Thursday, February 21, 2008

Otello at the Goldoni Theatre - Surreal!

I am convinced it is impossible to fully appreciate Shakespeare's Otello unless you have lived in Venice, and participated in its intrigues and schemes. The method Iago uses -- outright lies and kernels of truth -- while wearing a mask of devotion and honesty, is a strategy that is Veneziano D.O.C. Iago twists a noble Moor, loyal to the Venetian Republic, into such a frenzy that Otello kills his wife, Desdemona. Talk about mind games!

Marta Richeldi as Desdemona and Sebastiano Lo Monaco as Otello

Otello is a brilliant play; one of my favorites. I studied Shakespeare at the National Shakespeare Company in New York City, long, long ago, back when I was a struggling actress. For those of you not familiar with the play, I would suggest Googling it, and reading up on it. I just read Wikipedia. Again, I am no expert, but, as when I wrote the blog about Titian, I believe we are all entitled to our opinion. So, here goes.

Although Othello is noble, he is a Moor and he is black. It doesn't matter what kind of black; he is darker than anyone else. Desdemona is a white Venetian noblewoman. No one can possibly believe that these two would ever fall in love. The Venetian Senate is convinced that Othello used magic or witchcraft to make that happen. Speaking from personal experience, this kind of system still exists in Venice today:) In any event, the two of them manage to convince everyone that they are truly in love, and the marriage is approved. Off they go to Cyprus, where Othello is going to handle the Turks for the Venetian Republic.

Now, perhaps, Othello's loyalties should have been with the Turks, not the Venetians, but he has already proven his loyalty to the Republic time and time again. In Verdi's opera, he is an ex-Muslim mercenary who has converted to Christianity. (To this day in Venice, some people speak about the ancient battles with the Turks like it was yesterday.) In any event, Othello, no matter how loyal, is still an outsider. I can relate to him because no matter how much I may disapprove of my country's behavior, I am still an American, and an outsider.

In fact, I can relate both to Desdemona and Othello. I have always believed -- in fact, it is one of my mottos -- "Love is so powerful it always wins. Truth is so powerful it always wins. All it takes is Time." Here we have poor Desdemona who, although a little flirty, is absolutely loyal and loving to Othello, and she ends up dead by his hands. Othello, when he finds out the truth, kills himself. What kind of message is that?Sebastiano Lo Monaco as Otello and Marta Richeldi as Desdemona

Which brings us to Iago. Ah, Iago. Here is a very Venetian character. It is impossible to describe the web you can get tangled in when you encounter a Iago in Venice. These characters are not human. They mouth the words of compassion. They mouth the words of truth. But it is all false; they are hollow shells, robots, posing as human beings. They do not have the capacity for love or empathy. Because they do not, they cannot comprehend anyone acting out of love. All their actions are inspired by jealousy, or envy, or greed, or revenge. I have encountered more than one Iago since I have lived in Venice -- both male and female. (The females are the worst -- none of whom have been Venetian, but foreigners who have made Venice their home.) There are Iagos in America, too -- some even in my own family(!) -- but compared to Iagos in Venice, they are babies. Perhaps I am fortunate to have Iagos in my own family because I am a Professional Iago Spotter, which allows me to survive. Even so, to actually experience the black cloud that twists every innocent thought and loving action into a dark insect -- it's psychological warfare -- I totally sympathized with Othello as he grabbed his head, trying to rattle out a piece of sanity.

To watch Otello in Venice is sort of surreal (I know I am using that word a lot lately, but with all the changes going on around here, worlds are colliding). It is reality many times removed, yet it is reality itself. It is Shakespeare -- English -- yet set in Venice, then Cyprus, and the language the actors speak at the Goldoni is Italian. So, it is an English play written about Venice performed in Venice and translated from the English into Italian. The actors on stage are playing Venetians, but they are not Venetians -- yet they are performing in front of Venetians. And THEN to actually live in Venice while watching this play... there was a Venetian backdrop on the stage that I can walk downstairs and see in my present reality at this very moment... this, too, is something that can explode your mind -- especially because this play was written 400 years ago! Well, folks, I am here to tell you that not much has changed in Venice over the centuries. Maybe the Republic does not exist in this space and time, but sometimes you feel that the Republic is still meeting every day in the shadows of another dimension.

