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

Giacinto Andrea Cicognini's background and career differed as much from those of his contemporaries as did his librettos. Educated in Florence rather than Venice, he was well versed in the tradition of Spanish comedias , of which he produced several adaptations and translations.[29] And he was fully established as


the author of a number of prose dramas before entering the world of opera toward the end of his literary career. Two of his librettos, Giasone and Gli amori d'Alessandro magno e di Rossane , even led an independent existence as prose dramas; in the former case, the libretto was the source of the play, while in the latter the relationship was reversed.[30] Cicognini's librettos are more varied, more individualized, and poetically more sophisticated than those of his Venetian contemporaries. They stand out especially for their mixture of comic and serious characters—even the permeation of serious elements by comedy—and for the dramatic impact of the poetry itself. Although versi sciolti still form the basis of his poetic language, Cicognini employed a much greater variety of meters throughout his text, primarily in the arias, but also in recitative for dramatic purposes.

The most famous scene in Giasone is Medea's invocation of the spirits of the Underworld at the end of the first act. Standing as the prototype of all subsequent operatic incantations, it illustrates the ways in which Cicognini used poetry for dramatic contrast. The variety of accent produced by the changing meters (two symmetrical groups of quinari sdruccioli , each closing with a tronco [A: 12 lines], followed by a group of mixed settenari and endecasillabi [B: 11 lines], then an irregular mixture of two-, three-, four-, five-, seven-, and eleven-syllable lines, variously accented [C], and finally ten quaternari tronchi [D]) combined with free rhyme irregularly interspersed with couplets, and the contrast between sdruccioli, piano , and tronco verse-endings creates a scene of remarkable energy (example 11):



Dell'Antro magico
Stridenti Cardini
Il varco apritemi,
E frà le tenebre
Del negro Ospitio
Lassate me.
Sù l'Ara orribile
Del lago Stigio
I fochi splendino,
E sù ne mandino
Fumi, che turbino
La luce al Sol:

Of this magic cavern,
You creaking hinges,
Open wide for me.
And into the darkness
Of the black hospice
Let me go.
On the horrible altar
Of the Stygian lake
Let the flames rise,
And send forth
Clouds of smoke to obscure
The light of the sun.


Dall'abbruciate glebe
Gran Monarca dell'Ombre intento ascoltami,
E se i dardi d'Amor già mai ti punsero,
Adempi ò Rè de i sotterranei popoli,
L'amoroso desio, che '1 cor mi stimola,
E tutto Averno alla bell'opra uniscasi;

From your fiery globes,
Great monarch of the shades, listen carefully!
And if Love's darts have ever struck you,
Fulfill, O King of the Underworld,
The amorous desire that quickens my heart,
And let all Hades join in the fair deed.


I Mostri formidabili,
Del bel Vello di Frisso,
Sentinelle feroci infaticabili,
Per potenza d'Abisso
Si rendono a Giasone oggi domabili.

Let the horrendous monsters,
Fierce, untiring guardians
Of Phrixos's lovely fleece
Through the powers of the abyss
Be subdued by Jason today.


Dall'arsa Dite
(Quante portate
Serpi alla fronte)
Furie venite,
E di Pluto gl'Imperi a me svelate.
Già questa verga io scoto
Già percoto
Il suol col piè:
Volate a me:
Cosi indarno vi chiamo?
Quai strepiti,
Quai sibili,
Non lascian penetrar nel cieco baratro
Le mie voci terribili?
Dalla sabbia
Di Cocito
Tutta rabbia
Quà v'invito,
Al mio soglio,
Quà, vi voglio,
A che si tarda più?
Numi Tartarei, sù, sù, sù, sù;
. . .

