The Bruscello of Piazze
It is not possible to reconstruct the origins of Bruscello in Piazze. Some testimonies recall the performances of the 1920s in the old town square, packed with peasant-actors in stage costumes, musicians and the audience, mostly coming from the surrounding countryside. Over the years the community of Piazze, albeit with some interruptions, has continued the popular tradition of Bruscello, constituting a specific city committee that over time has produced: Turno and Enea (1934) and after a long interruption for the Second World War, Giulio Assassino (1947), Turno Enea (1948) and Guglielmo Tell (1950), with which the historical phase ends. In the fifties and sixties, in fact, there was a significant disappearance of the Bruscello, resumed only in 1973 with Re Saul, Giuseppe Ebreo (1974), Giuditta and Oloferne (1975). The last Bruscelli were written and directed by Italo Ventosi, who proposed a reinterpretation not only of epic-biblical themes but also dramatisation of local stories and legends including La Ballata di Carbonetti, performed in Piazze in the 1990s.
The Bruscello was a very lively form of popular theatre in the Tuscan countryside until the 1950s, when due to profound economic and social transformations there was gradual depopulation of the sharecropping farms and a consequent interruption in their age-old traditions. From the 19th century to the 1950s, historical-ethnographic research and testimonies documented the existence of Bruscello, with numerous different types of content and expression, in a large geographical area of the province of Siena: Monte Amiata, Val d’Orcia, Val di Chiana and Monte Cetona. In all these areas, the Bruscello assumed specific forms over time which, although classified in the epic vein, are distinguished by the choice of subjects often taken from epic-chivalric poems, from biblical stories, from hagiography or from legend, frequently including the story of Pia de’ Tolomei.
Piazze’s Bruscello shares with this tradition the dramatisation of epic tales with a particular preference for biblical themes, and differs in some aspects of melody and musical accompaniment.
In the past, in fact, in Piazze the melody of the song was unique and repetitive for all the characters, and musical accompaniment only appeared as an interlude between the stanzas or as an introduction to the choruses. The instrumental element was necessary to keep the tonality of the song consistent and prevent the bruscellanti from pitching their respective parts differently.
In the seventies, use of the trumpet is recorded, from 1990 the pianola, while for the previous Bruscelli we have no evidence that can attest to the definite presence of a barrel organ or accordion, very common instruments in Val di Chiana.
Sources from the second half of the nineteenth century tell us that performance locations for the Bruscello in Tuscany could be sharecropping yards, squares or churchyards, and that generally they were sung during “mezzaquaresima” (“half Lent”) or on the occasion of fairs or patronal festivals. Recent testimonies from Piazze report that the Bruscello involved the participation of numerous actors and took place in August in the town squares. Female bruscellanti have been recorded in Piazze since the seventies. In previous performances, as per tradition, all the roles were assigned only to men.