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7—I compositori scenici : Librettist and Composer
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Composers' Obligations

The kinds of alterations that so preoccupied librettists were of less concern to composers; or at least their concern was less obvious. One reason for this difference was sociological. Librettists, however inadequate, casual, or amateurish they claimed to be, were educated in and practiced lettere : they were writers, whose words laid traditional claim to immortality, especially since the invention of the printing press, and whose capabilities were judged by well-


established critical criteria. Composers, on the other hand, no matter how intelligent and well educated—and whatever the higher claims of music as theory—were essentially artisans, practitioners of a trade, for hire. Theirs was a service profession. Last-minute modifications determined by the demands of a patron, an occasion, or a particular performance site were a traditional part of their job. Such changes were, of course, more fundamental to the structure of librettos than of scores: they involved adding or subtracting characters, eliminating precious lines of poetry, metaphors, special turns of plot, and other such invenzioni . For composers the changes were minimal: a transposition here, an aria there.

Librettists might have been more relaxed had their works remained as ephemeral as opera scores or performances. It was the act of printing the libretto per se—a sign and consequence of institutionalization, as we have seen—that stimulated these writers' anxiety and caused them to express their concern so openly. Their professional identities (as well as their material profits) were embodied in the published work.

Librettos enjoyed an independent existence as printed texts. Scores did not; they were working documents, tied to the facts and moments of performance. Whereas it was to the librettist's advantage to distinguish between the composition and rehearsal stage in the development of his text, such a distinction was hardly relevant to the composer, for whom the two stages merged in the normal process of composition. Indeed, composition was not considered complete until the work had been readied for performance; the composer's presence at rehearsals was an integral part of his contract. This is clearly set forth in Cavalli's contract of 24 July 1658 with Marco Faustini at S. Cassiano, which stipulates that, in addition to providing one opera per year for three years himself ("con la diligenza et Virtù sua propria"), he "be present at all the rehearsals that are needed, and also to change parts, alter, cut, and add whatever is necessary in the music in the service of the opera" (Appendix IIIA.2).[35]

Although composers' scores are never as explicit as printed librettos in distinguishing between the stages of composition—between what took place before and what took place during rehearsals—they often record something of the composer's process, his methods of shaping and continually modifying his musical setting as he moved toward performance or even from one perfor-


mance to the next. Printed librettos, by their very fixity, help to shape speculation about the meanings of the scores to which they are connected. Differences between libretto and score might indicate that the score either represents a modification for a subsequent performance or an earlier stage of the libretto, which later was revised for publication by the poet; or again, the score might represent a later version that the poet could not or would not adopt for his published text.

These differences could, of course, have originated at the composition stage. Even during the early years of intimate collaboration, composers did not always set the poet's text exactly. We have already referred to important differences between Monteverdi's and Badoaro's versions of Il ritorno d'Ulisse . The scores of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea , too, diverge considerably not only from Busenello's printed text and the several extant manuscript versions of the libretto but from the scenario as well.[36]

A number of Cavalli's scores are quite different from their printed librettos. Strophic texts are set non-strophically, both as arias and recitatives, refrain lines are added, and, of course, passages of text omitted. Such differences, however, probably more reflect the temporal relationship between extant score and printed libretto than any aesthetic question. These discrepancies would probably have disappeared if the libretto could have been printed late enough to include all last-minute alterations. On the other hand, they also reveal the kinds of changes Cavalli and, presumably, other composers normally made as they worked from a manuscript libretto, changes that might subsequently be incorporated in printed librettos. In the case of librettos printed before the works were performed, we can usually assume that most differences from the score reflect composers' changes. But if they were printed afterwards, as in Busenello's Delle hore ociose , which contains all of his librettos, we must also consider that the librettist may have revised his text in the interim, and that his original text, or one closer to it, is represented in the music.[37]

Since composers presumably had less of a stake in a precisely finished product than did librettists, and since it was part of their job to make continual adjustments and changes up to the last minute, many of the indignities librettists complained about were simply matters of course to them. Piecemeal composition, for example, which might have prevented librettists from editing or polishing their works to their own literary satisfaction, was more the rule than the exception for composers. They reported the receipt and dispatching of


single acts or groups of scenes of librettos and scores with apparent equanimity. Thus Ziani, writing to Faustini on 2 August 1665 about the ill-fated Doriclea (whose last-minute cancellation we have already discussed), reported that he had just sent him the music of act 1, but was awaiting the arrival of act 2 of the libretto so that he could begin to set it.[38] And Cesti exhibited similar nonchalance when he wrote on 21 June 1665 to Beregan, whose Tito he had been contracted to set, urging him to send act 1 as soon as it was ready, without waiting until the entire work was completed.[39] He made the same request again on 12 July. He must have received the text (and set it) by 2 August, when he reacted enthusiastically to the arrival of act 2 in another letter to Beregan: "I received the second act; it is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful."[40]