From fiery Dis
(Oh, how many
Serpents you bear on your brow)
Furies, come,
And reveal to me Pluto's kingdom!
I already sway this wand,
Already the earth
Quakes beneath our feet.
Spirits of
Fly to me!
Do I call you in vain?
What clamor,
What hissing,
Prevents my terrible words
From penetrating into the blind chasm?
From the shore
Of Cocytus
All the furies
I summon here.
To my throne
I order you.
Why do you still tarry?
Spirits of Tartarus, up, up, up, up!
. . .


Si, si, si,
Il mio Rè,
Al suo prò
Di la giù
Si, si, si

Yes, yes, yes,
My king
Will conquer.
For him
The deity
Of the Underworld
Will fight.
Yes, yes, yes,
He will conquer,
He will conquer.

Such verses imperiously demanded to be matched in the musical setting, and Cavalli responded effectively to the poet's cues with music that reinforces the metric individuality of the scene. In restricting the melody to repeated notes and simple triadic figures following precisely the accentuation of the text, the composer powerfully projects the intensity of Medea's invocation. It is worth noting here that the composer distinguishes individual metric sections of the text


from one another and that part of his setting—the first twelve lines—clearly qualifies as a closed form or aria, though it is not particularly lyrical.

More generally speaking, Cicognini controls meter and rhyme with particular skill to distinguish clearly between recitative and aria verse. Indeed, the contrast between the two types of poetry is much cleaner in Giasone than in any of Faustini's (or Busenello's) librettos. Strophicism is by far Cicognini's preferred method of indicating an aria, characterizing more than two-thirds (seventeen of twenty-four) of the closed forms in the work; and Cavalli set virtually all of Cicognini's strophic texts as arias. All seven of the non-strophic arias,like those of Faustini, are based upon sections of text that stand out because of their special meter and rhyme—like the opening section of Medea's incantation scene already mentioned. But their independent setting is assured—or at least strongly suggested—by their highly individualized meter and unusual length: several of them comprise as many as ten or eleven lines.

Cicognini's strophic texts as well are unusually long. Rather than the characteristic Faustinian six lines, most of Cicognini's strophes range between eight and ten lines. Furthermore, they are extremely varied: hardly any two forms share the same meter or rhyme.[31] The variety is achieved not only through the choice of a different meter for virtually every text but through the metric changes within individual texts themselves. Whereas some arias are in a single meter, relying on the rhyme scheme to articulate their form, others combine lines of very different meters, sometimes as many as five or six in a single strophe. Delfa's aria in 3.10, for example, utilizes four meters and a variety of accentuation patterns and verse endings, which produces a distinctly offbalance (comic?) effect (example 12):[32]


È. follia
Frà gl'Amori
Seminar la Gelosia,
Per raccoglier al fin' rabble, e rancori,
Consolar sol' ne può
Quel ben' che in sen ci stà.
La Gioia, che passò,
In fumo, in ombra, in nulla se ne và;
Chi vuol sbandir dal cor' doglia, e martello
Lasci amar, ami ogn'un, goda 'l più bello.

It is madness
To sow jealousy
Between lovers,
Only to reap anger and bitterness in the end.
Only the lover we hold in our arms
Can bring comfort.
Joy that is passed
Goes up in smoke, in shadow, in nothing.
Whoever wishes to banish woe and anguish from his heart,
Should let himself love, love everyone, and enjoy the best.

Cavalli's setting underscores the irregular structure of the text by sticking quite closely to it, creating an aria that is comically erratic and unpredictable, particularly in its phrase structure. The pattering musical rhythm exactly translates that of the text, from which the unassuming melody, consisting primarily of repeated notes and mincing half-steps, does not detract. Only at the final line does the voice finally cease its patter, the bass now taking over for a characteristic conclusive flourish. Although Cavalli has followed the text precisely, almost slavishly, until this point, he expands the aria at the end, slowing the vocal part down for the last line, which contains the main message of the aria.

