Showing posts with label Plays. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Plays. Show all posts

17 March 2022

Angelo Beolco - playwright

Actor and dramatist with a genius for comedy

Angelo Beolco's plays were written in Paduan dialect spiced with vulgarities
Angelo Beolco's plays were written in
Paduan dialect spiced with vulgarities
One of the most powerful Italian dramatists of the 16th century, Angelo Beolco, who was nicknamed Ruzzante (or sometimes Ruzante) after his favourite character, died on this day in 1542 in Padua in the Veneto region.

Beolco was famous for his rustic comedies, which were written mostly in the Paduan dialect of the Venetian language.

Many of his plays featured a peasant called Ruzzante and they painted a vivid picture of life in the Paduan countryside during the 16th century.

Beolco was born in Padua in 1496 and was the illegitimate son of a doctor. His mother was possibly a maid in the household where he was brought up by his father. He received a good education and after his father’s death became manager of the family estate. In 1529, he also became manager of a farm owned by a nobleman, Alvise Cornaro, who had retired to live in the Paduan countryside. Cornaro later became Beolco’s friend and protector.

Beolco met and associated with Paduan intellectuals of the time, such as the poet Pietro Bembo and the scholar and dramatist Sperone Speroni, which led to him developing an interest in the theatre.

His first attempts at acting and writing plays may have been delivering impromptu sketches at wedding parties.

It is established that in 1520 he was already known as Ruzzante and that he played a role in a play put on at a palace in Venice. It was after this that he put together his own theatrical troupe. His first plays were staged in Ferrara between 1529 and 1532 and then later in Padua at the residence of his friend, Cornaro.

Beolco was a friend of the poet Pietro Bembo (above)
Beolco was a friend of the poet
Pietro Bembo (above)
In Beolco’s first printed play, La pastoral, which was categorised as a rural comedy, Arcadian shepherds tell of their frustrated love affairs, while, in contrast, the peasants Ruzzante and Zilio deliver rustic verses in dialect, spiced with vulgarities and obscenities, beginning with Ruzzante’s first line in the play.

Much of the play’s comical effect comes from the contrast between the two languages, which provides the opportunity for misunderstandings and plays on words.

One of the characters is a physician, who earns the gratitude of Ruzzante for prescribing a fatal medicine to his stingy father. This unites the young peasant with his long-awaited inheritance.

In his later plays and monologues, Beolco shifts more to the Venetian language, while maintaining his social satire.

In the Oratione, a welcome speech for Bishop Marco Cornaro, who was later to become the 59th Doge of Venice, he suggests measures the new prelate should consider for improving the life of the peasants, including castrating the priests, or forcing them to marry, in order to give peace of mind to the local men and their wives.

Beolco’s plays were sometimes considered unfit for educated audiences because of the lascivious themes and vulgar language and this occasionally led to performances being cancelled.

In one of his best-known pieces, Il parlamento de Ruzante, the character tells of his return from the Venetian war front only to find that he has lost his wife, land and honour. The speech begins with Ruzzante’s favourite expletive.

Linguistic studies have concluded that Ruzante’s speech was not an accurate record of Paduan dialect of the day, but to some extent, a theatrical dialect created by Beolco.

Playwright Dario Fo put Beolco on the same level as the French playwright, Molière, claiming that he is the true father of the Venetian comic theatre (commedia dell’arte) and said that he was the most significant influence on his own work.

Beolco wrote at least 11 plays and monologues, but died in Padua when he was in his late forties, while preparing to stage a play by his friend, Speroni, for the Accademia degli Infiammati. Despite his theatrical success, Beolco was very poor for most of his life. Speroni once remarked that, while Beolco had an unsurpassed understanding of comedy, he was unable to perceive his own tragedy.

