The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

Running now through Sunday, February 6 at Edmond J. Safra Hall at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust is the world premiere production of a new American opera.

Timed to open with International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the New York City Opera’s production of Ricky Ian Gordon’s “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis”, this co-production with National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, tells the story of Jewish families in Ferrara, Italy as the Holocaust takes hold. Based on the novel by Giorgio Bassani, the three-hour long show traces both the love story between Giorgio and Micol Finzi-Continis, of a wealthy Jewish family, and the reaction of the Jewish community to Mussolini’s alliance with Hitler and the ever-growing antisemitism of the Italian nation.

This tale was also portrayed in a 1970s film, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. In that adaptation, a lot of the characters’ motivations and thoughts are left to the viewers to surmise, creating a sense of sophistication and subtlety. The opposite is the case with this operatic production. The libretto by Michael Korie is lengthy and includes many plot points that felt unnecessary. In an attempt to have the lyrics rhyme, they are often anachronistic and awkward.

The performances of the cast were a valiant attempt to do the most possible with the opera. In particular, Anthony Ciaramiaro and Franco Pomponi, playing Giorgio and his father, carried the show. Additionally, the set and projection design by John Farrell was quite interesting and maximized the intimate theater.

The Garden of the Finzi-Continis is an important story that reminds us that the Nazis and their collaborators wanted to annihilate all Jews, rich or poor, observant or not. Kudos to both the New York City Opera and The National Yiddish Theater for supporting this retelling.