Friday, April 9, 2021

Ismael Ivo - Beloved Director of Venice La Biennale Dance - Rest with the Angels

Ismael Ivo (1955-2021) Photo courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia

(Venice, Italy) Venice attracts many exceptional human beings. La Biennale di Venezia, that stalwart cultural organization, is a magnet that yanks the best of them together in the same space and time.
Ismael Ivo, the dancer and choreographer, was one of the most extraordinary denizens that ever touched down in Venice. As Director of La Biennale Dance from 2005 until 2012, he revolutionized the dance sector.

I was stunned to learn of Ismael's death from COVID on April 8 at age 66 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, his home town -- he seemed too powerful and vibrant to die in a mass pandemic. When the press release arrived today from La Biennale, I first thought they were announcing that they were giving Ismael an award. I never imaged that he was dead.
Ismael was beautiful, inside and out. He was physically striking and graceful -- when he entered a room, he captured all eyes. His spirit was dynamic and dazzling. In Venice, Ismael Ivo was beloved.
I first saw him as a dancer on the stage, and was mesmerized by his motion. When I actually met him in 2009, we ended up hugging each other, proclaiming, "Yes we can!"

Ismael Ivo

"We can imagine the body as a unique orchestra that must play every part, exactly like the different musical instruments correspond to the full range of motion.
But when the body-orchestra begins to tune its instrument to prepare for a symphony -- here is where experience is needed to prepare for a task so high. This is the moment when the dancer needs to know how to find the space and have the power to dispose of it, experimenting and honing skills that have already been acquired."
Ismael Ivo with Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale

After the world premier of Oxygen on May 26, 2010, a masterpiece of dance that Ismael had conceived and choreographed for La Biennale's 7th International Contemporary Dance Festival, I was so moved by its message that I told him how happy I was to be on Planet Earth at the same place and time with him.

Ismael Ivo in Venice - Photo courtesy of La Biennale

Twenty-three years ago, on April 8, 1998, I left Los Angeles on a tourist visa to come to Venice to write for three months. I missed a connecting flight in Paris, and arrived on April 9th. Since then, it has been my base. That Ismael died on this significant anniversary seems strangely poignant. 
Ismael Ivo impacted my life with his vision and his art -- and also on a personal level. I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to share some precious moments with him. Rest with the angels, sweet Ismael.
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A Visit to Villa Hériot with Designer Roger Thomas - Discovering the International University of Art Restoration in Venice

Art restoration students outside the entrance to Villa Hériot - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) There is a lovely neo-Byzantine villa on the island of Giudecca surrounded by a sprawling garden with a sweeping view of the Venice lagoon. Constructed by the French philanthropist Cyprienne Hériot in the 1920s, Villa Hériot is now the headquarters of the International Institute of Art, which offers a three-year professional training course in Cultural Heritage Restoration. 
The Università Internazionale dell’Arte (UIA) was founded in the early 1970s in response to the devastating floods that swept Venice and Florence in 1966 and the urgent need to save the cultural heritage of the cities. Recently I toured the institute, together with the eminent designer Roger Thomas and his husband, Arthur Libera. It was one of those Venetian visits where the magnetic forces of the universe seemed to converge to unite like-minded travelers through space and time.

Portrait of Madame Olympe Hériot, née Cyprienne Dubernet
by Théobald Chartan, 1891

Cyprienne Hériot - 19th-20th Century Patron of the Arts & Philanthropist
How Villa Hériot came to be constructed is a fascinating story in itself. Cyprienne Hériot was born Anne-Marie Dubernet on October 2, 1857 into a modest family in Lot-et-Garonne, France. Her father spun wool. As a young woman she went to Paris to earn a living and found work selling corsets at the Grands Magasins du Louvre, the magnificient new department store on Rue de Rivoli in Place du Palais-Royal that had supplanted the Grand Hôtel du Louvre.

