Musical Theater Storytelling in Italy: An Exploration of Giambattista Basile’s ‘The Tale of Tales’

PIIRS Global Seminar

Gesualdo, Italy
June 20 – July 29, 2022

Led by Peter Mills ’95 and Cara Reichel ’96, Prospect Theater Company; and Stacy Wolf, professor of theater in the Lewis Center for the Arts and American Studies and Director of the Program in Musical Theater.

This course fulfills the Literature and Arts (LA) distribution requirement, as well as a course for certificates in musical theater and in theater.

Course Details

The Tale of Tales was written by Giambattista Basile in Neapolitan dialect and published posthumously c. 1634–36 by his sister Adriana Basile, a well-known early opera singer. The work, also known as the Pentamarone, comprises fifty stories and was the first collection of literary fairy tales to appear in Western Europe. Bridging the gap between oral folk tradition and literature, it became a reference point for fairy tale authors Perrault and the Brothers Grimm as well as a valued resource for folklorists.

The seminar will be divided into two phases. The first half of the course will be dedicated to gaining basic language and knowledge about the local culture, reading the source material along with critical essays, and learning basic practices of musical theater writing and the performance process. The second half of the course will focus on rehearsing original musical theater material with guest artists from New York City’s Prospect Theater Company in preparation for a culminating, site-specific theater performance, created in collaboration with members of the regional Irpinia community. Throughout the course, students will also write their own individual, creative projects as a final assignment.

In addition to studying language and history through the lens of a regional collection of tales, this course will allow students to develop a working knowledge of the richly collaborative process through which musical theater is created, as well as a firsthand understanding of the role that directors, performers, and others play in interpreting work and giving feedback to the creative development process. By working closely with professionals, students will also gain valuable experience in the craft of musical theater writing, learning some basic principles of the form as well as how to shape songs and musicalized scenes for maximum storytelling clarity and effectiveness.

The seminar will be based in the village of Gesualdo, located approximately 90 minutes northeast of Naples, in the interior of the country. Excursions will include the nearby cities of Pompeii, Paestum, Naples, Amalfi and numerous small hill towns in the Gesualdo area, each with their own specific dialect and cultural identity.

Apply for the Seminar

Application deadline: January 18, 2022. Apply for the Seminar

The Global Seminars will take place in-person and in-country in summer 2022, however, in-country seminars will be contingent on a number of factors including University travel guidelines, government travel restrictions and public health advice. Please direct questions to Nikki Woolward, program manager at

Accessibility Note

This seminar involves walking in conditions that might be unfamiliar or difficult, like cobbled sidewalks, steep hills and uneven stairs. If you require accomodations or have questions/concerns, please contact Nikki Woolward.



Gesualdo, Italy
June 20 – July 29, 2022