Articles by: Natasha Lardera

  • Events: Reports

    Remembering Two Fighters Against the Mafia: Falcone and Borsellino

    The image of their smiles, captured in the famous picture by Toni Gentile (see above), is simply ironic: the two men look like long-time friends who are enjoying each other's company, maybe joking about something or someone. That easygoing smile captures, instead, Sicily's darkest hour in the history of the Mafia. 

    The lives of Palermo prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino began and ended in Sicily's capital, where the two were born. Both men spent their early years in the same neighborhood and although many of their childhood friends grew up to become Mafia characters, they both fought on the other side of the war as prosecuting magistrates. They were both assassinated in 1992 with the use of car bombs within months of each other.

    Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò commemorated the lives and battles of the two heroes who gave their life to fight and defeat the Mafia and the approaching 20 year anniversary of their deaths with a lecture by Professor John Dickie (University College, London), an expert on Mafia who has been described as “an Englishman who can write about Mafia better that an Italian.”

    “They were both killed 20 years ago and if some aspects of their assassinations seem to remain shrouded in mystery, what is clear is their civic lesson of courage, loyalty and generous service to the State,” Stefano Albertini, Director of the Casa Italiana, said in a statement promoting the event.

    Giovanni Falcone was killed on May 23, 1992, on the orders of Mafia Boss, Salvatore “Totò” Riina. A half-ton bomb was placed under the motorway between Palermo International Airport and the city. Giovanni Falcone, his wife Francesca Morvillo and body guards Rocco Dicillo, Antonio Montinaro and Vito Schifani were killed in the blast. The explosion was so powerful that it registered on local earthquake monitors. Riina was arrested as the commander of the massacre and another mafioso was convicted as well. Giovanni Brusca, one of Riina's associates admitted to being the one who actually detonated the explosives. Riina is believed to be involved in over 1000 murders and was regarded as Sicilians boss of bosses.

    Paolo Borsellino was killed a short time later, on July 19, by a car bomb in Via D'Amelio, the street where Borsellino's mother lived. The bomb attack also claimed the lives of five policemen: Agostino Catalano, Walter Cosina, Emanuela Loi, Vincenzo Li Muli, Claudio Traina. The culprits of this  bloodbath have not been officially identified. Riina himself admitted he was not involved in the assassination. “They killed him. You can definitely say that to everybody, including the press. I am tired to be Italy's scapegoat,” Riina is reported saying to his legal representative in 2009. “They” refers to the State. “Mr. Riina wants, through me, to explain his theory that Borsellino's killing was organized by the Institutions.”

    This point was raised in Dickie's presentation, a lecture that raised many points and questions. What do we owe to Falcone and Borsellino? Why were they murdered? Was there a deal between the Mafia and the State?

    “The pair nearly brought Cosa Nostra to its knees with a new methodical approach, as brilliant as it was brave, to unlocking the Mob's code of silence,” TIME magazine reported six years ago when they named, in recognition of their efforts and sacrifice, the magistrates as heroes of the last 60 years in the November 13, 2006, issue. “They are the ones who hurt the Mafia the most in the course of history,” Dickie explained, “Their maxi trial of 1986-1987 against the Sicilian Mafia was something unprecedented.” Of the 474 Mafia members originally charged, 360 were convicted of serious crimes, including 119 in absentia (a trial at which the defendant is not physically present). “The trial succeeded in proving that the Mafia was an actual organization, not a mentality or the actions of individuals,” Dickie concluded.

    The answer to the second question is simple: revenge, that's what brought on their killings. The maxi trial was not only successful is convicting criminals but it brought Mafia members to testify against their former associates. “This ultimately resulted in the shutting down of a significant percentage of Mafia-driven narcotics-trafficking and greatly damaged the alliances between Sicilian and American families (Falcone collaborated with Rudolph Giuliani, at the time U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, in operations against the Gambino and Inzerillo families)” Wikipedia reports.

    But there is another answer: their deaths were a question of prevention as well. If they continued the way they were going they would have caused even more trouble. 

    “Giovanni Falcone was perfectly well aware,as he worked, that one day the power of evil, the mafia, would kill him. Francesca Morvillo was perfectly well aware, as she stood by her man, that she would share his lot. His bodyguards were perfectly well aware, as they protected Falcone, that they too would meet the same fate as him. Giovanni Falcone could not be oblivious, and was not oblivious, to the extreme danger he faced – for the reason that too many colleagues and friends of his, who had followed the same path that he was now imposing on himself, had already had their lives cut short.” This is an excerpt from the speech that Paolo Borsellino made on June 23, 1992 a month after the killing, knowing he most likely will be next. 

    Italian actor and musician Roberto Scarcella Perino, who was obviously moved, read the speech with pathos and respect. “I was honored to read that speech with a strong Sicilian accent. We shall never forget what these men have given to Palermo, Sicily, Italy and all Italians,” he told i-Italy. Hearing from Sicilians who were at the presentation it seems like time has not forgotten what was done but their sacrifice has not changed things. Someone who does not want to be named mentioned how, after their deaths, people in Palermo all hoped things were finally going to change but their hopes were unanswered. Many decided to leave town. Just like Rosaria Schifani, the widow of Falcone's bodyguard, Vito Schifani, who captured the country's attention with a tearful and passionate speech at Falcone's funeral (the video of the speech was shown by Dickie at the Casa and it was so powerful that many were brought to tears 20 years later) where she asked all Mafiosi, including those who were at the funeral, to kneel and ask for forgiveness, did.

    In an interview to Corriere della Sera back in 2007 (when, with her son, who was only 4 months old at the time of the massacre, she returned to Palermo), Rosaria was asked if she ever thought things were going to change. Her reply was “Everything could have changed. But the State stopped. The magistrates started fighting with each other again. […] They don't acknowledge the worth of who really makes a difference. I am happy for the numerous investigations that have brought light on treasons even inside the investigative system. But that's not enough. The State has interrupted investigations too many times. Because the State is afraid to look within.” She later accuses magistrates of being “writers,” who do not solve mysteries, “starting from Riina's empty safe, Falcone's database whose memory was erased, and Borsellino's red book that disappeared from the car the day of the bomb.”

    Dickie himself admitted that what really happened still is a mystery and in light of recent events (Raniero Busco was declared innocent of having killed Simonetta Cesaroni in the still unsolved murder case of Via Poma after 22 years and the latest investigation on the terrorist attack of Piazza Fontana has been archived after 43 years), this  becomes an even more powerful request.  He concluded his thorough presentation by saying “I hope this is not going to be another interminable Italian mystery.”

  • Art & Culture

    Italian Futurists: Concepts and Imaginings at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò

    “The Italian futurists brought down convention in many ways but they were not revolutionary although they thought of themselves that way. They were on an entirely new way forward. I like to see them as inventors rather than responders and the variety of these works shows the variety of their invention,” Stefano Acunto,  founder and president of CINN Group, Inc and Chairman of the Italian Academy Foundation, Inc., said about the art show Italian Futurists: Concepts and Imaginings now on view at the Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò (the show ends on June 1st). 

