Translation and Transformation in the Age of Byronismo
This paper examines Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic “translation” through one of his most accomplished and favorite librettists, Francesco Piave (1810–76). Best known for his libretti of Macbeth, Rigoletto, and La Traviata, his libretto for Il Corsaro (1848) is one of two works by Lord Byron (1788–1824) to which Piave turned—I due Foscari (1844) being the other, loosely inspired by Byron’s play (that is, The Two Foscari, 1821), but much transformed. The libretto of Il Corsaro, however, mirrors its source and raises important questions about how it may have so well suited Verdi’s temperament and his times. Piave looked to Lord Byron , who was immensely popular not only in England, but throughout Europe, and especially in Italy. In England, The Corsair (1814) sold 10,000 copies on the day of its publication and went through seven editions in only a month. The appeal to Piave of this work owes much to the prevailing spirit of Byronismo, and so to the ‘Byronic hero,’ that inscrutable and mysterious figure, who is an outcast from society. The paper thus considers how faithfully Piave turns—or forces— Byron’s poem into his libretto. Furthermore, when we visit the opera, are we transported anew into Byron’s poem? If so, how does this new view of Byron affect us? Finally, this paper explores the extent to which Il Corsaro reflects significant issues of mid-nineteenth century Italy, such as the cause of freedom and independence, of liberty and individuality.
P. G. Stanwood is Professor of English Emeritus at the University of British Columbia. He has published extensively on Renaissance and 17th century English Literature, and on opera and literature, including the recent article on Penderecki and Milton (Early Modern Literary Studies 2011).