Friday, April 1, 2011

Photoless Friday (19): Famiglia Meneghina and theater in the Milanese dialect

Attended a round table of talks, last evening. The topic, for those non-scholarly, sounds like a snorer: "The new catalogue published by the Famiglia Meneghina of works in their library dedicated to theater in the Milanese dialect." If you made it even through half of that title, you probably also watch the History Channel, frequently. Really, though, it was fascinating, and well-done (Cosmos bless the speakers, none were long-winded)...More......

...even a bookworm, like myself, does have its limits of resistance to the physical and mental strain of sitting still in a dark room, and not letting my mind wander, or falling asleep after a long hard day of work, complicated often by low glucose levels.

Reading the program, the scariest proposition was the panoramic introduction to the evening's topic by the local city councilman for culture. Just at the words "Councilman's presentation...," I already was gripping my chair's seat and locking my elbows to keep myself from tumbling over in a sudden blow of sleep, but 't'wasn't so. He did get a bit windily philosophical on us, but kept it pretty brief and--amazing, but true--finally to the point, so that his talk really did set a larger cultural stage (pun not intended) for the rest of the evening dedicated to theater in the Milanese dialect.

An expert on theater in the Milanese dialect spoke briefly about the topic, itself. Here are a few of the most interesting factoids, which put the project being discussed in context.

Added to the "Italian Comedy" theater repertoire (ever heard of, for example, Pulcinella, or seen Picasso's paintings of the Italian comedy troupe? It's a centuries-long travelling theater tradition) at the very beginning of the 17th century (note for those not having read previous posts: we're talking about the period in Milan's history when it had been under Spanish Hapsburg domination for almost a hundred years) was the manservant, "Meneghino": well-meaning, good-hearted, dedicated, able, but a bit bumbling. Interesting to hear how the Milanese present, last night, still identify with this figure, as proven by hearty applause at appropriate points in the talk (even the word "hearty" somehow fits the stereotypical Milanese, now so watered down thanks to immigrants--including myself--that many lament its demise). But back to the factoids.

Theater in dialect in general had its ups and downs (these latter during periods scared of sharp and public criticism and of private cultural associations in which political discontent could breed and multiply), but Milanese dialect theater continued--in part thanks to the Famiglia Meneghina--even up into the 1990s, when, as a club it had to close its doors for financial reasons, and transform itself into a foundation to manage its large and precious collection dedicated to "things Milanese" (Milanesità), which it had begun shortly after its foundation in the early 1920s (it will not pass the notice of history buffs that we're talking about a period just after the close of WWI, during which identity and economic recovery were taking place). (It will not pass the notice of any reader that I like parenthetical comments.)

Next talked the expert responsible for the production of the catalogue, itself. That kind of talk really can be a scary snorer, if specialists don't keep their audiences in mind. Thankfully, this one did. She presented a few indicative and interesting examples (with images contained liberally in the catalogue), and didn't wear us down like Chinese water torture with a seemingly endless string of unrelated examples.

As any visitor to the Famiglia Meneghina web site will be able to see that (if they are able to read Italian...just bless yourself that the site isn't in the Milanese dialect), the very rich catalogue ripe for mining of the works in this small, but precious library, open by appointment to the public, is online. Their first published catalogue appeared a few years ago. It's enormous. The presentation of the second, smaller published catalogue, dedicated to the works of theater in the Milanese dialect (not just scripts, but also playbills, photos, and critics' reviews), which have entered the library in the last few years, was the occasion for last night's round table, closed brilliantly with his typical verve and conciseness by Alessandro Gerli, longtime president of first the club, and now the association dedicated to the library.

(For the scholars in my oh-so-vast reading public of ten, the central web site connecting an enormous number of all of the Italian libraries, public and private, large and small--Famiglia Meneghina included--is:

As hard as I try, I will never be a great writer until I can resist pat phrases: a lovely time was had by all, as proven by the enthusiastic applause of those in the large full room.

Oh, and what does "Famiglia Meneghina" mean, you ask?

In the Milanese dialect, "Menego" is one of the nickname forms for "Domenigo/Domenico," and was adopted as the name for that Italian comedy figure of the Milanese manservant. The figure became so popular, that the name mutated into an adjective, and, added to the diminuitive form, identifies the "Famiglia/Family" of Milanese in a tender, affectionate and culturally-laden way.

If you're a scholar of things Milanese, this library--multum in parvum--is a must.


Anonymous said...

Dear Starleen,
you might not remember me: I am Silvia Donghi, the librarian at the Famiglia Meneghina. We have met twice, I reckon, during the Cene dell'Amicizia in the Salone d'Oro at the Società del Giardino.
I just wanted to drop a few lines to congratulate with you for your very nice, detailed and well written post about the presentation of the new catalog of the Meneghina. I really appreciated that, being one of the curators of the book as a cataloger. It goes without saying that you are invited to visit the library anytime, and I will be delighted to be your tour guide here! Just give me a call.
Again, many thanks!

Star said...

Dear Silvia,
I would love to have a special tour of the library. I read the first printed catalogue cover-to-cover (yes, I really did), and found so many fascinating things that it would be hard to know where to start. Sandro kindly thanked me for my small, but I hope helpful, contribution to the library, an offprint of my fairly recent published article (too recent to be in time for the published version of your catalogue) in English on confraternities in Milan, the general direction of my most recent studies.
I look forward to being in touch, and I'm so glad that you found my review of the evening--in a breezy tone meant for a non-scholarly audience--helpful.

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