    The exhibit showcases thirty-eight works in various media by Italian futurist artists, Giulio D'Anna, Pippo Rizzo, Gerardo Dottori, Alberto Bragaglia, Roberto Crippa, Giacomo Balla and Lucio Venna, from the first and second wave of futurism. All paintings are from the private collection of Mr. Acunto and his wife. “Some of them were inherited while others were bought in a period of time of 35 years,” Mr. Acunto added. They were purchased in Italy and then brought back to the United States. 

    All of them capture their thinking on energy, color and multimedia possibilities. “I really like their vivid colors,” Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, who was at the opening, said. “Violent is the right word to describe these colors,” Mr. Acunto added, “As they wanted to express violence to a world that was accustomed to passive art.” In explaining this point the collector quoted Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, himself who described “museums as cemeteries.” In a few words, the idea was to tear down the old and bring about something new, that was energetic and colorful.

     “What they wanted to bring to the canvas, to film, to music and photography was a sense of motion and energy,” Mr. Acunto explained further, “Art as it was was an expression of stagnant moments in time. They wanted to express the unification of motion, vision and energy with color.” 

    Giacomo Balla was the senior member of the first wave of Futurist painters. He joined the movement in 1912 and his painting style focused on the pictorial depiction of light, movement and speed. His paintings at the show represent colorful waves that indicate movement.

    Alberto Bragaglia attended the art school of Boccioni and Bocchi. In 1918, along with his brothers, he opened The House of Bragaglia in Rome, a place where Futuristic artists could discuss art and display their work. His paintings embodied the Futuristic style as well as the abstract, the research on color, and the figurative and anatomical movement and intricacy of the body. The four paintings showcased at Casa Italiana feature abstract shapes in more subdued shades of color captured in a whirlwind. 

    Roberto Crippa is present at the show with only one painting, the portrait of colorful circles that remind us of far away planets. A native of Milan, Crippa studied at Brera. After a brief period of geometrical abstraction, he collaborated with Lucio Fontana in the Spazialismo movement (an avant-garde movement that tried to break away from the two-dimensional plane of a painting) and signed the Spazialismo manifestos of 1950-1953.

    Giulio D'Anna is widely considered one of the most influential voices of Italian futurism. His work was personally praised by Marinetti himself. He never attended any Art Academy as he thought they “created teachers and not artists.” Il Nuotatore, one of his works on display at Casa Italiana, that shows a muscular man surrounded by waves of color, emphasizes energy, expansive color and movement.


    Gerardo Dottori was the pioneer of Aeropittura, a major expression of the second generation of Italian Futurism. He began working in a fully Futurist style in 1914, producing landscapes and abstract compositions of rhythmical forms. He became preoccupied with the theme of landscape viewed from high above and distorted by the effects of speed, as if seen by an airplane. His most abstract works at the show could be interpreted as such, distorted landscapes that resemble maelstroms.


    Pippo Rizzo was born in a family of artists and studied at the Institute of Fine Arts in Palermo. He became fascinated by the Futuristic movement during a visit to Rome and created a cultural club called “Renewal” in Palermo as a forum for him to expand on his interest. His works combined the style of Sicilian folk art and Socialist art. One of his works, Squadrismo, has been chosen as the main image of the show's catalog and it represents a group of menacing dark figures in movement. 


    Lucio Venna was totally enthralled by Futuristic painting and helped write and sign multiple manifestos regarding this style. He mostly created posters and book and magazine covers. There is only one of his works at the show, another example of colorful shapes, atop an abstract background, that seem to be blown by the wind.

    Futurism originated in Italy at the beginning of the 20th century, it was mostly Italian but there were contemporary similar movements in England and Russia. The Futurists emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane and the industrial city and they practiced in every medium of art, including painting, sculpture, ceramics, graphic design, industrial design, interior design, theater, film, fashion, textiles, literature, music architecture and even gastronomy.

  • Events: Reports

    Le Grechesce, Italian Folk Music with Khaossia Ethno-Ensamble Salentina

     Luca Congedo, Renaissance transverse, Renaissance flute, transverse flute, Turkish flute, tin-whistle; Fabio Turchetti, mouth organ, accordion, guitar; Stefano Torre, Cretan lute, drum, guitar and Giorgio Galanti, narrator, are the members of The Khaossia Ethno-Ensemble Salentina, a folk music group that has just performed at the Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi in “Le Grechesche.”

    The Khaossia Ethno-Ensemble Salentina was founded in 2005 in the city of Cremona, by LucaCongedo and Viviana Calabrese, with the goal of recreating the folk music of Southern Italy, and performing ethnic pieces from the ancient traditions of the Salento, in the Apulia region. Khaossia brings together many different musical traditions, from the Irish and the Hellenic music traditions to re-inventing a new style of oldest and forgotten, sounds. The group is now touring in the United States and has performed at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and high schools in New York and New Jersey.

    Khaossia works with the permanent project of the Young Politics Council of Comune di Cremona, called “Attraversarte,” which allowed the band to organize live performances, dance and music stages.

    The Khaossia group has extensively performed in Italy and abroad, in Croatia in 2005, in France - Paris and Marseille - in 2006 and 2008, in Switzerland in 2008 and last October 2010 in the USA - Philadelphia and New York. In Italy Khaossia took part in the most important folk musical festivals such as La Notte della Taranta in 2005, and many Folk Festivals from 2007 to 2010.

     The setting of the “Grechesche” is the Sea, an unknown world dominated by the Republic of Venice, during the 16th century. The members of Khaossia are four slaves on board of a galley owned by the Venetian consul in Otranto, Annibale Basalù. Their songs touch each Venetian port but linger on Otranto whose feel is captured in dreamlike music inspired by Mediterranean folklore.

    Luca Congedo, leader of Khaossia said, “being able to tell the story of Salento, my homeland, through my own music is extremely emotional. Presenting and sharing it with high school and college students is amazing. They are totally captivated by it.”

    Together, protagonists and audience, they start an imaginary journey towards the sunny coasts of the Land of Otranto, starting from the living rooms of the rich and opulent inhabitants of the Serenissima and touching the ports of the Sea State (Stato da Màr), the lands over which the lion of Saint Mark ruled. For decades the Venetian dominion on the Mediterranean was not only political and economic. The tentacles of the Serenissima allowed lands, no matter how distant, to actually get in contact with and contaminate each other's cultures. They were mainly people who had in common one specific element, the sea, which was considered a source of wealth, life and artistic inspiration.

    The music is so magical and captivating that at La Scuola d'Italia, students spontaneously started to dance or clap their hands to the rhythm.

