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Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Art & Culture

    The F Word – Talking Fashion with Valerie Steele

     The F word, yes that is a euphemistic way of referring to the word...well, you know which word. We don't really need to be specific right now, but we can say that the expression is often used when we don't want to use that curse word, especially in front of children or when we want to be polite.

    The F word was also the title of a conversation about Fashion (PUN INTENDED) with ValerieSteele, Director and Chief Curator of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology held at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo' that was part of a series of meetings of the series AdDRESSing Style. Creators and hosts of the series were Grazia d'Annunzio, US Special Projects Editor, Vogue Italia, and Professor Eugenia Paulicelli, Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature, co-Director of The Concentration in Fashion Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY.

    “Years ago Fashion was indeed the F word,” Valerie Steele, who has been nicknamed the Freud (another F) of fashion said, “People did not want to be associated with it. When I was in school and I was writing my dissertation a colleague asked me what I was writing it about, and I replied fashion. He answered with a question... German or Italian? He had misunderstood me. I was not writing about fascism and when I tried to explain that to him and he walked away. Fashion was a frivolous topic.”

    Yet the three fashionable ladies were everything but frivolous as they carried on one of the most interesting conversations held at Casa Italiana so far, a conversation that ranged from trends of all eras, including corsets and goth inspired pieces, to fashion designers like Valentino, Dior or Gaultier, fashion icons, like Daphne Guinness and Oscar Wilde, the collection at FIT and the different shows held there. 

    The classic definition of fashion is “a popular style or practice, especially in clothing, footwear, accessories, makeup, body piercing, or furniture. Fashion refers to a distinctive and often habitual trend in the style in which a person dresses or to prevailing styles in behavior.” But Valerie Steele has her own definition, “fashion is the expression of someone's personal identity.”

    And through her work at FIT Valerie Steele and her team of curators are busy showcasing the different styles and identities of the past two centuries. “We have a permanent collection of 50.000 pieces, including garments and accessories. Our strength is mostly on the 20th and 21st century. Clothes are not like oil paintings so they cannot be on permanent display, they need to rest in the dark...and we continue to switch them around.”

    Currently on view, there is A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, to explore in depth the significant contributions to fashion made by LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer) individuals over the past 300 years. “We hope that this exhibition will transform our understanding of fashion history,” Steele, who co-curated the show with Fred Dennis, senior curator of costume, has declared “For many years, gays and lesbians were hidden from history. By acknowledging the historic influence of gay designers, and by emphasizing the important role that fashion and style have played within the LGBTQ community, we see how central gay culture has been to the creation of modern fashion.”

    The conversation also touched topics such as Italian fashion (which is not as hot as it used to be, Steele highlighted), French couture, Japanese styles (apparently Tokyo is shopping Heaven or Hell, depending on how much you spend!!!), fetishism, shoe obsessions (the shoe has replaced the bag as THE accessory par excellence)... a fascinating voyage through the multiple facets of fashion... not a frivolous topic at all.

  • Art & Culture

    Bergman-Rossellini, Their Films Together in a Box Set

     “In the late 1940s, the incandescent Hollywood star Ingrid Bergman found herself so stirred by the revolutionary neorealist films of Roberto Rossellini that she sent the director a letter, introducing herself and offering her talents.

    The resulting collaboration produced a series of films that are works of both sociopolitical concern and metaphysical melodrama, each starring Bergman as a woman experiencing physical dislocation and psychic torment in postwar Italy. It also famously led to a scandalous affair and eventual marriage between filmmaker and star, and the focus on their personal lives in the press unfortunately overshadowed the extraordinary films they made together. Stromboli, Europe ’51, and Journey to Italy are intensely moving portraits that reveal the director at his most emotional and the glamorous actress at her most anguished, and that capture them and the world around them in transition.” (www.criterion.com)

    These three films are contained in The Criterion Collection's new release Rossellini/Bergman box set, available both on DVD and Blu-Ray and its publication was announced at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo' during a special presentation moderated by David Forgacs,  NYU. Panelists included  Antonio Monda, NYU, Kim Hendrickson, The Criterion Collection, and Ingrid Rossellini. Unfortunately her twin sister, Isabella Rossellini, could not participate as scheduled because of health reasons. The discussion was followed by the screening of  Journey to Italy.

    “This film caused me a lot of pain,” Rossellini is shown saying in a short video before the beginning of the film. In it he explained how the Italian critics and media did not understand or appreciate it while he received a letter from Truffaut at the Cahiers du Cinema praising his work, and that was a relief. Bergman and Rossellini made five features (the other two are Fear and Giovanna d’Arco al rogo) and a short, none of which succeeded with audiences or critics.

    “The rejection their work together got from the media really took a toll on them,” Ingrid Rossellini said about her parents and their collaborations, “although it did not show. Mamma left Hollywood behind, but she did not want just fame she wanted to be part of something meaningful.”

