The Charge of the Galloping Bersaglieras

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 8th instalment
With this last post the series closes on the Liberation of Venice and Rome

After the Second War of Independence (1859) Italy wasn’t yet politically unified as a whole: Venice was part of the Austrian Empire and Rome and Latium were still under Papal rule. In those years dance theatre contributed to the cause of unity also by associating with the bold image of the Bersaglieri. This elite military corps, founded by the King Carlo Alberto in 1836 and initially led by Alessandro La Marmora, during the campaigns of 1859-1860 distinguished itself in several battles. It thus entered the popular imagination – along with such figures as Garibaldi and King Vittorio Emanuele II – and was ready to appear in Italian theatres.

An example is the already mentioned ballet Il ritorno del volontario bersagliere dalla battaglia di Magenta (The Return of the volunteer bersagliere from the Battle of Magenta) staged by an unknown choreographer in Bologna at the Teatro Nosadella during the carnival season 1860, but onstage the most famous bersaglieri – indeed bersaglieras – were those that appeared in Flik e Flok by Paul Taglioni with music by Peter Ludwig Hertel (given in Milan at La Scala during the carnival season 1862), a ballet destined to become one of the most performed throughout Italy during the second part of the 19th century.

A reproduction of a ballet first given in Berlin in 1858, it featured an underwater scene culminating in the Ballabile dei Fiumi. The rivers named in the original Berlin production were the Spree, the Neva, the Thames, the Seine and the Danube; significantly in Milan this last river was replaced by the Laguna Veneta, a number that closed with the entry of a troop of girls dressed as gallant bersaglieri, to the sound of the fanfare and in front of a backdrop representing Venice.

Only in 1866 Venice was to be liberated from the Austrian yoke; Rome was taken after the breach at Porta Pia in 1870, and shortly after that event the Galop delle Bersagliere was staged with enormous success at the Teatro Argentina. The musical theme it is set to, known popularly as Flik e Flok, still accompanies the joyful high-stepping gait of the corps on parade.

Anyone wishing to know the history of this ballet and its music in particular can read the paper by Claudia Celi and Andrea Toschi Alla ricerca dell’anello mancante: “Flik e Flok” e l’Unità d’Italia (In search of the missing link: “Flik and Flok” and the Unification of Italy), “Chorégraphie,” I, 2, autumn 1993, pp. 59-72. (R.Z.)

Dance takes up arms: Luigi Danesi, a hero of the Roman Republic of 1849

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 7th instalment

Proclamation of the Roman Republic in 1849 - Lit. Rossetti (1861)

Luigi Danesi (1832-1908), one of the choreographers who distinguished themselves during the Italian Wars of Independence, is the subject of an entry in the book  by Ulderico Grottanelli about the fighters in the wars between 1848 and 1870 (Roma, Tipografia Tiberina di Federico Setth 1902).  Born in Rome, Danesi lost his father when he was just six years old but, with the help of his mother, cultivated his studies and enrolled at the university. In 1849 he joined the Students’ Battalion in defence of the Roman Republic, earning the rank of Lieutenant and taking part in all combat action from April 30 to the fall of the Republic.

With the restoration of the papal government and the waning of that anticlerical enthusiasm that had accompanied the Pope’s flight  to Gaeta to the strains of  the chorus Se il Papa è andato via/ buon viaggio e così sia/ Viva l’Italia e il popolo/ e il Papa che va via [If the Pope has left/ we wish him a good trip/ Long live Italy and its people/ and the departing Pope. These lines are attributed to Goffredo Mameli, the author of the lyrics for Fratelli d’Italia that was to become the Italian national Hymn], Danesi had to leave university and find employment. His mother had died, worn-out from grief and persecution by the government. He joined a drama company, thus embarking on a stage career, and soon became a great mime artist and an acclaimed choreographer. Later he was commissioned as Lieutenant and afterwards Captain in the Edolo Battalion of the 1st Alpini Regiment. For his artistic career he was honoured with the crosses of Knight and Officer of the Crown of Italy(R.Z.)