In contrast to Faustini's exploitation of refrain forms, only three of Cicognini's arias—one of them strophic—are marked by a refrain—apparently too few for Cavalli, who created several refrain forms himself by repeating first lines of arias at the end.[33] Cicognini hardly used refrains in his recitative either; but when he did their message seems clear: Cavalli regarded them all as invitations to lyrical setting. And he found plenty of other opportunities for arioso expansion—within and increasingly at the ends of speeches. Significantly, the most extended arioso passages are reserved for Egeo and, especially, Isifile, the two principals whose love remains unrequited for most of the opera and who therefore have less to sing about and are more prone to emotional excess seeking or requiring an outlet than the other characters.

In keeping with a rather old-fashioned conception of verisimilitude, Cicognini distributed his arias quite unevenly among the cast. The four principals, Giasone, Medea, Isifile, and Egeo, sing very few—only one or at the most two each—all of them specially justified by the dramatic circumstances. (And this despite the fact that established legend was left far behind in this plot, the


traditional names of the characters notwithstanding). This contrasts markedly with the large number of arias given to the secondary characters: five for the old nurse Delfa, and three each for Alinda and Oreste. Confirmation, perhaps, of a kind of abstract taste for arias is provided by Rosminda, a gardener, who seems to have been introduced solely for the purpose of singing an aria in 1.3—and possibly to provide cover for the set change required for Medea's appearance in her throne room in 1.4.[34]

Cicognini's decisions were determined by considerations of verisimilitude not only in the distribution of arias, but in their dramatic function and placement within scenes. With the exception of three or four, all the arias take place out of earshot of the other characters—either in solo scenes or when the other character in the scene is asleep;[35] or else they are specifically used, as arias, to enhance a dramatic situation or a characterization. For example, Giasone's first appearance in the opera is marked by an expansive aria that conveys, economically and operatically—both to the audience and to his lieutenant Ercole—Medea's power over him. Ercole, responding to his captain's "aria as aria" as evidence of irrationality, urges him to return to his senses.

In placing most of his arias at the beginnings of scenes, Cicognini exploits their natural potential for emphasis: to set up a situation against which other characters (or the same character in a monologue) can react. In the few instances, usually comic monologues, where he places them at the ends of scenes, they are more static, summarizing the action that has occurred and marking the singer's exit.[36] Of course the dynamics of the two kinds of scenes are very different from one another, and the variety of aria placement corresponds to larger dramatic considerations. Arias can be propulsive at beginnings of scenes but not at ends. Giasone's scene-opener, in addition to characterizing his position within the plot, sets the whole drama in motion, beginning to build anticipation for the appearance of the legendary Medea two scenes later. Monologue scenes that close with arias are usually external to the plot; they are intended not to further the action but to develop characterization, to let the audience in on the character's thoughts.[37]

Cicognini distinguished more clearly between aria and recitative than any previous librettist, reinforcing that distinction by comfortable, appropriate


placement within the drama, and provided the opportunity for greater musical variety in his arias. But Cavalli still asserted his privileges as a musical dramatist in the usual ways: by imposing his own form on arias and, even more characteristically, by exercising his option of setting recitative text lyrically for affective purposes.

The composer's ultimate control over the librettist's form is especially striking in the opening scene of act 3, for Oreste and Delfa, confidant and nurse of Isifile and Medea respectively, who represent opposite sides in their mistresses' tug-of-war for Giasone. Their dialogue is organized in three strophes of four successive ottonari sdruccioli , two strophes for Oreste enclosing one for Delfa. Although formally parallel, the three stanzas do not share the same mood. Oreste's opening strophe, in which he comments lyrically on the beauty of the shadowy night, is countered by Delfa, who punctures his lyrical effusion by denigrating the shadow as temporary and fleeting, offering the non-sequitur that she would find the embraces of a lovable husband more delightful. Her response causes an abrupt change in Oreste's tone as he defensively strikes back at her, hoping to disqualify himself as an object of her desires (example 13):


ORESTE : Nel boschetto, ove odor spirano,

In this wood where lovely flowers


Vaghi fiori, e '1 suol ricamano,

Breathe out their scents and embroider the ground,


Ove l'Aure intorno aggirano,

Where gentle breezes waft,


A posar l'ombre ne chiamano;

The shade beckons us to repose.

