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Learn the long-forgotten story of a 1826 performance in “The Oratorio: A Documentary with Martin Scorsese” Nov. 5 at 9 pm

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Explores How a Freed Slave, Opera’s First Diva, Mozart’s Librettist and an 1826 Musical Performance Changed

New York and America’s Cultural Landscape Forever


Documentary Followed by


A Restaging of the Performance Lost to History for

Nearly 200 Years


Both Films Premiere Friday, November 5 on PBS


Martin Scorsese reveals the fascinating story of a one-night-only performance in 1826 at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral—Scorsese’s home church in Little Italy—that marked the arrival of Italian opera in the New World in THE ORATORIO. This watershed event was lost to history for almost 200 years, but was recently rediscovered and restaged by an Italian opera company at the historic church. Exploring the richness of the immigrant experience, the beginning of a cultural awakening in America, and the enduring power of art, THE ORATORIO: A DOCUMENTARY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE premieres on Friday, November 5, 9:00-10:00 p.m., followed by DA PONTE’S ORATORIO: A CONCERT FOR NEW YORK, 10:00-11:00 p.m. on PBS, PBS.org and the PBS Video app.

Soloists from Teatro Lirico di Cagliari performing The Oratorio.
Soloists from Teatro Lirico di Cagliari performing The Oratorio.

THE ORATORIO is populated with unforgettable real-life characters, including Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, who, after being banished from Vienna, ended up in New York City working as a grocer; Pierre Toussaint, a freed slave who became a successful hairdresser and the primary benefactor for building St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral; and opera’s first diva, Maria Malibran, whose performances in America inspired young women to take up singing lessons.

Scorsese has a deeply personal connection to the cathedral and its surrounding neighborhood. He grew up around the corner and served as an altar boy at the two-centuries-old church where the original staging and restaging of the oratorio took place. In the documentary, he explores the neighborhood’s history, its transition from Irish to Italian, and the incredible influence it had on “the way I view my world and my work.”

THE ORATORIO features interviews with opera theater director Claudio Orazi and musicologist Francesco Zimei, who led the efforts to restage the oratorio and convince the Italian government to fund the performance as a gift to the U.S. from the Old World. Jared Lamenzo, Music Director and organ master, provides a behind-the-scenes look at the tinkering and inventive engineering needed to keep the church’s 150-year-old organ working.

The film also highlights the enduring importance of the cathedral in present-day New York. Current parishioners Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan discuss the role that the church and an ever-changing immigrant demographic play in the community and in the dream that continues to bring so many to America.

“Everything is in constant change, but this basilica has been and remains a constant, an anchor,” says Scorsese. “And it was built by people who flocked here to start a new life in this city. A city where people still come from all over the world. A city that, for me, has always been synonymous with America itself—America at its very best.”

Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan
Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan

Immediately following the documentary at 10:00 p.m., DA PONTE’S ORATORIO: A CONCERT FOR NEW YORK presents Italian opera company Teatro Lirico di Cagliari performing the restaged concert, lost to history for almost 200 years. Through the meticulous research of Basilica Music Director Lamenzo and Italian musicologist Zimei, the program recreates as closely as possible what was heard in 1826. The 2018 concert features the music of Cimarosa and Zingarelli along with that of Haydn, Handel and Arne. Maestro Donato Renzetti conducts, with performances by sopranos Francesca Dotto and Salome Jicia, tenor Patrick Kabongo, and baritones Pier Luigi Dilengite and Daniele Terenzi.

THE ORATORIO: A DOCUMENTARY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE and DA PONTE’S ORATORIO: A CONCERT FOR NEW YORK will stream simultaneously with broadcast and be available on all station-branded PBS platforms, including PBS.org and the PBS Video app, available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast and VIZIO.

Produced by Provenance Productions, THE ORATORIO: A DOCUMENTARY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE is written and directed by Alex Bayer, Jonathan Mann and Mary Anne Rothberg. Rothberg and Mann are also the producers. Alex Bayer is the editor. Also produced by Provenance Productions, DA PONTE’S ORATORIO: A CONCERT FOR NEW YORK is produced by Jonathan Mann and Mary Anne Rothberg. The director and editor is Alex Bayer.