    The songs performed were inspired by the imaginary feel of the ports reached by the galley, with the aim to let the “sea” and the “Mediterranean” emerge through each note. This time Khaossia has reworked antique repertory by “folklorizing” four Grechesche (burlesque and colorful compositions) published in 1571 by the Venetian composer Andrea Gabrieli. The texts, fully respected by Khaossia, were written by Antonio Molino also known as Burchiella, a representative of stradiostesca literature, a form of literature that fused together the Venetian language with others, like, in this case, Istrian, Dalmatian and Greek.

    Basalù's final destination is the Terra d’Otranto (the Land of Otranto) where the Venetian community had already settled in 836 when they used their warships to help the Longobards and the Byzantines to protect the Adriatic coast from the Saracen pirates. The Venetians established themselves in Salento between the 15th and 18th century, immediately taking over public roles in order to protect their own commercial interests and secure valuable ports. The signs of this forced "brotherhood" between Venice and the Land of Otranto are still evident today in the Palace of the City Government in Lecce and the chapel of San Marco with its inexorable lion. Among the many Venetian families that settled in Salento, Khaossia have chosen to travel with Basalù, the member of a restless family, with an intriguing history, who ruled the city of Otranto for years.

    The show successfully recreates the atmosphere of random encounters between different musicians, mostly amateurs and merchants, that used to take place in the Mediterranean ports. This is possible thanks to the use of different musical instruments which were distant both in their genre -refined and popular- and in space and time. Renaissance flute, Cretan lute, violin, tambourine, accordion, guitar, blend naturally together in Khaossia's performances.

    “I am very happy we had the chance to welcome Khaossia in our school,” Anna Fiore,
    headmaster at the Scuola d'Italia Guglielmo Marconi said, “Our students and teachers alike were greatly interested and enthusiastic. Before the actual show, we had a session with the students where they were explained the historical background of Khaossia's music, starting from the Republic of Venice, to the Renaissance, the 'contamination' and blending of refined musical traditions and folklore elements that capture and link together the music of the Mediterranean Basin, from Greece to Dalmatia, with gypsy rhythms. I believe that the music made by Khaossia fits well within the research and experimentation experiments of some contemporary music groups that recompose inter-culture by a musical standpoint. I'm thinking of the Orchestra di Piazza Vittorio that does something similar, the combine together African and Middle Eastern music with Neapolitan sounds and traditional melodic Italian music. Introducing the kids to these new ways of making music and of inducing social-cultural exchange has great educational value and it is a stimulus to deepen their knowledge and experiences.”

    Under the guidance of Prof. Fiore, La Scuola d'Italia is definitely presenting unique and interesting programs that capture all the different nuances of Italian culture. “I really hope Khaossia will return to New York and perform in larger concerts,” she concludes, “I would like to thank Giorgio Galanti, headmaster at the Ufficio Scolastico Regionale della Lombardia (Regional School Office of Lombardy) and educational director in Philadelphia, for having planned this tour and having taught the class before the concert at Scuola d’Italia.”

  • Art & Culture

    Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin

    “After another sensational season, Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin comes to a close with a special guest, Francesco Ernani,  General Manager of the Teatro Comunale di Bologna,” writes Stefano Albertini, Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, in his announcement for the upcoming evening of April 24th.

    Fred Plotkin is an international personality who is known “for his knowledge and his ability to share it” regarding opera, classical music, gastronomy, wine, or anything related to Italy. He is the author of 9 books and his current best-selling titles are  Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera; Classical Music 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Classical Music;and Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, the most complete book about Italian food and wine culture for the traveler. He is a popular lecturer, speaker, teacher and consultant on all the topics about which he is passionate, and opera is one of them.

    i-Italy had a chance to chat with him despite his busy schedule and peek into the world of Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin.

     How did you become passionate about opera?

    “That is a story too long to tell in one place. I have had opera in my life since I was a small child, having listened to the Met broadcasts on the radio every Saturday afternoon, then attending very early and loving the spontaneity and theatricality. I adore the music and how it narrates not only story but emotions. I love that each opera is based on history, literature and the subtleties and contradictions of human nature. My first working relationship with an opera company was the Lyric Opera of Chicago, when I was sixteen. I then was the first foreigner to study at the DAMS Institute of the University of Bologna, which is Italy’s Juilliard. I worked in theaters and festivals around Italy, culminating with a year at La Scala, thanks to a Fulbright scholarship, where I was the assistant to the visionary stage director Giorgio Strehler and basked in the glow of the inspiring and brilliant Claudio Abbado. I later was Performance Manager of the Metropolitan Opera for five years, learning and accomplishing a great deal and basking in the glow of the brilliant and inspiring James Levine. This is my story up to age 32 and I am almost 56. Since then I have worked as an opera consultant for the National Endowment for the Arts and many regional companies, written more than 500 articles about opera topics and Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera, the best-selling standard text in America for learning opera. It is one of my nine books. I broadcast for NPR, BBC and appear on the Metropolitan Opera Quiz. I lecture at BAM, the New York Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera Guild and the Smithsonian Institution. I write an opera blog for WQXR radio which has become very influential in the past year. I was the opera consultant on the film “Moonstruck.” There is so much more I can tell you....”

    How did the Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin at Casa Italiana originate? And how do you conduct them?

    Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin began as a one-time event on February 21, 2006 that was a conversation with Maestro Gianandrea Noseda who, at the time, was a rising artist but who has now blossomed into one of the foremost conductors of his generation. Because we were at NYU, I decided that this should not be a ‘tell me about you’ kind of thing but rather an occasional in which both of us could teach the audience. Following the success of that evening, where the audience was highly enthusiastic and wanted more, I was asked by Dr. Stefano Albertini, Director of the Casa, and by the lovely Mariuccia Zerilli-Marimò, the benefactress of the Casa that bears her name, to consider a series. Both of them are great sustainers and promoters of the best of Italy, including its opera.”

    “I think I bring a skill set to these evenings that helps them succeed. I speak Italian and know and love Italy immensely -- The New York Times called me ‘a New Yorker with the soul of an Italian’--and that allows me to ask informed questions. Singers quickly realize that this is not going to be an interview that makes them uncomfortable. I see it as a great privilege to have them as my guest and see it as my responsibility to have them speak openly and with ease about operatic topics that they are seldom asked in other settings, where it is mostly superficial biography and fishing for gossip. I don’t do that.”

    Were there any memorable conversations? Some that you are particularly fond of?

