Monday, July 25, 2016

The Merchant of Venice in Venice, Italy

The Merchant of Venice at Hotel Danieli - Photo by Mirco Toffolo
(Venice, Italy) When William Shakespeare wrote The Merchant of Venice around 1596-98, a Jew had not lived legally in England for more than 300 years, and the Jews in Venice had been consigned to the ghetto. So when Shylock, a Jewish money-lender, demands a pound of flesh after a Venetian merchant defaults on a loan, Shakespeare knew he was dropping his characters into dynamite, a setting which still raises explosive issues up until the present day.

Shylock - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
A streamlined version of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice was presented on the opulent ground floor of the Hotel Danieli on Wednesday night, July 20, the marble columns of the 14th century Palazzo Dandolo creating a natural setting for a "story about friendship, money, revenge, hatred and love."

Presented as a staged reading in partnership with Kings Theatre Portsmouth, the show was a production of the Teatro Stabilie del Veneto - Teatro Nazionale, in association with the Federation of the Friends of Israel Associations and the Hotel Danieli, so there was a lot of cooperation between different entities to get the tale on its feet.

The production commemorates the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice in 1516, and the 400th anniversary of the death of Shakespeare in 1616, a hundred years later.

At the time The Merchant of Venice was written, Jews had been banished from England since King Edward I's Edict of Expulsion in 1290, the main reason being that Jews were practicing usury, or charging interest on loans, particularly loans with land as collateral -- in cahoots with the barons -- which, after doing some research, utterly simplifies a very complex situation, too complicated to delve into here. If you would like to do some research on your own, you might start with the unedited full-text of the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia.

Narrator - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
In the version presented at the Danieli, many of the characters were eliminated from the original text, and the action moved along briskly with the use of a narrator. At the fast pace, what became more apparent was how human and deeply complex all the main characters were, and how relevant the story is to this very day. The roles of Jews, the banking system, as well as women in society are current topics of discussion, as they were centuries ago. And is Antonio, the merchant of Venice, actually gay?

For those of you who are not familiar with the story, again, I'll let you do your own research -- if you don't want to read Shakespeare, you can watch the 2004 film starring Al Pacino as Shylock, set in Venice. Here is a clip of the famous, powerful speech (for email subscribers, click here):

In the streamlined version adapted by Sophia Pauly and directed by Paolo Valerio, I was most impressed that 430 years ago Shakespeare wrote such a strong female character like Portia, who dresses up as a man, poses as a lawyer, and logically and concisely argues in court to save the life of the man who just might be her scheming husband's lover. Not only is Portia beautiful and wealthy, she is also super-intelligent.

Portia - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
What is even more astonishing is that at the time Shakespeare created Portia, not a single woman had ever received a laureate from a university. Though there were educated women, the first woman in the world to be awarded a Ph.D. degree after a public examination was a Venetian, Elena Cornaro Piscopia, who received a Doctorate of Philosophy on June 25, 1678. Elena's father, Gian Battista Cornaro, was a powerful Venetian nobleman who was not permitted to marry her mother because she was a commoner, though he repeatedly tried to legitimize his family -- even the nobility was subject to restrictions on their lives by the Venetian Republic. As the daughter of a man of great wealth, Elena's brilliance was admired and honored throughout Europe. In fact, we can also commemorate the 332 anniversary of Elena's death, which will be tomorrow, July 26.

And, of course, there is the eternal question of Shylock demanding his pound of flesh, and whether or not The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic.

Antonio & Bassanio - Photo: Mirco Toffolo
To me, we should also examine the character of Bassanio, a Venetian nobleman who schemes to marry Portia, a wealthy heiress, to get out of debt. Bassanio hits up Antonio, his beloved friend, for the cash to pose as a contender. Antonio's funds are all tied-up in ships at sea, but he agrees to guarantee a loan -- which is where Shylock, the Jewish money-lender comes in. If it weren't for Bassanio's duplicitous behavior in the first place, who uses not only his best friend, but his own wife to solve his financial problems, Shylock would never have come into the picture.

The evening began with a Kaddish, a hymn of praises to God in the Jewish prayer service, which the audience was asked to stand and recite in Italian. The main goal of the Federazione delle Associazioni Italia-Israel is to help people learn about the cultural, political and social life of the State of Israel, and to foster the development of friends with Italy.

The narration of the condensed story of The Merchant of Venice was in both English and Italian, as was the program, so the audience could follow the dialogue, which was all in English. I studied Shakespeare many years ago, and was thrilled for the opportunity to hear the Bard's words in English, in Venice, where the play is set.

