Thursday, May 05, 2005

Re Orso, Ti Schermi

I found a homepage for Arrigo Boito, poet, playwright, philosopher, composer, librettist -- a man who could do just about everything better than anybody, but never quite became the best at anything, except perhaps the underappreciated art of libretto writing (his librettos for his own operas are diffuse and often frankly weird, but his librettos for Verdi -- Otello and Falstaff -- are rightly considered classics).

The site is mostly in Italian, and even with a healthy dose of Babelfish we Anglophones are not going to get a lot out of it, but the excerpts from his poems (such as the epic Re Orso) and librettos do convey his most interesting quality as a writer: his incredibly florid use of sounds and rhymes and images, giving his verse a quality of sensory overload. His librettos for Verdi use so many obscure allusions and archaic words that, for an Italian audience, it must be a strange listening experience. Even an English-speaking audience can be rather worn out by all the sonic and rhyming trickery of:

Scrolliam crepitacoli,
Scarandole e nacchere!
Di schizzi e di zacchere
Quell'otre si macoli.
Meniam scorribandole,
Danziamo la tresca,
Treschiam le farandole
Sull'ampia ventresca.
Zanzare ed assilli,
Volate alla lizza
Coi dardi e gli spilli!
Ch'ei crepi di stizza!

Several of those rhymes are three-syllable rhymes, which by some rules of Italian versification aren't even supposed to exist. Or, from La Gioconda, the over-the-top ripeness of:

L’amo come il fulgor del creato,
Come l’aura che avviva il respir!
Come il sogno celeste e beato
Da cui venne il mio primo sospir.

Ed io l’amo siccome il leone
Ama il sangue ed il turbine il vol
E la folgor le vette e l’alcione
Le voragini, e l’aquila il sol!

[Laura: "I love him like the splendor of creation, like the breath of life, like the source of my blessed heavenly dreams and my first sigh!" Gioconda: "And I love him the way a lion loves blood, the whirlwind loves flight, the lightning loves the mountaintop, the halycon loves the whirlpool, and the eagle loves the sun!"]

A short English bio of Boito is here.

The title of the post comes from the refrain of Re Orso, which is (as usual with Boito, heavily rhymed):

Re Orso,
Ti schermi
Dal morso
De' vermi.

Roughly, "King Bear, shield yourself from the bite of the worms." Not sure what that's supposed to mean, but then, even the Altavista version of Babelfish can only help so much, as opposed to the actual Babelfish.

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