Mystically, she appears, as if a former century had suddenly folded back its hidden portal. Quietly she stands there beneath the blue-gold Florentine sky, poised in her black silk ruffled gown from another time. Her blue eyes are like lamps as they take in her city: the Duomo, Santa Croce, Ponte Vecchio, Palazzo Vecchio. She seems to be in mourning for a place that has stolen her heart but is now riddled with a plague, which renders the streets almost silent, like a Sleeping Beauty, motionlessly awaiting a life-giving kiss. Is she Boccaccio’s heroine from his plague tales of 1347-48? She might be, or perhaps she is from some other time, for her beloved city has seen afflictions often enough.
The vision’s husband stands only a few meters away, barely out of range but within the periphery of this silent observer. Is he that bronze copy of Michelangelo’s David, who gazes softly at this beguiling creature, just beneath him, for she may be his muse? Or is it the spirit to the right, adoring this creature from behind his tinted glasses, where we are unable to see the windows to his soul, but that is not necessary, for we sense that his entire being resonates with humility and love. We might think ourselves in a modern century, imagining that this man is the romantic hero upon which movie stars might base their characterizations, so genuine and honest is his poise. We can’t help but want to know more.
The magical creature at the centre of the frame seems to have emerged from a foreign land, and it is true that, while we all appreciate the beauty into which we might be born, a foreigner can put that beauty into words and ignite our souls. And so she does, for she comes from beyond the sea, from Church Lawton, a rural village in Cheshire, and on to the University of York to study literature. Quite young, she recognized her desires: the organization of words into meaningful phrases that inspire the imagination; words that might guide the reader through the practical, like cookery, editing for readers of “Reader’s Digest” stateside, as they call it. It was an early job, born out of a drive to do anything in the field, which just happened to be in centuries-old rooms near Santa Croce. The field happened to be cookery. The playground happened to be Florence. The beguiling creature’s elegant words share it perfectly:
Florence quietly demands. By choosing to live among these layers of history, between past and present, you feel duty-bound and inspired to contribute a small part of your endeavours.
And then a “dream offer” appeared: humanities editor, for Pearson at lionized and mythical 80 Strand in London, the home of Penguin Books. But Florence had captured her heart, and as one stands observing her quiet elegance, one can see that Florence had not captured her soul, but she is a soul of Florence, having entered the world in a distant land, to find herself at last and, peacefully, home.
As the sun begins to shift, the mystical creature in her long black mourning, with but a tiny hint of red indicating that better days lie ahead, glances one more time at the city she loves. One immediately sees how its beauty replenishes her giving soul, which of late deals daily with fear and sadness, loss and devastation from this unkindest of plagues that has befallen us. She had arrived there to that spot, on that piazzale, for but a few moments at the request of a friend, who needed her quiet elegance in a film featuring her beloved city. Ordinarily it is not something she would do, but her kindness and generosity came to the fore. She then turns and as effortlessly as she appeared, she is now gone, back to her words, back to her readers, giving them whatever she has of the city she loves. She is Helen Farrell, your editor. Not just a Florentine, but The Florentine.
Watch Hershey Felder’s “Tchaikovsky” here
NEXT UP: BEFORE FIDDLER
HERSHEY FELDER as Sholem Aleichem in BEFORE FIDDLER
Featuring Klezmerata Fiorentina
A world premiere
Sunday, February 7, 2021 at 5pm Pacific / 7pm Central / 8pm Eastern.
(Includes extended viewing access of the recording through Sunday, February 14)
Decades before the beloved musical Fiddler on the Roof first delighted worldwide audiences, there was Sholem Aleichem and his beloved character of Tevye the Milkman. When he was only 24 years old, Aleichem published his first story, Tsvey Shteyner (“Two Stones”), and by 1890, he had become a central figure in Yiddish literature. Aleichem was known as the “Jewish Mark Twain” for his similar writing style and pen name usage.
Felder will play Sholem Aleichem, giving audiences the true story of what happened ‘Before Fiddler.’ Long before songs like “Tradition,” “If I Were a Rich Man” and “Sunrise, Sunset” first beguiled audiences, there was Klezmer, the music of the Old World, music that imitated talking, laughing, weeping and singing, and where musicians didn’t just make music, they spoke to you in song.
In Florence, Italy, a group of musicians have been virtuosos in the world-famous Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino by day (under the baton of famed conductor Zubin Mehta), and then become the Klezmerata Fiorentina by night. The quartet consists of violinist and violist Igor Polesitsky; clarinetist Riccardo Crocilla; accordionist and bassoonist Francesco Furlanich; and double bass player Riccardo Donati. Filmed on location where events actually took place, this streaming production will feature the stories and characters of Sholem Aleichem, along with music that is sure to move the soul.
A percentage of ticket sales will be generously donated to The Florentine.