In 1855, Paris had undergone a total transformation. The dark streets surrounding the Louvre were replaced with wide avenues in preparation for the Universal Exhibitions of 1855 and 1867 and the expected swarm of international visitors. Part of the preparation was the construction of the Grand Hôtel du Louvre, which would become the largest hotel in Europe at the time of its opening with 700 rooms and a staff of 1,250. The Pereire brothers and their Crédit Mobilier banking company financed the construction.
The ground floor was rented to a shopping arcade called Les Galeries du Louvre, which was founded by August Hériot and two other investors with the backing of the Pereire brothers. When the Pereire brothers' financial empire collapsed, Hériot and one of his partners bought the entire structure in 1875. The renters became the owners of the palatial building. 

Grands Magasins du Louvre, 1877
August Hériot was a fabulously wealthy man when he died in 1879, leaving his shares to his brother Zacharie Olympe, who was a military commander. At age 46, Olympe Hériot interrupted his military career to manage the Grands Magasins du Louvre department store -- where the 22-year-old Anne-Marie Dubernet worked selling corsets.
A cozier version of the hotel was relocated to the opposite side of Place du Palais-Royal and by 1887, the original building had been gradually transformed into a dazzling department store called the Grands Magasins du Louvre
On August 24, 1887, Anne-Marie Dubernet married Commander Olympe Hériot after having two sons born out of wedlock (August II and Olympe II) and began her extraordinary transformation into Cyprienne Hériot.

Inspiration for Au Bonheur de Dames?

Some say that Anne-Marie and her story from rags-to-riches inspired the character of Denise Baudu in Emile Zola's Au Bonheur de Dames set in the world of department stores, but I think perhaps it was the other way around -- the novel was published in 1882-1883, and Anne-Marie did not marry Olympe Hériot until 1887. In addition to August II and Olympe II, the couple would go on to have two daughters, Virginie and then Jean, who died in infancy.

Olympe and Cyprienne were generous patrons of the arts, and the owners of several magnificent properties. At his own expense and on his own land in Southern France, Commander Hériot had constructed a school for young military orphans aged five to nine. What would become the Ecole Militaire Enfantine Hériot opened in February 1887. Over the next 80 years, more than 4500 children would study there. When Olympe died in 1899, Cyprienne remained deeply involved with the school, erecting a monument to her husband, expanding the grounds and opening her chateau in Côte d'Armor to the children for holidays.
Cyprienne spent a lot of her inheritance on charity, but also indulged in an assortment of spectacular homes and a sailing yacht named Katoomba. The yacht would have a great impact on the lives of her children, especially her daughter, Virginie, who would become an esteemed yachtswoman, winning the 1928 Summer Olympics in the 8 Metre Aile V. Cyprienne's passion for creating villas, restoring properties and educating schoolchildren will lead us to Villa Hériot in Venice on the island of Giudecca.

Roger Thomas - 20th-21st Century Designer & Patron of the Arts
The American designer Roger Thomas's philosophy is “to create drama, humor, surprise, mystery, and intrigue, all with ultimate comfort and elegance." Similar to how the Grand Hôtel du Louvre revolutionized Paris a century before, Thomas, together with real estate magnate Steve Wynn utterly transformed the Las Vegas Strip when they created the Mirage Hotel & Casino, the mega-resort that flipped the casino experience on its head when it opened in 1989. With a degree from Boston's School of the Museum of Fine Arts and a fascination for the design principles of the ancient world, Thomas brought luxury and exquisite taste to an environment previously known for funky gambling. At the time of its opening, the Mirage was the largest hotel in the world, with 3,044 rooms.
Their next big project, the Bellagio, rocketed opulence into the stratosphere. Thomas broke all the rules of casino design with his lofty ceilings decorated with glass chandeliers and skylights that let the sunshine in. He mixed antiques with contemporary pieces, sprinkling European décor amongst the slot machines, echoing the elegance of Venetian gaming rooms centuries before. Wynn and Thomas went on to create more uber-resorts like the Wynn Las Vegas and the Macau in China. Steve Wynn, who is considered to be the father of today's Las Vegas, credits Thomas’s taste level and creativity to "sixty per cent of the success we’ve had.”
Photo: Birth of a Megaresort - Las Vegas Magazine

