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10—Il diletto : Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions
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Da Capo Refrain Arias

The earliest ABA arias, most of them comic, were not unlike their bipartite counterparts in their proximity to the recitative style. Their texts were generally set syllabically, straight through from beginning to end; their refrains, usually of the single-line exclamatory variety, rarely received special musical treatment. Any musical distinctions between A and B were usually inspired by textual distinctions, such as a shift in meter. In fact, librettists often assured musical continuity by linking the refrain to either or both ends of the intervening text by rhyme as well as meter. Frequently only the presence of a ritornello based on the refrain material served to emphasize the refrain above the rest of the text. Occasionally, though, the return of the refrain was amplified through repetition, resulting in an ABA' rather than ABA form.

A characteristic early example is Mercurio's aria from act 3, scene 9 of La virtù de' strali d'Amore (example 28):

Donne, s'amar volete
Venite quì, correte,
Con gli strali d'amor v'impiagherò;
Ma da chi più vezzosa
Hà la bocca amorosa
In premio del mio colpo un bacio io vuò.
Donne s'amar volete
Venite quì, correte.

Da colei, che più belle
Le luci ha de le stelle
Un lascivetto sguardo io chiedo sol;
Ma s'alcuna donare
Mi vuol cose più rare
Acceterò ciò, che donar me vuol;
Donne, s'amar volete
Venite quì, correte .
[+ one more strophe]

Ladies, if love is your desire ,
Come hither, run :
I will wound you with Love's darts;
But she who has the fairest,
Most loving lips
Must reward my deed with a kiss.
Ladies, if love is your desire ,
Come hither, run .

From her, whose eyes
Are lovelier than the stars,
I only demand a lascivious glance;
But if any of you will give
Something more rare,
I shall accept whatever you wish to give me;
Ladies, if love is your desire . . .

In this ditty, addressed directly to the ladies in the audience, and distinctly outside the dramatic action, the text is set straight through like recitative, syllabic and unheightened. The refrain is continuous with the rest, lacking any thematic, harmonic, or metric distinction. Although an abrupt harmonic juxtaposition signals its return, only a single extra word repetition, a slight bow in the direction of closure, differentiates the second statement from the first. The stanza is followed by a ritornello loosely based on a motive taken from the refrain, specifically that setting the words Venite quì , the climax of the text; but


even this relationship serves no particularly emphatic function, since the refrain itself is so little distinguished from the rest of the music.

The breezy, recitative-like rapidity with which Cavalli dispatched this text, refrain and all, is appropriate because it contributes to the comic effect of the aria. The musical setting promotes verbal intelligibility and makes only limited vocal demands on the singer, who was probably chosen as much for his histrionic as for his vocal abilities.[26] Further, it responds directly to the poetry, which makes no metric distinction between the refrain and the rest of the text. The composer did little more than transcribe the poetic structure into musical notation. The text virtually sings (= speaks) itself.

Other early da capo refrain arias are more complicated (and more interesting). Some display greater contrast between sections and greater emphasis on the refrain. In Melloe's aria "Voglio provar anch'io, che cosa é Amor" from Doriclea (Faustini/Cavalli, 1645) 3.4, a distinction between the refrain and the B section is suggested by the meter of the text (example 29):

Voglio provat anch'io, che cosa è Amor
Ogni donzella
Sciocca m'appella,
Perch'à un sembiante
Di vago amante
Mai diedi il cot.
Voglio provar anch'io, che cosa è Amor .

Ciascuna ama mi dice, arnare io vò ,
Voglio, che sia
L'anima mia,
Il mio diletto
Un giovanetto,
Che scieglierò.
Ciascuna ama mi dice, amare io vò .
[+ one more strophe][27]

I, too, wish to experience what love is .
Every damsel
Says I'm silly
Because I never gave my heart
To the countenance
Of a fair lover.
I, too, wish to experience what love is .

Everyone loves, the), tell me, and I wish to too .
I wish that
My soul,
My delight
Be a youth
Whom I will choose.
Everyone loves, they tell me . . .

The composer marked the librettist's distinction through a change of meter and by the imposition in the B section of sequential patterning in response to the repeated accents of the five short lines; B is further developed in the ritornello, a relationship that, although it inverts the standard da capo connection between ritornello and refrain, is at least musically appropriate for this particular aria, the B material being more distinctive than that of the refrain. As in Mercurio's aria, undifferentiated syllabic treatment is appropriate here because of the nature of


the text—the humorous musings of the amorous servant girl Melloe shared with the audience.

Given the importance of the words and the possibility that they were sung by actors rather than singers, it is perhaps not surprising that comic da capo arias, like comic arias in general, continued to be musically modest well into the second half of the century. Often, however, composers' attention to the words yielded more distinctive musical material as they attempted more actively to translate the text into musical imagery. In Eumene's "La bellezza è un don fugace" from Xerse (Minato/Cavalli, 1654) 2.8, the "fleetingness of beauty" is portrayed by a sixteenth-note refrain motive that seems to spirit the words away (example 30):

La bellezza è un don fugace ,
Che si perde in pochi dì
Il suo sereno,
Come baleno
Tosto fuggì.
Chi s'accese, e ne languì
Speri pur nel tempo edace.
La bellezza è un don fugace .

L'alterezza d'un bel volto
Si castiga con l'età,
Il fresco, il verde
Tosto disperde
Flor di beltà.
E struggendo ogn'hor si và
Come al vento esposta face
La bellezza è un don fugace .

