Commedia Dell’Awesome

Plans, Theatrical Process

So, we just did some commedia dell’ arte research in class today, and I’m on another inspiration trip.  As in, I think I can use some of this for Gondoliers. For those not in the know, I’m going to be directing Sinfonicron Light Opera‘s show this winter, and I’m really looking forward to finding exciting ways of connecting with my cast.  Commedia seems like an excellent model for a lot of character work.

Let’s look at the archetypes and the cast:


  • Pantalone – an old man with money whose use of Arlecchino gets him into trouble. often fondles his bag of coins, and often beats his servants with a slapstick.
  • Dottore – the old man’s best friend/ rival who is known for long speeches with comical effect.
  • Capitano – a braggart with a huge upward tilting nose and a retracted pelvis, brags about wooing and winning fights, then runs from direct conflict.
  • Zanni – the chorus, a bird like group of servants, driven by baser needs
  • Arlecchino –  a monkey like servant known for his gluttony, given tasks by pantalone which he messes up, leading to the misadventures of commedia.
  • Colombina – arlecchino’s fellow servant who gets him out of tangles – the more sensible servant.
  • Brighella – something like the merchant dealer at the docks, a more dangerous character.
  • Tartaglia – a turtle like stuttering character.
  • Pulcinello – also a more dangerous character, this is the hunchback, who is either smart-playing-stupid or stupid-playing smart.
  • The Enamorati– lovers who are ridiculous for being so into true love (whereas all other characters are humorously driven by their baser needs).

The Gondoliers cast:

  • The Duke of Plaza-Toro
  • Luiz, his attendant
  • Don Alhambra Del Bolero, The Grand Inquisitor
  • The Duchess of Plaza-Toro
  • Casilda, daughter of the Duke & Duchess
  • Marco and Guiseppe
  • Tessa and Gianetta
  • Antonio, Francesco, Giorgio, Annibale
  • Fiametta, Vittoria, Giulia
  • Inez

How do these fit together?

  1. The Duke of Plaza-Toro => Capitano/pulcinello: he is a braggart in the first act, but when he returns, he is a clever conniving friend.
  2. Luiz, his attendant => enamorati/ servant, a lover but also a servant (royal by birth)  mostly he plays into the idea of the lover.
  3. Don Alhambra Del Bolero, The Grand Inquisitor =>Dottore: he has many grand speeches and uses much high faluting language which is often as innaccurate as it is ridiculous.
  4. The Duchess of Plaza-Toro => Brighella: Throughout, she is a conniving character capable of swindle and corruption, and that makes her funny.
  5. Casilda, daughter of the Duke & Duchess => enamorati: she is pretty much also a lover character.
  6. Marco and Guiseppe => zanni (arlecchino?)/enamorati: being lower class and more comic, this duo tries to run a kingdom by doing everyone’s servant duties for them… however, they do so with the best of intentions.
  7. Tessa and Gianetta=> zanni (colombina?)/enamorati: the wives and friends to Marco and Guiseppe, these rather take-charge ladies prove to be the sort of problem sovlers that colombina might embody.
  8. Antonio, Francesco, Giorgio, Annibale => zanni (can be given various characters by type): the gondolieri chorus is pretty much a batch of zanni.
  9. Fiametta, Vittoria, Giulia => zanni (also, characters by type): the contadine chorus likewise is a batch of zanni.
  10. Inez => colombina/ pantalone?  she really does unravel the riddle of the play, but it is also possible that alhambra is her arlecchino, and she in and of herself is pantalone – the foster mother of the king would probably be fairly well off.  probably much more colombina.

Beyond Analysis

My plan with all this is to use these archetypes to help my actors work from the outside in, getting their physical conveyance out and accentuating the comedy of Gondoliers using a traditionally Italian method.  I want my actors to be able to embody their characters and play that comedy, even if it is on a much more subtle level than masked, traditional commedia.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s