After the show, we were treated to a delightful array of Merchant of Venice-themed food, a cocktail dinner with nibbles named things like "Three chest of gold, silver and lead" -- skewers of chicken, guinea fowl and goose; "Mirth and laughter" -- mixed fried fish; and Artichokes à la Shylock, washed down by Pommery Brut Royal Kosher Champagne.

Photo: Mirco Toffolo
The Merchant of Venice at the Danieli was one of several performances set to take place this year in Venice, the city where Shakespeare set the play.

On Wednesday, July 27, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the US Supreme Court Justice herself, will play the presiding judge in Shylock's Appeal, a mock trial set in the actual Venice Ghetto that will reconsider the judgment against the Jewish money-lender. Six performances of The Merchant of Venice will be presented in the Ghetto from July 26 to 31.  In a side event, Ginsburg will chair the bench of five jurists who will hear Shylock's 2016 appeal. I have always adored Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and am eager to learn how the appeal is resolved.

UPDATE July 28, 2016: You can read the article by Rachel Donadio in the New York Times to learn the result of the mock appeal: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Presides Over Shylock's Appeal.

Venice Ghetto today - Photo: Cat Bauer
Then, October 19 through 21, the Globe Theatre's production of The Merchant of Venice starring Jonathan Pryce will be performed at the Goldoni Theatre here in Venice. I just read the New York Times review by Charles Isherwood dated July 22, 2016 of the Lincoln Center performance, and it appears that The Merchant of Venice is undergoing an international makeover:

"...Mr. Pryce’s Shylock, meanwhile, evinces little rage and thirst for vengeance — he knows better than to fall into the traps laid for him — but instead argues his case with a measured rationality that, despite its monstrous consequences, never feels tinged with unbridled malice. 

On the other hand, Portia — disguised as the lawyer Bassanio [sic: Bassanio is Portia's husband; she is disguised as the lawyer Balthazar], arguing for the life of Antonio — seems almost sadistic when she gives her verdict in Shylock’s favor, only to reverse herself at the last minute and, with cool calculation, assert that Shylock himself is guilty of trying to take the life of a Christian. Mr. Pryce’s confusion and abasement are painful to watch, as Antonio seems to relish his control over his persecutor’s fate, allowing him to live only if he converts to Christianity."

Does this mean we must reinterpret The Merchant of Venice once again in the near future, focusing next time on the role of Portia and the education of women in society throughout history?

A tale from The Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare, direction by Paolo Valerio, adaptation by Sophia Pauly, was performed at the Hotel Danieli Luxury Collection Venezia on July 20, 2016, featuring Stephanie Dickson, Enzo Forleo, Joe Parker, Sophia Pauly, Grant Reeves and Sabrina Reale on piano.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Today is the Feast of Redentore in Venice! The Day in Pictures

(Venice, Italy) After last night's spectacular fireworks display, today is the actual day of the Festa del Redentore, a purely Venetian holiday to give thanks for deliverance from the plague back in 1577.

(For those of you who subscribe by email, and cannot view the video, here is the link, a short click away:)

You can read my previous thoughts about Redentore here:

Cat Bauer in Venice talks about the Festa del Redentore 

Since I have written about Redentore so often before, today is going to be a visual post. It is a beautiful day here in Venice, clear and hot, with throngs making their way over the floating bridge as the sunshine dances on the waves of the Giudecca Canal, their feet keeping the beat to the chimes of the Redentore bells.

(Again, here is the link to the video, complete with bell chimes:

Everybody was up late last night because the fireworks don't start until 11:30pm, but that didn't seem to stop most folks from making the trek across to the Island of Giudecca to pay their respects inside the Church of Redentore, designed by the renowned architect, Andrea Palladio.

Once across the bridge, at the entrance of the church there are baskets full of shawls to toss across your shoulders if they are bare.

Inside, the church is all decked out for the special Votive Mass of the Redeemer, celebrated by the patriarch, as has been done for centuries.

Trays of candles flicker expressions of thanks.

Redentore Bridge - Giudecca view
This is the view of Venice from the entrance to the Church of Redetore. To arrive at the top, 15 spiritually-significant steps must climbed. The bridge stretching across the canal all the way to Venice reinforces the importance of the celebration. 

One of my favorite things to play is Pesca di Beneficenza, fishing for charity, or a lucky dip. You pay a euro,and a volunteer (or, today, a Capuchin friar, the Order in charge of the Church of Redentore) spins the barrel, and hands you a small, rolled-up scroll with a number or a word on it. Then you go inside to collect your winnings.