According to the New Yorker article Royal Flush - How Roger Thomas Redesigned Vegas by Jonah Lehrer, Roger Thomas is Las Vegas royalty: "His father, E. Parry Thomas, is often referred to as the 'quiet kingmaker' of the city, and is widely credited with saving Vegas from the grip of organized crime. Nevada developers had always relied on the Mafia for financing because legitimate banks refused to give casinos construction loans. But, in the nineteen-fifties, Thomas, as the young C.E.O. of the Bank of Las Vegas, saw the lack of credit as a business opportunity and began giving casinos access to clean capital. In the late sixties, he became a lead adviser to Howard Hughes, who had started buying up casinos." 
The Roger Thomas Collection

Nowadays, Roger Thomas stays keenly in the game, exuding the same intense creativity and intelligence on a more personal and serene level with The Roger Thomas Collection. He and his husband, Arthur Libera, are welcome new denizens of Venice. They were putting the finishing touches on Ca' del Duca, their piano nobile on the Grand Canal, when I met them for a socially-distanced drink. Their new home is warm and welcoming, and brimming with refinement.
Joining us was art restorer, Claudia Vittori, who had dropped by to examine a recently-acquired painting of Saint Sebastian, Thomas's favorite saint. I asked her if she was associated with UIA, the University of Art Restoration at Villa Hériot, and she said it just so happened that she would be there the next day since the third-year students had final exams and she was one of the professors. I had been meaning to visit the school for a long time, and Thomas said he would like to go, too. He is passionate about preserving Venice's treasures for future generations, and recently joined the board of Venetian Heritage, an international non-profit whose restoration projects safeguard the cultural history of the Venetian Republic.
Villa Hériot interior - Photo: Cat Bauer

Raffaele Mainella - 19th-20th Century Designer, Artist & Architect
The artist and architect Raffaele Mainella (1856-1941) trained at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Venice. He met his patron, the Swiss-German orientalist Baron von Gonzenbach, at the Carlo Naya photography studio in Piazza San Marco, a hub for international travelers. Von Gonzenbach swept Mainella up and took him on his travels to the East along the Nile, to Arab villages and to the Holy Land, an experience that greatly influenced his work. 
Back in Venice, Mainella's exotic watercolors of his journeys were shown in 1897 at the second Venice International Art Festival, which brought him to the attention of elite patrons of the art world. He became well-known in Paris, where he was commissioned to design and decorate villas, palaces and gardens. In the early 1900s, Mainella was commissioned by Cyprienne Hériot -- who had remarried and become Douine-Hériot -- to design her Villa Cypris on the French Riviera. 
In 1911, Cyprienne hired Mainella -- who, by then, had returned to Venice to design the neo-Gothic Palazzetto Stern on the Grand Canal for another grand dame, the author Ernesta de Hierschel Stern -- to transform the ancient Abbey of San Gregorio on the Grand Canal and its Gothic cloister into a residence.  
Villa Hériot is born
In 1926, Cyprienne was again a widow -- her second husband, Roger Douine had died the year before. She was pushing 70 when she bought land on the island of Giudecca for Mainella to transform into the picturesque Villa Hériot, with a main house for the family, another house for guests, a servants' quarters, a spacious garden, and a covered dock for the boat. Construction was completed in 1929, and the neo-Byzantine villa joined other newly-constructed properties on the island of Giudecca for international society to enjoy.

