If you are lucky, the combination of stage and fine arts opens up beyond all the scenes: real world spaces. Such was the case with Schinkel’s starry sky, which the Prussian genius created for Mozart’s “Magic Flute”, or with the universal magic scenarios of a Robert Wilson today. But the art is even more astonishing when it achieves monumental effects with a miniature instead of in huge rooms.

Such a big bang from the innermost core of art happened at the Venice Biennale in 1984. It was a sensation that is still echoing in one of the most beautiful exhibitions of this summer. At that time, the brothers Cesare and Daniele Lievi and a few amateur actors performed Georg Trakl’s horror fairy tale drama about the murderous Knight Bluebeard as “Barbablù” in Venice. In the stage design of the then barely thirty-year-old painter Daniele Lievi and staged by his one year older brother, the poet and director Cesare. The performance, which won prizes at the Biennale, quickly gained cult status and was later repeated at the Burgtheater in Vienna, among others.

The “Fratelli Lievi”, as they are called, had developed the almost forgotten play with their small, initially private Teatro dell’ Acqua in the little harbor village of Villa on Lake Garda, near their birthplace on the water. And all of a sudden they were in demand as artists: from Milan to Vienna, from Hamburg, Berlin, Frankfurt/Main to Basel and Zurich.

The story not only of the “Water Theater” founded in 1979 resembles a modern fairy tale – the most talented actor of the first performances was a street sweeper in his main job. However, Daniele Lievi’s stage designs in particular brought about a quiet revolution in optics, in the scenic view. Because the Teatro dell’ Acqua initially played in a comparatively tiny room, but “Bluebeard” required sceneries such as a castle, mysterious corridors, gardens, fabulous rooms, Daniele Lievi put the audience in a dark shaft of light, at the end of which there was a shaft only the size of a puppet stage peep box was moved back and forth and its visible sections shifted, structured, reduced and fully expanded again with virtuosity.

This resulted in virtuoso zoom effects, sometimes only a hand, half a head or a high-heeled lady’s shoe appeared in front of picturesque horizons and appeared comparatively huge as a pars pro toto, while whole half people appeared rather small in the background. This created a magical pull, the viewers gradually believed themselves trapped in a poetic dream.

Today, Cesare Lievi is an internationally sought-after director, especially in opera; in September his production of Verdi’s “Troubadour” with Zubin Mehta premieres in Florence, and at the end of the year he brings “Fledermaus” to Italy in Genoa, with Udo Samel in the speaking role of the frog. But Daniele, his brilliantly inspiring brother, died of HIV at the end of 1990 at the age of only 36. His last drafts were for a Lievi production of Wagner’s “Parsifal” in 1990/91 at La Scala in Milan, with Muti and Placido Domingo. But the work of this visual artist now lives on far beyond the theater in a large retrospective.

It’s a rediscovery. Because the MuSa museum in the port city of Salò on Lake Garda, which opened a few years ago in a former monastery and combines late baroque and modernity with Italian elegance, is showing almost 160 drawings and paintings until the end of November, as well as over a hundred photographs and numerous film clips under the title “Daniele Lievi: Carte Segrete – Teatro Visioni”. The theater visionary’s “secret papers” always reflect the tension between stage fantasies and reality. Theatrical dreams open up spaces here, in that a closed sphere always finds new, surprising relationships with its surroundings – with the wider spaces of an imaginary outside world.

The connection to dramas by Botho Strauss is almost symbolic: crystallized in the pictures of Daniele Lievis to Strauss’ “Die Zeit und das Zimmer”, a puzzle piece in which space and time are relativized and at the same time condition each other. Many doors then open for Lievi, who always starts from the idea of ​​having his own room as a childhood dream and creative cell. Often, however, they are trapdoors, their wings opening vertically, falling towards the viewer or opening backwards into an abyss. Strange people and animals, mythical creatures such as unicorns or surreal phenomena appear here as a matter of course. Fall into the picture or tip out. hover or freeze.

Cesare Lievi, who curated the extended show together with Bianca Simoni after a preview in Brescia, says that even while he was working on a play, his brother was constantly using pen and brush to create new associations, his own stories and additional pictorial ideas on his poetic-ironic painted sheets called carte segrete. In addition to the exhibits shown in seven large halls, “hundreds of notebooks” would remain in his brother’s estate.

Daniele was obviously an inexhaustible dreamer of images, whose finely drawn colored figures sometimes appear childishly playful, sometimes surreally fantastic or intellectually chiseled. Magritte, Mirò and above all Paul Klee appear as Lievi’s role models. At the same time, as a stage designer, he was fascinated by the geometry, the architecture of spaces, inherited from Giorgio de Chirico in the Italian tradition. No wonder that after the start at the Venice Biennale, Lievi’s next appearance took place in the Frankfurt Architecture Museum in the late 1980s.

The interplay of the interior and the outside world is also particularly impressive in the documents of a Heidelberg production of Ionesco’s “The New Tenant”: an absurd claustrophobic drama like something out of a Kafka story, which the Lievi brothers also used with the blue light of Lago di Garda and Lake Garda Mediterranean contrasted. Another grandiose minimalism, at that time also a triumph at the Berlin Theatertreffen. The MuSa in Salò is now worth a trip as a reminder of what art was able to spark in scenic image worlds before digitality. Before the Lievi exhibition moves to Vienna, Frankfurt or Berlin next year, it still has the flair of its astonishing origins at Lake Garda.