Italian Theater

By | November 5, 2021

Italian theater. The Italian theater encompasses the forms of play that were often still in Latin in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as well as the Italian-language theater of the former states and today’s Italy. It can claimto have had a decisive influence on the development of the performing arts in Europesince the Renaissance; Major impulses for European culture came from the Italian opera (opera), the Commedia all’italiana (Commedia dell’Arte), but also from the Italian theater architecture (Teatro Olimpico, Teatro Farnese) and stage design techniques (backdrops, Peep box stage, illusion stage). In contrast to theater in other European countries, the development of Italian theater took place in the context of particular interests tied to city-states and less to the central power of the church.

Late Middle Ages and Renaissance

Spiritual play and rediscovery of ancient dramas

As in other European regions, according to andyeducation, theatrical modes of expression developed in Italy from the late Middle Ages, initially in the form of spiritual play. With him biblical events were represented by priests and lay people. The venue was initially the interior of the church (as part of church services), later church and market squares and other parts of the urban space were used. The earliest reports of spiritual games in Italy concentrate on the middle of the 13th century (e.g. description of the performance of an Easter play in the Benedictine monastery of Montecassino in 1244). The theatrical presentation of biblical events combined with increasing technical effort, among other things. if angel, God the Father or Christ displayed floating with apparatus and fire and artificially generated noises (thunder) were used. Although the games in their early forms were presented in Latin, they were able to convey biblical content to a population that was often not able to read and write.

Forms of spiritual play presented in Italian probably did not emerge directly from the Latin-speaking, church-institutionalized performance tradition, but from vernacular and dialogically structured songs that originated from the middle of the 13th century and in which events from the history of Christianity were told. These songs were forerunners of living images that were presented in the course of sermons and visualized beliefs. The tradition of these so-called devozioni continued in the »Sacre rappresentazioni«, which emerged from the middle of the 15th century onwards with considerably increased stage technology and with the inclusion of the representation of action sequences. Especially the architect F. Brunelleschi was known for setting up such performances in the churches of Florence. In 1422 he staged the Ascension in Santa Maria del Carmine. Among other things, he had a castle (Jerusalem) and a mountain built inside the church, from which an actor as Christ went to heaven in the dome of the house of God.

From the rediscovery of ancient writings, the Italian theater culture drew the essential impulses for the development of secular theater, which was to decisively shape the European theater tradition. As a result of around the middle of the 15th century BC a. in Rome in the vicinity of the academy of J. Pomponius Laetus beginning reception of ancient dramas, first the comedies of Plautus and Terence, then the tragedies of Seneca were read and performed. The Terenz stage served as the venue for the comedies. Pope Leo X built the so-called Capitol Theater in 1513. Venice and Florence became further centers of theatrical art. The third, increasingly influential environment for the further development of theater turned out to be in the 15th century – after the church and academy – aristocratic society and the royal court: Biblical and mythological interludes, so-called intermedia (intermezzo), in performances of comedies and by means of parades (trionfi) Scenes (e.g. sea battles) re-enacted. The often spectacular events served in the context of court festivities v. a. political representation.

At the turn of the 16th century, the first comedies by contemporary authors were written. by L. Ariosto, Bibbiena and N. Machiavelli. G. G. Trissino wrote the earliest known Italian tragedy (“La Sophonisba”, 1524, first performance 1562; German “Sophonisbe”). The types of roles in comedy were included in the Commedia dell’Arte, which was conceived as improvisational theater, performed with masks and based on certain role constellations (including Herr – Diener). The shepherd’s play (shepherd’s poem), staged in the Mannerist style, also gained popularity. by T. Tasso.

With recourse to the architectural writings of Vitruvius (»De architectura libri decem«, completed after 27 BC; published in print 1486) through the reception of antiquity, theaters were built that became role models for European theater architecture (Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza, built 1580–84; Teatro Farnese in Parma, built 1618–19). B. Buontalenti and his pupil Guilio Parigi (* 1571, † 1635) created the technical prerequisites for convertible stage equipment (transformation stage), for which they, among others. on periacts (used in Florence until the 1630s). Giovanni Battista Aleotti (* 1546, † 1636) and later Alfonso Parigi († 1656) worked on the stage set in the early 17th century. However, these stage technical innovations were not implemented in spoken theater, but rather by v. a. at opera and ballet performances.

17th and 18th centuries

Opera, Commedia dell’Arte and civic theater

Among the theatrical courtly festive events, opera became the most popular form of performance in the early 17th century. In the field of spoken theater, the impromptu art of the Commedia dell’Arte first gained popularity in Italy, then through traveling theater troupes across Europe. The games were played in courtyards and in mercantile places such as trade fairs and marketplaces.

The growing proportion of spectators from other sections of the population that went beyond court society is reflected in the growing number of municipal theaters in the 18th century. The Commedia dell’Arte, which is characterized by coarseness, came under increasing criticism in connection with enlightening-domesticating tendencies. C. Goldoni banished the lamented excesses of improvisational theater with his dramatic texts; it is the first time that the written fixation of theater plays is documented in Italy. While maintaining the basic constellations of figures, Goldoni continuedElaborated dialogues and character constellations countered the masquerade, he dissolved repetitive patterns of action through sophisticated dramaturgies, thematically he aligned the pieces more closely to the real contemporary conditions. As an alternative to this, C. Gozzi’s efforts around the middle and late 18th century to further develop the imaginative, harsh social reality and crude potential of the Commedia dell’Arte (especially in his fairy tale games, the »Fiabi«) can be understood.

Italian Theater