The outbreak of World War II put an end to the festivities and the Hériots returned to France. During the war, the Villa Hériot complex was requisitioned by the Germans and then by the Allies. 
Cyprienne Hériot died in Paris on December 5, 1945 at the age of 88. Her son, Auguste II, either donated or sold the property to the Venice municipality in 1947 with the stipulation that it become a school in keeping with Hériot family tradition of supporting education for the young. The main house became the Carlo Goldoni elementary school and the guest house was used for children with tuberculosis.

Then, in the early 1970s, the main house of Villa Hériot became the headquarters for the International University of Art Restoration in Venice. The guest house is now the home of IVESER, Istituto veneziano per la storia della Resistenza e della società contemporanea. Luca Ferrari, a Venetian journalist and former restoration student of the university, graciously made arrangements for me, Roger Thomas and his husband Arthur Libera to take a tour of UIA at Villa Hériot.

Wood lab at Villa Hériot, the University of Art Restoration in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

The International University of Art Restoration (UIA) in Venice
The courses at the university are structured into three stages, each lasting a year: wood, stone and decorated architectural surfaces like frescoes. In their final year, UIA students work with professional restorers in some of the most prestigious churches, museums and organizations in Venice, such as the Giorgio Cini Foundation and the Church of San Nicolò da Tolentino. 
The students learn theoretical approaches to restoration techniques and take part in practical workshops. It is a rigorous course from Monday to Friday that requires 630 hours of classroom-laboratory sessions and 270 hours of construction site training for each year of the course -- and it is entirely free, funded through the Veneto Region. 

Roger Thomas & instructor Matteo Marton - Photo: Cat Bauer

We were fortunate to visit UIA at a time during the pandemic when the regulations were less restrictive, and able to witness both the first-year wood restoration students and the second-year stone restoration students in action. 

Roger Thomas seemed to be in his element; I was impressed by his knowledge of the restoration process. He had an in-depth discussion with instructor Matteo Marton about the nature of wood even though neither was proficient in the other's language -- they seemed to be communicating with their hearts. When Marton realized that Thomas knew his timber, he dashed out of the room and came back triumphant, holding a black lump that looked completely unimpressive to my uneducated eyes but sent them both into a state of excitement. It turned out to be a piece of bog wood that Marton had found in the waters around Marcon, just outside Venice. He'd had it carbon-dated and it was about 1600 years old. 
Roger Thomas & Michele Gottardi - Photo: Cat Bauer

Michele Gottardi, the Director of UIA, was kind enough to take the time to escort us to the stone restoration class in progress on the ground floor, as well as the wood-paneled sitting room. A professor of philosophy and scholar of Italian cinema and history, he was previously the President of Ateneo Veneto, a stalwart Venetian institution of science, literature and arts.
There are plenty of art works and much cultural heritage that needs to be restored in Venice and the Veneto, in Italy and Europe, and throughout the rest of the world, so I imagined that most students would find work after graduation, especially after the November 2019 floods that devastated Venice. I asked Professor Gottardi what the statistics were, and he said that about 40% to 60% would find employment. Roger Thomas supposed that it was the restoration projects themselves that needed better funding.

Stone laboratory at Villa Hériot, the University of Art Restoration in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

As we walked out the front door of Villa Hériot, the lagoon shimmering in the sunlight, I thought of all the elements that had come together throughout history to create a university for art restoration on the shores of the island of Giudecca. Anne-Marie Dubernet, the young woman who had begun her adult life selling corsets and then transformed herself into Madam Cyprienne Hériot, patron of the arts, would be pleased that the tranquil environment she had created is now the home of Venice's International University of Art Restoration.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Returning to The Great Game in Venice - What are the Rules?