DELFA : L'ombra a me non è giovevolle,

Shade does not please me,


Ch'è fugace, e vana, è instabile,

is fleeting, useless, and fickle.


Più che l'ombra, è dilettevole

More than shade, it is delightful


Abbracciar marito amabile.

To embrace a palpable body.

ORESTE : Nel bramar sei larga, e calida,

Your passion is ravenous and hot,


Fiacca, e scarsa è mia cupidine,

Weak and scarce is my desire.


E Pigmea mia forza invalida,

And pygmy are my feeble powers,


Polifema è tua libidine.

Polyphemous your libido.

Despite their different moods, Cavalli set both of Oreste's strophes to the same music; at least in the first strophe that music hews closely to the meaning of the text. Three sequential phrases of ascending eighth-notes in 5/4 meter set the first three parallel lines; but for the fourth line, appropriate to its meaning—rest after action ("A posar l'ombre ne chiamano")—Cavalli counteracts the parallelism, almost wilfully doubling the note values as the melody descends from its peak to cadence on its low point. The result is a rather asymmetrical, but nicely shaped, strophe that ignores the text form as it follows, literally, its meaning.


Delfa's strophe, though it is in the same form, is set to different music, but with equal attention to text meaning. Here Cavalli's treatment is again sequential, with three of the four parallel lines set syllabically to repeated quarter notes; it is the second line of this strophe that evoked a contrasting setting from him, in this case an acceleration rather than deceleration, to elaborate, wide-ranging melismatic motion in sixteenth-notes for literal portrayal of the words: "Ch'è fugace, e vana, è instabile." These are the subtle adjustments that contribute so much to the effective matching of music and text that characterizes this opera.

To serve the drama, Cavalli not only suppressed or overrode textual regularity; for the same purpose he occasionally did the opposite and regularized Cicognini's poetry. One of the best examples of this procedure occurs in the duet between Giasone and Medea in 3.2. The scene, entirely in recitative meter, is laid out almost symmetrically for the two characters. Following an opening quatrain for Medea, set in rather lyrical, well-shaped recitative style by the composer, each of the lovers has a three-line stanza, which Cavalli set in a parallel, if not exactly strophic, manner, again in a kind of arioso style. The lovers then join voices for a brief duet, which is followed by two passages of text, the first for Medea, the second for Giasone. These, although they begin similarly, are of unequal length and dissimilar form (example 14):


MEDEA : Dormi stanco Giasone,

Sleep, weary Jason,


E del mio cor, che gl'occhi tuo[i] rapiro,

And for my heart, which your eyes have ravished,


Stan le palpebre tue cara prigione.

Let your eyelids be the sweet prison.

GIASONE : Dormi ch'io dormi, ò bella,

Sleep while I sleep, my beauty,


E mentre i sensi miei consegno al sonno,

And while my senses are consigned to sleep,


Oggi per te Giason vantar si puole,

Today, because of you, Jason can boast


D'haver l'alma trà l'ombre, e'in braccio
ilsol e

That he has his soul in the shadows and the sun in his arms.

Cavalli transforms this text into a kind of reciprocal refrain-enclosed lullaby, setting the two lovers' statements to similar ("strophic") music, despite their different texts. Taking advantage of the parallelism of the opening lines, he turns them into refrains, which he brings back at the end of each strophe, compensating for the differences in their texts—essentially Giasone's extra line—in a freer, strongly text-interpretative central section where the formal disparity passes virtually unnoticed. Cavalli's molding of this lullaby into the climax of a wonderfully symmetrical scene owes its impetus, perhaps, to Cicognini's word choice; but it is the composer who increased the mutuality of the lovers by making them closer in music than they are in words.


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9—Gran dicerie e canzonette : Recitative and Aria
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