1969: Ariosto and the common epic of Sanguineti and Ronconi


The adventure of Orlando furioso adapted by Edoardo Sanguineti and directed by Luca Ronconi began in Spoleto on July 4th 1969 and ended in New York in November 1970. This production which transfigured all the traditional devices of theatre was unique and unforgettable. And also invisible, after the airing of the television version that remained embedded in the collective imagination, but which, though equally effective, was in many ways a betrayal.

“The concept that guided our work: to make a performance that has no unity, that is not unified by the individual spectator, that cannot be reconstructed logically. (…) This always hinges on the idea that there is not just one audience, but that each person attending is invested with a personal potential for interpretation and understanding” – LUCA RONCONI

“Assuming that it works, this could be the first time that the myth of audience participation comes true; in the sense of giving the audience not so much the possibility of a choice that in the end is probably pre-conceived or pre-established, but rather the motivation for an absolutely personal and responsible choice: by this I mean not an involvement by representative democracy (for which the audience has already been selected) but a real grassroots assembly-type of participation arising from reasons that each person develops and recognizes within himself” – EDOARDO SANGUINETI

Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, di Edoardo Sanguineti e Luca Ronconi, 1969. Foto di Lionello Fabbri. Courtesy Archivio Fondazione Festival dei 2 mondi

And “it” worked, egregiously. Orlando furioso, adapted by Edoardo Sanguineti and directed by Luca Ronconi opened in Spoleto on July 4th, 1969. In the deconsecrated church of San Nicolò, the mise-en-scène inaugurated a new way of understanding the use of theatrical devices in their relationship with the literature, and with the public: “structured in blocks of sequences acted simultaneously over the entire surface used for the performance, in a spatial continuum that indistinctly included both audience and actors”.1 Franco Quadri at that time defined it as “a performance-happening that invaded churches and town squares and became one of the symbols of the revolution in theatre that took place during those years”;2 and in retrospect, as an “extremely important event for the director who invented a prototype of performance” that would remain a personal benchmark for his entire life.3 The task of “abridging” the text, which Sanguineti immediately interpreted as a “masquerade”, the archetype of what would become “disguise” in his later practice of theatre, was reduced to “abridging and scriptwriting” for the 1975 television version he co-authored with the director Ronconi, when five black and white episodes were aired on Rai television in prime time, on Sunday. The televised play (like the film version, immediately aborted, which began in 1971 and was released in theatres in 1974), quickly abandoned the original poetic project for the theatre, and indeed betrayed and liquidated it, leaving a different, though no less important and powerful visual legacy to our collective memory. That is why it is important now to distinguish and update the innovative power of that important debut, and the life it lived on stages around the world.

Remondi & Caporossi, Orlando Furioso, 1969. Foto di Lionello Fabbri. Courtesy Archivio Fondazione Festival dei 2 mondi

Its genesis is in fact more complex than what has been documented so far. Behind it were undoubtedly the interdisciplinary experiences of Gruppo ’63, and the Italian neo-avantgarde movements in which Sanguineti was anything but a secondary figure. However the network that needs to be reconfigured more directly concerned the questions of form, at least at the beginning. Sanguineti had collaborated with Luciano Berio in 1963 on Passaggio,4 a musical “mise-en-scène” in which the “situations, stations” of the text “did not constitute a compact story, [but] were distinct episodes”, as Sanguineti himself remembered: “There was a clear influence of Brecht and an effect of alienation achieved by the fragmentation of the narration”.5 Based on Ariosto’s narrative machine, Sanguineti’s dramaturgical decisions effectively made the event, which came to life in Spoleto, impossible to appropriate. Starting with an effect of disorientation (like a labyrinth) of something familiar (a classic text taught in school) achieved by means of open editing (neither linear nor unitary, as Sanguineti had already experimented with in his second novel, Il giuoco dell’oca published in 1967, which Luca Ronconi adopted as his model). This was an ecological model for understanding the relationship with the classics of literature and for carrying their validity into the present time. (It is no coincidence that in that very same year, Sanguineti edited a heterodox anthology for Einaudi on twentieth-century Italian poetry, Poesia italiana del Novecento, in which for the first time, a disproportionate amount of space was dedicated to Gian Pietro Lucini, a poet who embraced the anarchy of forms and the possibility of cultural and ideological experimentation suffocated by Fascism).

Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, di Edoardo Sanguineti e Luca Ronconi, 1969. Foto di Lionello Fabbri. Courtesy Archivio Fondazione Festival dei 2 mondi

Furthermore, in Sanguineti’s “abridgment” of the text in Orlando, the choice of switching from a perfective tense to the use of a continuing present tense, speaks directly to placing the action in common, or better yet restores its dynamic and ever-present, ongoing nature, the process of placing-in-common, as a behavioural practice that can constitute a bond between those who intend to be part of it, and those who recognize it as such. Elio Pagliarani, for example, in his important review of the premiere in Spoleto on the pages of Avanti in 1969, asserted the importance of this “we”, which constrains the spectator who must conquer his own space: “and we spectators must be very careful not to get our feet crushed under the wheels of the floats. And we spectators must conquer our own space at every turn: and this is indeed a non-secondary meaning of the production”.6

Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, di Edoardo Sanguineti e Luca Ronconi, 1969. Foto di Lionello Fabbri. Courtesy Archivio Fondazione Festival dei 2 mondi

Similarly, the panels and drawings by Uberto Bertacca that define the space of the set and all the machinerie may be reinterpreted as the maps of an experience of sharing: an emotional geography that highlights informal economies and fleeting systems of relationships, in the visual configuration, more or less shared trajectories, and meticulous spatial understandings, ways of illustrating the scene and the motion that elude other strategies of analysis.

Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, di Edoardo Sanguineti e Luca Ronconi, 1969. Foto di Lionello Fabbri. Courtesy Archivio Fondazione Festival dei 2 mondi

The European research project Incommon will document, among other things, the Orlando event in New York, beginning on November 4th 1970, the last leg of this production’s journey. Thanks to Dick Feldman, who was the president of the Orlando Theatrical Company Inc., and who was responsible for producing the event, there is some largely unpublished documentation at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts indicating that the original plans called for Orlando to be staged at Pier 86 in the Chelsea area, as part of Mayor Lindsay’s plans to bring cultural activities to the soon-to-be-abandoned riverfront; but picketing from the International Longshoremen’s Association, who preferred the renewal of shipping on the piers, caused the Orlando event to be moved to Bryant Park (between 5th and 6th Streets, in the centre of Manhattan), where it was held under a bubble tent built for the occasion: these were two opposite ideas of common and boundaries for what could or could not be appropriated, and at least theoretically, neutralized in terms of the cultural revolution. “As the initial launch failed, the production never caught on with US audiences”,7 and would never be produced again. The New York run is thus emblematic of the arduous ambiguity of an idea that is neither theatre nor theatre happening, but an event that could be community: an event – to use Jean-Luc Nancy’s formula – capable of “being-with”.

I would like to thank Franco Vazzoler and Erminio Risso for the dialogue engaged with them, and Elisa Ragni and Roberta Carlotto from the Centro Teatrale Santacristina for the precious material they have provided.

Lodovico Ariosto, Orlando Furioso, di Edoardo Sanguineti e Luca Ronconi, 1969. Locandina del debutto spoletino. Courtesy Archivio Luca Ronconi

