Carlo Goldoni (1707–93), the greatest Italian playwright of the eighteenth century, discovered his theatrical vocation in Pavia, while he was a student at the Ghislieri College. Founded in 1567 by Pope Pius V, the Ghislieri is one of the oldest and most prestigious university colleges in Italy. During that period, it was only a male college (the female section was opened in 1966), and most of the students came from Piedmont and Lombardy; Goldoni was the first student from Venice.

According to his parents’ desire, the young Carlo attended the Faculty of Law. But, in his Memoirs, he admitted that his real passion was theatre. In fact, his favorite readings were not penal and civil codes but Greek and Latin comedies. At the Ghislieri College, he had the opportunity to improve his education, experiencing all the customs of social life (music, dancing, fencing, drawing, etc.). He was conscious of the importance of his privileged student life and, in this positive context, he experienced an authentic revelation of his love for theatre. Here was born his purpose: to glorify the Italian theatre with the writing of new plays, revitalizing and surpassing the conventional models of the Commedia dell’Arte.

Goldoni lived in Pavia from 1723 to 1725. During this period he wrote several poems, describing the main features of his student life: friendship, falling in love, summer holidays, the party for the graduated pupils in the refectory of the Ghislieri College. He was a genial boy and a brilliant poet, but this capability provoked a real catastrophe: he wrote a satirical poem, Il Colosso (The Colossus), to mock the daughters of some local noble families. As a consequence of this irreverent—but innocent—game, he was expelled from the Ghislieri College and was obliged to leave the town. He was in his third year, and this accident stopped the disputation of his thesis in Pavia. Secretly (because the relatives of the noble girls wanted to kill him!), he sailed on the Ticino river, and returned—full of remorse and oppressed by a sense of guilt—to his parents in Venice.

After this daring episode, which occurred in May 1725, Goldoni never returned to Pavia. But he always maintained a vivid memory of the Ghislieri College—the first place where he lived far from his family, with the dreams and the freedom typical of student life. Here he understood the deep meaning of his existence: his complete professional realization and his human happiness were to become not a lawyer, but a playwright.

Teaser – Ghislieri Choir & Concert: Celebration of 21 March, the First Day of Spring

Since 2007, the year of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Goldoni, the Ghislieri College has celebrated this famous pupil with “Goldoni Day.” In 2017, it embraces also the celebrations for the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Ghislieri College in Pavia. This special occasion will feature a special guest, Ferruccio Soleri, the great actor who led to success Arlecchino servitore di due padroni (Harlequin Servant of Two Masters), directed by Giorgio Strehler.

Four-sided Portico of the Ghislieri College. Image courtesy of Ghislieri College Archive, Pavia.

Entrance of the Ghislieri College. Image courtesy of Ghislieri College Archive, Pavia.

Born in Florence in 1929, Ferruccio Soleri attended the Silvio D’Amico National Academy of Dramatic Arts in Rome, and studied with Jacques Lecoq in Paris. His debut was in 1957, at the Piccolo Teatro in Milano, with Pirandello’s La Favola del Figlio Cambiato (The Tale of the Changed Son), directed by Orazio Costa. In 1959 he was chosen by Giorgio Strehler to replace the actor Marcello Moretti in the leading role of Goldoni’s masterpiece. With his constant work as Harlequin, he has conquered a position in the Guinness Book of Records for the longest theatrical performance in the same character. In 2006 he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. Since 2007, he has been a Unicef ambassador. In 2010 he was appointed Grand Officer of the Italian Republic.

The artist Ferruccio Soleri is the living symbol of the fortune of Harlequin in the new millennium: he has opened a new chapter in worldwide theatre history, with the most famous student of the Ghislieri College.

The Signet of Pope Pius V. Image courtesy of Ghislieri College Archive, Pavia.

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This post was written by Maria Pia Pagani.

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