    And the films in this box set, are indeed meaningful. First they show how a revolutionary film director like Rossellini continued to move forward and innovate cinema. “These films were too new and revolutionary,” Monda confirmed, “Rossellini realized the end of Neo realism had arrived and he moved away from it, telling stories of every day people and how tragedy enters their lives. But the combination of Hollywood fame and European auteur resulted in unpredictable films that couldn't be classified as neorealism or melodrama, though they contained elements of both.

    Rossellini was really close to these stories, he produced, directed and co-wrote them. Although it seems that there was not really a script and a lot was improvised. Apparently during the shooting of  Journey to Italy, actor George Sanders was often in tears as he did not know what to do. Ingrid Bergman would also get nervous at moments but she would look up, see Rossellini behind the camera and get direction from him. Maybe a lot of it was not written on paper but it was all mapped out in his mind.

    Stromboli (1950) - The first collaboration between Roberto Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman is a devastating portrait of a woman’s existential crisis, set against the beautiful and forbidding backdrop of a volcanic island.

    Europe '51 (1952) - Ingrid Bergman plays a wealthy, self-absorbed Rome socialite racked by guilt over the shocking death of her young son. As a way of dealing with her grief and finding meaning in her life, she decides to devote her time and money to the city’s poor and sick.

    Journey to Italy (1954) - Among the most influential films of the postwar era, Roberto Rossellini’s Journey to Italy charts the declining marriage of a couple from England (Ingrid Bergman and George Sanders) on a trip in the countryside near Naples.

  • Art & Culture

    Giacomo Balla's "Penetrazioni dinamiche d'automobile" @ NYU

    Last on view in the United States during the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, Giacomo Balla's Penetrazioni dinamiche d'automobile (1912-13), the iconic work of art plays a fundamental role in Balla's dynamic contribution to Futurist aesthetics, was presented, for a day only, at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimo (NYU). The piece will be up for grabs on November 5 at Christie's.

    “We are in front of a painting that celebrates speed and the last time a group of people like us  stood in front of it was 98 years ago,” Nicola Lucchi doctoral student in the Italian department at NYU said at the presentation, “Our predecessors were looking at this Balla at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco: when searching for contemporary Italian art, the expo's visitors were directed two different ways - the official Italian pavilion  which was filled with very academic paintings that were typically Italian as per their artificiality.

    The second possibility was to walk further to a gallery annex and experience what unofficial Italy had to offer. That was the first exhibition of futuristic art in the United States.”

    Balla's drawing was in a position of regard, either the first or last to see in the room.

    “Tonight we have the privilege of re engaging in a dialogue interrupted almost a century ago,” Lucchi continued, “This is an important Balla, its dimensions alone prove that the painter considered it more than just a simple study.

    Its value was also recognized by Umberto Boccioni, at the time the was most influential amongst futuristic painters, and he reproduced it in this fundamental book “Pittura e Scultura Futuriste” also here tonight thanks to Christie's.”

    Art scholars and enthusiasts were left speechless by the stunning and complex artwork also reproduced in the small book, but with a difference: a dedication.

    “The painting represents one of the first compositions in which Balla explored the theme of velocità meccanica, which signifies the second stage in his study of the pictorial exploration of movement (the first being dedicated to movimento organico),” Paolo Baldacci and Flavio Fergonzi wrote in a critical and historic essay reproduced by Christie's, “Disgregazione x velocità, Penetrazioni dinamiche d'automobile, which is among the most representative and recorded on the subject, was untraceable for over seventy years, and has recently re-emerged in an American collection, whose owner purchased it in Italy in the 1950s. The work was originally undated and was only signed 'BALLA' (lower left), as shown in the image published by Umberto Boccioni in 1914.

    At an unspecified date, probably towards the end of the 1930s, Balla likely gifted Disgregazione x velocità, Penetrazioni dinamiche d'automobile to a friend named Pelliccia, then adding, in a new medium, an additional inscription to the signature 'BALLA: FUTURISTA 1912 PER PELLICCIA.' It has been, and still is, quite hard to identify Pelliccia. The most reasonable argument allows us to believe it could be the well-known violinist Arrigo Pelliccia (Viareggio 1912-Rome 1987). In fact, Balla himself used to be an amateur violin player, and one of his most important paintings is La mano del violinista (The Hand of the Violinist), 1912 (London, Estorick Collection); it seems therefore likely that Arrigo Pelliccia, who was already famous at the end of the 1930s, met with Balla and was given the present work from him as a tribute.”

