Dubrovačke ljetne igre
Dubrovnik Summer Festival
10/7 - 25/8 2024

M. Držić: Hecuba

24. July / Wednesday / 21:30h
Lovrjenac Fort
M. Držić: Hecuba

M. Držić: HECUBA

musical-theatre play

Dialogos Ensemble

Katarina Livljanić

on the occasion of „45th anniversary of the inscription of the Old City of Dubrovnik on the UNESCO World Heritage List"



Based on the texts by Marin Držić (1559) and Lodovico Dolce (1543)

Staged music performance with supertitles

Ensemble Dialogos


Katarina Livljanić, Hecuba

Francisco Mañalich, Polydorus's ghost, Polyxena, Polymnestor

Ante Podrug, Ulysses

Milivoj Rilov, Agamemnon

Srećko Damjanović, servant




Joško Ćaleta, voice and direction

Srećko Damjanović, voice

Nikola Damjanović, voice

Ante Podrug, voice

Milivoj Rilov, voice



Norbert Rodenkirchen, flutes, dvojnice

Albrecht Maurer, fiddle, lirica

Francisco Mañalich, viola


Staging, scenography, costumes, surtitles: Sanda Hržić

Musical direction, scenario: Katarina Livljanić

Musical reconstruction: Katarina Livljanić, Francisco Mañalich, Joško Ćaleta

Instrumental musical reconstruction: Norbert Rodenkirchen, Albrecht Maurer

Lights and technique: Srećko Damjanović


Have you ever been terrified by your own thoughts, have you ever been wounded so deeply that the only relief for your anger and pain could come through… revenge? If you do not already know the Trojan Queen Hecuba, it is time to meet her.

The story

The story of Hecuba rises from the sea and wind. The war is over, Troy is destroyed, tired Greek soldiers are sitting on the burned no mans land and hope to return home. But the wind stops, and the boats can't sail. In that moment of dead calm sea, when everything is stagnant and immobile, the warriors turn to the gods and beg for their help. In order to be able to leave, a sacrifice of something precious needs to be made. The spirit of the Greek hero Achilles appears and seeks the sacrifice of the greatest treasure - Polyxena, Hecuba’s daughter - to restore the wind to the Greeks’ sails.

The story of Hecuba unfolds between insomnia and prophetic dreams. In a dream, Hecuba predicts the fall of Troy and the death of Polyxena, not knowing that another ordeal awaits her: her youngest son Polydorus - whom his father had entrusted with great treasure to his friend Polymnestor during the war - will die by his friend’s hand. Out of greed for gold, Polymnestor throws the boy into the sea.

Polyxena's death hurts deeply: it is caused by the enemy, by destiny, it is the sign from the gods. It is a pledge to restore the wind, it allows a liberation from the post-war immobility. But Polydoro's death hurts even more profoundly: it is a senseless death, death of trust in the closest friend, it is life interrupted by the lowest human instincts.

In that moment, Hecuba is transformed from a dignified queen into a delirious monster who sees revenge as the only way out, and goes from one warrior to another, asking for explanations or help. Ulysses is already tired of everything, devious and wily, Agamemnon is a powerful macho ready to make pacts, Polymnestor is a cynical liar and opportunist. With Agamemnon's help, Hecuba will draw Polymnestor into the camp where Trojan women will take revenge on him - they will gouge out his eyes and kill his children.

Finally, the story of Hecuba finds release through the light that permeates the darkness. Hecuba reaches the catharsis through revenge, and Polymnestor begins to foresee the future through the darkness of his blindness.