Anyway, what's it all about, Alfie? I am a big fan of Carl Jung. Here we have Otello, a black man, a shadow. Outside, he is black, but, inside, he is white. And we have Desdemona, the anima of Otello, who is a pure, white, noblewoman. A man projects onto a woman his inner female, so there is a Desdomona inside Otello.

Then we've got Iago. On Wikipedia, I just read that some scholars have interpreted this character as part of a frustrated homosexual love affair. Well, I think we all are bisexual in the sense that there is a female inside the male, and a male inside the female. Is Iago in love with Otello? Otello believes Iago -- who is a liar and an expert manipulator -- not his honest, loyal wife, Desdemona. Why? Doesn't Otello feel worthy of Desdemona's love? Personally, I think this is the case. Otello cannot believe that this beautiful noblewoman actually loves him. He thinks she has other motives. So, when Iago bombards him with evil thoughts, Otello does not listen to his heart. He listens to a lying, blackmailing manipulator. He gets worked up to such an extent about ABSOLUTELY NOTHING that he kills Desdemona! Based on ABSOLUTELY NOTHING except Iago's manipulation of the truth (and the other characters' silence), this noble Moor kills the only creature who ever loved him. And you think, how can you be that stupid? Because, in Otello, Shakespeare allows the audience to be privy to Iago's character, but not Otello! Otello, and all the other characters, think Iago is the good guy! Much like life.
Sebastiano Lo Monaco as Otello and Massimiliano Vado as Iago

Should we get into why Desdomona falls in love with a big, powerful black nobleman? She tells her father that although she respects him, she is now the wife of the Moor. What about her animus? Maybe Daddy has not done such a good job of protecting Desdemona... maybe Daddy is not enough of a stallion. And where is Desdemona's mother? Hhhhmmmm?

If you think these things don't happen nowadays, let us remember O.J. and Nicole Simpson, an American hero that now is an American tragic figure. When I was growing up, O.J. could do no wrong. In fact, the ending of the O.J. story is closer to the original story upon which Shakespeare based Otello, a story that Cinzio wrote back in the 1500s, in which the Iago character and the Otello character trot off after he kills Desdemona.

Living on the level of a Shakespearian tragedy or comedy takes some juggling, but I think that's what life is about -- another reason why I live in Venice. I also studied theatre with Stella Adler, and she would yell, "Darling! What are you doing? If you don't have any energy, then get off the stage and die!"

In any event, I want to let you know that it is possible to see all these things when you come to Venice. You do not have to walk around aimlessly like sheep -- make a plan! La Fenice, the opera house, is ten minutes from Rialto by foot. The Goldoni Theatre is five minutes away. I can walk downstairs and see a Titian in the Church of San Giovanni Elemosinario. There is always something going on here -- always. It's all right here -- just scratch under the surface and all the Answers to Life are here. Don't wait for the tour books to tell you what to do. Search on the Internet. Make some intelligent choices and eat the feast that Venice still offers. If you do not, these things will disappear, and you will be left with only Las Vegas Venice. The Goldoni theatre is STILL REAL. Go over there and make an effort to watch some Italian theatre, even though it may feel strange to you; even if you do not understand the language. They perform enough plays that are also in English, you can read them first, and then go watch the show.

A big THANK YOU to the folks at the Teatro Goldoni for giving me a thought-provoking evening -- as a matter of fact, they are in the Acknowledgments of HARLEY'S NINTH. And I will give myself a plug -- if you read my book, which is written very simply, you can understand a bit more about theater itself, and how very, very important it is for human survival.

