Modena’s Collegio San Carlo, beauty read out loud
The Collegio San Carlo in Modena was founded in 1626 as “Collegio dei Nobili di San Carlo”, with a mission to give a sound cultural education to the city’s aristocrats. Its graduates include many illustrious Italians, from historian Ludovico Antonio Muratori to poet Ippolito Pindemonte, from biologist Lazzaro Spallanzani to, obviously, many members of the House of Este. In 1954, a Foundation of the same name was established as a “private learning and research institute that carries out activities of public importance in the cultural field, with a focus on philosophy, humanities, social and religious sciences”.
The palace where the Collegio is located is a Baroque gem created over approximately one century of work. Inside, you’ll find splendid frescoed halls, a grand staircase, a rich gallery of antique and modern paintings, a chapel, a church and a small 18th-century theater, where meetings, conferences and various cultural initiatives are held.
Author Alessandro Baricco has perhaps best describes one of those occasions:
“In Modena, people do something that is typical of the olden days, like mashing a potato with butter: they read out loud. I mean they organize a whole season of evenings, and what happens is that someone comes up, goes up on stage, sits at a table, turns on a microphone and reads. Various pages, from – say – Boccaccio, Landolfi, Delfini, Ariosto. People can come for free, sit down and listen. They are all quite serious about it too: it’s just reading, no real comments, putting up a show, or voicing your opinion. They read, that’s all. Then they all head home.
One Monday evening, Stefano Benni was on stage. With his lunar-ish vibe, mad hair, good-guy eyes and Bugs Bunny smile. He sat down at a slight angle, put his mouth close to the microphone, and opened three books: Landolfi, Volponi and Gadda. In the small theater of Collegio San Carlo people were standing – which means there must have been two or three hundred people – and I swear you couldn’t hear a whisper. Which is kind of amazing, because we are not used to that kind of performance, or micro-performance, come to think of it. It’s one step from nothing at all, yet you could feel some kind of familiar feeling you’d forgotten – the same, thin feeling you got when someone used to open up a book and read to you…” (translated from A. Baricco, “Barnum. Cronache dal Grande Show”, Feltrinelli, Milan 1995).