A CELEBRATION of Italian culture in Slovakia occurs every year during the Dolce Vitaj festival that runs for the entire month of June, but the influence of Italian culture in Slovakia is much wider and can be felt in many more ways – from a good Italian-style coffee through the use of Italian terminology and language in classical music and many operas, to cult movies and Italian architecture and fashion.
Entering its fifth year of existence, this year’s Dolce Vitaj festival is not – unlike the previous year – a commemorative one. In 2011 the festival celebrated the 150th anniversary of Italian unification, but this year it returned its focus to showcasing Italian culture.
“However, we have some great events that commemorate anniversaries, for example the 500th anniversary of the Italian Renaissance painter Jacopo del Ponte, called Bassano, whose monumental work Flight into Egypt is now exhibited in Bratislava City Gallery’s Mirbach Palace until the end of June,” said the outgoing Italian Ambassador to Slovakia, Brunella Borzi, at a press conference on May 29.
Another anniversary mentioned by Borzi is the 50th year of the partnership between the Slovak capital and the Italian city of Perugia.
“This partnership is one of the longest in Europe and I think it should be inscribed on the UNESCO heritage list,” said Stanislav Vallo, the head of the general directorate of international cooperation at the Slovak Culture Ministry and former Slovak ambassador to Italy, at the press conference. Borzi announced that the long-lasting partnership will be commemorated by staging one of the most well-known operas by Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi, Nabucco, in the Slovak National Theatre on June 22, conducted by maestro Walter Attanasi.
Another important anniversary celebrated by the festival is the 100th anniversary of the birth of famous contemporary Italian writer Elsa Morante.
“We dedicated a prestigious literary award to her,” said Teresa Triscari, the head of the Italian Cultural Institute, adding that “this historical literary prize is called Premio Elsa Morante in Italian, and for Bratislava, we created a special section called Premio Else Morante Cinema Bratislava which is dedicated to film and literature and which pays tribute to the Bratislava Academy of Performing Arts”.
This award will be presented to Italian movie director Marco Bellocchio on June 13 for “Sorella Mai”, to Slovak director Martin Šulík for his movie Cigán (Gipsy), to Italian actor Pier Giorgio Bellocchio and to Slovak translator Michaela Jurovská for promoting Italian culture in Slovakia.
Italian spirit in visual art
Triscari commented that the festival, although covering a wide spectrum of genres and events, is quite focused on visual art, which she said is a wide-spread expression of Italian spirit. One of the highlights of Dolce Vitaj is the exhibition by Monique Dupong, an artist from Luxembourg living in Italy, whose collection will be presented in the Dvorana courtyard of the Slovak Culture Ministry. It is called Piccole favole (Fairy-Tale Stories) and consists of works made from items fished out from the sea.
Marco Gerbi, a native Italian living in Slovakia who works for the Italian Cultural Institute, told The Slovak Spectator that the core of the festival takes place in June as usual but in addition to Bassano’s painting that opened in April as part of the Bratislava for All weekend, there is another special event outside the June festival: an air show in the military airport in Sliač featuring the Frecce Tricolori, an Italian aerobatic air force team, that will be held on September 1-2.
Not just Bratislava
Gerbi also emphasised an exhibition in Žilina presenting works by Gianno Bertini, a renowned Italian artist who lived in Paris until his death two years ago. Gerbi said that he learned about the friendship between Bertini and local artist Alex Mlynárčik, 78, who met in Paris. Bertini visited then-Czechoslovakia and together with Mlynárčik travelled through Prague, Bratislava and Žilina and collaborated on some pieces.
“I took the phone directory, found the name of Mlynárčik, who still has a fixed line, thank God, and called him. He was so nice to come to me and we chose some period photographs and also some jointly-made collages and artworks for the exhibition. Mlynárčik will be at the opening in Žilina on June 7,” Gerbi told The Slovak Spectator before the opening. He stressed that Bertini is a well-respected Italian artist whose works sell well in auctions.
Gerbi believes that cultural exchanges of this type are crucial for expanding people’s horizons while noting that due to an increasingly fast-paced lifestyle many people today are accustomed to and prefer similarly fast-paced activities and experiences over those requiring deeper levels of thought.
“We saw at the institute’s library after we collected statistics that rather than borrow books, people prefer DVDs, and instead of reading essays they simply go home and watch an Italian movie,” he said.
Gerbi said that he took part in an event by Green Tree and The International Institute of Coffee Tasting at the Green Tree café in Ventúrska where Carlo Odello from Italy gave a seminar on good coffee.
“We spent seven hours there and it was fun and relaxing at the same time," said Gerbi. "It was good because you could watch him, listen to him, smell and taste the coffee; if a lecture on the economic crisis or Dante Alighieri lasted for seven hours, people would simply leave. This means that culture has to be visual and fun.”
Gerbi listed other events organised by the Italian Cultural Institute that are spread over the whole year: a concert by world-famous singer Cecilia Bartoli last October in the Slovak National Theatre (SND), organised within the Italian Language Week; the performance of Italian violinist and conductor Uto Ughi at the SND's historical building, co-organised by the SND and the Italian Foreign Ministry, which was a huge success with Ughi giving a 30-minute encore; and several exhibitions of both classical and modern visual artists such as Il Guercino, Lucio Fontana, Italian Transavanguardia, and others.
Gerbi highlighted an annual film event in November called Mittel Cinema Fest which offers the most recent Italian films to have stirred the cultural scene. As for literature, he mentioned participation in the Ars Poetica festival organised in Slovakia.
“We also invite famous Italian writers whose works have been or are planned to be translated into Slovak, he said. "In March 2012, Dacia Maraini came to present Il treno dell’ ultima notte, translated into English as The Train to Budapest, that was recently translated into Slovak. We managed to bring, among others, also Claudio Magris, an Italian writer often nominated for the Nobel Prize."
Gerbi, in addition to being employed at the Italian Cultural Institute, is also an artist working in the style of “visual poetry”. He said culture is important for developing general sensitivity and that if you offer people culture you not only broaden their horizon but also give them a tool to change the world.
11. Jun 2012 at 0:00 | Zuzana Vilikovská