    There have been so many that it would be unfair to single any out. But I recall Noseda for how he inspired the audience as he taught them. Joyce DiDonato explained beautifully how she reads an opera score and looks for the keys to creating the character. Ferruccio Furlanetto, with utmost modesty, nonetheless revealed the depth of his soul and we could see how it informs his creation of opera characters. David Daniels was entirely candid and, in so doing, gave us a window into his artistry. Marcello Giordani explained the particular challenges and pleasures of singing French opera when you are an Italian. Barbara Frittoli made clear how singing Mozart, as an Italian, is both a gift and a daunting challenge, one that I believe she meets magnificently. Catherine Malfitano helped us understand aspects of the singing life that most people do not even think of. Thomas Hampson, my most recent guest, speaks so lucidly and spontaneously answers what he is asked rather than go on automatic as so many accomplished public figures do. His son-in-law, Luca Pisaroni, who will be one of the great stars of the next decades, seemed able to do some of all the things I described in the artists above, which is impressive. Marco Armiliato eloquently explained how the right and left hands of a conductor work together and apart to achieve the desired results. And then there was Dolora Zajick, who not only gave the most fascinating lesson on vocal technique I have ever witnessed, but performed the miracle of explaining the plot of Il Trovatore in a way that it made perfect sense.”

    Do you have a "dream guest"?

    “Many of my dream guests have already joined me at the Casa. Two artists--Karita Mattila and Aprile Millo--had to cancel due to illness but they would be welcome back any time. If James Levine and Claudio Abbado ever want to come, they have more to teach us than anyone I can think of. I am spellbound when I listen to them. I have tried to get Plácido Domingo, who is a very busy man, but will keep at it. Among other singers, three whom I would adore are Renata Scotto, Mirella Freni and José Carreras. I have not asked Scotto but intend to. Freni and Carreras are in Europe. These three are paragons of so much of what I revere in Italian opera performance.”

    “I realized that there are certain people I will never get, so have designated one night per season to recalling great artists of the past by having people who either worked with them or knew them well in other ways. The first year was Renata Tebaldi. This year was Arturo Toscanini (with his biographer Harvey Sachs). Next season will be Richard Tucker and in 2013-2014 it will be Luciano Pavarotti, whom I knew for thirty years.

    Tell us about the evening of April 24 with Francesco Ernani.

    “This will be a first in several ways. It is the first time the Adventure will be an Avventura as it will be done entirely in Italian. It will be the first time we have someone to talk about the business side of opera. Signor Ernani is one of the most experienced and accomplished arts administrators in Italy, having run or played crucial roles in opera houses in Milan, Verona, Genoa, Florence, Rome and now the Teatro Comunale di Bologna, which turns 250 in 2013. I knew him when I was a student in Bologna and Milan, and he always had an admirably open perspective in a part of the opera world where many of its protagonists are cagey and guarded. Francesco Ernani serves the art form rather than the other way around.”

    Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin will return after the summer break, what is the program for next year?

    Oct 24  Remembering Richard Tucker. Following on the tradition of devoting an evening to a great practitioner of Italian opera, the great American tenor will be recalled on video and in discussion with his son Barry and other guests to be determined.

    Nov 9  David Alden. The first director to appear as part of this series, David Alden, renowned the world over for his incisive stagings, will have his first new production at the Met, Verdi’s Un Ballo in Maschera, opening on November 8, 2012.

    Dec 3 Giuseppe Filianoti. The fine Italian tenor appears in two operas at the Met in the 2012-2013 season: Mozart’s La Clemenza di Tito and and Puccini’s La Rondine.

    Feb 26, 2013  Sondra Radvanovsky. The marvelous soprano appears in two Verdi operas this season at the Met: Il Trovatore e Don Carlo.

    Mar 12, 2013  José Cura. The compelling Argentine tenor returns to the Met for one of the summits of the opera repertory, Verdi’s Otello. He will join us the evening after his first performance.

    One more date is still being finalized for the 2012-2013 season of Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin. Please visit the Web site of the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò for updates.

    List of those who has appeared on Adventures in Italian Opera with Fred Plotkin at the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò of NYU:

    Conductors: Marco Armiliato; Riccardo Frizza; Gianandrea Noseda: Evelino Pidò; Roberto Rizzi Brignoli

    Singers: Fabio Armiliato;  Lawrence Brownlee; Fabio Maria Capitanucci; David Daniels; Daniela Dessì; Joyce DiDonato; Mignon Dunn; Barbara Frittoli;  Ferruccio Furlanetto; Marcello Giordani; Thomas Hampson; Dmitri Hvorostovsky;  Takesha Meshé Kizart; Maija Kovalevska; Catherine Malfitano; Angela Meade; Michele Pertusi; Luca Pisaroni; Patricia Racette; Dolora Zajick

    Writers: Ken Benson; Robert Marx; Harvey Sachs

  • Art & Culture

    Obama 44. Fratti's 93rd Play... and There's More on the Way

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    Mario Fratti's world-premiere of his thriller Obama 44, a play about the mysterious murder of Maja, a presidential campaign staffer, just ended its run at La MaMa. Fratti, who translated Fellini's screenplay "8 1/2" for the Broadway musical Nine, is also the playwright of Cage, Victim, E. Duse, White Widow - Mafia, Che Guevara, Pinochet - Chile '73, Refrigerators, Birthday, Academy, Seducers, Sister, Terrorist, Loves, Iraq-Blindness, Porno, The Bridge and Erotic Adventures In Venice. This is his third play at La MaMa, the first two were Sister and Six Passionate Women. He is also a journalist and a critic.

    Directed by Wayne Maugans, the cast features Rob Sedgwick (Perfect Crime, The Devil's Disciple) in the role of a tyrant brother, Julia Motyka (What We're Up Against) in the role of Maja, a passionate Obama fan, Dennis Ostermaier (Victor/Victoria) in the role of Bob, an insecure ex boyfriend, Thomas Poarch in the role of Mel, an adorable lover and Richard Ugino in the role of the police detective who falls in love with the dead woman’s personality. Who kills Maja with silk stockings and why? Is it someone from the Tea party? Or a rebuffed ex lover?

    “Obama 44 is a psychological thriller about the murder of the charming, beautiful young woman Maja, who admired and loved the President and worked for his re-election campaign. She is murdered.” As mysteries go, the audience is presented with a crime, her strangulation, and then asked to sort through the clues before getting to the final reveal. In the course of the interview performed by the detective, we're treated to flashbacks depicting Maja's past, Bob's first date with her and Mel's infatuation.

    “I receive a publication called The Intelligence Report,” Mario Fratti explains over the phone, “It is about crimes against democracy. One day I read a story about a young woman in the South, a volunteer for Obama, who was murdered and they did not find the killer. That was the spark and after six or seven months I started to write the thriller.”

    The “44” in the title has a double meaning, because Barack Obama is indeed this nation’s 44th president, a president that Maja simply adores. She says of him, “Obama, our 44th president. What a triumph!” As he hears about her and Obama, the detective not only is fascinated by her but he admits that he too was won over by Obama. In 2008, he didn’t vote. Between Sarah Palin and he didn’t see a choice. But three years later, he sees Obama as a good president, someone to vote for.

    Mel, is Maja's lover No. 44. He is a gentle man who has risked his life too, a man who supports her and to whom she pours out her ardent admiration for Barack Obama himself. “I admire him so much. I love him. And I love America, for the first time. I’m proud of all Americans. We elected an African-American, showing the world that we are truly democratic. Forty-fourth! And you, my love, deserve that number too…You, you, only you…my adored 44.”

