Sunday, November 18, 2012

Love and Loss Under Mediterranean Skies

Often, when we think of Italy, we think of its innumerable contributions to the arts, the passion of its people, the pungent aromas of its pizza, pasta, and pesto, and the ignorant pomposity of the Pope. But Italy also conjures up images of maritime superstars such as Christopher Columbus, Andrea Doria, and Francesco Schettino. If that last name doesn't ring a bell, maybe these pictures will help refresh your memory.

The former Captain of the Costa Concordia is currently working on a book which he claims will exonerate him from wrecking a 952-foot long cruise ship on the night of January 13, 2012. Like many Italian men who have screwed things up, at least he did it his way.

The 2012 San Francisco DocFest recently screened two Italian films which showed what life can be like away from the picture postcard moments that fill the minds of so many armchair travelers.  Coupled with a performance of a failed musical about the fruits, frustrations, and folly of love, Italian-style, these films helped to focus the mind on the land that literally "gave us the boot."

* * * * * * * * *
San Franciscans live in a city that thrives on tourism. Luckily for us, tourists arrive in town throughout the year, eager to explore its many attractions. In smaller communities that rely on local weekend getaway visitors during the summer months, life gets a whole lot quieter once the tourists go home.

As someone who spent many years working in a YMCA summer camp, I remember the way the buzz of excitement evaporated into thin air as the last families picked up their children and the staff went about getting the place stowed away for the winter. A new entry in the genre of documentaries with little or no human speech. One Year’s Remainder follows the inhabitants of the island of Salina (just off Sicily) after their tourist season has ended and the pace of life becomes less frantic. Whether one follows the school bus driver or the local fishermen, watches locals enjoying a holiday feast or the smoke coming from the cone of a nearby volcano, Michele Di Salle’s charming slice-of-life film has an undeniable appeal.

* * * * * * * * *
The brutal impact of Hurricane Sandy on the greater New York metropolitan area last month delivered a stern wake-up call to the dangers of climate change. However, for Venetians, storm surges and rising tides are nothing new.  One of the most romantic sites on the planet, Venice has been increasingly subject to rising salt water that floods its plazas and take a toll on daily life.

A new documentary by Nicola Pittarello and Michele Barca entitled The Challenge of Venice examines the natural phenomena which cause Venice's flooding as well as the massive engineering plan that Venetians hope will reduce further flooding of the lagoon in which their beloved city was built.

The gigantic MO.S.E. (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) engineering project that was begun in 2003 to create mobile sea barriers is scheduled for completion in 2014. The contrast between the computer-driven solution necessary to help save the city from permanently sinking and  the beauty of Venice's old buildings offer a stark contrast in architectural styles.

Viewers will also be fascinated by the changes in perspective as the Venetian lagoon is viewed from the air (in beautiful, picture postcard images), from the ground and gondola levels (which allow audiences to witness the erosion and damage caused by flooding), and from the waterline, as if a swimmer were watching boats passing back and forth on the city's busy waterways.  Less romantic views of the city show its population wading through flooded plazas while clad in thigh-high fishing boots, marine ambulance crews trying to navigate the best possible route to a hospital's dock, and interviews with reluctant restaurateurs and shop owners who must cope with business losses whenever the Adriatic Sea surges into the Venetian lagoon. Here's the trailer:

* * * * * * * * *
Down at the Eureka Theatre, 42nd Street Moon recently presented the West Coast premiere of a 1979 musical which, despite its creative team's strong pedigree, only lasted through 11 previews and 17 performances on Broadway. With music by Burton Lane (Finian's Rainbow, On a Clear Day You Can See Forever) lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner (Brigadoon, Paint Your Wagon, My Fair Lady, Gigi, Camelot, and Coco), and a book by Joseph Stein (Plain and Fancy, Take Me Along, Fiddler on the Roof, Zorba, The Baker's Wife, and Rags), Carmelina had been inspired by 1968's Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell, a film that starred Gina Lollabrigida as the single mother of a young woman whose gene pool was a never-ending source of mystery.

Although Carla has always told her daughter that Gia's father was an American soldier who died in the war, the truth is that she has cunningly been collecting "rent" from three Americans who might have been the girl's father.  Sound familiar? It's the same plot that launched 1999's Mamma Mia! to international fame as a jukebox musical built around ABBA's most popular songs.

While Lerner & Lane's musical starred Georgia Brown (the original Nancy in Oliver!) and former opera star Cesare Siepi (who had appeared with Michele Lee, Maria Karnilova, and Lainie Kazan in 1962's short-lived Bravo Giovanni), Carmelina never really achieved lift-off. The show's failure was easy to understand when one considered that Lane's score was quite mediocre and Lerner's lyrics were hardly his best. In the following clip, Millicent Martin sings the show's strongest number: "Why Him?"

What might have contributed to Carmelina's early demise, however, was the controversy sparked by a  show that had opened just 10 weeks earlier. Compared to the theatrical daring and spectacle of Stephen Sondheim's mammoth musical thriller, Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Carmelina seemed somewhat quaint. Perhaps flaccid would be a better word to describe its charms.

Caroline Altman, Rudy Guerrero, Will Springhorn, Jr., and
Trevor Faust Marcom in Carmelina (Photo by: David Allen)

In his review of the original production, Walter Kerr astutely noted that:
"Composer Burton Lane clearly wants no part of a sound born after 1961 (possibly a bit earlier would be better) if he is going to do a musical with the heroine's name for a title... You see, the years of rock have created an enormous gap for theatre composers who wish to continue to work. Rock was never their metier (rock people weren't theatre people, they were concert people and they now seem to be slipping away more quietly than they came). Which means that a man like Mr. Lane must either struggle onward toward something like opera, as Stephen Sondheim is doing, or he must revert to the patterned pre-acid tunes he was born to."

Carmelina (Caroline Altman) and her maid, Rosa (Darlene Popovic) in
42nd Street Moon's production of Carmelina (Photo by: David Allen)

42nd Street Moon's production starred Caroline Altman as Carmelina with Bill Fahrner as Vittorio Bruni (the local cafĂ© owner who pined for her love). The three potential sperm donors were played by Will Springhorn, Jr., Trevor Faust Marcom, and Rudy Guerrero. Despite the efforts of Emily Kristen Morris as Carmelina's daughter and Stewart Kramar as Roberto, the local boy who is infatuated with Gia,

While songs like "Someone in April," "It's Time For A Love Song," "One More Walk Around the Garden," and Carmelina's feisty solo, "I"m a Woman " show years of professional craft behind their creation, the overall impression of this show is that Carmelina is sadly very much less than the sum of its parts.

No comments: