Monday, January 30, 2012

Lou Salomé at La Fenice and Il Giorno della Memoria

Photo: Michele Crosera for La Fenice
(Venice, Italy) In a post entitled Don Giovanni and the Man of Stone, I wrote the following sentence on October 6, 2010:

Or, perhaps, someone should make an opera out of the life of Lou Andreas-Salomé, novelist, poet, and psychoanalyst, friend to Freud and mistress to both Rainer Maria Rilke and Friedrich Nietzsche, and someone who could teach Don Giovanni a thing or two.

Angeles Blancas Gulin as Lou Salomé
Obviously, at the time I wrote that, I had no idea that, in fact, someone had written an opera about Lou Andreas-Salomé -- and that someone was a Venetian, no less! I can just imagine the amusement the above sentence must have provoked for those in-the-know, especially since I had written a somewhat forceful critique of what I thought was wrong with the Don Giovanni and the Man of Stone production. Not only that, but Giuseppe Sinopoli, the composer of the opera Lou Salomé, studied music at the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory here in Venice, the very venue where Don Giovanni and the Man of Stone was performed. The Lou Salomé production at La Fenice was an impressive touché, and I am chuckling as I write this. 

Giuseppe Sinopoli was born on the Day of the Dead, November 2, 1946 in Venice. He died, spectacularly, of a heart attack on April 20, 2001 at the age of 54 while on stage at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin, conducting Verdi's Aida -- the same opera with which he made his debut in Venice in 1978. In addition to being a composer and conductor, he had a degree in medicine, wrote books, and was just about to receive his Laurea in Archeology. From Wikipedia:

Giuseppe Sinopoli
On 20 April 2001, Sinopoli died of a heart attack while conducting Giuseppe Verdi's Aida at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin. The performance was dedicated to the memory of the company's late chief director, Goetz Friedrich. Two nights later, Marcello Viotti stepped in to direct Aida, and dedicated his performance to Sinopoli's memory. His funeral in Rome on 23 April was attended by the Italian President and Prime Minister, as well as a large contingent from La Scala. He was survived by his wife Silvia and two sons....

Every October since 2005, Taormina Arte has dedicated a festival to Giuseppe Sinopoli, the artistic director of the Music section of the Taormina Festival from 1989 to 1997. The Giuseppe Sinopoli Festival does not only celebrate the man as a musician and as a conductor but also as a composer, a doctor, an archaeologist and intellectual, with a variety of events from music and literature, theatre and art to conferences, exhibitions, publications and, of course, concerts.

Now that I have seen the opera, it seems obvious that someone who was raised in Venice would find the subject matter of Lou Salomé fascinating enough to create an opera based on her life. There is an intellectualism particular to Venice, which other parts of the world might find difficult to relate to. In fact, Sinopoli's obituary in the British newspaper, The Guardian, highlights just that unique quality -- although David Nice, the author, describes it as "Italian." Sinopoli was the principal conductor for the Philharmonic Orchestra in London from 1984 to 1994.

His compositions, like his later conducting, combined structural rigour with sensuous textures. Yet few of them have been heard in this country; and after the 1981 Munich premiere of his opera Lou Salome, taking as its protagonist the far-from-bluestocking colleague and muse of Nietzsche and Freud, composing took a back seat to conducting.

The players, of course, remained baffled by Sinopoli's peculiarly Italian brand of intellectualism; London musicians never like too much talk, let alone an analytic seminar on the work in question. The Philharmonia relationship, buckling under the weight of the critical opprobrium, nearly came to an end in early 1990; but Sinopoli stayed on in his ennobled capacity as music director until 1994. There was too much at stake - the ever-fruitful contract with Deutsche Grammophon and tours to countries such as Japan and Germany, which idolised the maestro as Britain never did. 

Photo: Michele Crosera for La Fenice
For Lou Salomé, the opera, helmed by the German conductor, Lothar Zagrosek, the interior of Teatro La Fenice had been utterly transformed, turned into a theatre in-the-round thanks to the Faculty of Design and Art at IUAV di Venezia (Istituto Universitario di Architettura di Venezia), which was responsible for the set, direction, lights and costumes. A tree was in the center of the theater; a sofa and desk on stage, surrounded by tumbling books. A small section of the audience was seated on the stage itself. Performers entered and exited from various locations, most interestingly, from one of the lower theater boxes. 

