Giuseppe Giacosa Analysis

Other Literary Forms

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Although Giuseppe Giacosa owes his reputation to his dramatic repertoire, his other accomplishments are well worth mentioning because of their exceptional literary value. A collection of short stories, Novelle e paesi valdostani (1886), portrays the daily struggle of the mountaineers in Valdaosta against the natural forces that shape their destiny and condition their ability to make a living. Impressioni d’America (1891), a series of travel sketches occasioned by a trip to New York, reveals Giacosa’s remarkable talent for accurate observation. Castelli valdostani e canavesani (1897) is a series of popularized chronicles of castles in the Canavese region.

Giacosa also collaborated with several newspapers and literary magazines and was the founder of Lettura, a monthly literary review. In collaboration with Luigi Illica, he wrote librettos for Giacomo Puccini’s most famous operas: La Bohème, Tosca, and Madame Butterfly.


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

In the extensive dramatic production that followed the success of The Wager, Giuseppe Giacosa alternated romances in Martellian verse with comedies in contemporary prose, seemingly unconcerned with criteria of stylistic development. Thus, The Wager and Il fratello d’armi, both romances in verse, were followed by Unhappy Love, a naturalist drama in prose, with a return to verse in Il conte rosso, a realistic historical drama adversely affected by the artificial verse scheme, once more followed by prose in Like Falling Leaves, Giacosa’s most famous commedia borghese, and by The Stronger, an attack on the double standards of the bourgeoisie, also in prose. What struck some critics as lack of direction in Giacosa’s constant stylistic shifts made him popular with the public. Giacosa’s perennial wavering between past and present reflected only too well the unsettled tastes of the bourgeoisie, fascinated by French naturalism and Giovanni Verga’s Verismo, or Verism, yet unwilling to give up the nostalgic charm of Romantic drama, and increasingly enticed by the idealistic aspirations that were gaining in popularity in the late nineteenth century.

Following World War I, Giacosa’s popularity suffered a steady decline from which it never recovered. Giacosa’s insistence on using topical references and fashion symbols of his day to characterize the world of the rich—knickerbockers, portable bathtubs, plaid tout de même—dates his comedies and greatly reduces their attractiveness to a contemporary audience. As for his medieval romances, their charm cannot withstand the test of time. They are peculiar period pieces no longer in demand, sharing in this the fate of most nineteenth century Romantic drama. The critics, who at first had been very favorable to Giacosa, reversed their verdict and claimed that his dramatic production lacked a coherent aesthetic growth. The most severe among them charged Giacosa with dilettantismo, Benedetto Croce’s favorite epithet for mediocrity, dealing the last blow to Giacosa’s already faltering reputation. Today, a more balanced critical perspective praises Giacosa’s talent for brilliant dialogue, which portrays the irresponsible rituals of the rich, dedicated solely to preserving their privileged position unchanged. In the history of the Italian theater, Giacosa unquestionably remains one of the most eloquent and versatile exponents of the teatro borghese (bourgeois theater).


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Doroni, Stefano. Dall’androne medievale al tinello borghese: Il teatro di Giuseppe Giacosa. Rome: Bulzoni, 1998. A critical analysis of the works of Giacosa. In Italian. Bibliography and index.

Groos, Arthur. “The Lady Vanishes.” Opera News 59, no. 8 (January 7, 1995): 16-20. A discussion of the last act of the opera Madame Butterfly, comparing Luigi Illica and Giacosa’s versions and Puccini’s alterations.

O’Grady, Deidre. Piave, Boito, Pirandello: From Romantic Realism to Modernism. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 2000. An overview of Italian drama during the time in which Giacosa was active. Bibliography and index.