Starting theater in the 19th century

In the 19th century the “teatro pubblico a pagamento”, business theater based on supply and demand, continued to spread. The age of the great actors in the 19th century is viewed with some satisfaction, if not without controversy, in the Italian theater world. A distinction is made between the first generation with Adelaide Ristori-Capranica del Grillo (* 1822, † 1906), Ernesto Rossi (* 1827, † 1896), T. Salvini and Alamanno Morelli (* 1812, † 1893), a middle generation with Giovanni Emanuel (* 1848, † 1902), Giacinta Pezzana (* 1841, † 1919) and Luigi Bellotti-Bon (* 1820, † 1883) and the generation of so-called naturalism with Ermete Novelli (* 1851, † 1919) or E. Zacconi. They all stood in the acting tradition of G. Modena and were at the same time his antipodes. In fame, however, these actors surpassed Eleonora Duse, the “attrice divina”, actress of the neuroses, of “dolorismos”, most clearly expressed in performances of plays by G. D’Annunzio.

It is significant that these great Italian actors established their international reputation predominantly outside their home country, sometimes overseas. With them emerged publicly embodied and media-used role models such as the cosmopolitan and power-conscious women (»donne mondiali«) of the Ristori, the heroes of strong character (»giganti buoni«) by Salvini and the passionate lovers (»innamorati passionati«) by Rossi. Since Novelli the great actors were also referred to as »matadori« (from Spanish »matador«). They were considered typical representatives of the “teatro commercio” (commercial theater) because their activities related not only to artistic but also to social life in general; like the industrial entrepreneur, they worked with business risk.

Compared to these stars, the directors were less influential. For a long time, the Italian expression “direttore di scena” (stage director) referred to a theater employee who was only partially artistically active. This tendency was reinforced by adhering to the traditionally strict definition of role subjects.

Standing theaters and dialect stages

While national theaters had emerged in other European countries since the 18th century, in Italy – v. a. due to the lack of territorial unity and a uniform national language – not on top of that. On the contrary, regionally shaped dialect theaters developed in large cities. These, too, were primarily drama theater, partly also influenced by Modena’s students (e.g. in Turin by Giovanni Toselli, * 1819, † 1886; in Milan by Edoardo Ferraville, * 1845, † 1916). The dialect theater in Naples, under the direction of Antonio Petito (* 1822, † 1876), took on particular importance, following on from local Pulcinella traditions.

In contrast, attempts to establish standing (ensemble) stages (»teatri stabili«) remained the exception. In the case of their implementation, they often followed up on work at princely theaters. The “Compagnia Reale Sarda” was founded in 1820 at the instigation of Viktor Emanuel I, in 1823 the “Ducale di Modena” and in 1827 a princely theater in Parma. Despite the limited success of the ensemble theaters, numerous theater buildings, v. a. large opera houses, built: In 1870 alone, 1,055 theaters were built in 775 cities, but most of them were used by traveling theater groups.

Other theaters were founded as a result of writers’ initiatives, often combined with literary programs. One of the most prominent projects is the »Compagnia Città di Torino« under the direction of Cesare Rossi (* 1829, † 1898), which was opened in 1877 as a publicly subsidized company »semistabile« (i.e. it was only supported for six months of the year). The »Teatro d’Arte«, also founded in Turin in 1898, only existed for a year under the direction of the writer and critic Domenico Lanza (* 1868, † 1949). In 1900, Ermete Novelli (* 1851, † 1919) tried to build the “Casa di Goldoni” in Rome, a standing theater (in honor and in memory of the playwright). Worth mentioning because with activities of the Duse and connected by D’Annunzio is the »Teatro Manzoni« in Milan, founded in 1905 by Mario Fumagalli (* 1869, 1936). This company experienced a second period as the “Drammatica Compagnia di Milano” from 1912–17. In 1905 the theater historian Edoardo Boutet (* 1856, † 1915) founded “La Stabile Romana del Teatro Argentina”. As a popular theater, it was based on a religious and spiritual foundation (Boutet spoke of theater as “tempio” [temple] and of the actor as “sacerdote” [priest]). In 1906, however, his troupe went on tour again. The theater experienced a second period in 1918–20 as the “Drammatica Compagnia di Roma” (also called “Compagnia Nazionale”). In this phase it was particularly influential Virgilio Talli (* 1857, † 1928).

