators) are similar to the Greek Dionysia. This is wrong. In my view it᾿s not about paying homage to the gods of Olympus, but to the winegrowers and labourers who, like Olympic athletes, are champions of physical effort. Their hard manual work makes the earth, and nature as a whole, more beautiful.” 

The opening pageant will be held on July 18, in a huge arena built especially for the occasion on Vevey᾿s market square. The theme is the coronation of the best winegrowers and labourers, who are thus rewarded for their work. The same subject will be taken up in several smaller shows put on daily over the three weeks. And may the most deserving win!

The first Fête des Vignerons dates back to 1797. The tradition of coronation was born at that time and has been repeated ever since, roughly every 20 years. For the 2019 edition, Finzi Pasca has imagined an encounter between a little girl, Julie, and her grandfather, who tells her about winegrowing, caring for the vines, the harvest, the passing of the seasons and the caprices of the sky... That same sky to which Finzi Pasca always lifts a trusting eye.

Extras taking part in a dress rehearsal for the 2019 Fête des Vignerons festival Keystone / Laurent Gillieron

Heavenly flight

“Blue is one of my favourite colours; it gives me a boost”, confides Finzi Pasca, who says he was influenced by his grandmother᾿s teaching. “She taught me always to look at the sky, especially in difficult times.” Three years ago, Finzi Pasca lost his wife, who was also an artist. They had already started preparing the festival together. Her name was Julie, like the little girl in the show. It is a fitting way of keeping her memory alive.

Heavenly flight. This is how one could describe the fairy-tale world created by Finzi Pasca. He smiles on hearing these words. “I seek lightness, even in tragedy”, he explains. There is something surreal about his art. His play “La Verità”, for example, is inspired by a painting by Salvador Dalí. But his characters, weightless and ethereal, are more reminiscent of Marc Chagall᾿s. “I feel very close to the Franco-Russian painter,” confides the Swiss artist, who has made so many spectators around the world dream and soar.

Fête des Vignerons: details

The festival is organized by the Confrérie des Vignerons – the local winegrowers’ guild - in Vevey, an association responsible for safeguarding vine cultivation by its members in the Lavaux region (canton Vaud). The festival is held roughly every 20 years. It is a living tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation since the 18th century. On 1 December 2016, it was recognized as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity by UNESCO. It celebrates the traditional values and know-how of winemaking, craftsmanship and folklore of an entire region, if not a whole country.

The stage director and designer of the 2019 edition is Daniele Finzi Pasca. The libretto for the pageant was written by Blaise Hofmann and Stéphane Blok. The music is by Maria Bonzanigo, Jérôme Berney and Valentin Villard.

The 12th edition of the Fête des Vignerons takes place from July 18 to August 11. Tickets for one of the 20 shows in the 20,000-seat outdoor arena vary between CHF79-359; around 70% of tickets have been sold so far. Over 5,500 actors, 900 singers and 240 musicians are taking part in the two-hour show. 

The event has a budget of CHF100 million. Around 40,000 people are expected to attend every day – 19,500 spectators in the arena, 10,000 volunteers and other workers and 10,000 visitors. 

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