Ciao from Venice,
Cat
P.S. It is also nice to have the theatre from Sicily visit the theatre in Venice!

Sicilia Teatro
Sebastiano Lo Monaco
in
Otello
by William Shakespeare
translated by Masolino d'Amico
directed by Roberto Guicciardini
with Maria Rosaria Carli, Massimiliano Vado, Alkis Zanis, and with Marta Richeldi in the role of Desdemona
February 20-24, 2008
Please click on the headline to visit the website of the Teatro Stabile del Veneto

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Italian Knight - Wood Sculpture


Time for a little nepotism. This is my Uncle Bob's most recent wood sculpture, Italian Knight. It was inspired by his trip to Italy this past summer, and featured in Woodcarving Illustrated magazine. The wood is black walnut, and at least 30 years old, finished with linseed oil and wax.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Lawrence Carroll at the Correr Museum

The other day, I walked out on my balcony and was startled to see these words on a banner hanging from the top of the Rialto Bridge advertising the new art exhibit at the Correr Museum:

lawrence carroll

The reason I was startled is because I know Lawrence Carroll, and I couldn't get my mind wrapped around the fact that his show was finally happening. And how great it feels to see the name of someone you know fluttering in huge letters on the Rialto Bridge! It looks something like this:


The last time I had seen Lawrence was at my house at a party I had on New Year's Day, and he seemed remarkably calm for a man who was about to have such a major exhibit.

Then, on Thursday, Valentine's Day, I went to dinner at Masaniello over in Santo Stefano, and who should walk in but Lawrence Carroll, his wife, Lucy, and friends! I said, "Lawrence, I walked out on my balcony and saw your name." He grinned, and modestly said, "Sorry."

So, on Friday, I headed over to the opening at the Museo Correr. I was a little early, and was lucky enough to find Lawrence alone with his thoughts. I said, "Lawrence, you have done your job, and I could actually do my job and interview you." He agreed. I asked him how it felt, really, and he said, "Surreal. I feel like I am living in a dream." At age 53, Lawrence is the first living foreign artist to ever have an exhibit at the Correr. For those of you not familiar with the Correr Museum, here are some images to put things into perspective:

The large structure in the back of Piazza San Marco is the Correr. Where the banners are hanging is where Lawrence Carroll's name is now soaring over the square.
This is one section of the staircase you climb to enter the Correr. After Napoleon conquered Venice, he knocked down the Church of San Geminianoa and turned this building into a palace for kings and emperors.
I told Lawrence I would speak to him later because, of course, many people wanted to speak to him. We were having that conversation in this room:

I went up to look at the exhibit. Again, I was fortunate because the crowd was downstairs, and I was up there all alone. When I saw the artist information, I, too, suddenly felt like the whole thing was surreal. It seemed impossible that I actually live in Venice on the Grand Canal and that I can walk out on my balcony and see the name of someone I know fluttering from the Rialto Bridge. It is an incredibly humbling feeling.

Also, the journey that Lawrence made to arrive at this point is very similar to my own journey, and we are both about the same age. He was born in Australia in 1954. His family moved to Los Angeles in 1958, where he grew up. He graduated from the Art Center of Design in 1980. He moved to New Jersey in 1984, and commuted to New York City. He was so poor that he made his own frames and stretched his own canvas, or even painted on canvas that had already been used, which is how his art evolved into what it is today. He had his first important public show in 1988.

As for me, I was born in South Carolina, but grew up in New Jersey. I used to cut class and take the bus to New York City. Then I moved to Los Angeles before arriving here in Venice. So, for all you young struggling artists out there, the New Jersey-->New York City-->Los Angeles-->Venice is one route to take:) I know some people who have tried to take shortcuts, but Venice is a very tough city. She demands your soul, and a lot of people are not willing to pay that price. (After the exhibit I went over to the Mondadori book shop -- which is right next door to the Correr -- to look at my novels, just to make sure that my life was real.)

