Monday, September 19, 2005

Galas, Dancing, And Renaissance Humanism On The Edges Of Disasters

N. and I attended the Washington National Opera's 50th Anniversary Gala Saturday evening -- a production of Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani conducted by Placido Domingo and directed by Paolo Miccichè. I found the production, which featured slowly rotating panoramic photographic views of Sicily as well as projected photographs of Italian old master paintings, often distracting and mannerist. While Verdi transposed the Eugene Scribe source material from the 16th century to the 13th century (I was looking forward to the evocation of 13th century Norman Sicily), the WNO team transposed the opera to the early 19th century. Fortunately, the singing was excellent (if not always the tightness of the ensembles). Maria Guleghina (variously described as Armenian or Ukrainian in the WNO materials -- her official website only states that this "Cinderella from Russia" began her career in Minsk, Belarus) was Elena, American Franco Farina was Arrigo, Georgian Lado Ataneli was Monforte, and Ukrainian Vitalij Kowaljow as Giovanni da Procida.

(Last Wednesday's dress rehearsal to the opera gala was a benefit for Hurricane Katrina Relief, and reportedly raised $20,000.)

On Sunday, we attended, at the National Gallery of Art, the Washington premiere of Dutch filmmaker Jos de Putter's (who was in attendance) "The Damned and the Sacred", a poignant documentary about a Chechnyan youth traditional dance troupe which trains in the disaster zone which is their hometown Groznyy before touring to the 2002 Amsterdam Roots Festival. A quarter of the young dancers in the troupe could not be located after the first Chechnyan War, and many in the troupe have lost fathers, brothers, or boyfriends. (There are now many more young female Chechnayans than young male Chechnayans.) The film program was curated by Peggy Parsons, and will also show at the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley, and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Humanists will certainly not want to miss the National Gallery of Art exhibition on "Monumental Sculpture from Renaissance Florence: Ghiberti, Nanni di Banco, and Verrocchio at Orsanmichele", which features three large, newly restored early Florentine masterpieces of public art -- one in marble, and two in bronze. This is the first time a work by Ghiberti has ever been exhibited in the United States.

Ghiberti's St. Matthew (1419-1421). It took Ghiberti two attempts to cast this huge bronze figure. The second bronze casting was on top of the partially successful first bronze casting. It was the largest bronze sculpture since ancient Roman times, and commemorated, in part, a Roman guild of stone-carvers martyred by the third century C.E. Roman Emperor Diocletian when they would not carve a Roman pagan image. The powerful faces of all three ensembles in the exhibition were based upon second and third century C.E. Roman models.

Photo credit: Alinari/ Art Resource, NY

(The Historical Complex of Split with the Palace of Diocletian, in Split, Croatia, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. See


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