The Basilica di Sant'Antonio is one of Padua's most impressive sights
The Basilica di Sant'Antonio is one
of Padua's most impressive sights
Travel tip:

Padua, where Angelo Beolco was born and died, is in Italy’s Veneto region, situated 52km (32 miles) to the west of Venice. Padua is close to the stunning Euganean hills and many of the Venetian villas designed by architect Andrea Palladio. It is home to the second oldest university in Italy, the magnificent Basilica di Sant’Antonio, and one of the world’s greatest art treasures, the frescoes by Giotto in the Cappella Scrovegni, which tell the life stories of the Virgin Mary and Christ.

Padua hotels by

The Ruzzante statue next to Padua's Teatro Verdi
The Ruzzante statue next to
Padua's Teatro Verdi
Travel tip:

There is a statue of Angelo Beolco (Ruzzante) next to the Teatro Verdi in Padua. The beautiful 18th century theatre, named after the composer Giuseppe Verdi, is in Via del Livello in the centre of the city, close to Piazza dei Signori. Teatro Verdi now presents operas, musicals, plays, ballets and concerts organised by the Teatro Stabile del Veneto.

Also on this day:

1826: The birth of inventor Innocenzo Manzetti

1861: The proclamation of the Kingdom of Italy

1925: The birth of actor Gabriele Ferzetti

1939: The birth of football coach Giovanni Trapattoni


25 February 2019

Carlo Goldoni – playwright

Greatest Venetian dramatist whose work still entertains audiences today

Alessandro Longhi's portrait of Carlo Goldini is on display at the Casa Goldoni
Alessandro Longhi's portrait of Carlo Goldini
is on display at the Casa Goldoni
Carlo Goldoni, the author of The Servant of Two Masters, one of Italy’s most famous and best-loved plays, was born on this day in 1707 in Venice.

Goldoni became a prolific dramatist who reinvigorated the commedia dell’arte dramatic form by replacing its masked, stock figures with more realistic characters.

He produced tightly constructed plots with a new spirit of spontaneity and is considered the founder of Italian realistic comedy.

The son of a physician, Goldoni read comedies from his father’s library when he was young and ran away from his school at Rimini with a company of strolling players when he was just 14.

Later, while studying at the papal college in Pavia, Goldoni read comedies by Plautus, Terence and Aristophanes and learnt French so he could read plays by Molière.

He was eventually expelled for writing a satire about the ladies of Pavia and was sent to study law.

Although he practiced law in Venice and Pisa and held diplomatic appointments, his real passion was writing plays for the theatres in Venice.

Antonio Dal Zòtto's statue of Goldoni in Piazza San Bartolomeo in Venice
Antonio Dal Zòtto's statue of Goldoni
in Piazza San Bartolomeo in Venice
In 1748 he began writing for the Teatro Sant’Angelo company and dispensed with masked characters altogether for his play, La Pamela, a serious drama based on Samuel Richardson’s novel.

In the 1750 season he produced some of his best comedies, such as I pettegolezzi delle donne - Women’s Gossip - a play in Venetian dialect, Il bugiardo - The Liar - written in commedia dell’arte style and Il vero amico -  The True Friend - a comedy of manners.

From 1753 to 1762, Goldoni wrote for Teatro San Luca, now called Teatro Goldoni. Among the important plays he wrote during this period is La locandiera - Mine Hostess - which was first performed in 1753.

There was intense rivalry between competing playwrights at the time. Goldoni satirised Pietro Chiari, a rival playwright, in I malcontenti - The Malcontents - which was performed in 1755, before Carlo Gozzi, an adherent of the commedia dell’arte, denounced him in a satirical poem in 1757, then ridiculed both Goldoni and Chiari in a commedia dell’arte classic, L’amore delle tre melarance - The Love of Three Oranges - which was performed in 1761.

In 1762, Goldoni left Venice for Paris to direct the Comedie-Italienne. He later rewrote all his French plays from this period for Venetian audiences. L’Eventail, performed in France in 1763, became Il ventaglio - The Fan - and is considered one of his finest works.

Goldoni retired from the theatre in 1764 and went to teach Italian to the French royal princesses at Versailles.