Line to enter Cartier-Bresson exhibit in the lobby of Palazzo Grassi - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) What is life like inside Venice, Italy these days? It depends on which section of town you go to, and at what time of day. It depends on whether you talk to someone who owns an eatery, or rows a sandola, or works in a hotel, or someone whose livelihood does not depend on the tourist industry. It depends on what your interests are. Some people think Venice has never been more beautiful, while others are concerned that some gems might be gone forever.
Outside the line is even longer - Palazzo Grassi 2/19/2021 - Photo: Cat Bauer
The pandemic regulations in Italy change constantly, so it is difficult to remember what rules we are under on what particular day at what particular time. Right now, Venice and the Veneto Region are in the yellow zone. We can travel freely within our own region, including between towns, but we can't leave the region except for work, health, emergencies or other essential reasons. Bars and restaurants can serve customers only until 6pm, so we have had to move our spritz hour up to earlier in the afternoon -- however, just a short while ago we could not even sit outside and have a drink, so this is a step towards normal life. We have a curfew from 10pm to 5am, so we must scuttle home like Cinderella before the clock strikes ten, not midnight. Theaters, cinemas, gyms and casinos are still closed, and the ski season has been postponed until March 5. Masks are mandatory both indoors and outside.
Schools are open for most students, so joyful jolts of youthful energy echo throughout the calli and campi when the kids burst free from their classrooms. Since the hordes of tourists are no longer blocking the local view, it is easy to see the colorful hues of the students, and hear the vibrant voices of the students -- from the tiny grade school foals to the university fillies and colts. I love to hear the students play and discuss and argue and flirt, shocking the system back into action just by being children. The children have taken back the campi.

When it comes to who is allowed to arrive in Italy from abroad, there are complicated lists, rules and restrictions, but basically most of Europe can come if you test negative for COVID -- except for Austria, who can come but must quarantine for 14 days. Visitors from the United States and the United Kingdom cannot come at all except for essential reasons. 

Inside Henri Cariter Bresson - Photo: Cat Bauer
However, if you are interested in art and culture, you will be pleased to know that museums and galleries have been allowed to open during the weekdays -- not on weekends -- with visitors queuing to get in the door. Palazzo Grassi announced that they would open on Thursdays and Fridays from February 11 to 26, and that entrance would be free. Yesterday I went by to revisit the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition that I had initially seen with a handful of journalists before it opened last year on July 11, then closed along with all museums in Italy on November 5th. As you can see by the images, the joint was jumpin'.

The title of the Palazzo Grassi exhibition is Le Grand Jeu -- The Great Game -- and it is a good title for those who are longing to return to Venice. It is a Great Game to get here, with ever-changing rules, but for those who can accomplish the feat, the magic of Venice permeates the air... Venice is waiting for you...

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Friday, January 29, 2021

Rising from the Ashes - The 25th Anniversary of the Teatro La Fenice Fire in Venice