Everybody plays, young and old, boys and girls, men and women, and everybody wins something. If you draw a specific number, you get a specific prize, or else you get a grab bag kind of treasure. In the past, I have won some very useful items, like wooden stirring spoons, or a pad and pencil. 

Today my scroll said "tigre," or "tiger." Apparently, that was the designation for a type of grab bag. A boy about 12-years-old took my opened scroll, scurried away, and brought back a colorful bag tied by a pink bow. 

Here is what was inside my bag of loot, which I'm sure I would find very useful if I were a 12-year-old girl:

Meanwhile, the rowing regatta out on the Giudecca Canal captivated spectators on land and water. After all, what would a celebration in Venice be without a rowing regatta?

It was a beautiful, peaceful day inside the cocoon of the Venice lagoon -- something greatly appreciated, especially when much of the outside world seems stricken by turbulence.

Ciao from the Festa del Redentore in Venice,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Cat Bauer in Venice talks about the Festa del Redentore

Fireworks for the Feast of Redentore 2015 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Contrary to what some people think, the Feast of Redentore is not held on the third weekend of July. It takes place on the third Sunday of July, with the festivities starting the Saturday before.

Back in the year 2001, I was writing for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily. That year, the first Sunday of July was July 1. That meant the third Sunday was July 15, but the third Saturday was July 21 -- therefore, July 22nd was the fourth Sunday, even though it was the third weekend. The correct date of Redentore that year was Sunday, July 15, with celebrations starting the day before on Saturday, July 14 -- the second Saturday of July, 2001.

Calendar for July, 2001

This year, 2016, the Festa del Redentore takes place on Sunday, July 17, with the celebrations starting the day before on what happens to be the third Saturday, July 16. The feast is to commemorate the official end of the plague on July 13, 1577, 439 years ago.

Got all that?

Church of Redentore - Photo: Cat Bauer
As I have written many times before, the Festa del Redentore translates to the Feast of the Redeemer. The Church of Redentore was built as a votive church to give thanks for delivery from the plague, which had devastated Venice in the years between 1575 and 1577, wiping out nearly a third of the population, even taking the life of the great Venetian artist, Titian.

  • The Death - On August 27, 1576. Tiziano Vecellio, aka Titian, died of fever during the raging plague. Now, I'm not saying that was the reason the Senate decided to build a church, but I think it is interesting they did so about a week later.
  • The Vow - On September 4, 1576, the Venetian Senate decided that Doge Alvise I Mocenigo should announce that a church would be built for Christ the Redeemer in exchange for ending the plague. So, they decided IN ADVANCE that the only way out was to ask for divine intervention.
  •  The Cornerstone - On May 3, 1577, the cornerstone was laid (more on that later).
  • The End of the Plague - On July 13, 1577, two months later, the plague was officially declared over.
  • The Consecration - The Church of Redentore was consecrated on September 27, 1592.

The Church of Redentore was built on the site of the Church of San Jacopo, not the Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, a sweet little ancient church that still stands on the Island of Giudecca, tucked away from most eyes, and is used by the Capuchin Friars to this day.

Pantheon - Photo: by Roberta Dragan
Il Redentore was designed by the great architect, Andrea Palladio, who, by that time had already built the new Refectory inside the Benedictine monastery on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, as well as designed the church, which was in the process of being built at the time the Church of Redentore was ordered up. Palladio's career was strongly inspired by a book he had read written by Vitruvius in the first century BC called De Architectura that had been recently republished in Venice in 1511 (1500 years later), detailing how the ancient Romans built things like temples.

I went into some depth about it in a post I wrote about Aldo Manuzio, which you can read here:

MUST SEE - Aldo Manuzio - Renaissance in Venice - EXTENDED UNTIL JULY 31

To completely over-simplify, if Palladio had had his way, the Church of Redentore would have been round like Pantheon in Rome, but he was overruled by the Venetian Senate, who thought it was too pagan, so what we've got is a single nave church with three chapels on either side, and a Pantheon-inspired facade with an ancient Roman bath-inspired interior. (By the way, Palladio did get to build his dream temple at Villa Barbaro, one of the last things he did.)

Church of Redentore
Such an important church would have had its cornerstone laid by the highest ecclesiastical authority in the Republic of Venice, the Patriarch of Venice, not by Palladio, who, even though he was a genius, was not an aristocrat, although he had the support of some very powerful members of the nobility.

