Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Goldoni at the Malibran - Now THAT'S Carnival!

(Venice, Italy) Carlo Goldoni was one of Venice's most famous playwrights, and to see a contemporary version of his play, The Impresario from Smyrna, directed by Luca De Fusco at the Malibran Theatre, was a real delight. (The image you see is Eros Pagni and Alvia Reale.) In 1737, Goldoni himself was in charge of the Malibran Theatre (then known as the San Giovanni Grisostomo), where many of his works were performed.

From Wikipedia:

Designed by Thomas Bezzi for the Grimani family, the theatre was inaugurated during the 1678 carnival with Vespasiano by Carlo Pallavicino. It became the biggest, most luxurious and extravagant stage in Venice, known for its sumptuous productions and high quality singers such as Margherita Durastanti, prima donna between 1709 and 1712.

I attended the show with a real, live Venetian:), who was thrilled to watch the ancient words come to life in the ancient venue during Carnevale. The theater itself was packed with many locals; everyone seemed to be having a great time. It was a glorious Venetian oasis, safe from the rowdy crowds out on the streets.

There is a strange phenomenon in Venice this Carnival, and I am not the only one who has noticed it. It is as if there are many different currents flowing through the town, and if you wade into the right stream, it is possible to catch a whiff of genuine Carnevale.

You won't find it around my house, close to Rialto. Over here, there seems to be nothing but loud rock and roll, and masses of drunken youths wandering aimlessly through the calli. Not that I'm against drunken youths -- they are electric when properly confined in arenas:) -- but, to me, it's not what Carnival in Venice is about.

In any event, back to the good folks who brought us such an enjoyable evening. We do have some creative entities in town like La Biennale, The Goldoni Theater, and La Fenice. It was nearly impossible to bring these different organizations together to put on a show, but because of some inspirational leadership, it did happen. At the press conference, we were asked not to forget to mention the money folks at Fondazione Antonveneta, and I have absolutely no problem doing so. The talent was top-rate, and Maurizio Millenotti's costumes and Antonio Fiorentino's sets -- a vivid assortment of different "reds" -- were spectacular. There were even live musicians from La Fenice!

The Antonveneta Foundation is active in cultural, social welfare and scientific research and supports projects initiated by individuals who operate without a profit. http://www.antonveneta.it/media/fondazione-.aspx

I had a little difficulty with the opening because of the rapid Italian exposition and inside Venetian jokes. (My Venetian friend had no problems at all, and laughed throughout the whole show.) The story slowly started coming into focus, however, and soon I realized it included one of my favorite themes, which is: Sneaky Female Tricks and How Otherwise Intelligent Men Succumb to Them. I continue to be astounded by how many smart guys fall for Girly Machinations 101.

An impresario is someone who produces an event; Smyrna is an ancient town in Turkey, and the rivalry between the Turks and Venetians colors the play. I pondered if tourists visiting Venice at Carnival would have enjoyed the show, and have decided yes, because more than that, the show was about: who is the prima donna and are these chicks gonna rip each other's hair out -- a topic always good for a laugh.
Here is an accurate Wikipedia definition:
Originally used in opera companies, "prima donna" is Italian for "first lady". The term was used to designate the leading female singer in the opera company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given. The prima donna was normally, but not necessarily, a soprano. Legendarily, these "prima donnas" (prime donne in Italian) were often regarded as egotistical, unreasonable and irritable, with a rather high opinion of themselves not shared by others. Although whether they are truly more vain or more hot-tempered than other singers (or than any other people in the opera houses) is not substantiated, the term often describes a vain, obnoxious and temperamental person who, although irritating, cannot be done without.[2]
The brilliance of the play was that the prima donna appeared to be a sweet, innocent girl from a good family. While her competitors were more obvious about their machinations, the outstanding Gaia Aprea, who played Lucrezia, took another tact and pretended to be virginal before taking off her mask and ending up in bed with the Count, played by Max Malatesta. The other two competitors, Anita Bartolucci as Tognina and Alvia Reale as Annina, used Gossip, the All-Venetian Weapon, to destroy her. One of the best moments was when Eros Pagni, who played Alì, the Turk who was financing the whole production, said simply, "I'm confused..." It was a classic Venetian scheme, and required watching for any outsider thinking of doing business in town. Even though L'impresario delle Smirne was first produced in Venice in 1761, it still holds up today.
Ciao from Venice, Cat http://venetiancat.blogspot.com/
Teatro Malibran
Saturday February 21 at 8:30 p.m.and from February 22 to March 1
L’impresario delle Smirne [world premiere]
by Carlo Goldoni
directed by Luca De Fusco
original music Nino Rotaadapted by Luca De Fusco, Antonio Di Poficast Eros Pagni (Alì), Alberto Fasoli (Beltrame), Max Malatesta (Conte Lasca) , Paolo Serra (Carluccio), Gaia Aprea (Lucrezia), Enzo Turrin (Nibbio), Anita Bartolucci (Tognina), Piergiorgio Fasolo (Pasqualino), Giovanna Mangiù (Maccario), Alvia Reale (Annina), Matteo Mauri (a servant) clarinet Giorgio Lavorato, viola Marco Albano, piano Antonio Di Poficonductor Antonio Di Pofi
lighting design Emidio Benezzi
sets Antonio Fiorentino
costumes Maurizio Millenotti
production Teatro Stabile del Veneto, Teatro Stabile di Catania, Fondazione Antonveneta
with the support of La Biennale di Venezia
in collaboration with the Fondazione Teatro La Fenice

