For the first time, Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” is being performed on the spot where some of the action takes place — the main square of the historic Venice Ghetto.
The production opened on Tuesday night and runs for a week. It is part of a yearlong series of events marking the 500th anniversary of the ghetto’s creation as well as the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death.
“The Merchant of Venice” is most famous for its charismatic antihero, Shylock, the stereotypically Jewish moneylender whose greed eventually brings him down. Directed by Karin Coonrod and featuring an international multilingual cast, the production is a joint project of the Compagnia de’ Colombari theater company and Venice’s Ca’ Foscari University. Frank London, the New York-based trumpet player best known for his work with the Klezmatics, wrote and performed the music.
“The first performance of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in the ghetto is our reckoning with an imaginary figure that has been haunting this place for centuries, overshadowing its real inhabitants while gaining enormous fame worldwide and becoming a proverbial name,” Ca’ Foscari professor Shaul Bassi wrote in the program notes.
In the audience at Tuesday night’s premiere was Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose grandson, the actor Paul Spera, is in the cast. He plays Lorenzo, the Christian suitor of Shylock’s daughter, Jessica.
On Wednesday, in an accompanying event, Ginsburg was set to preside over a mock trial that questioned the outcome of the one in the play. International lawyers were to represent Shylock and his opponents, and the jury was to include the U.S. ambassador to Italy as well as noted Shakespearean scholars. The program also includes a reading by the actor F. Murray Abraham and other panel discussions.
JTA Wire Service