The cornerstone is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation. For ecclesiastical structures, it is symbolic of Christ, the "Chief Cornerstone of the Church." When a cornerstone is set, it is often accompanied by official pomp and circumstance, even to this day. All other stones are set in reference to the cornerstone.

Christ the Redeemer by Titian (1534)
The Patriarch of Venice was not just some guy sent over from Rome. From the middle of the 15th century, the office was held by a Venetian patrician elected from the Senate. Surprisingly, he was usually a layman, rather than a cleric. Venice had a long history of doing its best to limit the authority of the Church in Rome inside its territory, and to look out for the interests of its aristocracy.

An exception was Giovanni Trevisan, who was a Benedictine monk, and was the Patriarch of Venice from 1559 to 1590; he was also the son of important Venetian patricians, Paolo and Anna Moro.

And it was Giovanni Trevisan, Patriarch of Venice, who laid the cornerstone for the Church of Redentore on May 3, 1577.

Go to Venezia Unico for the official program. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Flashback Summer! Napoleon Interview - Palladio's Refectory on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice

Baldassare Longhena Stair Hall at Giorgio Cini Foundation - Photo: Cat Bauer
Baldassare Longhena Stair Hall at Giorgio Cini Foundation
(Venice, Italy) I wrote about Palladio's Refectory at the Giorgio Cini Foundation on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore back on April 15, 2012 when it re-opened after being restored. I had been reading old articles written by Art Buchwald, who I had always loved. I can't remember the exact column, but I think he had conducted an imaginary interview with someone who was dead, and I thought that sounded like a fun thing to do. So, I interviewed Napoleon instead of writing a straight post about Palladio's Refectory. Although I am certainly no Art Buchwald, it turned out to be one of my more popular posts, and is evergreen, so here it is again for Flashback Summer:

Palladio’s Refectory - Unveiling of the Restoration

Palladio’s Refectory with Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana facsimile
(Venice, Italy) On September 11, 1797, the French commissars of the Napoleonic army swiped Paolo Veronese's immense painting, Wedding at Cana, from the Palladio Refectory on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore as war booty. The original is now in the Louvre, in Paris. On September 11, 2007, on the 210th anniversary of the removal, a computerized recreation was unveiled.

From Wikipedia:

On 11 September, 2007, the 210th anniversary of the looting of the painting by Napoleon's troops, a facsimile of the original was hung in its original place in the Palladian Refectory. The computerized facsimile was commissioned by the Giorgio Cini Foundation of Venice with the collaboration of the Musée du Louvre, Paris, where the original remains, and made by the Factum Arte Institute of Madrid, headed by the British artist Adam Lowe. It consists of 1,591 computer graphic files.

I decided to ask The Emperor himself what he thought about the situation. I found Napoleon sitting in the French Quarter of the Afterworld, sipping Champagne.

"Are the French ever going to give the Wedding at Cana back to Venice?"

Horses of San Marco
Napoleon frowned. "They got back the horses. It is enough."

"Yes, they got back the horses, but the Venetians stole them from Constantinople in the first place, so they don't really count," I insisted. "The Wedding at Cana was painted specifically by Veronese to decorate the Palladian Refectory. It was there for 235 years until your troops ripped it off the wall."

"It was war, ma petite chérie. These things happen." Napoleon looked me over and raised an eyebrow. "Where are you from? America?"

"...Yes," I hesitated. "But I've lived in Venice since 1998."

"Remember when the Americans changed the name French fries to Freedom fries in 2003 because we told them not to invade Iraq? That was amusing. They even changed the name on the menus in the restaurants and snack bars in the House of Representatives!" Napoleon chuckled. "French fries come from Belgium."

"So, you're not giving it back."

"Never." The Emperor became serious. "Do you know how much we spent to restore that painting? More than a million dollars. We're keeping it. The fascimile is excellent. Most people will never realize it is a copy."

"The House of Representatives put French fries back on the menu in 2006..."


Wedding at Cana - Musée du Louvre
Back on Earth, inside the Palladian Refectory, the facsimile is, indeed, excellent; the latest restoration of the refectory itself -- especially the wooden paneling, which gives warmth to the room -- has re-established the original vision shared between Palladio and Veronese.

From the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

After having been closed for a year for major structural and functional restoration works, Palladio’s Refectory with Paolo Veronese’s Wedding at Cana facsimile is once more open for public use. Architect Michele De Lucchi’s refurbishing project for the refectory involved various important operations: the renovation of the roof, which required urgent repair work; the modernisation of the air-conditioning and lighting plants and equipment; the introduction of up-to-date security equipment; and the installation of wooden paneling on the interior walls and floors to restore the acoustic and aesthetic function of the old wainscoting, which had been removed during the various uses of the Island of San Giorgio before Vittorio Cini’s redevelopment programme in the 1950s. 
...The restoration work was funded by the Magistrato alle Acque, Venice, and Arcus spa. 

