- Domesticating Ibsen for Italy: Enrico and Icilio Polese’s Ibsen Campaign by Giuliano D’Amico
Aspiring to recount the hard-won imposition of Ibsen’s drama upon Italian theatrical audiences and the “domesticating” translation of the Norwegian author’s texts for this purpose, Giuliano D’Amico’s Domesticating Ibsen for Italy: Enrico and Icilio Polese’s Ibsen Campaign also achieves two other important tasks: it provides a history of Ibsen’s fortunes in Italy from the mid-1880s through the 1910s and highlights, as the best theater history does, the many ways in which the art and [End Page 230] business of performance always already intertwine. The story D’Amico tells is a complex and often amusing one, for the father-son team behind the campaign, Icilio and Enrico Polese Santarnecci, were “two of the most powerful, hated, and feared individuals in the Italian theatre community,” whose business ethics, taste, and talent were continuously called into question (3). D’Amico begins with two chapters that introduce the dastardly duo and orient the reader to Italian stage practice of the period and then follows with five more that explore Ibsen in Italy. With a focus on the translation practices of Enrico (the son) and his co-translator Paolo Rindler, D’Amico provides an extensively researched study that makes a welcome contribution to Ibsen scholarship.
Most satisfying about this book’s approach is the way it considers general sociocultural circumstances, artistic-literary context, and the business of theatrical production together as one organic whole. To a certain extent, this was unavoidable, as Polese father and son had their hands in various honey pots: they owned and operated a theatrical agency, L’arte drammatica, which marketed Ibsen’s plays; produced a journal of the same name that publicized and reviewed them; and, of course, Enrico translated the texts with Rindler. These men could not have avoided practical considerations while translating any more than D’Amico could have ignored them as he analyzed their work. The book partially concerns itself with “marketing operation,” then, as “the Poleses had a personal interest in making the plays more suitable for the market” (4). And, indeed, D’Amico convincingly argues that the men viewed the texts “primarily as market goods from which they could gain returns” and accordingly transformed the iconoclast Ibsen’s plays into “average” products that would appeal to conventional bourgeois audiences (105). At the same time, the author is careful to note instances in which modifications were made to make the plays producible under the Italian companies’ role system—making characters conform to the generic types in which actors and actresses specialized—and also dedicates attention to how these companies approached new texts, how the Poleses positioned them through articles, ads, and reviews, and how Ibsen was finally received. In other words, D’Amico rightly recognizes that the texts were commodities at least as much as they are artistic artifacts, with the result that his study is not just one of translation practices or of comparative drama but of global theater history.
The assessment of the Ibsen campaign is meticulously detailed. D’Amico first discusses the “prehistory” of Ibsen in Italy—the period before the Poleses strove to launch him, which included the surprisingly non-scandalous premier of A Doll’s House in 1889—and then moves on to the campaign, divided into three phases. The first (1892) saw The Wild Duck essentially fail; in the second Ibsen gained ground with Ghosts only to lose some with Hedda Gabler and then finally establish himself as a force to be reckoned with thanks to a perceived [End Page 231] greater verisimilitude in The Pillars of Society; and in the third and final phase (1893–94), the backlash began, in response to The Master Builder, Rosmersholm, and The Lady from the Sea, although star actor Ermete Zacconi, who had stunned audiences as Oswald in that triumphant Ghosts, then carried An Enemy of the People to success. (D’Amico also gives a chapter-long nod...