In 1783 he began writing his Memoirs in French but after the French Revolution his pension was cancelled and he died in poverty in Paris in 1793. The pension was eventually restored to his widow, Nicoletta Conio, after the intervention on her behalf of the poet Andrea Chénier.

Goldoni’s most famous work, Il servitore di due padroni - The Servant of Two Masters - written in 1745, has been translated into different languages and performed many times. In 2011 it was adapted for the National Theatre in the UK under the title One Man, Two Guvnors and it was so popular it transferred to the West End and then Broadway.

Travel tip:

Goldoni was born in Ca’ Centani, or Centanni, a beautiful 15th century Gothic palace overlooking a narrow canal in the San Toma district of Venice. Better known as Casa Goldoni, the palace was bequeathed to Venice in 1931 and now houses the Goldoni Museum and a centre for theatrical studies. Through a series of displays of relics, furniture, paintings, illustrations of Goldonian comedies and explanatory panels, the museum represents the life and work of Carlo Goldoni in the context of 18th century theatre and Venetian society.

Hotels in Venice from

The interior of the Teatro Goldoni, which dates back to the 1720s
The interior of the Teatro Goldoni, which
dates back to the 1720s
Travel tip:

Teatro Goldoni near the Rialto Bridge in Venice was formerly known as Teatro San Luca, when Goldoni was writing plays for it. The present building dates back to the 1720s although it has been renovated many times after fires or structural problems. Situated in Calle Goldoni in the San Marco district, it was renamed Teatro Goldoni in 1875 and is now home to the Teatro Stabile del Veneto ‘Carlo Goldoni’.

More reading:

How Carlo Gozzi fought to preserve commedia dell'arte

Zanetta Farussi, the 18th century Venetian actress who was the mother of Casanova

Niccolò Piccinni, the opera composer for whom Goldoni wrote a libretto

Also on this day:

1682: The birth of anatomist Giovanni Battista Morgagni

1873: The birth of the great tenor Enrico Caruso

2003: The death of comic actor Alberto Sordi

Selected books:

The Comedies of Carlo Goldoni, edited and introduced by Helen Zimmern

The Servant to Two Masters, by Carlo Goldoni


4 February 2019

Ugo Betti - playwright

Judge who combined writing with legal career

Ugo Betti wrote 27 plays between 1927 and his death in 1953
Ugo Betti wrote 27 plays between 1927
and his death in 1953
Ugo Betti, a playwright whose works exploring facets of the human condition are considered by some to be the finest plays written by an Italian after Luigi Pirandello, was born on this day in 1892 in Camerino in Le Marche. 

Betti wrote 27 plays, mainly concerned with evil, guilt, justice, atonement and redemption, largely in his spare time alongside a career in the legal profession.

Although he started life in what was then a remote town in the Apennine mountains, about 75km (47 miles) inland from the Adriatic coast and a similar distance from the city of Perugia, Betti moved with his family at an early age to Parma in Emilia-Romagna.

He followed his older brother Emilio in studying law, although his progress was interrupted when he was enlisted as a volunteer in the army after Italy entered the First World War. He was captured in the disastrous Battle of Caporetto and interned in a German prisoner of war camp.

By chance, he found himself in the company of two writers, Carlo Emilio Gadda and Bonaventura Tecchi, who encouraged him in his own writing. His first collections of poems, entitled Il re pensieroso (The Thoughtful King) and published in 1922, were written while he was in German captivity.

Betti's plays have been reproduced in many editions in Italy
Betti's plays have been reproduced
in many editions in Italy
Betti returned to his studies after the war and became a magistrate and then a judge, first in Parma and later in Rome.  As a young man, he was also an enthusiastic amateur footballer and was one of a group that formed the city’s football club in 1913. In fact, along with another in the group, Betti designed the club’s original shirt - white with a black Latin cross - which has been revived this season as one of the Serie A team’s alternative strips.