Our performance

Dialogos draws inspiration for this staged music performance from two Renaissance sources. The Venetian writer Lodovico Dolce (1508-1568) translated into Italian the Erasmus’ Latin version (1506) of Euripides' 5th-century BC Greek Hecuba. Dolce’s elegant story influenced Marin Držić (1508-1567) in Dubrovnik, to rework and translate the Italian text into Croatian. It was performed in Dubrovnik in 1559, after having been prohibited twice by local authorities who considered it too… turbulent. Dolce and Držić, Adriatic twins who were born and died in the very same years, rest today in two Venetian churches, separated by a few narrow streets and canals of stagnant Adriatic Sea where no wind blows. Their two city-republics, Dubrovnik and the Serenissima, stood as two fortresses on the two shores of that same Adriatic Sea, at the time when they wrote their Hecubas. Did they ever meet?

Dialogos’ creation intersects Dolce's and Držić's version of the story, Greeks and Trojans sing and confront each others in old Italian and Croatian dialects, in this drama for solo singers, instrumentalists and a group of traditional Dalmatian cantors who intervene as the ancient chorus…

The music

The musical language of our Hecuba is born in the oral tradition of the Dialogos-laboratory, through improvisational techniques based on Dubrovnik and Venetian 16th-century musical sources, and the traditional music of the Dubrovnik region preserved to this day.

The musical sources are numerous and varied: in the Venetian salons, in the ridotti, accademie, meeting places of the humanists, music is ubiquitous. Madrigals arranged for voice and accompaniment were performed, improvised poetry was sung. The cantori al liuto, such as Ippolito Tromboncino, mentioned by Lodovico Dolce himself, performed songs accompanying themselves on the lute or another instrument. The sources refer to parodies of the schiavoni (Slavs) who sing in a poorly-rendered Venetian dialect, accompanying themselves on the viola da braccio. Dolce's tragedy Troiane was enhanced by (unfortunately not conserved) musical interludes, composed by his contemporary Claudio Merulo, organist at San Marco. Cornelio Frangipane, author of a Tragedia (1574), speaks of Merulo's music in his work as well, present not only in the interludes and choruses concluding the acts, but also in the declamation of the text’s various roles. This music, too, has been lost. However, the 16th-century editions of poems set to music, such as strambotti, giustiniane or gregesche, testify to the links between the learned tradition of vocal polyphony and its adaptations created by poet-singers in humanist salons and in theatrical plays.

On the other side of the Adriatic Sea, in Renaissance Dubrovnik, music imbued all spheres of life: the Accademia dei concordi assembled humanists ; the French composer Lambert Courtois marked the musical life of the city... In 1533 the Croatian translation of Poliziano's Orfeo was performed in Dubrovnik, with numerous references to singing, and in 1548 the comedy Tirena by Marin Držić includes the morescke, war-like dances preserved to this day on the nearby island of Korčula. The incorporation of these pastoral dances and morescke creates a contrast and a "culture shock" between traditional Slavic culture and Venetian influences.

It is precisely this meeting of contrasts that has guided our work of musical creation: on the one hand, fragments of musical phrases by Ippolito Tromboncino, Claudio Merulo, and Lambert Courtois have served us well in developing vocal lines, accompanied or a cappella, on the edge of improvisation, sometimes on the border between sung and spoken voice. On the other, the traditional music of the Dubrovnik region, as well as our use of the lijerica (a string instrument still used today in the traditional music of this region), inspired us in the exploration of this "creative clash" between two neighboring, but so different worlds.

The result is a musical performance in which the timeless power of Greek myth embraces Venetian Renaissance finesse and the rough power of Dalmatia on the threshold of the Ottoman Empire. Just as Dolce, Merulo, Držić... - children of their time - did not faithfully reconstruct Greek tragedies but composed Renaissance artworks, we, Dialogos, are children of our times. Thus, our "double Hecuba", with its roots in Dubrovnik and Venice, is a contemporary creation, inspired by the artistic languages of the past.

In today’s world which increasingly falls into black and white simplifications of good and evil, Hecuba is a story of good that can be evil and of evil that can be merciful, Hecuba is a story of the human soul in all its depth and enigma, a story about darkness that can be light, about blindness that can become vision.

Let the good wind rise and Hecuba will come towards you.

Katarina Livljanić


Photo (c) Željko Karavida


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