115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Discovering Carlo Gozzi Through His Fruits:  L’amore delle tre melarance and Fairy-tale Theater in 18th-century Italy

Viola Ardeni, University of California, Los Angeles

This presentation investigates Carlo Gozzi’s role in the diffusion of fairy tales in the European theater. Despite fairy tales’ centennial dissemination, it is thanks to Gozzi’s The Love of the Three Oranges (1761) that fairy-tale theater is born. After an overview of Gozzi’s life and fairy-tale scholarship, the presentation examines the 1761 tale, specifically focusing on food metamorphosis and symbolism, and its influence on future writers.


In this presentation, I investigate the influential role that the theater writer and intellectual Carlo Gozzi (1720 – 1806) played in the diffusion of the literary fairy tale in the Italian and European theater, specifically through his fiabe teatrali, performed for the first time in Venice between 1761 and 1765.

By the 18th century, fairy tales have been spread in their oral form for centuries and highly refined literary expressions of the same tales already exist, as Straparola’s Le piacevoli notti and Basile’s Lo cunto de li cunti confirm for the Italian context. Nonetheless, it is thanks to Gozzi’s plays that dramaturgs and librettists start to employ fairy tale tropes on stage. In particular, I focus on L’amore delle tre meralance (1761): already featured in Lo cunto de li cunti, the fairy tale tells the story of a melancholic prince on a quest for a special bride. Not only she has to be as white as milk and as red as blood, but the prince will be able to find and consequently conquer her only by looking for three pomegranates, where she resides. Food and animal metamorphosis conclude the tale, which talks about desire, frustration, fear, and envy. Gozzi, I contend, is the first example of fairy-tale revisionism in theater. By revising a notorious plot, revitalizing established characters, and remodeling fundamental passions in the light of the rising Enlightenment and yet, through the lens of Romanticism, the Venetian Count makes use of the metamorphic nature of the fairy tale as well as he enhances the most distinct aspects of theater, like performativity and corporeality.

This presentation is part of my doctoral project on fairy tale and intertextuality. I study diverse texts that, in different times and historical contexts, rewrite fairy tales. The dissertation’s main argument is about the generative power of the fairy tale as a textual mechanism. Through their capacity to undergo textual metamorphosis and to address key recurrent themes and topoi that have to do with violence, food, and metamorphosis, certain fairy tales are–I argue––seemingly never-ending, for they can constantly be reconfigured through time and in different media and thus remain relevant and “up-to-date.” In addition, I claim that there is a virtuous cycle between the constant transformation of the fairy tale and the constant presence of an audience.


The presentation will start with an overview on the methodology I use to analyze fairy tale texts and an explanation of the term fairy-tale revisionism. Then, I will introduce Gozzi and his poetics, especially in relation to Venetian theater and his fellow theater writers Carlo Goldoni and Pietro Chiari. I will dedicate the last part of the presentation to the 1761 play, with an emphasis on the food symbolism and gender dynamics. I will conclude by pointing at the two main examples of Gozzi’s influence in fairy-tale writing: Prokoviev’s opera L’amour des trois oranges (The Love of the Three Oranges, 1921) and Saguineti’s L’amore delle tre melarance. Un travestimeno fiabesco dal canovaccio di Carlo Gozzi (2000).

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