Performing Dante. A comparative analysis over a two-century fortune on European stages

Start - End 
2019 - 2023 (ongoing)
Department of Art, music and theatre sciences
Other institution(s) 
University of Verona (IT)
Research Period 
Additional tags 
Dante studies



Dante Alighieri and his works, particularly the Divine Comedy, have played a key role in forming the European culture. Through different times and contexts, it appears clear that his works and his figure have contributed to building a global cultural scenario, not only for his importance as a literary source but also as an inspiring model from various points of view.

This project aims at researching how Dante, as a theatrical figure, and all his works have been interpreted in performing arts from the beginning of the 20th century until nowadays. Due to two crucial anniversaries, particularly during the first two decades of the 21st century, an impressive and kaleidoscopic amount of shows has been produced, and these are worth analyzing comparatively.

PhD Project description

Dante’s reception is an impressive phenomenon, not so well investigated as to the last part of the 20th century is concerned. In contemporary pop culture, besides comics and in addition to music, games and cinema, performing arts are playing a pivotal role in defining new ways to create the future of culture.

As a first step, this research project intends to investigate and catalogue the quantity and the variety of performances that have been produced and performed from the very beginning of the 20th century. This specific century and the first two decades of the following have many vital aspects of understanding better the cultural scene in which Dante’s reception grows in performing arts. By collecting and cataloguing different kinds of shows, particular importance will be given to rearrangements within the various adaptations of Dante’s figure and works.

This first phase will be crucial to check how these rearrangements differ in content and form from the tradition, showing what these performances add to the fortune of Dante as a famous literary and historical figure. For every production, the investigation will also try to discover the different sources used to realize them, investigating the different genres used to create it and after underlining how these theatrical productions diverge from the Poet’s original works. Then it will be necessary to compare all this material with the critical studies to provide a broader and deeper analysis of the reception of Dante in the performing arts (cfr. Braida, Calè, 2007).

The focus of the investigation will then be transferred to Dante’s reception in European performances. The international interest in Dante can be compared only to the majesty of Shakespeare and Homer for the powerful and unquestionable fortune that they earned at all latitudes. Due to political, historical and economic reasons, many theatrical companies had to travel around Europe to survive and continue producing new shows. This millenary tradition of tournée makes it easy to understand why some features are part of a common tradition in the ideation process of the performances. Every country maintains its characteristics, and this aspect is especially relevant in staging Dante. If the lecturae Dantis kept their features almost intact everywhere, Dante’s and most of all his works’ reception in performances have differentiated in every country of Europe, proving that this material changes some specific performing features according to the cultural background and a particular historical time.

This particular aspect well interprets Dante’s multilingualism and multistylistic production. To better understand the relevance of this European aspect of the project, it will be helpful to describe in detail some exemplary performances, for instance the work done by Socìetas Raffaello Sanzio. Although the company and its founder are Italian, their performance project Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso has performed at the

theatrical Avignon Festival in 2008. This unique production plays an essential role in defining new ways of approaching Dante’s works, developing new tragic and theatrical features related to staging this specific text. The scene is used in a new post-dramatic and iconoclastic way, combining different genres (cfr. D. Palmieri, 2014). This kind of European approach to the stage was able to overcome national borders. Due to this, many new productions have recently seen the light and many others are going to be prepared all over Europe, riding the wave of the next centenary in 2021.

In fact, in 2021 the 700th centenary of the death of the Poet will be celebrated and for this special occasion, many projects are already set. Because of this exceptional occurrence, it will be necessary to analyze the impact of these events (the previous in 2015 and the others during the 20th century) in the conception process of the performing arts.

Since all these forms of different arts contribute to building a new kind of culture and the premises for the next centenary, it is important to discover in which terms these international pop performances enrich a universal transmission of ancient literature throughout the art of simplification and synthesis. This particular aspect is also significant concerning the pedagogic and educational side: all these materials create new ways through which the new student’s generation will approach classics of the literature worldwide. Many amateur performances have been explicitly realized for and with students, contributing to this construction process.

In conclusion, this is the most exciting feature to analyze: how merging a new language that sees its best agreement in the performing arts will affect how the next generation will continue studying and researching literature through transmedial studies. The final aim is to establish which of Dante’s past everlasting characteristics remain in the 21st century, how media affect and enrich this perception nowadays, and which features are, vice versa, deeply connected to their time.