20th century and present

According to youremailverifier, Italy stayed relatively far from the Europe-wide phenomenon of literaryization of theater (development of a theater production not from play and improvisation, but in close orientation to a drama text written in advance; starting from the middle of the 17th century). The reverse process of retheatricalization in the sense of an increasingly creative director (directorial theater) also began later in Italy (around the middle of the 20th century) than in other European countries. It is characteristic that the most important pioneers of European directorial theater – from J. Copeau in France to M. Reinhardt in Germany to W. Meyerhold in Russia – they used the resources of the Italian theater (especially the Commedia dell’Arte) for their reform work.

In the run-up to Italy’s entry into World War I (1915) until the end of World War II, artistic and intellectual life suffered from political repression. At the same time, outstanding theater artists such as Anton Julio Bragaglia (* 1890, † 1960) and L. Pirandello sympathized with fascism. The exclamation of F. T. Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, in the “Teatro Licio” of Milan in 1910: “Down with Austria!” Became famous. Bragaglia was of importance for the further development of Italian theater when he opposed the star cult with ensemble play and tried out alternative venues (e.g. in the thermal baths of Rome). 1922–31 he ran the “Teatro sperimentale degli Indipedenti” in Rome, in which v. a. contemporary dramas (works by G. Apollinaire, A. Jarry, C. Sternheim and others) were performed. Pirandello who turned to the theater in 1916 after a career as a writer that began in the 1890s, took up elements of the Commedia dell’Arte as a writer and director in his popular theater and sometimes exaggerated them into the grotesque. His attempt to form a national theater by running his own state-subsidized theater – the “Teatro d’Arte” in Rome – was unsuccessful with the short existence of the stage (1925-28).

Basically, publicly subsidized ensemble theaters only emerged in Italy after the Second World War. As the most famous, founded in 1947, mainly from valid G. Strehler led to world fame Piccolo Teatro. It was one of the first and is now the oldest existing »teatro stable« in Italy. Strehler took up elements of the Commedia dell’Arte in his directorial work, made guest appearances with his ensemble all over Europe and made the stage into one of the most internationally known venues. The second formative person in post-war theater was D. Fo. As a playwright, but also an actor, director and intellectual, Fo understood the theater always also as a place of political opposition. His farces and satires use the comedy as a rhetorical means of criticism. In 1970 Fo founded the theater collective “La Comune” with the author and actress Franca Rame (* 1929, † 2013), which particularly addresses workers as a target group. The “Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio”, founded in Cesena in 1981, also works in an institutionally independent form under the direction of Romeo Castolucci (* 1960). Formally, as a theater collective, strongly following the Italian theater tradition, she goes her own artistic way with her performance experiments. By inter alia Disabled, sick and old people are the protagonists of the performances, are not only subverted by star and body cults, but with the offensive and self-confident presentation of the actors, highly individual role concepts arising from their physical and character peculiarities are also developed. The renaissance of the Opera dei Pupi is representative of the extremely diverse contemporary Italian theater consider, which is located in Sicily as well as the “Teatro dei ruderi”, a ruined theater in Gibellina, which has hosted an annual theater festival since 1982 and in 2004, among other things. with the visually powerful, surreal production »Urlo« (»Scream«) by the director and actor Pippo Delbono (* 1959).

Directors such as Luca Ronconi and Cesare Lievi (* 1952), who brought contemporary Italian authors and contemporary issues to the stage, took a sharp look at the socio-political conditions in the country after the turn of the millennium.

Italian Theater

Italian Theater in 19th and Early 20th Centuries
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