Teatro La Fenice New Year's Day 2021 - Photo: Ufficio Stampa

(Venice, Italy) Twenty-five years ago today, the world watched in horror and disbelief as Venice's beloved opera house, Teatro La Fenice, burned to the ground. But true to its name, La Fenice -- The Phoenix -- rose from its ashes. During the pandemic, La Fenice has delighted the planet once again with its innovative livestreams, enriching our spirits and uniting the community as we applaud with silent emojis while confined inside our homes due to the global pandemic.
Venice has long had a strong theatrical presence on the world stage. The first public opera ever performed was in Venice in 1636, allowing spectators to witness the startling new phenomenon previously known only in royal courts. When ticket holders experienced the sheer power of the sung narrative — the intense heights and depths of human emotion that only music could convey — it created a social revolution. Claudio Monteverdi, the father of opera himself, adopted Venice as his home.
By 1773, Venice had seven theaters which produced plays and music. The grandest was San Benedetto, which was located where the Rossini Multiplex is today, and whose current facade was designed by the celebrated Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa. Inaugurated on December 26, 1755, it was built by the Grimani family on land owned by the Veniers, and later assigned to a consortium of aristocrats, the Nobile Società dei Palchettisti -- Noble Association of Boxholders. Teatro San Benedetto was destroyed by fire in 1773, and shortly rebuilt on the same site. The consortium and the Veniers haggled over who owned the new theater, and in 1787 a judicial ruling forced the Boxholders out. 
Undeterred, the Boxholders decided to immediately build a more sumptuous theater in a finer location, and call it ‘La Fenice’ after the legendary royal bird reborn from its own ashes. They bought land in a posh part of town, knocked down some private houses and held a competition for the design of the opera house, which was won by the architect Giannantonio Selva. Work began in 1791 and was completed just 18 months later, featuring a neo-classical facade and 174 boxes perfectly alike, gilded in gold. Teatro La Fenice was inaugurated on May 16, 1792 with I Giuochi di Agrigento by Giovanni Paisiello, and promptly became one of the leading opera houses in Europe. Then, just five years later, Napoleon came on the scene, and the entire Republic of Venice was no more.
Royal Box at La Fenice - Photo: Pietro Tessarin
But La Fenice was still standing, and Napoleon himself decided to pay it a visit. Since all Venetian nobility -- and their boxes -- were considered equal, Selvi had not designed an imperial loggia, which the emperor now required. Six central boxes were destroyed and a provisional loggia hastily constructed, with the definitive model unveiled the day after Christmas, December 26, 1808. Over the years, as Venice flipped between Napoleonic France and the Austrian Empire, then fought for its independence, then became part of the Kingdom of Italy, which itself morphed into a republic, the imperial loggia changed its form to accommodate the politics. Today it is called the “royal box” with the symbol of the Italian royal family on the side walls, and Venice’s lion of St. Mark front and center on the crown of the cornice. 

On December 13, 1836, while Venice was under the rule of the Austrian Empire, fire struck again. The theater was engulfed in flames caused by an Austrian heater, destroying everything but the facade, foyer and the Sale Appollinee. Again the Boxholders leapt into action, appointing the architect Giambattista Meduna and his engineer brother, Tomamaso, to resurrect The Phoenix. In less than a year, La Fenice was reborn.
During the next two centuries, composers such as Rossini, Stravinsky and Benjamin Britten dazzled spectators with world premieres. Verdi composed four of his operas for La Fenice, including La Traviata, which had its world premiere in Venice on March 6, 1853 and has since become a staple of every season. Divas like Joan Sutherland and Maria Callas -- who has an exhibition on the third floor -- thrilled audiences with their vocal gymnastics.
La Fenice fire, Jan. 29, 1996 - Photo: Ufficio Stampa

Then, on January 29, 1996, a stunned world watched as La Fenice burned again to the ground, this time a victim of arson. By then, the Boxholders had ceded their shares to the Comune di Venezia, making the opera house publicly-owned. The mayor declared it would be rebuilt “where it was, how it was.” This time, it took nearly eight years for The Phoenix to rise from its ashes, reconstructed on a posthumous design by the celebrated architect, Aldo Rossi. La Fenice finally reopened on December 14, 2003 with music by Beethoven, Stravinsky, Caldara and Wagner, conducted by Riccardo Mutti.
However, it would be nearly a year later until the theater was ready to stage an entire opera. La Fenice's inaugural opera after the 1996 fire was, fittingly, Verdi's La Traviata, which was performed on November 12, 2004 and directed by Robert Carsen with Lorin Maazel conducting the orchestra. 
Audience during intermission at Teatro La Fenice - Photo: Cat Bauer
Audience during intermission at Teatro La Fenice - Photo: Cat Bauer

Today, the theater looks much like it did in the 19th century, diligently restored, right down to the putti. Like the mythical bird it is named after, La Fenice has burned and risen from its ashes on more than one occasion, flying high above Earthly strife to delight humankind with music from the heavens. 
Go to La Fenice to watch their online performances. 
This article was originally published in a slightly different form in the Fall/Winter 2017-2018 edition of Luxos Magazine. 
Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Friday, January 15, 2021

Musica Venezia Presents Rossini’s “Moses in Egypt” for Holocaust Remembrance Day (Giorno della Memoria) 2021 at Ateneo Veneto in Venice

