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Variazioni su un tema: le riscritture per musica dei "Promessi sposi"

Friday, 28 October, 2011 - 15:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculty: Arts and Philosophy
Ann Peeters
phd defence

Situating the Research Topic

It is no coincidence that Alessandro Manzoni’s I Promessi sposi is considered the
first true novel in modern Italian literature. By introducing new narrative parameters,
Manzoni was able to reach a much wider audience and to strike a balance between innovative
contents and reflections on modern society. The efforts he made to eschew linguistic
inaccuracies (such as archaisms, barbarisms and dialect words) contributed significantly to the
creation of a new linguistic model that could be used for the expression of contemporary
social concerns. In fact, over the past centuries Italy had been struggling with the linguistic
impasse caused by the distance between the Tuscan cultural language and the regional
colloquial languages. Besides the diffusion of these important literary and social values, I
Promessi sposi also presented itself as a “hypotext” open to a heterogeneous range of
interpretations in the decades following the two publications of the novel (1827 and 1840),
including ten opera libretti.

In this study, we paid close attention to intertextual references, from both a thematic
and stylistic point of view, between Manzoni’s novel and these rewritings for opera.

Goals and Results

The first chapter of the present comparative analysis treated content-related aspects.
After having determined what episodes from I Promessi sposi had been integrated, we
verified whether these were simple reprises, adaptations sui generis or new, invented contents.
While taking into consideration the limits of opera as a genre, we also tried to trace an
evolution throughout the representation of those episodes. In this context, we paid special
attention to those elements of Manzoni’s plot that were not necessarily compatible with the
opera genre.

Our analysis pointed out how the libretti that were based on the first publication of I
Promessi sposi (1827) systematically opted for a rewriting of the first eight chapters of the
novel and how they particularly emphasized the comic episodes. However, after the
publication of the second and final version of Manzoni’s work, we discovered a clear
development: not only did we encounter episodes which, in the novel, had taken place after
the eighth chapter; we also noticed that the number of scenes with a comic undertone was
drastically reduced. In keeping with the poetics of melodrama as a genre, we also observed
that in almost every libretto motifs like love and hatred were represented far more explicitly
than in the hypotext.

In the second place, the comparative analysis of the thematic aspects shed light on
the general attitudes of the libretti’s authors on some crucial themes of I Promessi sposi, such
as philosophical and ideological aspects, as well as the influence of the political and social
evolutions of the nineteenth century upon hypotext and hypertexts.

Concerning the interpretation of philosophical and ideological aspects, the analysis
showed that almost all authors paid close attention to the role of divine providence in human
existence. The reason why this theme has not been treated in a homogeneous way probably
lies in the fact that even Manzoni himself did not provide a clear solution to this issue within
Christian philosophy. In some of the libretti, the plague, which made numerous victims also
among the characters of I Promessi sposi, was seen as a divine intervention, in other texts the
destiny of those same characters seemed to lie in their own hands. But in this case as well it is
possible to observe a clear influence of the melodramatic genre: in almost all texts, Manzoni’s
complex and far more ambiguous view was reduced to a traditional struggle between good
and evil.

Our research also showed that the authors of the libretti did not always adopt
Manzoni’s point of view on the political and social events of the nineteenth century in Italy.
Especially in the libretti from the years 1835-1861, the period of the Risorgimento, we see a
clear repercussion of Italy’s struggle for independence. In the following decades we notice a
stronger connection with Manzoni’s points of view. In this context, we should take into
consideration that melodrama, along with the historical novel, served as a “medium” for the
dissemination of the ideas of the Risorgimento. Hence, references to this crucial period in
Italian history in the hypertexts should certainly not be considered exceptional.

A final aspect of the present intertextual analysis concerns Manzoni’s linguistic
influence upon the libretti. Whereas some authors continued to use the traditional language
that characterized contemporary opera production, others almost literally integrated some of
the most famous paragraphs of I Promessi sposi.