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Around the Field: Athena Partner LdM Florence Launches Partnership, Courses with Fondazione Franco Zeffirelli

Athena’s Florence campus at Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici has joined forces with Florence-based Fondazione Franco Zeffirelli-International Center for the Arts and Entertainment to make available to the city, and internationally to future generations, the artistic and cultural heritage of Zeffirelli’s 70-year career.

Starting in the 2019-20 academic year, the partnership will offer new courses at Athena’s LdM Florence in performing arts, literature, media arts and studies, and more. For example, students will have the opportunity to approach masterpieces of world literature, such as Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and Dante’s The Divine Comedy, from an interdisciplinary perspective, discovering how they have been interpreted in different media, inspiring renderings in movies, figurative arts, music and more. Inspired by Zeffirelli’s multifaceted career, students will delve into the magic of visual and performing arts, exploring from a privileged point of view the diverse professional paths originating from them.

LdM in Florence

LdM, the Italian educational institution with campuses in Florence, Rome and Tuscania, was founded in 1973 and is recognized as a top academic institution in Italy. Zeffirelli’s International Center for the Arts and Entertainment, supported by Maestro Zeffirelli himself until his death this year on June 15, is located in the heart of Florence. Its archives include his film productions, as well as his works of drama, opera and ballet; the archives offer an exclusive opportunity to LdM students to embark on an artistic journey.

In his long career, Zeffirelli not only worked as a theatre and film director but also as a set and costume designer, professions where imaginative freedom, through studies and deep attention to detail, is essential to the creative process. A great Italian cinema master, Zeffirelli is known worldwide for masterpieces such as the Academy Award-nominated Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, and many other masterpieces, as well as for having directed other internationally acclaimed artists, including Maggie Smith, Cher, Judi Dench, Fanny Ardant, Jeremy Irons, and the great opera singer Maria Callas.

An LdM spokesperson, explaining why LdM partnered with the Fondazione, said, “If much can be learned from the past, also contemporary artists can inspire present and future generations; Franco Zeffirelli is one of them. A polyhedric artist, internationally known and acclaimed, Zeffirelli was a Florentine. His love for his city, his desire to promote its beauty and its history, and his wish to pass on to younger generations the passion for art and beauty is something fully in line with Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici’s philosophy.” 

New LdM courses emerging from the Zeffirelli partnership are: Romeo and Juliet: A Love Story Across the Arts; Voices of an Artist: Voyaging Through Franco Zeffirelli’s World; and Dante’s Quest for Love—From the Divine Comedy to Contemporary Culture and Media.

Acting Dante’s Inferno

Existing LdM courses that will be taught in partnership with the Zeffirelli foundation and museum are: Acting Dante’s Inferno; Theatre History: The Contribution of Florence; From Florence to the World: The Wellspring of Italian Opera; Drawing for the Scene: Theatrical Set Design; History of Costume; and Corsetry.

Only three of the new and existing courses have prerequisites, opening the course to both students just beginning to study Zeffirelli’s crafts and those with extensive backgrounds.

“Being strongly connected with the territory and its history, the LdM-Fondazione Zeffirelli courses offer students a unique occasion to visit the most renowned Florentine theaters, and to gain behind-the-scene insights,” said an LdM spokesperson. “Courses like Drawing for the Scene: Theatrical Set Design, to name one example, bring students on the stages of historical theaters like La Pergola, one of the first in Italy, or il Maggio, the famous opera house of Florence. There, students can learn more about the various professional figures that interact and collaborate to set up a successful show.

The LdM spokesperson added, “To name another example, students who take part in the Acting Dante’s Inferno course have the chance to act excerpts from this masterpiece in its original version, and to stage a performance in the Fondazione Zeffirelli’s Inferno Room, where the original Inferno-related sketches painted by the Maestro are exhibited and projected on the walls to create evocative, ever-changing atmospheres.”

LdM also emphasizes the top-notch qualifications of the Zeffirelli partnership courses’ instructors: “To provide a couple of examples, the course, Drawing for the Scene: Theatrical Set Design, is taught by one of Italy’s most experienced set design professionals, Carlo Centolavigna, who started his career as Franco Zeffirelli’s disciple, assisting him with both opera, film and theater set designs. Acting Dante’s Inferno is taught by Pietro Bartolini, a professional actor and theater and film director who started his career under the guidance of internationally acclaimed directors such as Vittorio Gassman, Peter Stein, Gabriele Lavia, and Orazio Costa.”

The course, Romeo and Juliet—A Love Story across the Arts, tells the tale of one of the most famous couples in Western culture, addressing their love story from the perspective of its multiple versions across the arts: ballet, with the choreographies and productions based on the scores of Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev; theatre (with Franco Zeffirelli’s groundbreaking 1960 production at the Old Vic theatre in London); movies, from West Side Story, the musical film loosely based on the Shakespearian source, to the motion pictures by Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann.

In the course, Dante’s Quest for Love, students are introduced to the Divine Comedy and the search its protagonist endures. Going through the most meaningful characters and passages of Dante’s text, the course will expand into many of the Divine Comedy’s artistic renderings (Sandro Botticelli, Gustav Doré, Salvador Dalì); music (Franz Liszt); TV (Peter Greenaway); movies (Giuseppe de Liguoro’s 1911 silent movie, and Franco Zeffirelli’s pre-production L’Inferno); and animation movies (Sean Meredith and Boris Acosta). 

LdM’s teaching philosophy and practice is typically called Active Learning. “Students are encouraged and motivated to actively participate in the lessons, which allows them to assimilate the contents in a more effective and conscious way,” said an LdM spokesperson. “The interaction between students and instructors not only sparks creativity, but also increases engagement and is beneficial both for students, who share their ideas and thoughts and develop collaborative skills, and for the entire group, including the professors.”

LdM points out that its Zeffirelli partnership-based courses are not only for the serious or advanced performing arts student: “Any student curious to expand her/his knowledge of Italy artistic tradition, hone her/his creativity and emotional intelligence, and encourage her/his personal development and self-awareness through the arts, should attend,” said an LdM spokesperson. “While developing an emotional and participative understanding of the subject, students gain new knowledge from myriad fields of study, and acquire a new awareness of their own potential, creativity and expressive means.”

The spokesperson added, “The courses offer also a great occasion for students to develop artistic and communicative competencies, both verbal and non-verbal, which can be useful in everyday life, enriching their personal skills and cultural background.”

Learn more about this ground-breaking program option at Athena’s website

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