A City of Joy Arises

As some New Haveners gathered to light a Christmas tree on the Green, others gathered a few blocks away at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale to mark the onset of Hanukkah.

The holiday, also known as the festival of lights, is the calendrical (though not theological or ritual) cousin of Christmas and began Saturday night. Thursday’s concert at the Slifka Center celebrated the music of both the palace and the ghetto of Renaissance Mantua—or as the Jews called it, Kiryat Aliza, City of Joy.

That’s the name the Jewish Montovani gave their town to celebrate the Gonzaga dukes’ patronage of the arts particularly in the early years of the 17th century, said Benjamin Wolff, a Hofstra University music professor who put together the program. The program featured the work of Claudio Monteverdi, the great Renaissance composer, and Salamone Rossi.

Rossi was a significant composer in his own right but also performed as a member of the Gonzaga palace orchestra, Wolff said.

Then there was Isacchino Massarano, the maestro di ballo, or the dancing master of the court and the Gonzaga family, also a Jewish fellow, and a Jewish theater troupe that performed regularly at court.

The music at Slifka celebrated an early interfaith moment when the artists of the Jewish quarter collaborated with Christian colleagues. The moment didn’t last. In 1612 Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga made the Jewish “quarter” into the ghetto. What Wolff called that “inspirational moment” passed, not to return—except at occasions like Thursday night.

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