Articles by: Andrea Malaguti

  • Life & People

    "My Husband was Jewish, but I am Italian and Catholic". Remembering Ann Malamud

    Cambridge, Mass., June 1999. After graduation, and after my parents’ visit and our five-day trip to New York, I was lazing out in the office of the Italian TAs at Harvard. Instead of cleaning up the desk and the shelves, on that afternoon I finished up Bernard Malamud’s Collected Stories. Malamud’s pellucid style and painstaking insight in common people’s feelings finally set him as the top author of my personal canon of American fiction, which includes Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Saul Bellow, Raymond Chandler, Russell Banks, and few others.

    When the book first came out in hardcover, a few months before, I had read an interview with Janna Malamud Smith, the author’s daughter, who at the time worked as a psychologist at Brigham Women Hospital and lived in the Boston Area. Would not it be nice, I thought, to drop a line of appreciation of her father’s stories? After all, it was 2pm: she would be at work, and my message in her voice mail would not intrude. In the phone book, though, only the name of Ann Malamud appeared. Was it really Malamud’s daughter? I could not remember it well.

    I dialed the number anyway. After eight rings, the machine was not starting. A deep, cavernous voice answered: “HELLO?” I was surprised to be talking to someone presumably older than Dr. Malamud.

    “Hello. Am I talking to Ann Malamud?” I timidly asked. “YES?!” was her answer. Could she really be Malamud’s daughter? Certainly, she was getting upset.

    “Perhaps related to the writer Bernard Malamud?”

    “Oh, my name is Andrea Malaguti. I teach some Italian classes at Harvard, and I just finished Bernard Malamud’s stories. I simply wanted to drop a line of appreciation…”

    Our conversation continued in a more sedate tone. We talked about Malamud’s stories, of course, and about a few more authors of my personal American canon. My old conversations with Guido Fink, the most important expert of Jewish American literature in Italy, finally had some results, i.e. upsetting Ann Malamud again:

    “Well, so am I. I do not see the problem.” It soothed her a little.

    “Not only that, but my father was a professor,” (nice to know, I guess) “and he really insisted that we spoke Italian in the family. Only Italian, indeed: my parents were very attached to the language.”

    “In that case, I am sure you can speak it now, too…”

    “Oh, no! It’s been almost sixty years! I would make so many mistakes…!”

    Ma no! Ma quali errori? Gli errori non importano...” I knew she would yield.
    She did, after half a second of hesitation: “Guardi, sono passati tanti, ma proprio tanti anni! Si immagini...

    To the detriment of my reputation as a language teacher, her subjunctives were much better minted and placed than those of my students (but also of many present figures of Italian television, I shall say). Our conversation pleasantly ended on her regret not to be able to invite me over for lunch because of her multiple sclerosis. I would never want to be such a bother, I said. “Oh, do not worry,” she replied: “I loved to throw huge dinner parties when I could.” How different from Bernard Malamud’s well-known shyness, I thought. Yet, couples have their own ways, and I am sure Ann and Bernie must have enjoyed their differences.

    “We may probably order Chinese,” Ann Malamud told me, holding out her last invitation to lunch. I meant to reply, but I eventually did not. Like many of Bernard Malamud’s characters, I do have my own regrets.

  • Events: Reports

    Tosca and the Two Downstairs

    The audience of Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca might not necessarily imagine its historical context: Rome in Napoleon’s times, still intensely clerical and almost autocratic, with very few repressed liberals that remotely envisioned the Risorgimento to come. But that’s precisely the subject of Franca Valeri’s play Tosca and the Two Downstairs recently produced by Teatro Kairos, the Italian stage company based in New York and managed by Laura Caparrotti, who also directs the play.

          To reveal the feelings of the common people in Rome at the time – those who are excluded from the privileges of melodramatic action and operatic arias – it takes only two women on stage: Emilia, porter of Palazzo Farnese and wife to a prison guard at Castel S. Angelo, and Iride, Sciarrone’s dissatisfied and merry wife from Lombardy, who enters Emilia’s lodging on the very night when Cavaradossi is captured and tortured. A comic contrast emerges between the woman from Rome, deeply clericalist and fond of Baron Scarpia even in his most villain acts (and yet skeptical, disenchanted, and at times deeply compassionate), and the Lombard bride, whose ostentatiously merry flair desperately tries to cover her dissatisfaction with being a torturer’s wife in strict, papal Rome.

         The two characters clearly resemble some of the many comedic types that the Italian author and comedian Franca Valeri  enacted during her lifelong career: the snobbish young lady from Milan, harping on her sexual desires while speculating on Mr. Right and, and the curt and edgy Mrs. Cecioni from Rome. In Tosca and the Two Downstairs, the characters crucially probe a setting which, deprived of Puccini’s soothing music and of the cathartic empathy of melodrama, shows its disquieting contradictions. In longing for her former life as an admired (and a little loose) provincial stage starlet, Iride clearly compares her own disquiet to that of Tosca: after all, Iride too lived for art and love, in her own way. Dejection and tragedy are not just for the prima donna. Similarly, Emilia can hardly keep together her stern admiration for Baron Scarpia’s violent display of power – a harsh side of the character, if considered alongside current events not only in Italy – and her disenchanted compassion for the tortured prisoners (she is a wife and mother, after all). Being the porter at Palazzo Farnese might be dignifying, but it also needs callousness, most likely against Emilia’s own will. The text’s depth comes out in the dialogue’s quick and pungent wit, a true testimony of Franca Valeri’s outstanding talent.

          Kairos Italy Theater’s remarkable production of Tosca and the Two Downstairs thoroughly grasps the manifold meaning of the play. The spare – and yet extremely appropriate – décor of the set properly props the clockwork interaction between Emilia and Iride, respectively played by Laura Caparrotti (who is also the director) and Marta Mondelli. Caparrotti’s skillfully unadorned and almost solemn gestures – keenly studied on the Roman popolana beyond Valeri’s onw renditions – are timely matched by Mondelli’s extroverted reconstruction of the Lombard starlet. The vernacular interjections peppering the characters’ witty retorts might suit better the Italian speakers, but the English supertitles appropriately render the nuances of the play nonetheless. It was high time that a modern and intelligent Italian comedy like Valeri’s Tosca and the Two Downstairs were produced. Thanks to Laura Caparrotti for having once again done the right thing.

    Tosca e le Altre Due

    (Tosca and the Two Downstairs)

    by Franca Valeri

    Translated by Natasha Lardera

    With: Marta Mondelli and Laura Caparrotti

    And Rocco Sisto (Voice Over)

    Directed by Laura Caparrotti

    Set Designer: Lucretia Moroni

    Music: Giacomo Puccini

    In Italian with English Supertitles 

    To 21 Febbraio

    The Cell, 338 W 23rd Street, Manhattan

    Second week:  Fri 12- Sat 13 at 8:00 PM, Sat 13 and Sun 14 at 3:00 PM

    Third week: Wed 17 - Sat 20 at 8:00 PM, Sat 20 and Sun 21 at 3:00 PM

    Tickets $ 20.00 - $ 15.00 Students, Seniors and IIC Members showing ID card at box office

    Box office:, 800-838-3006

    Running time 1:15