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3—Da rappresentare in musica : The Rise of Commercial Opera
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Da rappresentare in musica :
The Rise of Commercial Opera

The agreement among librettists on the designation dramma per musica conferred a certain aesthetic legitimacy on their art, affording it a definite place in the taxonomy of genres. But this consensus was not the only sign that opera had achieved some legitimacy by the mid seventeenth century. We can follow its establishment as an independent art form in the primary documentary sources, especially the librettos. They testify to the thickly competitive atmosphere of the theatrical world of Venice and to the rapidly developing self-consciousness of that world.

The relationship of printed libretto to performed opera changed radically during the first decade. The change is revealed most succinctly on the title pages, epitomized in the forms of a single verb, rappresentare . Its appearance in the past tense, rappresentato , suggests that the work has already been performed. In the infinitive, da rappresentare or da rappresentarsi , it indicates that the opera is yet to be performed. If the verb does not appear at all, the libretto was probably not associated with a performance but published for some other reason.[1] Judging, then, from their title pages, librettos of the late 1630s and early 1640s were routinely published, if at all, after a work had been performed (rappresentato ), whereas later ones were usually published beforehand (da rappresentarsi ).

As with most generalizations, this one requires qualification. The change from rappresentato to da rappresentare was neither linear nor consistent. Da rappresentare on a title page does not guarantee that the work was ever actually performed, while rappresentato could refer to an event of ten or more years earlier; each libretto needs to be evaluated individually. But the exceptions, rather than undermining the generalization, give it greater weight, since their departure from convention was usually explicit and intentional.

The considerations that determined whether a libretto was published before or after a performance are embedded in the complex early history of opera in


Venice. A libretto printed before a performance served a very different purpose from one printed afterwards. The latter could only have a commemorative value; it could recall the aura and even some of the details of a past success, reminding those who had seen the work what it was like and suggesting for those who had not just what they had missed. On the other hand, a libretto printed ahead of time could function as advertising for a forthcoming performance, to attract an audience; in addition, of course, it could serve the audience in the theater, as an aid to following the action on stage. The increasing incidence of publication beforehand confirms opera's changing status: its growing stability during the 1640s, both as a regular part of the carnival season and as a genre. Some of the forces that eventually prompted the shift from after to before are revealed by an examination of the librettos published during the first four seasons of operatic activity in Venice.

The arrival of the first opera company headed by the poet-musician Benedetto Ferrari to produce Andromeda at the Teatro S. Cassiano during Carnival of 1637 has been described many times. The earliest and fullest description—and a chief source for all the others—is contained in the libretto itself, which appeared in print some two months after the opera was performed (fig. 6). Another early account, only in part derived from the libretto, is that of Ivanovich in Minerva al tavolino , an account allegedly based on a report given to him in 1664 (i.e., nearly thirty years after the event) by Marchese Pio Enea degli Obizzi, whom he claims to quote directly. According to Pio Enea, the first step toward Andromeda had been taken the previous year in Padua, when a special kind of tournament, entitled Ermiona , was produced, probably on 11 April:

In the year 1636 the generous desire was born in some friends and companions of mine in Padua to arrange a tournament; so I, in order to further dignify it, took up the story of Cadmus, and composed an introduction for it, which was then set to music in the form in which it appeared in print for all to see. For this purpose a spacious place, adjoining Pra della Valle, was enclosed, and with horse-drawn machines, as are seen in these drawings, a magnificent spectacle was effected. The concourse of Venetian nobility, cavalieri from the mainland, and students from the university was great, even though the performance took place in the month of October, which is normally devoted to vacation.[2] Whether because of the good fortune of the cavalieri who composed it, or the merits of those who performed in it, it was universally applauded . . . . From this it followed that the next year, under the sponsorship of a number of noblemen, various excellent professional musicians got together, through whose efforts there appeared, in 1637 at the S. Cassiano theater, Andromeda by Benedetto Ferrari, poet, composer, and excellent theorbo player. (Appendix II. 6k)


Benedetto Ferrari, Andromed a (Venice, 1637), libretto title page.


Pio Enea's account of the influence of Ermiona on Andromeda is substantiated by a comparison of the librettos of the two works.[3] It was probably no mere coincidence, then, that just a month after the Paduan spectacle, in May 1636, the brothers Francesco and Ettore Tron, members of a prominent noble family and proprietors of the Teatro S. Cassiano, were granted permission by the Council of Ten to reopen their old theater as a "theatro de musica qual se prattica in più parte per lo diletto de l'insigni pubblici."[4] Originally constructed for the purpose of presenting plays, the theater had been closed since a fire had damaged it in 1629.[5] The Tron brothers were not the only ones seeking to capitalize on the success of Ermiona . As we learn from the commemorative libretto of the work published in 1638, Ermiona was performed by a traveling company made up of many of the same musicians who were to perform in Andromeda .[6] The company, too, was apparently hoping to repeat a previous triumph.

The shared cast is indicative of more profound similarities that link Ermiona and Andromeda , from the organization of the spectacle to the nature of the audience that witnessed it. Indeed, Ermiona introduced two important new elements that became crucial to Venetian opera. As distinct from a typical court opera, it was not commissioned to celebrate a special occasion;[7] and the audience was a relatively mixed one—nobiltà veneta, cavalieri della terraferma , and scolari dello studio .[8] Furthermore, the theater in which Ermiona was performed, with its multiple tiers of boxes built to accommodate that diverse audience, may well have served as the model for Venetian opera houses, with their various rows and categories of boxes. The Paduan arrangement is described in the libretto as follows:


Five rows of galleries circled all around, one above the other, with parapets of marble balusters; the spaces, large enough to accommodate sixteen spectators each, were separated by partitions, which were finished on their exterior ends like columns, from which supports of silvered wood held the candlesticks that illuminated the theater. The two highest and most distant rows were filled with common citizens; in the third sat the students and foreign nobility; the second, as the more worthy place, was for the rectors and the Venetian noblemen; and in the first there were the gentlewomen and the principal gentlemen of the city. (Appendix I.1)[9]

As for Andromeda , its libretto was published not by the author, Ferrari, as we might expect, but by the printer Antonio Bariletti, who signed the dedication to the Venetian nobleman Marco Antonio Pisano, dating it 6 May 1637 and referring to the performance as having occurred two months earlier ("già son due mesi"), or during the previous Carnival.[10] Bariletti's dedication, cast in the characteristically ornate and effusive language of such addresses, offers as his purpose in publishing the libretto the desire to provide the heroine Andromeda with a living protector, thus assuring her a permanent sense of security, or, we might say, immortality.

After the dedication, Bariletti addresses a lengthy note to the reader, which begins with a bow to the company responsible for the production: "To the glory of the musicians, who in the number of six (in addition to the author) staged Andromeda with great splendor and refinement, at their own expense, with a little extra help, and no less for the pleasure of those who have not seen it, I have deemed it fitting to give a brief account of it in this form" (Appendix 1.2a). Ivanovich's—or Pio Enea's—version of this episode adds one crucial detail: "con la protezione di più Nobili." Ferrari's troupe may have footed most of the bill (according to Bariletti), but the company enjoyed patrician patronage in some way—"qualche consideratione," in Bariletti's words. This is an important point: it raises the question of the financial underpinnings of the new genre. Presumably "la protezione di più Nobili" of Ferrari's troupe was a reference to the Tron family and, possibly, the noble families who rented boxes.

Bariletti's note to the reader is followed by a detailed description of the production, with special emphasis on the visual effects and on the amazed response of the audience to the magic of the stage transformations: "The curtain having disappeared, the stage was seen to be entirely sea, with such an artful horizon of waters and rocks that its naturalness (although reigned) inspired doubt in the audience as to whether they were really in a theater or on an actual


seashore" (Appendix 1.2b).[11] The description also identifies the cast by name and provides some incidental details about the music.[12]

Madalena Manelli romana (Francesco's wife), who played the part of Andromeda "mirabilmente," also sang the prologue "divinamente."[13] This was followed by "una soavissima Sinfonia" played by "più forbiti sonatori," among whom was the "author" (i.e., poet) of the opera "con la sua miracolosa Tiorba." The part of Giunone was sung by Francesco Angeletti of Assisi; that of Mer-curio exquisitely by Don Annibale Graselli from Città di Castello, who also sang Ascalà Cavalier "con mille gratie di Paradiso," and Perseo. Francesco Manelli of Tivoli, "autore della musica dell'opera," portrayed Nettuno "egregiamente," as well as Astarco Mago. (This is the only mention of the composer.) Protheo was played "gentilissimamente" by Giovanni Battista Bisucci bolognese, who also sang Giove "celestemente." At the end of the first act there was sung "first, from within, a madrigal for several voices concerted with various instruments; and then three beautiful young men, dressed as Cupids, came out to perform a most gracious ballet for intermezzo . . . . To the accompaniment of a mellifluous instrumental melody Astrea appeared in the sky and Venere in the sea." Astrea was played "gratiosamente" by Girolamo Medici romano, and Venere "soavissimamente" by Anselmo Marconi romano.