The Étoile of the two Worlds: Marietta Baderna

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 6th instalment

One of Blasis’ Pleiades from La Scala to the Tropics.

Another great star of the Italian romantic ballet, Marietta Baderna, was personally involved in the Risorgimento. The daughter of a staunch Republican, a favorite pupil of Carlo Blasis, she was in Trieste at the outbreak of the revolution of 1848 that she joined with enthusiasm.

After the return of the Austrians she was forced to leave Italy with her father and embarked for Brazil. Even there, however, Marietta found means to express her longing for freedom, daring to bring on stage – in a country that wished to resemble the European world and to suppress the culture of indigenous peoples – the dances of the blacks: the lundum, the fado, the Bahia, considered licentious and therefore subversive by the whites.

The Lundum - engraving by Johann Moritz Rugendas

Her very name gave rise to the term Badernão, synonymous with disorder and transgression. Because of this spirit of rebellion Marietta Baderna is compared to the figure of Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Hero of the two Worlds, since both fought – albeit in different forms – in Europe as well as in South America in the name of dignity and freedom of nations and individuals.

Anyone wishing to study this  unusual episode of nineteenth-century dance can read the book by Silverio Corvisieri, Badernão: la ballerina dei due mondi (Roma, Odradek, 1998).

The Prime Minister and the Ballerina: the «liaison criminelle» between Bianca Ronzani and Camillo Benso di Cavour

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 5th instalment

Bianca Ronzani CavourThe 1857 carnival season at the Teatro Regio in Turin had proved a financial fiasco for the impresario and choreographer Domenico Ronzani. So, pressed by creditors, he played his last trump card by sending his wife Bianca, also a dancer, to beg Count Camillo Benso di Cavour – who was Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Sardinia, as well as Minister of Finance – for a bailout. Bianca Berta Valentino Sevierz Ymar – this was the maiden name of Ronzani’s second wife – managed the assignment so well that as a result she not only secured some assistance for the theatre enterprise but also became Cavour’s mistress, subsequently parting from Ronzani who ended his career in the United States.

Camillo regularly wrote love letters to Bianca and bought her a villa on the hills of Turin where he used to take refuge, defying the wrath of his family. This “liaison criminelle” – as Cavour’s brother Gustavo called it – proved however to be solid and lasting. In fact Bianca remained at the statesman’s side until his death in 1861.

Camillo Benso Cavour

Italian politicians dance to the tune played by Cavour, 19th century cartoon – Musei Civici, raccolta Bertarelli – Milan

The letters by Cavour to his lover have been recently published as Amami e credimi. Lettere a Bianca Ronzani (1856-1861), preface by Lucio Villari, Milano, Archinto, 2011. (R.Z.)

The “Garibaldina” and the feats of “The Thousand” (1860)

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 4th instalment

May 5th, 1860. A small army of about 1000 volunteers led by Giuseppe Garibaldi sailed from Quarto (near Genoa) bound for Sicily, with the tacit approval of the Piedmontese prime minister Camillo Benso di Cavour. On May 11th they landed at Marsala; at Calatafimi they engaged and defeated the Borbonic troops. Palermo and Sicily were freed; King Francesco II of Bourbon was forced to flee and to take refuge in the fortress of Gaeta. On September 7th, the victorious general entered Naples with his troops.

The Hero of the Two Worlds or, Garibaldi and His Time - Carlo Colla & Sons Marionette Company

The red-shirted I Mille (The Thousand) were destined to remain forever impressed in the hearts of Italians and in the imagination of all peoples fighting for freedom. Their expedition marked the climax of the Risorgimento epic, and in later years became a source of inspiration for numerous performances (plays, operas, puppet plays, etc.), including ballets by Prospero Diani (author of The landing of the Mille at Marsala) and by Giovanni Pulini (or Polini) who choreographed The Landing of Garibaldi at Marsala and the Capture of Palermo. This was not the first time Pulini expressed his admiration for Garibaldi. At the Teatro Comunale di Modena, in February 1860, he had staged La garibaldina, a pas de caractère performed by the entire corps de ballet in an patriotic atmosphere enhanced by the use of choir and military band. (R.Z.)