    Maja is an intriguing character with an endearing allure, with a great sense of humor and a powerful candidness—she never lies, she stopped lying when she was 19. Is truth dangerous? “Yes, it is,” Fratti replies, “That is the message. Absolute truth has a price and Maja pays with her life.” No matter if she is attractive, authentic, with a vast sexual experience, that excites and disturbs the men of her life. She is just too much to handle, getting ride of her seems the only solution.

    “The reaction to the play,” Fratti explains “has been mixed but we have been lucky overall. It has been 80% positive and 20% negative. I believe that the polemical tone was due to a racial question. There are many who are against Obama.”

    The production has scenic design by Tatsuki Nakamura, lighting design by Paul Bartlett, costume design by Peri Grabin and sound design by Ien Denio.

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    Art & Culture

    The Organizer: Find Your Voice, Unite, and Stand Up For Yourself

    In Turin, at the end of the 19th century, textile factory workers are killing themselves working hard for 14 hour days. It looks like the whole town works here, from the very young kids to older family members, fathers and daughters.

    Exhausted and sleepy by days end, workers keep getting hurt until one day, after the umpteenth accident, when a man is maimed by machinery, the workers decide they have had enough. They all agree to talk to the manager about the long hours, but they get nowhere.

    Still they don't give up. A few are selected to lead the group and their first attempt at rebellion is to work one hour less by cutting off the steam to the machinery at day's end. One more time, they get nowhere.

    The new idea is to begin their day one hour later, but that doesn't happen either as they are inspired by a new man in town, Professor Sinigaglia, to strike. The Professor is a socialist, a former high school teacher from Genoa who is fleeing authorities. After getting food on credit, they all refuse, except one, to show up at work and they keep fighting until the end.

    I Compagni (in the US the film is titled The Organizer rather than the literal translation which would the The Comrades) is an award nominated (Academy Award for Best Screenplay) grainy black and white film shot in 1963, directed by Mario Monicelli.

    It is a docudrama with a slight comedic edge that was “a box office failure and Monicelli blamed himself for it,” Professor Antonio Monda (NYU) said at the screening of the film at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò. This ensemble film on the work situation and poor life conditions of Italian workers was inspired by Monicelli's trip to Paris.

    “As he visited the site of the Bastille he realized he was facing a piece of history and there was not much to testify it. A group of poor people had fought hard and they had changed the course of history. That had to be remembered,” Prof. Monda added.

    “Monicelli took great care in recreating the right historical ambiance,” Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat (NYU) added, “the use of comedy, for example, which is often criticized, humanizes this film as the filmmaker tries not to heroicize the protagonists of this story.”

    Professor Sinigaglia, played by a young Marcello Mastroianni wearing weird contact lenses in some scenes and not in others, believes that ideas can change the world, he is at the service of his political ideals thus he finds himself with “no home, no family, no friends.”

    He helps the workers even though he doesn't even know them and he believes in their cause over everything else. He arrives in town by train as a group of replacement workers from Saluzzo does later during the film (as the strikers do not give up, the factory's management hires a large number of unemployed workers that, although asked peacefully to join the cause, are too desperate not to take the job).
    The film also ends with a train, the train Raoul, played by Renato Salvatori, boards to escape the city and possibly “organize” in a different city. The Professor has given him the address of a friend.

    This long, atmospheric film features a flawless script, co-written by the team of Agenore Incrocci and Furio Scarpelli, outstanding wide screen compositions and inspiring black-and-white cinematography by Giuseppe Rotunno. It makes you wonder if ideals are worth fighting for.

    Omero (played by Franco Ciolli), probably 13 or 14 years of age, works in the factory and he is really involved in the strike. He brings money home and, from the very first scene of the film, wants his little brother to study hard and go to school, because his biggest nightmare is to see him end up working in the factory. Omero's fight is unsuccessful. So you ask yourself, like the characters themselves do, ... was all that worth anything? 

    The film has just joined the Criterion Collection, (Criterion is dedicated to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions that offer the highest technical quality and award-winning, original supplements) and is presented uncut, in its original aspect ratio, as its maker intended it to be seen. 

    The DVD, which will be released on April 24, features a new, high-definition digital restoration, an introduction by Mario Monicelli interviewed by Professor Antonio Monda, the trailer, a new English subtitle translation and an essay by film critic J. Hoberman. 

  • Life & People

    Ready, Set, Go! America’s Cup World Series 2012 in Naples

    After four days of trainings and trial regattas, the America’s Cup World Series 2012 in Naples (April 11-15) has finally started.

    Naples has embraced the event with enthusiasm, said, before the official start, the city's Mayor Luigi de Magistris: “The city is getting ready to host the event in the best possible way. There is much enthusiasm and the desire to participate is palpable. I am sure that this event there is not going to be only a sporting event, but it will also be a flywheel for real development, from tourism to employment.  The AC World Series will provide great visibility to the already exceptional setting of the waterfront of via Caracciolo. This event will allows us all to fully enjoy the beauty of the sea, of the beach and of the landscape (of our city)…” 

    He then added “Naples is presenting its best to the world, thus relaunching the image of Italy in the globally.  Our Prime Minister, Mario Monti, is doing that in China and in other countries, and we are doing it too, from Naples.” Luigi Cesaro, the President of the Campania Province also had his say.

    “This is when we have to say 'yes we can' to show everybody we can accomplish things. With the America's Cup we have shown that we can all work together, the institutions and the Neapolitans. And it worked!” 

    “We have the opportunity to flaunt our city to the world and the international press,” Stefano Caldoro, president of the Campania Region said at the opening of the America's Cup World series 2012 at the Public Race Village, set up in the majestic Villa Comunale.

    “We have worked hard to put together what we have, what nobody will ever take away from us and what we must do to improve. The America's Cup World series is not just a sports event, but an amazing opportunity to proudly show what we have, what we are made of.”

    Naples is “a city with an immediate beauty, full of hidden treasures over and underground, with a maze of alleys in the historical center, as well as centuries-old layers of history and civilizations that have evolved into today’s Neapolitan culture.

    Naples is a culturally vibrant city, with numerous theaters, cultural centers, music venues, art galleries, with a colorful folklore and popular art displays. The city does not show itself to tourists through conventional codes; however, its marvels, together with the hospitality of its people never fail to fascinate visitors.”

    Visiting Naples means plunging into its cultural and artistic identity, written in its many museums, castles, churches, squares and narrow streets: from the majestic fortresses of Castel dell'Ovo and Maschio Angioino to the baroque style of the Decumani, the ancient peri-meter of the town, to the 17th century cloister of San Lorenzo Maggiore and the monumental squares Piazza del Plebiscito, Piazza del Gesù and Piazza San Domenico.

