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1—Far recitare un'opera a Venezia : Origins and Sources
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The Documents of a History

As the case of Poppea attests, the distinctive and cohesive character of the Venetian operatic tradition is exemplified by the nature of its surviving documents. These fall into two general categories: manuscript and printed, categories that themselves implicate a set of further distinctions, between the musical and the textual, the professional and the public. The manuscripts, that is, the scores, representing the professional side of things, are preserved, if at all, largely by accident, by virtue of the fact that they were reused. Relatively few have, in fact, survived. The nature and purpose of the printed sources, the public documents, primarily librettos, were very different. Quite apart from their practical function of serving the audience during performances, librettos were deliberately created for the purpose of documenting the individual work. Published in large enough numbers to have ensured the survival today of several complete sets, they record the chronological development of Venetian opera from year to year. The sheer accumulation of librettos—there were nine after four seasons, thirty-five after ten, and over one hundred by 1667— provides concrete evidence of the momentum of opera mania in seventeenth-century Venice.

In addition to appealing to the collectionist tendencies of a number of letterati , such as Apostolo Zeno, whose complete sets have come down to us,[46] the


librettos inspired another type of historical record: the operatic chronology, for which they supplied the basic source material. The earliest of these publications, neither yet a chronology nor devoted exclusively to operatic or Venetian texts, was explicitly designed to take stock of the rapidly growing genre of the libretto. Leone Allacci's Drammaturgia , published in Rome in 1666, declares its purpose in the printer's preface: to preserve an undervalued and therefore highly perishable product:

It often happens that, after being read, librettos are rejected, and they are no longer valued, because of the silly things that are found in most of them, so that copies are lost, and not only is the memory of those obscured, who with great effort and study made some name for themselves, but also their countries and families. Since, in the opinion of some, [librettos] are in no small part derived from antiquity, and indistinguishable from one another in invention as well as subject matter, there having been no new' discoveries [of ancient plays], they have become so tediously similar in subject matter, usually concerning the disappearance of babies or children during the taking or sacking of a city, that readers assume they have already read them, and they intentionally abstain from seeing them, clearly recognizing them, as Burchiello said, to be patchworks of old rags, twisted and pilfered from here and there, without beginning or end, head or tail. (Appendix II.4)[47]

Allacci's volume, which underwent an ambitious revision in the eighteenth century,[48] was soon followed by the first true chronology. This was the work of the Dalmatian Cristoforo Ivanovich, himself the author of several librettos. "Le memorie teatrali di Venezia," published in Venice in 1681 (2d ed. 1688), formed an appendix to Ivanovich's Minerva al tavolino , a collection of letters on the subject of the wars against the Turks.[49] By providing a list of the dramas performed in Venice, Ivanovich, like Allacci before him, hoped to rescue them from oblivion: "From the reading of the dramas cited in the catalogue of the present 'Memorie,' posterity, for various reasons, will heap greater praise upon the authors than they received when their works were first performed" (Appendix II.6ff). Ivanovich's catalogue forms the climax of a lengthy essay on the


origins and contemporary practice of opera in Venice, which draws, in large measure, upon the prefaces of the printed librettos. His discussion of Venetian operatic practice remains by far the most explicit and reliable we have; and his chronology served as the foundation of all subsequent chronologies, notably those of the eighteenth-century writers Giovanni Carlo Bonlini (1730) and Antonio Groppo (1745).[50]

These chronologies, generally trustworthy with respect to titles, authors, theaters, and dates of performances, are less dependable for information not regularly available in printed librettos—most crucially, composers' names. Indeed, Ivanovich, particularly for the years preceding his arrival in Venice in 1657, tended to attribute music rather haphazardly (especially to Cavalli). Many of his attributions, repeated by Bonlini and Groppo, have remained unexamined, unchallenged, and uncorrected until recently.[51]

Another still insufficiently acknowledged shortcoming of all three volumes is their failure to recognize the inconsistent application of dates in the librettos they catalogued. That is, they ignored the whole problem of more veneto , dating Venetian style. Because the Venetian year traditionally began on I March, Carnival (and the opera season coincident with it), generally over by the end of February, was considered to belong to the previous year. Thus a libretto dated 1640 m.v . actually belonged to 1641, modern style (or 1640-41 if it appeared before I January). But not all Venetian dates were given more veneto . This is made clear in some cases by a discrepancy between title page and dedication date; the libretto of Cavalli's Giasone , for example, bears the date 1649 on its


title page, but the dedication is dated 30 January 1648. Clearly, then, the date on the title page should be read in modern style, that of the dedication more veneto ; the work was performed during the 1648-49 season, not that of 1649-[50] . Other cases are not so clear and can be resolved only through triangulation, using evidence external to the librettos themselves.[52]

In contrast to the librettos, whose preservation is virtually complete, the proportion of surviving scores is small. In particular, very few scores remain from the first—and, arguably, the most decisive—decade of operatic activity in Venice. Of the nearly fifty operas performed there between 1637 and 1650, music has survived for only thirteen, and by only three of the dozen or so composers known to have been involved: Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Sacrati.[53] No music at all survives from the operas of either Ferrari or Manelli, two of the most important composers of the decade, who were largely responsible for creating the musical style that came to be associated with opera in Venice.[54]

