'La stomachevole, ed orrida Morte di Catone medesimo in Scena': Metastasio's Catone in Utica and the Construction of Historical Characters on the 18th-Century Italian Stage

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Abstract

Instead of audience approval and increased poetic repute, his ambitious decision to use the heroic suicide of Cato the Younger (Cato Uticensis) as the subject matter for his first original dramma to be premiered in Rome earned Metastasio satirical remarks as well as serious criticism. Both an anonymous critic and the prominent scientist and literary critic Antonio Conti identified lack of verisimilitude as the main problem.
Undoubtedly Italian literati not only evaluated Metastasio’s choices regarding character construction, plot development and sets in Catone in Utica (1728) with reference to current debates that aimed to restore ‘true’, i.e., spoken, tragedy to greatness and dignity. They also compared them to those of prominent authors in recent tragedies ending with the death of famous Romans, namely Conti, Pier Jacopo Martello and Joseph Addison. The intense reception in Italy of the latter’s Cato, A Tragedy, in the 1710s and 1720s had stimulated detailed discussion about the verisimilar portrayal of historical characters on stage that offers insight into both eighteenth-century dramatists’ aesthetic aims and audience expectations.
Metastasio’s departures from some of the principles established by leading literary authorities, especially regarding the representation of Cato’s onstage death, constituted miscalculations by the young poet in gauging the effectiveness of dramatic solutions that had been effective in other libretti as well as his actors’ skills.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2018
EventOperatic Workings of the Mind - Oxford University, Oxford, United Kingdom
Duration: 20 Sep 201821 Sep 2018

Conference

ConferenceOperatic Workings of the Mind
CountryUnited Kingdom
CityOxford
Period20/09/1821/09/18

Keywords

  • Metastasio
  • Antonio Conti
  • Pier Jacopo Martello
  • Catone in Utica
  • Dramma per musica

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