Bennato and the Taranta Power
Italy’s southern wind blew strong at Club Fugazi
‘Though I start from the popular music of the South (of Italy), I have always conceived my music with an international breath that includes multiple languages,” declared Eugenio Bennato to the Gazzetta del Sud on the eve of his departure with the Taranta Power—his supporting band--for a flash tour of California on the invitation of the Italian Cultural Institutes of San Francisco (Annamaria Di Giorgio, director) and Los Angeles (Emanuele Amendola, director) and the corresponding Consulates General, for the celebration of Italian Heritage Month 32022. “Many of my songs have been written in English, not because I strive to be xenophile and dress up Taranta Power with other languages but because I have always perceived the need to internationalize my music. Today more than ever, musical comparison cannot be blocked by barriers. So at the root of this journey—to California—there’s the intention of bringing our rhythms to the other side of the world.” And in fact, for this tour, the Neapolitan composer—he founded the Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare an ensemble that popularized the rediscovery of Neapolitan traditional music—has translated his last composition, Great Minority, into English. “In that song, I speak about the anti-global minority that opposes unification efforts, a minority that even if remains small continues to grow.”
Bennato dubbed his latest tour “Vento Popolare,” popular wind. While we can’t confirm that the disruptive power of the message advanced by Taranta Power about immigration, the internationalization of ethnic relations, and the abolition of barriers was fully grasped by the public, we can assure the reader that the power of Taranta—a cathartic dance popular in Southern Italy—swept Club Fugazzi like the Scirocco wind on a Summer day rising the temperature and the dancing energy to the roof, as the following photo story can attest.
By Paolo Pontoniere
You may have noticed the brand new mural near the corner of 23rd and Treat. The maybe 100 feet long wall has been turned into a work of art by a crew of 25 Bay Area muralists led by Josue Rojas. The work isn’t an isolated opera, it is the first step into the expansion of the famed Birds of America, an 80-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall mural that Rojas and a crew of 100 muralists painted in 2020 to celebrate the life of Latino people who had perished at the hands of the police across the Bay Area in the heat years of police shootings. The whole building—thanks to private funding—is being turned into a visual ode to the Latinx experience in the Bay Area. To paraphrase Rojas, it will become a beacon of the Latino struggle for inclusion and the improvement of the living conditions of the communities living in the Mission district and around the Bay Area.
The work was completed in July by a group of local muralists—including Bolivian painter Pablito Ruiz Arroyo, Oakland artist Vanessa Solari Espinoza aka 'Agana,' and San Francisco Bay Area’s Aroon de la Cruz, Alvaro Lacayo, and Franciso Aquino aka Twick. The mural celebrates the life of Jesse Travizon, aka Spider, a mission muralist who lived nearby, the next installments will be dedicated to commemorating Yolanda Lopez, James Prigoff, and Clarence Robbs.
Three leading exponents of Latinx culture and political engagement, Lopez, a five-decade California feminist, and Chicana activist was the author of Portrait of the Artist as the Virgin of Guadalupe—one of the most famous Chicano artworks of the late ’70s. Lopez explored the experience of Mexican American women recasting herself, her mother, and her grandmother as the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Prigoff, who passed away in 2021 at 93, is the author of Spraycan Art, a seminal text for the study of graffiti, and of Murals of California, which is considered the Deus ex behind graffiti being accepted as an art form rather than remaining a misdemeanor. Robbs—aka Cuba—who passed away at 57 last year and had elected the Mission his residence instead brought "wildstyle" graffiti lettering—images formed by overlapping letters, arrows, and other geometrical forms to one another–to San Francisco
And the expansion of the Birds of America isn't the only work with which Rojas and his crew are engaged. He'll have created two additional murals between now and the end of this summer. A 10-story tall triticum that will occupy three sides of 681 Florida Street will become the new house of the mural “San Francisco's Carnaval,” and one at Downtown Highschool on Potrero Hill, Roja’s alma mater.
However busy Rojas may appear, he is but one of the many Latino artists who are animating what can be defined as a new Latinx cultural revolution in the Bay Area, which centers around a flourishing of murals, community centers, galleries, libraries, public events, budding musicians, poets, and writers. Works of “historical muralists,” like Marina Perez-Wong, tagger Dzire and Susan Cervantes, are now being flanked by those of Marco Rios, Ethan in Motion and King157—all muralists who were their pupils when they taught at Precita Eyes, a Mission-based and community-driven school for aspiring artists. Josue Rojas, an apprentice of the Precita’s hub himself is at the center of this movement. A former art director of Youth Outlook, a periodical that offered a writing outlet to the Youth of San Francisco's Juvenile Hall, Rojas, besides being a muralist, is also a community activist.
