Director Marco Martinelli with students of Italian and Theatre
Snow aside, the month of February also brought two significant Italian artistic groups – award-winning Teatro delle Albe and the acclaimed musical duo the Mancuso brothers – to the Montclair campus as part of the Spring 2014 calendar of Inserra events. A play, a theatre workshop and a music workshop became an occasion for artistic enrichment and scholarly engagement centered in the field of Italian Studies and opening up to several other disciplines as part of a broad collaborative project both on and off campus amply covered by the media.
The centerpiece of the programming was Albe’s wrenchingly powerful play concert, Rumore di Acque (Noise in the Waters), which addresses the perils of migration routes (a topic that had already found its way to the campus through the Montclair Book program in 2013. On Feb. 18th, over 170 people attended the New Jersey premiere of Noise, which is based on the tragic stories of asylum seekers and economic migrants attempting to reach Europe from North Africa. The route through the Mediterranean is particularly dangerous with human rights observers estimating that approximately 13,000 people have lost their lives in the Channel of Sicily since 1988, with the recent Oct. 3rd fatal incident covered by the U.S. media being one of the most tragic.
Largely inspired by real stories collected in Mazara del Vallo, Sicily, the play offers a subtle denunciation of this tragedy through the improbable perspective of a General employed by the E.U. to bureaucratically number the dead. Imbued with allusions to Shakespeare, Melville, and Dante, and powerfully delivered by Alessandro Renda through an “unforgivable” hoarse voice – the play’s monologue in reality gives voice to the anonymous migrants in several forms, the most intense being the live singing of the musicians Enzo and Lorenzo Mancuso who, with their unparalleled voices, seem to howl the pain of humanity from the depths of the sea.
In the lively after-show Q&A attended by several students and members of the community, director and playwright Marco Martinelli explained that he does not just see the work as a piece of political agit-prop against the “system.” The figure of the General represents not just an institutional critique but also a very individual one of all the bystanders (including the writer himself) who serve as silent witnesses to this ongoing tragedy with reverberations that transcend the geography of the Mediterranean and find echoes in the U.S.-Mexico-border migration or the Atlantic Ocean’s slave trade.
Attending faculty and students responded viscerally to the moving performance. As Marisa Trubiano, Deputy Chair of the Italian program wrote in an email after the play: “It will be impossible to forget the moving, disturbing, beautiful Rumore di acque.” Similarly, a student in an advanced Italian culture class, Christina Petrillo, commented: “The entire performance left me astonished, indignant and not only carved out faces from the migrants’ personal stories, but also shook me in an indescribable way.”
The site of the Albe performance, the beautiful Leshowitz Hall of the Cali School of Music, also hosted on Feb. 17th the Fratelli Mancuso, winners of the Best Soundtrack Award at the 2013 Venice Film Festival for a part conversation part performance workshop, entitled Sicilian Music Revisited and offered to nearly 100 students and community members. Largely self-taught, the brothers told us how they sought out music making as a way to find solace and self-dignity after emigrating to the U.K to work as sheet metal workers, and ultimately “to always engage in a quest for truth.” During the workshop, the Mancusos sang some of the highlights of their repertoire, which consists of an eclectic mix of sacred music, lullabies, and songs of protest; they also invited select participants to join them on stage to sing the love song “Nesci, Maria.” Their music takes inspiration from a variety of sources (poetry, painting, barbershop performances) and geographies (Turkey, India, Spain) and consists of an instantly identifiable vocal signature characterized by an eerie and piercing harmony. Dr. Laura Dolp (Cali School of Music) adds that the Mancusos’ presence on campus constituted “a meaningful reminder of the importance of exposing our students to world music in order to expand their experience.”
Equally enriching was the workshop that Marco Martinelli and Ermanna Montanari, co-founders of the thirty-year-old pluri-awarded company Le Albe, offered to the students of the Department of Theatre as well as select HS students of Italian who were invited to visit the campus. Developed in collaboration with the ACP office, the workshop moved from a body-centric section injected with explosive energy to a breathing-centered moment infused with intimate search, finally concluding with a festive finale. Relying on the verses of Italian Renaissance poets Boiardo and Ariosto respectively as well as Vinicio Capossela’s song inspired by the “Ballo di San Vito” (a traditional taranta dance), the workshop leaders masterfully moved from group-focused work (chorus) to individual-focused work (chorus leader) using the Italian language. The ebullient Martinelli and Montanari who are able to move a crowd of several dozens in minutes through their eloquence and intensity complimented the passionate involvement of the participating students, as well as the available facilities. A theatre student, Andrea Claudio, called the workshop “a fantastic experience - not only we worked with professionals in our field, but professionals from another country. Despite the language barrier, I never felt lost or confused: the whole time we were together in the work.”
“Spanning both large and intimate settings” - as Dr. Fiore (Inserra Chair) observed about this multi-faceted project - “these visiting artists from Italy provided the Montclair State community with opportunities to learn, to be challenged, and perhaps most importantly, to be part of a warm community that cherishes intellectual pursuits in the humanities and beyond. I am profoundly grateful to the Inserra Endowment for what it allows us to bring to our campus.”
For more photos (by Mike Peters and Giuseppe Malpasso), see photogallery.