His first play, La padrona (The Proprietress), was performed in 1927 at Rome's Teatro Odescalchi and received enough critical acclaim for him to continue. By the time the Second World War broke out, he had written seven more.

In one of these, Frana allo scalo nord (Landslide at the North Station), published in 1932, Betti explored the concept of collective guilt through a story about a court inquiry into an accident which had caused the death of some labourers and a girl. As the story evolves, the circle of those responsible becomes wider and wider so that ultimately humanity itself is on trial.

As a writer during the Fascist period in Italy, he was accused at different times of being anti-Fascist and a Fascist apologist, to the extent that he was threatened with imprisonment, although ultimately he continued to write unimpeded.  A job after the war in the library at the Ministry of Justice allowed him more time to write.

Betti managed to combine his literary career with his position as a judge in the Italian legal system
Betti managed to combine his literary career with
his position as a judge in the Italian legal system
Many consider his greatest play to be Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia (Corruption in the Palace of Justice), written between 1944 and 1945 although not performed until January 1949 at the Teatro delle Arti in Rome.

The play, in which an unscrupulous judge, having clawed his way to the presidency of the Supreme Court, realizes his own guilt after being investigated for corruption and and gives himself up. Again, Betti’s implication is that all of humanity is culpable.

Along with Delitto all'isola delle capre (Crime on Goat Island), a violent tragedy of love and revenge, and La regina e gli insorti (The Queen and the Rebels), in which the case is made for compassion and self-sacrifice, Corruzione al Palazzo di Giustizia established Betti’s reputation internationally.  Actors of the calibre of Vittorio Gassman, Enrico Maria Salerno, Salvo Randone and Tino Buazzelli - all highly regarded in Italian theatrical circles - eagerly accepted parts in Betti plays.

Betti, who finished his legal career at the court of appeal in Rome, won a number of awards, including the that of the Istituto Nazionale del Dramma in 1949 and the Premio Roma the following year.

He also co-founded the National Union of Dramatic Authors (SNAD), with the aim of safeguarding the work of dramatists and theatrical writers.

He died in Rome in June 1953, aged 61.

The walls of the Rocca Borgesca remain intact
The walls of the Rocca Borgesca remain intact
Travel tip:

Camerino is built over the site of Camerinum, a Roman settlement, although no remains are visible, lying at least one metre below ground level. However, the town, which has a population of around 8,000, does have a neoclassical cathedral built in the early 19th century, a university that dates back to 1336 and, just outside the town, the Rocca Borgesca, a castle built after Camerino was invaded by Cesare Borgia in 1502. The fortress was built around a convent, although most of the buildings within the walls were demolished in the 17th century after the castle fell into disuse. Today the walls remain, surrounded by gardens, while a surviving stable building inside the walls has become a restaurant.

Search for hotels in Camerino with tripadvisor

The pink marble baptistery is one of the attractions of Parma's elegant centre
The pink marble baptistery is one of the
attractions of Parma's elegant centre
Travel tip:

Parma, where Betti grew up and began his working life, is an historic city in the Emilia-Romagna region, famous for its Prosciutto di Parma ham and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, also known as ‘parmesan’. Noteworthy buildings include the 12th century Romanesque cathedral and its pink marble baptistery. The golden fresco that covers the cupola in the cathedral is Correggio’s 1520s masterpiece The Assumption of the Virgin. The Teatro Regio, a 19th-century opera house, is a noted theatre and the Galleria Nazionale, inside the Palazzo della Pilotta, displays works by painters including Correggio and Canaletto. The composer Giuseppe Verdi was born near Parma at Bussetto.

More reading:

Pietro Badoglio - the controversial general who presided over Italy's defeat at the Battle of Caporetto

Why Carlo Emilio Gadda's work draws comparisons with James Joyce and Carlo Levi

Vittorio Gassman - multi-talented star of stage and screen

Also on this day:

1 June 2017

Francesco Scipione – playwright

Erudite marquis revitalised Italian drama

An 18th century portrait of Scipione by  an unknown artist
An 18th century portrait of Scipione by
an unknown artist
Dramatist Francesco Scipione, marchese di Maffei, was born on this day in 1675 in Verona.