He has been director of youth programs at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, art director and editor of El Tecolote, and former Chair of Accíon Latina—the continuator of galleria La Raza. Rojas’ work was on exhibition last year along with Rivera's Pan-American from May to August at the SFMOMA. He was instrumental in organizing the local muralists’ presence at the museum during the activities surrounding the celebrated transfer. In the fall of 2020, Rojas coordinated a group of 100 muralists to produce Birds of the Americas. Recently Rojas (who also goes as JR The Artist) has been featured with his mother by KQED for their son-Mother Painting Duo. But talk about the Renaissance, and the opinions start diverging. How deep is the phenomenon? Is the artist himself aware of being part of a revival dynamic? Though one of the primary engines of the resurgence of creative activities around Latinx themes in the San Francisco Bay Area, Rojas himself is of two minds when it comes to the term.
to Save the Mission, the Tenderloin People's Congress and the South of Market Community Action Network. Just last February, with the participation of the neighborhood's residents, and after a battle that lasted almost a decade, they compelled the city to take over the "Monster in the Mission" from luxury real estate developer Maximus Inc. Maximus had planned to build 300condos on the 16th and Mission’s location and to destinate it to affordable housing. Then, there's the restoration of the Carnaval mural over the House of Brakes at 24th and South Van Ness. Next, the restoration of Clarion Valley after the murals were defaced in 2018. Finally, the formation of the Calle 24 District and now the expansion of the Birds of Americas, and many more worksare being painted by the day.
"Well, in light of these considerations, one may conclude that, indeed, a Latinx Renaissance is underway in the Bay Area," Rojas concedes.
For Lou de Matties, photojournalist, a former correspondent from Latin America for Reuters and Pacific News, and producer of 'Crimebuster,' and "Mission Noir" movies such as 'The Other Barrio' and 'Another Barrio,' a Latinx Renaissance has been underway since the seventies when Paco's Tacos at 24th and South Van Ness was hosting exhibitions by Latina muralists Patricia Rodriguez, Consuelo Mendez, and Graciela Carrillo of the collective Las
Mujeres Muralistas. It was a time when walking in the Mission, one would run into Roberto Vargas, the members of the Mission Poets of editorial Pocho-Ché, and Alejandro Murguía, first San Francisco's poet laureate and author of Mission Visions, adds De Matteis. "Politics played a big role at the time. The fight against Somoza, they fought in Nicaragua, with the fight against gentrification history, is coming full circle," says de Matteis. "This new generation of muralists, street poets, videographers, and musicians have turned the Mission again into a hotbed of Latino culture; their art seeks to elevate the visibility and the profile of the Latinx community." De Matteis points to organizations like Calle 24, The Brava Theatre, Precita Eyes, Mission Cultural
Center and The Women's Building during COVID spearheading the campaign for vaccinating the neighborhood's residents independently from official channels.
"The Mission and Visitation Valley have been ignored by the authorities; if it weren't for those organizations and the local artists, it would have been a disaster," says De Matteis, "and it is a seed that is spreading across to the Bay, for example, with Causa Justa," an Oakland-based nonprofit that provides legal assistance to low-income renters who have been evicted, as well as several collaborations and collaborations with artists and muralists across the South."
For playwright and performer Paul Flores, director of Paseo Artistico—a free public art walk that takes on 24th and adjacent streets every two weeks with performances, music, public readings, food, workshops, and seminars—the Renaissance began toward the end of the nineties with the program Regeneration, launched by the now-closed Galeria de La Raza on 24th and Bryant. Regeneration is meant to develop a new generation of Latino performers and visual artists.
