Esther, Queen of the Ghetto
The fascinating figure of Queen Esther, the savior of her people, is one of the key elements of the exhibition Beyond the Ghetto. Inside & Out on display at MEIS – National Museum of Italian Judaism and the Shoah of Ferrara. Her story, based on disguises and reversals of fate became an important reference in the seclusions of ghettos between the 500s and 600s, partly mirroring the condition of Jews in the diaspora, balancing between integration and the risk of assimilation. In that period many theatrical plays were dedicated to Esther, the first of which was written in Venice by Solomon ben Abraham Usque. Seventy years later, Rabbi Leone Modena, enthused by this work, in 1619 published in Venice on Purim “L’Ester: tragedia ispirata dalla Sacra Scrittura” (Esther, a tragedy inspired by the Holy Scriptures).
To symbolically close this circle, a new play based on Modena’s tragedy titled “Qinà Shemor. Ester, the Queen of the Ghetto” was staged last week at the Municipal Theatre in Ferrara. Supported by MEIS and directed by Horacio Czertok e Marco Luciano, the drama represents, in the words of MEIS Director Rabbi Amedeo Spagnoletto, “one of the most mesmerizing cultural paths broadening the already wide perspective of the exhibition dedicated to the themes of inclusion and exclusion, identity and coexistence, in order to elicit questions, thoughts, and dialogue”.
The narrative trigger of the show by Czertok and Luciano is Leone da Modena intent on preparing some scenes to be presented during the dinner of Purim, a holiday linked to story of Queen Esther. “In drafting the work – explains Czertok – Leone makes two choices. One is to modify the time gap between the biblical narration of the Book of Esther and his work: the revelation to Ahasuerus by one of his personal waiters about a plot to kill him, of which Mordecai becomes aware. In the Bible, several years pass between this episode and Esther’s time. But Leon makes all this happen almost simultaneously. Starting from this first poetic license, to which Leone adds the important presence of children, which emotionally charges the story, we imagined our original interpretation”. “We’d like to enhance – the director remarks – what we believe were the real intentions of Leone: to create a tragedy both realistic and linked to its historical time and to put in dialogue with the present”.
Above, a moment of the play Qinà Shemor. Photo by Daniele Mantovani.