    “The fact that this is a drawing does not detract from its importance on the contrary Balla's refusal to engage with paint embellishments, with the exception of some functional chiaro scuro, demonstrates his desire to abandon an impressionistic and the figurative style in favor of a more conceptual one,” Lucchi concluded, “But what does this art work tell us? Why are we here looking at it instead of leaving it behind in a storage unit? This drawing is a testament to an era.”

    Balla and the Futurists aimed at depicting movement, which they saw as symbolic of their commitment to the dynamic forward thrust of the twentieth century. “Through Futurism Balla celebrated the machine and his early futurist paintings were concerned with capturing figures and objects in motion.”

    Looking at Penetrazioni dinamiche d'automobile  we can see an autombile and a driver, we see wheels deformed by speed and clouds of dust. Indeed the drawing portrays a car in motion, it captures movement, sound and light in their shifting dynamisms. The result is a vortex of lines, acute angles and spirals. It is quite abstract in its effect yet it represents the strong impetus and unique innovations of Balla's art which determined the Futuristic movement's influence on art .

  • Life & People

    Styx & Stone, Murder in the Italian Department of a University Uptown

     It is always hard to discuss a mystery/detective novel without giving away any of it. As it is hard for a writer who is a middle aged man to write in the voice of a 23 year old hot chick. Hard but not impossible. The detective novel in question is titled Styx & Stone, its writer is James W. Ziskin and its sexy narrator is reporter Eleonora (Ellie) Stone. And no, the ending was not revealed, the ending is awaiting readers in the book.

     The novel, published by Seventh Street Books, was proudly presented at NYU's Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò. The event was a pleasure for readers and lovers of culture as all events held at Casa are but this was a bit extra special as it hit close to home. Indeed Ziskin was, for 5 years, the Casa's director before Stefano Albertini. “I am sure many of you remember Jim's tireless work as Casa's director and are grateful to him for having put Casa on the map of the most prestigious Italian cultural institutes in the country. For over three years, Jim was my boss, colleague, and friend. Please join me in telling him "bentornato a Casa!" as we are all excited to find out more about his new literary venture,” Albertini declared.

    A linguist by training, James Ziskin studied Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania, where he taught elementary/intermediate French and Italian. He also spent a year teaching English at the University of Paris X, Nanterre. After completing his graduate degree, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as Director of NYU's Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò. He has since spent fifteen years in the Hollywood post production industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields. His international experience includes two years working and studying in France, extensive time in Italy, and more than three years in India.

    “Styx & Stone is the first of the Ellie Stone murder mystery series,” Ziskin explained during the presentation at Casa, “I started writing it in the early 90s but then I put it away. I went back to it and I rewrote it with major changes. Now when I look back at the first draft I see a lot of mistakes and I cringe. I hope this version is not going to do the same to me in a few years.”

    The novel is a thriller that takes place in the year 1960 in a department of Italian studies in a University that is “uptown” (Columbia University). “I did not set it at NYU,” Ziskin explained “because at the time it was not the school it is today. Back in the 60s it was almost a commuter school and it did not have an Italian department. Columbia did. I believe the world of Academia is ideal for a mystery. It's a place where egos and reputation really matter, a place with great people but also with big jerks who are great targets as victims.”

    Setting his story in a specific year, a year he was not in NYC himself, involved a lot of research work because the Big Apple is a city in continuous evolution. A street that is here today may be closed down tomorrow and Ziskin wanted to be as accurate as possible. “I think it is nice to set a story in a different time and place,” he said, “and my choice to set my novel in January of the year 1960 was thoroughly thought. It is the beginning of a new year, and of a new decade. A time when people were looking at the future with hope, they left WWII behind and were walking into a modern era. Ellie is a woman of this time whocan hold her own with the boys.”

    At the beginning the narrator and detective was a guy, Ellie came along after. It was Ziskin's agent who suggested the change and “rewriting the novel did not simply imply changing the pronouns from he to she,” Ziskin joked, “it involved a whole new set of ideas and behaviors and so forth. I resisted at first but as my work progressed I had fun with it.”

    Ziskin's new novel No Stone Unturned will be released soon. “Unfortunately Ellie will not be dealing with scholars of Dante or of other Italian topics. She will be Upstate New York and not in the city, but she will use her reporter skills to solve another crime...”

  • Life & People

    An Italian Voice at the New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival

    The Wildlife Conservation Film Festival is starting on October 16th and one of the featured filmmakers is the Italian Giuseppe Bucciarelli.

    WCFF brings together activists, experts filmmakers, non-governmental enthusiasts, representatives of the public and private sector, youth, scholars as well as wide audiences from all walks of life. The festival promotes programs and projects that contribute to the protection of biodiversity and sustainability. It is the perfect venue to showcase Bucciarelli's work.

    Giuseppe is first and foremost an accomplished biologist with fifteen years of academic research experience from ecology to molecular biology to genome evolution who has been working in universities in Italy and the USA.