It is possible to visit the monumental complex of San Giorgio Maggiore and see the marvelous Palladio Refectory yourselves thanks to guided tours organized with Codess Cultura. 

For further information, please visit 

Information and reservations:
Codess Cultura
+39 041 5240119 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The First Ghetto - Venice, the Jews and Europe at Palazzo Ducale

The Venice Insider - Cat Bauer
Multimedia copper melting cast
(Venice, Italy) On March 29, 1516, the Venetian Senate decreed that "The Jews must all live together." Five hundred years later, Venice is commemorating the creation of the Jewish Ghetto, the very first time the word "ghetto" was used to signify a segregated part of a city.

Venetie MD by Jacopo de' Barbari (1500)
Where did the word come from? No one was certain, but in 1500, Jacopo de' Barbari provided Venice with an excellent birds-eye view map of the city. The zone that was later to become the Ghetto was labeled geto "iactus ramis."

Venice also has nearly 50 miles of ancient documents stored in the State Archive over at the Frari -- Venetians documented everything for centuries -- and research indicated that Geto was the area where the waste from the old copper smelter was dumped, which later morphed into the Ghetto Nuovo.

Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
The Geto before the Ghetto
The exhibition kicks off with sound effects and a cool multimedia smelting pot with crackling stones that burst into flames, leaving it up to your imagination to create the world that existed in that part of town before the Jews were shuffled off to "all live together" in the Ghetto.

Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
Parochet - Classic damask green silk - second half of 16th century
In its heyday, Venice was a cosmopolitan city, a trade emporium that connected the eastern Mediterranean with Northern Europe, as well as a stopping point for pilgrims heading toward the Holy Land.

Venice had allowed Jews to enter the city as war refugees after they were expelled from Spain in 1492 -- the same time that Christopher Columbus set off to discover the New World -- and Portugal in 1496. They also implemented a deliberate strategy of welcoming other religious and national communities like Germans, Orthodox Greeks, Albanians, Persians and Turks, communities that were important for the republic's economic activities. Each of the foreign communities was assigned a zone in which to operate.

Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
Gilt leather panel - late 16th-early 17th century
Outside the Ghetto, the Jews were a politically weak entity, but inside the walls, they were autonomous, with Jews from all over the world -- German and Italian, Levantine, Western and Portuguese -- creating their own world within the world of Venice.

The exhibition is divided into ten sections:
  •  Before the Ghetto
  • Cosmopolitan Venice
  • The Cosmopolitan Ghetto
  • Synagogues
  • Jewish Culture and the Role of Women
  • Trade in the 17th and 18th Century
  • Tales of the Ghetto. The Shadow of Shylock
  • Napoleon: the Opening of the Gates and Assimilation
  • Treves Room - Collecting & Collectors
  • The Twentieth Century
You regular readers will remember a while back when Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's newly-elected mayor, declared that he was going to sell off some artwork to raise cash, causing all sorts of uproar, one of the pieces being The Rabbi of Vitebsk (The Praying Jew) by Marc Chagall. Well, it has been more than a year since Brugnaro has been Venice's mayor, and he seems to have calmed down a bit. Now it seems a place has been found for the painting at the Venice, the Jews and Europe exhibition.

Marc Chagall
Rabbino N. 2
1914 – 1922
olio su tela
cm 104 x 84
Venezia, Ca’ Pesaro - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna
©Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Archivio Fotografico
Marc Chagall's life is like a 20th Century version of life in the Venice Ghetto. His parents were devote Hasidic Jews. When he was growing up in Russia, Jewish children were not allowed to attend regular Russian schools or universities; their movement inside the city was also restricted. So, his mother bribed the headmaster, and they let him in, where he discovered art, and grew up to become "the world's preeminent Jewish artist," traveling between St. Petersburg, Paris and Berlin.

In 1914, while visiting Vitebsk (now Belarus), where he was born, Chagall realized that the traditions he had grown up with were disappearing, and he wanted to document them. He paid a beggar to pose in his father's prayer clothes. He had intended to return to Paris, but was stuck in Russia until 1923 after World War I and the Russian Revolution broke out. Then, in 1923, he brought the painting with him to Paris and found out that much of the work he had left there had disappeared during the war.

