The puppet theatre room
The puppet theatre
s the 18th century dawned on Venice, the Republic found itself facing an increasing number of imponderables. It had by now been marginalized by European politics and reduced to an impotent and conscious spectator of its own inevitable decline. Yet the city still retained the incommensurable charm which made it the meeting ground of the cosmopolitan world of the time: music, publishing, journalistic initiatives, theatres, the visual arts, made its intellectual and artistic life reach peaks of high tension and prophetic modernity. Carlo Goldoni tried to reform an established Venetian institution such as the theatre, which, as an element of society and customs, also became a stimulus for other reforming initiatives. The theatre was associated with the music that propelled the name of Venice into the international spotlight and reached its zenith in the city with the activity of composers such as Benedetto Marcello, Vivaldi, Galuppi. In institutional playhouses as well as in aristocratic private theatres, comedians and singers were often upstaged by small wooden colleagues, replacing the artists in flesh and blood who were concealed in the wings and recited their lines to animate the performances of plays and opera musicata. String puppets, or marionettes, gave a great impulse to the development of the puppet theatre, and in the eighteenth century many patrician houses boasted their own marionette theatre, with a repertoire that was getting richer and more varied with melodramas and pantomimes, farces, tragedies, and dances. The idea of setting up these small-scale theatres, accompanied by all the compendium necessary for the performance, including the opera librettos reproduced in a very small format to retain the harmony of proportions, was even sometimes improvised to provide entertainment for some illustrious guests, as at Ca ‘Mocenigo in San Samuele in 1714 to honour the visit of the Elector of Saxony. There was a substantial difference between the glove puppets used in popular shows in booths set up in the squares and the string marionettes that “no longer worked the squares but more aristocratically played in small but more elegant theatres representing the Nebuchadnezzars and the Pharaohs…” (Ricciotti Bratti, 18th century Marionettes). Unfortunately not much has remained of the puppet theatres of the noble houses. One was reported at the Contarini house in San Barnaba, and one was allegedly in the Loredan house in San Vio, and outside Venice, in the Ravegnani house in Verona. A notable exception is the puppet theatre formerly in the Grimani ai Servi palace, visible again since 2001 at the Museo di Casa Goldoni – the most famous 18th century Venetian puppet theatre, equipped with the largest group of its original marionettes, recently increased by some other important acquisition. It was not by accident that it found a permanent home at Casa Goldoni. The material history of these puppets can be traced to characters and events that crossed paths with the playwright born in one of the rooms of this house in 1707. Goldoni was well acquainted with at least two members of the family the puppet theatre comes from, and went as far as to dedicate one of his comedies, “L’amante di sé medesimo” (The Man in Love with Himself) to Antonio Grimani. The playwright was also instrumental in introducing to the Grimanis Pietro Longhi, who was to become the favourite painter of the patrician family. As witnessed by the records of its acquisition, the puppet theatre at Casa Goldoni came to the City of Venice through the bequest of the legacy of the Morosini-Gatterburg family, who had previously inherited the estate of the extinct family line of the Grimani “ai Servi” : Loredana Grimani, Giovanni’s daughter, married a Morosini, while this line of the family died out in mid-nineteenth century with Countess De Gatterburg Morosini, Loredana’s granddaughter. Together with a “proscenium already existing at Palazzo Morosini”, the entry registers of the Venetian Civic Museums record the bequest of the “Venetian puppets of the last century” on 22 April 1896.
The Servant of two Masters
The play: Written in 1745 on request of the famed actor Antonio Sacchi, the comedy
was performed in Milan and Venice in 1746 with great success. Goldoni, who had used a French plot in his first draft, rewrote it entirely in 1753 for the Paperini edition. In our times, G. Strehler’s direction and a change of title to Harlequin, servant of two masters, have contributed to earn this play international
The Plot: ollowing the news that her suitor Federigo has been killed in a duel by Florindo, Clarice is betrothed to Silvio by her father Pantalone. In the meantime, Federigo’s sister Beatrice arrives, dressed as a man and using her brother’s name, looking for her beloved Florindo, who ran off following the duel. Truffaldino, Beatrice’s servant, also becomes Florindo’s servant unbeknownst to her, and the comedy stems from the confusion and misunderstandings caused by Truffaldino. At the end all is cleared: Florindo marries Beatrice, Silvio marries Clarice, and Truffaldino marries Smeraldina, Clarice’s maid.
