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Raffaele Viviani - Il teatro

Raffaele Viviani

a cura di Nunzia Acanfora

E ce ne stanno fatiche...

R. Viviani

Viviani a New York

Il 1° novembre 2004, alle ore 18.00, si è svolta la prima rappresentazione in America di Via Toledo by night di Raffaele Viviani nella traduzione di Martha King. Il Direttore artistico della messinscena è stata Jane House. L'evento è eccezionale perché è la prima volta che Viviani è stato rappresentato negli Stati Uniti. Lo spettacolo è stato patrocinato dall'Italian Cultural Institute, dal Barry S. Brook Center for Music Research and Documentation, e dal Martin E. Segal Theatre.


Programma di sala di "Via Toledo by night"

Copyright by
The Editorial Staff of the Neapolitan Theatre Website

Coordinamento: Antonia Lezza
Responsabile redazione: Nunzia Acanfora
Traduzione a cura di: Damiano Camarda
Revisione: Barbara Dawes
Correzione bozze: Annalisa Pontis

University of Salerno
Faculty of Foreign Literature and Languages
Department of Literature and the Performing Arts
Chair of Italian Drama

Programma di Sala
Via Toledo by Night
A comedy in one act by Raffaele Viviani
dramaturgy and texts of original songs: Raffaele Viviani
translated by Martha King
director: Jane House
musical director/Piano: Martin Hennessy
concertina: Allan Atlas; bass: Beau Bothwell
assistant director: Giuseppe Solinas
November 1st, 2004 - Baisley Powell Elebash Recital Hall