These, then, were the singers who participated in Andromeda —seven rather than the six cited by Bariletti earlier in the preface. Four were from Rome (Madalena Manelli, Girolamo Medici, and Anselmo Marconi, plus Francesco Manelli from nearby Tivoli); one each from Assisi (Francesco Angeletti), Città di Castello (Don Annibale Graselli), and Bologna (Giovanni Battista Bisucci). The only Venetian involved in the production was Giovanni Battista Balbi, "inventore del balletto" and "ballarino celebre."[14] More interesting perhaps than their place of origin is the fact that, with the exception of the two Manelli, all these singers were currently employed in Venice, at San Marco, suggesting that their presence on the lagoon was neither casual nor temporary. While we do not have similar information about every early opera cast, this one and some others suggest that the San Marco musicians took no small part in early operatic activity in Venice.[15]


Although the foreigners in Ferrari's band were perhaps fewer than Bariletti's description implies, the mixture of travelers and local musicians that performed in both Ermiona and Andromeda matches Ottonelli's description of the typical operatic troupe of "mercenarii musici." These groups were generally self-sufficient, but they were occasionally forced to draw upon local talent to supplement their number.

They strive to assemble enough accomplished companions so that the company alone, composed of paid professional actors, is sufficient to carry out the undertaking, without having to call upon the assistance of other singers or players. Sometimes they succeed in this intent, and sometimes not. And when they do not succeed, they do not give up, but go with the company, which is at least partly formed, to a major city; . . . and they take steps to find out, if they do not know already, what singers and players are available in the city, either secular, ecclesiastical, or monastic, who could be invited—for pay, or else exhorted with affection, and also sometimes almost forced, with the aid of important intercessors—to accept one or more parts as assistant musician in a public theater, in order to reach a sufficient number to have the drama or musical play heard, seen, and enjoyed by the listeners and spectators. (Appendix II.3c)

Bariletti's extended description of the action is followed by three sonnets (one of them by Busenello) dedicated to Benedetto Ferrari, "l'Autore, Poeta, Musico, e Sonator di Tiorba Eccellentissimo," the dramatis personae, and, finally, the actual text of the drama. The volume concludes with more poetry: six sonnets by Ferrari "In lode de Signori Musici più celebri, ch'intervennero nell'Andromeda," and three more by other authors in his honor.

With this elaborate volume Bariletti expressly sought to give permanence to an otherwise ephemeral event. Publication of the libretto would assure Andromeda a fixed place in history. For this purpose, the actual text of the drama—a rather disconnected series of episodes--was probably the least important part of the publication.[16] Rather, it was the wealth of information about the performance, the evocation of the event itself, that had the greatest impact on subsequent operatic developments in Venice. The sonnets contributed by a number of important Venetian citizens served to lend an air of respectability to the


publication. Bariletti's enthusiasm for his project was obviously inspired by its novelty. Subsequent librettos, though often highly informative, rarely supply comparable detail, particularly about the music.

As if to confirm the effectiveness of Bariletti's publicity, the following year witnessed the second Venetian opera production, La maga fulminata , performed at the same theater by essentially the same troupe. Ferrari again wrote the text and Manelli the music; the scenographer was Giuseppe Alabardi, called "Schioppi veneziano," who had possibly served in the same capacity for Andromeda , although his name was not mentioned.[17] Four of the original singers took part—Angeletti, Bisucci, and the two Manelli—and there were three new ones: Felicita Uga romana, who had sung in Ermiona , Antonio Panni reggiano, and Guido Antonio Boretti from Gubbio.[18] Like the libretto of Andromeda , that of La maga futminata was published after the first performance, but sooner, possibly before the end of the run. The dedication is dated 6 February, which was still well within the carnival season and probably quite close to the actual date of the premiere. It is likely, in fact, that the libretto was already in press when the first performance took place (fig. 7).

In this case the librettist himself must have played a significant role in the publication, since he signed the dedication, to Viscount Basilio Feilding (sic ), the English ambassador to the Serenissima.[19] And in that dedication he offered a rather charming—and informative—justification for the print:

It was enjoyed and applauded by you in the theater; may it not displease you in your study. A beautiful woman entices in public, and delights in private. I have already presented to Your Excellency musical tokens of my respectful service [i.e., Musiche varie ]; now I offer you poetic ones, because I want my homage to you to compete in permanence with the years; and (if it were granted me), I would like it to last for eternity. (Appendix I. 3a)

Again, the aim was permanence and signaled an implicit recognition of the fleeting, ephemeral quality of performance.

The note to the reader that follows can be interpreted in the same light. Like that in Andromeda , it is signed by the printer, Bariletti, and it offers a similarly


Benedetto Ferrari, La maga fulminata  (Venice, 1638), libretto title page.


detailed description of the performance and a rave review. With regard to the opera company itself, it is actually more informative. Bariletti repeats and expands upon the information provided in the Andromeda preface, including some previously unknown facts about the composer, as well as details concerning economic matters. His observations reveal considerable sensitivity to the novelty as well as the larger importance of Ferrari's whole enterprise:

If the Andromeda of Benedetto Ferrari, represented in music last year, was pleasing to the utmost degree, this year his Maga fulminata fulminated all minds with wonder. Not content with having sweetened the waters of the Adriatic with the unique sound of his ever-so-sweet theorbo, with the most refined concerts of two volumes of music published by him,[20] he has wished also to gild this clime with the dark characters of his pen. It fell to me to publish his Andromeda ; and I have been honored as well with his Maga , which was impressed on hearts before it was impressed on paper. Welcome it, readers, as the most noble offspring of an illustrious author, who from his own resources, and those of only five fellow musicians,[21] and with the expenditure of no more than two thousand scudi, has been able to steal the souls of the listeners with the royal representation [reale rappresentatione ][22] of that play; similar undertakings cost princes infinite amounts of money.[23] In addition, where can you find in our time a private virtuoso who has been granted the courage to put hand to such tasks and to discharge them with honor, as he has done, whose glory, and that of his companions, is applauded by the universal acclamation of the Most Serene City of Venice? Meanwhile, welcome no less my intention, which is to be of use to you and please you by offering to you, by means of my presses, the illustrious labors of such a noble virtuoso, and by describing to you the musical performance of the work, which went as follows. (Appendix 1.3b)

This then is followed by a scene-by-scene description that, although quite elaborate, is somewhat less rich in musical references than that of Andromeda .

As in the Andromeda print, the description of the action of La maga fulminata is succeeded by a clutch of sonnets in praise of Ferrari by various Venetian literary figures, and the text of the drama is followed by three more poems, one of them by Ferrari himself.[24] Again, these contributions seem intended to lend a kind of literary legitimacy to the publication. One novelty in the libretto is the portrait of Ferrari, aged thirty-four, which is inserted in most copies just before the text of the drama (fig. 8).


Portrait of Benedetto Ferrari, from the libretto of  La maga fulminata  
(Venice, 1638).


The Beginning of Competition

The publicity created around Andromeda and expanded in connection with La maga fulminata paid immediate and lasting dividends. Interest was such that the libretto of La maga fulminata quickly sold out and was reprinted in the same year.[25] More significant, by the next year a second opera company had been formed and a second theater converted for use as an opera house: the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[26]

Owned by the Grimani family, the original Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo was probably built sometime between 1635 and 1637. According to Giustiniano Martinioni's revision of Francesco Sansovino's standard guide to Venice, the wooden theater was soon moved from its original site on the Fondamenta Nuove to a location nearby (in Calle della Testa at Sta. Marina) and rebuilt, part in stone, part in wood.[27] The move and reconstruction, which probably occurred sometime in 1638, were arguably stimulated by the Grimani family's desire to exploit the political potential of the new genre, to compete with those families who had already invested in it. This motivation is clearly acknowledged in Bonlini's account: "In the year 1639, following the example of the theater of S. Cassiano, the first Opera in Musica was recited . . . in that of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, built a short time after the two already mentioned [i.e., the two S. Cassiano theaters], not only for the purpose of emulating them, but also to overshadow their fame."[28] The Grimani theater certainly exceeded that of S. Cassiano in size as well as magnificence, for in 1645, even after several other theaters had opened, it was referred to as the most comfortable and beautiful in the city: "il teatro, stimato più commodo, e bello di questa città."[29] This reputation it maintained for close to forty years, until the construction of a new Teatro Grimani, the S. Giovanni Grisostomo, in 1678.[30]


Ferrari's troupe, reconstituted to include, among others, two experienced theater men, the scenic designer of Ermiona , Alfonso Chenda "detto il Rivarola," and the librettist Giulio Strozzi, moved to the new theater in time for the 1639 season, when they produced not one but two operas.[31] Both season and theater were inaugurated with a setting of. Strozzi's Delia by Ferrari's usual collaborator, Manelli. Ferrari's own authorial efforts were reserved for the second production, Armida , for which he wrote not only the text but the music as well.