    A world-famous tourist resort, the Neapolitan coastline counts numerous beaches and spectacular cliffs, from Posillipo to Marechiaro, including the beautiful Gaiola and Coroglio sandy beaches. Several yacht clubs offer activities such as canoeing, sailing and water polo.

    But there is much more to do, from shopping in traditional tailoring ateliers, modern interior design galleries, antique furniture shops and open-air markets, to visiting churches and archeological sites. One thing is mandatory: have a Neapolitan coffee.

    Espresso is the Neapolitan drink par excellence. “Coffee is a ritual followed by all locals, who respect all its typical rules, be it in one of Naples' crowded bars or at home. For a tasty coffee you need a good blend, a traditional coffee maker and... Neapolitan water coming from the Serino aqueduct, built in ancient Roman times, which gives coffee that special taste impossible to find anywhere else in the world!”

    The America's Cup has brought something new to Naples, and new people are coming to visit. Around a quarter of a million people went to the area of the Race Village on Easter Monday to sample the atmosphere created by the America's Cup.

    The Race Village opened on April 7th and it offers a rich program of activities, music shows, exhibitions and more. Among the artists performing, international musicians, Roy Paci and Enrico Rava, comedian Stefano Nosei and singer Francesco Renga.

    While on Sunday, April 8th at 9pm, the city hosted the opening ceremony, which welcomed competing teams, music and special lights effects.

    The church and colonnade of San Francesco di Paola was be the backdrop, despite the rain, for a show starring the Bay of Naples and featuring lights and 3D projections that will transformed Piazza del Plebiscito into a virtual aquarium. Created by artistic director Lida Castelli, residents and tourists experienced a fantastic visual effect that brought the sea into the streets. 

    “People here are so welcoming, it is unbelievable,” James Spithill of Oracle Racing said at a meeting held at the Racing Village with the local crowd. He even took part of in a different kind of activity, he made a real Neapolitan pizza (with the help of Paolo Graziano, CEO of ACN). 

    Tradition must be cherished no matter what and Spithill, eating his own pizza, looked really at ease. He  added “The city is fantastic, the Italian people are really welcoming. I will definitely have the best memories.”

    Paolo Graziano, and Iain Murray, Regattas Director for the AC World Series, and the skippers Dean Barker (Emirates Team New Zealand), James Spithill (ORACLE Racing), Terry Hutchinson (Artemis Racing), Darren Bundock (ORACLE Racing), Yann Guichard (helmsman, Energy Team), Fred Le Peutrec (China Team), Max Sirena (Luna Rossa), Chris Draper (helmsman, Luna Rossa), Paul Campbell-James (helmsman Luna Rossa) and Nathan Outteridge (Team Korea) were cheered by the crowd at the opening ceremony.

    Massimiliano Sirena, skipper of Luna Rossa, has expressed his joy that Neapolitans have welcomed this sport. “It is not all about soccer, there is also room for sailing and now this sport is getting all the attention it deserves. The people's response has been great.” He then continued saying “The participation of Luna Rossa at the 34th America’s Cup is a great opportunity for Italy to be represented in the world.” 

    The race course is visible along the entire waterfront of the city and the promontory of Posillipo is  a privileged viewing spot.

    Starting April 7th it was possible to watch the trainings and the races from offshore, very close to the race course on the spectator boats. The official boats host up to 300 guests and are the only boats allowed in the area close to the race course.
 This is a unique chance to enjoy the races from a privileged spot! The boarding take places every day from the pier ‘Molo Lauro’ on Via Caracciolo.

    (For further information and bookings write to [email protected] o [email protected].)

    Those who want to follow from home can watch the races streamed live the America's up You Tube channel

    The America's Cup will move to Venice May 15-20th.

  • Life & People

    Old Wife Tale: Talking Theater with Lucia Grillo

    4 comedies (Get Back, Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast, Family Picnic and Rounding Third) and 2 dramas (Benson, Old Wife Tale), are the plays presented in Home Brewed, the premiere production of the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company NYC.

    This is a collection of one act plays written, directed and produced solely by members of the 68 Cent Crew Theatre Company (company founded by General Hospital's star Ronnie Marmo) that can be seen thru April 27th, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Arthur Seelen Theatre at The Drama Book Shop Theatre Space (250 West 40th Street #1, New York, New York, 10018).

    Members of the company were each asked to write a one act play. Later two Committees read all the one acts and commented on them. Within the Committees there was mentor chosen for each play and playwright. After having consulted them, each writer had the chance to concentrate on a rewrite and now, the final six chosen plays are being performed on stage.

    Company member Lucia Grillo is the director of Old Wife Tale, a snapshot of a dying wife who meets the new woman who has captured her husband's heart. We had a chance to chat about the play and the creative process behind it. “I wrote a drama, a one act version of my feature length screenplay A Tigered Calm. I was inspired by an article I had read in a local Calabrian newspaper about a murder in a small town. I took the opportunity to explore my own characters of the feature length screenplay and see if I could tell their story in one act. I like the outcome and I got really good feedback, but the theme of this selection that is being performed is 'home' and mine didn't correspond to it so it was not chosen,” she explains.

    This is the first time that Lucia, a celebrated Italian American actress, writer and director, directs for the theater. “I only directed film before,” she admits. “I approached it kinda as I would have approached it as an actress, and most likely as a film director. I read the script several times, first to have an idea of the story, then to try to get at the bottom of what the writer intended to say with the play and then to see if I had anything new of my own to add to it. To see what my perspective was. Afterward, I read it from the point of view of each character, in order to see what each of them wants to achieve by the end of the play and identify their relationship to the other characters. Then I asked the actors what their perspective was on their character and their relationship with the others. I like the creative process to be a collaborative process.”

    Lucia made her own choices and the biggest, more apparent one is that “this play was written for people that are older than the people I have cast. The ones I cast are in the mid to late 20s. I thought that it would be more striking to see a young couple going through what these characters go through, that it would be more poignant to see it happening to someone who didn't have a chance to live her life to the fullest... a couple who did not have a chance to get everything they wanted as a couple.”

    Working in a tight group where the writer is readily available is a luxury that is not always available yet Lucia did not really rely on Suzanne Mernyk. “At first I really wanted to consult with her, mainly because I wanted to know about any research that she had done about this particular type of cancer and the character's physicality and how the cancer and any medication would affect her physically and mentally, and how she treats other people. I was especially inquisitive about the scientific aspect. I was dying to know what the story was because apparently the play is based on a true story but then I thought that because I am such a realist that once I heard her story it would lose something from a creative aspect because I would try to be true to every detail of the reality that corresponded to her fiction. And I just wanted to respect the fiction, the great piece of writing that she had created. So I didn't. I know very little about the true story. We did consult with her later on during the rehearsal process because at first I just wanted to get the characters relationships down and explore that with the actors. So we consulted her later, on the pain that the sick character feels and the effect of the medications.”