His most famous work was his verse tragedy, Merope, which attempted to introduce Greek and French classical simplicity into Italian drama. This prepared the way for the dramatic tragedies of Vittorio Alfieri and the librettos of Pietro Metastasio later in the 18th century.

After studying at Jesuit colleges in Parma and Rome, Scipione went to fight on the side of Bavaria in the War of the Spanish Succession. He saw action in 1704 at the Battle of Schellenberg, near Donauworth, when his brother, Alessandro, was second in command at the battle.

In 1710, Scipione was one of the founders of an influential literary journal, Giornale dei letterati, a vehicle for his ideas about reforming Italian drama. He founded a later periodical, Osservazioni letterarie, to promote the same cause.

Scipione spent time studying the manuscripts in the Royal Library at Turin and arranged the collection of objects of art which Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy had brought from Rome. He also travelled extensively in France, England, the Netherlands and Germany and received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University.

The Scipione statue in Piazza dei
Signori in Verona
When Scipione’s verse tragedy, Merope, was first performed in 1713, it met with astonishing success. It was based on Greek mythology and the French neoclassical period, signalling the way for the later reform of Italian tragedy. It was popular with the audience because of its rapid action and the elimination of the prologue and the chorus.

In addition to Merope, Scipione wrote other plays, scholarly works and poetry, and he also translated the epic poems, the Iliad and Aeneid.

Another of his major works is a valuable account of the history and antiquities of his native city - Verona illustrata: A Compleat History of the Ancient Amphitheatres and in particular that of Verona.

Scipione built a museum in Verona to house his art and archaeological collection, which he bequeathed to his native city. He died there at the age of 79 in 1755.  A statue to him was later erected in Piazza dei Signori in Verona.

Travel tip:

The secondary school, Liceo Maffei, is named in Scipione’s honour in the town of his birth, Verona. The city in the Veneto is famous as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as well as for its Roman amphitheatre, L’Arena di Verona in Piazza Bra, where opera and music concerts are now regularly performed.

The Biblioteca Reale is housed inside the Royal Palace in Turin's Piazzetta Reale
The Biblioteca Reale is housed inside the Royal Palace
in Turin's Piazzetta Reale
Travel tip:

The Royal Library, Biblioteca Reale, in Turin, where Scipione studied the manuscripts, is on the ground floor of the Royal Palace in Piazzetta Reale. It was originally established to hold the rare manuscripts collected by members of the House of Savoy.

31 October 2016

Eduardo De Filippo - Neapolitan dramatist

Playwright captured essence of city's spirit

A playwright and dramatist, Eduardo De Filippo was also an accomplished actor
A playwright and dramatist, Eduardo De
Filippo was also an accomplished actor
One of Italy’s greatest dramatists, Eduardo De Filippo, died on this day in 1984 in Rome at the age of 84.

An actor and film director as well as a playwright, De Filippo – often referred to simply as Eduardo – is most remembered as the author of a number of classic dramas set in his native Naples in the 1940s that continue to be performed today.

Arguably the most famous of these was Filomena marturano, upon which was based the hit movie Marriage, Italian Style, which starred Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni under the direction of Vittorio de Sica. 

De Filippo’s other memorable works included Napoli Milionaria, Le voci di dentro and Sabato, domenica e lunedi.

All of these plays showcased De Filippo’s ability to capture the essence of life in Naples in his time, particularly in the working class neighbourhoods that he felt were the beating heart of the city.

Rich in Neapolitan dialect, they were often bittersweet comedies of family life. They were social commentaries in which typical themes were the erosion of morals in times of desperation, the struggle of the downtrodden to retain their dignity and the preservation of family values even in the most poverty-stricken households.

