Sunday, October 21, 2007

Castel Sant’Angelo

The last day we were in Rome, we went to the Castel Sant’Angelo. It was built as Emperor Hadrian’s tomb, but has served many purposes since then as a papal residence, a prison, and the setting of Act Three of “Tosca.” The photo here (by Tom Bovo) is of a statue of an archangel- I like those wings!

So we walked up all these steps, and reached the mausoleum, though Hadrian’s remains are long gone. A few levels more, and there was a museum of Italian weapons, armor, and uniforms, some of them quite old. When you reach the very top, there are panoramic views of the hills beyond Rome, the Vatican and the city itself. But on a floor in between there was an extensive exhibition on Italian playwright Giuseppe Giacosa, 1842-1906. He wrote plays which Eleanora Duse performed; he wrote “La Dame de Challant” for Sarah Bernhardt. He wrote a book about the U.S. that he researched when he came over to see Bernhardt in “La Dame de Challant.” (No, I didn’t recognize his name, either.) Many of his plays were set in his native Piedmont.

But near the end of his life, he teamed up with another writer, Luigi Illica, and it was what grew out of this partnership that put Giacosa in the Castel Sant’Angelo. Together they wrote the libretti for “La Boheme” (1896), “Tosca” (1899) and “Madame Butterfly” (1904). I’m always harping on the fact that librettists are the forgotten ones in the theatre process, and here I’d done it myself. It’s not like I’m going to forget Puccini. On the other hand, Scarpia and Tosca and Cavaradossi are infinitely more real to me than Emperor Hadrian could ever be. The exhibit (all in Italian, alas) had costumes from the operas, photographs of productions, Duse, Bernhardt, etc. Seeing it was oddly comforting to me. It was like “oh, yeah, theatre. Music. Making up stories. This is what this Giacosa guy did. It’s what I do, too.”

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