This past Wednesday I had the privilege of attending a special program at the Italian Embassy called “Verdi: Uncensored”. It featured a presentation by renowned musicologist, University of Chicago Professor Emeritus, Philip Gossett and performances by several Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists. The program was introduced by Kenneth Feinberg (best known as the administrator of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund), former President of the Washington National Opera (and owner of over 9,000 opera recordings!). The program revealed many original scores that scholars have unearthed, showing how intrusive church, court, and police censors had been over decades, sometimes totally distorting meaning and logic in the operas. Bravo to the National Endowment for the Humanities for supporting this scholarship for some thirty years! I learned a lot about Verdi and I had reason to reflect on the importance of free expression and the insidious impact of censorship on artistic expression.
Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard, features photographs by Pierre Bonnard which served as prompts for book illustrations for Parallèlement, a book of erotic verse by Paul Verlaine published by Ambroise Vollard. As Françoise Heilbrun points out in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition, the pink pencil outline imparts the female body with a kind of “feverish sensuality” that is in keeping with the poems. Surprisingly, the French censors at the Imprimerie Nationale agreed to do the printing, mistakenly thinking that Parallèment was a book on geometry! Using the character of Ubu, a tubby symbol of the French state, Bonnard and his friend, the avant-garde playwright Alfred Jarry, mocked the censors’ initial misunderstanding and their belated awareness of the true nature of the project.