Friday, February 13, 2009

Gimme Some Good, Honest Gambling

(Venice, Italy) That image you see is Pietro Longhi's (November 5, 1701 - May 8, 1785) painting of Il Ridotto. The white mask that both the men and women are wearing is called a "bauta," and is a classic Venetian mask, and was worn not only during Carnival, but also to outings, such as the opera. The small black oval mask that only the women are wearing is called a "moretta." The moretta was kept in place by a button that the women bit with their teeth, so they could not speak. They had to use their eyes to communicate.

From Giacomo Casanova's A History of My Life:

She would, perhaps, have answered me if she could, but with a mask of this kind it is impossible to speak a word. Still, she said a great deal with a squeeze of her hand, which no one could see. ...

What was Il Ridotto?

From David G. Schwartz, Ph.D.
Center for Gaming Research
University of Nevada Las Vegas:

ridotto = ridurre, to reduce, close, or make private
Originally aristocratic gathering places for social games

"Today, casino gaming is a multi-billion dollar per year worldwide industry. Though gambling is as old as humanity, until the 15th century social gambling—games played among peers at equal odds—predominated. But around that time, paralleling the emergence of banks and modern finance, a new type of gambling emerged: mercantile gambling. Mercantile gamblers offered their customers games that featured a built-in discrepancy between true odds and payouts, or statistical imbalances that favored the house.

These mercantile games (known today as bank games) started with the lottery but soon grew to include card and dice games. The pioneers of mercantile gambling unleashed a two-fold revolution: they made possible the pursuit of gambling as an honest profession, and they set the stage for public interest gambling, in which a portion of gambling revenues are redirected towards the public good. In 1638, the Venetian Great Council took the revolutionary step of creating a legal, licensed “ridotto” in which the public could play mercantile games against the house. Though this “experiment” only lasted 136 years, it was the ancestor of today’s casino industry."

Dr. Schwartz has written extensively on the subject of gambling. To visit his website, click here:


Il Ridotto was not only about gambling. It was a place to socialize, talk (if you weren't wearing a moretta:) and basically... hang out. It was like a salon, only more public, yet still private. The masks added an air of not just anonymity, but it reduced (il ridotto means "the reduced") human beings right down to their core.

From the Ridotto website, a musical organization in New York founded by Dutch woman, Margaretha Maimone:

In the city of Venice, a wealthy upper class socialized not only in their homes, but also in theatres and the adjacent ridotti. The ridotto was a space behind the theatres, much like a foyer, where visitors of all layers of society mingled and engaged in discussion, gambling, or other spirited forms of entertainment. Most visitors wore masks. It was the famous black and white bauta which made recognition virtually impossible.

In the late 18th century all ridotti were closed by the Doge of Venice on the suspicion of conspiracy, only to be re-opened as state-run casinos. All profits now went to the impoverished Republic.

That image, which has nothing to do with Ridotto.org except for the Dutch association in my brain, is a painting by Pietro Guardi illustrating Clara the rhinoceros, brought to town by a Dutch sea captain named Douvemont van der Meer (1741).