The opera was in German with Italian subtitles, which were projected behind the orchestra, who were seated onstage -- which sometimes made it difficult to view the action in the center and the words at the same time, but that is a minor quibble. The performers were excellent; the lighting superb; when La Fenice started burning, the theater boxes slowly consumed in flame, up, up, up towards the ceiling... there was a silent gasp... even though it was a lighting trick, it brought back too many familiar memories of when La Fenice had really burned to the ground on January 29, 1996, sixteen years ago.  

Salomé, Reé & Nietzche
Lou Salomé, the opera, brought to life the Russian psychoanalyst and author, Lou Salomé, (played by Angeles Blancas Gulin), her younger self (Georgia Stahl) and a few of her distinguished lovers and companions. Salomé was born on February 12, 1861, the only daughter of a Russian army officer in a family with five additional male offspring, who grew up to be a true independent woman and original thinker. She died on February 5, 1937. Her circle included the renowned German philosopher Friedrich Nietzche (1844-1900) (played by Claudio Puglisi); the German writer, Malwida von Meyensbug (1816-1903) (played by Julie Mellor), friend of Nietzche and Wagner; the German author and philosopher, Paul Kleé (1849-1901) (played by Gian Luca Pasolini), also a friend of Nietzche, who would become part of a ménage à trois; the renowned Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926); and the professor Friedrich C. Andreas, whom she married with the understanding that theirs would be a platonic relationship. Salomé also had an impact on Sigmund Freud, and we all know who he was. 

To me, the opera was about a daring, intelligent woman, daughter of a General, who came together with group of profound thinkers before, during, and after great European wars -- World War I: 1914-1918 and World War II: 1939-1945 -- wars of destruction that the United States has not experienced on its own soil for a very long time. Salomé was 52-years-old when World War I broke out; she died a week before her 76th birthday, two years before World War II officially began. 

From Wikipedia:

A few days before her death the Gestapo confiscated her library (according to other sources it was an SA group who destroyed the library, and shortly after her death). The pretense for this confiscation: she had been a colleague of Sigmund Freud's, had practiced "Jewish science," and had many books by Jewish authors in her library.

What was the SA? They sound a bit like today's "Special Forces." Again, from Wikipedia

The Sturmabteilung (SA) English: Storm Detachment; or English: Stormtroopers) functioned as a paramilitary organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (or Nazi Party). It played a key role in Adolf Hitler's rise to power in the 1920s and 1930s. SA men were often called "brownshirts" for the colour of their uniforms (similar to Benito Mussolini's blackshirts).

Giuseppe Sinopoli's opera about Lou Salomé, to me, could only have been written by a European intellectual, and it needed a Venetian intellectual in particular to do it justice. It made me aware, once again, what a rich cultural texture is missing from the United States of America. Those great minds, all together, at the same time... loving each other, having sex with each other... operatic material... 

Lou Salomé played to packed houses here in Venice all last week, the week of the Giorno della Memoria. On January 27, 1945, the Russians liberated the survivors of Auschwitz. Later, the Americans, too, liberated more death camps. General Eisenhower and General Patton (remember when we used to have real generals?) ordered that as much as possible be documented so we would never forget what horrors human beings are capable of. Here is an especially poignant tale from Jewish Life entitled, 'It Was Skin and Bones: Soldiers Remember Auschwitz by Heather Robinson:

Anatoly Shapiro, 92, has never forgotten what he saw at Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945. That was the day Shapiro, who says he is the first Russian officer to enter the infamous concentration camp, led his battalion to liberate it.

In an interview Saturday in his apartment in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, where he sits alongside his wife, Vita, his tall, thin form is upright and his eyes are clear as he describes, through a translator, the things he says he still sees in nightmares 60 years later.

"We saw German soldiers, and when we opened the gate, we saw one barrack, then the next, on and on for a hundred barracks," he recalled.