Composers' piecemeal settings routinely found their way to the singers (or impresario) in the same fashion. Cavalli sent the first act of his Hipermestra to Florence ahead of the others.[41] Cesti and Ziani both refer often to having sent off a single act or several scenes with the promise of the rest in due course. In a letter of 20 December 1666, Cesti writes that he has just mailed half of act 2 of Tito and hopes that act 1 has arrived, although it lacks the opening sinfonia ("la Sinfonia avanti s'alzi la tenda"), which he will write after having finished the opera "because it isn't so urgent at the moment" ("per non essere presentemente di tanta necessità")[42] Although piecemeal setting may not have bothered composers, it seems (reassuringly) to have had a negative effect on some singers, who were frustrated in their attempt to understand their parts. As we shall see, Nicola Coresi complained that he had received the wrong impression of his role in Meraspe from the excerpt he had been sent originally;[43] and Catterin'Angela Botteghi asked to see the whole libretto of the same opera so that she could understand better how to interpret her role.[44]

Composers may have taken piecemeal composition for granted, but they were not altogether insensitive to the time pressures that plagued librettists. Ziani lost no opportunity of reminding Faustini how he had saved the day by writing Annibale in Capua in five (or six) days.[45] Speed was his trademark, a characteristic both he and, apparently, his critics emphasized, though obviously


for opposite purposes. Ziani regarded his facility ("solita facilità") as an inimitable quality,[46] which he invoked ironically in a request to Faustini for payment ("I write quickly but am paid slowly") as well as to counter criticism of his works: "If my arias are, have been, and will have been good, for the theater as well as for church, all of them pass under the same rush in the making."[47] He imputed to the envy of his competitors the accusation of his having written Alciade while in transit from Innsbruck to Venice, yet he himself described some music he was sending to Faustini as "another piece of an opera completed by me in transit."[48]

Ziani was especially famous (or infamous) for his speed, but other composers could work just as quickly when necessary—though they and their supporters did not hesitate to exaggerate such feats. Sartorio, for example, was reported to have set Bussani's Massenzio in thirteen days, although it probably took him closer to a month.[49] Whereas Sartorio survived the pressure and even profited from it in enhanced reputation, not all composers were so resilient. One of them, Giovanni Antonio Boretti, reportedly even died from the anxieties of readying an opera for production: "Poor Gio Ant Borretti . . . died yesterday after two weeks of sickness caused by readying his opera for production" (Appendix IIIB.11c).[50]

Although they were often at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control, composers, like their librettist colleagues, recognized the difference between working at leisure and under pressure. Cesti, for example, who complained about having to compose five acts of Il potno d'oro in six weeks, wrote


appreciatively to his librettist Beregan about being able to take his time over Tito , working at the relaxed pace of one act per month: "When one can enjoy the benefit of time, things come out much better."[51] In the event, however, he did not finish the opera any too soon—in fact, not until 17 January, less than a month before the premiere at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[52]

The main source of trouble for composers, as for librettists, was the time it took to negotiate with the singers. It is clear that casts were often not fully assembled until well after the librettist and composer would have had to begin work. Librettists could still manage with a fairly general notion of the cast; some idea as to the number and relative importance of the singers would suffice for an initial draft of the text, which could be modified later. Giovanni Faustini, we remember, had sketched a number of librettos without knowing who would perform (or even set) them. It was unthinkable, however, for a composer to begin work before he knew at least the ranges of the voices for which he was writing. In the early days of the stable, continuous companies of Ferrari-Manelli, Cavalli-Faustini, and Sacrati, this was not a problem, and there were even periods of stability later in the century, when casts carried over from one season to the next.

