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"The Garden of the Finzi-Continis" at the Museum of Jewish Heritage

by Steven Pisano

Garden of finzi-continis NYC Opera(All photographs by Steven Pisano)

Italy is not the first country that comes to mind when considering the Jewish diaspora in Europe. The northern part of the country, however, has long been home to small outposts of Jews, most notably Venice and its segregated Ghetto. About an hour away by train from that famed city is the inland city of Ferrara, where one extant synagogue dates back to the 1400s. 

In 1962, novelist Giorgio Bassani wrote The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (later made into an Oscar-winning film by Vittorio de Sica) about a prominent Jewish family living in a lush, walled compound in Ferrara in the 1930s with ancient trees, tennis courts, and a sizable private library. But, all is not well. Much like the Von Trapps of Salzburg, the Finzi-Continis have seen what's coming since the Italian Fascists rose to power alongside the Nazis and implemented race laws against Jews, but believe they can ride it out from behind their high walls. 

The two Finzi-Contini children, Micòl and Alberto, are privately tutored at home and therefore don't have much interaction with the other Jewish children of Ferrara. The exception is at Temple, where one day Micòl meets Giorgio, a middle-class Jewish teen, who briefly flirts with her. Nothing comes of it, and their paths don't cross again until years later when Giorgio, now a student at the prestigious University of Bologna, is riding his bike by the Finzi-Contini compound and Micòl beckons him to come inside and play tennis. They soon become friends, and over time, Giorgio develops an unexpressed love for her. But Micòl, who is both beautiful and intelligent - not to mention wealthy - stays aloof, both emotionally and physically. The novel goes on to explore Giorgio's unrequited love against the dark shadow of war.

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"The Hang" by Taylor Mac at HERE

by Steven Pisano

The Hang, HERE Arts Center (All photographs by Steven Pisano)

If you haven't been following the career of Taylor Mac, you've been missing out on one of the most protean theater artists of our time. Winner of a MacArthur Genius Grant, International Ibsen Award and Pulitzer Prize nomination, Mac achieved wide praise for 2016's tour-de-force “A 24-Decade History of Popular Music,” not in the least because it was 24 hours long (with short allowances for food, drink, and bathroom breaks). One could fill stadiums with the number of people still kicking themselves for missing that show!

Now, Mac has brought a new opera, “The Hang” to HERE, written with the composer Matt Ray and directed by Niegel Smith. Originally scheduled to be presented as part of the cancelled Prototype Festival of new opera, “The Hang” is not as ambitious in scale as some of Mac's previous work, clocking in at a mere 100 minutes. But, as a celebration of live musical theater in all its bristling, visceral glory—music, lyrics, sets, make-up, and costumes—this “jazz opera" will make you ecstatic to be back in the theater. It is a love letter to the act of creation itself, and to how essential it is that we all “hang” together.

“The Hang” recounts the persecution and ultimate death of the famous Greek philosopher Socrates. But don’t be misled. This is not a classics lesson brought to life (even if knowing something about Aristophanes will elicit snickers from those in the know). What will delight you is the sheer, queer exuberance of this outstanding production.

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New Year, New Leaf: Igor Levit at Carnegie Hall

Igor Levit at Carnegie Hall
Well, it's been a rough couple of months here in NYC. Just when we thought we were almost done with COVID-19, it came roaring back around Thanksgiving, shutting down bars, restaurants - and lots of live music. This month alone has seen the cancellation of both the PROTOTYPE opera festival (they say it's "postponed") and the Winter JazzFest Marathon (which is now the "Virtual Marathon," which started this week.) Not to mention seemingly half the shows I see listed on Ohmyrockness.

The city's opera and concert halls, on the other hand, have largely kept their doors open, which is ironic given the relative size of their auditoriums and potential risk of infection. Guess some folks like to freak out more about Omicron than others. (Full disclosure: I caught COVID just before Christmas, and experienced relatively mild symptoms for about a week. Thank you, Pfizer!)

One of those venues that's persevered is Carnegie Hall, which has navigated this year's various COVID-related travel restrictions by filling its three stages with soloists, chamber groups, and the occasional local orchestra. To be frank, it's not been a banner year of programming thus far. BUT, things are ramping up quickly here in 2022, with stalwarts such as the Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Philharmonic, and the Emerson String Quartet all set to perform in the coming weeks. 

Safety is of course a top priority at Carnegie, and was in clear evidence Thursday night by the line snaking around the corner of 57th and 7th to check ID's and proofs of vaccination. Fair warning: all tickets now come with a designated entry time and one of several designated entrances, though I'd recommend getting there at least a half hour before curtain regardless of what your ticket says. And, for God's sake, don't forget your mask!

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