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'Opera e declamazione teatrale in Italia nel Diciottesimo secolo. Convergenze e problemi'


The fulfilment of the operatic reform, managed by Christoph Willibald Gluck and his librettist Ranieri Calzabigi in 1760s’ Vienna, is a well-known topic. This event, whose seeds date back to the 1740s, has been examined according to theatrical and literary experiences in France and Italy. However, the question of acting influence on opera can be reconsidered at the light of the latest discovery of symbols collected and labelled as drammatica – metodo italiano. Engraved in some writings, this set of signs is often connected to music and offers the matter for a new critical survey about the discourse on music declamation before and after Calzabigi. From the 1830s onwards the theory of acting in Italy was supported by handbooks which gathered symbols of pronounce, expression, gesture and, most important, tone of voice. Apart from the effort to establish a supranational graphic system in Italy and abroad, another common trait, which could be recognized in the treatises, concerns the deemed rules useful not only for actors, but also for orators and opera singers. In relationship to the aforementioned reform of Gluck and Calzabigi, running from 1762 to 1784 via Vienna, Paris and Naples, it is interesting to focus on Calzabigi’s theory, who claimed his primacy for the creation of the so-called music of declamation (musique de déclamation). In 1784, the Italian poet reasserted his experience in “trying” the symbols of acting for his Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and five years later for his Alceste (1767). Aiming to outline the slides and the nuances of the voice, Calzabigi interspersed between the lines of his librettos a lot of symbols, and then he “invented” other signs to give evidence to the melody of verses on which the composer could write the score. Where could Calzabigi find that semiography? Probably in the unique source of his time, i.e. the performing practices of actors, unfortunately not yet recorded by 18th - century Italian treatises, even though the symbols are retraceable in the contemporary theatrical and rhetorical tradition of Great Britain. The article deals with the various meeting points between acting tragedies and singing operas, as testified by playwrights and musicographers, at the time when the Italian “dramma per musica” was conceived as an unlikelihood mixture of arias and recitatives sung by virtuoso-singers, who usually disregarded the narrative. To point out the reaction to this unacceptable trend there are some books of Benedetto Marcello ("Il teatro alla moda", 1720), Luigi Riccoboni ("Dell’arte rappresentativa", 1728), Gianvito Manfredi ("L’Attore in scena", 1734), Gianrinaldo Carli ("L’indole del teatro tragico", 1746 and "Osservazioni sulla musica antica e moderna", 1744-1786), Giuseppe Tartini ("Trattato di musica secondo la vera scienza dell’armonia", 1754), Francesco Algarotti ("Saggio sopra l’opera in musica", 1755), who claimed the dramatic superiority of recitativo secco or obbligato, and the beauty of the aria parlante. Owing to its particular speaking tone linked to declamation, the aria parlante was the preferred dramatic tool by a group of theorists like Algarotti, Milizia and Planelli. At the same extent it is described in detail by John Brown in his own "Letters upon the Poetry and Music of the Italian Opera" (1789). The book of the Scottish painter and music amateur is the unique source that explains the features of the aria parlante as follows: “Aria parlante,—speaking Air, is that which, from the nature of its subject, admits neither of long notes in the composition, nor of many ornaments in the execution. The rapidity of the motion of this Air is proportioned to the violence of the passion which is expressed by it. This species of Air goes sometimes by the name of aria di nota e parola and likewise of aria agitata”. At the end of the century this kind of aria represented an ideal conjunction between the emotional unmeasured intonat