Born out of wedlock, the son of a playwright, Eduardo Scarpetta, and the seamstress and costumier Luisa De Filippo, Eduardo was destined for a life in the theatre and appeared in one of his father’s plays at the age of five.

De Filippo often played opposite his sister, Titina
De Filippo often played opposite his sister, Titina
At 32 he formed his own stage company, the ‘Compagnie del Teatro Umoristico i de Filippo’, with his brother Peppino and sister Titina. The trio enjoyed success in films and on the stage in the 1930s but broke up soon after the Second World War.

But it was his plays that were his enduring legacy, for which many critics place him among the greatest of Italian dramatists, in the company of Carlo Goldoni and Luigi Pirandello.

Napoli milionaria (Naples Millionaire), written in 1945 is a realistic drama about a family's involvement in the Italian black market, set against the deprivations of war.He followed this with Questi fantasmi! (Neapoliitan Ghosts), a 1946 comedy in which a husband mistakes his wife's lover for a ghost.

In the same year came Filumena marturano, in which a former prostitute obtains financial stability for her three children by persuading her lover he is the father of one of them, without saying which.

De Filippo continued in 1948 with Le voci di dentro (Inner Voices), in which a man mistakes for reality a dream in which a friend is murdered by neighbours.

De Filippo (right) with the Italian president, Sandro Pertini. De Filippo was made a life senator
De Filippo (right) with the Italian president,
Sandro Pertini. De Filippo was made a life senator
His work became popular outside Italy.  In 1972, with his own production company, he took Naples Millionaire to London. The following year, the National Theatre in London produced Saturday, Sunday, Monday, directed by Franco Zeffirelli, with Joan Plowright and Frank Finlay. It won the London drama critics’ award as the best play of the year.

De Filippo, who had begun directing films in 1940, had some success as a director in the 1950s, his films largely light comedies.

In 1979, Laurence Olivier directed Frank Finlay and Joan Plowright in Filumena. Later, Sir Ralph Richardson had the final role of his career, playing Don Alberto, in the National Theatre's 1983 production of Inner Voices.

Filumena remains popular in Russia, where it is not forgotten that, in the 1960s in Moscow, the audience demanded and were granted 24 curtain calls after Eduardo's own company performed the work.

Napoli Milionaria, which opened at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples in March,1945, featuring Eduardo himself, became a film in 1951, with him in the leading role. It was also adapted as an opera with music by the film composer, Nino Rota, and a libretto written by Eduardo himself. It opened in June 1977 at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto.

In 1981, De Filippo was appointed life senator of the Italian Republic. He died three years later.

The sumptuous interior of the Teatro San Carlo
The sumptuous interior of the Teatro San Carlo
Travel tip:

The Teatro San Carlo, Europe’s oldest theatre and opera house, suffered bomb damage during the war and its rebirth was a testament to the determination of Neapolitans not to allow their city’s heritage to be crushed. After one raid in 1943, the foyer that runs the whole length of the theatre suffered blast damage, many of the boxes were unusable, the dressing rooms were hit, the scenery and paint shop, the costume and wardrobe stores left beyond repair. Yet within a week the theatre was up and running again and staging musical productions. De Filippo’s play. Napoli Milionaria, which premiered there in 1945, was hailed for reflecting the city’s resourcefulness in the most testing of circumstances.

Travel tip:

Although Italian spoken by Neapolitans is often clear and easy to follow if you have some acquaintance with the language, dialect is widely used and many words differ from standard Italian. For a tomato, for example, Neapolitans say pummarola rather than pomodoro; for boy or girl they use the word guaglio/a rather than ragazzo/a; and for this and that (questo e quello) they say chisto and chillo.  In O Sole Mio, the famous Neapolitan song, the ‘O’ means ‘the’, as in ‘The sun of mine’ not ‘Oh sun of mine’.

More reading:

Roberto Benigni - Oscar winning director and star of Life is Beautiful

Arnold Foà - versatile actor still doing stage work in his 90s

Anna Magnani - earthy character actress who won over Rossellini