War becomes ballet: the Battle of Magenta (1859)

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 3rd instalment

Carlo Bossoli - The Battle of Magenta

The Second Italian War of Independence had its apex in the pitched battle of Magenta near Milan. On June 4th, 1859 the Austrian army commanded by Count Ferencz Gyulai met the Franco-Piedmontese army led by the French Emperor Napoleon III and Victor Emmanuel II King of Sardinia. The Austrians were defeated, and on June 8th Milan greeted the victorious troops.

The cities of central Italy rose in arms, including Bologna which was abandoned by the Austrians on June 12th with the consequent end of the Pope’s rule. At the Teatro Nosadella, which mostly presented puppet shows interspersed with dances, during the carnival season 1859-1860 the epic battle was evoked in the ballet Il ritorno del volontario bersagliere dalla battaglia di Magenta (The Volunteer Bersagliere returning from the Battle of Magenta) by an unknown choreographer. A year later in Naples the ballet Un episodio della Guerra d’Italia nel 1859 (An Episode of the War of 1859 in Italy), by Dario Fissi with music by Giuseppe Giaquinto, was played in a splendidly illuminated Teatro di San Carlo as a celebration of the annexation of Southern Italy. (R.Z.)

«Finalmente sarà permesso a Gianduja di abbracciare le sue sorelle» A cartoon from “Il Canocchiale”, Bologna 1859-1860, portrays Gianduja (the traditional mask from Turin) finally allowed to embrace his sisters, the provinces of Florence, Modena, Parma and Romagna.

1848: the Austrian dancer Elssler hissed off the stage in Milan

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 2nd instalment

1848 was a revolutionary year in Milan. During the Carnival season one of the most celebrated divas of the romantic ballet, the Austrian Fanny Elssler also admired by field marshal Radetzky, incurred the censure of the public – while performing at La Scala in the première of Jules Perrot’s Faust – by refusing to dance unless the pupils of the dance school stopped wearing a medal with the portrait of Pius IX, the pope on whom the hopes of the Italian patriots were gathering. Overwhelmed by the merciless boos that greeted her as she entered, Fanny Elssler fainted and was forced to hastily leave Milan.

In those days a note was circulating in relation to the fame of  seductress that accompanied Elssler.  About her it had been even rumoured that under instructions by the Austrian chancellor Metternich she had become the lover of the sickly son of Napoleon Bonaparte thus shortening his life. Such was the anonymous note:

“Contempt, hisses, lapidation to the infamous German prostitute Elssler, foul instrument of one among the infinite vile crimes of detested Austria, the slow murder of the great Napoleon!”


Fanny Cerrito and her patriotic “Sicilienne”

The Risorgimento in ballet – Episodes between chronicle and legend from the world of the dance – 1st instalment 

A column by Rita Zambon about Italian ballet in the years of the patriotic movement, on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Italian Unification

From the Gazzetta di Venezia: on the evening of  february 6th 1848 Fanny Cerrito, while playing in La Vivandiera e il Postiglione at the Teatro la Fenice, inserts a Sicilienne as a homage to the  sicilian revolutionary movement, unleashing the ardour of the audience that shout «Viva la Sicilia! Viva i Siciliani!». Delirious applause ensues for Cerrito when she «appears onstage shrouded in a white, red and green voile».
Beyond the newspaper reports, in those year many were the anecdotes – sometimes confusing the historical periods – regarding anti-Austrian behaviour by the romantic ballet stars. Among these is a legendary episode attributed from time to time to the same Cerrito, to Caterina Beretta Viena, and also erroneously to Carolina Pochini: the dancer, in collusion with the patriots, appears onstage dressed in white. Red and green flowers are thrown at her and, held on her bosom, form the tricolore. The next day the Austrian police, having discovered the trick, orders her not to pick up any flower: she submits. On the same evening,  yellow flowers bound with a black ribbon (the colours of Austria) are purposely thrown and she, abiding by the rules, leaves them on the boards, without even deigning to glance at them, among the  scorn of the authorities and the exultation of the audience.  (R.Z.)