Monday, December 8, 2008

A Sea of Angels - Un Mare di Angeli

(Venice, Italy) The week before the high water was a time of enchantment here in Venice, and I am going to go back in time and highlight some of the adventures I had the pleasure to enjoy. There is a lot of talk in town these days about human development, and, to me, there is no better way to develop human beings than through art and culture. The theme of La Biennale's theatre section this year was Mediterraneo, and the Director, as mentioned before, was Maurizio Scaparro, the director of the film L'Ultimo Pulcinella, which will screen in Los Angeles in February.

That image you see is the amazing Greek soprano, Myrtò Papatanasiu, in Un Mare di Angeli, or A Sea of Angels, which premiered on November 29th at the Goldoni Theatre here in Venice. Myrtò performed Violetta in Verdi’s La Traviata produced last year by Franco Zeffirelli and directed by Gianluigi Gelmetti at the Teatro dell’Opera in Rome, "a performance that earned the applause of audiences and critics alike," according to the notes from La Biennale.

The Fondazione Alda Fendi–Esperimenti produced the show, and Alda Fendi, one of the renowned Fendi sisters, was here herself. (At a press conference she wore a necklace made out of aviator sunglass lenses -- it was clever, and really worked.)

Cameras flashed inside the lobby of the Goldoni as the hip, glam audience flowed in the door--the younger Venetian aristocrats in town put in a strong appearance. Marco Loredan was one, and with three Doges in his family, you can't get much more noble than that! Marco also has a reputation as being one of Venice's greatest dancers, a fact to which I can personally attest:) There had been some discussion about what to wear to the show, and the guys set the tone by deciding on jackets and ties. A British journalist remarked to me later at the Caffè Florian that he found it quaint -- had it been in London, everyone would have dressed in jeans. Well, no one does "quaint" better than Venetian nobility of any age -- amusing, clever and refined, with a lagoon twist.

There is something magical about the Mediterranean Sea... there are long shafts of sunlight that beam past the surface and down to the depths. It really is like a sea of angels! It is difficult for Americans, perhaps, to appreciate how the Mediterranean Sea links vastly different cultures. Names like Libya, Lebanon, Algeria, and Bosnia sound exotic, existing in another universe and time. Perhaps it's time to look at the map:) You can see that Sicily is just a skip away from Tunisia, and that Spain is almost kissing Morocco.

Maurizio Scaparro joked that someone asked him if the diving image for this year's Biennale was that of Barack Obama.

From La Biennale:

"It is the Mediterranean that slips from island to island, the thousand islands of Greece and the Italian, Spanish and North African islands. It flows softly, or stealthily, along daring, imaginative, hospitable coasts. For centuries it has bathed and surrounded temples, amphitheatres, arenas, villas. ... It saw the gods of Hellas, the diaspora of the apostles of Christ, the Roman triremi, the arrival of the Barbarians, the silent work of the hermits in the monasteries high above the wave.

"A Sea of Angels: the sound of their wings lingers above the water. It comes from Crete, visits Constantinople during the siege of the Turks, sounds the hammers of Lord Elgin, who perpetrated the massacre of the Parthenon, touches the cheeks of the Empress Theodora and dances with Irene, Melina, Zorba and the fishermen of Piraeus. ..."

The performance was on Thanksgiving night, and I imagined myself in an audience of present-day angels. I loved the show, which incorporated film, music and images of airplanes that transformed into angels and flew gently around the theater. A lot of Italians said they did not understand it, especially since much of it was in Greek. I have no particular history with the Greeks, and with all the languages floating around this city, I can't understand half of what I hear with my ears anyway -- I usually depend on the language of the heart. From my point of view it was uplifting and beautiful. Everyone did agree that Myrtò Papatanasiu's voice was stunning, and she was given a round of applause when she entered the Caffè Florian with her entourage later in the evening. The difference between Myrtò in and out of costume was striking -- she's so natural and engaging off stage, it's hard to believe she could transform effortlessly into an Uber Vocal Chord Woman. We nibbled on hors d’oeuvres and sipped wine until about midnight.

The next day, much of the same crowd braved the rain for brunch over at the Guggenheim. I couldn't stay as long as I would have liked because I was having Thanksgiving dinner that night, and needed to fix the stuffing and the turkey -- which the host (who is a great cook) ended up preparing without me. Lesson: never put food in the house of a cook or they will cook it without you! And this year Antica Drogheria Mascari actually had imported cranberry sauce! Yay!

That was only ten days ago, and today there is violence in Greece. Today, December 8th, is the birthday of my protagonist, Harley Columba. It is also the day John Lennon was killed; the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; the day Buddha was enlightened; the Festival of the Egyptian goddess, Neith; and the birthday of Amaterasu, the Japanese Goddess of the Sun. It is the day that the United States declared war on Japan. Extreme negative, extreme positive energy all on one day. It may surprise some of you to learn that unlike John Lennon, I don't believe in peace on Earth -- but I do believe in harmony.

As I've said repeatedly, I try to avoid religion and politics, which is difficult if one lives in a place where the Arab, Christian and Jewish cultures converge -- not to mention the zesty ingredients the various countries and languages add to the mix. Difficult, also, when these themes run through many cultural events and conferences. A few evenings before, on November 23, I attended a bittersweet performance entitled Salonicco 43. This is from the La Biennale website:

Thessaloniki, also called the ‘Jerusalem of the Balkans’ or the “mother of Israel, counted a population of 100,000 in 1939, 50,000 Jews, many of Italian origin and nationality, present in all the different social classes and perfectly integrated with the Greek population. Historian Albertos Nar remembers it as “the largest and most prosperous Sephardite Jewish community in Europe, and one of the most important in the world”. Of the 32 synagogues in the city, fourteen of which were built by people from Sicily, Calabria, Puglia, all that remains are faded old photographs…

During the terrible months of 1943, the Italian consul in Thessaloniki was Guelfo Zamboni, a Fascist functionary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs who, in the face of the inhumanity of the Holocaust, began a personal, heroic battle to try and save as many lives as possible by providing forged Italian identity cards that would allow their possessors to reach Athens and save their lives.

His tenaciousness, his courage, his perseverance saved more than 500 Jews from Nazi barbarity, men, women, children who became the protagonists of our cultural project, and who transformed our Zamboni into a new Italian Schindler. In 1992 he was given the title of “righteous among the nations”.

The project "has received the High Patronage of the President of the [Italian] Republic for the high ethical value and for the originality of the themes it addresses."

To read the entire summary, go here:

On Saturday, I read an article in the New York Times by Rabbi Menachem Froman that I liked: Because the Jews and Arabs are “so mixed up,” Rabbi Froman proposed the establishment of two countries without borders, or two states in one land. He envisages a shared Jerusalem where the Old City, containing the main sites sacred to Muslims, Christians and Jews, is ex-territoria, a Jerusalem that houses the headquarters for international institutions. To read the entire article, go here:

Sound impossible? Like John Lennon, I am a dreamer. Remember -- I live in Venice, where everything is possible.

Ciao from Venice,

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