But last-minute hiring and cast changes were increasingly the rule.[53] Composing Alciade (1666), Ziani had to make several decisions on his own ("in order not to lose time") because Faustini had not informed him of the cast in time. He wrote the role of the boatman (Nocchiero ) for the bass singer (who otherwise had a very small part and could evidently double here) and Lerilda for a soprano (of which Faustini had several to choose from). And he asked for information on the voice for the "Vecchia" Clipea in act 3, not indicated by Faustini, having assigned it, in the interim, to the soprano who also played Idiotea—and who, he said, had not appeared on stage for a while (Appendix IIIA.10). Even in parts that had been cast, however, he was forced to make a number of alterations in response to last-minute substitutions or even careless assumptions: octave


transposition of one role (Guerra) from baritone to alto, and transposition a fourth or fifth lower to suit the alto performer of the messenger (Nuntio Messo ) in Doriclea , which he had originally scored for soprano.[54]

Cesti, too, repeatedly requested information about the intended singers for his Tito , at one point asking specifically who would sing the hunter (Cacciator ) in the final scene of act 2, "because there is no indication."[55] At another point he made a revealing suggestion of his own, that instead of two sopranos and a contralto, it would be better to have a lower voice, either tenor or baritone, "because in the most beautiful scenes diversity of voices seems much better, and if the scene between Domitiano and Berenice, as it is, scored for two sopranos, were sung by two different voice parts, it would stand out marvelously, and I am taking into account that with the two Amorini there will be nine sopranos."[56]

The information requested by both Ziani and Cesti evidently concerned minor roles, many of which involved decisions about doubling. Clearly the major roles would have been assigned earlier. Normally, casts were decided upon several months before the beginning of a season—usually by August—with singers scheduled to arrive in Venice, parts learned, by mid November at the latest—that is, about six weeks before the premiere, when rehearsals began.[57] The planning of special stage effects and the construction of machinery


probably began before the singers arrived—in October.[58] But there were often troublesome exceptions. Long-distance negotiations with at least one singer, the much-sought-after castrato Ciecolino (Antonio Rivani), were still in progress on 17 November 1670, a mere month before the season was to begin.[59] Two years later the same difficult singer did not arrive in Venice until late December, after the season had started, "tardi per recitare," but not too late to appear in at least some performances.[60]

Although negotiations with singers often concluded surprisingly close to the beginning of the season, there was apparently considerable flexibility with respect to the actual date of opening night for a work. Traditionally, of course, the season coincided with Carnival, which began the day after Christmas, and most opera houses opened as close to that time as possible. We noted earlier how Marco Faustini tried to move the opening day of SS. Giovanni e Paolo forward by some two weeks in 1666 in order to seize the advantage from his competition.[61] Later in the century, openings in early December or even late November were not uncommon, particularly in years when Carnival was unusually short.[62] Theater managers could hardly be blamed for wanting to squeeze more performances into a season.


In any case, since the opening date was not strictly fixed, it could be postponed if the opera were not ready yet; if the problem concerned the second opera of the season, the first could continue until the second was ready, or else an opera from a previous season could be substituted at the last minute. All of these situations actually occurred. Composers were announced and changed (Argiope );[63] a new libretto and setting, or just a new setting, commissioned at the last minute (Eliogabalo, Massenzio );[64] or an old opera substituted (Orontea for Doriclea ).[65]

Naturally the most intense pressure occurred during the rehearsal period, when a libretto, along with the score, took its final shape. Many operas were reportedly revised and readied for performance in a matter of days: twelve days proved adequate to prepare Annibale in Capua for performance in 1661 (twice as long as the five [or six] it took Ziani to write it, as he never tired of saying), ten for a revival of Cesti's Orontea in 1666, and a record eight for his Dori in 1667.[66] Printed librettos and manuscript scores both reveal the kinds of changes that would have taken place during rehearsals, or else during the run of the work. The cast of Faustini's and Cavalli's Calisto , for example, gained a character, a crude peasant (Bifotco ), at the last minute (or at least after the libretto had been printed and the score copied). Bifolco appears in three scenes, twice alone and once with another character, in acts 2 and 3. Faustini refers to these scenes in a note to the reader as "superimposed on the original structure of the story to delight you,"[67] and Cavalli's score accounts for the addition with the rubric:


"Qui và la Scena del Bifolco," though no music is provided.[68] Conversely, the cast of Cavalli's and Minato's Artemisia was modified by reduction sometime after the music was written, but before the libretto was printed. The score, mostly autograph, has music for a character called Cleante, who does not appear in the libretto, and it actually illustrates how the reduction was achieved. In three places, music for Cleante has been crossed out and the text distributed to other characters in the opera.[69] The fact that Cleante never made it into the printed libretto and that the score is one of Cavalli's composing scores rather than a fair copy suggests a relatively early date for the modification.[70]