"Out of that initiative have come to a lot of people, some have also become famous in their own right, like (graphic novelist and LGBTQ activist) Jaime Cortez, who just published Gordo a book for Grove Press, (performance artist, writer, and activist) Guillermo Gomez-Pena, and (performer, writer, poet, and lecturer) Leticia Hernandez who organized acting workshops," says Flores." We started to adopt the neighborhood's traditions and put them into music, poetry, spoken words." From there, organizing young Chicano artists and pushing for the creation of more Latino enterprises, the step was just natural. On 24th Street, there are about 20 Latinx 10 cultural venues: Precita Eyes, the Brava Theatre, Medicine for Nightmare Bookstore and Gallery, Adobe Books, Dance Mission, Mission's Precita, Evolved SF, the Mission Cultural Center, El Tecolote, Accíon Latina.
"We had local people saying, we want to participate in developing a cultural program on 24th that gets everybody involved," says Flores.
More bearish the position of long-time Mission resident Chris Carlsson. Writer, historian, "professor bicyclist," and creator of the Shaping San Francisco archive, Carlsson believes that whatever Renaissance may be talked about, Latinx dynamics in the city are marked by expulsion.
"If you consult the most recent census figures and compare them to 2010 and 2000, not to mention earlier censuses, you'll see there's been a steady fall in the population of Latinx people here in the Mission," says Carlsson. "Overall, there has not been an increase citywide, largely because it's too damn expensive to move here unless you have boatloads of money!"
Fernando Ramirez, co-founder of the clothes store/art gallery Evolvedsf, does not doubt that a renaissance is definitively in the Mission's cards, “particularly since the community has successfully contained the effects of gentrification,” stresses Ramirez.
"I mean, you can see everything that's happening on 24th street. All the emerging artists, the new murals, the musicians coming up," says Ramirez. Currently, the gallery is exhibiting works by Tanya Hernandez, an artist of Guatemalan origins. She creates people's portraits on burned wood. "For her opening Diego Herrera, aka DJ Lucky provided the entertainment," adds Fernando. "Like many of the other operators of Calle 24, we also organize art classes, seminars, and other activities to allow neighbors to interact with the artists and to make art."
But talk about Renaissance, and opinions start diverging immediately. How deep is the phenomenon? Is the artist aware of being amid a revival dynamic? Did the artist of the Renaissance know that there was such a thing as the Renaissance?
"Sort of yes…but sort of no," Davide Gasparotto, senior curator of paintings at the Getty Museum answered recently. "As always in history, it is very complex; there's not an easy answer."
Giorgio Vasari was the first person to ever use the word Renaissance in 1500 to describe the creative wave that had been already shaking Europe for over the 200 year before his birth. He divided the phenomenon into three phases describing its mutation and growth over time. And if the past is immutable, the present uncertain, it is the future that tells the story. And on September 24, 2022, Venezuelan multidisciplinary performing artist, cultural worker, and educator Andreina Maldonado and the members of La Colectiva de Mujeres will open with "Our Work/ Our Dignity." Developed with the support of the San Francisco Arts Commission Individual Artist grant, "the work is about immigration, justice and low-wage workers, complete with personal stories, poetry, original music, and choreographed dance that uplifts the voices of the working class and puts immigrant people's lived experiences at the forefront of artistic spaces," says Maldonado.
This fall, actress Virginia Blanco and her La Lengua Theatre group will debut Las Azurduy [las-ah-soor-doo-ee]. Written by Argentinian playwright Florencia Aroldis, it is a story about Juana Azurduy, a mixed-race woman of Indigenous descent who only recently was recognized by history books as a hero of Latin America's wars of independence against the Spanish crown. In addition, La Lengua and AlterTheater are collaborating on a playwriting residency program called Historias de Descolonización/ Decolonization Stories. Five BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) storytellers from all over the Americas have been chosen to produce short plays in Spanish, Spanglish, Diné, Aymara, and English to be showcased this fall. In addition, this past June 18 returned to Paseo Artistico. On that occasion, Accíon Latina presented "Somos Esenciales / We Are Essential," a bilingual, multimedia performance and research project by local Written and directed by Paul S. Flores that explores the stories of the "Latinx Pandemic," referring to when 80% of COVID infections were from the Latino community.
And to cap everything, while great expectations brew for the second volume of SFMOMA's "The Mission Muralismo Video Zine," Duke University Press recently announced the upcoming publication (August 12, 2022) of Consuelo Jimenez Underwood:Art, Weaving, Vision. A collection of essayes curated by Laura E. Pérez and Ann Marie Leimer, the collection represents the first comprehensive look at the art of this Chicana feminist textile. Interestingly enough an upcoming exhibition about Jimenez Underwood's work is scheduled to open this October at the San Jose Museum of Quilts while the Smithsonian American Art Museum will feature one of her creations in the “Subversive, Skilled, Sublime: Fiber Art by Women” exhibition scheduled for October 2024. In the meantime, in the Mission, everybody is getting ready for Precita Eyes' 45th-anniversary gala this coming October.
