Academic journal article Women & Music

Amor Nello Specchio (1622): Mirroring, Masturbation, and Same-Sex Love

Academic journal article Women & Music

Amor Nello Specchio (1622): Mirroring, Masturbation, and Same-Sex Love

Article excerpt

THE LITERAL TRANSLATION OF AMOR hello specchio is "love in the mirror," although "love reflected" provides a better sense of the phrase's meaning. The play by that name was first published in Paris by Giovan Battista Andreini in 1622 and has recently come to occupy a remarkable position in the work of scholars and theater practitioners. (1) The magnetic pull of this particular text is attributable to the twists and turns of the commedia plot. The main character, Florinda, is initially in love with her own reflection. After some time she transfers her affections to the beautiful Lidia, and by the end of the play she has settled on Lidia's identical twin brother, Eugenio, a self-described hermaphrodite played by a woman in drag.

This romp through variously configured sexual relations is fascinating for its flank depictions of female sexuality--Florinda consummates each of her three love affairs--and also for an ending that remains sexually and delightfully ambiguous despite the specter of resolution into compulsory heterosexuality. At the same time, the "real-world" backdrop to the play's performance and publication complicates further the shifting erotic allegiances staged as Amor hello specchio. The playwright, Giovan Battista, was both author and actor, although his character, Lelio, filled a fairly minor role. In this play Lelio is sharply rejected by a self-obsessed Florinda and after a failed attempt at seduction by magical incantation abandons the feminine temptations of romantic love in favor of a career in the military. Not only Lelio but all the male characters of this play are shunted sideways, with the dramatic interest of Amor hello specchio securely centered on the female characters. The lead, Florinda, was played by Virginia Ramponi Andreini, wife of Giovan Battista and a renowned singer and actress in her own right, while her onstage lovers, Lidia and the (male) hermaphrodite, Eugenio, were both played by her husband's real-life lover, Virginia Rotari. (2) In performance, then, the shifting sexual configurations of Amor hello specchio embodied and reconstituted the scandalous menage a trois of the actors' offstage love lives. Add to this an onstage masturbation scene, some cross-dressing, and the temporal interval of nearly four hundred years that separates the early modern play from our postmodern moment, and it is clear why this text proved and proves so fascinating.

Previous scholarship has valued Amor hello specchio for the compelling exegetical unfolding of male fantasies of female sexuality, with Siro Ferrone's Attori mercanti corsari (1993) and Piermario Vescovo's "Narciso, Psiche e Marte 'mestruato.' Una lettura di Amor nello specchio di Giovan Battista Andreini" (2004) the most notable examples. (3) Understood thus, Giovan Battista's stylistic maturity is achieved at the expense of his female companions, with the characters of Florinda and Lidia repeatedly understood to ventriloquize the artistic product of a male author. Amor hello specchio is seen as both symptom of and transcendent signifier for Giovan Battista's extramarital affair: literary mastery routed through the penis. This model of reception is present also in the program notes of the two modern stagings the work has received, both directed by Luca Ronconi (1987 and 2002), and in a 1999 Italian film entitled Amor hello specchio, a period drama very loosely based around the play and on the historico-biographical circumstances that preceded its publication. (4) The film was directed by Salvatore Maira, who, with Anna Michela Borracci, published a modern edition of the original play in 1997; the edition includes an introduction by Maira that lightly revises an article first published in 1994. (5) The film exists, therefore, in a weird historiographic relationship with the 1622 text and with modern scholarship on the work, functioning as an attempt to imagine and explain the conditions of the play's conception.

In contrast with these authors and directors, my interest lies elsewhere. …

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