Through various circumstances, a number of the surviving scores were dispersed among libraries throughout Europe—including those in Modena, Florence, Naples, Oxford, Paris, and Vienna. Most of them duplicate scores held in the primary repository for this music, the Contarini Collection of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.[55] The 113 opera scores in the Contarini Collection (the period covered extends to 1684) owe their preservation to the efforts of two individuals: in the first place to Francesco Cavalli (1601-76), the com-


poser best represented in the collection. Near the end of his career, probably about 1670, Cavalli apparently arranged to have his operas recopied with a view to preserving them for posterity.[56] He clearly regarded them as important property, a significant part of his legacy, and made special provision for them in his will.[57] These fair copies, plus some of his autographs (which, we may assume, would also have been copied had he lived longer), eventually found their way into the Contarini Collection.[58]

The other collezionista responsible for the preservation of the scores was Marco Contarini himself, patrician and patron of opera, who built two theaters for private operatic performances at his villa at Piazzola, just northwest of Venice. Between 1679 and sometime before his death in 1689—probably in 1684—Contarini gradually and purposefully amassed a collection of scores.[59] Most of the scores in his collection date from earlier than 1679, the year his operatic productions began, and so cannot be connected with his own performances. Indeed, we should regard the entire Contarini Collection, fair copies as well as autographs (figs. 4, 5), as commemorative rather than functional documents, reflecting the desire of both Cavalli and Contarini to preserve a musical heritage.

Imperfect and incomplete as the musical sources may be, they far exceed those for the visual component of these operas. For an idea of what the works


Francesco Cavalli,  Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne , I-Vnm, It. IV, 404 (= 9928), f. 85v (copy).

Francesco Cavalli, Oristeo , I-Vnm, It. IV, 367 (=9891), f. 41 (autograph).


actually looked like on stage, the historian is forced to rely primarily on descriptions in librettos and to extrapolate from the few published engravings of scene designs.[60]

Beyond the primary source materials—the librettos and the scores—other kinds of documents bearing on the history and development of opera in seventeenth-century Venice are preserved in various archives. The most substantial and important are two large buste in the Archivio di Stato, Venice, known by students of the period as 188 and 194.[61] Comprising hundreds of folios each, they are the papers of Marco Faustini, who served as an impresario at various theaters from 1651 to 1668, working with every important composer, librettist, and singer of the period. His papers, which cover earlier years as well, include a wide variety of documents: from correspondence with agents, singers, and composers (Cesti, Cavalli, and Ziani) to contracts and theater budgets. Collectively, they supply the basis for a richly detailed history of opera during the period of his activity.

Other notable and more recently discovered Venetian archival sources include two buste of Cavalli documents from the Archivio S. Lorenzo[62] and one from the Monastero di Sta. Maria dell'Orazion a Malamocco in the Archivio di Stato,[63] and the theater documents in the Archivio Vendramin, now housed at the Casa Goldoni.[64] Still to be fully mined is a cache of documents found in the State Archives in Hannover among the correspondence of Johann Friedrich, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The duke was an important political ally, sup-


plier of arms, and frequent visitor to Venice during this period.[65] These papers include letters and reports from the duke's agents in Venice, among them the composer Sartorio and the librettists Pietro Dolfin and Nicolò Beregan, who were entrusted with hiring musicians for him. A particularly rich source of operatic gossip is provided by the letters of the duke's secretary in Venice, Francesco Maria Massi.[66]

Travelers to Venice, who formed an important component of the operatic audience, were occasionally stimulated to comment on the operatic scene in their letters or diaries. Few as they are, these comments shed considerable light on the place of opera in the life of the city.[67] Somewhat more formal are the weekly avvisi reporting the news from various cities that circulated around Italy and abroad in manuscript and, eventually, printed form, from the late sixteenth century on. Several series of manuscript avvisi from the late seventeenth century have been preserved, in which information about opera is part of the detailed description of everyday Venetian events.[68] A number of issues of the Parisian journal Le Mercure galant , from the same period, contain lengthy reports of opera in Venice.[69]

All of these sources, taken together, allow us to assemble a history of opera in Venice. The most fundamental of them, however, are the printed librettos. In regularly supplying dates and names—of patrons, theaters, librettists, sometimes of composers, singers, and stage designers—as well as the actual texts that were sung, they provide the foundation of that history. But they provide much more. Their prefaces and dedications are rich in information. Their form and


content change with the developing genre. Carefully read (on and between the lines) and considered in their entirety—from their actual poetic content (form, subject matter, and organization) to the layout of their title pages, from the publishers' and authors' prefaces to the dramatis personae and last-minute addenda—they offer a precise record of public opera at the most important period of its development, just as it was taking shape. It is against the facts and running commentary provided by the librettos that all the other sources, including the music, yield their full historical meaning.


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