    Suzanne Mernyk saw the play and she is very pleased with the final result and admitted that Lucia and her actors found some nuances that she didn't have in the writing.

    “This play spoke to me. I love all three characters and I love how large their minds are. We rarely see this in our society. These three people are so loving and so giving. We see Betty (played by Tygar Hicks) the one who is ill and who, despite her jealousy and her love for her husband, wants to know that he will be taken care of and that he has someone to love when she dies. We have Howard (played by James Sayess and Tyler Rackliffe) the husband who loves his wife very much, who is falling in love with this other woman and is trying to give them both love and respect. And Patricia (played by Hadas Nuriel), the new woman, who comes in to give something to a woman she doesn't know. She is giving her the gift of knowing that her husband will be taken care of. This is something we don't often find in our society today so this is what I loved the most about this play.”

    By entering Patricia's life, Howard is also gaining a daughter, Cathy. Is this one more reason for him to get involved with Patricia in the first place? “Howard and Betty were never able to have kids as a matter of fact. It's revealed in the play that once she thought she was pregnant but it was actually a cancer mass. We decided, as a back story, and it is pretty clear in the play, that they wanted a child. His tenderness towards Cathy, Patricia's daughter, is obvious, yes. He might not even admit it to himself yet because his wife is still alive and he is in denial about that, he doesn't want to face this. I think he does like the fact that he will become a father,” Lucia replies.

    The other plays presented in Home Brewed are:

    Benson - A man struggling with suicidal thoughts finds help very close to home, through the unspoken love of his son.

    Get Back - Lost in limbo and longing for loved ones, Jack needs to act quickly or lose to a devilish woman. Between heaven, hell, repentance, and family, can Jack win back his soul?

    Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast - A seemingly perfect nuclear family shows their true colors when a visit from an unexpected stranger spins their world around.

    Family Picnic - With praises to Jesus, self-help books, and freshly baked pie, Anna learns life with her sister-in-laws is no picnic.

    Rounding Third - A couple struggling with sexual dysfunction seek help at a sex therapy office and find remedy in the most unexpected place.

    All performances are held at the Arthur Seelen Theatre at The Drama Book Shop Theatre Space, 250 West 40th Street #1, New York, New York, 10018 (on 40th street between Broadway and 8th). Tickets are $15 online and over the phone, $20 cash only at the door. Running time is 75 minutes with no intermission.

  • Events: Reports

    Antonioni 1912/2012: An Homage

    In Ravenna, Italy, Giuliana (played by Monica Vitti) is walking with her young son, Valerio, towards the petrochemical plant managed by her husband, Ugo. Passing workers who are on strike, Giuliana nervously and impulsively purchases a half-eaten sandwich from one of the workers. They are surrounded by strange industrial structures and debris that create grotesque and inhuman images and sounds. Inside the plant, Ugo (played by Carlo Chionetti) is talking with a visiting business associate, Corrado Zeller (played by Richard Harris), who is looking to recruit workers for an industrial operation in Patagonia, Argentina. Ugo and Corrado converse comfortably in the noisy factory. Ugo tells Corrado that his wife, Giuliana, had a recent auto accident, and though she was physically unhurt, she has not been right mentally.


    This is the beginning of Red Desert (1964), Michelangelo Antonioni's masterwork,
    “a plangent anti-romantic melodrama and a prescient environmentalist masterwork,” the New Yorker writes. This film on “the inseparability of human identity from the ambient influences of the surrounding world, whether media, politics, architecture, nature, or fashion,” has recently been the main topic of many discussions held in different Italian cultural centers.

    The Italian community is indeed celebrating the centenary of the birth of one of the greatest Italian movie directors of all time with a series of events. Antonioni, also a screenwriter, editor, writer and painter, is an icon of Italian cinema worldwide. The celebrations were organized by the Italian Cultural Institute, the Museum of Moving Image, the Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, the Queens College City University of New York and Cinecittà Luce, Rome.

    It all started on March 29th at Italian Cultural Institute with a screening of Antonioni's fourth film The Girlfriends (1955), and an introduction by David Forgacs, Professor of Contemporary Italian Studies at the New York University Department of Italian Studies.

    Adapted from Cesare Pavese's novella Among Women Only, The Girlfriends starts with the suicide attempt of a young woman, Rosetta (played by Madeleine Fischer), in a Turin hotel. She is discovered by Clelia (played by Eleonora Rossi Drago) who has returned from Rome to oversee the opening of a fashion store. Through Rosetta's friend Momina (played by Yvonne Furneaux), Clelia meets a group of young women and artists who expose her to a world of sexual entanglements and infidelities and force her to confront her own values and desires. The film differs from the novel, yet the main plot is the same.

    “Antonioni uses a mystery, in this case the reason why Rosetta has tried to kill
    herself, to hook the audience but that is not the main focus of the story, that is just a way to grab you and keep you interested,” professor Forgacs explained.
    Mystery, the figure of the wandering woman, automation, geopolitical abstraction, toxicology, modernity are some of the topics of his cinema that were discussed on March 30th at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò during Antonioni 1912/2012, aone-day symposium. Organized jointly by Departments of Italian Studies and Cinema Studies, NYU and Casa Italiana, the conference welcomed: Richard Allen (NYU), Francesco Casetti (Yale), David Forgacs (NYU), Ara Merjian (NYU), Matilde Nardelli (UCL, London), Karen Pinkus (Cornell), John David Rhodes (Sussex), Karl Schoonover (Warwick), Michael Loren Siegel (Brown).
    In “Hitchcock, Antonioni and the Wandering Woman,” Professor Allen spoke about the influence that Antonioni's cinema had on Hitchcock's. The British director was an avid student of Italian cinema as he considered it to be more sophisticated and natural. “The figure of the wandering woman is present in works by both directors,” Allen explained, “but in Antonioni's films the woman is adrift, she has nothing specific in mind, differently from the woman in Hitchcock's. They move alone in the landscape, they are watched, they are an enigma.”
    Karen Pinkus in “Automation, Autonomia, Anomie” spoke of the director's fascination with technology. Red Desert was used as the main example. “Antonioni celebrates the alluring abstractions of high-tech industry itself, with its pure geometry of spheres, arcs, and planes. The smears of smoke and blasts of steam, the luridly unnatural riot of acid colors, the towering blankness of looming tankers, and the delicate latticework of colossal radio-telescope towers suggest a visionary world of wonder that comes at the cost of the slate-gray, dying river nearby, the dead-black terrain that smolders with toxic smoke, and the dereliction of its waterfront wastelands,” Richard Brody wrote in a review of the film for the DVD release.
    Many of the speakers who attended the symposium at the Casa Italiana have their presentations featured in a collection of essays edited by John David Rhodes by the title Antonioni: Centenary Essays. “This collection of new essays by leading film scholars addresses Michelangelo Antonioni's pre-eminent figure in European art cinema, explores his continuing influence and legacy, and engages with his ability to both interpret and shape ideas of modernity and modern cinema.”
    The program continues on April 5th, 2012 at 10:00 AM, Queens College City University of New York with the symposiumThe Gaze Elsewhere: Michelangelo Antonioni Centenary.
    Curated by Eugenia Paulicelli, the symposium welcomes Marco Natoli (University of Massachusetts) "Michelangelo Antonioni's Chung Kuo China: Expectations, Reception and censorship"; David Ward (Wellesley College), "Antonioni's Objective Eye"; Ronald Gregg (Yale), "Antonioni and the Aesthetics of 'Eclipse'.
    From Friday, April 6th to Sunday, April 8th, 2012 there will be screenings of Antonioni's films and documentariesat the Museum of the Moving Image.
    Friday, April 6th, at 7:00 PM
    The Red Desert (1964) restored print of Antonioni's first color feature.
    Saturday, April 7th, and Sunday, April 8th, at 2:00 PM
    Antonioni's documentary shorts, introduced on April 8th by John MacKay, Yale University:
    Gente del Po (1943/47), N.U. (1948), L'amorosa menzogna (1949), Superstizione (1949), Sette canne, un vestito (1949), La villa dei mostri (1950), Vertigine (1950), Ritorno a Lisca Bianca (1983), Kumbha Mela (1989), Roma (1990), Noto (1992), Sicilia (1997).
    Antonioni began his career making documentaries. Rarely seen outside Italy, these films offer a deeper understanding of the aesthetic he developed in later years. As Antonioni said of his first documentary, Gente del Pò (People of the river Pò), filmed in 1943, “Everything that I made afterward, either good or bad starts from there, from this film on the River Pò.” In these documentaries, we see Antonioni's roots in the aesthetic of neorealism through his eye for social reality, but we also see the beginnings of another eye, one that looks below the surface of the image for a deeper, more complicated and contradictory reality that goes beyond the social. These documentaries also reveal Antonioni's life-long interest in process and duration in the way his unobtrusive camera follows events as they unfold in time according to their own narrative logic and pace.
    Saturday, April 7th, and Sunday, April 8th, at 5:00 PM
    Chung Kuo Cina (1972): Antonioni's rarely screened 4-hour documentary shot in China.

