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Reviewed by:
  • Il Maggio Emiliano: Ricordi, Riflessioni,Brani, and: Folk Theatre in Emilia/Teatro Popolare inEmilia: Il Maggio drammatico
  • Luisa Del Giudice
Il Maggio Emiliano: Ricordi, Riflessioni, Brani. 2003. By JoAnn Cavallo. 93 min. DVD, PAL format.
Folk Theatre in Emilia/Teatro Popolare in Emilia: Il Maggio drammatico. 2002. By Tullia Magrini. CD-ROM format. Si.Lab Edizioni Multimediali, Florence.

The Maggio is a form of epic Italian folk theatre that involves ritual, music, dance, and dramatization. 1 It is traditional to the Emilian-Tuscan Appenine area, and in mapping the areas in which it is performed, ethnomusicologist Tullia Magrini identifies three main regions of Maggio performance: (1) Emilia, around the cities of Modena and Reggio; (2) northwestern Tuscany and the cities of Pisa and Lucca; and (3) the northerly Garfagnana-Lunigiana areas. In her recent CD-ROM on the Maggio, Magrini calls the genre "the most important living tradition of musical theater in Italy."

Folklorist Paolo Toschi viewed this tradition as a form of spring ritual dramatizing the agon between the forces of good and evil, between life and death, between summer and winter. In the Maggio, this struggle traditionally is manifested in the battles between Christian heroes and pagan foes, largely through plots and characters derived from the Charlemagne epic cycle. 2 In this regard, it follows the Italian literary tradition derived specifically from I reali di Francia by Andrea da Barberino, which is based on the classics by Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso. Maggio history, indeed, demonstrates how deeply the Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto and the Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso penetrated into mountain culture by means of popular editions sold at markets and fairs. Many features of this theatre tradition continue to mark it as essentially medieval. 3 Further, this tradition offers an excellent opportunity for studying the interaction between literary and oral traditions. The other, and better known, epic-derived Italian folk dramatic tradition is represented by the Sicilian puppet theatre (l'Opera dei Pupi). 4 Ideally, these two traditions of Italian folk drama ought to be studied together.

The two media productions reviewed here are a CD-ROM in Italian and English by ethnomusicologist Tullia Magrini 5 and an Italian-language DVD 6 by Italian Renaissance literature scholar JoAnn Cavallo. Magrini's contribution to Maggio scholarship is long-standing; for example, she served as editor of Il Maggio drammatico: una tradizione di teatro in musica (1992). As a scholar of the Italian Renaissance, Cavallo has written mainly on the literary epic (1993, 2004). Thus, while Magrini's indexed and annotated CD presents the long-pondered fruits of research on a traditional art form, Cavallo's DVD appears to be the enthusiastic inquiry of someone viewing this tradition with fresh eyes. Magrini's CD is a richly orchestrated scholarly reference work in typical, meticulous Magrini style, 7 and, thanks to the English translation, this piece of Italian scholarship is now accessible to a wide academic audience. Immediacy is the strength of Cavallo's DVD, the fruits of direct and unglossed visual fieldwork. The current style of documentary video editing tends to favor direct, unfiltered discourse with no voice-overs or narration and people speaking for themselves before the camera. In this case, this direct style is quite compelling. Cavallo encountered the Maggio recently—all performances on the DVD were staged after 2000—and she was clearly smitten by the fact that the Paladins of literary fame lived on in folk tradition. She was mentored into the Maggio network by Natascia Zambonini, who is the director of the Maggio museum at Villa Minozzo and who is interviewed on the DVD. Cavallo presents her work as a hand-crafted [End Page 370] (artigianale), single-handed labor of love, having done all the interviewing, filming, editing, and production for this DVD herself. The final product is an engaging and well-edited portrait of a community and its cherished art form.

Although these two works are quite different—especially regarding conditions of production and intended audiences—they are remarkably complementary. I suggest watching the DVD first to see more extensive and uninterrupted Maggio footage and, more important, to understand how one could love the tradition and be gripped by...


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