    He began his film making career on a sailing trip down the Mediterranean from Syria to Lebanon to Israel to North Africa. The trip inspired the film, “Ahmed and the Return of the Arab Phoenix” (which will be shown at the festival). Ever since then, he has been making films, documenting the wildlife of Africa.

    Over the years, his films were broadcasted and distributed throughout the US, Italy and the Middle East. They have been featured on PBS and the National Geographic Channel. Since 2009, Giuseppe has taken his scientific expertise to Kenya to start working as an independent filmmaker. He collaborates with several conservation organizations and wildlife experts to make films about endangered African ecosystems. He is also involved with local communities, helping them to solve human-wildlife conflicts.

    He is the founder and director of Terra Conservation Films  full-service production company specialized in working with non-profit organizations and nature enterprises to make documentaries, promotional videos and stills focusing on the conservation of the natural world and the interaction between people and the environment.

    The festival welcomes 4 of his films that will be screened on October 16 at 6 pm:

    Laikipia, the Land of Life
    There is a place in Africa where rivers, forests and savannas play a never-ending game with people. This place is Laikipia, central Kenya. Here dangerous wildlife share the land with thousands of farmers and their livestock. A perfect combination for trouble... But despite all odds the people living in Laikipia are fighting to make a dream come true.

    Ahmed and the Return of the Arab Phoenix.
    This is the story of a handful of visionary men who are fighting in the desert to protect what is left of the biodiversity of the Syrian steppe stretching from the Iraqi border to almost the Mediterranean coast. Their efforts will be rewarded by the discovery of the last middle eastern breeding colony of the Bald Ibis in the wild, one of the rarest migratory birds and a symbol of wisdom for the Bedouins of the desert.

    Spotter Come Home
    A 7 minute feature of a five year-old male Black Rhino who have wondered into the land of poachers and must find his way back to Lewa Downs conservancy.

    Walking with Baboons

    They are short, hairy and funny looking. They are also astute, strong and well organized. They are baboons. Widespread all over Kenya , these monkeys are often considered pests. But a day spent walking alongside a troop of wild baboons in the Rift valley will change our mind.

    “My stories need to have some emotional impact,” Giuseppe told i-Italy when asked what kind of stories he in interested in portraying, “Even if they are local stories they need to represent issues of environmental conservancy that are universal.”


    What brought you to make documentaries?

    After working for several years at the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station in Naples, I took a long trip on a sail boat. It lasted 5 years and it took me to all corners of the Mediterranean. I arrived in Syria and I met an Italian, Gianluca Serra, who then worked for FAO. He had just found out, by collaborating with the local Bedouin population, we could witness the last middle eastern breeding colony of the Bald Ibis. I was in the right place at the right time. I had a small video camera with me and although I had no film making experience I really wanted to tell this story with some images. I just wanted to show what as an audience member I would want to see... although I did not really know how to accomplish that. Two years later Ahmed and the Return of the Arab Phoenix was born and broadcasted on National Geographic Italia. It has won 6 international awards.

    Giuseppe owes a lot to that first film of his, which he calls one of his favorites, although he made it with much inexperience, balanced by a consuming passion for his work.

    And even today his passion brings him to shoot stories he loves that oftentimes are accompanied by crazy incidents. “A year ago, while shooting Laikipia, the Land of Life, I fell off the sky on a plane as a diving chicken, I was charged by elephants and rhinos and I had a totally absurd incident... I fell on my camera consequently I broke an artery and lost 4 liters of blood...it was a real blast!”

    Now in Giuseppe's future there is a new film on food politics to be shot in November in Yemen.

    Meanwhile on the 16th he will be in New York to present his films at the WCFF.

    Don’t miss out on this great opportunity to meet like-minded conservationists and to be intellectually stimulated by discussions on issues that concerns us all. The film screenings and panel discussions will take place at the New York Institute of Technology Auditorium. 

  • Life & People

    Fratti's The Vatican Knows (About the Kidnapping of that Young Woman)

    Emanuela Orlandi 'was kidnapped for sex parties for Vatican police' (The Telegraph)

    Italian Police Open a Mobster’s Vatican-Owned Tomb in Search of a Missing Girl (The Daily Beast)

    What happened to the missing 15-year-old Vatican citizen Emanuela Orlandi? (The Spectator)

    Vatican reaffirms willingness to help solve mysterious 1983 kidnapping case (The Catholic Register)

    Crime Boss’s Tomb Is Exhumed for Clues in Missing Girl’s Case (The New York Times)


    The titles of these articles published in May 2012 talk about an unsolved mystery, a
    disappearance that is still an unfinished chapter of Italy's history. On 22 June 1983, a 15-year-old citizen of the Vatican, Emanuela Orlandi, went missing. Emanuela was the fourth of five children born to Ercole, a clerk in the Vatican, and Maria Orlandi. That evening she left home to go to her music lesson. She took the number 64 bus to her music school, arriving late. Appearing worried, she asked to leave the lesson early, at 6.50 p.m. She was never seen again.