So, before he left his studio, he made two more paintings of The Praying Jew after the original 1914 composition -- that is how serious he was about the record he wanted to leave. The original is now in the Kunstmuseum in Basel; the other 1923 painting is in the Art Institute in Chicago; the 1923 painting here in Venice is normally on display at Ca' Pesaro, but is now happily inside the Doge's Apartment at Palazzo Ducale as long as Venice, the Jews and Europe is running.

Go see the Chagall.

The Ghetto in Venice today - Cat Bauer - The Venice Insider
Ghetto in Venice today
Venice, Jews and Europe 1516 - 2016 is at the Doge's Palace inside the Doge's Apartments from June 19 until November 13, 2016.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Venetian Affair - the Book Comes Alive at Palazzo Pisani in Venice

The Venice Insier
Andrea di Robilant does A Venetian Affair at Palazzo Pisani
(Venice, Italy) A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant was first published in hardcover in 2003, based on ancestral letters written in secret code that Andrea's father found up in the attic of Palazzo Mocenigo. I remember when the English edition came out in Venice in 2004 because two different aristocrats gave it to me as a gift, tripping over each other to be the first to deliver it, a 21st Century version of the intriguing -- and comedic -- love story.

The Venice Insider
Soprano Liesl Odenweller
Since then, A Venetian Affair has been transformed into a show, with Andrea di Robilant himself reading the letters written by his ancestor, Andrea Memmo. The American soprano and long-time Venice resident, Liesl Odenweller, not only hits the high notes accompanied by Venice Music Project, a Baroque ensemble, she reads the letters that Giustiniana Wynn wrote to her lover.

The Venice Insider
Courtyard of Palazzo Pisani
I have seen the show twice before, but never at monumental Palazzo Pisani in Campo Santo Stefano, a Venetian palace built in 1614-15 -- the largest after Palazzo Ducale itself -- which is now the Benedetto Marcello Conservatory of Music. It just so happened that Andrea Memmo's mother was part of the ancient Pisani family, so watching the show in Palazzo Pisani brought home what kind of imposing foundation Giustiniana Wynne, the illegitimate daughter of a British father and Greek-born Venetian mother, was up against when trying to marry into Venetian nobility.

The Venice Insider
Gianni De Luigi, Andrea di Robilant, Liesl Odenweller
This time A Venetian Affair had a little help from Venetian director Gianni De Luigi. I don't know whose idea it was, but I really liked that this time the lute from the Largo of Vivaldi's Concerto in D major, RV 93 accompanied the reading of Memmo's sexual fantasy about Giustiniana, which you can read below.

I wrote an extensive post two years ago about the experience when I saw it at San Giovanni Evangelista, so it's time for Flashback Summer a little early this year:

Perfect Evening in Venice - A Venetian Affair at Venice Music Project


The Venice Insider
A Venetian Affair at San Giovanni Evangelista

(Venice, Italy) If you have ever been in Venice when the spirits of the past make an appearance in the present, you know how wondrous it can be. On Friday, June 27, all the elements came together to create a magical evening when Andrea di Robilant, author of A Venetian Affair, told the story of his ancestor, Andrea Memmo (1729-1793) and his clandestine love affair with the alluring Giustiniana Wynne (1737-1791).

The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista where the Venice Music Project is based was the venue. Interspersed perfectly between the story were Baroque melodies played by the Venetia Antiqua Ensemble on original instruments, with soprano Liesl Odenweller bringing alive arias that were composed during the same era.

The Venice Insider
Andrea di Robilant - Venice Music Project
Andrea Memmo was the oldest son of one of Venice's oldest, wealthiest and most powerful families -- he was Andrea di Robilant's great-great-great-great-great grandfather. In 1919, the author's grandfather, also named Andrea di Robilant, inherited Palazzo Mocenigo, one of Venice's most magnificent palaces. Andrea's father, Alvise, found a carton of letters up in the attic, and they turned out to be be love letters written by Andrea Memmo to Giustiniana Wynne -- in secret code. Father and son worked together and broke the code, but Andrea's father was murdered during the project, and Andrea carried on alone, resulting in the New York Times notable book,  A Venetian Affair - A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century.

Giustiniana Wynne was the illegitimate daughter (her parents later married) of a British father, Sir Richard Wynne, and Greek-born Venetian mother, Anna Gazini. Giustiniana was the oldest of their five children, and was raised solely by Anna after the death of Sir Richard.

