On 13 May, a very important actor took his final bow. Goldoni’s Harlequin, servant to two masters, known in Italy as simply Arlecchino, has seen Ferruccio Soleri in the leading role since 1959. Now, aged 88, he has taken off his chequered costume and black leather commedia dell’arte mask for the last time.
Goldoni’s play is called simply Servitore di due padroni (Servant to Two Masters) and the Harlequin character in it is called Truffaldino (meaning a trickster, a swindler), but legendary Italian director, and founder of Milan’s Piccolo Teatro, Giorgio Strehler, named him Arlecchino, the character he’s based on.
Marcello Moretti was Strehler’s first Arlecchino in 1947, the year he established the ‘Piccolo Teatro della Città di Milano’: the first public Italian repertory theatre. After Moretti’s untimely death at 50, Soleri took over and most seasons since it has been restaged, in several versions and designs, but always with one Soleri. The current production has sets by Ezio Frigerio (long-time collaborator of Strehler, as well as Roland Petit and Rudolf Nureyev – he designed Nureyev’s grave) and glorious costumes by his wife, Franca Squarciapino (Oscar-winning costume designer).
The role is famously physical with, in Strehler’s version, an hilarious plate and food throwing routine as Arlecchino struggles with the duties of two servants, juggling and cartwheeling his way through an exhilarating sequence. The last complete performance for Soleri was last year, and this time he shared the stage with Enrico Bonavera, his worthy successor.
After 2,283 performances, in 50 countries, he saw friends and colleagues in the audience for this special and moving occasion: designer Luisa Spinatelli, dancer Luciana Savignano, director Beppe Menegatti and his ballerina wife Carla Fracci (Soleri was Menegatti’s best man in the 1960s), quick-change artist Arturo Brachetti, and many, many others.
Gold confetti floated over the stage as Soleri was held aloft by his companions, all graduates of the Piccolo Teatro’s acting school, and many of whom have shared the stage with him for decades.
“I have done a hard day’s work,” says Arlecchino at the end of the play… for Ferruccio Soleri that day lasted almost 60 years.