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1—Far recitare un'opera a Venezia : Origins and Sources
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Far recitare un'opera a Venezia :
Origins and Sources

This night, having . . . 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. . . . This held us by the eyes and ears till two in the morning.
John Evelyn, Diary

The experience that so delighted the English visitor to Venice in 1645—and for which he purchased tickets in advance—was a type of entertainment that had been established in that city for only eight seasons, since 1637: public commercial opera.[1] The history of its origins in Venice is the story of the beginning of the art as we still know it.

Opera is a mixed theatrical genre, a combination of drama, music, and scenic spectacle, and the balance of those constituent elements has always been a source of its vitality. That same balance is also the source of its problems as an art, raising aesthetic dilemmas that have challenged every generation since its creation. Nevertheless, whatever its uneasy sense of itself as a genre, opera has survived because it is essentially a popular art, because it has managed for nearly four centuries to pack houses, to marshal all its contributing forces to entertain audiences from a broad range of society. With all its expensive magnificence, its fantastic illusion of sound and sight, its glitter of talent and temperament, opera is public spectacle.

Opera has been spectacular from its beginning—but it has not always been public. The birthdate of opera is traditionally set at about 1600, its birthplace Florence. But the art that was created in Florence at the turn of the seventeenth century is in many ways unlike the sung drama we have come to recognize as


opera. Indeed, in many respects the earliest operas—from Mantua and Rome as well as Florence—were more closely linked to the past than to the future. They manifest a closer kinship with such theatrical predecessors as humanist plays with music or the intermedi of the sixteenth-century courts than with the subsequent development of the genre. What we regard as opera was fundamentally an urban development, created with the tastes of a large, cosmopolitan, and varied audience in mind.[2]

The first operas, Dafne, Euridice, Orfeo, Arianna , like the intermedi before them, were courtly entertainments; the earliest of them, Dafne , even shared its subject matter and poet with an intermedio of 1589.[3] They were commissioned and created to celebrate specific political or social occasions, and were performed before an invited patrician audience. Productions enjoyed the relatively unrestricted budget of aristocratic patronage, and the music and poetry were subject only to the patrons' taste and the exigencies and decorum of the occasion.[4] The collaborators in these productions—poets, composers, scene and costume designers—were essentially servants of the court, and their works were conceived as celebration. Verbally and visually, iconographic conceit and allegorical allusion extolled a ruling dynasty—Medici, Gonzaga, or Barberini— besides marking the specific occasion.[5] The splendor and lavishness of the productions reflected further glory on the ruler, brightening his image at home and abroad.

Usually these works were produced only once, though court chroniclers were charged with preserving them for posterity through detailed descriptions that appeared in print. We learn a great deal about Peri's Euridice and Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo from the account by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, a Medici courtier who was a poet and dramatist in his own right as well as the first editor of his famous grand-uncle's poetry.[6] And Monteverdi's Arianna is brought to life through the chronicle of the Mantuan court reporter


Federico Follino.[7] The early Florentine and Mantuan operas find analogues in Barberini Rome, where for more than a decade operatic entertainments enhanced the image of the papal court. They also find an echo later in the Paris of Louis XIV, where each one of Lully's and Quinault's tragédies lyriques began and ended with an encomium to le roi soleil .

This kind of opera, "performed in the palaces of great princes and other secular or ecclesiastic lords" ("fatta ne' palazzi de' principi grandi, e d'altri signori secolari o ecclesiastici"), was the first and most praiseworthy of the three categories of musical spectacle distinguished by the Jesuit Giovan Domenico Ottonelli in his moralizing treatise Della Cristiana moderatione del teatro (1652).[8] This category he labeled the princely. The second category, the academic , linked to the first and of nearly equal status, was the kind "put on sometimes by certain gentlemen or talented citizens or learned academicians" ("che rappresentano tal volta alcuni gentiluomini o cittadini virtuosi o accademici eruditi").

Opera in Venice, however, was of an entirely different order. Ottonelli called it "mercenaria." Musically and conceptually, of course, this "mercenary" opera was indebted to the earlier models produced at Florence, Mantua, and Rome. The idea of wholly sung drama would have been unthinkable without the first experiments of Rinuccini, Peri, and Caccini. Nevertheless, opera in Venice was more profoundly affected by other factors. Above all, it responded to the unique sociopolitical structure of the Republic and its distinctive urban fabric. Opera as we know it, as an art appealing to a broad audience, had its origins in this special environment. Venice nurtured opera's development in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Venetian Foundations

The Most Serene Republic of St. Mark had long enjoyed a distinctive reputation as a haven of freedom and stability, a state with its own special position in the world and in history. What modern historians have come to know as the "myth of Venice" played a role not only in preparing the ground for the establishment and subsequent flourishing of opera there, but also in the actual substance and message of what was mounted on stage.


