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Tears for Nina. Emotion and compassion, from the stage to the audience


A recurrent feature of the reception of Giovanni Paisiello’s "Nina o sia La pazza per amore" (first version, in one act, 1789; second version, in two acts, 1790) is the deep empathic involvement of the audience. The masterpiece of the Italian composer appears to have had the power to move male and (mainly) female listeners and to produce strong effects like tears, outbursts, etc. The article offers a preliminary discussion of the French origins of the libretto (a translation of Marsollier des Vivetières’ "Nina ou la Folle par amour", set to music by Nicolas-Marie Dalayrac in 1786), as well as a reconstruction of the genesis of the work as an occasional piece for a specific event within Neapolitan court life, and a brief account of its metamorphosis when the score was adapted by the author for performance in a public theater. The second section discusses contemporary sources that demonstrate the process of emotional participation experienced by eighteenth-century spectators. The final part is an attempt to explain the mysterious fascination exerted by ‘the girl driven mad by love’ by means of the identification and examination of different elements pertaining to the cultural milieu, the theatrical conventions, the specific context, and the dramatic and musical structure of the work.