In the meantime, a new company, an "Accademia per recitar l'Opera," had taken charge of Ferrari's former theater at S. Cassiano.[32] It, too, consisted of a composer, a poet, a ballet master, and singers, including several veterans from Ferrari's troupe.[33] Unlike Ferrari's, however, it was not in any sense a traveling company. Its composer and leader was Francesco Cavalli, a Venetian who had already made something of, a name for himself. in the realm of. sacred music at San Marco and was soon to dominate the operatic field. His chief. associates— the librettist Orazio Persiani and the ballet master (scenographer) Balbi—were also local residents, and most of the singers belonged to the San Marco chapel.[34] The new company began its activity with a collaboration between two of. its founders. Cavalli's setting of Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo , a libretto by Persiani, was performed in 1639, during the same season as Delia and Armida at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

In the space of. three seasons Venice had seen five new operas, by three librettists and three composers, at two theaters. These numbers were to increase dramatically the very next year, 1640, when a third theater, the Teatro S.


Moisè, owned by the Zane family, opened its doors to opera.[35] Its two productions raised the number of new operas in a single season to at least four (most likely five): Arianna (Rinuccini/Monteverdi) and Il pastor regio (Ferrari/ Ferrari) at S. Moisè; Adone (Vendramin/Manelli) and probably Il ritorno d'Ulisse (Badoaro/Monteverdi) at SS. Giovanni e Paolo;[36] and Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (Busenello/Cavalli) at S. Cassiano. In this year, the names of two new librettists (Vendramin, Busenello) and one new composer (Monteverdi) were added to the fast-expanding roll of opera makers.[37] Approximately five productions per season remained the norm until 1645, when theatrical entertainments and all other carnival activities were suspended by government decree because of the war with the Turks that had begun early that year.[38]

The economic arrangements supporting the individual undertakings at S. Cassiano, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and S. Moisè differed in detail, but they shared the special tripartite, cooperative organization that characterized opera production in Venice well into the eighteenth century. Indeed, although the system developed gradually over a period of years, its origins and structure are evident in the first S. Cassiano venture. There were essentially three agents responsible for the operation: theater owners, impresarios, and artists. Theater owners, like the Tron, Zane, or Grimani, belonged to the great patrician families of Venice;


they invested in the buildings themselves, but generally delegated responsibility for what went on in them to an impresario—or a society (like Cavalli's) or troupe (like Ferrari's)—with whom they contracted seasonally. That party either supplied itself or hired at its own expense singers, players, and workers of various kinds. Besides paying the rent, the impresario or society covered operating costs for such necessities as scenery and illumination. The expenses were offset and profits made by receipts from the rental of boxes and by ticket sales.

The capital derived from box rentals depended on the number of boxes as well as the prices charged for them—which, at least in some theaters, depended on the position of the box. In both these matters individual theaters differed considerably. Figures for the earliest period are lacking, but by 1666 S. Cassiano had ninety-eight boxes (twenty-nine in each of the first two tiers), which rented for twenty-five ducats each.[39] SS. Giovanni e Paolo, although the "most magnificent" of the theaters, seems to have had fewer, only seventy-seven, which were arranged in four rows.[40] The number of boxes in S. Moisè during this period is unknown, but the theater had the reputation of being uncomfortably small, so presumably there were fewer, if any.[41]

Most boxes were rented in perpetuity, but paid for on a seasonal basis by members of the aristocracy, Venetian and foreign. Individual tickets, purchased nightly, were of two kinds: the bollettini were required for everyone entering the theater, including box-holders; scagni , purchased for an additional sum, entitled


the holders to seats in the parterre.[42] The artists, who originally participated in the running of the theater (such as Ferrari's troupe or Caralli's), eventually became employees of the impresario. Among them, the librettist became financially independent of the others, deriving his income exclusively from libretto sales and the largesse of his dedicatees.

Despite the proliferation of theaters and new works, opera remained confined to the carnival season.[43] Even allowing for a reasonable rehearsal period, opera companies were essentially unemployed for at least half the year. This hardly presented a problem for Cavalli and his troupe, since they were employed elsewhere in Venice. But several members of Ferrari's company, including Ferrari himself, did not yet have fixed posts. For several off-seasons they continued the itinerant ways that had brought them to Padua and Venice in the first place, producing four of their Venetian operas in Bologna in 1640 and 1641, and two in Milan several years later.[44]

The Scenario and the Libretto

Several of the operas of 1639 and 1640, like Andromeda and La maga fulminata , were memorialized by librettos issued after the performances. Two of them, however, also received advance publicity. Delia and Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo were both announced by a new kind of publication, one that was to become quite common during the next decade or so: the scenario. The Argomento e scenario della Delia and the Breve espositione della festa di Teti e Peleo , slim pamphlets of thirty-three and twenty-three pages respectively, were printed before their operas were performed (da rappresentarsi ). The former bears the date 5 November 1638, whereas the libretto is dated more than three months later, 20 January 1639. The latter, undated, probably appeared closer to the date of the libretto, 24 January 1639, with which it is usually bound, though it was clearly a separate publication with its own title page and pagination. The dedications of both scenarios were signed by the librettists (figs. 9, 10).


These scenarios essentially fulfill the promise of their titles. They contain a synopsis and a running description of the action, material that had been incorporated, along with the actual text of the drama, within the more ambitious librettos of Andromeda and La maga fulminata . In addition, the scenario for Delia includes a lengthy preface by the author clearly aimed at arousing public interest in the forthcoming production. It also calls attention to the unprecedented event of a second new production within the same season, Ferrari's Armida . This was all part of a public relations effort on behalf of the new theater. Strozzi did try, however, to disguise the rather blatant propagandistic purpose of the scenario by suggesting that it had the practical function of providing basic information about the action for the benefit of the scene designer: "Because the sublime intellects of Your Lordship [the dedicatee, Ercole Danesi] and of Signor Alfonso Rivarola [the scene designer] cannot philosophize about the stage-machinery if I do not reveal to you what I have been doing day to day with my pen, I am sending you this summary of my Delia" (Appendix I. 15a).[45] Accordingly, the dedication is followed by a scene-by-scene plot description and an explanation of its significance. Then the publicity campaign begins in full force:

Signor Giovanni Grimani . . . has chosen Delia to be the first opera to appear in that most noble theater, which he, with such generosity of spirit, has caused to be born, so to speak, in the space of a few days in this city of Venice, and which is destined to last many years for the sole benefit of music. And indeed it seemed to me that the stones joined together by themselves, as if induced by the harmony of new Amphions, so little was the effort with which this ample and solid theater rose from the foundations; in which I hear that a production of Signor Benedetto Ferrari is also scheduled to be performed this year, a noteworthy effort, because without using either words or ideas from Tasso, he has simultaneously composed and embellished with music a new Armida, which will be, as the other two of these past years, the marvel of the stage, since it is currently being ennobled by the machines of Your Lordship and Signor Alfonso, and honored (as will be the Delia that precedes it) by the voices of some of the most melodious swans of our Italy. I send you, in conclusion, the number of characters that make up my Delia. (Appendix I. 15c)

The scenario concludes with a wonderfully informal and informative postscript, redolent of Strozzi's characteristic advertising tone:

I was forgetting to tell you that Signor Francesco Manelli romano, who, as you know, to great applause clothed Andromeda and La maga fulminata of Signor Benedetto Ferrari with music, has demonstrated this time an excess of his affection and the summit of his talent in honoring my Delia. I know what I am saying: Venice will be astonished to hear what heights are reached by the effort Signor Manelli has made in this work. He has an admirable way of portraying the words [un'imitatione


Giulio Strozzi, Delia  (Venice, 1639), scenario title page.


