The Lisbon of inevitable gentrification is looking for itself this autumn with its gaze set on José Saramago. Today marks the hundredth anniversary of his birth and the capital’s heroes and wounded letters are preparing to celebrate the anniversary at the São Carlos theater. The reason is truly musical, since the lyrical coliseum has produced a new staging of the opera Blimunda, that piece by the Italian composer Azio Corgi that three decades ago was inspired by the novel Memorial do convento with the complicity of the author, and that this time He has not been able to travel due to his advanced age.

Premiered then at La Scala in Milan, this contemporary opera aroused passions among the most illustrious Portuguese composers, such as Fernando Lopes-Graça, who, according to Saramago’s widow, Pilar del Río, was ecstatic with lyricism. “How can there be something so beautiful!” she remembers her exclaiming. Of course, the libretto in Italian whose authorship points to Saramago, was the work of Corgi himself. “Saramago didn’t write a single line,” Del Río clarifies, “he saw it as the composer’s work.”

The journalist and president of the Saramago Foundation has just awarded the prize for a novel that bears the name of the illustrious writer and that has the virtue of projecting authors who will be heard of in the future. With the auditorium of the Centro Cultura Belem full of young ESO students –Saramago is a curricular subject in Portugal–, the jury finds in favor of the young Brazilian Rafael Gallo, whose novel curiously also deals with music, more specifically about a virtuoso pianist, master of the interpretation of Liszt, who sees his passion cut short by an accident.

“Reading it you cannot believe that he is so young. Not only because of his literary ability, but because of his philosophical contribution. It is extraordinary”, Del Río comments to La Vanguardia, after the Portuguese Minister of Culture has made a speech alleging that there is no future for humanity without the humanities and that “enough of having to justify the presence of art and literature in the classrooms”.

Among the lovers of Saramago and collaborators of Pilar del Río are the illustrator of the causes Mafalda Milhões, a well-known editor and bookseller in the city, and Carlos Marques, storyteller, actor, musician and producer, who welcomes us with a bit of Catalan. .

“When I arrived in Barcelona to study at the Institut del Teatre I saw that it was the same as Portuguese”. Since he began performing Saramago’s works a decade ago, such as Raised from the ground, which speaks of the clandestinity of the human being and those who have no voice, up to his current artistic work with El hombre duplicate, his motif has not ceased to be Saramago. He works in theaters, libraries, but he wants to reach schools.

The show based on The Duplicate Man is about the lack of time that human beings suffer and about Zuckerberg’s metaverse. But humorously. Because indeed there is a Lisbon that is now being transformed, that is no longer the same. And that it looks dangerously like so many other cities.

The famous Hotel Bergança to which Saramago sent Ricardo Reis –the heteronym of Pessoa who attended his funeral in 1935- is now a sophisticated restaurant with a boutique hotel where people come to ask…. “Yes, here I have an old photo of what he was like, for when students come looking for the character,” says the janitor.

“Now it is difficult to hear Portuguese spoken in a bar, housing is expensive, people can no longer afford to live in the center,” says Marques. Italians, French, Belgians, Germans and English surround Mafalda Milhoes in the country outskirts of Lisbon. “They come in search of peace, sun and the tranquility that the political calm of the country gives them. And they see a business opportunity and change their lives, ”she warns.

“Saramago liked anonymous people who walk down the street and experience the country or the world without any other role,” he continues. You can find this part if you get lost in other Portuguese geographies. Azinhaga, his land, for example, is intact. The genuine Portuguese await you there, and this is a country that you can cover from end to end in no more than five or six hours”.

The experience at São Carlos, in the old town, impresses foreigners who have come to see one of the two previous performances of Blimunda. Built in 1793 in a neoclassical Italian style, it is perhaps the only ancient opera house that has not suffered a fire. Therefore, until it closes its doors in 2024 to be reformed –27 million that the EU pays–, its stage box is a handmade miracle of pulleys and stagehands.

Blimunda picks up, yes, the critical spirit of Saramago’s work. He satirizes contemporary Portugal while still evoking that of the 18th century, during the reign of John V and the Inquisition. With the gold and diamonds from colonial Brazil, the absolutist monarch allows himself –also in the plot– to build a grandiose Mafra National Palace, known as a convent.

Narration and singing skillfully coexist in this story of exploitation and lonely struggle against authority, recurring themes in Saramago. Some give life to the imaginary characters of this opera of dreams. There are the voiceless like Blimunda, the young woman who can see people inside; or as her lover, Baltasar Sete Sóis, who returns from the war of the Spanish succession. But historical figures also appear: Father Bartolomeu de Gusmão, Marie Antoinette of Austria, the composer Domenico Scarlatti himself… In the pit, at the baton, José Eduardo Gomes, and in the stage direction, Nuno Carinhas, making use of the symbols and a scenery of endearing craftsmanship.