Dramatic coherence, what there was of it, was increasingly at the mercy of such exigencies. A curious extreme was surely reached in 1676 when Giulio Cesare Corradi, the librettist of Germanico sul Reno , claimed to have added a scene for an Orfeo, not listed in the cast and totally extraneous to the plot, in order to exhibit the talents not of a singer but of a special violinist.[71] But once again, the incorporation of such late arrivals, motivated by the usual desire to appeal to the audience, exacted a toll principally on the librettists. The required changes were often substantial enough to interfere with whatever dramatic continuity or balance their original texts may have aspiredto. To composers the cost was negligible. Musical modifications were usually relatively minor and had little if any effect on the opera as a whole.

We return then to the social distinction between librettist and composer and their different claims, aspirations, and functions with respect to dramma per musica . Librettists were deeply concerned with the dramatic coherence and literary integrity of their work, as we have seen in the elaborate strategies they developed for preserving it or compensating for its absence. Composers could not possibly have felt the same way. Their scores could never have aspired to the objective wholeness of librettos; their music was doubly contingent: on their librettists and on their performers. Musical coherence independent of el-


ther was an anachronism and an impossibility. Indeed, once the formerly unified activity of producing an opera had disintegrated into an amalgam of specialized tasks, the subservience of the composer in the operatic hierarchy became still clearer.

The kinds of alterations composers were called upon to make during rehearsals or in preparation for revivals, to adapt their works to new performers or to the requirements of a new theater or audience, remained central to their profession. But because of institutionalization and the consequent logistical problems raised by geographical separation and competing patronage, these alterations could not always be made by the original composers. Cesti, for example, instructed Beregan to arrange for Rovettino to fulfill his rehearsal obligations—namely, "to cut, add, change, or do whatever else was necessary in the music"—since he could not come to Venice for the premiere of his Tito , owing to commitments to his employer in Vienna.[72] And Ziani, although he referred on several occasions to his obligatory presence in Venice for the rehearsals of his work, assuring Faustini at one point that he would not "leave Venice until the whole score has been furnished and accommodated,"[73] later gave him rather grudging permission to engage someone else for the task.[74]

Given the nature and extent of some of the changes that took place at rehearsals—new arias, cuts, transpositions, rearrangements, even whole new roles—which might have been supplied by someone other than the original composer, many of these works would certainly qualify as pasticcios. But they were not the first such cooperative ventures. Multiple authorship may not have become a necessity until the pressures of institutionalization made it so, but it had been a reality, even a positive feature considered worthy of advertising, well before then.

Some early Venetian operas were specifically designed and promoted as pasticcios. La finta savia (1643), for example, proudly boasted the music of four different composers: Laurenzi, Crivelli, Merula, and Ferrari (Appendix I.18b).[75] Many of the operas we have already mentioned ended up as pasticcios, either by design or by accident. Argiope (1649), as we have seen, was touted as


a pasticcio manqué;[76] Faustini's revival of Cesti's Orontea became a pasticcio in effect when it was prefaced by Ziani's new setting of the prologue to Doriclea .[77] And Cavalli's Giasone became part of an overt pasticcio when it appeared in Rome as Il novello Giasone in 1671 with some music by Stradella. Indeed, nearly every work that was revived, either in Venice or elsewhere, in the original composer's absence, or after his death, was a pasticcio. The most famous of these, at least in the versions that have come down to us, is Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea , the only modern "classic" of Venetian opera. Both extant scores, which probably reflect the Naples revival of 1651, contain music that Monteverdi could not have written. The only disagreement in this case is over the amount of original music still remaining.[78]

But that is not a meaningful question for operatic music of this period. Unlike that of the libretto, the sanctity of the operatic score was a concept virtually unknown and irrelevant in seicento Venice. Although it is difficult to judge from our distance, the replacement of one composer by another does not seem to have created a problem of stylistic incongruity either for contemporary audiences or for the composers themselves. Operas were increasingly bound by musico-dramatic conventions, making substitution of composers relatively easy.[79]

Because their professional stature and livelihood depended on it, librettists emphatically claimed and numbered their texts, carefully keeping track of their careers and burnishing their reputations. Composers, however, as they continued, often anonymously, to fulfill their multiple functions, increasingly disappeared behind their creations, leaving the singers to represent them.


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7—I compositori scenici : Librettist and Composer
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