Orazio Persiani,  Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo  (Venice, 1639), 
scenario title page.


di parole mirabile ], a distinctive, varied, and delightful harmonic style [un'armonia apropria, varia, e dilettevole ]; in short, when this effort comes off the press it will be known whether I have spoken out of self-interest or rather, instead, have cheated the truth. (Appendix I. 15d)

Beyond the utilitarian function of identifying the composer, this particular passage serves also to justify Strozzi's own efforts. By invoking its two predecessors, Strozzi places his work in the context of an already established, if recent, operatic tradition, thereby claiming a legitimacy based on successful precedent. Andromeda and La maga fulminata buttress not only his Delia but the whole enterprise at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

The Peleo scenario does not share the self-advertising tone of Delia , but it does provide a few important bits of practical information about the performance not given in the libretto—information clearly intended to attract a local audience: the place of the performance, the name of the composer, and the general provenance of the singers, who were both foreigners and local (some "conceduti all'auttore da diversi potentati," others "stipendiati nella Cappella della Serenissima Republica Veneta").[46]

These little volumes, the Delia scenario in particular, were evidently responding to a new force in the marketplace: theatrical rivalry. With two theaters now in operation, competition had begun. The function of scenarios, however, was not limited to advertising; once they had attracted an audience, the synopsis and scene-by-scene descriptions helped it to follow the complicated action on the stage. As publications, scenarios had many practical advantages over librettos. They were much shorter, most subsequent examples comprising fewer than twenty-four pages, or a single duodecimo fascicle, in contrast to several times that number in most librettos, and so they were cheaper to print. They could also be produced far more quickly. And, since they did not contain any actual dialogue, they could easily be published in advance of a performance, going to press as soon as the librettist had outlined the action, before he had completed the versification.

A melancholy witness to the largely practical function of scenarios is their poor rate of survival. Lacking even the meager literary merits of a libretto, and having no permanent value outside the particular performance they described, they were likely to have been disposed of immediately after the performance, like our present-day playbills: theatrical ephemera, pale historical records of a single past event, and not especially worth saving.[47]


In most cases, scenarios were soon followed by librettos. For at least two early operas, however, Il ritorno d'Ulisse (1640) and Le nozze d'Enea (1641), commemorative librettos seem never to have been published,[48] and for several other operas, including Didone and L'incoronazione di Poppea , librettos were published so long after the scenarios that they can hardly be considered documents of the same occasion.[49] Significantly, and unusually, however, there are contemporary manuscripts of all four of these librettos, some of them in multiple copies.[50] These rather anomalous examples involve the works of only three men: Badoaro, Busenello, and the anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea —the three most academic of the early librettists. Clearly their failure or reluctance to publish their librettos—or even, in two cases, to admit author-ship—was no coincidence. It is likely that these aristocratic authors hesitated to identify themselves with the commercial aspect of publication. Their elaborate defenses of the genre itself suggest that their reluctance to publish may have been compounded by some sense of discomfort, which made them unwilling to pass off their products as literature.[51]

Similar discomfort probably accounts for the publication of a number of early librettos under pseudonyms, or else by someone other than the author, such as the printer or stage designer. Whatever the reason for dissembling or obscuring authorship, by the mid 1640s any reluctance, modesty, or squeamishness on the part of librettists, no matter how aristocratic, had been overcome by a desire to participate in the action.

Scenarios filled the twin needs of publicity and practical assistance for about a decade, from 1638 to shortly after the middle of the century—that is, during the period in which dramma per musica was assuming its identity. By 1650, however, they had virtually disappeared; their demise coincided with the increasing trend toward publication of librettos before rather than after performances. These librettos incorporated the functions of the scenario within their more ambitious purpose. Some of them even specifically claimed for themselves one of those functions, that of helping the audience to follow the plot:


The desire was born in me to have [this text] printed in order to satisfy those who enjoy such things [as operas] more when they are accompanied by reading. (Appendix I. 8n)

I composed the present work to be recited at the Teatro Novissimo, which, since it was to be published for the greater convenience of the spectators, I wished to bring into the world adorned with the name of Your Illustrious Lordship. (Appendix 1.23b)

It is obvious from their front matter that librettos, unlike scenarios, represented the author's investment.[52] His name was featured prominently on the title page, to the exclusion of that of any of the other collaborators, and he signed the dedication. Other information about him, irrelevant to the specific performance but flattering to his image, was often included, such as a list of his works or encomiastic sonnets by other authors in his honor. Not only did librettos frequently fail even in prefatory material to provide the names of composer and scene designer, but a number of them conspicuously lack significant information relating to the specific performance, such as the name of the theater.[53] Indeed, some point distinctly away from the particular performance to a loftier end, revealing their aspirations to the permanence of literature. Scenarios, in contrast, tended to emphasize practical information, and they were as likely to mention the composer, singers, and stage designer as the librettist.

The financial involvement of the librettist in the printing of his text is confirmed by Ivanovich, who devoted an entire chapter of his "Memorie" to the subject, "Qual fu prima, e qual'è al presente l'utile dell'Autore del Drama." Looking back on the first Venetian operas, Ivanovich saw them from the jaded perspective of a witness to dozens of subsequent works. To him they represented a golden age: "In the beginning, when dramma per musica first appeared in Venetian theaters, the authors were satisfied with the glory that came from applause" (Appendix II.6z). But as time went on, he continues, the number of theaters increased and there were not enough dramatists to supply them; it was then that financial rewards began to be offered to poets in order to attract them to music drama. "Because of this the custom was introduced (still current today) of leaving to the author of the drama, as a reward for his efforts, everything that is realized from the sale of the librettos printed at his expense, and from the dedication that he makes, according to his own choice, and this profit depends on the success of the opera" (Appendix II. 6aa). Ivanovich's golden age,


if it ever existed, was shorter than his account implies. If he judged motivation by publication, perhaps he had in mind those aristocratic academics who never or only retrospectively involved themselves in the publication of their works. They were soon followed and outnumbered by authors avidly interested in publishing for profit.

A demand had to exist before a librettist would risk such an investment. During the first five years that demand was created by the success of each individual production: librettos published afterwards capitalized on it. On the other hand, printing a libretto ahead of the performance, before its success was proven, was risky; besides, it put a great deal of pressure on librettist, composer, and even on the singers. So much was done at the last moment—the musical setting, the casting, the rehearsals—that it was difficult to establish a text that accurately reflected the finished work. Within a few years, however, the cumulative success of the genre as a whole was evidently sufficient to justify advance publication of librettos despite all the pressures. Sporadically after 1642, consistently after 1650, they appeared ahead of the performance. The rare occasions later in the century when librettos were not printed until afterwards seem always to have been the result of special circumstances. Rather than trying to establish correct texts sooner, which was an impossibility given the mechanics of operatic production, librettists developed various methods of minimizing the inevitable discrepancies between the printed librettos and the words finally sung.

The Teatro Novissimo

The first Venetian librettos, then, with a few notable exceptions, were printed after the fact, when the operas had already been produced, rappresentato —presumably with success. The exceptions prove the rule. Virtually all of those printed ahead of time were for operas performed at the Teatro Novissimo, a theater with its own special story and influence. [54] The fourth theater to present opera in Venice, the Novissimo differed from both its predecessors and successors in several important respects. Although it had a shorter life span than any of its competitors—only five seasons of activity can be documented—and although it produced fewer operas—only six—the Novissimo had a greater impact than any other single theater on the establishment of opera in Venice.

Unlike its predecessors, it was not a preexisting theater converted or reconstructed for use as an opera house. It was a brand-new building—hence,


unuoubtedly, its name—constructed specifically to house "opere eroiche, solamente in musica, e non commedie" ("only heroic operas in music, not plays").[55] From its inception, the project represented a concerted effort on the part of a group of Venetian noblemen rather than a single family. Its management by committee rather than by an individual proprietor was one of its unique features.

On 30 May 1640, "diversi cavalieri," together with the patrician Luigi Michiel, had signed a contract with the Dominican monks of SS. Giovanni e Paolo agreeing to oversee construction of and to manage a theater on a property adjacent to the monastery. These "cavalieri" were members of the Accademia degli Incogniti, whose involvement with the enterprise determined the entire course of the Novissimo's brilliant though brief career. [56] We have already considered the Incogniti from the point of view of their theoretical writings, which had a fundamental influence on the definition of opera as a genre; their impact on its social, practical, and economic structure, specifically through their activities at the Novissimo, was equally profound. They were largely responsible for the creation of the model spectacle that defined Venetian opera for the rest of the century. Primarily through their influence, that model combined aspects of Ottonelli's second and third categories of opera, the academic and the mercenary: "those presented sometimes by various gentlemen or talented citizens or learned academicians for one good reason or another" and those "presented by those mercenary musicians, actors by profession, who, organized in a company, are directed and governed by one of their own, as the chief authority and head of the others" (Appendix II.3a, b). For the Incogniti hired a group of traveling musicians from Rome to carry out their program.