Orlando furioso [version for the theatre 1969by Lodovico Ariosto
adapted by Edoardo Sanguineti
directed by Luca Ronconi
set design Uberto Bertacca
costumes Elena Mannini
music Salvatore Sciarrino
Characters – Actors:
Bradamante – Edmonda Aldini
Isabella – Dorotea Aslanidis
Arbante, Guidon Selvaggio, Shepherd, Indignation – Rodolfo Baldini
Bireno, Agramante – Marco Bereneck
Messenger Sprite, Cimosco’s henchman, Orrilo, Saracen Knight, Sprite – Nino Bignamini
Cimosco’s henchman, Dardinello, the Greek – Paolo Bonetti
Innkeeper, People of Cairo, Saracen soldier, Fausto Latini – Emilio Bonucci
Alcina, Gabrina, Argia’s nanny – Liù Bosisio
Pirabello, the Lord of the goblet – Pierangelo Civera
Zerbino – Enzo Consoli
The young lady of Ebuda, Parisian, Wife of Iocondo – Ambra Danon
Astolfo – Duilio Del Prete
Gradasso’s dwarf, Doralice’s dwarf, Saracen dwarf, Regiana’s dwarf – Luca Demata
Ruggiero – Luigi Diberti
Grifone, Saracen soldier – Alberto Donatelli
Rinaldo – Antonio Fattorini
Orlando – Massimo Foschi
Gradasso, Caligorante, Adonio – Marco Galletti
Ferraú, Cimosco Frisian King, Mandricardo – Cesare Gelli
Sorcerer Atlante, Charlemagne, Judge Anselmo– Graziano Giusti
Marfisa – Maria Grazia Grassini
Thief, Saracen soldier, Hermit – Pino Manzari
Medoro – Marzio Margine
Olimpia, Fiordispina – Mariangela Melato
Oberto, Parigino, Ricciardetto – Maurizio Merli
Citizen of Ebuda, Aquilante, Saracen soldier, Anselmo’s servant – Aldo Miranda
Sacripante, Rodomonte – Carlo Montagna
Pirate of Ebuda, Saracen soldier, Iocondo – Sergio Nicolai
Cimosco’s daughter, Doralice, Fiammetta – Daria Nicolodi
Murderous woman, Violante – Anna Nicora
Angelica – Ottavia Piccolo
Son of the Innkeeper, People of Cairo, Saracen soldier, Iocondo’s page boy – Michele Placido
Horseman messenger, Bewitched shepherd, People of Cairo, Parisian, Astrologer – Giancarlo Prati
Old Dutchman in a boat, Friar in Paris, Malagigi – Armando Pugliese
Hermit, Pirate of Ebuda, Dirty Ethiopian – Aldo Puglisi
Murderous Queen, Parisian, Argia – Anna Rossini
Fairy Melissa, Snakewoman – Rosabianca Scerrino
Young Lady in Pinabello, Parisian, Lady of the goblet – Paola Tanzani
Cimosco’s henchman, Doralice’s Captain, Cloridano, Astolfo King of the Longobards – Gabriele Tozzi
Murderous woman, Longobard Queen – Renata Zamengo

Most significant substitutions during the 1970 tour abroad: Adriana Asti (Olimpia), Piero Baldini, Gianfranco Barra (Pinabello), Italo Bellini, Elettra Bisetti (Doralice), Gaetano Campisi, Pina Cei (Melissa), Giorgio Favretto, Spiros Fokas (Ruggiero), Paola Gassman (Isabella), Giorgio Maich, Paolo Malko, Loredana Martinez, Anna Nogara (Bradamante), Enrico Ostermann (Atlante, Charlemagne), Cecilia Polizzi, Luca Ronconi (Ruggiero), Barbara Valmorin (Alcina, Bradamante)

During the performances of the play in Paris,  the part of Angelica was played by Dorotea Aslanidis, Astolfo by Antonio Fattorini and Rinaldo by Sergio Nicolai. In the American performances, the part of Orlando was played by Carlo Montagna, that of Angelica by Paola Tanziani.

Production: Cooperativa Teatro Libero
Premiere Church of San Niccolò (Festival of the Two Worlds), Spoleto (Pg) 4 July 1969
Significant performances Bologna, Edinburgh, Berlin, Belgrade, Paris, Amsterdam and New York.