Shylock and Jessica
by Maurice Gottlieb, January 1876 - from the catalogue of paintings
removed from Poland by the German occupation authorities during the
years 1939 -1945.
Shylock is a fictional
character in William Shakespeare's play, The Merchant of Venice. A
Venetian Jewish moneylender, Shylock is the play's principal antagonist.
Typically played as a villain until the nineteenth century, Shylock has
been increasingly portrayed as a semi-tragic figure whose vengeful acts
arise from his victimization. Shylock is not a Jewish name, nor are
instances of it before its use in Shakespeare's play known. However,
scholars believe it probably derives from the biblical name Shalah,
which is 'Shelach' in Hebrew.
The Italian composer Aldo Finzi, painfully hurt firstly at seeing the
German and Austrian fugitives from the Nazis’ persecution fleeing to
Italy and then personally hit by Italian racial laws, he began to write
an opera in 1937. He entitled it SHYLOCK, the Venetian Jewish character
in Shakespeare’s play. Inspired by it, but swerving from Shakespeare’s
original play script because after the trial, Shylock disappears from
the scene. In Finzi’s adaptation, however, he gets him back as well as
Jessica, who had left her father Shylock. She instead stand by him when
he is defeated and humiliated.
For the opera libretto, Finzi made use of the writer Arturo Rossato who
only wrote the first act while the second and third acts were written by
Finzi because he could not practise any activity due to the racial laws
and was therefore in an economically limited situation meaning not
enough money to pay the librettist.
To be able to write the second and third acts he had to neglect the
musical part of them, so the composition was left in singing and piano
for the first act only. Regrettably, he passed away before completing
the opera and it remained unfinished. The orchestration of the first act
is the work of Maestro Gian Paolo Sanzogno.
The first act begins with a scene between merchants and people passing
by next to the Rialto bridge: Lorenzo tells Antonio, a rich merchant
friend of his, about his love for Jessica but also asks him for a three
thousand ducats loan which would help him achieving his love getting
married to Jessica. Antonio doesn’t have the money but offers to
guarantee the loan so as to get the amount from Shylock. Shylock agrees
to lend the three thousand ducats at no interest, but shouldn’t Antonio
repay the loan by the deadline, he will have to pay for the loan with a
pound of his own flesh. When Shylock departs Jessica appears; she was
hiding till then and the two lovers can at last talk together (duetto
In the second act, Shylock and Jessica talk about their suffering seeing
all around the world Israeli people despised and disdained. Shylock
tells her about the horrible bond made with Antonio, a bond he wants to
be considered as valid at any cost and which bond Antonio wants to
honour. Another friend, Bassanio, offers his own economical support to
Antonio to enable him settling the debt but Shylock doesn’t want money,
he wants the pound of flesh. Porzia who is in love with Bassanio, on her
side, offers to defend him in the imminent judgement before the Duke’s
The third act takes place before the Court of Justice and Shylock
insists on the dreadful fulfilment even after the Duke’s exhortations:
Porzia, disguised as a Doctor of Law, in Antonio’s defence, reminds
Shylock that insisting in his claim on Antonio would mean his own death
as a result; upon Antonio’s request the Duke gives Shylock his life.
Feeling so humiliated Shylock prostates himself on the ground. Jessica
gets close to her father’s lifeless body with despairing sorrow words.
Jessica - Nadia Engheben Soprano lirico
Lorenzo - Enrico Paro Tenore lirico
Lancellotto - Gian Luca Zoccatelli Tenore buffo
Antonio - Yiannis Vassilakis Baritono
Shylock - Federico Sacchi Basso
Un Coro Per Milano - Mino Bordignon, Conductor
Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra - Gian Paolo Sanzogno, Conductor