Individual members of the Academy like Pio Enea, Strozzi, Badoaro, and Busenello had participated in opera from the outset and were active in various theaters, but it was only at the Novissimo that the Incogniti acted as a group. Their influence permeated all aspects of the endeavor, which served as the perfect focus for their abundant energy and multiple talents. The broad base of financial support they commanded with the help of their patrician associates permitted, at least initially, a certain extravagance that could not be taken for


granted in other commercial theatrical efforts.[57] Moreover, the fame and reputation of the group lent enormous prestige to the undertaking. Most important, the Academy possessed a built-in mechanism for publicity, a pool of writers with well-lubricated pens who could supply a full range of verbal resources, everything from libretto texts to advertising copy. The internally generated publicity surrounding the inaugural production at the Novissimo, La finta pazza , was sufficient to assure opera an indelible spot on the cultural map of Europe.

The most striking aspect of Incognito publicity, however, and their most fundamental aim, was political. In keeping with their close association with the ruling Venetian patriciate, these writers repeatedly asserted a connection between the magnificence of Venetian operatic spectacles and the splendor of the Serenissima herself. Their involvement in these spectacles was a projection of their patriotism, a way of polishing the image of Venice. A connection between splendor on the stage and the image of the city had been implicit in the patrician involvement in earlier theatrical ventures as well, particularly in the three other opera houses, but it was made explicit for the first time in connection with the Novissimo. The Incogniti not only participated in the phenomenon, they defined it. It was the Incogniti who laid the groundwork for the political interpretation of the development of Venetian opera advanced some thirty years later by Ivanovich. As we shall see, much of the verbiage surrounding the individual productions at the theater was devoted to embroidering an elaborate defense of the traditional myth of Venice.

When the Novissimo opened its doors during Carnival of 1641, Venice's fifth consecutive opera season, it faced stiff competition from the three older theaters. S. Cassiano, still being served by Cavalli's troupe, was planning to mount a production of Didone (Busenello/Cavalli); SS. Giovanni e Paolo had two Monteverdi operas scheduled, Le nozze d'Enea and a revival of Il ritorno d'Ulisse , probably performed by Ferrari's and Manelli's troupe;[58] and S. Moisè was preparing a production of Ferrari's La ninfa avara .[59]

La finta pazza , with which the Novissimo vociferously initiated its activity in early January, became the first and possibly the greatest operatic "hit" of the century. It set the standard for measuring operatic success. The production


combined the theatrical know-how of arguably the most experienced and able librettist in the business, Giulio Strozzi (fig. 11),[60] possibly the moving force behind the whole Novissimo venture, and the formidable talents of three newcomers to the Rialto. These were the scene designer Giacomo Torelli, "engineer to the doge," who, after several spectacular productions at the Novissimo, was called to France in the service of the queen;[61] the Parmesan composer and impresario Francesco Sacrati, who subsequently collaborated on four more operas in Venice and was compared flatteringly with Monteverdi; and his pro-tégée, the soprano Anna Renzi, who became the first "prima donna" in operatic history.[62]

The success of La finta pazza was choreographed carefully from the start. In accord with recently established custom, a scenario was printed before the premiere, its dedication signed 4 January 1641. Strozzi was by now an old hand at writing publicity for the inauguration of theaters, having performed this function for SS. Giovanni e Paolo two years before. But the title page of the scenario for La finta pazza is especially—and uniquely—explicit in its claim for attention:

ARGOMENTO E SCENARIO DELLA FINTA PAZZA. Drama di Giulio Strozzi . Da rappresentarsi con solenne apparato di Musiche, Macchine, e Scene, il presente Carnovale, dell'Anno Mille e seicento quarantuno, nel Theatro Novissimo della Città di Venetia. (fig. 12)[63]

Atypically, however, and for the first time in Venice, Strozzi also published a full libretto before the premiere, which also contained a considerable measure of propaganda.


Portrait of Giulio Strozzi, from  Le glorie degli Incogniti  
(Venice, 1647).


Giulio Strozzi, La finta pazza  (Venice, 1641), scenario title page.


In his preface to this libretto, Strozzi provides extensive information about the production. He begins with a little self-promotion, linking the work to his previous successes and complimenting himself for his management of the plot: "This is the eighth theatrical effort that I find myself having made; five of them have already trod the boards more than once,[64] and in this one I have succeeded quite well in untying more than one knot without magic, and without resorting to supernatural and divine assistance" (Appendix I. 16a). [65] In addition, he praises in elaborate if obviously rhetorical terms the contribution of Sacrati and his band of singers, above all Anna Renzi:

The poverty of my ideas is made up for by the treasure of the music of Sig. Francesco Sacrati from Parma, who has known how to adorn my verses marvelously with his harmonies, and just as miraculously he has also been able to assemble an excellent chorus of so many most exquisite swans of Italy; and all the way from the Tiber, in the most extreme cold of a horrid season he has brought to the Adriatic a most gentle Siren, who sweetly steals the heart and charms the eyes and ears of the listeners. The city of Venice must be grateful to the diligence of Sig. Sacrati for the favor of the most skillful Signora Anna. (Appendix I. 16c)[66]

Although neither libretto nor scenario mentions Torelli by name, the scenario refers frequently to the magical effects of the stage designs (which, as we have already seen, were atypically mentioned on its title page). Torelli's contribution received its due in another volume, the Cannocchiale (telescope) per la finta pazza by one "M. B. di G." This elaborate publication, of fifty-five pages, vividly describes the visual effects of the opera. Probably published after Easter, certainly after the opera season had closed, it was evidently intended to augment the effect of the publicity campaign for the opera and the theater by prolonging the memory of its success.


This becomes clear in the volume itself. The cryptic author's initials are those of Maiolino Bisaccioni, count of Genoa, Incognito, and eventually the author of several librettos in his own right.[67] Bisaccioni begins by justifying the publication of this unusual volume, the very title of which declares its purpose of bringing the spectacle closer to the reader. The scenario as well as the libretto, he says, have both been published in order to serve those members of the audience too far away to appreciate the production, either because of absence—never having made it to the theater at all—or because of distance—having attended the performance, but being seated too far from the stage (thus implying that the theater was uncommonly large). But these publications did not do justice to the machines, the costumes, or the crowds, a shortcoming that the Cannocchiale would attempt to rectify. Bisaccioni hoped that even the remotest of readers would be able to imagine what was seen by the front-row audience in the theater.[68]

Although obviously intended to serve as propaganda for the Teatro Novissimo, and especially, perhaps, as publicity for the scene designer, Torelli, the Cannocchiale supplies, in passing, a number of interesting details about the brief history of opera in Venice up to that point. It gives an idea of the kind of competition that was already rampant, competition that its very publication documents. And it asserts explicitly for the first time the relationship between opera and "the miraculous city of Venice" that was so essential to the development of the genre there, emphasizing the function of the art as a projection of the Venetian self-image: "May the eyes of those even in the most distant and secluded foreign countries enjoy in these pages what eyes and ears have enjoyed in this city, which in its every aspect surpasses the bounds of the marvelous" (Appendix I. 17b). The subject of the final phrase is the city of Venice rather than the spectacle itself. This is part of the litany of the myth. The book claims to address a readership extending from Venice to Italy at large and the entire world.

In the past, theaters may have opened in other places as well, and a single one was sufficient to render a people famous and memorable for an entire century. But Venice has rejoiced in no fewer than four at the same time, all


competing with one another in size, scenography, music, staging, and machines (Appendix I. 17c). Bisaccioni's rather gradual historical buildup culminates predictably in a bold demonstration of the superiority of the Novissimo to all other theaters, a superiority that relies in part on the perfection of its construction, carried out with the help of Torelli.

The last of these [theaters], which as it happens was called the Novissimo, surpassed all belief because in the space of six months it was built from the foundations and perfected with the assistance, for its construction as well as for the sets and machines, of Sig. Giacomo Torelli from Fano; who came to exercise his talents in military matters in the service of this August Senate, and, impatient of idleness, has shown what his talent is capable of. (Appendix I. 17d)[69]

After these general remarks, the Cannocchiale moves to specific description of the opera itself, concentrating primarily on the staging, the marvels of the machinery, the speed and smoothness of the transformations (one of them so simple that "a single fifteen-year-old boy set it in motion"), and the success of the pictorial illusion.[70] It also comments on the singers, adding to the information provided in Strozzi's preface to the libretto. Several remarks on the star of the show, Anna Renzi, amplify what we know of her from other sources: "Signora Anna Renzi from Rome, a young woman as skillful in acting as she is excellent in music, as cheerful in feigning madness as she is wise in knowing how to imitate it, and modest in all her habits" (Appendix I. 17e). The part of Acchille was played by a "young castrato from Rome (like all the other musicians brought in from various places) of beautiful appearance, who resembled an Amazon in his mixture of warlike spirit and feminine delicacy" (Appendix I. 17j).[71] Bisaccioni also singled out a singer from Pistoia for special praise, reporting that he sang "so delicately that the souls of the listeners, as if drawn through the portals of the ears, raised themselves to heaven to assist in the enjoyment of such sweetness" (Appendix I. 17i).

