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9—Gran dicerie e canzonette : Recitative and Aria
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Cavalli and Faustini

An important step in that direction was taken by Cavalli's next—and probably most important—librettist, Giovanni Faustini. Undoubtedly encouraged by the composer, with whom he collaborated steadily and exclusively for a decade, Faustini developed more explicit and more varied ways of indicating closed forms and suggesting a change from recitative to aria style. In addition to


strophic arrangements, Faustini's texts included numerous passages marked off by refrains as well as individual sections of highly metrical, rhymed texts forming individual poetic stanzas. Cavalli's response was generally more predictable than it had been in Didone .

Faustini's formal signals were not only clearer and more varied than Busenello's; they were also more numerous, but not because he was any less bound by verisimilitude than his colleague. On the contrary, he expressed his commitment to verisimilitude by stretching its boundaries, developing additional pretexts, new ways of justifying formal music. His librettos are constructed with a view to rendering song more natural. If his lack of academic background proved an advantage in this connection, it was because it permitted him to move beyond classical and mythological sources for his librettos, to create characters and situations that were not weighted down by responsibilities inherited from the past. He was free to create an imaginary new world in which fictional behavior—speaking in song—was more plausible.

Faustini exercised his freedom of invention by imbuing his characters with qualities, and his plots with incidents, that translated well into formal music—comic servants pontificating or spewing clichès, expansive, self-indulgent heroes and heroines easily carried away by love (and grief), and plots revolving around disguise, which encouraged, even required, participants to behave or think unrealistically—unlike themselves. Furthermore, to stimulate their inclination to musical expression, Faustini presented many of his characters in solo scenes, thereby releasing them from the necessity of realistic communication with their fellow actors. It was easier for an audience to accept the singing of soliloquies, of inner thoughts, than to accept sung communication between two characters. Finally, Faustini constructed texts that were formal and dramatic at the same time, that served the needs of music and action simultaneously.

His librettos contain far fewer strophic forms than Busenello's; but these are at once more standardized and more clearly differentiated from their recitative surroundings—and this by virtue not of meter but of rhyme. They usually consist of three six-line strophes that, although utilizing the preferred recitative meter—the standard seven- and eleven-syllable lines—are tightly rhymed, normally closing with a couplet. Most significant for their translation into music, successive strophes frequently share a concluding refrain (it occasionally opens the strophe as well) that emphasizes even further their isolation from their context. Cavalli, in response to their greater formal clarity and standardization, was much more consistent than before in setting them as lyrical arias. In Ormindo (1644), for example, Cavalli set twelve of the fourteen strophic texts as arias and only two as recitative. But the score has many more than twelve arias. Indeed, strophic texts comprise only about half of the total number of closed


forms in a typical Faustini libretto. Most of the others are articulated by means of refrains.

Refrains were an important component of Faustini's attempt to stretch verisimilitude. Comprising either single or multiple lines, they could promote continuity as well as closure: a refrain might recur within a recitative text for dramatic reasons, for emphasis, only temporarily interrupting the recitative flow; or it might enclose a static form. Refrains recur effectively and affectively in a wide range of situations throughout the libretto of Ormindo . While Cavalli invariably marked their recurrence musically, his treatment varied, depending on their form or dramatic context. If his response to strophic texts had become conventionalized, with refrains he continued to exercise his composer's freedom. The drama was still in his hands.

In Ormindo , Faustini often used a single-line refrain to isolate a tight rhyming quatrain or cinquain—abba, abaa , or abbaa —within a lengthy section of recitative verse. In Cavalli's setting, some of these brief texts become miniature tripartite arias, while others shade into the recitative background. In act 1, scene 8, for example, he makes a little ABA aria out of Erisbe's simple quatrain responding to Ormindo's protestations of love (refrains italicized) (example 5):


Fortunato mio cor ,
Con diluvii di gioie
Tempra l'incendio tuo benigno amor.
Fortunato mio cor .

Fortunate is my heart ,
With floods of joy
Your benign love tempers its flames.
Fortunate is my heart .

