Foregrounds and backgrounds V

In Rossini’s serious and semiserious repertoire, the “external world” enters in the characters places towards the framing imposed by vestibule’s arches and by French-windows in ground-floor rooms, delimiting woods (Matilde di Shabran), city’s pitoresque sides, or home’s secluded corners (Bianca e Falliero), streets and courts (Gazza Ladra). Beyond porches, halls, atriums, cloisters described by Felice Romani’s in Bellini’s operas librettos it appears a strong number of backgrounds: cities, (Agrigento in Bianca e Fernando),1 natural elements and building sides, (the drawbridge and the waterfall in Il Pirata,2), the lake and the cloistre in La Straniera,3 the private apartaments in Capuleti e Montecchi. They all underline the contrast between the nature and the human presence. In I Puritani, composed by Bellini with Carlo Pepoli as librettist, the attention payed towards the outside world is stressed in every scene, with the insistent presence of the windows, towards which the landascape can be seen and the outside sounds can be heard. For example: the Puritains preying, Arturo’s arrival, announced by chorus and by the band hided among the wings (II scene). In the two following sets, windows frame the camp and the fortifications (I and II act); in the last scene (III act), Elvira appears beyond the porche glass-window. In some librettos used by Donizetti too, doors and windows delimited the part of world to show: the inner gardens, city’s vew (London in Roberto Devereux)4, others buildings (Maria di Rohan,5 Gemma di Vergy), the road (Linda di Chamounix),6 wild places (Lucia di Lammermoor).
The interpretation and the reading of the world in italian XIX Century’s peninsula, is based also on the backgrounds descriptions in set captions of the operas, products of a cultural mass genre in that age. Thus, from some apparently incidental details we can understand the urban and rural landascape perception, the role awarded to water places (sea, lakes, rivers), or to vegetables world in that imaginary.

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