a new musical piece by Hershey Felder

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CULTURE

Mozart and Figaro in Vienna: a sumptuous new musical from Hershey Felder

Helene Farrell

January 16, 2022 – 4:10 p.m.

Imagine two hours of lyrical entertainment interspersed with humor in the comfort of your own home: that’s what the Canadian creative genius Hershey Felder directed in his last musical film (and perhaps his greatest) entirely shot in Florence.

Mozart and Figaro in Vienna begins with a dusty scene set in New York’s only 1830s Italian bookstore, which was actually filmed in Florence’s lavish private art gallery, the Bellini Museum. A theatrical-aged Felder plays Lorenzo Da Ponte in his twilight years, who was “Emperor Joseph II’s Italian poet” and the long-neglected librettist of Mozart’s three operas, Figaro’s wedding, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte. The action quickly shifts to the film’s other Florentine location, the awe-inspiring riverside Gianfigliazzi Palace Bonaparte, whose impressive original parquet floors, gilded moldings and enchanting natural light evoke the imperial palace of late 18th century Vienna.

Hershey Felder as Lorenzo Da Ponte in “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna”

“Florence is our film studio home,” Felder explained to The Florentine. “Florence provided our films with original historical locations unique to Florence, from Tchaikovsky’s current Florentine residence to Dante’s actual Florentine life locations, Tsarist Russia, Puccini’s opera sets and more. With Mozart, while some interiors were to be shot in our base in Florence, The Kaiser’s Palace in Vienna was on one of the plans to shoot.With the complete lockdown in Austria, this became impossible – and as it cannot happen that in Florence, Hagenauer’s Maria Maestrelli, owner of Palazzo Gianfigliazzi in Lungarno Corsini opened the Palazzo to us to serve as the Kaiser’s palace. The location came on its designation as a Mozart environment honestly. The fully restored decor dates from the late 18th century, Mozart’s time, and even more specifically, the de Hagenauers of Vienna, Maria’s family by marriage, were Mozart’s landlords for much of their Viennese residence. The wonders of Florence never cease.

Image taken from a scene from “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna”

What follows in the film is the the epitome of learning through entertainment as Da Ponte presents Mozart’s six-week opera, Figaro’s wedding, to the Emperor, played by Jay Natelle (Gucci House, Medici, Ben Hur), inviting each character in turn to interpret scenes from the opera while the librettist gives a synopsis. The relationship between Mozart (Philippe Ciabatti, music director of the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra and a native Florentine) and Da Ponte proves engrossing as the celebrated composer displays a soft conducting role against the flamboyant setting of the blacksmith, though Da Ponte de Felder fully acknowledges Mozart’s musical gift, while desiring at least a slice of recognition. Nathan Gunn (as Count Almaviva), Ekaterina Siurina (Countess Rosina), Timothy Renner (Figaro), Hila Plitman (Susan) and Xenia Tziouvaras (Cherubino) all shine in their roles accompanied by musicians from the Maggio Musicale Orchestra. Shot as an extended scene on the piano nobile of the 13th century palace by the experienced Italian team led by director Stefano Decarli, the exquisite costumes of Nicolao, the quintessential Venetian atelier, and the sumptuous wigs of the Florentine institution Filistrucchi add authenticity and prestige to the screen.

Image taken from a scene from “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna”

Felder continues, “I’ve always said: Point a camera anywhere in Florence, and whatever’s on your screen will look beautiful. The biggest treat, however, are the living and breathing artists now working in Florence. the Maggio Musicale Fiorentina The orchestra, which I have had the honor of playing in four Florentine films to date, is a world-class ensemble led by legendary conductor Zubin Mehta. As individuals, the musicians are generous and ready for anything, including dressing up in 18th-century clothes! The wealth of artists is limitless. Almost at one, the film crew— directors, directors of photography, lighting designers, editors, costume designers, electricians, gaffers, runners — were born in Florence. Besides being immensely talented, they are a kind group of individuals who will work endless hours to make everything the best it can be. There is a deep commitment to the best possible art in the Florentine tradition. The group even hosted the world famous costume designer Stefano Nicolao of Venice, who dressed our Mozart film. Stefano is known worldwide for his costumes for Hollywood hits, such as Farinelli, casanova, Elizabeth and more. The goal is to find and illuminate world-class talent in and around Florence, and to create stories that we can share that show how beautiful our city and its people are.”

Image taken from a scene from “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna”

Viewers learn how the poet was born in Venice as Emanuele Conegliano and changed his name through baptism upon his father’s marriage to a 17-year-old Catholic girl. Living a colorful life, despite being a priest, in La Serenissima he suffered exile due to the repercussions of an affair with a married woman, which is how he ended up in Vienna. We learn that he moved to London when the Emperor died before bankruptcy took him to New York. Felder details Da Ponte’s life as a character with humor and charisma in this film that educates and informs about a little-known but pivotal figure in music history. Indeed, one wonders how one had never heard of this talented writer as the firsts that Felder reveals are numerous: Da Ponte was the first to put on an Italian opera on stage in New York, to raise funds for the metropolis’s first opera house at the corner of Leonard and Church Street, and the city’s first Italian university class.

Hershey Felder as Lorenzo Da Ponte in “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna”

Sumptuous from start to finish, Mozart and Figaro in Vienna is the tenth Hershey Felder musical film to be uploaded to www.hersheyfelder.net since the start of the pandemic, and it may be his best production to date.

Tickets can be purchased for Mozart and Figaro in Vienna here ($50): theflr.net/mozart-tickets

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