Viviani in New York

This past July, on one of those beautiful Neapolitan July days, I received a letter from the United States addressed to me at my home in Naples. It was from Ms. Jane House who was kindly letting me know that Raffaele Viviani's music had touched her, that she was coming to Naples, and would I, could I, meet with her. Well, naturally I wanted to meet with her, and the meeting took place at my home. We listened to recordings, looked at photographs, talked about the author, and I extended to her my very best wishes for the evening that she was organizing.
Viviani traveled throughout Latin America, but never went to the United States, so we could consider this staged reading of Via Toledo his first trip there. This fact excited Jane House, and of course it has excited his heirs even more: above all, my mother, Viviani's daughter, Luciana.
As regards the success of Viviani as an author and knowledge about his work abroad, it should be noted that any critical discourse cannot neglect the fact that Viviani died in 1950, at the age of 62, and that during his last years he was very sick and absent from the stage. Today it would be said that he died at the height of his artistic maturity. And, unlike many Neopolitan artists in the post-war period to whom film and then television proved useful, he was denied the possibility of any revival of interest in his work through those media. However, by 1937, Viviani was already encountering enormous difficulties due to the fascist regime's legal and financial restrictions on dialect theatre, which was considered anti-unification and marginal, but most of all because his poetic vision, which was inspired by the lives of the lower classes, was rejected by the social clique allied to the party in power under fascism, the clique, let's be clear, that found false comfort and security in the fascist regime's frivolous cinematic output.
As noted above, the years immediately after the war were not years of revitalization for Viviani, because he was slowed down by the illness that first isolated him and then killed him. When he had the energy, he dragged himself around to small minor theatres. It was perhaps due to a quirk of fate that his final appearance on the stage was in a matinee performance at Teatro Diana in a remounting of Vicolo, the very first one act he wrote, produced, and performed in with his newly formed company in 1918. The last years of his life were spent attempting to found the Repertory Theatre of Naples, a theatre that would establish traditions and make innovations, a training ground wherein to exercise his skill and engage new generations of actors in rigorous work. The authorities of the period did not support this project.
That was the situation in 1950, the year of his death: he was an actor who had not performed for years and an author who had not been published. On behalf of the actor, there was nothing that could be done; he died before the advent of television, what few films he appeared in had been made long since; of these few, many were lost during the war. I am thinking particularly of L'ultimo scugnizzo, directed by Righelli, which has never been found. There remains only Tavola dei poveri, directed by Blasetti. Viviani was to live on like the great actors of the nineteenth century, as memories handed down by those who had the good fortune of being able to see them perform on stage.
But he was not forgotten by actors; indeed almost immediately after his death, through the efforts of Nino Taranto and Vittorio Viviani, theatres throughout Italy began to produce his plays. As of today Viviani is one of the most widely performed playwrights in Italy; the skill of many actors and directors has been tested in Viviani's plays-the first that come to mind are Buazzelli, Patroni Griffi, De Simone, Millo, Mascia, Sportelli, Pupella Maggio, Dolores Palumbo, D'Alessio, i Di Napoli, Luisa Conte, Calenda, Rigillo, Russo and most recently the productions of Servillo, Taiuti, D'Angelo, Carpentieri, and Martone.
But it was important to publish his theatrical works so that the critics, who can sometimes be careless, could take the right measure of him as author. One of his old actors, Ettore Novi, took it upon himself to pay for the costs of printing his plays, and two volumes were published by Ilte in 1957. Therefore, it was a private individual who, with the crucial editorial assistance of Vito Pandolfi, took on the burdensome task of first publishing Viviani's plays. These two volumes temporarily filled the lacuna in published texts, but they were quickly sold, and the death of Ettore Novi impeded the publication of new editions.
So the theatre of Viviani went underground again, and we, his heirs, felt the weight of responsibility for that situation. Einaudi, after having assured us of their interest in republishing the plays, withdrew from the project. (Now there's a story to be told.) Our dealings with Feltrinelli proved equally fruitless.
Finally, it was through the help of the Comune of Castellammare, where Viviani had the good fortune to be born, and the courage of the publisher Mario Guida-I still remember our first meeting in the offices of Guida Editori, the list of plays, the page count, and all those separate sheets of music-that six volumes of Viviani's work were published. The job of editing was first entrusted to Davico Bonino and then to Antonia Lezza and Pasquale Scialò. The publication of these volumes was a critically important step in making Viviani's work more widely known and appreciated. Thanks to these volumes, the theatre of Viviani has experienced a renewal, and there have been numerous and at times priceless productions of his plays; but above all these volumes have given the younger generations, who never saw him on stage, the opportunity of widening their knowledge of this author.
Once Viviani's work for the theatre had been published, there remained yet another important step that his heirs had to take-handing over to the State and to scholars all the documents and iconography belonging to his estate: the complete collection of manuscripts with author's notes and afterthoughts written on them; the musical scores; the collection of stage photographs from the variety theatre period beginning in 1905 to the years of his last plays in the 1940s; hundreds of photographs which, besides documenting Viviani's artistic career, are priceless historical examples of the art of theatrical photography in the first half of the twentieth century, and are also the only visual documentation of an author who, for the most part, worked before the advent of film and television; then there are the posters, playbills, leaflets, and other materials used to spread the word about theatrical activities; and the works of painters and sculptors who loved having Viviani sit for them, and which offer proof of his deep ties to the Neapolitan art world. This was a considerable inheritance and a good home was sought for a long time.
Today I can say that this task, too, has been completed. The entire Viviani estate is now the patrimony of the State, and it has been divided between two worthy centers: the Biblioteca Lucchesi Palli, which is fast becoming an important depository for documents memorializing the great theatrical tradition of Naples, and the Museo di San Martino, which, with the reopening of the theatre section, has reconnected the threads that lead from the San Carlino and Petito to the Cammarano family, Eduardo Scarpetta, and finally Raffaele Viviani.
The reading of Via Toledo di Notte or Via Toledo by Night this evening is another stop on the journey towards spreading knowledge about, and appreciation for, an author who, like the classic authors, was an exemplary witness of his time and his city. And we are grateful to Jane House and thank her for instigating this evening.