"When I saw the people, it was skin and bones. They had no shoes, and it was freezing. They couldn't even turn their heads, they stood like dead people."

"I told them, 'The Russian army liberates you!' They couldn't understand. Some few who could touched our arms and said, 'Is it true? Is it real?'"

I predict that Hollywood will soon get their hands on this woman, Lou Salomé, though if the film industry in Italy were clever, they would do it first. 

Never forget. Or they will soon be back. 

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Your Film at the Venice Film Festival!

(Venice, Italy) Ten talented storytellers will win a trip to the 69th Venice International Film Festival (August 29 to September 8, 2012) thanks to a partnership between YouTube, the Venice Biennale, Scott Free Productions -- Ridley Scott's production company -- and Emirates, the global airline. The grand prize winner, selected by a special jury, will be awarded a YouTube $500,000 production grant to work with Scott Free Films, creating an entirely new work.

From Wikipedia:

Photo at
Sir Ridley Scott (born 30 November 1937) is an English film director and producer. His most famous films include The Duellists (1977), Alien (1979), Blade Runner (1982), Thelma & Louise(1991), Gladiator (2000), Black Hawk Down (2001), Kingdom of Heaven (2005) and American Gangster (2007).

Ridley Scott said, "Short film making is exactly where I started my career 50 years ago, so to be helping new filmmakers find an entry point like this into the industry is fantastic. It's great to be partnering with YouTube again for this global search for the next generation of exciting filmmakers." 

Anyone who has tried to break into Hollywood knows what a great opportunity this is. You need to create a 15-minute, story-driven video of any style, format and genre, and submit it to:

From La Biennale:

The competition brings together YouTube’s cutting-edge technology with the finest traditions of the world-renowned Venice Film Festival, to help discover and nurture new talent

Directors, producers and writers from around the world will be encouraged to submit their films and the voting will ultimately belong to the YouTube community at large. 

Submissions, which open February 2, 2012 and close on March 31, 2012, will be reviewed by Scott Free and narrowed down to 50 semi-finalists from around the world in the summer of 2012. The YouTube community will then vote for ten finalists who will be flown to unveil their films in a special program at the world renowned Venice Film Festival. In Venice, a jury will vote among the ten films to select one Grand Prize Winner. The winner will receive a development deal with Ridley Scott’s Scott Free Productions.

Click to go to Venice Biennale.

For more information, visit and upload your submission from February 2, 2012 through March 31, 2012. Please keep in mind that they are looking for story-driven work, so a lot of beautiful shots that don't tell a story is not the object of the competition. You don't have a lot of time, so get to work!

Best of luck.

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ben Franklin's Wikileaks

Benjamin Franklin
(Venice, Italy) During the holidays, I had the good fortune to stumble upon a two-volume set of books called Franklin in France - From Original Documents Most of Which Are Now Published for the First Time by Edward E. Hale and Edward E. Hale, Jr. The first volume was published in 1886 by the Roberts Brothers in Boston; the second volume was published in 1887. The books were on a shelf in a personal library. It appeared that they had not been read by anyone before because I had to slice open many of the pages.

Just think, Ben Franklin's Wikileaks had not been published until more than 100 years after they were originally written. And there I was, happily nestled in the Veneto, more than 250 years later, all snuggled up and reading about what went on behind the scenes when the United States of America was actually being created. It was such a thrill, and surprising to learn that all the intrigues and schemes and plots and disinformation that we can read about today on Wikileaks are nothing new at all. Please forgive the formatting (once again) because I am transferring data from PDF files, occasionally with success -- that in itself is a bit of a miracle, that today we can freely share information all over the world. Here are the opening paragraphs:




THE Declaration of Independence made the United
States a nation. It was a nation which had power
to make war or peace, and to contract alliances.
The Continental Congress, which by misfortune was at
once the executive and the legislature of this nation,
addressed itself immediately to this business of making
alliance with any European power which could aid it
against England. 