Moses and Aaron come before Pharaoh, from the Golden Haggadah, c. 1320, Northern Spain, probably Barcelona (British Library, MS. 27210, fol. 1o verso)

(Venice, Italy) Musica Venezia has been entertaining and educating Venice for decades with its distinct, top-quality events in some of the city's most impressive venues. Roberta Reeder, the Artistic Director of Associazione Culturale Musica Venezia and long-term resident of Venice, brings her rich background as a scholar and producer of culture events to focus attention on rarely performed works of great composers. From sacred music selections on Assumption Day in front of Titian's Assunta at the Frari, to outdoor sound and light projections on the facade of Palazzo Zenobio to celebrate Russian composer Alexander Scriabin, the events produced by Musica Venezia are exceptional, with spoken narration in both English and Italian. 

Venezia Musica always commemorates the Giorno della Memoria, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, with a special event. This year the performance will be arias from Gioachino Rossini's Moses in Egypt at the Ateneo Veneto, a distinguished cultural institution in Venice that just celebrated its 209th birthday. Due to the ongoing pandemic, this year there will not be a public performance -- the concert will be available on Ateneo Veneto's YouTube channel starting on Sunday, January 24 at 5PM. It is available on demand, so you can watch it whenever you like from that time on.
Roberta Reeder, Artistic Director of Associazione Culturale Musica Venezia
Here is a description of the event written by Roberta Reeder, the Artistic Director:

Associazione Culturale Musica Venezia





Arias from the opera by Gioachino Rossini 

Piano version – streaming

ATENEO VENETO – 24 January, 2021 at 5 p.m.

Contact:  Ateneo Veneto.  041 522 4459

Every year Musica Venezia presents a special event to commemorate the Holocaust.

This year they will perform “Moses in Egypt,” an opera by Rossini dedicated to a concrete event with a universal theme relevant at this time in history –  the liberation of the Jews from slavery in Egypt —  symbolizing the deliverance of oppressed peoples all over the world.  This performance is part of the events of the City of Venice to commemorate the Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust (Giorno della Memoria).

This performance is composed of beautiful arias from the original Italian version of the work with piano accompaniment.  It was written as a “sacred tragic action” (azione tragico-sacra) for Lent, the solemn period before Easter when it was not allowed to perform operas in Italy.  Later, when living in France, Rossini wrote Moise, Opera en quatre actes, a much longer grand opera version of this work in French.  The Italian libretto is by Andrea Leone Tottola and is based on an 18th century play by Francesco Ringhieri.  It premiered in March 1818 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, but it is usually performed in the 1820 third version.  It has recently been performed in Pesaro 2011 and Naples in 2018.  Balzac said this work reflects the genius of Italy and Stendahl praised it highly.

The opera is about Exodus, when Moses was chosen by God to lead the Jews, his people, out of slavery in Egypt. The work ends as they cross the Red Sea on the way to the Promised Land.  However, the librettist transformed the Biblical story to include a romantic theme — Osiride, the Pharaoh’s son, is in love with Elcìa, a young Jewish girl, which is why he convinces his father to rescind his promise of liberation of the Jews and keep them in Egypt. 

In the end, Osiride dies by the last plague, death of the first-born Egyptian sons.  The Pharaoh then again makes a false promise to free the Jews, but this time they escape when the Red Sea parts to let them through. As the waves close in behind them, the Pharaoh and his army drown in their chase after the Jews. At the end the Jewish chorus sing one of Italian opera’s most famous choral works, “The Prayer” (Dal tuo stellato soglio), praising God for their delivery. 

The opera will be performed by Nabila Dandara (Elcìa), soprano, Sara Cortolezzis (Almatea) soprano, Alessio Zenetti, (Osiride) tenor, and Stepan Polishchuk, (Pharaoh and Moses, bass), Alexandra Bochkareva, pianist.  Roberta Reeder (English) and Federica Zagatti (Italian) will be the narrators for a recitation based on the Biblical text.  