ANTONY & CLEOPATRA:
A Promising Opening
Though reduced from forty-something characters to just eight, Shakespeare's Anthony and Cleopatra staged currently (until October 5, 2022) at the San Francisco Opera to celebrate its centennial, remains a tough nut to crack. Even for a creative and genial composer such as John Adams. The breath of the bard's opera casts the two lover's dramatic epic against the tapestry of history and the great upheavals that at the end of Roma's Age of the Republic brought to Octavian seizing absolute power and the birth of the Roman Empire, is too vast to be encompassed even by Adams' spinning woodwinds; bombastic brass and sometimes tortuous minimalistic and angular harmonies, which in their busyness may well render the spirit of the time which must have been chaotic to hilts, as were the ending of the battle of Actium, with the Egyptian fleet in retreat and the last moments of Cleopatra's and Antony's lives. So little room do these sounds leave for expressing the emotional warmth and sensuality linking the two lovers.
"When you get to be my age, you're not compared to other composers; you are compared to your earlier works," Adams confided before the opening to New York Times reporters. However, as the characters of Shakespeare's drama, Adams' Antony and Cleopatra can't escape the pull of history and the comparison to the experience of other composers with the same theatrical work who were doomed at the start. The reference here is to Samuel Barber's Antony and Cleopatra, which opened at the Metropolitan of New York in September 1966 on a lavish scenography and libretto by Italy's Franco Zeffirelli, starring Leontyne Price as Cleopatra, and flopped. Unfortunately, to be revied, Barber's version of the opera, which spanned three acts, had to be cut by about an hour. And though streamlined, it has been performed only infrequently. Will Adams encounter a similar demise?
It seems unlikely. Adams' version benefits from a stellar cast. Amina Edris and Gerald Finley are perfect as Antony and Cleopatra. Eun Sun Kim's baton is terse and mathematical. The genius of Elkhanah Pulitzer and Lucia Scheckner, co-librettists with Adams, is evident in the re-rendition text of Shakespeare. Tony Award set designer and McArthur genius fellow Mimi Lien carries the action flawlessly and elegantly from one scene to the other. Paul Appleby, tenor as Octavian (Caesar August), Hadleigh Adams as Caesar's attendant Agrippa, Philip Skinner, bass-baritone as Lepidus, and mezzo-soprano Taylor Raven, as Cleopatra's confidante, give it all to make the opera successful. We hope that their enthusiasm and new yorkers' jaded attitude toward incomplete works of genius—after San Francisco the opera will travel to the MET--will spur Adams to revisit his creation to make it grow into something more than the episodic celebration of a centennial and become itself a work of art for the ages. Any age.
Those who sought a British Museum-style exhibition, Ramses the Great The Gold of the Pharaohs, at the De Young Museum may be left with some bitter aftertaste in their mouth. But Ramses II--this is his official title--arrived at the De Young out of his sarcophagus—figuratively, of course--in full splendor like Cecil B. De Mille at the projection of Cleopatra on Hollywood Boulevard in 1934. He arrived with grandeur--accompanied by hundreds of artifacts-- featured by a slew of digital animations, and with more Pizzaz than Cleopatra who though reign about 1000 years closer to us cannot overshadow his fame.
And no better Amphitryon to his epic life and times than Nefertari, his first wife, and greatest love, who guides the visitor like Virgil led Dante through hell and back in an epical journey. Seated in the exhibit’s Virtual reality cocoon-like pods like the God Ra in his chariot, visitors follow Nefertari--identical to the God Ra in his chariot--in a mad flight across the life of Ramses and Egypt during the years of his reign. Nefertiti highlights not only the Pharaoh and his deeds but also the Ramses, the man and lover. From there, the exhibit visitor moves to a state-of-the-art multimedia maze studded with 180 dazzling objects; many newly discovered have never left Egypt before. The exhibition features exquisite sculpture, precious treasures, the most elegant jewelry, and VR productions like the reconstruction of The Battle of Qadesh, considered the greatest battle of antiquity in which the New Kingdom of Egypt, under the guidance of Ramesses II, defeated the Hittite Empire. The battle occurred upstream of Lake Homs near the modern Lebanon–Syria border. Altogether struggles, digital journeys, and artifacts demonstrate the opulence and power of ancient Egyptian civilization. Ramses the Great and the Gold of the Pharaohs also explore the life of eminent military officers and princelings of the empire of Ramses II, a crown prince of the Nineteenth Dynasty. He eventually became one of the longest-ruling kings of Egypt in a 67-year reign.