Giuliano Longone


The sonorous scenery

The music of this work symbolically recalls the sonorous scenery of Via Toledo, one of the most emblematic places for social life in Naples in the early twentieth century: a fashionable parade for viveurs and elegant women and, at the same time, a gallery of precarious and derelict figures.
Starting from his direct knowledge of this context, Viviani carries out a personal work of musical theatre set in the night shadows of Via Toledo and its adjacent alleys, from which he draws, in his distinctive way, the voices, the verbal cadences and the singing of its frequent visitors. The result is a variegated sound kaleidoscope that puts together different registers, ranging from those related to urban folklore, with the voices of pedlars and people singing out, to the cultured ones, with the inclusion of brief operetta choruses, and moving among different imported musical forms, both European and Anglo-American.
So, with diversified emotional undertones, the musical narration of these parallel lives unfolds. Sometimes it is sung in waltz time; sometimes it is played out in articulated melologues with a sour-sweet tone and to the rhythm of the cake-walk; sometimes it is performed with comic sketches, and then switches to very old lullabies.

Pasquale Scialò


Biography of Viviani

An eclectic artist (actor, playwright, director, poet and musician), Raffaele Viviani is one of the most important authors in twentieth century Italian theatre.
He was born in Castellammare di Stabia on January 10, 1888. His father, a theatre costumer, ran some small businesses, first in Castellammare di Stabia, then in Naples. He made his debut on the stage at the age of four and a half, wearing the tailcoat of a marionette to substitute a sick comedian, Gennaro Trengi; at the age of six he acted in a play, Masaniello; at the age of seven he performed numbers of his own, singing by himself or in duet with his sister Luisella. The long-lasting illness of their father (who died in 1900) compelled them to work for a living. He began his career in the circus, in bathing establishments and in smaller theatres. He won acclaim in the world of variety shows, offering an extraordinary and original interpretation of the comic sketch 'O scugnizzo (The Urchin), in which his acrobatic and mimic skills combined with a bitter realism, but was soaked with humor. After 'O scugnizzo, he created and performed a series of numbers for variety shows, in which, for the first time, verse and music had a complementary role and were equally important expressive codes. In 1917, after the decree of the Italian Govern enacting the closure of the variety theatres, Viviani founded a company of his own and made his debut at the Teatro Umberto in Naples with the one-act play 'O vico (The Alley). With this text, Viviani began his activity as a fertile and original playwright: he was to write over seventy plays, including original plays, adaptations, collaborations and translations.
Raffaele Viviani's plays are choral and social; a theatre of protest where the urban underclass (prostitutes, urchins, gypsies, blind persons, bricklayers, fishermen, circus actors), who had been completely ignored by previous playwrights, becomes the protagonist. In his theatre, there is a real revolution at a textual level; even minor characters have their own peculiarities; as for the stylistic and formal aspect, in his texts verse prose and music are harmonically blended.
The themes of his plays are: poverty, alienation, emigration, unemployment and social conflict. The protagonist of many of Viviani's plays is Naples, with its alleys, its squares, its feasts and the immense humanity populating this city.
A distinguishing aspect of Viviani's works is surely his use of dialect, which is strong, harsh, slangy, full of archaic expressions and idioms which not very frequent in twentieth century Neapolitan language. For this reason the dialect of Viviani is original, authentic and sonorous.


Bibliographic guide

Comprehensive studies
For the biography and a general outline of Raffaele Viviani cf. R. MINERVINI, Viviani un uomo una città, Naples: Bideri, 1950; G. TREVISANI, Raffaele Viviani, Bologna: Cappelli, 1961; V. VIVIANI, Raffaele Viviani, in Storia del teatro napoletano, Naples: Guida editori, 1992, pp. 721-786; A. LEZZA - P. SCIALÒ, Viviani. L'autore, l'interprete, il cantastorie urbano, Naples: Colonnese Editore, 2000; M. ANDRIA (editor), Viviani, Catalogo della Mostra Viviani: immagini di scena, Naples: Tullio Pironti editore, 2001; A. LEZZA - P. SCIALÒ (editors), Viviani. Teatro, poesia e musica, Naples: CUEN, 2003.

