There’s nothing like an anniversary to resonate with a production of a play. The conjunction of the 500th anniversary of the establishing of the Venice Ghetto and the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death have provided an irresistible opportunity to stage The Merchant of Venice in the ghetto itself for the very first time.
As the long-awaited date of the first performance of The Merchant of Venice in the Venice Ghetto itself arrives this week, in the last of our series of interviews with members of the company, JR’s arts editor Judi Herman talks to French-American actor Paul Spera. Based in Paris, Spera plays Lorenzo, the Christian youth who elopes with Shylock’s daughter, Jessica – and plenty of his money and jewels – thus goading the distraught father into seeking the revenge that leads to his demand for the famous pound of flesh from Antonio, the merchant of the title. Spera is interesting casting for the role of the Christian lad who steals away with the Jewish girl as he is half Jewish himself. And so we come full circle with this series of interviews with members of Compagnia de Colombari, for we began with Michelle Uranowitz aka Jessica herself.
As the long-awaited date of the first performance of The Merchant of Venice in the Venice Ghetto itself arrives this week, in the last of our series of interviews with members of the company, JR’s arts editor Judi Herman talks to actress Francesca Sarah Toich. Playing the role of Lancillotto, the servant to Shylock and confidante of Jessica, his daughter, normally a male role, but here intriguingly played by Toich, as a sort of cross-gender Harlequin figure. Italy-based Francesca is an award-winning performer who combines skills and experience in the very physical Commedia dell Arte tradition with a huge vocal range.
In the next of our chats with members of the cast and creative team of the very first production of The Merchant of Venice to be staged in the Venice Ghetto itself, Judi Herman talks to Welsh actress Jenni Lea-Jones, who has relocated to Venice and is perhaps the most unusual of the five performers sharing the role of Shylock in the show they are calling The Merchant in Venice. Apologies for the quality of the line at the start of this conversation, which happily soon improves.
In the next of our chats with members of the cast and creative team of the very first production of The Merchant of Venice to be staged in the Venice Ghetto itself, Judi Herman talks to Frank London, composer and musician. The Grammy-winning trumpeter and composer, founder of the Klezmatics and leader of bhangra/Yiddish group Sharabi (with Deep Singh), Shekhinah Big Band, and his Klezmer Brass Allstars is no stranger to large-scale collaborative projects, or of course to Jewish-themed work. Here he talks about the musicians who are working with him on this project and his inspirations for the music that will be heard in the Ghetto.
See Alexandra & Nikole Stoica, the twin violin virtuosos from Romania that Frank talks about, who will play in the production: www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmg-mPSAeCE
Hear music by Salomone Rossi (his beautiful Kaddish – the mourner’s prayer), the 17th-century, Italian-Jewish composer, who was one the inspirations that Frank mentions: www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBBXYsdt8Jk
In July, as Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice is performed in the Venice Ghetto for the very first time, a trial featuring advocates for Shylock, Antonio and Portia will take place in Venice’s Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Will it overturn the verdict from the play, in which Shylock is tried, found guilty of threatening the life of a Venetian, and then fined and forced to convert to Christianity? Shaul Bassi, director of Beit Venezia: A Home for Jewish Culture, and one of the movers behind the city’s Jewish cultural events this year, reveals his side of the story.
Jeff Ingber, table tennis champion for decades from the mid-20th century and one of Howard Jacobson’s heroes, met up with JR’s arts editor Judi Herman at the exhibition Chess in Shorts that accompanies the production of the Mighty Walzer at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Ingber told Judi about playing the other beautiful game in Manchester and how it was his passport to travel the world, from Israel to China.
Chess in Shorts, an exhibition by Howard Jacobson and Manchester Jewish Museum, runs until Saturday 30 July, FREE, at the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester, M2 7DH. www.royalexchange.co.uk
The Mighty Walzer runs until Saturday 30 July, 7.30pm & 2.30pm, £8-£16, at Royal Exchange Theatre.
From the moment Elliot Levey ‘s Oliver Walzer bounds on stage and takes in the 360 degrees of audience seated around him, the warmth and inclusivity of Jonathan Humphreys’ perfectly-cast production works its magic, taking its audience back to 1950s Jewish Manchester, conjuring it up with what seems like just a few props and sound effects.
An update from Italy: Davina Moss writes:
“Rehearsals are going well! We’ve gone from table work to staging and it’s important to figure out the geometry of the space. Everyone is very excited with how the project is progressing and we’re making some very cool discoveries in the rehearsal room. In this photograph you see us debating over a line in the trial scene, which different versions of the play have different wordings for.”
As the celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the Venice Ghetto continue, excitement mounts over the first ever performances of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice in the Ghetto itself (26-31 July). In the next of a series of interviews with members of the cast and creative team, JR’s arts editor Judi Herman talks to Londoner Davina Moss, currently studying dramaturgy at university in New York, to find out more about her role as assistant dramaturg on this unique production.
Visit www.themerchantinvenice.org for more info.