Initially, Casanova mentions the Teatro Aliberti (also known as the Teatro Alibert and later as the Teatro delle Dame) only very briefly, not at all giving it its due as the powerhouse it was in Rome.
You’ll remember C’s trials with Barbaruccia, how she showed up at his apartment dressed as an abate, how the Cardinale gave her protection. While all this was playing out, Casanova was attempting to lay low and act as though all was normal, that he was not involved in the affair. His friend, the Abate Gama, shared Rome’s gossip about the girl.
“The story was interesting,” Casanova wrote, “and the attention with which I listened to it was far from offending the inquisitive Gama, who would certainly have told me nothing if he knew how deeply I was involved and how great my interest in the story must be. I went to the opera at the Teatro Aliberti.”
This visit occurred in 1744. The theater was originally built in 1718 by Antonio D’Alibert for opera performances. At that time it was Rome’s largest theater, with seven tiers of boxes, though it was later enlarged even further in 1720. Though it was initially successful, it later went bankrupt and was sold, to be renovated and reopened in the 1730s, after a name change to the Teatro delle Dame. This is the version of the theater C would have visited, at the corner of Via Alibert and Via Margutta, not far from the Piazza di Spagna.
After other changes and permutations, the theater burned to the ground in February 1863. An inn was built on the site, and its latest incarnation is the Hotel Forte, which was flying its flag on the day I visited the street last summer with my guide Adriano Contini.
However, the Teatro Aliberti appeared again in C’s memoirs when he returned to Rome in 1770-71, featuring in the episodes involving Armellina and Emilia as well as the Princess of Santa Croce. C had told the Princess and Cardinal de Bernis about these lovely young women essentially imprisoned at the Convent of Santa Caterina de Funeri. Taking an interest in the girls, “Three or four days later the Princess summoned me to her box in the Teatro Aliberti,” C wrote, “and she showed me the Cardinal’s written permission to visit the house with what company she chose to bring” (Vol. 12, Ch. 12, 41). C was now free to bring Armellina and Emilia into society.
After Casanova had been smitten by Armellina’s charms, he was chagrined that she would not grant him any “favors,” as he called them. He stopped visiting the girls at the convent. After about a week, the Superioress summoned C to her, where she confided that the girls cried constantly, wondering how they had offended Casanova. When C told the Superioress that Armellina hadn’t even granted him a kiss, she replied, “I think … that there is less harm in a kiss than in the scandal your abandoning her is causing” (49).
To assuage the girls, the Superioress told Casanova, “Do me the favor to come tomorrow; they are dying to go at least once to the opera at the Aliberti and to the opera buffa at the Capranica” (50). C’s mood changed considerably after the girls agreed to accompany him: “After telling them that I would come to take them to the Teatro Aliberti, I left them with the joy which a man in love must feel when he is certain that he will succeed, even though with great difficulty” (52).
They used the Princess of Santa Croce’s coach. C wrote, “I took them to the opera, where I never interrupted the attention they should give to a spectacle they were seeing for the first time” (52). They didn’t spend the time socializing with others, as was very common at the opera. However, Armellina was curious about the castrati singers, performers who were well known to Roman audiences. “Armellina insisted that the one who was singing the second role was a woman,” Casanova told us, “his bosom proved it to her. I asked her if she would dare to go to bed with him, and she answered that she would not, because a decent girl must always be in bed alone” (52-53). Armellina and Emilia enjoyed themselves, though C despaired of ever enjoying more than a few caresses; in other words, by that measure, Casanova did not succeed. Leaving the Teatro Aliberti, they went to an inn where they enjoyed a grand supper that included expensive oysters brought from the Arsenale in Venice, an evening that included passing oysters from one mouth to another.
Sounds to me like a certain kind of success.