Mariette Hartley, David Nevell
(in order of appearance)
TIME: The Recent Past
Prologue: Erica’s Upper Fifth Avenue Apartment & Brian’s Violin Workshop
Scene One: Erica’s Apartment
Scene Two: Brian’s Workshop
Variation: A recital hall at the Mannes School of Music
Scene Three: Erica’s Apartment
Scene Four: Admitting at Mt. Sinai Hospital
Variation: Erica’s Apartment and Erica’s Hospital Room
Coda: Erica’s Hospital Room
Epilogue: Brian’s Workshop
Approximately 95 Minutes
The Morini Strad is performed without intermission
NOTE FROM THE DIRECTOR
In today’s parlance, the word
“diva” has taken on a veneer that pales in terms of what it once
implied. “Diva” was a word that spoke of a female artist who was at the
top of her craft, fully realized, and with a grace that managed to
overcome a male-dominated industry in a pre-feminist culture. "Diva"
was first attributed to the great women of opera and then, by
extension, to women in the other art forms who attained a status in
their art akin to the word’s Italian derivation: a goddess. Erica
Morini was in every sense of the word, a diva, and, as a diva was
delivered with the joys of having a powerful and respected presence in
the world of classical music as well as the solitary angst of dancing
to the beat of a different drummer, particularly as a woman. While
other girls were fathoming trips to visit their grandparents and a life
full of children and homemaking, Erica was en route to Carnegie Hall
and a life dedicated to her gift and celebrity. The Davidoff Strad, a
gift from Morini’s father, was perhaps the greatest testament to Erica
Morini’s talent and as such represented, for Erica, a symbol of her
Dating back to the mid 17th century, 1,116
Stradivarius instruments were crafted, of which 540 still remain.
The instruments have a sound that cannot be mimicked by any other
instrument constructed by any other luthier. Some people attribute the
unique sound to the treatment of the wood, others to the Cremonese
water. Whatever the case, the legendary sonority of Stradivari
instruments has made them highly coveted as well as victims of a number
of fetish thefts (those that cannot be openly sold). The Davidoff Strad
was part of a lineage of disappearing Strads, though its particular
disappearance remains on the FBI’s list of top ten unsolved mysteries.
One can only imagine Brian Skarstad’s response to the opportunity to
sell, let alone handle, the Davidoff Strad. The few weeks that he knew
Erica Morini must have felt like nothing short of a dream as he moved
in the alien universe that was all Erica’s.
It is rare to have a window onto the unique world of classical music, which, for those who are in it, often seems the only
world. The Morini Strad
explores that world honestly, and with an incisive grasp, without
presumption but as one artist (Willy Holtzman) exploring what all
artists feel in the grips of inspiration. The mysterious disappearance
of the Davidoff Strad is only a sad testament to greed. That it
inspired a play that is a poignant dialogue and love story motivated by
a shared passion for music is a more fitting tribute to Madame Morini.
It is not a play about time or place but of the unchanging spirit of
those inspired by music.
In truth, Erica Morini died in the
hospital cradling an imposter, never knowing that her precious
companion, if not the extension of her deeply inspired self, had
─ Stephanie Vlahos
THE TRUE STORY
Yes, there really was an Erica Morini. She did own a
valuable Stradivarius violin. It did mysteriously vanish, and it
is still missing.
Born in Vienna in 1904, Morini was one of the
foremost violinists of the 20th century. A child prodigy, she made her
Viennese debut at the age of 12. In 1920, she began her tour of the
United States with a series of four concerts at Carnegie Hall in New
According to her obituary in The New York Times, that
newspaper's former chief music critic Harold C. Schonberg once called
her "probably the greatest violinist who ever lived."
She lived in Europe but moved to Manhattan after the Nazis annexed Austria in 1938 and remained there until her death in 1995.
in the 1920s or 1930s, Morini's father paid a Paris dealer the
equivalent of $10,000 for the violin that's formally known as the
Davidoff Stradivarius, a reference to a Russian cellist who previously
in 1727 by the legendary violin maker Antonio
Stradivari, its value was estimated at $3.5 million when it went
missing from a locked closet in Morini's apartment a few weeks before
her death in a New York City hospital. Brian Skarstad, the obscure
luthier she had hired to repair it, helped the FBI in their
investigation and was the lead witness in the federal grand jury. He
was never a suspect because investigators knew he knew that stolen
Strads can't be sold. Once, after a long conversation with the FBI
special agent Jim Wynne (who now heads the national FBI art crime
section), Skarstad said to him "You never asked if I stole it." He
said, "Well, didja?" "No." "That's why I didn't ask," he said.
As far as we know, Morini died without knowing the violin had been stolen.
a $100,000 reward, the Davidoff-Morini Stradivarius is still missing,
and is listed to this day among the Top 10 Art Crimes on the FBI's
FROM THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR
We recently sent out an
announcement detailing the financial challenges we are facing, which
resulted in an outpouring of support from our audiences that has been
deeply gratifying. We also heard from many of our colleagues in
the non-profit theatre community that they were dealing with similar
challenges and could have written the same letter! Of course that
led to yet another series of depressing discussions about the demise of
traditional live theatre.
But I take heart in the memory of an
incident from over 20 years ago. It happened at a theatre conference
where pretty much the same discussions were taking place. In one
memorable session, panelist after panelist lamented the death of
theatre as we knew it.
Then Garson Kanin, the final panelist,
spoke up. He was a great man of the theatre who had worked on Broadway
as a successful producer, director, and playwright for many decades. He
said, “Y’know, when I first went to New York as a young man in the
1930s, all I heard was ‘This is the worst year we’ve ever had!’ A
decade later, in the 40s, they were saying ‘This is the worst year
we’ve ever had!’ Then in the 50s? Same thing. ‘Worst year we’ve ever
Then he looked at us with a twinkle in his eye and
said, “Let’s face it, kids. The theatre’s been dying for thousands of
years.” The theatre’s been dying for thousands of years.
course what he meant was that the theatre will never die. Never. It’s
in our DNA as human beings, from the time that first cave man stood up
at the campfire and captivated his audience with a story of the hunt.
We are all that primitive audience’s descendants, since there isn’t a
person alive on this planet who doesn’t respond to a good story, and
there’s simply no experience in life quite like taking a journey of the
imagination in the company of others.
So yes, the theatre’s been dying for thousands of years. And next year, next decade, next century it will still
be dying - and vibrantly alive.
Brad Brown Brian Edwards & PRG Julie Gigante, Larry Larson Music Store
Djanet, John and Richard Strumreiter Phil Torf & House of Props Wadler Data Systems