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Spinal Deformities in Romantic Operas

Andreotti, Mattia, MD; Caruso, Gaetano, MD; Massari, Leo, MD; Riva, Michele Augusto, MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000002399

 The librettos of several of the most famous Romantic operas contain references to disease. These operas can serve as valuable sources of information regarding how spinal deformities were understood during the nineteenth century by physicians and lay persons alike. Original librettos of the operas “Rigoletto” (1851) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) and “La Esmeralda” (1836) by Louise Bertin (1805–1877) were analyzed. In both operas, spinal deformities of Rigoletto and Quasimodo are a central issue. In detail, Quasimodo could suffer from von Recklinghausen's neurofibromatosis, while Rigoletto could be affected by severe adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. The plays are an expression of the nineteenth century attitude toward deformity: the hunchbacks are ridiculed and excluded from the society due to their deformity. Thus, they are forced by society to act as ugly and evil beings. Although both Rigoletto and Quasimodo show an intense love, at the end of each opera, they are defeated by loss of this love. This is an evident sign that, despite its willingness to tackle the subject, nineteenth-century society was not still ready to attribute success or human value to people affected by disabilities.

Level of Evidence: 5

Department of Trauma and Orthopedic Surgery, University of Ferrara, Ferrara

School of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano Bicocca, Monza, Italy.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Michele Augusto Riva, MD, PhD, School of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano Bicocca, via Cadore, 48, IT-20900, Monza, Italy; E-mail:

Received 29 June, 2017

Revised 20 July, 2017

Accepted 8 August, 2017

The manuscript submitted does not contain information about medical device(s)/drug(s).

No funds were received in support of this work.

No relevant financial activities outside the submitted work.

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