Beauty is a fleeting gift ,
Which is lost in a few days.
Its clear sky
As in a flash
Has come and gone.
Whoever was ignited by it, and languished of it
May as well place his hopes in ravenous time.
Beauty is a fleeting gift .

The haughtiness of a lovely face
Is punished by age;
All that's fresh and green
Soon loses
The bloom of beauty
And is ever consuming itself,
Like a torch exposed to the wind.
Beauty is a fleeting gift .

Beginning with two sixteenth notes to a syllable, increasing to four and finally to twelve, the refrain material spills over into the B section for four of its six lines, following the sentence structure. The two final lines of B are set separately, to new, more appropriate, slower-moving material geared to the word languì , finally coming to a stop on a half-note. The return of the refrain reasserts the message of the text all the more forcefully after the slowdown. The refrain material, which is the message of the text translated into music, permeates the entire aria: strophe, accompaniment, and, of course, ritornello. Despite the greater musical interest of Eumene's aria, it shares with Mercurio's and Melloe's the straight-through setting and the small dimensions that help to project the words clearly and are appropriate to the economical, matter-of-fact expression of a comic character.

In serious contexts, however, it was often more appropriate for the composer to linger over the whole text, particularly the refrain, and to distinguish


it even more strongly from the rest of the text. Such treatment was especially suitable when the message was more affective than literal, when the purpose of the aria was to communicate feeling rather than information or opinion, and when the text was an integral part of the drama rather than external to it, sung by a protagonist rather than a stock figure. In such situations, the music remains closely tied to the words, but asserts its own momentum. The composer used the text more expressively; rather than transcribing the poetic structure or translating the words, he now interpreted the feelings behind them. In these cases, the dimensions of the music far exceed those suggested by the text. Words are repeated, emphasized, dwelled upon, and heightened to convey the emotion that generated them.

Eurinda's "Udite amanti, udite" from Doriclea 1.5 is one of the most fully developed, musically satisfying da capo refrain arias of the period.[28] Eurinda is not a comic character, but one of the noble protagonists, a member of the standard amorous quartet. Although she directs her song to the audience (or to those of it who are lovers), she does not preach to them, but, rather, describes her own feelings. Overcome by her love, she bursts into formal lyricism, an unusual mode of expression for a protagonist in 1645; but her passion justifies the arioso-style expansion of the text (example 31):

Udite amanti, udite,
Trà le schiere d'amor
Non si trova del mio più lieto cor?
Dolce fiamma il sen m'accende,
É diletto il mio martoro,
Cieco Dio co' strali d'oro
Mi saetta, e non m'offende.
Che dite voi, che dite
Trà le schiere d'amor
Si può trovar del mio più lieto cor?
Del mio foco io son l'ardore,
Chi m'avvinse avvinto giace,
Non mi rode il duol vorace,
Tutto manna assaggio amore.
Che dite voi . . .

Hear, lovers, hear:
In Love's ranks
No heart is happier than mine.
A sweet flame kindles my bosom,
My martyrdom is sheer delight;
The blind god with his golden darts
Pierces me, yet hurts me not.
What say you, what do you say,
In love's ranks
Can there be a happier heart than mine?
I am the love of my lover,
My captor captured lies,
Devouring pain gnaws not at me,
Love is manna to my taste.
What say you . . .

This text is actually somewhat irregular for a da capo refrain aria; it fails to conform to any of the standard modifications of da capo refrain form. The opening tercet does not return, but is replaced by a variant, which concludes both stanzas. The composer confirmed the poetic structure, the contrast between the seven- and eleven-syllable refrain and the ottonario B sections, with his own metric contrast, a shift from triple to duple meter. Beyond that, how-


ever, refrain and B sections are closely linked, by harmonic structure and thematic material. Both are generated by the same opening interval, the descending fifth, E to A, and both are expanded musically. In addition to elaborate, lengthy melismas, on cor in the refrain and strali and saetta in the first B section— none of them particularly expressive of the words—expansion is achieved through repetition of varying textual units: words, phrases, whole lines.

The unusual musical expansion is a function of the composer's long-range dramatic plan, an aspect of characterization. In contrast to Doriclea, the other female lead, Eurinda, is easily carried away by her emotions. She frequently expresses herself in aria style, whereas Doriclea hardly ever does.[29] This particular aria acts as a kind of presentation piece for Eurinda; its elaboration exemplifies her flighty, fickle character. It is, furthermore, ironically appropriate. The unrestrained passion for Farnace expressed here sets into ironic relief her behavior in the very next scene, when, with no preparation whatsoever, she becomes enamored of another man. The musical abundance seems to serve multiple dramatic functions in addition to providing satisfaction for its own sake.

Da capo refrain arias for comic characters did not undergo much development during the century. The features that characterized their earliest manifestations—economical, syllabic setting to ensure text clarity, and minimal musical expansion—remained as appropriate after 1650 as before. Whatever musical expansion such arias displayed, as a result of exaggeration of musical gestures or excessively literal representation of text, tended to enhance their comic effect. The conditions under which comic characters sang their arias did not change either, since they persisted in performing their conventional functions of commentary on and parody of the action.

Da capo refrain arias for serious characters, on the other hand, developed considerably. They became more frequent as librettists found new excuses for them, and they became more-standardized in form. In creating additional aria situations, serious or dramatic, librettists nevertheless continued to ensure minimal disruption of dramatic flow. Formal structures continued to support dramatic function. And composers developed new techniques to enhance drama within the increasingly conventionalized formal schemes. In some instances, greater musical coherence between refrain and enclosed text helped to minimize


the artificiality of return. In others, return itself assumed a specific dramatic function, which an increased contrast between sections helped to emphasize.

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