Special contributions
For special contributions and information on Raffaele Viviani's life, works and poetic, cf.: F. ANGELINI, Il teatro del Novecento. Dal grottesco a Dario Fo, in Letteratura italiana. Il Novecento, Bari: Laterza, 1976, Vol. IX, tomo I, pp. 471-482; A. M. RAO, Raffaele Viviani o della miseria coatta, Florence: Antonio Lalli, 1981; P. PUPPA, Itinerari nella drammaturgia del Novecento, in Storia della letteratura italiana. Il Novecento, edited by Emilio Cecchi and Natalino Sapegno, Milan: Garzanti, 1987, tomo II, pp. 783-793; S. DE MATTEIS, Senza famiglia: storie di vicolo, in Lo specchio della vita. Napoli: antropologia della città del teatro, Bologna: Il Mulino, 1991, pp. 179-198; A. LEZZA, Tra letteratura e teatro dell'emigrazione: Viviani "sociologo" di Napoli, in Il Meridione nella letteratura ed emigrazione, edited by Sebastiano Martelli and Mario B. Mignone, "Forum Italicum", 1-2, Spring-Fall 1993, pp. 83-101; F. TAVIANI, Raffaele Viviani inventa un teatro, in Uomini di scena, uomini di libro, Bologna: Il Mulino, 1995, pp. 106-123; A. LEZZA, Il teatro di Viviani: lingua, dialetto, gergo, in Lingua e dialetto nella tradizione letteraria italiana, Rome: Salerno Editrice, 1996, pp. 537-551; A. LEZZA, Teatro dell'emigrazione. Indagini e contributi, in Il sogno italo-americano, edited by Sebastiano Martelli, Naples: CUEN, 1998, pp. 183-205.

Drama edition
The first edition of Viviani's drama came out in 1957, edited by Lucio Ridenti: Trentaquattro commedie scelte da tutto il teatro di Raffaele Viviani, introduced by Eligio Possenti and an essay "La commedia umana di Napoli" by Vito Pandolfi, Turin: ILTE, 1957, 2 voll. The complete edition of Viviani's plays, with music, came out in 1987-'94: Teatro, edited by Guido Davico Bonino, Antonia Lezza, Pasquale Scialò, Naples: Guida editori, 1987-1991, 5 voll; vol. VI, edited by Antonia Lezza and Pasquale Scialò, introduced by Goffredo Fofi, Naples: Guida editori, 1994.


Toledo di notte (Toledo by Night)