By the agency of a secret committee,
of which Benjamin Franklin was the most important
member, it had opened correspondence with many persons
in Europe. Among these was Dr. Arthur Lee, — a Vir-
ginian who had been made a Doctor of Medicine by the
University of Edinburgh, had afterwards studied law, and
was at the time of the outbreak of hostilities agent in
London for Massachusetts. The secret committee had
also recommended that Silas Deane should be sent to
France, to try if it were possible to obtain assistance for
the colonies. Almost immediately after the Declaration
of Independence, Congress named these two, with Frank-
lin, as its commissioners in Europe for making such
alliances as might be possible. Congress gave these
commissioners full powers for contracting treaties with
France and Spain.

Pierre Landis
A furious exchange of letters between Benjamin Franklin and Captain Pierre Landais, a former officer of the French Navy and the first commander of the American ship, Alliance, and who had dreams of being the naval counterpart of General Lafayette, are a highpoint of the books. If you like, you can first read the Wikipedia version of events at USS Alliance so you get some background. In brief, Landais simply refused to follow orders, infuriating John Paul Jones and Benjamin Franklin. Here is an excerpt from a letter to Landais, who was in Paris, from Franklin, who was in Passy, dated March 12, 1780:

No one has ever learnt from me the opinion I formed 
of you from the enquiry made into
your conduct. I kept it entirely to myself. I have not
even hinted it in my letters to America, because I would
not hazard giving any one a bias to your prejudice. By
communicating a part of that opinion privately to you it
can do you no harm, for you may burn it. I should not
give you the pain of reading it if your demand did not
make it necessary.

I think you, then, so imprudent, so

litigious, and quarrelsome a man, even with your best

friends, that peace and good order, and consequently the
quiet and regular subordination so necessary to success,
are, where you preside, impossible. These are matters
within my observation and comprehension; your military
operations I leave to more capable judges. If, therefore,
I had 20 ships-of-war in my disposition, I should not give
one of them to Captain Landais. The same temper which
excluded him from the French Marine would weigh equally
with me. Of course I shall not replace him in the
"Alliance." I am assur'd, however, that as captain of a merchant-
ship you have two very good qualities, highly useful to
your owners, viz., economy and integrity. For these I
esteem you, and have the honour to be, Sir, &c.
Benjamin Franklin.

P. S. I have passed over all the charges made or insin-
uated against me in your letters and angry conversations,
because I would avoid continuing an altercation for which
I have neither time nor inclination. You will carry them
to America, where I must be accountable for my conduct
towards you, and where it will be my duty, if I cannot
justify myself, to submit to any censures I may have
merited. Our correspondence, which cannot be pleasant to 
either of us, may therefore, if you please, end here.

The Alliance eventually did set off for America with Landais commanding the ship. According to Wikipedia, here is what happened on that journey:

Alliance was allowed to leave France unmolested. Her homeward voyage proved to be anything but routine. Landais quarreled with his officers, abused his men, and made life miserable for his passengers. The ship had hardly lost sight of land when he locked up Capt.Matthew Parke because the commanding officer of the embarked Marine Corps contingent refused to swear unconditional obedience under all possible circumstances. Any seamen who had joined the frigate after Bonhomme Richard had sunk were suspected of disloyalty, many were shackled and imprisoned in the ship's rat-infested hold. Even Arthur Lee, who had urged the Frenchman to take command, came close to being stabbed with a carving knife for taking the first slice of roast pig at dinner. In operating and navigating the ship Landais gave orders which violated the rules of safe and sensible seamanship.

The fearful and exasperated officers and passengers finally agreed that the commanding officer must be insane, and they forcibly relieved him of command on 11 August. Alliance continued on to America in a happier and more orderly fashion under the command of Lt. James A. Degge. She arrived at Boston on 19 August 1780.

Marchese de La Fayette
One of my personal favorites is a letter from Lafayette, who was in Paris, to John Adams dated February 7, 1780. It surprised me how much passion Lafayette, a Frenchman, had for the new country he was helping to create. I was especially heartened to learn that Lafayette was firmly against the weapons of treachery and falsehood being used by the British, and deeply believed in never deceiving the free citizens of America. Here it is in its entirety:

Dear Sir, — As I came but this morning from Ver-

sailles it was not in my power sooner to answer to the

letter you have honored me with, and this duty I now
perform with the more pleasure that it is of some impor-
tance to the interest of America.