I also realized that we actually do have an artist community here in Venice, which is contemporary, vital and alive. So much for Venice being a dead city!

After the introduction by Giandomenico Romanelli, who is the Director of the civic museums in Venice, Lawrence spoke in that very room you see above. He said he was a dreamer, and had always been a dreamer, and felt deeply humbled.

Later on in the evening, I asked some Venetian waiters at the tourist restaurants below my house along the Riva del Vin (who are sort of like my family - if you want to eat along the Riva I support the one directly beneath me at 733, which has the peculiar name of "Florida") what they thought about these foreigners in their city. I asked, "Do you feel like you are being invaded with me up there on the balcony and Lawrence Carroll dangling from the Rialto Bridge?" They said, "No, not at all. We like you. You are like our aunt." (Sometimes I play music for them. I put my speakers outside on the balcony and blast opera and Vivaldi all over the Grand Canal at Rialto. They say it makes their work more pleasurable.)

While I was over at the Correr, I noticed that there are new information plaques up in Piazza San Marco describing the structures and giving a bit of history. That was another jolt -- it really makes it feel like you are living inside a museum. It is very surreal... to live 500-1000 years in the past, yet also in the present. I paused and thought: Are those information plaques a good thing? I decided, yes. Because, hopefully, when people come here now they will realize they are visiting what was once a very powerful Republic.

The Republic may only be a vibrant memory, but Venice still stands firm enough to hold a contemporary art exhibit with her ancient walls.

Ciao from Venice,
Cat

From Studio La Città: Though born in Australia and living and working in California, Carroll's work is anything but redolent of desert landscapes. [Note from Cat: Lawrence has been spending about eight months out of the year in Venice since 2004] Even his large-scale works - and some of them are very large indeed - reflect the artist's humanity and never seem intimidating. Part of this is due to his working process and his attitude to materials. His works are always based on materials already employed for some other purpose and the signs of this use are still visible: they show their own history. And yet his slow, manual working process transforms them into highly personal works, even while losing nothing of this previous life. His paint, subdued yet warm, respects the original colouring and points up the form while being immediately recognisable as that of Carroll. The new wax skin allows the earlier vicissitudes of the wood and canvas to show through, but the handling is always definitely human and controlled.
Carroll's work is anything but redolent of desert landscapes. Even his large-scale works - and some of them are very large indeed - reflect the artist's humanity and never seem intimidating. Part of this is due to his working process and his attitude to materials. His works are always based on materials already employed for some other purpose and the signs of this use are still visible: they show their own history. And yet his slow, manual working process transforms them into highly personal works, even while losing nothing of this previous life. His paint, subdued yet warm, respects the original colouring and points up the form while being immediately recognisable as that of Carroll. The new wax skin allows the earlier vicissitudes of the wood and canvas to show through, but the handling is always definitely human and controlled.


Friday, February 8, 2008

Brunch at the Molino Stucky Hilton

I was invited to the inaugural brunch at the new Molino Stucky Hilton out on the island of Giudecca here in Venice, Italy on Sunday, January 27, and it was fantastic -- great food, great wine and a lovely ambiance. I was a little wary of the Hilton -- did we really need an "American" hotel chain here in Venice? But after meeting the incredibly helpful and charming staff, I was pleasantly surprised to discover Venetians mixed in with other locals who have been professionals in five-star hotels around town. Really! I'm not just saying that because they gave me brunch!

Every Sunday they are going to put out this wonderful spread for 70 euro, which is an elegant, all-you-can-eat buffet. Fresh-squeezed orange juice. Assorted pastries and little sandwiches and breads. Cold cuts, like prosciutto di San Daniele (the best!) and Norwegian salmon. Marmalades and jams. Cold cereal and scrambled eggs and bacon (it is not easy to get eggs and bacon in Venice:)

Does that sound too typically Anglo-Saxon? Well, if you haven't had that kind of food for a while, it is a treat, and I know plenty of Americans who cannot survive without their American breakfast. On to the next:

Salads with different kinds of lettuce, carrots, olives, and vegetables of the season, Waldorf salad! (of course) chicken salad, fish salad, shrimp salad.