Due to the conditions of the Codiv virus in Italy, which precludes a live performance, the work will be available on the Ateneo Veneto YouTube channel starting on Sunday 24 January, 2021 at 5 p.m.

Ciao from Venezia

Cat Bauer

Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy New Year 2021 - The Ancient Majesty of Venice - The 14th Quaderno & Four Columns of the San Pietro Portal

The Four Black & White Aquitaine Marble Columns of the Portal of San Pietro - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) As you step inside the main entrance, or narthex, of the majestic Basilica of San Marco in Piazza San Marco, you are confronted by a sacred and powerful presence. To the left of the main portal is the portal of San Pietro; the portal of San Clemente is on the right. There are eight free standing columns with shafts of black and white Aquitaine marble that adorn the sides of the portals, two by two. The columns were probably brought to San Marco way back in the first decades of the thirteenth century. 
The Proconnesian marble capitals atop the columns date back to the 9th or 10th century, and are embellished with animal and vegetable motifs. Four pairs of eagles, tails crossed, are perched on globes. Snarling from the corners of the capitals are lion heads with wide-open jaws. The remarkable quality and symbolic meaning -- power and domination -- lead to the conclusion that the eight artifacts once belonged to a building in the imperial palace of Constantinople, and were transported to Venice after 1204 when Doge Enrico Dandolo and the Fourth Crusade sacked the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire and divided up the empire. The Venetian Doges adopted the lofty title of Lord of a Quarter and a Half-quarter of All of Romania. When you enter the Basilica of San Marco, you come face to face with remnants of Byzantium.
Capitals of the Columns of the Portal of San Pietro - Photo: Cat Bauer
The lowest point in Venice is at the entrance to Saint Mark's Basilica. When the November 12, 2019 flood pummeled Piazza San Marco, the entire floor of the Basilica was submerged under more than 70cm of corrosive salt water. The construction site where work was being carried out on the four columns of the Portal of San Pietro was immersed by the sea. Then, no sooner had Venice wobbled to her feet after a series of exceptionally high tides, Italy was the first Western country hit by the global pandemic, and the entire country shut down.
Nonetheless, the Procuratoria di San Marco, which takes care of the Basilica, has managed to issue its fourteenth Quaderno, published in Italian by Marsilio, which contains essays by prominent scholars detailing the efforts and research conducted to safeguard and restore the ancient marble columns. It was presented at a conference on December 18, 2020 by Francesco Moraglia, the Patriarch of Venice, and Carlo Alberto Tesserin, the Primo Procuratore of San Marco, who have written introductions. Both men are passionate about safeguarding the Basilica, and Venice itself. For those readers who are fascinated by the restoration work, and read Italian, you can get a copy from Marsilio.

Quaderni della Procuratoria

Thankfully, MOSE, the barrier that holds back the Adriatic Sea during times of extreme acqua alta finally seems to be functioning, but there is much more work that needs to be done to protect the Basilica and Piazza San Marco from high tides. Since the area is so low, this most precious section of Venice still floods when the tide does not reach the level necessary to activate MOSE. Immediate solutions must be found.

On December 1, 2020, Italy assumed the G20 Presidency with international meetings and conferences scheduled in various cities throughout the year. Venice will host a meeting of the G20 finance ministers and central banks from July 7 to July 11, which will feature MOSE and "demonstrate its strategic role in the international context."
This year Venice has a special birthday -- she will be 1,600-years-old on March 25, 2021, the Feast of the Annunciation. Venice has lived through plagues and floods many times before. Century after century, Venice still stands because of the courage and resilience of those who love her, keeping the most beautiful city in the world alive despite all odds.  

As we begin another New Year, I wish good health, joy, prosperity, courage and resilience to all.

Happy New Year from Venezia,
Cat Bauer