San Diego Rep kicks off second season of Hershey Felder’s ‘Live from Florence’ musical film series
The Nov. 28 world premiere will tell the story of 13th-century Florentine poet Dante Alighieri and his muse, Beatrice
On Sunday, San Diego Repertory Theatre will co-present the world premiere of Hershey Felder’s latest musical film, “Dante and Beatrice in Florence,” which kicks off the second season of Felder’s “Live from Florence” streaming series.
Since spring 2020, the Canadian playwright-pianist-performer has created and streamed 11 productions from his home in Florence, Italy, including filmed versions of his popular composer plays from the past 20 years, as well as new original plays and livestreamed concerts.
San Diego Rep is one of nearly 20 U.S. theaters who promote the plays to their subscribers and receive a portion of ticket sales.
Now 53, Felder said that he had long planned to segue into new art forms like film in the next decade because he could no longer credibly portray George Gershwin, Frédéric Chopin and other composers who died or peaked in their 30s and 40s. The arrival of the pandemic moved up his timetable. For the second season of “Live from Florence,” Felder said the focus will be new stories about history-makers filmed in the cities, homes and concert halls where they created their art.
“Dante and Beatrice in Florence” will tell two stories: the unrequited romance between 13th-century Florentine poet Dante Alighieri and his muse, Beatrice Portinari, and a contemporary love story between a Florentine music composer and his muse. Felder wrote the script and will play Dante and the composer. The cast will include many of Felder’s international actor friends, including New York native Debi Mazar, who lives on the outskirts of Florence with her Italian husband of 20 years.
Felder said Dante is considered the “supreme poet” of Italy because he unified the many dialects of Italy into the Italian language we know today when he wrote his masterwork “The Divine Comedy.” That epic poem — which created the modern image of purgatory, hell and paradise — was dedicated to Beatrice, whose spirit helps guide Dante’s soul through the afterlife in the story. Dante was married to another woman and only met Beatrice a few times, but he loved her and wrote about her for most of his adult life. His devotion to Beatrice was so enduring that even today people leave notes at what’s believed to be Beatrice’s tomb in Florence asking her spirit to bless or fix their own romantic relationships.
Near the end of his life, Dante was exiled from Florence for aligning himself with a political faction that fell out of power, and he is buried 80 miles away in Ravenna. Felder said Dante’s separation from his beloved city and the love letters to Beatrice were the inspiration for this play with music.
“What really caught my spirit is that Florence is a city of ghosts and spirits. Once here, you never leave, even if your body is somewhere else,” Felder said in an email. “It’s that kind of city, and Dante, this great poet, is everywhere you look and feel in Florence. His story is one of love. It’s a sad story but it’s a Florentine story, and one I thought good to tell.”
Still to come as part of the Live from Florence second season are “Mozart and Figaro in Vienna” on Jan. 9; “The Verdi Fiasco” filmed in Venice on March 27; “The Assembly” filmed in San Diego on May 29; “Chopin in Paris” on Aug. 7; and “The Crazy Widow (of Moses de Leon)” filmed in Spain on Oct. 16. The season finale, set for Dec. 18, will be a new composer story selected by subscriber vote.
“Dante and Beatrice in Florence” will be presented at 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $50. To order, visit hersheyfelder.net.
Pam Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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