Toledo di notte (Toledo by Night), former title 'A notte (The Night), is, among the texts of Viviani's early years, as Giulio Trevisani writes, the most intense and dramatically picturesque play.
The protagonist of this one-act play is the street, the popular Via Toledo, which at night fills with different characters, all very striking: the old news vendor (Scarrafone or Cockroach), the cooked meat vendor (Cientepelle or Cowbelly,), the itinerant coffee vendor (Leopoldo Colletta), the young idler who lives by his wits (Furmella or Goldbrick) and, then, the pizza maker and the rags vendor, who are the key characters in this famous work. Furthermore, there is Rusella, who makes an honest living: she sells couch grass to coachmen, and is happy since, in May, she will finally marry her beloved Pasqualino. Then, the prostitutes Margherita and Ines; the latter is the famous "Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere", undoubtedly the most famous and intense female character in Viviani's works, embodying the tragedy of alienation and poverty. There are also Tummasino and Filiberto, the two bullies (they both have a claim on the same woman, Ines) who, after a quarrel with paradoxical tones, seem to be the masters of the street, until the watchmen come. Tummasino manages to get away, while Filiberto is arrested.
Toledo di notte made its debuts on October 9, 1918, at the Teatro Umberto in Naples, with great success. As was frequently the case, Viviani played four roles - the pizza maker, the soap vendor, Filiberto Esposito, the coachman - all to remarkable effect. The character of Filiberto Esposito is taken from his famous melologue: 'O delinquente, while the other characters are pre-existing figures, taken from several Variety numbers.
A fitting example of Viviani's choral theatre, Toledo di notte offers a picture of Neapolitan society in the early post-war period, through a style and a dramaturgy that break with the traditional realist approach to the European experience. The modernity and originality of Viviani's theatre is to be found in this: in Toledo di notte Viviani brings together all the characters which had appeared separately on the scene since 1908, producing one dense, rigorous, autonomous and new theatrical text, the result and synthesis of his long experience in the variety shows. Particularly interesting in Toledo di notte is, as in all of Viviani's plays, the alternation of prose, verse and music. The original element is the very presence and role of music: it is no longer used according to the technique of the sceneggiata, but is blended with the text, having an equal and equally expressive function.
The title of the comedy, expressly toponymical, originates from the famous Via Toledo, one of the most important streets in the centre of Naples. In his text, Viviani describes, in a very detailed way, the places where the story unfolds at night: Via Toledo, opened by the Spanish viceroy after whom it was named, an important commercial, cultural and social centre in the city; Vico Berio; Ponte di Tappia, an important market with novelties and gastronomic specialties; the Quartieri, so called because they were the centre of the Spanish quarters in the seventeenth century; Via Corsea, an ancient street in old Naples, a vivid centre of life and commerce for the lower classes; and Largo delle Baracche, which is the main square of the Quartieri, a place full of prostitutes and gangsters.
As for the Neapolitan dialect, Toledo di notte is a very interesting text, thanks to the speech idiosyncracy of each character. Besides, the use of diminutives and ancient dialect expressions, almost forgotten nowadays, is frequent. On April 13, 1967, in the show Napoli notte e giorno (Naples Night and Day), at the Teatro Stabile of Rome, Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, director and playwright, presented the two one-act plays: Tuledo di notte (Tuledo by Night) and La musica dei ciechi (The Music of the Blind), another important work by Viviani. The show was received with enthusiasm by the public and was praised by the critics both for its ensemble effect and for its fascinating staging. The extraordinary cast starred: Franco Sportelli, Rosita Pisano, Pupella Maggio, the young Franco Acampora, Angela Pagano, Antonio Casagrande, Corrado Annicelli, Alberto Carloni, Mariano Rigillo, Mario Frera and Angela Luce, unforgettable in the role of Ines. This production was taken on a long tour and in 1968 was performed in London at the Aldwych Theatre: even on this occasion, the result was fully positive. A recording of the show Naples Night and Day with the direction of Giuseppe Patroni Griffi, was made by the RAI television (Radiotelevisioneitaliana).
Toledo di notte has been translated into American by Martha King (Via Toledo by Night, translated by Martha King, in 20th Century Italian Drama: the first 50 years, edited by Jane House and Antonio Attisani, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995). Evidently, this shows the interest for the work of Viviani at an international level.

Editions of the work

  • Trentaquattro commedie scelte da tutto il teatro di Raffaele Viviani, edited by Lucio Ridenti, introduced by Eligio Possenti and an essay "La commedia umana di Napoli" by Vito Pandolfi, Turin: ILTE, 1957, Vol. I
  • Tuledo 'e notte, 'O fatto 'e cronaca, La musica dei ciechi, in Teatro napoletano, edited by Giulio Trevisani, Bologna: Guanda, 1957
  • Teatro, edited by Guido Davico Bonino, Antonia Lezza and Pasquale Scialò, Naples: Guida editori, 1987, Vol. I
  • I capolavori, edited by Antonia Lezza, introduced by Roberto De Simone, with musical note by Pasquale Scialò, Naples: Guida editori, 1992
  • Via Toledo by Night, translated by Martha King, in 20th Century Italian Drama: the first 50 years, edited by Jane House and Antonio Attisani, New York: Columbia University Press, 1995