Giustiniana met Andrea Memmo at Palazzo Balbi, the home of Joseph Smith, the British Consul and Canaletto patron, and the two fell passionately in love; she was not quite 18; he was 24. (Giustiniana called him Memmo, and I will, too, since there are an abundance of Andreas in this story.) When Giustiniana's mother, Anna, learned of the affair, she forbade it, wanting to preserve her daughter's reputation. Venetian society at the time dictated that the oldest son of a patrician family must marry into Venetian nobility.

But Memmo was head-over-heels in love, as was Giustiniana, as their letters reveal. To communicate, the young couple developed a written secret code, as well as a sign language, and bombarded each other with love letters delivered by a boy named Alvisetto. They dashed all over town, hoping for a glimpse of one another. Anyone familiar with Venice can picture the scene depicted in one of Memmo's letters:

Yesterday I tried desperately to see you. Before lunch the gondoliers could not serve me. After lunch I went looking for you in Campo Santo Stefano. Nothing. So I walked toward Piazza San Marco, and when I arrived at the bridge of San Moisè I ran into Lucrezia Pisani! I gave her my hand on the bridge, and then I saw you. I left her immediately and went looking for you everywhere. Finally I found you in the Piazza. I sent Alvisetto ahead to find out whether you were on your way to the opera or to the new play at the Teatro Sant'Angelo so that I could rush to get a box in time. Then I forged ahead and waited for you, filled with desire. Finally you arrived and I went up to my box so that I could contemplate you -- not only for the sheer pleasure I take in admiring you, but also in the hope of receiving a sign of acknowledgment as a form of consolation. But you did nothing of the sort. Instead you laughed continuously, made loud noises until the end of the show, for which I was both sorry and angry -- as you can well imagine. 

Venetia Antiqua Ensemble
The music performed between the intervals in the story moved the action along seamlessly. Pieces composed by Vivaldi, J.A. Hasse and Benedetto and Alessandro Marcello provided the soundtrack to the love story. Memmo desperately wanted to be with Giustiniana, and tried several schemes to make that happen. When the elderly John Smith's wife died, Memmo directed Giustiniana to seduce the old man in the hopes of making a marriage, thereby opening up the possibility for Giustiniana to be seen in the company of gentlemen -- since she would be a properly married woman. At first Giustiniana was outraged, then saw Memmo's logic, and made the attempt. She writes:

I've never seen Smith so sprightly. He made me walk with him all morning and climbed the stairs, skipping the steps to show his agility and strength. [The children] were playing in the garden at who could throw stones the furthest. And Memmo, would you believe it? Smith turned to me and said, "Do you want to see me throw a stone further than anyone else?" I thought he was kidding, but no: he asked [the children] to hand him two rocks and threw them toward the target. He didn't even reach it, so he blamed the stones, saying they were too light. He then threw more stones. By that time I was bursting with laughter and kept biting my lip.

My favorite letter was the young Memmo's sexual fantasy about his beloved:

As I lay in bed alone for so long I thought of the days when we will be together, comforting each other at night. This idea led to another and then to another and soon I was so fired up I could see you in bed with me. You wore that nightcap of yours I like so much, and a certain ribbon I gave you adorned your face so sweetly. You were so near to me and so seductive I took in your tender fragrance and felt your breath. You were in a deep sleep -- you even snored at times. You had kept me company all evening long with such grace that I really didn't have the heart to wake you up... but then a most fortunate little accident occurred just as my discretion was exhausting itself. You turned to me at the very moment in which you dreamed of being in my arms. Nature, perhaps encourage by habit, led you to embrace me. So there we were, next to each other, face to face and mouth to mouth! Your right leg was leaning on my left leg. Little by little the beak of the baby dove began to prick you so forcefully that in your sleep you moved your hand in such a way the thirsty little creature found the door wide open. Trembling from both fear and delight, it entered oh so gently into that little cage and after quenching its thirst it began to have some fun, flying about those spaces and trying to penetrate them as far as it could. It was so eager and made such a fuss that in the end you woke up.

It was not long before Memmo's scheme was found out -- Venice being the gossipy town that it is -- and Smith, furious, banished him from Palazzo Balbi. Undeterred, Memmo then plotted to marry Giustiniana secretly in the church, and the church was happy to oblige, eager to capture such a notable young nobleman. But when Giustiniana insisted that Memmo seriously consider what he would lose -- his entire life and career -- he reconsidered.

