“Re Cervo”. The libretto of Paolo Bosisio (by Elina Daraklitsa)

Elina Daraklitsa

“Re Cervo”. The libretto of Paolo Bosisio


The magic and phantasmagoria, the transformation and the fairytale element, the tragic and the comic, the decomposition of realism and plain reality, the reconstruction of the dream, of the fictional, of the perpetual towards the creation of a new universe, theatrical and cosmic; these are the elements that characterize dramaturgy in its whole, but also Gozzi’s mentality, and which could not be absent neither from his work, Re Cervo, nor from its contemporary transcription into a libretto.

Gozzi writes about the theatre company of impresario Antonio Sacchi,[1] who stayed in history for his inimitable performances in the role of Truffaldino. This particular troupe was one of the best in the kind of commedia dell’arte during the years 1738-1777 of the 18th century. The subject area of the fairytale drama is inspired from the narrations that are included in the fairytale collection of the East entitled: Cabinet des  Fées.  It’s about: Histoire du Prince Fadlallah fils de Bin Ortoc, Roi de Mousel, of François Pétis de la Croix, and Les Milles et un quart d’heure, which makes up an episode from Histoire des quatre sultanes de Citor.[2]

The story presents the tactics of King Deramo –who is looking for a wife, by subjecting all the young candidates of the Kingdom to farcical or serious examinations–  and of his prime minister, Tartaglia. Deramo rejects the prime minister’s daughter as a bride and selects the woman the prime minister is in love with. That event makes Tartaglia feel fury and seek for revenge, and, eventually, he commits an atrocious act. The plot consists of a series of magical acts that cause the implant of the two protagonists’ souls into foreign bodies. Deramo enters the body of a stag, while Tartaglia enters Deramo’s body. This magical implant of the soul to other bodies continues until, in the end, the happy ending of this adventurous route brings on the praise of kindness and the punishment of malevolence and guile.

With Re Cervo, Gozzi shows the first signs of the fullness of his writing ripeness and consequently, the removal from his original tendency to criticize and turn against his peer Goldoni.[3] This is his third work in a row that was reenacted –even though he himself mentions that it is the second one in the Zanardi edition–[4] at Teatro San Samuele, on January 5, 1762. The fact that in the same year Goldoni abandons Venice forever, heading for Paris is not coincidental at all; he leaves his competitor free to shine, confirming his great acceptance and the success from then on of his fairytale dramas on the Venetian stages. With this work, Gozzi proves that he has started to take firm steps, without the need to grip to the fruitless intellectual and literary argument with the well-known comedy writer.

  Re Cervo’s route, beginning with the huge success of the 18th century, continues in a rather faded form in the 19th century, reaching the 21st, when it meets with a renewed acceptance and version, that of  Bosisio in the form of a libretto. The musical composition of the opera is made by conductor Angelo Inglese after a suggestion by Teatro Fenice of  Venice, and its worldwide premiere takes place on October 23, 2016, at Teatrul Muzical Nae Leonard of Galati, in Romania. The inspired mix of the commedia dell’arte masks with their plain speech,[5] and the faces of the aristocracy with their intellectual language that co-exist in Gozzi’s text, continue their common course in that of Bosisio, yet the interchange of prose and rhyme doesn’t, since in the case of Bosisio we deal with librettos which only include verses. Furthermore, the ethical concepts that run through the whole of Gozzi’s text tend to disappear in that of Bosisio.

From the very first reading of the libretto, one can perceive Bosisio’s will to differentiate as to the initial structural and literary style by introducing innovative and modern elements which make the work approach contemporary times, without dismissing the literary identity of the 18th century and the retro canvas of the pure Venetian atmosphere. His playful and pleasant speech exceeds the prudence of Gozzi’s writing. By remaining faithful to the initial writing style and writing intentions of his predecessor, he uses the Venetian dialect and the poetic speech, modernized, enriched and filled with rhyming asymmetries and free verse, enveloped in a rare and precious humorous glory. From time to time, the heroes embrace a more vernacular and simple way of speaking, a fact which would seem awkward to the audience of the 1700s, but not to a contemporary audience. Moreover, the differentiation happens nonetheless, since a text written for the theatre takes the form of a theatrical text destined to be musically composed and later sung. The addition of music imposes changes to the metre and the language. It should be kept in mind that Gozzi writes a large part of the text in prose, occasionally making his heroes sing or cite lines from poets such as Ariosto.

Bosisio retains the three-act structure of Gozzi’s fairytale drama.[6] The setting for the plot remains the same; it is that of the fictional kingdom of the country of Serendippo. The length of the libretto is comparably shorter to that of the fairytale drama. The stage directions of the first, clearly limited in comparison to those in Gozzi’s that described the theatrical rhythm of the performance, contain information of both technical and functional register, thus showing the writer’s directory role who, even in his dramaturgic speech pays attention to have each and every practical procedure ‘neatly’ staged.

The important character of Cigolotti is absent from the libretto. Therefore, the prologue is also absent since it was wholly based on Cigolotti, a renowned storyteller of Venice, frequenting Piazza San Marco and Riva degli Schiavoni. The theatre company of impresario Sacchi, which had performed the drama in 1762, had entrusted the role of Cigolotti to the then popular actor Atanagio Zannoni.[7]

Bosisio also limits the role of Leandro, son of Pantalone and a knight of the court, who does not make an appearance at all, but only comes to life through his beloved Clarice’s words. The role of Truffaldino, one of the typical masks of commedia dell’arte, is also absent. The reason for this is that the librettist does not wish to keep defending Gozzi’s blind and persistent adherence to this particular theatrical kind. So, he consciously detaches himself from this comedy tradition so as to introduce his work to the frame of the new dramatized and musical version. The heroes of commedia dell’ arte that exist in the libretto wear the representative clothes of their roles, but not their masks, while the abundance of villagers and hunters is also absent. Instead, we see the presence of two dancing roes and the talking source enacted by a mime actor. In the case of the roes, as it appears, Bosisio chooses to follow Gozzi’s initial and very interesting thoughts. The scholar, having referred to the manuscript Marciano of Rappresentazione del Re Cervo,[8] and thinking that it is the manuscript which was probably used at the first performance of the fairytale drama, skillfully utilizes the Venetian dramatist’s stage direction where it is referred that: «… due cervi movibili fatti d’uomini. Un pappaggalo movibile e volante. Un orso e cani. Un bosco come sfondo, ben decorato con alberi…».[9] This specific stage direction is not included in princeps edition, which was published by Paolo Colombani in eight volumes in between 1772 and 1774, and which is the official first edition of his plays. Thus, the characters are reduced from 11, which is the total number in the original play, to 8 in the libretto.

It is worthwhile noticing the fact that Gozzi’s strict manner towards a woman’s role in society,[10] her behavior and her mentality which was mainly dictated by her status, tends to disappear in Bosisio’s writing. Gozzi embraced the beliefs of figures of the Enlightenment, while our contemporary dramatist is inspired by the particular subject and creates a playful dramatic convention in which a male actor and baritone singer plays the role of Smeraldina, thus making obvious his intention tounder play those old-fashioned society norms, and to embrace every hero and every aired feeling with wholehearted interest and care.

Gozzi’s sentimentality moves the readers- audience and makes them daydream, while Bosisio’s makes them smile and be happy with the erstwhile purity  –now tainted by the passage of centuries of time–  and the evident, profound artifice. Bosisio is also released from the religious atmosphere with Gozzi’s sociopolitical extensions and his outdated ethic, leading the way for a new reading intertextual, hypertextual, realistic and at the same time romantic. His heroes do not carry the elements of the East in such an extent as Gozzi’s heroes do; comprising a fiery medley of all beloved fairytales through the centuries.

The moral in Bosisio’s writing is conveyed by the magician who, laughing and smoking his hookah, claims that it is wise to entrust and leave destiny in the handsof science.

The first act of the fairytale drama starts with Gozzi’s introduction of the hero Cigolotti, who familiarizes the audience – readers with the eastern and Venetian atmosphere with his monologue. This specific monologue is missing from the libretto which moves with Tartaglia’s dynamic energy, King Deramo’s minister and his daughter’s Clarice. It becomes almost immediately evident that Gozzi’s almost prose and explanatory speech acquires a more poetic form under Bosisio’s pen in order to include in his verses, without unnecessary details, the initial crucial events and simultaneously, by the repetitive use of consonants that make rhymes, to form a pleasant play of sounds for everybody’s ears. The same concise reference of events exists throughout the whole libretto, as well as henceforth the accurate procession of the division of the fairytale drama into scenes and acts.

A little further into the play, Smeraldina’s comic figure appears, which becomes even funnier in Bosisio’s play, causing laughter when she appears because of her naïve expression and her grotesque attire. She is the discordant heroine, who gives an additional pleasant note to the two plays with the overflowing confidence on her femininity and her barely melodious voice. The fifth and sixth scenes of the original play are absent from the libretto. Bosisio reassures us that he has decided to deal with only the most important elements of the case, avoiding verbosity and the long-winded speeches of the king, while he allows more space in the play as a whole for the unfolding of the love between Deramo and Angela. By making an excellent composition of the narrations of the heroes, he rushes to the seventh scene of the original play, to the presentation of King Deramo, having avoided Gozzi’s extensive stage directions. Besides, as has already been mentioned, Bosisio uses stage directions only when they are really useful for the directory and scenic regularity of the total. Very soon, we also learn about Angela’s love for the King, since she expresses her love with the humility and modesty that characterize her. Deramo is satisfied and reassured about the honesty of her emotions by the statue that smiles in both versions.

The rhymes to which Bosisio is inclined are mainly couple rhyme and alternate rhyme, creating echoes which pave an easy way for the singers to pronounce them, making their task easier. The frequent rhymes add to the comic element positively. Both the vowels and the consonants have a repetitive tone quality, remaining equally repetitive in the audience’s ears and becoming a melodic habit as they leave the theatre. Bosisio’s libretto is scenic, with a complete rhythmical tension and an expressive naturalness. The dialogues flow more freely in contrast to those of the fairytale drama, a fact which demonstrates his modern view and underlying sensitivity concerning modern times. Also, there are points where one dialogue intentionally intercepts another, forming a continuous sequence of sounds, speeches and gaiety; and thus, an excellent rhythm from a technical viewpoint. The scenes are constructed with dexterity in order to achieve the desired bright atmosphere.

In Bosisio’s libretto, the metric multiformity and comical rhetoric speech are prevalent, while the conversational relation of speech and act are in complete harmony with the music. It is a simple but at the same time complex libretto. Bosisio evenly marries the fairytale element and the humorous element and satire, ingraining in them the primitive romantic aesthetic, spontaneity, a love for nature and the oneiric. He ideally adjusts the technical and verbal parts of the line to the music solutions of the time. His capability in dramatized musical writing lies in the fact that he has an intact approach of modernism towards tradition. His originality in style is characterized mainly by his use of the linguistic grotesque element.

Before we enter the adventure of the transformation of the King into a stag, we are informed about the love between Clarice and Leandro. Into the second act, Bosisio skips the first four scenes by Gozzi where there is a preparation for the hunt, and Tartaglia scolds his daughter who did not represent him properly and was rejected by Deramo as the future Queen. Bosisio describes Tartaglia’s repeated efforts to fatally stab the King in the back by using comical graphic language. This particular scene is set mainly to provoke laughter rather than agony to the audience as to the probable survival or death of the hero. In fact, at this point Bosisio cites one of Gozzi’s lines unaltered: Cra cra trif traf not sgnieflet canatauta riogna, which makes up the magic spell, while it also introduces the innovative element of the stags’ dance. After the events have started happening, the King’s soul has entered the stag’s body and Tartaglia’s soul the King’s body by the aid of magic, the librettist goes on briefly to the presentation of the feelings of the wronged hero and of his intelligent ability to invent solutions, thus showing the hero’s mind power and through it the excellent justification of his possession of royal power and his aristocratic status. This is the point where Bosisio makes his heroes have consecutive, unanswered questions and so, adds tension to the rhythm of the action. In the end, the King implants his soul from the stag’s body to that of an elderly man, managing to return to his palace, mentally but not physically unscathed.

In the third and final act, the funny scene of Angela’s encounter with Tartaglia takes place; Tartaglia pretends to be Deramo trying to speak to the surprised youth in a noble manner. His agonizing effort to win, or more accurately, to retain her love is such that it reaches the point of ridicule and the grotesque. Bosisio’s audience find themselves before the ambiguous sentiments of laughter and crying, of the twofold of happiness and sadness. They do not know whether to feel sad and sympathise with the hero, or laugh at his exaggerated acts. In contrast, Gozzi’s audience laugh at the cunning and familiar acts of the commedia dell’arte mask, without sympathizing with it or feeling sorry for it. Bosisio’s Tartaglia turns into a stutterer and a lisper, continuously dragging the letters and the words, reaching the limits of extreme comicality; and this way helping the singing work of the baritone singer and giving a great push to the success of this role, as well as the possibility of a wide projection of the acting talent of the time. Gozzi’s Tartaglia holds onto his comicality, yet without extremities or distinctive verbal phrases. His inability to speak with the appropriate royal courtesy and geniality is expressed with rough phrases and movements; this does not mean that the dramatic value is reduced, but that it is more suitable to the drollery that the 18th century Venetian audience was used to.

A bit later, Deramo meets his future bride, who fails to recognize him at first, but is convinced of the truth of his words by his fluency and emotions. Having realized what a treacherous plan Tartaglia has thought of to usurp the throne, the two of them conspire to contrive a plan that will lead to the perfect and happy ending. The final happiness is expressed with fast-flowing dialogues which are interchangeable and rhythmic in the libretto; while it is expressed through monologues and morality in the fairytale drama.

Angelo Inglese’s music precisely follows the spirit of opera serio-faceta that Bosisio wanted to create, and consequently that of Gozzi’s fairytale drama; it seems to be recreating the dramatic speech, being in perfect harmony with each character. The musical style, entirely absorbed into that of the libretto, is one of the most interesting approaches of 18th century music. The emotional outbursts and regressions of the heroes impact on a corresponding outwork upon which audio, mental and visual images reflect. Each dramaturgic scene is followed by the corresponding melody, and so does each expressed emotion. As a result, commedia dell’arte masks are presented in the accompaniment of a fast and joyous rhythm, namely that of allegro or gavotte. Sometimes, the comic movement of the caricature adopted is followed by a slower rhythm; the times for circumspection and serious or polite attitude by adagio, having either elements of grottesco, or tempo dimarcia or even waltz. One of Inglese’s remarkable musical solutions is the habanera rhythm which stresses a special kinesiology each time, such as the part where the King turns around and looks at the talking statue in order to receive a positive or negative reply.[11]

To sum up, with this libretto, Bosisio proves his comprehensive knowledge of the theatrical act in a crystal-clear way, his experience in the art of writing, which for the first time in a dramatic context – and not scientific –encircles and projects his potential and the extent of the acting and musical performances. He proves to be an excellent contemporary dramaturgist, while he also deposits another guarantee of his directory style, promising the extension of a long career in art.


[1]. Giulietta Bazoli, Antonio Sacchi: ultimo atto, in «Rivista di letteratura teatrale», 3, 2010, pp. 27-54.

[2]. Cfr., Carlo Gozzi, Re Cervo, edizione critica e commentata a cura di Paolo Bosisio e Valentina Garavaglia, Edizione Nazionale delle opere di Carlo Gozzi, Venezia, Marsilio, 2013, pp. 13, 84∙ Charles-Joseph Mayer (a cura di), Le Cabinet des Fees ou Collection Choisiedes Contes des Fees, et autrescontesmerveilleux, Genève, chez Barde, Manget & Compagnie, 1785-1789, 41 voll∙ Gueullette Thomas Simon: Mille et Un Quart d’heure: Contes Tartares, Paris, chezles Libraires Associes, 1753, 3 voll.

[3]. Paolo Bosisio, Carlo Gozzi e Goldoni. Una polemica letteraria con versi inediti e rari, Firenze, Olschki 1979∙ Contro il Goldoni. Un capitolo inedito di Carlo Gozzi al Voltaire e undici sonetti inediti di Accademici Granelleschi, in «Italianistica», 1978, pp. 308-335∙ Javier Gutierrez Carou, Maestro, Jesus G. (eds.), Carlo Goldoni e Carlo Gozzi: evoluzione e involuzione della drammaturgia italiana settecentesca: da Venezia all’Europa, «Theatralia. Revista de Poetica del Teatro», 8, 2006∙ Michele Bordi, Anna Scannapielo, Antologia della critica goldoniana e gozziana, Venezia, Marsilio, 2009∙ Giulietta Bazoli, Maria Ghelfi (a cura di), Parola, musica, scena, lettura: percorsi del teatro di Goldoni e di Gozzi, Atti del convegno (Venezia, 12-15 dicembre 2007), Venezia, Marsilio, 2009.

[4]. Bosisio explains about the date of the publication of Re Cervo: «La confusione si spiega con il ricordo sbiadito che il Gozzi dovette avere di una stagione tanto intensa della sua attività creativa quando si accinse, a distanza di parecchi anni, a raccogliere le opere per la stampa e a dirigere le intriduzioni», Carlo Gozzi, Fiabe teatrali, Testo, introduzione e commento a cura di Paolo Bosisio, Roma, Bulzoni, 1984, p. 212.

[5]. Cfr., L. Zorzi, Struttura-fortuna della fiaba gozziama. Atti del convegno internazionale di studi musicali (Siena, 30 agosto – 1 settembre 1974), La fortuna musicale e spettacolare delle Fiabe di Carlo Gozzi, «Chigiana. Rassegna annuale di studi musicologici», 11, Olschi, Firenze 1976, pp. 38-39.

[6]. Cfr., Flaminio Scala, Il teatro delle favole rappresentative, a cura di Ferruccio Marotti, Milano, Il Polifilo, 1976, 2 voll∙ Cfr., Lucio Felici, Le fiabe teatrali di Carlo Gozzi, in Tutto e fiaba, Atti del convegno internazionale di studio sulle fiabe (Parma, 1979), a cura di Giorgio Cusatelli, Milano, Emme, 1980, pp. 169-182.

[7]. Cfr., Carmelo Alberti, Carlo Gozzi e Antonio Sacchi: il drammaturgo e il suo doppio, in «Ariel», 2, 1987, pp. 65-86∙ About the life of the actor Atanasio Zannoni,  Raccolta di vari motti arguti allegorici e satirici ad uso del teatro di Atanasio Zannoni comico, Padova, Conzatti, 1789, 2 tt.

[8]. The manuscript of the complete reduction: Rappresentazione del re cervo, fiaba di non più veduti accidenti, (Biblioteca Nazioanle Marciana di Venezia, Mss. Italiani classe IX, n. 685, collocazione 12075). Cfr., Paolo Bosisio: «Gli autografi di «Re Cervo». Una fiaba scenica di Carlo Gozzi dal palcoscenico alla stampa con le varianti dedotte dagli autografi marciani» in IDEM, La parola e la scena. Studi sul teatro italiano tra Settecento e Novecento, Roma, Bulzoni, 1987, p. 57∙ Carlo Gozzi, Re Cervo, edizione critica e commentata a cura di Paolo Bosisio e Valentina Garavaglia, cit., pp. 13, 17-19, 69-71, 76-83, 87, 93, 98, 104, 261-262.

[9]. Cfr., Javier Gutiérrez Carou, L’edizione Colombani delle opere di Carlo Gozzi, in «La Bibliofilìa», CVII/1, 2005, pp. 43-68∙ Ancora sull’edizione Colombani delle opere di Carlo Gozzi: alcune precisazioni, in «La Bibliofilìa», CVII/2, 2005, pp. 171-173.

[10]. Cfr. Mirella Saulini, Indagine sulla donna in Goldoni e Gozzi, Roma, Bulzoni, 1995.

[11]. About the musical fortune of Carlo Gozzi’s plays: La fortuna musicale e spettacolare delle Fiabe di Carlo Gozzi, Atti del convegno internazionale di studi musicali (Siena, 30 agosto – 1 settembre 1974), «Chigiana», 11, 1976.


Elina Daraklitsa

Professor of History of Italian Theatre and Drama at the University of  Athens.

Director of the National Centre of Pirandello Studies for SE Europe and Cyprus.