Interpreting Tragedy in Three Musical Settings of Dante's Inferno, Canto XXXIII

David Heinsen, University of Texas at Austin

This paper analyzes three musical settings of the tale of Count Ugolino from Canto XXXIII of Dante's Inferno: Francesco Morlacchi (1834), Gaetano Donizetti (1843), and Vincenzo Ferrari- Stella (1864). While 19th-century literary criticism in Risorgimento Italy suggested a straightforward tragic interpretation of the Dantean character, I propose that tragedy manifests itself in various contrasting ways within these adaptations. Using an interpretive framework that dialogues with virtual narrative agency (Hatten 2018), narrative transvaluation and archetypes (Almèn 2008), and Dantean reading typologies (Hede 2007), I offer three different interpretations of the musical settings that tease apart the tragic nature of Ugolino, suggesting reactions of valorization, sympathy, or condemnation.