Since the first day when I had the happiness of making 
myself, and of being considered in the world, as an American, 
I have always observed that among so many ways of attacking 
our liberties, and among them the most ungenerous ones, 
treachery and falsehood have ever been the first weapons on 
which the British nation have the most depended. 

I am glad it is in my power generally to assure you
that the many reports propagated by them, and alluded to

in your letter, are not founded upon truth. These con-

tracts with petty German princes have not, I believe,
taken place. And if any such merchandise was sent to
America it would at most consist of a few recruits.

The troubles in Ireland, if there is the least common
sense amongst the first patriots in that country, are not,
I hope, at an end, and it seems they now begin to raise
new expectations.

The Russian troops so much talked of in their gazette
I take to be more recruits for the thirty thousand Rus-
sians that Mr. Rivington had three years ago ordered to
embark for America.

These intelligences, my dear Sir, be counteracted by letters 
to our friends in America. But as the respect we
owe to the free citizens of the United States makes it a
point of duty for us never to deceive them, and as the
most candid frankness must ever distinguish our side of 
the question from the cause of tyranny and falsehood, I 
intend paying to-morrow morning a visit to the minister
of foreign affairs, and from him get so minuted intelli-
gences as will answer your purpose.

With the most sincere Regard and friendly affection, I
have the honor to be, dear Sir,
Your most obedient humble servant, Lafayette.;

P. S. On my return from Versailles, my dear Sir, where
I will settle the affair of  — that I had undertaken, I will
impart you a project privately, relating to one that is not 
inconsistent with my sentiments for our country —

Abigail Adams
One of the most entertaining exchanges was between Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams, the wife of John Adams, the second President of the United States. She was also the mother of John Quincy Adams, the sixth President. Abigail Adams was actively involved in her husband's affairs, often advising him, and privy to all sorts of confidential information. Mrs. Adams initiated the correspondence with Jefferson, writing to him from the Bath Hotel in London on June 6, 1785. John Adams had just been named as the first US Minister to Great Britain; it appalled many Londoners that the United States actually existed. The newspapers were full of inaccuracies and outright lies. Here are a few excerpts from Mrs. Adams to Jefferson:

I had lived so quietly in that calm retreat [Auteuil] that the noise
and bustle of this proud city almost turned my brain for
the first two or three days. The figure which this city
makes in respect to equipages is vastly superior to Paris,
and gives one the idea of superior wealth and grandeur.
I have seen few carriages in Paris, and no horses
superior to what are used here for hackneys. ...
...Whilst I am writing the papers of this day are
handed me. From the Publick Advertiser I extract
the following. "Yesterday morning a messenger was
sent from Mr. Pitt to Mr. Adams, the American Pleni-
potentiary, with notice to suspend for the present their
intended interview." (Absolutely false.) From the
same paper. "An Ambassador from America! Good
heavens, what a sound! The Gazette surely [never]
announced anything so extraordinary before, nor once
on a day so little expected; — this will be such a
phsenomenon in the Corps Diplomatique that 'tis hard
to say which can excite indignation most, the insolence
of those who appoint the character, or the manners of
those who receive it. Such a thing could never have
happened in any former Administration, not even that
of Lord North. It was reserved, like some other humil-
iating circumstances, to take place
Sub Jove, sed Jove noncom

From the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, " It is
said that Mr. Adams, the Minister Plenipotentiary from
America, is extremely desirous of visiting Lord North,
whom he regards as one of the best friends the Ameri-
cans ever had." Thus you see, sir, the beginning

Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson appeared to be quite happy to hear from Abigail Adams, and promptly replied from Paris to London on June 21, 1785. More excerpts:

Jefferson to Mrs. Adams.
Paris, June 21 [1785].
Dear Madam, — I have received duly the honor of
your letter, and am now to return you thanks for your
condescension in having taken the first step for settling
a correspondence which I so much desired; for I must
consider it as settled and proceed accordingly.