    There are at least a dozen versions of what might have happened to her, and each possibility seems simultaneously credible and incredible, from the involvement of the Italian secret services, organized crime, and even “the attempt to assassinate John Paul II.”

    It was the New York Times' article about another theory, linked to the exhumation of the tomb of a notorious local crime boss at a Vatican church that inspired playwright Mario Fratti to write The Vatican Knows (about the kidnapping of that young woman). The Times article mentioned that weeks after her disappearance, the Vatican received a phone call demanding the release of Mehmet Ali Agca, the gunman who wounded Pope John Paul II in 1981. Brooding on this, Fratti created a personal vision of a possible scenario in which terrorists plot to kidnap a young woman who lives at the Vatican to blackmail the Pope. The play, staged at the Theater for the New City from October 3 to 20, directed by Stephan Morrow, savors the mystery and then looks beyond it.

    “I like to write provocatively,” Fratti, who has just returned from Italy where he received the prestigious Capri Award for his "Forbidden Diary" (Diario Proibito), his only novel, written when he was 20 about the horrors of the German invasion of Italy, told i-Italy after one of the performances, “I want to see the reaction of the audience, the stupor on their faces after I show something intense and hard to digest.”

    “The guilty ones should be punished, eradicated. They are a cancer. Sexual misconduct affects us all.” The Pope tells Cardinal Ratzinger in the very first scene of the play, a scene where the testimony of a man abused by a priest when he was a child, introduces the scandals the Church is guilty of.

    The story, though, focuses on Emma's fantasies about being fathered by the Pope. Fratti endows the young girl with admirable devotion to her "father" and him with admirable compassion toward her. This gives the play a twin enigma: whether she was actually, the Pope's daughter and why the Vatican would react as it does to her kidnapping.  The playwright also gives a strong voice to the Turkish kidnappers, who are multi-dimensional yet unwavering in their mission.

    “The actors, Lucas Beck, Giulia Bisinella, Jacob Cribbs, Ian Campbell Dunn, Debbie Klaar, Timothy Roselle and Mark Ethan Toporek are really doing a great job,” Fratti exclaimed enthusiastically, “they were able to bring to life the characters I had in my mind and the mystery surrounding the kidnapping.” They were masterfully led by director Stephan Morrow who has directed several of Fratti's plays.

  • Art & Culture

    Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema

    There are some exhibitions that have no reason whatsoever to be missed: Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema, on view from September 28, 2013, through February 9, 2014 at MoMA is one of them.

    This is the first time the Museum of Modern Art dedicates such a grand show to a set designer, an Italian one nevertheless. “I'm very happy to be here,” Dante Ferretti told i-Italy, “mostly because it was unexpected. I came to visit MoMA several times, to see different shows and never did I expect they would show my work while I am still alive,” he joked. “I was helped a lot by Antonio Monda and Marina Sagona, they were my curators who then introduced me to MoMA's curators  Ron Magliozzi, Associate Curator, and Jytte Jensen, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art. It took about 5 to 6 years to get to where we are today. Usually a show lasts from 5 to 6 months, so there are other artists and their work in front of you and you have to wait around... but anyways here I am.”

    And “here” is a dark room divided into a maze of moving images, mute films projected on paper-thin screens... films by celebrated directors such as Federico Fellini, Franco Zefferelli, Ettore Scola, Dino Risi, Marco Bellocchio Tim Burton, Brian DePalma, Terry Gilliam, Julie Taymor and Martin Scorsese.

    “The idea was mine,” Ferretti announced, “In Rome, back in 2010, I curated, together with my wife Francesca Lo Schiavo, a show on Fellini called Labirinto Fellini @ the fifth Rome International Film Festival. It was a collection of 10 enormous installations, over 200 photographs, 50 drawings, 30 audio-video stations, 12 video projections on floating screens, documents, movie posters and slide shows. I wanted to do something similar here, for my work. There is a small part of my work, because if I had to bring it all I would fill the entire museum! Fellini's maze of screens and mine are different because we kept the sound of the films that we projected. Here there is no sound. The room is attached to MoMA's movie theater and the sound would disrupt the movie going experience.”

    Antonio Monda, one of the curators, informed us of how this idea was what really captured the attention of MoMA, along with the opportunity to showcase the majestic chandeliers from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975), the massive, illuminated clock from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), as well as the golden, winged lions created for the Venice Film Festival.

    “Walking through this maze is like traveling back in time,” Ferretti added, “I was just looking at the images of one of the first films I ever worked on here in New York, Ciao Maschio (1978) by Ferreri.”