“Kings before and after Ramses erected colossal statues of themselves, but none are larger or greater in number than those commissioned by Ramses the Great,” says Renée Dreyfus, a George and Judy Marcus Distinguished Curator and Curator in Charge of Ancient Art at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “The temples he erected, statues he commissioned, monuments he inscribed throughout Egypt and Nubia, and funerary temple and royal tomb he built were reminders of his earthly power and closeness to the gods. The proliferation of his name led to it becoming almost a synonym for kingship.”
And while some murmuring can be heard coming from the corner of the purists, Ramses the Great brings the brilliance and the mystique of the Pharaohs, the Nile, and Egypt to a public that, in the aftermath of Covid is thirsting for dreaming, for passion, mystery, and excitement, leaving it satisfied and ready to dive again in the Epic of Egypt and of the Pharaohs. Undoubtedly a great success and an exhibit that marks a turning point in the history of didactical divulgation, and archeological popularization.
The Bronze Patriarch of the Caravagians
On June 9,2022, as almost intending to challenge political correctness, which has deemed the word patriarch worthy of cancel culture--particularly in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s reversal on women’s abortion rights—Naples’ Museo and Real Bosco di Capodimonte (Capodimonte’ Royal Forest and Museum)opened a retrospective on the work of Giovan Battista Caracciolo, aka Battistello Caracciolo (Naples, 1578-1635), a relatively well-known Neapolitan late Renaissance painter who more than others embodied the teachings of Caravaggio, so much so that art critic and historian Roberto Longhi defined him the Bronze Patriarch of the Caravagians.
Almost 80 works are set up in the Museo’s Causa wing, many come from public Italian and foreign institutions, religious organizations and private collectors. The exhibition, curated by Stefano Causa and Patrizia Piscitello. Until 2 October 2022 at the Museo and Real Bosco di Capodimonte – PP / Napoli
The Art of Nature
The vineyards of Cantina Lilliu lie between the ancient plateaus of Sa Jara Manna and Sa Jara Pittica in the countryside of Ussaramanna, a village smack-dab in the heart in the splendid region of Sardinia’s Marmilla where stands the majestic Nuragic Bronze Age palace of Barumini and were Sardinia’s Middle Age heroine Eleonora d’Arborea had one of her castles built.
Respect for the land and an alliance with nature are the tools used by Lilliu to cultivate the four hectares of vineyards where the grapes are grown. After more than 15 years of activity, Pietro Lilliu and Roberta Porceddu have chosen to distance themselves from easy labels and attractive trends - from “organic” to “natural” - to embark on a personal journey capable of intertwining innovation and tradition.
“Our approach creates grapes that are pure, vibrant and intense in flavor. Then, it's simply a matter of delivering the best expression of that fruit from our vine to your glass,” say the two winemakers. It should be noted that Roberta is also the president of the Association Movimento Turismo Vino-Sardegna, which promotes rare and little known vinifications like the Pantumas, a white Canonau.
Without chemicals or exploiting the soil
Pietro and Roberta eschew using exogenous grapes or musts to cut their wines. They promote synergistic agriculture and dry farming, producing grapes without pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. In the spring they cover the furrows between the rows with a clay turf capable of releasing nutrients, precious both for the grapes and for the earth, and retain water during periods of draught or prevent flooding during the winter. In addition, basic nutrients are made with organic fertilizers.
Synergistic agriculture and dry farming
Synergistic agriculture leverages the plants’ ability to interacts with each other and to nourish and influence the land that hosts them. As they grow and mature all plants return precious nutrients to the soil in the form of root exudates, organic residues, useful microorganisms and friendly bacteria. Dry farming leverages instead the morphology of the soil and its stratification to reduce the use of water, and the need for aqueduct’s infrastructures and fossil fuels.