One of the most important contributions of the Cannocchiale is the insight it offers into the effect of the work on the audience, most of whom attended two, three, or even four performances (Appendix I. 17f). The scenery was so well painted that the audience forgot that they were in Venice, the illusion so overpowering that "the eye did not know where to stop, for that shallow scenic space knew how to feign an immensity of sea and land" (Appendix I. 17h). Such


was the art of the scene painter that the eye was deceived into thinking that painting was sculpture, that flatness was depth (Appendix I. 17k).

Bisaccioni attempted to recreate the excitement of being in the theater, of actually experiencing the work as it unfolded: "When the theater was filled to its utmost capacity with spectators, who were impatiently awaiting the movement of the curtain, a sinfonia was begun, of instruments played no less expertly than sweetly, after which the curtain rose with incredible rapidity" (Appendix I. 17g). [72] His description concludes with a publicist's confirmation of the success of the work that borders on the tautological. The opera's fame has caused unusually large crowds to gather in'Venice—an implicit credit to the efficacy of the advance advertising.

The public's desire to see it again never ended; and thus, however many times it was repeated, the place was crowded with people, and many were led to curse their own laziness when they arrived and had to leave because they could not find any place to sit. Nor did the long period between the end of Carnival and Easter lessen the desire in the city to see such an applauded work again, even though familiarity normally breeds contempt; and thus it was necessary to reopen the theater and perform it a number of times, which further spread the fame of this delightful spectacle to the cities of Italy and beyond, and was the reason that, quite exceptionally, Venice was filled ten days early with the crowds that normally gather for the devotions and ceremonies of Ascension Day. (Appendix I. 171)[73]

For all its ca mpanilismo and self-promotion, the Cannocchiale can be trusted in its general outlines. Its reporting involves exaggeration rather than invention, for many of its observations can be validated from other sources. In a second printing of the libretto, a note from the publisher to the "frequente compratore" explains that he was forced "by the avidity of the readers of this work to print it twice in one month, such was the approbation received from every tongue by the Finta pazza at the Novissimo theater in the city of Venice, where it was performed with regal display twelve times in seventeen days" (Appendix I. 16d).[74] The printing of a second edition as well as the information


provided in it about the success of the work—the number of performances, the amount of applause—continued the publicity campaign initiated by the scenario, the first libretto, and the Cannocchiale .[75]

The Venetian success of La finta pazza was enormous. But the work made its fullest impact in subsequent performances outside Venice, where it was brought, variously altered and rearranged, by a succession of traveling opera companies—most famously in Paris under the auspices of Torelli and Balbi, one of the first of a series of Italian operas performed in the French capital.[76] The glow of success enjoyed by La finta pazza , fanned as it was by the full deployment of the Incogniti publicity machine, continued to surround the productions of the Novissimo. Strozzi wrote no further librettos for that theater, returning to SS. Giovanni e Paolo, but Sacrati continued to serve as composer-impresario, Torelli as scenographer, and Anna Renzi as prima donna. The season of 1642 saw two new productions. The first, Alcate , on a libretto by Marc'Antonio Tirabosco, was set not by Sacrati but by Manelli, and Torelli seems to have had no part in it.[77] The libretto, atypically for this theater, was published after the performance, on 13 February 1642. The real successor of La finta pazza was the second production of 1642, Bellerofonte , with a libretto by Vincenzo Nolfi, music by Sacrati, machines by Torelli, and starring Anna Renzi.

In fact, Bellerofonte seems to have been even more elaborate than its spectacular predecessor. Its libretto and scenario, like those of La finta pazza , were both printed before the performance. As we learn from a note to the reader attached to the end of the libretto, the scenario came first: "Various things in the opera were altered and corrected after the scenario was printed; thus if in number of scenes or in some part of what is presented in them you find some


divergences from the one to the other, do not immediately become critical; take everything with goodwill, because our only aim is to minimize your boredom and maximize your pleasure" (Appendix I. 19h).

The scenario was probably prepared by the theater management, since it is unsigned, bears no author's name on its title page, and continues the publicity campaign initiated the previous year by the Finta pazza publications. Indeed, it is atypical of scenarios in opening with a preface. Reminding the reader of the extraordinary success of the opera of the previous year, which had rendered the Novissimo "worthy of the favor and applause of the whole city," it praises the forthcoming opera, Bellerofonte , "likewise a musical drama," which, it is hoped, will maintain if not improve the reputation of the theater. Bellerofonte is "the very recent work of Signor Vincenzo Nolfi, gentleman of Fano." Although the work was a rush job, it is nevertheless a masterpiece, which, in any case, is largely owing to the generosity of the patrons, "questi Signori interessati," who spared no efforts in obtaining however many machines the poet felt necessary (Appendix I. 19a).[78]

The preface to the scenario concludes with several paragraphs addressed "to the curious reader" by Torelli, unnamed but identified as "l'inventore delle machine." In a conventionally self-effacing note laced with only a touch of paranoia, he divulges the curious information that his sets are being plagiarized. His swipe at the narrowness of the theater is the only indication we have of any deficiency at the Novissimo:

If in the scenes and machines I have constructed for you you do not find that perfection and beauty that you deserve and that you have a right to expect in virtuosic emulation of other celebrated and most noble theaters in such a glorious country, forgive me because the desire to delight you won over my awareness of the weakness of my talent. Appreciate the little that I can offer you in relation to the great deal that I wish to offer you; I confess that the imperfections are infinite, nor do I allow myself to be flattered by the speed with which others have adopted, perhaps in order to use them, things first invented, established, and, I might even say, bestowed, by me. Whatever they are, they are certainly the simple fruits of my invention. The site of the Teatro Novissimo cannot give you a full idea of things, as its narrowness would make it impossible even for an extraordinary architect to work perfectly.[79] Let this too convince you to excuse and bear with me. My weaknesses, in any case, will be largely covered up by the brush of Signor Domenico Bruni of Brescia, who with his usual success painted the sets. (Appendix I. 19b)

In contrast to that of the scenario, the preface to the libretto of Bellerofonte , signed by the author, is less concerned with propaganda than with aesthetic


issues, of more specific relevance to the librettist as poet than as servant of the theater. But Nolfi offers a novel, and revealing, excuse for his literary shortcomings: his deference to the wishes of the scene designer: "You are wasting time, O Reader, if with the Poetics of the Stagirite [Aristotle] in hand you go tracking down the errors of this work, because I confess freely that in composing it I did not aim to observe any precepts other than the desires of the scene designer" (Appendix I. 19c). And again, slightly later: "The tale that was crumbling because of its antiquity has been restored by my pen in a dramatic form, under the constraint of very little time, in order to be crowned by the beauty of the theatrical machines and sets" (Appendix I. 19g). The preface is followed by Torelli's note, reprinted from the scenario, and the front matter of the libretto concludes with poems addressed to the poet, two of the singers (including Renzi), and the composer.

The unusual emphasis on the scenographer in both the scenario and the libretto is capped in a third publication issued shortly after the performance. A deluxe commemorative quarto volume similar in function to the Cannocchiale per lafinta pazza , this book was published under the aegis of Torelli himself and accordingly emphasizes the visual aspects of the production to an even greater degree. In addition to an elaborate narrative account of the performance, the entire text of the libretto is reproduced, along with ten engravings of scene designs.[80]

From our point of view, the most interesting section is the "Descrittione de gli Apparati" by Giulio del Colle. In its effort to place first the machines and then the Novissimo in their proper context, this report provides a veritable history of opera in Venice up to 1642, isolating many of the elements that were to prove crucial to its development—though much of this was recognized only in retrospect by later historians. Del Colle's description was obviously an important source for Ivanovich, who used it, amplified with information culled from later librettos, as the basis for his history of Venetian opera.[81]

Del Colle opens with a typically chauvinistic encomium to Venice and its unique history, including the usual favorable comparison to Rome, which it surpasses by virtue of its singular and miraculous site and, especially, in the number and magnificence of its theaters. Particularly in recent years, these have produced works that would have caused ancient Rome to blush with shame at being so surpassed (Appendix 1.20a). The most magnificent of all, of course, is


the Teatro Novissimo, which, "built two years ago, has really caused a sensation and has deserved and won acclaim. This year it presented Bellerofonte, a drama by Signor Vincenzo Nolfi from Fano; and since, for many reasons, the things introduced in it are worthy of minute description, I have decided to undertake the task, however imperfectly" (Appendix I.20b).