He gives additional prominence to the single-line refrain through extensive repetition of its text and music and by the addition of strings to the continuo accompaniment. Similar quatrains for Melide (a lady-in-waiting) and Erice (the nurse) in act 1, scene 5, however, are treated as simple recitative, with just a hint of extra musical expression given to the refrain line (example 6a, b):



Frena il cordoglio, frena .
Mercè d'Amore ancora
Vedrò cangiata in gioia ogni tua pena,
Frena il cordoglio, frena .

Cease your sorrow, cease .
Thanks to Love
Will I see all your suffering transformed to joy.
Cease your sorrow, cease .


Rasserena la fronte ,
Ancora Amida ancora
Cancellerà co' baci i sprezzi, e l'onte.
Rasserena la fronte .

Calm your brow .
Amida once more, once more
Will cancel his scorn and insults with his kisses.
Calm your brow .

Cavalli evidently regarded these formal hints as an excuse rather than a command for lyrical emphasis. His settings clearly depended on larger dramatic considerations. In the first example, lyrical expansion of Erisbe's protestation


of love to Ormindo is particularly appropriate because it needs to be overheard by her other lover, Amida; in the second and third examples, Melide and Erice are merely encouraging their mistress, Sicle, not to lose hope.

In the case of lengthier refrains—of four and five lines—Faustini's message may be louder, but Cavalli's response is just as independent. Indeed, although in these cases he invariably set the refrain lyrically—to impart the emphasis Faustini called for—Cavalli's treatment still depends primarily on his own interpretation of the drama. In act I, scene 7, for example, a five-line refrain encloses a highly structured seven-line text for Erisbe (example 7):

Se nel sen di giovanetti
L'alma mia
Sol desia di trar diletti ,
Vecchio Rè
Per marito il Ciel mi diè
Famelica, e digiuna
Di dolcezze veraci,
Con sospiri interotti
Passo le triste notti,
Satia di freddi, e di sciapiti baci
Pasco sol di desio l'avide brame,
E à mensa Real moro di fame.
Se nel sen . . .

Though from youthful hearts alone
Does my soul
Desire to find pleasure ,
An old king
For a husband did Heaven give me .
Famished and starved
For true sweetness,
With interrupted sighs
I spend sad nights,
Sated with cold and wasted kisses,
My eager yearnings feed only on desire,
And at a royal table I die of hunger.
Though from . . .

Cavalli expanded the refrain considerably by means of text repetition and melismatic extension, dividing it into two distinct sections with contrasting music for its final couplet, music that is then repeated and further expanded in a lengthy ritornello. Alone, Cavalli's setting of this five-line text has all the earmarks of a bipartite aria. It recurs intact as a refrain, complete with ritornello, creating a fully rounded ABA structure with recitative B section; lyrical expansion weights the refrain more heavily than the B section, whose text is heard only once. This emphasis is particularly appropriate since the refrain effectively encapsulates Erisbe's predicament, the incompatibility of her youthful yearnings with her marriage to an aged husband, a conflict that lends plausibility to her subsequent behavior.

But the composer does not always emphasize the refrain at the expense of the enclosed text. In act 1, scene 5, a four-line refrain, itself including a refrain, encloses five lines of equally structured text for Sicle (example 8):


Chi, chi mi toglie al die
Carnefice pietoso
De le sciagure mie?
Chi, chi mi toglie al die.

Who, who will deliver me from this existence,
What merciful executioner
Of my misfortunes?
Who, who will deliver me from this existence.


Angoscie aspre, ed acerbe,
Se tanto fiere siete,
Perche non m'uccidete?
De la sua vita priva
Non viva più la misera, non viva.
Chi, chi mi toglie al die . . .[25]

Harsh and bitter anguish,
If you are so savage,
Why do you not kill me?
Deprived of her life,
Let the unhappy one no longer live.
Who, who will deliver me . . .

Cavalli's setting is much more continuous; he distinguishes his refrain from the enclosed text chiefly by meter, not by affective intensity, which continues to build in the central section. The return of the refrain thus becomes the climax of the whole passage, imparting a sense of continuity rather than contrast, and creating a form that, despite—because of?—its closure, convincingly portrays Sicle's increasing desperation over her betrayal by Amida. Closure is reinforced in two different ways in these two examples: in the first by expansion of the refrain itself, in the second by the building of the middle section toward culmination in the refrain. In both cases formal closure suited or enhanced the dramatic situation. In neither was it the form of the text alone that determined the musical treatment.

