Winner, 2007 University & College Designers Association Design Award
Nobody says Shakespeare is dead, Antonio Fava tells us, but Commedia, they say, is dead. Why? Because clearly, he goes on, we have Shakespeare's texts, but nobody knows what to do with the improvisation that is the basis of the Commedia dell'Arte, despite massive documentation. This book by Fava, one of the few living master teachers of Commedia dell'Arte, is the first aesthetic and methodological study of the traditional Italian theater form--the first to describe, in a precise and practical way, what Commedia is and what it should be.
The mask--as object, symbol, character, theatrical practice, even spectacle itself--is the central metaphor around which Fava builds his discussion of structure, themes, characters, and methods. Drawing on twenty years of research conducted through his work as performer, director, mask maker, and scholar, he offers extensive practical, philosophical, and technical guidelines to performing the stock characters of Commedia, observing its structure, extracting its poetics, exploring its themes, and using the mask. A densely layered text combining historical fact, personal experience, philosophical speculation, and passionate opinion, and including copious illustrations--period drawings, prints, and color photographs of leather Commedia masks made by Fava himself--The Comic Mask in the Commedia dell'Arte is a rich work of singular insight into one of the world's most venerable forms of theater.
In this book, Emily Wilbourne boldly traces the roots of early opera back to the sounds of the commedia dell’arte. Along the way, she forges a new history of Italian opera, from the court pieces of the early seventeenth century to the public stages of Venice more than fifty years later.
Wilbourne considers a series of case studies structured around the most important and widely explored operas of the period: Monteverdi’s lost L’Arianna, as well as his Il Ritorno d’Ulisse and L’incoronazione di Poppea; Mazzochi and Marazzoli’s L’Egisto, ovvero Chi soffre speri; and Cavalli’s L’Ormindo and L’Artemisia. As she demonstrates, the sound-in-performance aspect of commedia dell’arte theater—specifically, the use of dialect and verbal play—produced an audience that was accustomed to listening to sonic content rather than simply the literal meaning of spoken words. This, Wilbourne suggests, shaped the musical vocabularies of early opera and facilitated a musicalization of Italian theater.
Highlighting productive ties between the two worlds, from the audiences and venues to the actors and singers, this work brilliantly shows how the sound of commedia performance ultimately underwrote the success of opera as a genre.