Del Colle then goes on to describe the action of the drama itself, commenting on the various singers as he sketches the individual characters. He mentions only three by name: Giulia Saus Paolelli from Rome, who had resided and performed in Venice for the previous three years; Michele Grasseschi, a contralto on loan from Prince Matthias de' Medici of Florence; and Anna Renzi romana, "true embodiment of music and unique marvel of the stage, who, during the course of the performance first gave vent to, then hid, then disguised, then revealed, and then lamented her amorous passions." But he gives the city of origin for most of the others and, more important, supplies vocal ranges for all of the roles, which would be otherwise unknown to us, since the music of Bellerofonte has not survived. His complete list comprises Innocenza (soprano from Parma), La Giustizia (a castrato from Rome), Nettuno (tenor from Parma), Paristide (tenor from Pistoia), Il Re (bass from Siena), Regina Anthia (Signora Giulia Saus Paolelli romana), Defiride, the nurse (a castrato from Parma), Pallade and Diana (two soprano castratos), Melistea (a castrato from Pistoia), Eolo (a Sienese bass), Bellerofonte (Signor Michele Grasseschi, contralto), and Archimene (Anna Renzi romana) (Appendix I.20c).[82] Most of del Colle's text, however, is devoted to a vivid description of the costumes, sets, and the workings of the machinery, in which he emphasizes the novelty of Torelli's inventions. As in the similar descriptions in the Cannocchiale and even in the earlier librettos of Andromeda and La maga fulminata so long before, a special point is made of the amazed reaction of the public, its inability to penetrate the illusion.[83]

After Bellerofonte , activity at the Novissimo began to slacken somewhat. Only one opera was produced during each of its next (and last) three seasons: Venere gelosa in 1643, Deidamia in 1644, and Ercole in Lidia in 1645. Sacrati and


Torelli seem to have been directly involved only in the first of these; in fact, following Strozzi's lead, they both began to work at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Sacrati collaborated with several other composers there in a joint setting of Strozzi's La finta savia already in 1643, and he provided all of the music for Badoaro's Ulisse errante in 1644, for which Torelli served as scenographer. Anna Renzi, too, moved over to SS. Giovanni e Paolo after Bellerofonte to sing in L'incoronazione di Poppea and La finta savia in 1643, though she returned to the Novissimo in 1644 and 1645 for Deidamia and Ercole in Lidia .[84]

In fact, the theater of SS. Giovanni e Paolo and the Novissimo had always been linked, by geographical proximity and outlook as well as personnel. Strozzi, as we know, had written his Delia for the Grimani theater in 1639, before the Novissimo was built, and many other members of the Accademia degli Incogniti, including Busenello, Badoaro, and the anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea , were active there rather than at the Novissimo. It was natural, then, for Strozzi to have returned to SS. Giovanni e Paolo and to have brought his Novissimo colleagues with him in 1643. Torelli, for his part, may even have found the older theater more congenial to his scenographic technology. At least one of his inventions, the fine machine for changing all the sets simultaneously by means of a lever or winch moved by a weight, described in the eighteenth century, may have originated there.[85] SS. Giovanni e Paolo was certainly the larger theater. In fact, although in 1645 it was deemed the most comfortable and beautiful theater in Venice, as we have noted, Giovanni Grimani himself thought it was too deep and should be shortened by two boxes because "those facing the stage hear the performers poorly."[86] It is just possible that the general exodus from the Novissimo to SS. Giovanni e Paolo was in some way connected to the signing of a new rental contract at the Novissimo by Gironimo Lappoli in 1643, though the nature of the relationship between the two events is uncertain.[87] The fact that Strozzi's operatic trilogy—which began with La


finta pazza and included La finta savia and Romoto e Remo —was split between the two theaters suggests that SS. Giovanni e Paolo was considered in some sense a natural twin or even heir of the Novissimo.

But in 1643, despite the loss of Strozzi, Sacrati, and Anna Renzi, the energy of the Novissimo was still far from spent. Venere gelosa , by all (admittedly prejudiced) accounts, was just as marvelous and successful as any of its predecessors. The text, by a new librettist, Niccolò Enea Bartolini,[88] was published as expected before the premiere and reprinted at least four times in Venice and also in Padua; it contains the characteristic Incognito peroration on the aesthetics of opera, but is not especially informative about the performance. Nor, atypically for the Novissimo, does a scenario seem to have been published for the purpose. Torelli, however, made up for this with another commemorative volume, the last of his efforts in that direction, issued in 1644.

The title of this publication, Apparati scenici per lo Teatro Novissimo di Venetia nell'anno 1644 d'inventione e cura di Iacomo Torelli da Fano , is neutral, making no reference to any specific opera. Indeed, even the dedication of the volume seems purposely noncommittal. It simply introduces the designs as having been made for the Teatro Novissimo and shown "this past Carnival to the eyes of Venice in the representation of a musical drama."[89] The description of the opera in question by Bisaccioni, the author of the Cannocchiale , makes it clear, however, that it was Venere gelosa , performed during the previous season (1643). But the printing of the Apparati scenici , whose dedication was signed by Torelli on 24 January 1644, was a year late if it was intended to commemorate only Venere gelosa , and in fact only nine of the twelve plates relate to that work. The other three probably illustrate Deidamia , the opera then on the boards.[90]

Furthermore, of the eight stage sets listed in the libretto for Deidamia , the five not included in the Apparati could have been drawn from those of Venere gelosa .[91] Thus, while the Apparati scenici describes only Venere gelosa , it in fact


illustrates both Venere gelosa and Deidamia —and not only three of the latter's sets but probably all of them. This is confirmed in a note to the reader appended to the volume.

These sets were so marvelously and exquisitely presented that they convinced their maker to allow them to be seen this year, 1643 [1644], also. And in truth he judged very wisely, since people have derived inexpressible satisfaction from them, to the extent that many thought they were new, and others that they had been improved; and this because of the addition of other very beautiful sets included here [i.e., the three already mentioned], and because the drama turned out to be marvelously beautiful: whence it was shown that to repeat beautiful things even twice is commendable. (Appendix I.22c)

Like the Cannocchiale and the deluxe Bellerofonte , the Apparati scenici sheds valuable light on the current state of opera in Venice. It begins (like Bellerofonte ) with a capsule history of the city and its theaters in order to place the Teatro Novissimo and especially the featured production, Venere gelosa , in their proper context—on a pedestal, as the culmination of a brief but glorious tradition. In so doing, it makes its own considerable contribution to the blossoming mythology:

Venice, always and on every occasion extraordinary, and never tired of displaying her greatness, has discovered the remarkable also in virtuoso entertainment, having introduced a few years ago the presentation in music of grand drama with such sets and stage-machines that they surpass all belief; and what the richest treasuries can produce only with difficulty (and only rarely) in royal halls [Regie Sale ] here we see easily achieved with private resources, not only in one, but in three theaters [tre orchestre ] at once;[92] and competing with each other for the greatest perfections, they each draw spectators from the most remote parts of Italy. I am not undertaking to write down what was done in Venere gelosa because I deem it the most notable of this year's, and this city's, theatrical productions, nor because my choice aims to detract from the others' merits, but rather because I enjoyed this one first, and I have preserved the most vivid memory of it. . . . But not even of this one do I want to write every detail, because it seems to me enough to report the most important things of the drama, as much as is needed to show what its scenic clothes, or shall we say sets, were like. (Appendix I.22a)

The author will tell only as much about the drama as is necessary to illustrate or describe the scenography—by which strategy, of course, he hopes to achieve exactly what he disclaims, to convince the readers of the superiority of Venere gelosa to all other operas of the season, especially, we might guess, to the opera at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.


His description of the effect of the final scene gives a good idea of the audience's reaction and provides a fitting conclusion to the volume:

At the birth of this scene the whole theater, not just the stage or the buildings, was supposed to rise, and it rose indeed, for with the movement of those great back-drops and the disappearance of the sky, and upon seeing all the parts of that great machine turn and mix in great confusion, not one of the spectators sat still: they stood up and turned around and did not know what they were seeing or what to expect, if not a great novelty; but soon the eye was satisfied, because it saw the scene transformed into a lovely and delightful garden, which was far different from any that have been depicted, either on stage or in print. (Appendix I.22b)

This Apparati scenici was the last volume of his stage designs Torelli published in Venice, although he promised a similar one for his next opera, Ulisse errante , at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, in a note to the reader in the libretto of that work: "Experience makes me recognize the fact that favors often increase the daring of those who receive them; I received Ulisse errante from the hand of the author with the privileged authority to print it in large format with illustrations after the performances, and I undertook this to be able to show to the world the efforts I faced in order to serve these gentlemen well" (Appendix I.8m).[93]

Torelli obviously assumed the responsibility (and profits?) of the librettist in this case. Perhaps permission to publish the libretto as well as engravings of the sets was part of his contract with the theater management, possibly an inducement to leave the Novissimo. Interesting also, given the precedent of the Cannocchiale and the deluxe Bellerofonte , is the proviso that he should not publish the engravings until after the performance, as if prior publication might diminish their effect. Conversely, the publication of this particular libretto before the premiere (which is implied in Torelli's preface, though not by any verb on the title page) seems explicitly intended to enhance the audience's enjoyment of the performance.

