Ertz, Matilda Ann Butkas. "Risorgimento Themes in Italian Ballets of the Nineteenth Century." In Tanz in Italien, italienischer Tanz in Europa 1400-1900. Für Barbara Sparti (1932-2013). 4. Symposion für Historischen Tanz Burg Rothenfels am Main, 25.-29. Mai 2016. Tagungsband, edited by Uwe Schlottermüller, Howard Weiner and Maria Richter, 43-55. Freiburg: "fa-gisis" Musik- und Tanzedition, 2016.
During the nineteenth century, ballet productions at the top Italian theaters such as La Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice, San Carlo in Naples, stood in an intimate partnership with opera. Though autonomous as entertainments, ballets and operas shared audiences, plots, music (earlier in the century), and musical topics. Some ballets (though certainly not all) subtly reflected Risorgimento themes. In my research of nineteenth-century Italian ballet music, I have begun to uncover these relationships, often hidden. In this paper I will discuss my initial findings of Risorgimento themes in nineteenth-century ballet including ballets ranging from Viganò's reign in Milan to the mid-century ballets that traveled the peninsula. I will discuss these in relation to ballet's more well-studied counterpart—the Italian opera. Musicologists are far from agreement about the extent of the role Risorgimento played in opera, especially Verdi's operas (for example, see Roger Parker's and Philip Gossett's discussions of the chorus from Nabucco). Scholars do seem to agree that the Risorgimento influenced the operatic stage. Though not studied yet in any systematic way, ballet must also have felt that influence. But scholars should be careful to assess ballet's Risorgimento ties with operatic reception in mind, since these productions were all part of the same theatrical system. Perhaps the ballet, as a "mute" entertainment, was an ideal vehicle for covert transmission of political ideas, more easily hidden and protected from censorship. For example, Viganò's La Vestale (La Scala, 1818) and Giovanna d'Arco (La Scala, 1821) were received on political terms during Milan's turbulence early in the century. At the mid-century, Giuseppe Rota's Bianchi e negri (La Scala, 1853) adapted Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin for the stage. This ballet's celebration of the breaking of the bonds of slavery tapped into Risorgimento fervor, and was aided on at least one occasion by an insertion of revolutionary music. For certain, from a musicological standpoint, the lack of serious study of Italian ballets and their music during the nineteenth century creates a gap in our understanding of the period. For dance scholars, the understanding of these ballets and their music will deepen the narrative of Italy's dance history during national unification.