He next decided that he would marry Giustiniana legally, in front of the entire world -- all he needed to do was to change the law itself. He was not the only young man who wanted to move the oligarchy into modern times; there were other aristocrats in the same spot, and Memmo had the wealth and power to do it. He came very close to persuading enough nobility to join his cause until a document was found in the Archives revealing that Giustiniana's mother, Anna, had been deflowered by a Greek in her youth, and that was the end of that.

Andrea di Robilant and Liesl Odenweller
In the end, both Memmo and Giustiana married others, but remained lifelong friends; Giustiniana even went to Memmo's daughter's wedding. Memmo became governor of Padua and Ambassador to Constantinople; Giustiana married Count Orsini-Rosenberg, the Austrian Ambassador to Venice, and then became a respected writer. Although they have been gone for more than 200 hundred years, their great love story lives on.

Titian's Assumption at the Frari
Coda: As we left San Giovanni Evangelista and headed toward dinner, a chorus of angels filled the night air. The door to the Frari was wide open, and Titian's Assumption of the Virgin glowed as if it were lit by heaven itself. We entered the enormous basilica and learned it was a free concert -- a perfect coda to a perfect evening in mystical, magical Venice.

Click for Venice Music Project
Click for Andrea di Robilant
Click for Liesl Odenweller

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Better than a Photo - Ippolito Caffi at Museo Correr - Venice Museums by Moonlight

Venice Museums by Moonlight - inside Palazzo Ducale
(Venice, Italy) The Correr Museum and Palazzo Ducale are now open to the public until 11:00PM on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night, an idea I think is fantastic. Visiting a museum at night is a magical experience. It is like a childhood adventure where statues come alive and phantoms from the past whisper secrets in your ear.

Venice: Carnival Evening by Ipolitto Caffi (1860)
One exhibit you can visit at the Museo Correr any time until November 22 is a celebration of the work of the landscape painter, Ippolito Caffi - Between Venice and the Orient. Caffi died 150 years ago when he lost his life on the sinking ship Re d'Italia during the Battle of Lissa in 1866, a battle in which the Austrian Empire fought Italy, who were trying to capture Venice, which was then under Austrian rule.

Venice: The Molo at Sunset by Ipolitto Caffi (1864)
Here's some backstory: Italy became a nation-state called the Kingdom of Italy on March 17, 1861, but Venice was not part of it. Venice was an independent republic from 697 until 1797 when Napoleon conquered her, and then gave her to Austria. In 1848-1849, Venice briefly overthrew her Austrian rulers, and Ippolito Caffi, a fierce Venetian patriot, was part of the revolution that created the Republic of San Marco, which existed for 17 months. The Veneto did not want to be part of Italy, or Austria, or any other country, they wanted their independence back (they still do:-). However, Austria reconquered Venice on August 28, 1849. 

Venice: Regatta on the Grand Canal by Ipolitto Caffi (before 1848-49)
Almost seventeen years later, on July 20, 1866, Caffi was on the ship Re d'Italia to document the Kingdom of Italy's battle with the Austrians upon whom they had declared war. The Re d'Italia was rammed by the Ezherzog Ferdinand Max, and sank, taking some 400 of her crew down with her, including the captain -- and including Ippolito Caffi.

Back in the days when wars were actually declared and when peace treaties were actually negotiated to end the bloodshed, the Armistice of Cormons was signed a few weeks later on August 12, 1866 between the Kingdom of Italy and the Austrian Empire.

On October 12, 1866, according to the Treaty of Vienna, the Austrian Empire ceded Venetia to the French Empire, who ceded it to the Kingdom of Italy. So, it is also the 150 year anniversary that Venice has been part of Italy -- less than the United States of America has been a republic -- who, by the way, had built the armored frigate, the Re d'Italia (which means "King of Italy") in New York City for the Italian Royal Navy.

Italy became a republic on June 2, 1946, just 70 years ago, when it voted to abolish the monarchy and elect its head of state.

Venice: Snow and Fog by Ipollito Caffi (1842)
Ippolito Caffi was not just a revolutionary, he was the most modern and original landscape artist of his time. Born in Belluno, but Venetian by choice, he traveled throughout Italy, Europe and the Mediterranean, his exquisite paintings immortalizing the exotic cities he visited, and the people who lived there.

Egypt: Caravan in the Desert by Ippolito Caffi (1843)
More than 150 paintings were donated to Venice by Caffi's widow, Virginia Massana, back in 1889, and are normally conserved at the depositories at Ca' Pesaro. The exhibition commemorates the double anniversary of the death of Caffi, and the annexation of Venice into Italy.

Ippolito Caffi - 1809 - 1866 - Between Venice to the Orient runs through November 22, 2016.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog