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Local filmmaker talks 'The Oratorio' documentary featuring Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese in Old St. Pat’s Cathedral.
Courtesy of Jon Nelson
Provenance Productions
Martin Scorsese in Old St. Pat’s Cathedral.

A new film coming to PBS explores a fascinating 200-year-old story about opera's arrival in New York City. Cincinnati-born filmmaker Alex Bayer served as co-director and editor for The Oratorio.

It may be hard to imagine that America's cultural capital once lagged behind rival cities like Boston and Philadelphia. But that was true for New York City in the early 19th century until a monumental event, spurred by unlikely characters, introduced it to Italian opera.

The new documentary The Oratorio heavily features famed American director Martin Scorsese, whose family attended St. Patrick's Cathedral - where the old church played host to Lorenzo Da Ponte's oratorio.

Da Ponte is an intriguing figure from history, having worked as librettist for Mozart, and was a friend to Marie Antoinette. But a series of misfortunes forced him to flee Europe for a young nation across the Atlantic Ocean. His love and passion for the arts ultimately led him and others to the creation of a one-night-only performance in 1826.

Cincinnati native Alex Bayer served as the film's co-director and editor and talks with Cincinnati Edition about this nearly forgotten piece of cultural heritage.

The Oratorio: A Documentary with Martin Scorsese premieres Friday, Nov. 5, on PBS stations followed by Da Ponte's Oratorio: A Concert for New York, which features an Italian opera restaging the 1826 performance.

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Michael Monks brings a broad range of experience to WVXU-FM as the host of Cincinnati Edition, Cincinnati Public Radio's weekday news and information talk show.