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10—Il diletto : Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions
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Refrain in Recitative

Faustini's lengthy recitative passages were periodically marked by refrains of one or more lines that stood apart from the rest because of their meter or rhyme, and also, usually, because of their affective intensity. Their impact, however, depended primarily on their recurrence, sometimes as many as three or four times in a scene, which Cavalli enhanced through the usual means: shift of meter, repetition of text, musical expansion, change of musical style, addition of string accompaniment, and often the attachment of a ritornello based on the same material.

A number of speeches in Ormindo (1644) are articulated by refrains. In Nerillo's monologue in act 1, scene 3, a symmetrical, three-line moralizing


refrain encloses a lengthy passage of recitative in versi sciolti that develops the moral of the refrain: "Oh, wise is he who knows how to flee woman's beauty" (example 27):

O sagace chi sà
Fuggir, come il suo peggio
La donnesca beltà.
Beltà mentita, e vana,
Che per far lacci à cori
Và rubando i capelli
A teschi infraciditi entro gl'avelli:
Ma che parlo de' morti,
Se con vezzi lascivi
Pela spietatamente insino i vivi?
O sagace chi sà . . .

Oh, wise is he who knows how

To flee, as his bane,

Woman's beauty.

A beauty false and vain

That to tie hearts

Goes around stealing hair

From moldering skulls in their tombs.

But why am I speaking of dead men,

When, with lascivious simpering,

It robs without pity even the living?

Oh, wise is he . . .

Cavalli distinguished the refrain by setting it in a highly elaborate aria style, expanding and reworking the text by repeating individual words and lines and finally going through the whole text a second time with varied music. Melismatic sixteenth-note scale passages interpret fuggir each time it occurs; strings briefly echo various vocal phrases, concluding the refrain with a more substantial echolike ritornello based on the fuggir motive. The second refrain statement, exactly like the first, ushers in the first of two arias in the scene in a sequence of escalating lyricism of the kind we have already remarked upon in connection with the sententious arioso. This increasingly lyrical organization was characteristic first of comic monologues and later of serious ones.[24]

It was a function of comic characters to make moralistic generalizations on behalf of their masters, directed as much to the audience as to the characters on stage. The very artificiality of repetition helped to distance the remarks from the immediacy of the drama and focused them more directly toward the audience. It was different for serious characters, who needed special license to repeat themselves or express themselves formally. Excessive passion was virtually their only justification. For them, refrains within recitative offered an opportunity for lyrical expression without the limitations of formal aria. Indeed, Cavalli and Faustini seem to have been particularly interested in the refrain as an affective device in serious contexts, in the power of refrains to project passion.

In Ormindo they exploited that power in conjunction with one character in particular: the abandoned princess Sicle, whose feigned death stimulates the reawakening of her lover's affection and the symmetrical resolution of the plot.


Unlike the other main characters, Sicle sings no arias (she is the most serious of all the lovers, the most steadfast in her faith); but her passionate recitatives are frequently punctuated by refrains, some of them quite lengthy. Her extended speeches in 1.5 are interrupted at various junctures by three successive refrains of differing length and intensity. In the previous chapter we saw how Cavalli specially emphasized the last of them, a quatrain itself enclosed by a refrain, by means of a lyrical setting that involved word repetition, dissonance, syncopation, sequence, and other standard affective techniques (cf. example 8):

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

The five lines that separate the two appearances of the refrain are treated as straight recitative, but do not stand apart musically from the refrain. On the contrary, as Cavalli set them, they lead powerfully to its return, their close on the dominant awaiting the refrain to reassert the tonic. The effect of the whole is cumulative; the second cry of despair, "Who, who will deliver me from this existence!" is the culmination of the entire passage. Forward motion rather than retrospection is promoted by the recurrence; the second statement of the refrain seems more powerful than the first for having been anticipated by it.

What is more, each of these individual refrains might almost be thought of as a miniature ABA aria. In fact, the structure of this "refrain within a refrain" exemplifies the affective inspiration of refrains in general. It also illustrates an important distinction between two refrain types: the passionate exclamatory line and the more expansive multiple-line statement, a distinction to which we shall return. It seems quite natural, given the emotional temperature of the refrain text to begin with, that it should inspire its own single-line refrain, which itself is required to resolve a half-cadence. Sicle's four-line refrain does not seem artificially structured or dramatically stagnant. It forms a single, emotionally inspired lyrical gesture.

It was a small step from the lyrical refrain in recitative to the da capo aria. All that was still missing was the formal integration of the intervening text and music. But composers had to work harder in arias to match the intensity that


could be achieved by refrains in a recitative context. They had to infuse the aria form with progressive energy to counteract the static effect of return.

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