L'Ebreo (The Jew)
A world première, no less! This rollicking comedy— with a Jew in the title role—was written for the Carnival of 1614 at the Medici Court, by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger (great-nephew, heir, and namesake of the celebrated painter, sculptor, and architect).
“Think Molière,” says Executive Producer Tony Gallo (’93), who is directing the staged reading, “but better!”
Buonarroti (1568-1646) and Moliere (1622-73) were both intrigued by the Italian commedia dell’arte, with its manic energy, exaggerated characters and preposterous conflicts. But what is a Jew doing in the midst of this comic mayhem—especially a Turkish Jew named Melchisedec (“King of the Righteous”), with a turban, a long robe and a hennaed beard?
“1614 was a wild time in the Tuscan capital,” Goldberg explained, “especially when it came to the Jewish population. Rich Sephardic merchants were arriving from the Ottoman Empire, forming a small but exclusive circle in the local ghetto. With their exotic dress, foreign manners and evident wealth, they seized everyone’s attention—in the streets of Florence and at the Medici Court.”
Ed Goldberg is a Washington native with a Ph.D. from Oxford. For most of the last forty years, he has lived in Florence, exploring public and private archives. Along the way, he published various books and articles, including Jews and Magic in Medici Florence and A Jew at the Medici Court (both University of Toronto Press, 2011).
What about Michelangelo the Younger’s play, L’Ebreo (The Jew)? Goldberg discovered the autograph manuscript in the Casa Buonarroti, that family’s historic palazzo, only a few blocks from his own home. In scene after raucous scene, we see Melchisedec—a classic Levantino (Jew from the East)—surrounded by boisterous characters from the commedia dell’arte: impetuous young lovers, overbearing elders,riotous servants and gossipy neighbors, plus a pompous lawyer and a scheming marriage broker. We watch them trip over each other’s feet in the mad whirl of the Florentine Carnival, the annual silly season between Epiphany (Twelfth Night) and Lent.
“Melchisedec is the ultimate anti-Shylock”, Goldberg observed. “Ironic but good-natured. Always in on the joke.”
“When it came to lawyers, Buonarroti was farl less tolerant,” Gallo noted with a laugh. “If there are ‘bad guys’ in the piece, it’s them!”
Brilliant and lively, richly evocative of Late Renaissance Florence, L’Ebreo (The Jew) seems like a guaranteed hit. So, why did it have to wait four hundred years for its début on the world stage?
“No one could read it!” Goldberg sighed. “Buonarroti abandoned L’Ebreo as a scrawled draft, with a dense overlay of cross-outs and rewrites. Thank God for high-resolution photography! Thank God for image-enhancement!”
With L’Ebreo (The Jew), Goldberg faced a triple challenge.First, he had to retrieve the author’s own words. Next, he needed to delve beneath layers of revision to reveal the play’s dramatic core. Only then could he shape this material into a performable script—in English—while preserving the sound and sense of the original.
TARPLEY LONG (’97)
Chair, Cosmos Theatre
Chair, Italian Conversation
THE COSMOS THEATER GROUP
A Florentine Carnival Comedy from 1614
Conceived by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger
Discovered, Translated and Adapted by Edward Goldberg
Tarpley Long(’97), Director and Dramaturg
Executive Producer Anthony Gallo(’93)
Saturday, March 23 11:30 AM