Unique among the Italian states, Venice could not boast a Roman foundation. Rather, it owed its origins, as a haven for those fleeing the invading barbarians, to the fall of the Roman empire. Claiming to have been founded on the day of the Annunciation, 25 March 421 (according to the dominant legend), Venice promulgated itself as the first republic of the new Christian era, and therefore as the only legitimate successor to fallen pagan Rome. The greatness of the Venetian state was to be seen in its longevity and its political continuity; by the seventeenth century it had already lasted longer than ancient Rome. On a more practical level, the famed stability of Venice was said to depend on two special factors: its site and its constitution. The governmental structure of the Republic was celebrated for being a regimen temperature , a perfectly balanced state. Venice, according to its own myth, had realized the classical ideal of mixed government. The Doge represented the monarchical component, the Senate the aristocratic, and the Maggior Consiglio the democratic. As a constitutional oligarchy, Venice concentrated political power in a relatively restricted patriciate; within the nobility, however, that power was distributed in a way that precluded any individual or clan from assuming an undue share. This harmony of power was the prerogative of perhaps 2 percent of the population. That the disenfranchised majority seemed content, that patrician Venice suffered no serious internal dissension, appeared only to confirm its privileged state of grace. And that sanctified state was further manifest in the very image of this splendid city, founded miraculously upon the waters; unwalled, yet unconquered for more than a millennium. The physical city itself stood as proof of its uniqueness.[9]

The Venetian ruling class, although restricted and hereditary, was actually more open than that of other states. It comprised a large number of families of equal rank—equal in theory, that is, if not in practice. What especially distinguished the Venetian nobility was its active and privileged involvement in commerce. The ruling patrician was also a merchant of Venice, and his economic enterprise extended beyond investments in trade and banking to include all the arts—and so, eventually, opera. The Tron, Vendramin, Grimani, Giustiniani, and Contarini were among the leading families of the Venetian patriciate, and they were the most important backers of opera in Venice. Beyond the obvious desire to enhance family prestige, their interest in the art was largely commercial; they invested in opera houses primarily for financial gain, and the


profit motive could not help but affect the product. Expenditures were carefully limited, imposing strictures on librettists, composers, and scene designers. The spectacle of the courts could hardly be indulged. In Venice, opera was a business.[10]

Venice had its own traditions of elaborate public pageantry, its own expanding calendar of annual politico-religious festivals: the Marriage to the Sea celebrated on Ascension Day, victory at Lepanto on the Feast of Sta. Giustina, and the Feast of St. Mark, to name only a few. It celebrated special occasions as well, its ducal coronations and royal visits. And all of these celebrations involved elaborate entertainments featuring music, spectacle, processions, and theatrical presentations.[11] But opera did not emerge in Venice from such a background of occasional or ceremonial spectacle; it had different progenitors. Its roots were, and remained, in the carnival season, with its established tradition of theatrical performances by troupes of itinerant players, performances for which tickets were sold.[12] These activities became especially intense after the crisis of the Interdict (1605-7), when, with the expulsion of the Jesuits from Venice, the comici , who had been excluded by them, returned to the city with impunity.[13]

Crossroads of east and west, Venice was a port city characterized by a lively cosmopolitan and even exotic atmosphere. Its carnival celebrations earned in-


ternational renown and made the city, long a necessary stop for travelers, a special attraction for tourists. The population of the city, which hovered around 50,000 during most of the seventeenth century, swelled to nearly twice that number each year for the approximately six to ten weeks of Carnival (from 26 December, the Feast of St. Stephen, to Shrove Tuesday).[14] That season of liberation, of the dropping of social barriers and distinctions, was celebrated by fireworks, ballets, masquerades, bull chases, fights. Much of the excitement was provided by the dramatic entertainments performed throughout the city, indoors and out, by resident groups as well as visitors, bands of comici dell'arte who arrived in Venice in time for Carnival and dispersed when it was over. Just such a group, a traveling company of musicians, headed by Benedetto Ferrari and Francesco Manelli, brought opera to the lagoon for the first time. It was during the carnival season of 1637 that opera in Venice began.

Almost exactly the same company had appeared in Padua the previous year. It returned to Venice in subsequent seasons, along with other similarly constituted groups inspired by its success.[15] These groups were responsible for producing operas of Ottonelli's third and least respectable category, for which the Jesuit reserved most of his admonitory passion: "the mercenary and dramatic musical representations, that is, the ones performed by those mercenary musicians who are professional actors, and who, organized in a company, are directed and governed by one of their own, acting as authority and head of the others" (Appendix II.3b).