A DAY AT
The Repubblica of Frigolandia
The Museum of Maivismo
(The Neverseen Art)
The Republic of Frigolandia is a micronation of the kind of ludo nations founded in 2005 in the municipality of Giano dell'Umbria by Vincenzo Sparagna, but already conceived and conceived in 1985 by Sparagna himself together with Andrea Pazienza.
The project for the Republic of Frigolandia, which also saw the support of Achille Bonito Oliva, was initially presented to the Municipality of Castel Ritaldi and the Umbria Region in 2003 and was to be placed in a 12th-century castle, but only the following year found space in Giano dell'Umbria, where the Municipality allocated spaces previously used for the summer camps to the project and which over time fell into a state of neglect. Thus it was that the Republic of Frigolandia was inaugurated, after the restoration works, on April 25, 2006 within a wooded park of two hectares, with a 10-year contract renewable three times, stipulated by the municipality of Giano dell'Umbria. Since then April 25 has become one of the national holidays, the day on which the "Liberation of smart refrigerators" is celebrated. In addition to the 2 hectares of woodland, the Republic of Frigolandia included the Museum of Maivista Art, the editorial offices of Frigidaire and Il Nuovo Male, which today published the fourth generation of artists and collaborators, the Jack London's Hut which was a shack designed by Luciano Biscarini where the Nomad Museum of fantastic literature was to be located, two houses to host citizens on pilgrimage called Casa degli Oblò and Casa Rosada and a playground for children. In the following years, Jack London's Hut was torn down to make way for the Oklahoma Natural Theater.
The Master of S’aqua Salia
Antonello Salis is probably one of the finest—and least known—examples of the little-explored but nevertheless illustrious Sardinian tradition of agropastoral sculpture, a practice which arks back to the age of the Nuragic civilization and the many megalithic locations, like Monte'Prama, that were settled eons ago by the pre-historic populations of the island of Sardinia. Antonello, however, doesn't work only with granite. Starting with witling when he was just a small boy, mostly self-thought, Antonello's skills with wood, clay, and other stones, including tuff and marble, have become remarkable, his works exhibiting not only fine finishing and color but also the soul of the land from which the stones came from, and the imprint of the hand of those who touched them over the time. S'Aqua Salia, in Teulada's locality, is his ancestral home; one can hear the generations pounding the earth with their steps, and calling each other across the centuries, as herds of animals migrate through and forth and pursue time and space. It was supposed to be an agritourism location; instead, it is an unwitting museum. I hope that one day he'll open up to the world.
With Don Giovanni, the SF Opera Concludes the Mozart – Da Ponte Trilogy
If the story had been about entrepreneurs picking up and dropping companies like they are women who once wooed are then discarded like spent napkins, the Don Giovanni staged at the San Francisco Opera this past June could have not been more on the mark about the spirit of discordance ringing loud at the beginning of the second decade of this new millennium. As SF Opera's Don Giovanni sifts through woman after woman, like a child in a candy store, or the modern dating site user seeking for lovers anew, we cannot help but to consider the events involving hi-tech tycoons like Musk, Zuckerberg, Bezos, the sense of entitlement, the alternate ethos and peculiar ethics to which they subscribe, the expectation of immunity from conventions and norms binding the ordinary mortal, deriving from their unique position. Don Giovanni's (Etienne du Puis) propensity to 'get away with murder' is not much different from that of those tycoons. He doesn't hesitate to commit murder, pursue female conquests, and sexual enjoyment.
The last opera in the Mozart – Da Ponte's trilogy (The Marriage of Figaro, Cosí Fan Tutte, and Don Giovanni) in the current staging, Don Giovanni, is set against the colonial house in which developed the trilogy at the beginning of the series with the Marriage of Figaro. The house that signified the US as a young nation confronted with issues such as racism and sexual discrimination, which haunt the nation today, has remained at center stage in all three operas.
In Cosí fan Tutte, the house had become a 1930's southern US country club. The members still grappling with the same societal ills they were during colonial times. The house, no longer stately and as neat as when the slaves labored upon it during The Marriage of Figaro, sits in tatters, probably victimized by rioters and ransacked to the bones by thieves and vagrants. Burnt and violated, her belly lies open to the peering of external observers; her walls are the background against which takes form the humor of a post-apocalyptic US. Again, elites hold significant influence and power; they are again unpunishable demi-gods.