  • Dining in & out: Articles & Reviews

    Zuppe: Soups From the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome

    As I remove the dark outer leaves of 4 medium size artichokes and try to follow at my best ability the recipe for Minestra Verdissima (Very Green Spring Vegetable Soup) I focus on what Mona Talbott writes in her latest cookbook  Zuppe: Soups From the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome 

    “Minestra Verdissima is a promise of the greatly anticipated Roman spring. The added effort that goes into making this soup – shelling peas, peeling favas and cleaning artichokes – rewards you with a bowl of vital spring,” she writes... I feel that spring is coming and I open the windows to let the breeze of the last day of march get into my New York apartment. This book, its recipes and Annie Schlechter's mouth watering pictures make me day-dream. “My favorite season in Rome is spring. I love the delicacy of the peas and favas and the new wild greens,” Mona Talbott herself told me.

    Zuppe is the second in a series of small hardcover cookbooks (Biscotti is the first), each on a single subject,which bring together favorite dishes served at the American Academy in Rome'scommunal table. Each features an essential subject in the repertoire of the RSFP's eco-gastronomic vision. Proceeds from the sale of Zuppe support the Rome Sustainable Food Projectof the American Academy in Rome.

    The American Academy in Rome is a private institution supported by donations from individuals, foundations and corporations, and the membership of colleges, universities, arts and cultural organizations, as well as by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the United States Department of Education. Founded in 1894, it “is a center for independent study and advanced research in the arts and humanities. For more than 116 years the Academy has offered support, time and an inspiring environment to some of America's most gifted artists and scholars. Each year, through a national juried competition, the Academy offers up to thirty Rome Prize fellowships in architecture, design, historic preservation and conservation, landscape architecture, literature, musical composition, visual arts, and in humanistic approaches to ancient studies, medieval studies, Renaissance and early modern studies, and modern Italian studies.”

    The Rome Sustainable Food Project is a program “devoted to providing organic, local and sustainable meals for the community of the American Academy in Rome, has launched a delicious revolution to rethink institutional dining. Headed by chef Mona Talbott, a Chez Panisse alum, and guided by Alice Waters, the menus have given rise to a new, authentic cuisine, inspired by la cucina romana, Chez Panisse and those working in the AAR kitchen.”

    “The delicious soups in this book have nourished us here at the American Academy in Rome for over five years, serving often as the opening of wide-ranging conversations. Somehow Mona Talbott has accomplished the most difficult of feats: creating dishes that, though they offer a sense of being “at home,” never lack a sense of culinary innovation and excitement. Local ingredients, seasonal approaches, and no unnecessary additives: all add up to a book in which the reader will find a soup for every season. I hope you enjoy these soups as much as we have done. The Rome Sustainable Food Project, under the direction of Mona Talbott, has changed our lives for the better at the American Academy in Rome, and we are delighted to share the results with you. Buon appetito!” Christopher Celenza, the current director of the American Academy in Rome, wrote.

    The book is divided into the four seasons, “beginning with autumn, to reflect how each year at the Academy begins every September with the arrival of the new class of Fellows. The recipes are grouped according to the Roman seasons, although many vegetables cross over from summer to fall and winter to spring. Our soups depend on the delicious flavor of seasonal vegetables, and are full of beans, greens and grains – ingredients that are the foundation of a traditional Mediterranean diet. These fifty recipes can be made in large or small quantities and can be set aside to be re-heated in haste. Wholesome, egalitarian and economical, soup is the perfect food for our modern lives,” the author writes in her introduction.

    “The recipes that are selected to be in the book were chosen because they represented the kinds of soups we made on a daily basis at the AAR. The recipes are mostly simple to prepare and depend on the quality of ingredients. We only have a few special occasion soups that take hours to prepare. The daily soup is simple and show the best of roman cooking and agriculture,” she answers to my question on how she picked the recipes that ended up in the book. The fifty recipes featured in the book draw from the four traditional categories of Italian soups: those made with water (aqua cotta), with stock (brodo), with cream (veloute), and soups for the evening meal.

    Why soup? “Soup is the defining dish of the AAR kitchen. It is a humble and nourishing dish that feeds many people economically. And it requires a level of engagement. One must lift the lid of the soup pot and look inside to see what deliciousness is forthcoming. It isn't as sexy or eye catching as a plate of pasta.”

    Pasta will be the focus of Mona's next book. “It is such an important part of the the daily kitchen of the AAR and the iconic dish of Italian food culture. We serve so many variations based on seasonal ingredients and always with a mind to the fact we are feeding the same group of people day in and day out. We try and keep the food healthy and balanced,” she reveals.

    Zuppe: Soups From the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome will be on sale starting April 3. It features 50 recipes by Mona Talbott and photographs by Annie Schlechter.