Then there is a hot buffet with pastas, wonderful, fresh pasta like tortellini and ravioli.

They prepared a steak in front of me, cooked to perfection, one of the absolute best filettos, I've ever had. Roast potatoes and vegetables. And more!

And then, coffee, of course, and lots of sweet cakes and little tarts, with a pianist playing in the background.

When I first arrived in Venice, the Molino Stucky (the Stucky Mill) was an enormous, empty building, and its future was always changing. Back in those days (1998) I actually lived for a short time on Giudecca, and it was an entirely different island than it is today.

Here is a bit of history:

It used to be the Stucky Mill, producing 700,000 tons of flour per year, and employing 225 workers. The mill was built on the foundation of an ancient convent for secluded nuns from high-ranking Venetian families (that is an old Venetian system -- if you have too many daughters, you stick them in the convent:). The convent was founded in 1222-26 by Giuliana di Collato, a noblewoman.

When the Austrians were in charge of Venice, things out on Giudecca starting declining (much like it was when I arrived). A Venetian of Swiss-aristocratic origins by the name of Giovanni Stucky decided to save Giudecca and transform it into an industrial hub. (Every so often someone comes along and shoots some energy into Venice.) In 1895, the Molino Stucky was turned into the medieval castle-like structure we see today, designed by Ernst Wullekopf, who Giovanni Stucky apparently met at the court of Ernst August, the Prince of Hannover.



In any event, back when I was married to the television director, we would have stayed at this Hilton because we needed the things the Hilton has to offer just to survive the intense work -- the spa, the gym, the plasma TV -- everything the Hilton is famous for. I know it is hard to believe, but lots of people PREFER to stay in the Hilton rather than in some quaint, charming old hotel in Venice because they like their modern conveniences. I will tell you honestly, it is very nice to have the option to wander into the present day every so often, instead of living constantly 500-1,000 years behind the rest of the world:) Also, this Hilton incorporated much of the pre-existing mill structure into the hotel, and I am quite sure that was not easy to do. It has lots of original touches sprinkled throughout, and displays the products of local craftsman and local artists. This Hilton is very supportive of the Venetian community, and that is another reason why I am supporting them. Really! Not all the hotels in Venice are this friendly and charming -- they really are not.

During Carnevale, I stopped in to see Gianni de Luigi's theatrical group perform (it was something wonderful to see -- candlelight and magic), and I had time to go up to the rooftop bar, the Skyline Bar. I asked for a spritz, but the barman, Marino Lucchetti, was whipping up one of his own creations, which he calls "The Laguna," which is kiwi, lemon juice, Midori and prosecco and costs 12 euro. I had one, and it was delicious.

So, Venice has transformed once again -- now there is a hotel inside what was once a flour mill, inside what was once a convent. The Molino Stucky Hilton looks beautiful all lit up at night, and it is nice to see some life at that end of the island. It gets the Venetian Cat Stamp of Approval!

Ciao from Venice
Cat
P.S. If you click the headline there at the top, you will arrive at the Molino Stucky's website, and you can wander around there by yourself.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Church of San Francesco della Vigna

by Cat Bauer

(excerpt of article published by International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement Italy Daily, July 26, 2002)

Editor's note: Save Venice, Inc., an American non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of the city's monuments, contributed to this article.

The winged lion of Venice is often depicted with an open book inscribed with the words Pax tibi Marce Evangelista meus (Peace be with you, Mark, my Evangelist), an indication that the Republic was at peace, while a closed book signified war. According to tradition, an angel spoke those words to St. Mark himself when he landed at the lagoon city on a voyage from Aquilea, and foretold that Venice would be the saint's final resting place.