Click to go to the site:


Here in Venice, in 2007, our own Casinò got into the act. From an article in the UK Telegraph, by Malcolm Moore, entitled Fireworks as Venice sells off its Carnival:

The plan to transfer Venice's pomp and pageantry into private hands was drawn up by the mayor, Massimo Cacciari, and the casino, which last year under-wrote much of the €1.4 million (£1m) cost of the carnival.
The city hopes that privatisation will improve the running of the events and draw lucrative corporate sponsorship. "The job of the company," said Mauro Pizzigati, the head of the casino, "will be to organise the events and find sponsors. Sponsors will have at their disposal rooms at the best hotels for their guests, tickets, exclusive tables and deals with the casino. We have already had contact from some big names."


These days, in the middle of the worst financial crisis in recent history, it is interesting to note that the new governor of Illinois, Roland Burris, who filled Barack Obama's seat, also has an interest in gambling. He was on the board of the National Center for Responsible Gaming.

From Wikipedia:

"The National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG) is an American nonprofit group, associated with Harvard University, that funds scientific research on gambling addiction.[1] It was founded in 1996.[2] The group is a wing of the American Gaming Association, the casino industry's main trade group.[1]

The NCRG founded the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders (IRPGRD) in 2000. While housed at an institution affiliated with Harvard, the IRPGRD remains dependent on casino funding, channeled through the NCRG. This arrangement has led some critics to question the independence of the IRPGRD's research.[3] IRPGRD executive director Christine Reilly told Salon.com that the institute's contract with the NCRG stipulates that the industry not interfere with its work."

Senator Burris has got his eye firmly on the tomb. He has already built his mausoleum:

"Burris has built a mausoleum for himself and his family in Oak Woods Cemetery on Chicago's South Side. His tombstone proclaims, "Trail Blazer," and includes a list of his accomplishments, with space left for future ones.[3][4]"

Just last week, Democratic Congressman Barney Frank, who is openly gay and also thinks we should be gambling a lot more than we do, is pushing forward with internet gambling legislation. From the February 4, 2009 Poker News Daily:

"In an interview with the Financial Times this week, it was revealed that Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA) will reintroduce legislation favorable to internet gambling “in the next few weeks.” During the previous Congress, Frank introduced HR 2046, the Internet Gambling Regulation and Enforcement Act, which established a full licensing and regulatory framework for the industry in the United States."

I don't know if it's just me, but something about the desperate situation we find ourselves in these days reminds me of Islamic suicide bombers promised virgins in heaven. Gambling online with a computer is just not the same as getting all dolled up in a bauta and matching wits with other human beings.

Venetian Cat has formulated its own Financial Crisis Recovery Plan. In addition to bailing out Banks and Other Industries, I propose that we give each and every one of us here on the planet about 500 bucks with the stipulation that WE MUST GAMBLE WITH THE MONEY. It would be a very interesting social experiment. Think of the possibilities! An impoverished family in Africa dying of AIDS strikes it rich and can afford treatment. A poor, brilliant teenager in Oklahoma who has given up all chances to go to university hits the jackpot. An Honest Man, Anytown, Anywhere, who has worked his Entire Life and paid All His Bills but Just Can't Keep Up and is About To Blow His Brains Out wins enough to keep his house. Then, perhaps, everyone will at least have the illusion that they are in The Game.
Now, where, oh where is my moretta?

Ciao from Venice,

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Pulcinella Goes to Hollywood & La Biennale Dances

(Venice, Italy) Igor Stravinsky, the composer, is buried here in Venice on the Island of San Michele. Close to his tomb is the grave of Sergei Diaghilev, founder of the Russian Ballet. Together they collaborated on the ballet, Pulcinella, which premiered in Paris on May 15, 1920, choreography and libretto by the dancer, Leonid Myasin; costumes and sets by the artist, Pablo Picasso. That ballet, Pulcinella, based on a stock character from the Commedia dell'arte, merged music, dance, theater, art and (in a way) architecture, in the form of set design.

Who is Pulcinella? Here is a quirky English translation from The Pulcinella Museum website:

To Pulcinella are attributed magical powers. In Naples are sold little Pulcinella-statues from painted terra cotta. They serve as bringers of good luck. In Christmas-time they are placed in the stable, between the shepherds and the Magi. At discussions about the nature of Pulcinella is often brought to the fore that he resembles Christ - because he is a scape-goat and redeemer - but that he has a diabolic side as well. Pulcinella is also compared with certain gods from the Hellenistic antiquity, especially with the Greek God Hermes, because Pulcinella is, like Hermes, a companion of souls, and because he is the union of oppositions: life and death, masculine and feminine, old and young, wisdom and foolishness, etc.. Pulcinella is even called ‘the modern prosecution of Hermes’.