I have always found it best to remove obstacles first. I will
do so, therefore, in the present case, by telling you that
I consider your boasts of the splendor of your city and
of its superb hackney coaches as a flout, and declaring
that I would not give the polite, self-denying, feeling,
hospitable, good-humored people of this country and
their amiability in every point of view (tho' it must
be confessed our streets are somewhat dirty and our
fiacres rather indifferent) for ten such races of rich,
proud, hectoring, swearing, quibbling, carnivorous ani-
mals as those among whom you are: and that I do love
this people with all my heart and think that with a
better religion, a better form of government, and their
present governors, their condition and country would
be most enviable. I pray you to observe that I have
used the noun people, and that this is a noun of the
masculine as well as feminine gender. ...

...The squibs against Mr.
Adams are such as I expected from the polished, mild-
tempered, truth-speaking people he is sent to. It would
be ill policy to attempt to answer or refute them,
but counter-squibs I think would be good policy. ...
After reading that exchange, perhaps we can understand why the State of Texas recently removed Thomas Jefferson from its history books. From the Huffington Post:
In Texas, Thomas Jefferson is set to be removed from the textbook standards explaining how Enlightenment thinkers have influenced revolutions since 1750. Replacing him will be the French theologian John Calvin.
It has taken a lot of time to track down where you, too, can read these books, but I have managed to do it. They are in the public domain, and free online -- even though it often appears otherwise -- it took me a while to actually find them. In my opinion, the best place to get them is at the Hathi Trust. Here is the link:

Happy learning.
Ciao from the Veneto,

Friday, January 6, 2012

Epiphany on Epiphany - Venice 2012

(Venice, Italy) If the New Year continues in the same chord as it started, we are off to a great start, surrounded by harmony, stimulating conversation, fantastic food, new knowledge and people with character and integrity.

Today is Epiphany here in Italy. It is the last day of the Christmas season holidays. It is also the day of the Befana, which I have written about many times before. From Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog January 7, 2009:

(Venice, Italy) The Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas, on January 6th is a national holiday in Italy. It is also the day of the La Befana, a witch who hands out candy and gifts for good children, and coal for bad children, similar to Santa Claus.

In Venice, the holiday has morphed into something truly unique. During the Regata delle Befane, male Venetian rowers dress in drag as female witches, and have a little regata, or race. The finish line is below my apartment, so I usually have a Befana party to close the holiday season. No one ever seems to know, exactly, what time the race starts or finishes. Some posters from the Comune said to go over to the fish market at 11:30AM for hot mulled wine and sweets, so I thought 11AM would be a good time for the party. It turned out it was too late. Note to self: the Befana regata celebration starts at 10AM!

Click to continue reading.

Back here in the present, January 6, 2012, I am happy to report that I have had an epiphany on Epiphany. From Wikipedia:

The term is used in either a philosophical or literal sense to signify that the claimant has "found the last piece of the puzzle and now sees the whole picture," or has new information or experience, often insignificant by itself, that illuminates a deeper or numinous foundational frame of reference


Despite its popular image, epiphany is the result of significant labor on the part of the discoverer, and is only the satisfying result of a long process, usually involving significant periods of labor.[7] The surprising and fulfilling feeling of epiphany is so surprising because one cannot predict when one's labor will bear fruit, and our subconsciousness can play a significant part in delivering the solution; and is fulfilling because it is a reward for a long period of labor.

To that I can attest: having an epiphany is the result of significant labor

The Christian feast, the Epiphany that we are celebrating today in Italy is when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger to see the baby Jesus. 

In the conventional version of the Christmas story, 
the wise men or magi:
  • Gaspar,
  • Melchior and
  • Balthasar
started the gift-giving custom of Christmas by 
bringing gold, frankincense, and myrrh to the Christ  
child on Epiphany, the day on which the infant 
was presented. The 3 magi have been described not only as wise men, but also as kings 
or Persian priests and astrologers.
Epiphany is the end of the Christmas season, 12 days after Christmas, which is, literally, 
the mass for Christ.
Happy Epiphany!
Ciao from Venice,