The small 1700s’ Historical Theater inside Villa Aldrovandi-Mazzacorati, in Bologna, opened in September 1763 with a performance of “Alzire, ou Les Américains”, a drama written some thirty years earlier by Voltaire.
Count Gianfrancesco Aldrovandi owned the villa at the time and had recently renovated it, creating this extraordinary, miniature theater; it was his aristocratic friends who performed in the tragedy on opening night.
Below the splendid balconies, decorated with neoclassic style frescoes in a triumph of medallions, love knots and little angels, the patricians of Bologna dressed up like the Peruvian Incas and Spanish conquistadors of the 1500s that populate the French philosopher’s drama. The drama ends with Gusman, the cruel Hispanic governor, “in articulo mortis”, forgiving the virtuous Inca Zamoro who had taken him to death’s door. The villain turns hero at the last moment, with an act of clemency for the good man who had been good all his life.
The non-paying audience clapped and cheered to show its appreciation for the pièce, which celebrated both Christian forgiveness and the noble savage ideal.
We will never know if the performance itself was worthy of the ovation, but the setting was – and still is – beautiful without a doubt.