    New York and its studios, as well Los Angeles, London and Toronto, have basically become Ferretti's adoptive homes. “I go where cinema takes me,” he affirmed, “I go where a director asks me to go.” And this has kept him away from his native Italy for years now. “In the last twenty years I worked only on two films in Italy, Titus and Gangs of New York. I do hope to go back  and work there for a while. I do miss it, it is my home.”

    Dante Ferretti: Design and Construction for the Cinema is presented with a six-month retrospective of 22 films featuring the production designer’s career defining work titled  Dante Ferretti: Designing for the Big Screen. The film program, presented at The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters, includes Scorsese’s Gangs of New York (2002), Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Federico Fellini’s Ginger e Fred (1986).

  • Events: Reports

    Bringing the Music of Salento to HitWeek

    Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino (GCS) introduced North American audiences to the power of Taranta for the first time in 2011. The group's critically acclaimed debut tour led to a pair of high profile invitations for appearances at the 2012 editions of globalFEST and Womex, the international music market's two top showcase events. Now they are coming back, this is their fourth time in the States in 2013, for HitWeek (September 7 – October 30 in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Toronto), the world's only music festival showcasing Italy's current scene on the global stage.

    Hailing from the area of Salento, in Puglia, the seven piece band and dancer are the number one exponents in a new wave of young performers re-inventing Southern Italy's Pizzica Taranta music and dance traditions for today's global audience. Pizzica is part of the larger family of tarantellas.

    The Pizzica Taranta is the music that marked the ancient healing ritual against the bite of a tarantula, the dangerous poisonous spider. According to tradition, in order to drive out the demon thought to have taken possession of the victim, usually a woman, tambourines should be beaten incessantly. The dizzily rhythmic sound of the tambourine combined with a frenzied hypnotic dance healed the victim of the poison.

    i-ItalyINY highlights -  a special performance of Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino.

    Live at Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts (NYC). February 1, 2013.

    “Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino was born in 1975 from an idea by Rina Durante (an intellectual from Salento), sprung from the cultural and political folk revival of the 70s. Among its founders there were my father, guitarist and mandolinist Daniele Durante and my mother Rossella Pinto,” Mauro Durante, the group's current leader said when interviewed for the first time by i-Italy in 2011, “It's pretty clear that my home has always been permeated by this music and ethnomusicological sounds. Our challenge was and still is to find a form of expression that makes this music current and captivating, without corrupting its original beauty and purity.” In 2007, Daniele Durante passed the leadership of CGS to his son, Mauro, who had joined the band at 14 as a percussionist and violinist.

    Few bands have represented Salento and its culture as long and devotedly as Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino, whose name translates roughly as the Salentine Greek Songbook, 'Grecanico' referring to the ancient Greek-derived language spoken in southern Puglia and parts of Calabria.

    “Our music is strictly linked to dancing, a movement driven by the obsessive rhythm of the tambourine, that, just like a pulsating heart, envelops and seduces you, making it impossible to stand still,” Mauro continued to explain, “this music is a pure declaration of the love for your own country, it comes from the past but it is felt and performed in the present and looks at the future with energy and rhythm.”

    “Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino takes its own liberties with the tradition, incorporating a few modern instruments — including, for some songs, electric bass — and arranging its songs with a variety of textures and details that suit the stage and recording studio,” the New York Times wrote about the group back in June after a performance they had at Joe's Pub.

    “This music and this dance are important for us right now, in the exact moment when we are experiencing them,” Marco explained to i-Italy, “The way we treat them is current, they are not stuffy museum pieces or postcards of a past that does not exist anymore. That's why we chose traditional pieces whose theme is current and universal. We also write new songs that describe our reality, yes, the reality of seven young artists who tell of, through a language whose roots go centuries back in time, the culture of their land  with new music, current messages and concepts, contemporary energy while always looking at the future.”

    “Pizzica, music and dance have the power to transcend the barriers of time and language,” Mauro continued to explain when asked about the possible barriers with an American audience, “They speak directly to the instinctive side of us all. So many times we listen to songs sung in a foreign language, this does not mean we like it less. In our case, the audience is captured by our music, they listen, they let go and they let themselves be embraced by dance!”

  • Art & Culture

    The Voice's of Leopardi at Columbia University

    American kids in school are often asked to memorize The Raven, by the great writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe. Italian kids, instead, are asked to study A Silvia, a poem by one Italy's greatest, Giacomo Leopardi ((1798-1837). Italians consider him one of their greatest minds, but 19th-century poet and philosopher remains somewhat unknown abroad.

    After seven years of toil involving a team of translators in three different countries, a collection of the writer's ideas, observations and thoughts, written over the course of 15 years, Zibaldone, that was published in Italy at the turn of the 20th century, decades after its author's premature death, has finally been put, for the first time in its entirety, into English.

