Il convegno dei martiri is a very short tragedy (his author defined it a ‘visione drammatica’) dedicated to the memory of a young Fascist squadrista killed during a gunfight against left-wing militants, just before the March on Rome (Gustavo Doglia, killed in Turin on 1 October 1922). The play is an allegorical re-enactment of this episode, staging a young man who is killed in an ambush on the entry of a war cemetery and is welcomed by the souls of the dead soldiers. The play was published on the journal Comoedia in November 1922, and was staged for the first time in Rome, at Teatro Argentina, on 21st April 1923, by the Compagnia Niccodemi, in the presence of Mussolini. It was subsequently performed several times, and Fascist composer Giuseppe Blanc wrote an opera adaptation of it.
The Sacralisation of the New Man’s Total Politics through the Arts
Shaping the New Man’s Reality by Fashioning National Myths
Monumentalism: Visualising Subjectivity and Objectivity
A journalist and a novelist as well as a playwright, Salvator Gotta was an early and strong supporter of Fascism, which is evident in his artistic production; a recurring theme in his works is that of war and sacrifice. Il convegno dei martiri can be placed within this context, as a play that cements the connection between young Fascists and war veterans, creating a powerful national myth. When he is killed, the protagonist of the play is welcomed by the souls of the dead soldiers as one of them, because like them, he has died while heroically defending his homeland against the chaos and moral decay in which the nation had sunk after the war (chiefly represented by left-wing protests). For this reason, he was, like them, a martyr. The fact that the play was inspired by a true story made the connection with contemporary events even more powerful and enhanced its value in supporting the Fascist ‘revolutionary’ cause.
In 1934, Gotta wrote an important article for the journal Comoedia, the same that had published Il convegno dei martiri. In this article, entitled ‘Teatro fascista’, the author stated his views on how playwrights could, and should, support the regime through their art. The fact that he wrote this article in 1934 is not a coincidence, as this was a crucial period for the relationship between theatre and Fascism, in which Mussolini made important speeches and interventions to encourage a renewal of theatre and theatrical culture that would be aligned with strong popular feelings as interpreted and channelled by the Fascist regime. Gotta argued for the need of developing a Fascist theatre at least partially didactic, edifying and constructive. He claimed he had been the initiator of such Fascist theatre precisely with the play Il convegno dei martiri, which he had written even before the March on Rome and the establishment of the regime.
Like many other artists of the period, Gotta argued that Fascist art was art that would be able to interpret the spirit and the values of Fascism: ‘Si può, si dovrebbe – a mio parere – fare del teatro fascista così, ispirandoci alla fonte più pura: quella della fede, dando voce e canto sulla scena a creature vive di passione rivoluzionaria, e celebrando […] le tante eroiche gesta compiute in tutti i lembi della Patria’. [‘We could, and we should […] produce Fascist theatre inspired by the purest source: that of faith, giving voice to creatures throbbing with revolutionary passion', and 'celebrating […] the many heroic deeds carried out in every part of the country. Art has the function of closely following the spiritual life of the people that express it and, often, even of preceding it'] (Gotta 1934, 6). The views of Gotta reflected the position and strategies the regime adopted in the 1930s to promote lower classes’ attendance of theatrical performances, with the aim of increasing and consolidating consensus and forming a national consciousness (see Carri di Tespi and 18 BL).
Gotta, Salvator. 1934. ‘Teatro fascista’. Comoedia 5 (May).
Pedullà, Gianfranco. 1994. Il teatro italiano nel tempo del fascismo. Bologna: il Mulino.
Scarpellini, Emanuela. 1989. Organizzazione teatrale e politica del teatro nell’Italia fascista. Firenze: La Nuova Italia.