Director Michael Cavanagh's new production of Don Giovanni enjoys an international cast headed by Etienne Dupuis as Don Giovanni, Adela Zaharia as Donna Anna, and Nicole Car as Donna Elvira. Christina Gansch (Zerlina), Luca Pisaroni (Leporello), Amitai Pati (Don Ottavio), Cody Quattlebaum (Masetto) and Soloman Howard (Commendatore). In addition, Parisian conductor Bertrand de Billy made his company debut magisterially, conducting the score initially given in 1788 Vienna.
Cavanagh and his team--including projection designer Erhard Rom, costume designer Constance Hoffman and lighting designer Jane Cox—put the finishing touch to San Francisco Opera's vision of the trilogy setting Don Giovanni in a catastrophic future somewhere in 2080, some 150 years after the thirties, when both the house and society are crumbling.
Don Giovanni takes advantage of a class system in which the nobility enjoys a particular social position. That allows Don Giovanni to hide his crimes with easiness. In Hollywood's America, characters like Jeffrey Epstein, Ghislaine Maxwell, Bill Cosby, and Josh Duggar abound, and enraged mobs assault congresses, police stations, abortion clinics, and cancel a piece of history by popular diktat. His behavior sounds both familiar and criminal.
Though the “levity” with which he approaches women and interpersonal relationships may revolt the observer, one can't help to observe with fascination how likable, convivial, and convincing a villain can be, and even admire if only faintly and for a moment, the deliberate—and tragicomic-- determination with which he pursues evil all the way to self-destruction.
Brechtian similitudes—and maybe inspirational influences--emerge from the choir usage and set design, and provide epic references to theatre's history serving to animate the scene and, in Wagnerian fashion, make all arts come together and work as one. Bravo!
TWO QUEENS IN POMPEII
Two actresses and directors, Elena Bucci and Chiara Muti played Queens Mary Stuart and Elizabeth Tudor in Due Regine at the Teatro Grande di Pompeii this past week.
A poignant, and spellbinding interpretation by two skillful actresses and dramaturgists, Two Queens is a drama about the vicissitudes in which were involved Elizabeth 1st, the first Queen of England, and Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland during the 17th century. Forced by history into a deadly life-long confrontation the two queens finally meet in southern Italy during an early summer night. Two queens, two women, two religions, two opposite temperaments, two zodiac signs, in contrast, two visions of politics of life, love, two destinies. The life of one means the death of the other. In order to win, they resort to war and intrigue, sacrificing piety, and decency.
The story narrated through historical documents develops via a parallel dramaturgy where the ghosts of Britannia’s past intertwine with those of Rome among the magical ruins of Pompeii. Autobiography, dream, story, a warning Political structures, bureaucracies can crush even those who are supposed to serve, and personal will has no standing against the interest of the state. An omen, a metaphor, a parallel? How not to think about current events?
AND MENDING THE EARTH
The opportunity is provided by the upcoming July 1st Nat’Arte collective art exhibition, at the Archeological Park of Baia, in the county of Naples. Six artists were curated by Franco Riccardo. Nat’arte is a wordplay on the edge of Neapolitan since, in the local idiom, it means another art, and on ecological intents, since it is also a contraction of nature’s art. Michele Ciardiello, top of the bill, is a leading influence in the region. We have had the fortune of observing Ciardiello at work.
More of a performing artist—at the least on the cerebral level—than a simply categorizable creative, Ciardiello is as genial as he is controversial, iconoclastic, and uncompromising. “Destined to great recognition, if not in life for sure after,” believe some of his closest followers. For this exhibition, which intends to highlight the role that art can play in amending ecological imbalances, Ciardiello has created a gigantic wooden sewing needle it will be used to sew the earth together. Here, at the Phlegraean Fields’ fault, volcanic and social dynamics have generated great fractures.
But Ciardiello doesn’t intend just to mend nature’s fracture with wooden needles and shipyard’s cord, here in a location where people were already living thousands of years ago, the arboreal stake—the needle will be driven deep into the earth--and marine thread will also mend the separation between past and present highlighting the agricultural tradition of the region.
At the Parco Monumental dei Campi Flegrei, Bacoli, Napoli, starting July 1st.