    Zibaldone amasses the unprecedented brilliance of Giacomo Leopardi  into one groundbreaking, 2,500-page text. Widely regarded as Italy’s finest modern lyric poet, Leopardi spent years cultivating and refining his radical and incisive analyses of religion, philosophy, language, history, anthropology, translation, the natural sciences, literature, poetry, and love in his Zibaldone.

    To commemorate this extraordinary, epochal publication, a panel of experts and admirers gathered at the Italian Academy, Columbia University, to read selections and represent the different voices of Leopardi in Zibaldone on stage, including Jonathan Galassi (President and publisher of Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Michael Caesar (Emeritus Professor of Italian Studies, University of Birmingham), Franco D’Intino (Director of the Leopardi Center, University of Birmingham), Ann Goldstein (translator and editor at The New Yorker), Joseph Luzzi (Professor of Italian, Bard), Paul Muldoon (Poetry Editor, The New Yorker; winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry), Adam Kirsch (poet and literary critic), Lee Froehlich (Managing Editor of Playboy), Dorothea Lasky (poet and Professor of Writing, Columbia), Nicola Gardini (novelist and Lecturer in Italian Studies, Oxford), Susan Bernofsky (Professor of Writing, Columbia and Director of LTAC) and Paolo Valesio (poet and Emeritus Professor, Italian, Columbia).

    The celebration began with an introduction by David Freedberg, Director of the Italian Academy. "Zibaldone", by Giacomo Leopardi was edited by Michael Caesar and Franco D'Intino; translated from the Italian by Kathleen Baldwin, Richard Dixon, David Gibbons, Ann Goldstein, Gerard Slowey, Martin Thom, Pamela Williams and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

    "It has been very, very challenging because it's a very long text – huge, full of quotations in      Greek Latin, French, Spanish, English,” said co-editor Franco D'Intino.
    “Prolific writer, translator, and thinker Giacomo Leopardi was born in the small provincial town of Recanati, during a time of political upheaval and unrest in Europe created by the French Revolution. Although his aristocratic family was affected by the instability of the region, Leopardi was tutored extensively under private priests from an early age, showing a remarkable talent and thirst for knowledge. As a sickly adolescent who was often confined to the household, Leopardi spent most of his time in his father’s extraordinary library, immersing himself in classical and philological knowledge.

    Within years of independent study, Leopardi became fluent in reading and writing Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, while he began translating various classical texts including Horace and Homer. At the age of fourteen he wrote Pompeo in Egitto (Pompey in Egypt) an anti-Caesarean manifesto, and went onto writing various philological works until 1816, which marked a turning point in Leopardi’s life which he called “the passage from erudition to the beautiful.”

    Leopardi wrote L'appressamento della morte (The Approach of Death), a poem in terza rima which was heavily influenced by Petrarch and Dante, as well as Inno a Nettuno (Hymn to Neptune), and Le rimembranze(Memories). After this, Leopardi abandoned other types of work and concentrated on lyric poetry, including his book Canti (Songs) and Canzoniere (Songbook), as well as many more. Leopardi frequently focuses on the patriotic, idyllic scenes, unrequited love, childhood, and classical themes and references.”

    There definitely is something heroic about the English publication of Zibaldone: this  landmark publication is a real gift from the nineteenth century  of pure literature, dark melancholy, insightful philosophy and pure emotion.

  • Life & People

    Festival Della Canzone Italiana di New York - Five Singers from Italy and Five From the Rest of the World

    The Resort World Casino of New York (Jamaica, Queens) welcomed the sixth edition of the Festival della Canzone Italiana di New York: five singers from Italy and five from the rest of the world competed against each other with brand new songs.

    Every year, the competition is organized by the Associazione Culturale Italiana di New York,
    an organization that has been promoting Italian culture and language in the US for years. “Ours is an ongoing commitment motivated by our desire to put together an event that is not just entertainment but a bridge between Italy and the States... an international showcase of good music,” organizers Tony di Piazza and Tony Mulè, said.

    The winner was, for the first time ever in the history of the festival, a New Yorker.  Arlette Roxburgh, a wonderful singer originally from the Caribbean who is married to an Italian and resides in Staten Island, sang the song "Vittoria" (Victory)... how appropriate... and her victory was also a great birthday gift for her!

    Second place went to Silvia Cecchetti with  "Il dopo te" (What comes after you). Silvia is an Italian singer with a long history of successes, such as participating to Italy's festival di Sanremo and touring with singer Andrea Bocelli.  Third place to another singer coming straight from Italy, Clarissa Vichi, with the song "Aria" (Air).

