Long obscure Rossini opera on Syria gets US performance

A long obscure Gioacchino Rossini opera set in Syria will be performed for the first time in the United States at New York's Caramoor summer festival.

Long obscure Rossini opera on Syria gets US performance
Gioachino Rossini's "Aureliano in Palmira" has been revived in recent years. Photo: Étienne Carjat/Wikicommons

The festival, announcing its lineup on Wednesday, said that staging the opera was especially timely in light of Syria's bloody civil war but that the US premiere was “centuries overdue.”

“Aureliano in Palmira” revolves around the beautiful queen Zenobia of the Syrian city commonly spelled as Palmyra, which in more recent times has been ravaged by extremists from the Islamic State group.

In Rossini's opera, the queen is in love with a Persian prince but they come under attack from the Roman emperor who wants Zenobia as his bride.

The opera premiered at Milan's La Scala in 1813 – starring one of the last famous castrati, Giovanni Velluti – but faded into obscurity as Rossini gained greater recognition for his other works.

“Aureliano in Palmira” has been revived in recent years and was recently restored to its original form by Will Crutchfield, the opera director at Caramoor.

His restored production opened at the Rossini Opera Festival in Italy in 2014.

The Caramoor festival, launched in 1945 as World War II was ending, emphasizes opera but offers a range of genres at a Mediterranean-style estate some 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Manhattan.

Other highlights of the 71st season, which runs from June 18th to August 7th, include a jazz day headlined by the trio of piano great Chick Corea.

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Syrian war documentary wins top Venice prizes

A film that follows two friends through four nightmarish years of the Syrian civil war has lifted some of the top prizes at the Venice film festival, which ends Saturday.

Syrian war documentary wins top Venice prizes
The Venice film festival ends on Saturday. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP
“Still Recording”, a documentary by Ghiath Ayoub and Saeed Al Batal, records what happened to two idealistic art students after they were swept up in the fervour of the Syrian revolution. It picked up two awards at Venice Critics' Week.
Friends Saeed and Milad leave Damascus and go to Douma in 2011, a suburb under rebel control, to set up a radio station and recording studio. There they struggle to keep a flicker of hope and creativity alive as they endure fighting, siege and famine.
Ayoub and Al Batal, who shot 500 hours of footage, told AFP that with so little reporting coming out of Syria it was important to bear witness.
“We started doing this because there wasn't, and still isn't, an efficient working media in Syria because it's not allowed to enter and if it is, it's under the control of the regime,” said Al Batal.
“Art is nothing if it is not resistance, even if there isn't revolution… it is resistance against a huge amount of emotions you have got inside you. Emotions need to come out and expressing them through art can do that.”
The win comes as the Syrian regime and its Russian allies are preparing to launch an assault on Idlib, the northern province that is the last major stronghold of the rebel and jihadist groups which have been trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad for the past seven years.
Al Batal said the situation in Syria “is more dangerous than ever now” because the Russian military are more ruthless than Assad's badly trained soldiers.
“They know where to hit, and how to hit hard,” said Al Batal, who said the “media army behind them” was the same.