Maria Egiziaca : per un’analisi del mistero lirico respighiano

  • Francesco Fecondo
  • Michael Romio


The libretto of the «miracle play» Maria Egiziaca, conceived by the Roman poet Claudio Guastalla for Ottorino Respighi in 1931, is an original reconstruction of the account of the saint of Alessandria of Egypt, contained in Le vite dei Santi Padri by Fra' Domenico Cavalca. A small masterpiece of ‘falso antico’, inspired by the literary research of Gabriele D'Annunzio, Maria Egiziaca presents narrative passages not contained in the original text, sourced by Cavalca, dating back to parallel hagiographic traditions and traceable in previous baroque plays. The texts of the arias are built with interpolations of Rinaldo d’Aquino and sacred Latin hymns. The mise-en-scène, inspired by Guastalla himself and realised by Nicola Alexandrovich Benois, recovers the tradition of the medieval mystery but it also reconnects to more recent experiments by Léon Bakst for Le martyre de Saint Sébastian by Claude Debussy. The essay analyses in detail the musical construction of the drama, highlighting the research of the balance between traditional and Avant-Garde sounds: the stylistic synthesis that characterises the last phase of Respighi’s lyrical and theatrical creativity finds, in Maria Egiziaca, a perfect balance between inspiration and form, in memory of musical worlds that are distant and heterogeneous from each other. Baroque ideas, 20th-century sounds, and modal references, converse with each other with absolute ease, coalescing into Respighi’s original and personal expressive style. Such aesthetic conception can be observed in the archaic character of the verse and the deliberately static nature of the stage equipment, contributing, with them, to a dramatic construction focused on internal and spiritual dimensions.