Carlo Goldoni (1707–1793) was the Molière of Italy, the comic playwright who drew upon the traditions of the commedia dell'arte while creating tightly scripted plays. The best known of these is A Servant of Two Masters, a popular choice of modern theatre companies wanting to do a commedia-style show without actually working in improvisational mode.
When first written for the actor Antonio Sacco in 1743, the play had large sections open for improvisation. The complete script we know today came ten years later. Goldoni had come to see himself as a reformer, a writer who could add depth to the commedia's stereotypical stock characters and subtlety to the dialogue, now totally written rather than semi-improvised. In other words, he was a "commedia playwright," as oxymoronic as that may sound.
Piccolo Teatro di Milano in fact transformed Truffaldino into Arlecchino and retitled the piece Arlecchino, Servitore di Due Padroni. It's been in the Picolo repertoire since 1947 — that's ten years more than Ionesco's The Bald Soprano has been running in Paris! — and in all that time Arlecchino (photos above) has only been played by two actors, Marcello Moretti and Ferruccio Soleri.
Here's a Picolo video about Goldoni and the production:
Or you can read this introduction to the production from the Picolo program:
Staged for the first time in 1947 by Giorgio Strehler, Harlequin, Servant of Two Masters has become, over the course of the years, the Piccolo Teatro’s worldwide ambassador.
Like a phoenix rising from its ashes, this show is a challenge to the primarily ephemeral nature of theatre, without however being a museum piece.
On the contrary, the image that Giorgio Strehler has often used to define his Harlequin is that of a “living organism”, almost by definition requiring continuous evolution, change, and re-readings that, with the passing of time, have lead to the production of 11 versions which bear witness to the transformation of a custom, put to the test innovations in playwriting, and tell of the evolution of a director and a theatre. A true example of “memory in action”.
Harlequin is therefore to be considered as one of the founding productions in the history of the Piccolo, a kind of “pre-text” on which to recreate a tradition which favors the art of the actor, his virtuosity, and, as Strehler often maintained “the pleasure of acting” and “the pleasure of being”.In this sense Harlequin, in continuous evolution, expresses a kind of “auroral” phase of the theatre, understood and treasured by audiences from all around the world.
Update: Have come across a lot more material on the play. Simply go back to the future and you'll find it all at post 171.
Here is the complete text of the play in English translation.
The Servant of Two Masters
Next up are Goldoni's memoirs, which apparently are far from being 100% accurate, but then who's counting?
Memoirs of Carlo Goldoni
A Goldoni biography H.C. Chatfield-Taylor:
And finally, for the true Goldoni scholar — there's got to be one of you out there — one more book, Goldoni & the Venice of His Time by none other than Joseph Kennard, author of Masks & Marionettes, which you'll find two posts ago.
A reminder that these .pdf documents can all be enlarged, read, downloaded, searched, and printed using the handy-dandy buttons at the bottom of each Scribd window.
• You can find part one of a documentary (in Italian) about the Picolo Teatro di Milano here.
• More plays by Goldoni at the Gutenberg Project or at Google Books.
• See the sidebar for a chronological list of all complete books available on this site.
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