The comedy is packed with comedic effects, such as when Truffaldino, trying to cover up one of his scams, makes Beatrice believe that Florindo is dead, while at the same time trying to convince Florindo that Beatrice is dead: a classic Goldonian trope.
Scene inspired by Act One – Scene 2 and 4
After playing all night and surprisingly hitting a winning streak, Florindo wishes to sort out his small
treasure-trove, but fatigue and tension overcome him, and he falls asleep at the
gaming-table while counting the gold coins he has won. But he who is addicted does not know when to stop, therefore upon awaking he imagines further, much larger and more substantial gains compared to those of the night before, and this sparks a typical “Florindoesque” train of thought: “I play like a man, I know my quarter-of-an-hour, and it’s impossible for me not to win in the long run.” The exhibit features a small flip top table, four armchairs from the second half of the 18th century, faithfully reproduced playing cards and coins, the originals of which are in the Correr Museum, and a man’s suit with a stage cloak.
The play:It is one of the famous sixteen new comedies that Carlo Goldoni wrote and staged in 1750; in three acts, the play reprises themes and characters dear to the author’s heart. Addiction and compulsive gambling, the heartbreak of losing, as opposed to the constant hopes of winning, the incessant anxiety for the next hand, the one that will surely be the “great hand”, are the themes brought to the fore by the author, so real and entrenched in eighteenth-century Europe and still just as relevant today.
The Plot:Swept away by the frenzy of gambling, Florindo falls into the hands of Lelio, a dishonest gambler. Soon meeting his ruin, he loses his fiancée, Rosaura, his friends, and only the intervention of old Pantalone, who will force Lelio to return part of the ill-gotten gains, will save him from marrying Gandolfa, an elderly, frivolous and depraved aunt of Rosaura’s.
WORKSHOP OF PIETRO LONGHI
The Parlour, mid-18th century
Oil on canvas
It is an “interior view” depicting the nuns’ parlour of the convent of San Zaccaria, where relatives and friends could visit the Sisters: on these festive occasions, puppet shows were also organized for the younger guests.
The scene inspired by Act One- Scene 14
Don Fabio arrives to scrounge yet another meal at Madama Lindora’s house, but lunch is delayed by Lucrezia, who invites the guests to have fun with some games. The discussion on the choice of which would be the most entertaining for all the guests offers an insight into the customs as well as the leisure activities in vogue at the time.
The play:With music by maestro Giuseppe Scolari from Vicenza, this opera was staged at the San Samuele theatre during the 1758 carnival and performed by some of the best Italian artistes of the comic genre. In this dramma giocoso for music, Goldoni describes the conversation at Madama Lindora’s house. Action is used sparingly but the scenes flow quickly, wittily, naturally and, with regards to the script, it is one of
the best of Goldoni’s compositions in this genre.
The Plot: At Madama Lindora’s, a merry widow, several characters gather to pass the time laughing, joking, shouting, fighting, and above all gambling and dancing. At this gathering, the participants include Monsieur Giacinto, a foppish traveller who uses a thousand languages out of context, the comic characters of Don Fabio, an impoverished aristocrat who resorts to “freeloading” his meals at Lindora’s, and Sandrino, a rich plebeian, always bragging about his riches and ready to squander his money at any sort of game currently in vogue. Also present are the independently-spirited Lady Lucrezia and the bashful lovers Filiberto and Berenice.
This gambling game consists of a special board divided into thirty-six numbered pictorial compartments each with a figure that distinguishes them. The boxes correspond to an equal number of hollow wooden balls inside which are placed cards each showing the numbered versions of the pictures in the compartments. Once all the balls are put into a pouch, the bank-holder proceeds to extract one and then calls the number and figure out loud. The winner is the person who has placed money on the box corresponding to the winning figure. The number of players can be unlimited.
Booklet to visit the Museum
Casa di Carlo Goldoni. La Casa del suo Teatro