This article examines the furore aroused by Il furioso's simultaneous triple Neapolitan premiere in 1834. Situating the opera's unusual reception in the context of the complex and vibrant theatrical life of Naples, I describe how the coexistence of multiple versions of Il furioso—prose as well as operatic—inflected the meanings of Donizetti's work. Close attention is paid to the opera's interaction with local performance traditions, notably those obtaining in the city's less prestigious venues, where factors such as the permeability of the “fourth wall” brought the work into dialogue with local urban preoccupations. After considering the close parallels between the buffo slave Kaidamà (played blackface) and Pulcinella, the stock Neapolitan mask, I demonstrate how aspects of Kaidamà's representation unnervingly recalled the class of urban beggars (lazzaroni) that personified Neapolitan backwardness. At the hands of local conventions, Donizetti's work took on a form that, by evoking pervasive discourses of Southern inferiority, raised uncomfortable questions about Neapolitan self-image. The contingent and unpredictable meanings thrown up by Il furioso's reception suggest the potential importance of vernacular performance traditions as a line of future research.

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