Click to find out more about the Pulcinella Museum, which is located in the Baronial Castle that once belonged to the Earls of Acerra:


I thought about Pulcinella the other day when I was at the La Biennale press conference inside the beautifully restored palazzo, Ca’ Giustinian, La Biennale's historic home. For those of you who don't know, La Biennale is an internationally renowned organization here in Venice featuring contemporary Art, Cinema, Theater, Dance, Music and Architecture under one vibrant umbrella. The restoration only took about two and a half years -- proof that mutual respect and cooperation are possible here in our Byzantine village, allowing everyone to get down to the real work at hand. Walking into La Biennale is like stepping into another dimension where creativity is valued and conversation is open and dynamic.

The press conference presented the Dance portion of La Biennale, and two men I greatly admire were the speakers: Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, and Ismael Ivo, the Director of the Dance. If you're a regular reader of Venetian Cat - Venice Blog, you know I've spoken about them before.

The three year project is Grado Zero, or Zero Degree, and opens a new chapter in La Biennale's aim to lead dance into the future. With performances, master classes and projects for young people, La Biennale hopes to attract dancers from all over the world. Sound ambitious? Well, with Ismael Ivo at the helm, anything is possible. He is an energetic speaker, brimming with tremendous energy -- he is a bit like Barack Obama, and not just because he's black -- Ismael was in my environment long before Barack, and his enthusiam is for dance, not politics:) I had the opportunity to speak to Ismael after the conference, and by the end of the conversation, we were hugging each other and saying, "Yes, we can!" From La Biennale website:

The 'Arsenale della Danza' pilot project
The project invites dancers to attend an intensive research workshop. A three-month program with daily sessions run by masters who will prepare attendees to implement ideas, images and visions of the performer's art. The project is aimed at candidates with a solid basic education, skills and experience, who wish to professionally improve themselves in contemporary dance.
Auditions will take place on 13th and 14th March 2009. The Arsenale Dance project will run 30th March to 30th June 2009.

To go to La Biennale's website, please click here:


Maurizio Scaparro, the Director of the Theater section of La Biennale was also in attendance, and I had the opportunity to speak with him, too. Back in November, I promised I would let you know about the Hollywood screening of his film, L'Ultimo Pulcinella. There was all sorts of uproar over here when Gomorra was not nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Well, I saw both L'Ultimo Pulcinella and Gomorra, and I thought L'Ultimo Pulcinella was riveting. I know that Gomorra has made it on to many critics "best" lists, but I am wondering if it's not more a matter of distribution.

In any event, those of you in Los Angeles will have the opportunity to judge for yourselves during
Los Angeles, Italia, a Film, Fashion and Art Fest taking place at the Manns Chinese 6 Theater in Hollywood on February 15 to 21. When I left Hollywood back in 1998, the redevelopment was just starting; the last time I was there was in 2006, and it was completely transformed, yet still retained some of its decadent charm. In fact, Hollywood sort of reminds me of Venice, and guess who is one of the sponsors? The Casinò di Venezia! And the entire stew reminds me of Pulcinella, with light and dark, life and death, the union of opposites, the resurrection...

L'Ultimo Pulcinella, a film which also combines the elements of Art, Theater, Dance, Music and Architecture into a dramatic statement, is screening on Friday, February 20th at 9:45PM. Maurizio Scaparra will not be there because he will be here with us in Venice, since he is also the Director of La Biennale Theater, which opens that same night with Le Sorelle Bronte directed by David Livermore at the Goldoni Theatre -- you can judge by Maurizio's level of activity how much talent the man is packing. However, those of you in Hollywood will be treated to the star, Massimo Ranieri, in person, as well as enjoying his powerful performance in the film. Admission is free, and there are all sorts of other great films like Il Postino and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Los Angeles, Italia. Honoring Honoring the Italian Masters of Cinematic Art Vittorio De Sica, Federico Fellini, Gillo Pontecorvo and legendary Producer Franco Cristaldi. Special tributes to director Pupi Avati and showmen Christian De Sica and Massimo Ranieri. Tribute to ANTHONY MINGHELLA.

Click to go to the Los Angeles, Italia website:

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog