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La drammatica


The drammatica is a theatrical declamatory system that has been completely neglected since the dawn of the twentieth century; nevertheless it formed the foundation of the Italian national theatre and played a remarkable role in the history of eighteenth-and-nineteenth-century European theatre. It featured a scale of intonations and gestures which were represented by symbols of notation. Some of those symbols are still preserved and readable in the actors’ prompt books. My identification of the symbols demostrates the skilful craft of nineteenth-century Italian actors; but it also reveals the origins of an emerging resistance to the declamation, especially in the age of naturalism. Some of the great Italian actors (in some case they were also actor-managers), who inspired early twentieth-century actors with an emotional method rather than with an acting one, were themselves consumate interpreters of the drammatica. The drammatica consisted of drawing acting from prosody, and combining metrical structure and gesture and expressiveness. It was embodied in symbols that represented phonological features such as pitches, intonations, stress, emphasis, vocal complexion. It subsisted as a rich interactive scheme of key-voices (voci apposite) and key-gestures (gesti appositi). A specimen of treatises and prompt books used by eighteenth-and nineteenth-century English actors have extended my examination and pointed to parallels between English and Italian acting. At this stage, that brings to light new information about nineteenth–century acting in general. Specifically, two distinct facts emerge that put before us strong indications of the need for further investigation. First, English actors would have used an acting-code system that seems to be parallel to that of the drammatica; and, second, English elocution and Italian declamation shared several symbols of notation but with different applications. These are indicators of the similarities and differences between English and Italian acting. At this stage of my research new evidence has emerged proving that the symbol used by the drammatica actors to sign the colorito vocale was known to English actors in the second half of the nineteenth century. The English symbol is explained as “quick pitch”; it does not embody any type of intonation or modulation of vowels and syllables, as was required by the Italian method. The discovery is undoubtedly enlightening: we know that the drammatica at one point shared a vocal structure with English recitation in particular. However, the different application of the symbols reveals that Italian acting was dissimilar from English. Moreover, the differences in the application of the symbols explains why Joyce commended the Italians so highly for their incomparably skilful acting. Though the differences are evident, it is undoubtedly clear too that Steele’s symbols, as well as Austin’s application of the symbols, and Neville’s symbols of notation include the old precepts of Riccoboni’s rappresentativa. By noting how Adelaide Ristori passed on her art to Irving’s actress Genevieve Ward, and how Stanislavsky, almost aflame, moulded his system from Duse’s acting, and by detailing the evidence which proves the development of systems of notation of voice and gesture in eighteenth-nineteenth century acting, an unexplored variety in the reception of the drammatica’s legacy is revealed.