    The show was hosted, for the third year in a row, by the talented Benedetta Rinaldi of “Italia chiama Italia,” a program that airs on Rai International. The festival was taped for Rai Italia and aired live on Radio Icn, in a special show hosted by Tony Pasquale.
    Stefano Santoro has been directing production of the festival for a few years now and artistic direction was in the capable hands of Incanto Productions, a company specialized in bi-lingual music and theater productions. As always, the jury was made up of professionals and VIPS coming directly from Italy and also from the Italian Community here in NYC. The public was excited to see: Maria Nazionale, a Neapolitan pop singer, who has risen to fame thanks to her participation in the latest edition of the Festival of Sanremo with the song “È colpa mia” (It's my fault); Robertino, an Italian singer known mostly for songs he performed as a teenager in the 1960s. His most celebrated song is “Con un bacio Piccolissimo.” Claudio Berardinelli, Italian music promoter, was also part of the jury along with the actors of Italian TV soap opera  “Un posto al sole,” Riccardo Polizzy Carbonelli, Alberto Rossi. Ilenia Lazzarin and Luisa Amatulli (the favorites of all Italian-American women who are fans of the show).

    The festival was also a great opportunity for the show to tape a scene that will be featured in a future episode. Organizer Tony Di Piazza was taped handing out an Award to Michele Saviani, the character brought to life by Alberto Rossi.

    The show also featured some comedy by comedians Antonio Pandolfo and Matteo Piazza and a performance by tenor Christopher Macchio. The other competitors were Lori Greco from Australia, Maria Ferraro, Salvo Greco, Nicol Zienna (who is only 16 years old), Barbara Giacchino, Anna Bugatti and Mario Damico who sang “Lacrime Napulitane” (Neapolitan Tears) while on the screen the audience could see images of Italian immigrants coming to the States.

    I-Italy had a chance to talk to Silvia Cecchetti. She began her music studies with classical opera, then studied traditional Neapolitan Song. After graduating at CET (European Center of Toscolano) as pop interpreter, she had the opportunity to measure herself against great music professionals. Her successful participation in the Sanremo Festival in 94- she was among the top finalists in the "Young" category- brought her national attention and appearances on national television; in the same year she guest-starred in TV shows such as "Viva Napoli" and "Festival Italiano" and released her album "Silvia Cecchetti", produced by Lavezzi and Mogol. She performed in Italy, the States and Canada with Andrea Bocelli and Toto Cotugno and she continued working in the pop music field throughout the 90s. She also cooperated with the “Opera Quintet”, a group of five exceptionally talented professional musicians members of Milan’s Teatro alla Scala Orchestra, in a project dedicated to traditional songs of the 1900s. In 2011 she put on the show “150 years of Italian tradition: from Melodramma to Pop” with Sandro Cerino and Romano Pucci singing her ability in Belcanto and Jazz styles. She worked with a group of doctors and the Human-Voice association offering her new sound experience like singer and vocal coach and wrote the book “La voce dei 5 sensi” ed. Carish together with them. In cooperation with Osteopaths, Postirologists, Acupuncturists, Anthroposophics she found a vocal methodology that respects the human being and the natural need of expression.

    Tell us about yourself and your music.
    I am not pop, I am not jazz... You cannot categorize me in any style. I am music. I have sung classic, jazz, pop... just name it. Making music is connecting with what is around you, it is being yourself, communicating with the world.

    What do you say about this beautiful song that won second place?
    “Il dopo te” is a brand new song; I wrote it with Luca Angelosanti and Francesco Morettini. I wrote it in a moment when, still incredulous, I found myself staring at an empty picture frame. It used to have a picture of my wedding. I realized how everything goes on and how each and every moment we live comes back to leave behind only the taste of “nothing.”

    How important was it to take part of this festival?
    My wish is to export old Italian songs and present them in a new, modern way that still embodies the elegance and unparalleled  quality of Italian style.  I see the Festival Italiano as a great opportunity to promote this idea. Somebody wrote of me that I am “new tradition” because I have the ability to  give a new expression to old Italian traditions... and this is the focal point of my music. I am sure the festival will help me in my mission.

    How is the current music situation in Italy?
    There is no room for music in Italy. Radio stations follow the laws of multinational corporations, while television is all about reality shows. The few clubs that are surviving obey to the law of  “savings vs. quality.”

    In the States there less spaces than before BUT there still is great respect for quality.  What is Italy lacking? The possibility to communicate with someone higher than you. The only way you can do that is if you are introduced by someone else. In the USA people listen to what you have to say, and if they like your project they help you out no matter where you are coming from. This is what we call the famous “American opportunity,” you are always given a chance, no matter who you are.

    “Il dopo te” is featured in Silvia Cecchetti's latest CD, “Tempi diversi” (available in the US) an album that features ten amazing songs sung by an amazing voice. From “Parlami d’amore Mariù” dated 1932 to “Il dopo te,”  it shows the evolution of Italian songs in a completely different and modern way.