  • Barsotti, Anna, Da 'O vico a 'O buvero 'e Sant'Antonio, "Ariel", 3, 1988, pp. 99-120
  • Calendoli, Giovanni, Napoli notte e giorno, "Il Dramma", 368, 1967, pp. 92-97
  • Grassi, Ernesto, "Scheda introduttiva" a Toledo di notte, in R. Viviani, Trentaquattro commedie scelte da tutto il teatro di Raffaele Viviani, edited by Lucio Ridenti, introduced by Eligio Possenti and an essay "La commedia umana di Napoli" by Vito Pandolfi, Turin: ILTE, 1957, Vol. I
  • Lezza, Antonia, "Nota introduttiva" a Toledo di notte, in R. Viviani, Teatro, edited by Guido Davico Bonino, Antonia Lezza and Pasquale Scialò, Naples: Guida editori, 1987, Vol. I
  • Lezza, Antonia - Scialò, Pasquale, Viviani. L'autore, l'interprete, il cantastorie urbano, Naples: Colonnese Editore, 2000
  • Ricci, Paolo, Ritorno a Viviani, Rome: Editori Riuniti, 1979
  • Palermo, Antonio, Da Mastriani a Viviani. Per una storia della letteratura a Napoli fra Otto e Novecento, Naples: Liguori, 1974
  • Trevisani, Giulio, Raffaele Viviani, Bologna: Cappelli, 1961



The interpreters of "Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere"

Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere is an unusual work concerning its text, its main character and its interpreters.
The text originated as a number for variety shows in 1912, and was based on the French music Valse brune (a French folk song dealing with gangsterism, transcribed in 1909 by George Krier), with only the original text by Viviani. Only afterwards did the Neapolitan playwright write the music as well, when the piece had already been performed widely, before including it at a crucial point, in 1918, in the one-act play Via Toledo di Notte. This was when Bammenella became a key character with a set of theatrical characterizations. Highly emblematic are the stage directions concerning the entrance of this character:
(INES, called BAMBINELLA, enters. She is no longer young, but her glitzy elegance and the air of superiority with which she shows off make this woman a still attractive street walker.)
The first interpreter of Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere was Luisella Viviani, the playwright's sister and leading lady of Viviani's Company; thanks to her extraordinary expressive force and her vibrant humanity, Luisella offered an inimitable interpretation of Bammenella. Another famous interpreter was Elvira Donnarumma, one of the most authentic singers of the old Italian variety shows. Other unforgettable interpretations of this famous night character were: Nina Landi, Marina Pagano, Rosalia Maggio and Angela Luce, who has recently performed this piece in a recital at the Teatro Augusteo of Naples, accompanied on the sax by Marco Zurzolo.
There are also some blues and jazz versions of Bammenella, performed by James Senese and Mary Pia De Vito.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, the street musician Pietro Mazzone produced a male adaptation of this piece: So' Bambeniello d' 'o vico Pulito. Here, the protagonist is, more conventionally, a male character: the environment of gangsterism is rendered through the stereotype of the pimp, and Bammenella is just a background character.
The male version of Bambeniello, on the theme of Valse brune, was drawn on by the Neapolitan playwright Enzo Moscato and published in the CD Cantà (a record taken from the theatrical performance presented at the Venice Biennial Exhibition of 1999), with plan, formulations and musical direction by Pasquale Scialò.


Discography of "Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere"

This discography includes the musical editions of Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere:

  • Achille MILLO (editor), Poesie e canti, from the show Io, Raffaele Viviani, 1970
  • Enrico FIORE (editor), Canto a Viviani, La Platea Record, 1988
  • Maria Pia DE VITO, Fore Paese, Polosud, 1996
  • Enzo MOSCATO, Cantà, Il Manifesto, 1999
  • Angela LUCE, I colori della mia vita, Polo Sud, 2004
  • AA.VV., Viva Napoli, Phonotype Record, Vol. VI, 1994



Bammenella 'e copp' 'e Quartiere

The name's Bambinella
I'm very well known in this part of town
dancing all night to the hurdy-gurdy tunes
in the back streets of Napoli.

And if patrols of police should come by
I turn on my heels and away I fly!
If they should catch me and bring me in
It's just a formality.

I might start to flirt
and then I might lift up my skirt,
I can do just as I please
I have all the cops on their knees.

They turn into boys,
and they think of me as a toy,
and just as soon as they have me,
they have to let me go!

by Raffaele Viviani
translated by Martha King