bella e perduta: music, italy, & the jews

[a bi-lingual blog on cultural identity] – [un blog bilingue di identità culturali]

Posts Tagged ‘fascism’

From the Bimah to the Stage, and Back: Jews, Christians, Synagogues and Opera in Modern Italy

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2009/12/15

Following is the abstract of a paper I will be presenting a the annual conference of the Association for Jewish Studies, which will meet in Los Angeles next week.

From the Bimah to the Stage, and Back: Jews, Christians, Synagogues and Opera in Modern Italy

My paper investigates the roles of synagogue music and of musical theater in creating a complex social space shared among Jews and Christians in Italy during the Emancipation process, beginning in the late 18th century and ending with the rise of Fascism in the early 20th century.

Since their inception, the Italian ghettos created a paradoxical situation for each of the groups they tried to separate. While Jews left the ghettos to further their opportunities of professional and social advancement, Christians entered them to find services and knowledge. On each side, synagogues and theaters presented two poles of social interaction revolving around the inherently inclusionary nature of “performance.” Synagogue liturgy presented non-Jews with the unique chance to acquire a direct experience of what they believed were the vestiges of an ancient Jewish past, directly linked with the origins of Christianity. Theater, and especially Italian Opera, presented the Jews with a secular cultural sphere that was not only religiously acceptable, but also desirable as an opportunity for unmediated contact with non-Jews.

This social exchange can be understood through a combination of sources and methodologies. Documental sources detail non-Jewish attendance at synagogues services and other music-related (and often nocturnal) performances inside the ghettos, as well as the Jewish attempts to illegally leave the ghettos at night to attend theatrical performances. Ethnographic and musical sources substantiate the operatic influences on Italian synagogue song, the ways in which Jewish composers learned their profession from their Christian counterparts, and how Opera composers were hired by Jewish communities to renew their liturgical “sound.” Anthropological considerations applied to these sources explore the synagogue and the theater as spaces of nocturnal inter-ethnic interactions revolving around specific performance practices.

A historical overview of these sources provides the basis to understand how, once the Emancipation was accomplished, the synagogue absorbed the theatrical experience and remained central to Jewish-Christian interactions, as a space in which major political and social events, like the celebration of the Festival of Emancipation (each year on March 29), weddings and birthdays of the House of Savoy, and the inauguration of new synagogue buildings, were performed through liturgical music and ritual.

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Fascism and the Jews – Il Fascismo e gli ebrei

Posted by Francesco Spagnolo on 2008/11/18

You can read below about an interesting and important academic initiative, which reminds the general public that 1938 (seventy years ago) was not only the year of Kristallnach, but also that of the nefarious Italian anti-Semitic “Laws”. It seems to me, however, that it does not tackle the issue of the impact of Fascism on Italian Jewish life before 1938. In other words, it focuses on the anti-Semitic aspects of Italian Fascism, but disregards (as it commonly happens) how Fascism was also an important factor in the shaping of the cultural identity of the Jews in Italy during the early part of the 20th century, before it became openly persecutory towards them. Very few people have articulated this complex issue, among them Renzo De FeliceAlexander Stille in his book, Benevolence and Betrayal, and Alberto Cavaglion  (the link opens a text in Italian only). 


Potete leggere qui sotto di un’interessante e importante iniziativa accademica, che serve (anche) a ricordare al grande pubblico come il 1938 (settant’anni fa) non sia stato solo l’anno di Kristallnacht, ma anche delle nefaste “Leggi Razziali” italiane. Mi sembra, però, che non si occupi della questione dell’impatto del Fascismo sulla vita ebraica in Italian prima del 1938. In altre parole, si concentra sugli aspetti anti-semiti del fascismo italiano, ma accantona (come spesso accade) come il Fascismo fosse stato un fattore importante nella formazione dell’identità culturale degli ebrei in Italia durante la prima parte del XX secolo, prima che diventasse apertamente persecutorio nei loro confronti. Sono in pochi quelli che hanno articolato questa faccenda delicata, fra loro Renzo De FeliceAlexander Stille, nel suo libro Uno su mille, e  Alberto Cavaglion


(Oh, and here’s a Yutube video with Mussolini’s words announcing the “Laws,” conveniently posted by a user who seems to be a fan — Ed eccovi un video da Youtube con le parole di Mussolini che annunciarono le “Leggi”, utilmente concesso da un utente che ne sembra essere un fan)



Fascism and the Jews: Italy and Britain

Academic Workshop
26th November, 2008, 11am-5pm
Hosted by the Italian Cultural Institute, 39 Belgrave Square, London, SW1X 8NX
Supported by Royal Holloway, University of London

By taking a comparative approach between two fascist paradigms, this workshop will examine the complicated relationship between fascists, Jews and antisemitism. The principal fascist movements in Italy and Britain were founded with antisemitism absent from their programmes, and although both
eventually adopted it as official policy, their reasons for doing so were far from straightforward. Equally, Jewish responses to fascism varied greatly and developed over time, causing discord within the communities of both countries.

The workshop will be divided thematically into two sections, with each set of papers to be followed by a discussion, led by the relevant speakers but with all attendees encouraged to participate. Academics, students and other interested individuals are invited to join this interactive forum. As
capacity is limited, to book a place please contact  


Keynote Lecture

Dr Aristotle Kallis (Lancaster University)
“The Ambivalent Gaze: Fascists and Jews in Interwar Europe”


The Evolution of Fascist Antisemitism

– Dr Matthew Feldman (University of Northampton) – Make It Crude: Ezra Pound’s Antisemitic Propaganda for the BUF and PNF

– Janet Dack (University of Teesside) – Beyond the Pale? Antisemitism in the British Fascist Press, 1925-36

– Salvatore Garau (Royal Holloway) – The Ideological Development of Antisemitism in Fascist Italy


Jewish Responses to Fascism

– Dr Nigel Copsey (University of Teesside) – Early Jewish Responses to the British Union of Fascists

– Dr Tommaso Dell’Era (Tuscia University, Viterbo) – TBC

– Daniel Tilles (Royal Holloway) – Leading a Divided Community: The Board of Deputies of British Jews and Fascist Antisemitism, 1936-40

– Dr Elena Mazzini (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa) – Facing 1938: The Response of the Italian Jewish Community

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