The site where a church once commemorated the event is now the area of San Francesco della Vigna, named after a monastery in the large sestiere of Castello. The district encompasses the entire eastern end of Venice, stretching from just behind Piazza San Marco all the way to the tip of Sant' Elena.

To explore the northern edge of Castello, begin at the Celestia vaporetto stop and pass through the stone arch, the last remnant of the gardens of the noble Sagredo family, whose crest is still visible. The Sagredo palace remains next to the arch, but the gardens were eliminated to build the modern apartment buildings in the area. Follow Calle del Cimitero as it winds to the right until reaching Campo della Confraternita.

The massive Church of San Francesco della Vigna is dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi and called "della Vigna" after the vineyards left to the friars by Marco Ziani, son of well-respected Doge Pietro, in 1253. Jacopo Sansovino replaced the previous Gothic church with the current structure starting in 1534; Andrea Palladio designed the majestic facade in 1568-1572.

Over the side entrance are two 16th-century reliefs, the "Virgin" and "Announcing Angel." Upon entering the right transept, Antonio da Negroponte's "Madonna and Child Enthroned" (1460s) is a remarkable example of the International Gothic style with garlands, flowers and animals surrounding the Virgin's throne. The carved and gilded wooden High Altar (1560s) was modified in the 17th century and is flanked by sculptures of Saints Francis and Anthony.

Madonna and Child Enthroned - Photo by Mark Smith

The interior of the church is a treasure chest of important works, with chapels built by some of the most important members of Venetian nobility,, such as the Bragadin, Contarini, Dandolo, Sagredo and Grimani families; the Funeral monument of Doge Andrea Gritti (1538) is just to the left of the main altar.

The Badoer Giustinian Chapel, towards the sacristy, is considered one of the most impressive ensembles of early-Venetian Renaissance sculpture in Venice; the quality and the quantity of the marble reliefs are unsurpassed. The chapel's importance also rests on its curious status as a recycled monument on which major artists of two generations worked. The present chapel is the creation of Jacopo Sansovino in the 1530s. He cleverly reassembled carvings created at the end of the 15th century by members of the Lombardo family and their circle.

The altarpiece, finished by the workshop of Pietro Lombardo by 1500, shows members of the namesake saints of the Badoer family. The reliefs of the "Four Evangelists," "Prophets," and "Scenes in the Life of Christ" decorating the side walls of the chapel were once part of a horizontal choir screen in marble commissioned by the Badoer family for the previous Gothic church of San Francesco.

The Badoer Giustinian Chapel - photo by Ralph E. Lieberman

The choir screen was removed when the church was remodelled into its present form in 1534, and Sansovino reassembled and integrated the decorative elements of the screen to adorn the walls of the new Badoer Giustinian family chapel. Sansovino and his school carved some additional decoration to make the recycled carvings better fit the chapel; examples are the angel faces added to lengthen the marble slabs of the "Prophets." Particularly beautiful is the "Evangelist Saint John," with his eagle symbol (second from the window on the left wall), thought to be the work of Giambattista Bregno. The reliefs of the "Scenes from the Life of Christ" are strangely out of chronological order, but do match up iconographically with their respective Prophet below, i.e., the prophet Isaiah who predicted the Annunciation to the Virgin is located beneath a representation of this scene.

Near the Badoer Chapel in the left corner of the presbytery is the "Madonna of Humility," a rare early 13th-century panel painting of astounding quality by an unknown non-Venetian artist.

The splendid 15th-century cloisters can be reached through a nearby corridor, as can the sacristy, where a panel by Giovanni Bellini, "Virgin and Child, Saints and Donor" (1507) is found over the altar.

Back inside the church, another highlight is Paolo Veronese's "Madonna and Child with Catherine and St. Anthony Abbot" (1551), located in the chapel of the Giustiniani family, fourth on the left. In the foreground is a pig, bred by Antonine monks in the Middle Ages and often used as a symbol of the saint.