It is evident that by 1644 Torelli's exclusive ties to the Novissimo, like those of a number of his collaborators, had loosened, if not broken altogether. The staging of neither Deidamia that year nor Ercole in Lidia the next is specifically ascribed to him. And, as we know, 1644 saw the performance of his first, and only, new work for another Venetian theater, Ulisse errante at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. This was followed by revivals there of two works that had originally been produced with his sets at the Novissimo: Bellerofonte in 1645 and Deidamia in 1647. But by then Torelli was gone: in the spring of 1645, after the


opera season, he accepted an invitation from the queen of France and left for Paris, "sacrificing all of his important interests in Venice," thus bringing to a close the Venetian chapter of his career.[94]

Although Torelli was not the only scenographer active in Venice in the early years of public opera (we have noted Alabardi at S. Cassiano, and Chenda and Burnacini at SS. Giovanni e Paolo), he clearly left an indelible mark upon the Venetian stage—and, through the engravings of his designs, upon our knowledge of its visual spectacle.[95] Stage design had traditionally aimed at producing marvelous effects; Torelli's special contribution was to achieve those effects with a mechanical efficiency that enhanced the marvelous. By creating a central mechanism that controlled all the moving parts, he could set the entire stage into simultaneous motion. Light and shadow further contributed to the smooth transition of space, adding the final convincing touches to the illusion of a world in mutation. No longer merely a backdrop or setting, the scenery actively participated in the drama, changing with, and as part of, the action.

Torelli's (and Sacrati's) transfer to SS. Giovanni e Paolo may have represented a significant victory for the management of that theater, but it did not signal the end of the Teatro Novissimo's career as a major opera house or a change in its mission. The Incogniti involvement continued—and with it the propaganda about Venice, about opera, and about the Novissimo initiated with La finta pazza —in the two operas that followed Torelli's departure, Deidamia and Ercole in Lidia , both of them starring Anna Renzi. These marked the librettistic debuts of Scipione Herrico and Bisaccioni, though the latter at least was no stranger to matters operatic. And at least one of the new operas, Ercole in Lidia , marked the operatic debut of a composer from the San Marco chapel, Giovanni Rovetta.[96] Both librettists proclaim their indebtedness to anonymous collaborators (probably their fellow Incogniti), Herrico because he was a novice, Bisaccioni because he lacked inspiration (Appendix I.23a, 24a-b).

Herrico's dedication to Alvise da Mosto, "Nobile Veneto," borrows the old Novissimo rhetoric and has the familiar ring of Venetian myth making:

This great city, as it is in its site, so always it has shown itself, and shows itself, to be admirable and extraordinary in its public and in its private actions. In these times foreigners are astonished to see the ornate theaters in which so many dramatic


works are presented in music, and which are so ingeniously composed, and so full of diverse and marvelous effects. Whence the opportunity is offered for many fine talents to exercise themselves and receive great praise, whether in poetry, or in music, or in the construction of stage-machines, or in other similarly honored and related labors.

Now, coming to this noble refuge of every virtue, and admiring such fine rivalries, I, too, was stimulated by poetic fervor, and that same reason that persuaded me not to compete with so many skilled men urged me on with a sweet desire to imitate them. Finally, with the continual requests of my friends added to this internal inclination of mine, I entered the arena to please them, and they guided my style, which is by habit very far from this kind of poetizing. I have written this work for performance in the Teatro Novissimo, and since it was to be printed for the greater convenience of the audience, I wanted it to appear adorned with the name of Your Most Illustrious Lordship, who will deign to receive it as much in my name, as a token of my loyal service, as in the name of those who had a part in it with me, in the invention and in the ideas. (Appendix I.23a-b)

Although Torelli was probably not directly involved in designing the scenes for these operas, he may still have had some hand in the productions. At least no other scenographer is mentioned in connection with them. As we have seen, Deidamia probably used sets from his other operas, especially Venere gelosa ; and the same may also have been true for Ercole in Lidia , since none of the sets mentioned in the scenario or libretto seem to make demands beyond the variety available from La finta pazza, Bellerofonte , and Venere gelosa .[97] In any case, the stage designs played no little part in the impression made by Ercole in Lidia on John Evelyn in 1645:

This night, having with my Lord Bruce taken our places before, we went to the Opera where comedies and other plays are represented in recitative music by the most excellent musicians vocal and instrumental, with a variety of scenes painted and contrived with no less art of perspective, and machines for flying in the aire, and other wonderful motions; taken together it is one of the most magnificent and expensive diversions the wit of men can invent. The history was Hercules in Lydia, the scenes changed thirteen times. The famous voices, Anna Rencia, a Roman, and reputed the best treble of women; but there was an eunuch who in my opinion surpassed her; also a Genoeze that sang an incomparable bass. This held us by the eyes and ears till two in the morning.[98]

There has always been some question as to when the Novissimo actually closed its doors for good. Like much of the confusion surrounding the chronology of early Venetian opera, this uncertainty derives in part from Ivanovich, who gives two conflicting dates, 1646 in his chapter on the history of Venetian theaters, 1647 in his chronology. This is his version of the demise of the Novissimo: "Musical performances took place there until 1646, when the theater


was completely destroyed, and its site was where at present the Riding-School has been set up, behind the Mendicanti, toward the Fondamenta Nuove" (Appendix II. 6q). In his chronology, however, Ivanovich assigns Busenello's Giulio Cesare and a revival of Deidamia to the Novissimo, in 1646 and 1647 respectively; and various chroniclers, following Ivanovich, have chosen one of those two dates for the closing of the theater. But Ivanovich's confusion was itself the result of an ambiguity in the naming of theaters on the title pages of librettos, between "Novissimo" and "Novo," a designation that referred at this time to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. The confusion was compounded by the fact that the Novissimo and SS. Giovanni e Paolo were both located in the same parish. Giulio Cesare , for example, was certainly written for the SS. Giovanni e Paolo, though it was probably never performed,[99] and the revival of Deidamia , according to the libretto, clearly took place not at the Novissimo but at the "Teatro Novo."[100]

Evelyn's description of Ercole in Lidia of 1645, then, is the last document of a performance at the Novissimo. Whether or not the theater was actually destroyed soon after, as Ivanovich implies, the focus of operatic interest and activity had certainly shifted elsewhere, primarily to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. In the meantime, S. Cassiano and S. Moisè continued to compete as well, each averaging two operas per season. Like all of the theaters in Venice, the Novissimo closed in 1645 and remained closed through 1646 and 1647. But unlike the others, it never reopened.[101] Possibly because of the enormous cost of Torelli's scenographic extravaganzas, which may have accumulated, and because it failed to recoup the expenses of Ercole in Lidia , which was apparently interrupted during its run, the theater was bankrupt by 1646.[102] The Dominican friars, unlike the patrician proprietors of the other theaters, were understandably not committed enough to the venture to bail it out. And so, when the Novissimo closed in 1645, it closed forever. The strength of the initial enterprise, which lay in the cooperation of a large number of energetic collaborators, may ultimately have become the source of its failure. No family's reputation


and position depended on its success. By 1645 the status of the theater was not important enough to any single individual to inspire the heavy economic transfusion that would have ensured its survival.

Although the bright light of the Novissimo was extinguished in 1645, the effect of that theater on the subsequent history of opera in Venice was permanent. Its activities may have been concentrated in a few short seasons, but in that brief time steps fundamental to opera's development were taken and reinforced. By launching the career of the first "prima donna," the Incognito managers set new standards for singers, elevating them to greater prominence and greater influence in the operatic partnership with composers and librettists. By providing an environment—physical as well as financial—for the exercise of Torelli's special creative talents, they raised the level and importance of operatic stage design, transforming it into an independent art. Most important, they traded on the unspoken but fundamental connection between opera and the image of the Republic. In making that connection patent, the Novissimo Incogniti fulfilled their responsibility as patriotic Venetians. And, by the very energy of their publicity campaign on behalf of their theater and their city, they stimulated interest and excitement in the new art. Their success created a market for opera both in Venice and abroad.


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