THE MUSEUM OF STOLEN ART
After initially returning some work of art to Ethiopia in the 80s—first case of a western nation voluntarily returning a work of art to its legitimate country--now Italy works hard to recover its own stolen artifacts. “Il museo dell’arte recuperata”, the Museum of Rescued Art, a new museum, which opened in San Severino this past June 11, is dedicated to the exhibition of Italy’s regained artistic treasures that had been stolen from the country to be brought to the U.S. opens this month in Rome. To begin with roughly 100 Etruscan, Greek and Roman artifacts will be put on display, including “carved Etruscan figurines” and “imposing painted jars,” all objects dating back to the eighth, to fourth centuries B.C.E., and many come from what is now Cerveteri. The museum will change its exhibits every couple of months, eventually returning objects to their original locations or creating new ad hoc locations, as it happened in the case of the Satiro danzante (Dancing Satyr), a Magna Grecia work of art that was recovered from the depth of the Mediterranean Sea off Italy’s coast and from the hands of art smugglers at the end of the nineties. — PP
People, Art, and Revolution
At the De Young Museum of San Francisco
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is presenting the first comprehensive survey of works by American artist Alice Neel (1900–1984). This retrospective positions Neel as one of the 20th century’s most radical painters—one who championed social justice and held a long-standing commitment to humanist principles that inspired both her art and her life. Featuring a multitude of Neel’s paintings, drawings, and watercolors, as well as a rarely seen film unique to the de Young museum’s presentation, the de Young is the only West Coast venue for this revolutionary exhibition.
“Though Alice Neel called New York City home, much of her persona and art, overflowing with uncompromising humanism and regard for all people, aligns deeply with the spirit of San Francisco,” stated Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “Neel visited the city a few times in her lifetime, creating a number of works which will be on view in our presentation at the de Young. It is with much delight that we welcome Neel back to the Bay Area through her resounding paintings.”
This exhibition spans the entirety of Neel’s career, from her professional debut in Cuba in the 1920s and her work as part of the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s; through her commitment to centering the figure at a time when abstraction was ascendant, in the 1940s and 1950s; her resurgence in the 1960s and 1970s; and the emergence of her “late style” in the 1980s. Besides foregrounding her often under-recognized artistic accomplishments, Alice Neel: People Come First presents Neel as an artist who engaged with progressive politics throughout her lifetime.
-- Photos: PP
Fashion as a Dream and an Experiment
At San Francisco's Palace of the Legion of Honor, an exhibition about Guo Pei, a Chinese fashion designer, opened last April. Considered China's foremost fashion designer, Guo Pei blends nature, tradition, art, and the Chinese mystical cosmogony into her creations. Her works are based on China's traditional dressmaking techniques and new techniques for creating fabrics. Here's what the PLH says about her: "Guo Pei's work constantly astonishes and delights with its dazzling originality and craftsmanship. It brings together art and fashion filtered through an imagination that draws on global design traditions."
Guo Pei, in her own words:
"In my life, there are two types of designs -the first type is very realistic and wearable. The other type of design -is for me. These things are closer to art. My designs tend to be wild and whimsical, and I try a lot of new things. I am using clothes to tell a story, so it's very similar to a play."
Enjoy. — PP
A pasta mischiata (mixed pasta) column?
De Lillo, Tornatore, Eco, Faggin, Donizetti, Di Suvero, Catelan and pasta faggioli? In this nook of The Almanac, the reader will find anything.
What does it even mean? Let’s see. Many Italians and Italian Americans of my generation may remember that in the past, pasta did not always arrive in a neatly designed one-pound box. When I was a child, pasta at the grocery store came in large bags, sold in bulk. The grocer would weigh it and wrap it into some packaging or newspaper pages. At some point, reaching into the bottom of those bags would become unwieldy, so the grocer would pour the remnants from different bags into one. In this way, rigatoni, penne, ziti, schiaffi, and even spaghetti and linguine would be mixed together like eels into a fishmonger vat. That pasta, which was also the cheapest, was the best pasta for delightful dishes of pasta with beans, lentils, potatoes, and other wintery legumes and tubers. Therefore mindful of the habits of grocers past, the publisher and the editors of the Italifornian have decided to collect in this corner of the Almanac all the information, news, stories, hearsay, gossip, legends, and myths which don’t find an immediate classification, or don’t exude a close connection to our scope but of which we are sure the community of readers and users would love to know and be informed about. So opera, meetings, exhibits, debates, concerts, sporting events, and all the things that take place in d this region and this community will be fair game.
We hope it will be appreciated and followed. -- Paolo Pontoniere, Publisher