Splash Magazine journalists Elaine L. Mura and Barbara Keer have been jointly reviewing Hershey Felder’s productions. His latest work is DANTE AND BEATRICE IN FLORENCE.
While I long to travel, especially to Europe, armchair traveling is feeling much safer. In fact, joining Hershey Felder’s new season will take me to Europe along with dramatic historical stories and beautiful music. Hershey Felder’s season includes Chopin’s Paris, Mozart’s Vienna, Verdi’s Venice and more. Subscribers are in for a wonderful journey.
I was fascinated by the work currently being shown “Dante and Beatrice in Florence – a musical film” which shares Florence as a city of spirits and ghosts, and a magical city of love.
Looking for more information about Dante and his city of Florence I came upon a travel site that told the basic story of this film called “Florence Inferno”
“BEATRICE AND DANTE
Beatrice was Dante’s true love. In his Vita Nova, Dante reveals that he saw Beatrice for the first time when his father took him to the Portinari house for a May Day party. They were children: he was nine years old and she was eight. Dante was instantly smitten and never forgot her after this meeting even though he married another woman, Gemma Donati, in 1285, with whom he had three sons and one daughter.
According to tradition, Dante and Beatrice were also neighbors outside the walls of Florence—near the hill of Fiesole, where the Portinari and Alighieri families had two neighboring summer villas. It is plausible that Dante and Beatrice met each other as children there.
He would meet her again nine years later in an unexpected fashion: Beatrice was walking along dressed in white and accompanied by two older women on Lungarno (one of the Florence streets along the Arno River).”
DANTE AND BEATRICE IN FLORENCE is a fascinating journey into the mind and heart of
Dante Alighieri, the master of poetry who in the fourteenth century laid the foundation for Italy’s
literary renaissance. Hershey Felder’s film about this artistic genius touches upon moments of
beauty personified by Felder’s love affair with the city of Florence, Italy, where Dante was born.
His use of setting becomes almost a character in the story, a character who both adores and
challenges Dante in his journey to find peace, love, and happiness. And the music. This story of
Dante would not be complete without Felder’s introduction of music classics to enhance the tale and served up by a superb concert pianist. Tender, poignant, excited, thundering – music
surges through the narrative as piano, voice, and orchestra join in harmony and counterpoint.
Add to this the sumptuous costumes embodying the life of the elite in the 1300’s. All of these
points blend and fold into an exciting trip into Dante’s life. This critic felt that – for his use of the
splendors of Florence, the introduction of music woven into the story, and outlining some flesh-
and-blood details about Dante, this one-in-a-million writer par excellence – Felder definitely
deserved a score of 5 (scale of 1-5).
At the same time, one must question the use of a parallel story of two lovers (fourteenth century
and twenty-first century) comparing Dante’s courtly love from afar for the delectable but
unattainable Beatrice and the modern but anonymous pianist who adored his talented (and very
attainable) wife. The message appeared to be that love is love in any form or shape, a laudable
and optimistic thought. However, it should be noted that it was necessary to include text
(especially at the beginning and at the ending) in order to clarify the happenings and tie-ins
between an earlier time and today’s Florence. The increasingly downward turns in both men’s
lives tended to engender some depression and occasional lagging moments – despite the tale’s
final minutes suggesting that love transcends death. On a practical and philosophical level, one
might also question Felder’s focus on love as Dante’s primary motivator. In fact, many experts
have suggested that the writing for which he is best known – “The Divine Comedy” – was in fact
a study of morality and divine justice as Dante searched for life’s meaning and a path to his
God. Even though research has documented that Beatrice was a real live person, experts have
also opined that the Beatrice in “The Divine Comedy” was actually an allegory symbolic of
Dante’s theological/philosophical journey to find God: in other words, Dante’s love for Beatrice
was a subjective and universally understandable way to lead him from personal love to God’s
love, the heaven to which he aspired. Regardless of these fine academic points, the overall
account lent interest to the plot and brought the past into the present. This critic felt that – for the
story surrounding Dante’s story – Felder earned a score of 3 (scale of 1-5) – with an average of
4 for the entire production.
Hershey Felder has taken the story of Dante and his two loves, the love for Florence and his love of Beatrice and embellished it with passion and mysticism, his own music and words, gorgeous scenery, costumes, beautiful voices and his own acting.
Script introduces us to the importance of Dante to Florence and his importance to poetry, the first to write love poetry in a way that the “common person” would understand it. And then there is a tourist who meets a local pianist who tells his story. This is the love story that to a great extent parallels that of Dante Alighieri 700 years before, a reminder of the 700th birthday.
Perhaps this movie is questioning what might have happened if Dante had married his true love. The movie is upbeat early on with a focus on two delightful children who play their roles very convincingly. It moves along through the streets and vistas of the exquisite city of Florence while there is beautiful music both vocal and instrumental, almost operatic. The actual story is so poignant and there is so much beauty in this movie as the story is told. Haunting and mystical, the ending song says love overcomes death and it played in my head long after the movie ended.
I was engrossed and moved by the movie. I found it absorbing and enlightening and will offer my score of 5 all around.
Photos are courtesy of DANTE AND BEATRICE IN FLORENCE