Musical closure was not a necessary consequence of all refrains, however. For a text for Erisbe's aged husband Hariadeno in act 1, scene 9, in which a two-line refrain encloses nine rhyming settenari , Cavalli provided an undifferentiated recitative setting, emphasizing neither the refrain nor the highly structured central section. An aria was possible here, but the composer did not deem lyricism appropriate to the dramatic situation. Perhaps he wished to minimize sympathy for Hariadeno, to enhance his characterization as a cold old man. Drama rather than form must have been the chief motivating factor, since Cavalli set a number of texts less highly structured than this one as arias. In act 3, scene 13, he wrote an aria to a simple seven-line text, five settenari followed by a hendecasyllabic couplet, without refrain, obviously because of its dramatic position: it serves as an emotional release for Ormindo, who joyfully recognizes Hariadeno as his long-lost father.

Cavalli was more likely to accept Faustini's formal cues under certain conditions. Monologue scenes, for example, which often end with strophic texts, frequently display other hints for closure such as a refrain or a metrical passage of text. Lyricism and formality are justified in these instances, or at least mitigated, as we have already said, by the understanding that the character is voicing his thoughts to himself—and only incidentally to the audience—rather than to his fellow actors. The monologue situation seems to have encouraged Cavalli to set such texts lyrically, thereby producing a lyrical crescendo that culminated in the strophic aria.


Melide's monologue in 2.5, for example, comprises two sections, a six-line passage of versi sciolti and three six-line strophes of ottonari with refrain, calling for recitative and aria setting, respectively. Indeed, the recitative text prepares that of the aria. In it Melide reflects that she, too, wishes to love, but has decided not to, since Cupid is so cruel (example 9):

Volevo amar anch'io,
Ma vedo, che chi serve
Amore, ingiusto Dio,
Riceve in guiderdon doglie proterve,
Onde il cor sbigottito
Di non innamorarsi hà stabilito.

I, too, should have wished to love;
But I see that whoever serves
Love, O unjust gods,
Is rewarded by ferocious pains;
Whence this dumbfounded heart
Has determined never to love.

She then addresses her aria to the god of love himself:

Tendi l'arco à tuo volere. . . .

Use your bow as you will . . .

Rather than treating the opening six lines as recitative, however, Cavalli, taking advantage of their closed rhyme scheme, ababcc , set them in duple-meter aria style, actually rounding out the form by bringing back the musical material developed in lines 1-2 for line 6 and for a concluding sinfonia. The lyrical setting of this section is clearly not required by the meaning or form of the text, but it provides an effective musical springboard for the following strophic aria, which, although in a different meter, is in the same key.

Although quite rudimentary in form, this little scene prefigures the later operatic scena , which, after a lengthy period of expansion, ultimately solidified in the cantabile-cabaletta convention of nineteenth-century Italian opera. A position is taken at the beginning of the scene and expounded or amplified at the end: an opening aria launches a topic that the closing aria discharges. Paired arias like these, usually separated by a recitative passage that developed the argument of the first aria and precipitated the second, were particularly common for Faustini's secondary characters; they became a staple for the protagonists only later in the century.[26]

Like Monteverdi, Cavalli would change or reorganize text when it suited his purposes. Nowhere in Ormindo is the composer's independence of the libretto more powerfully demonstrated than in the dialogue aria at the climax of the opera, just before the resolution of the plot (in act 3, scene 12).[27] The two


characters involved are the protagonists Ormindo and Erisbe, illicit lovers who, while attempting to flee the kingdom of Erisbe's husband Hariadeno (the fact that he is also Ormindo's father is as yet unknown), have been captured, imprisoned, and poisoned by the king's soldiers, and are now awaiting the poison's fatal effect. No aria is signaled here by the librettist, who has provided an irregular text, structured only by a single recurrence of Ormindo's two-line refrain, "Non ti doler d'Amore, / Non l'oltraggiar mio Core" (example 10):


ERISBE : Ah questo è l'Himeneo,

Is this the marriage


Che ci promise d'Amatunta il Dio?

