Monday, March 28, 2016

Tales of Hoffmann: Signor Formica

Over the holiday weekend, I had time to finish a Hoffmann tale! "Signor Formica" is pretty interesting, but not from the usual perspectives.

And no, it's not about countertops.

"Signor Formica" tells a purportedly true adventure of Baroque-era painter Salvator Rosa, who was also a printmaker and poet, and had a remarkable life full of adventure. (That's a self-portrait above.) The story begins approximately in 1649, when Rosa returns to Rome after various adventures in Naples, including rumors of being involved with a group of banditti.

Rosa encounters some strange folk, including the unscrupulous Dr. Splendiano Accoramboni (called the "Pyramid Doctor" for his peculiar headwear), who treats ill artists in hopes of reaping paintings as payment...and only to let them die. Rosa manages to survive and send the doctor on his way, then befriends Antonio, a young barber/surgeon who's also an aspiring painter. Rosa praises a painting of Antonio's that depicts the Magdalen in a new and interesting way, and divines that it's a girl that Antonio is in love with. And of course, she's the ward of a forbidding old man, Pasquale Capuzzi di Senigaglia, a pretentious dandy who fancies himself a great composer and singer, but who is truly execrable. And Signore Pasquale has two great friends, a dwarf named Pitichinacchio and the aforementioned Pyramid Doctor.

The rest of the story goes into how Rosa cons and tricks Capuzzi and his friends, gets the lovers together, and how justice serves all.

It's not supernatural at all, but it's a good read. There's some meditating on art that doesn't overwhelm the story, and lots of funny action with plot and counterplot with Rosa and Antonio on one size and Capuzzi and his friends on the other. And while reading this, I kept thinking what a great comic opera or operetta it would make. And there's scenes set in the opera house that just call out for a talented composer to have fun composing bad music. (The "Signor Formica" of the title is an opera singer who seems to set out especially to communicate with, or embarrass, Capuzzi, and is one of the big players of the story.)

To wrap up, this is hardly the core of D&C material, but it's still a fun read that begs for a spirited adaptation somewhere along the line. It's also an intriguing early entry into the "fictional adventures of a real-life person" genre that we see so often today. So, not for everyone, but for those in need of a chuckle or two, check it out.

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