We were promised by the Cyprian god?


Son queste le sue faci,

Are these his torches


Ch'arder doveano intorno à nostri letti,

That should have burned around our beds


Per infiammarci maggiormente i petti?

To further inflame our hearts?


O di superbo, e dispietato Nume,

Oh, of haughty and unfeeling god


Traditrice natura, empio costume.

Deceitful nature, wicked custom.

ORMINDO : Non ti doler d'Amore ,

Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core ,

Do not offend him, my beloved .


Querelati del Cielo

Complain to Heaven


Contro di noi d'hostilità ripieno,

That is filled with hostility against us.


Ei fè l'aere sereno

It is he who made the air,


Per negarci il fuggir, divenir fosco

To deny us flight, become murky,


Egli crudel ci preparò quel tosco.

He, cruel one, prepared for us that poison.


Non ti doler d'Amore ,

Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core .

Do not offend him, my beloved .


Sua mercede godrem gioia infinita

As his reward we shall taste infinite joy


Ne' felici giardini,

In the happy gardens,


Di veraci riposi unichi nidi,

Of true rest, the only shelter,


Spiriti uniti eternamente, e fidi.

Spirits united and true for eternity.

ERISBE : Sì, sì, che questa notte

Yes, yes, this night


In virtude d'Amore àle nostre alme

Thanks to Love, to our souls


Aprirà un dì lucente

Shall open up a shining day


Perpetuo, e permanente.

Perpetual, and permanent.

[ORMINDONon ti doler d'Amore ,

[Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core. ]

Do not offend him, my beloved .]

ERISBE : L'ombra, ch'hor vela il mondo,

The shadow that now veils the earth


Se terrore produce

Although generating terror,


A noi partorirà stato giocondo

Will create for us a state of joy,


Contro il costume suo madre di luce.

Becoming, contrary to its nature, the mother of light.

[ORMINDO Non ti doler d'Amore ,

[Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core .]

Do not offend him, my beloved .]

ERISBE : Ma temo ohimè ben mio

But I fear, alas, my beloved


Che nel varcar di Lete,

That in passing through Lethe


Non spegna in te l'ardor l'acqua d'oblio.

The waters of forgetfulness may extinguish your passion.


Cavalli molded this text into a lengthy, three-part ostinato aria, each part containing a statement by Erisbe followed by Ormindo's refrain. While the librettist repeats Ormindo's refrain only once, within Ormindo's single speech, interspersed with five lines of recitative, Cavalli uses it twice again (bracketed here) to comfort Erisbe during her speech, integrating it into her lament by using the same ostinato figure to accompany it. Moreover, he expands these lines extensively by means of internal text repetitions. The ostinato, which has acquired enormous momentum through its persistence, almost uninterrupted, through thirty-two lines of text, terminates abruptly as Erisbe feels the first effects of the poison, and Cavalli shifts to recitative for her three final lines—and from a diatonic to a chromatic accompaniment. Extra word repetitions and aria setting were not suggested by this text. Cavalli the dramatist modified the libretto to create a much larger and more highly structured form than that provided by Faustini, a form that expresses with great intensity the lovers' increasing closeness as death approaches.

Despite the greater specificity and range of Faustini's formal cues, in particular the standardized strophic forms that evoked consistent aria treatment from the composer, Ormindo is remarkably rich in instances of the composer exercising his stylistic prerogative: in his treatment of refrains, in his use of lyricism within recitative, and in his expansion and rearrangement of text. Recitative and aria styles still mix freely, and some of the most expressive passages in the score are those particularly Cavallian efflorescences, the arioso expansions of single lines or couplets within passages of text that were clearly intended as recitative. The freedom granted by the librettist and exercised by the composer here was reduced considerably by the middle of the century, as the distinction between aria and recitative became more absolute.[28] That distinction was strengthened as the formal structure of aria texts became increasingly confirmed by their meaning and dramatic function, and eventually their position within the scene. A new stage in this development is represented by Cicognini's and Cavalli's Giasone of 1649, one of the most popular and, consequently, most influential operas of the entire century.

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9—Gran dicerie e canzonette : Recitative and Aria
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