Such traveling companies soon yielded to more permanent, locally based troupes and a more stable structure as the impact of the new entertainment made itself felt and began to be exploited by Venetian entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, many of the distinctive qualities of the first operas in Venice, those produced by Ferrari's company, survived. Since opera remained confined to carnival season, its potential audience remained essentially the same: a heterogeneous mix of patricians and cittadini , tourists and travelers, Venetians and foreigners, all of whom paid for the privilege of being entertained.[16]


Commercial success was of primary concern, and that could be achieved only by creating works with broad audience appeal. Opera in Venice was distinguished from that in Florence and other courts of Italy by the nature of its audience and by its socioeconomic base. Public approbation was important not only to the financial backers; it affected composers, librettists, and scenographers as well. These were independent professionals, who were themselves often involved financially as well as artistically in their own productions. The aim was to turn a profit. The success of an opera depended on its appealing to a large and varied audience; it had to play for a season, to keep the house filled night after night.

Although initiatives of the private sector, the opera houses, like every other Venetian institution, were regulated by the government. An enterprise as public as the theater, attracting crowds of forestieri as well as Venetians, obviously required responsible scrutiny. Regulation involved various magistracies, including the Provveditori di comune and, more gravely, the Council of Ten; it was designed to ensure the well-being of the public as well as of the state as a whole. Theater buildings were regularly inspected for safety hazards and had to be licensed each season before productions could even be advertised. Opening and closing times, and even the price of librettos sold at the door, were established by government decree.[17]

Monteverdi in the Wings

The Venetian experiment of Ferrari and Manelli took immediate root. Their return with a new production the following season affirmed and confirmed the existence of opera in Venice as a seasonal occurrence. Ferrari and Manelli were not, however, the first composers of opera to reach Venice, though they may have been the first to bring opera to the Venetian stage. Claudio Monteverdi, undoubtedly the most celebrated opera composer of his day, had been living in Venice since 1613, when he assumed the position of maestro di cappella at San Marco (fig. 1). Monteverdi was the composer of numerous theatrical entertainments in addition to the two famous Mantuan operas Orfeo and Arianna of 1607-8. Most recently his "favola pastorale," Proserpina rapita , had been performed in Venice, in the Palazzo Mocenigo, in 1630. Yet the seventy-year-old composer remained aloof from the new operatic activities. Perhaps it would have been unseemly for the maestro di cappella to express overt interest in the public theater;[18] possibly, too, his advanced age discouraged him from under-


Giovanni Battista Marinoni,  Fiori poetici raccolti nel funerale del molto 
illustre e molto reverendo Signor Claudio Monteverde
(Venice, 1644), title page.

taking so large-scale a project as an opera. Whatever the cause, his silence is remarkable not only to us. It was noticed by several of his contemporaries. One of them, probably in late 1637 or 1638, commented expectantly that Monteverdi might surprise everyone and produce an opera for Venice after all: "God willing, one of these nights he too will step onto the stage, where everyone else


is about to appear, with the production of a musical drama," to which the appreciative response was: "Even if he doesn't actually appear, he'll be there in spirit, since he was so powerfully behind the whole business."[19] Clearly Monteverdi's participation was expected; and it was missed. In 1640 the librettist Giacomo Badoaro claimed to have written the text of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria for the express purpose of encouraging his friend Monteverdi to enter the operatic arena:

From the author to the Most Illustrious and Reverend Signor Claudio Monteverdi, Great Master of Music. Not to compete with those inspired minds, which in these very years have published their compositions in the Venetian theaters, but to stimulate the virtue of Your Excellence to make known to this city that in the warmth of the affections there is a great difference between a true sun and a painted one, I dedicated myself, as a matter of principle, to compose Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria . (Appendix I. 7a)

It was not until 1640, then, after three seasons of observing the operatic activities of younger musicians from the sidelines, that Monteverdi finally—and, it would seem, still reluctantly—made his move. He first revived an old opera, Arianna , which ostensibly required little of his time or energy. Then he produced a new one, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria , which obviously must have required a great deal of both.[20]

Although Arianna was one of Monteverdi's favorite works,[21] reviving it in Venice, thirty years after its creation, would seem to have been an unlikely, even unworkable, enterprise. The conditions of opera production, not to mention the aesthetics of opera and Monteverdi's own style, had changed radically. To be sure, some revisions were made in the work, apparently to suit new, Venetian conditions. These included the cutting of many of the choruses and the alteration of some passages specifically linked to the original performance in Mantua, as well as elimination of the designation tragedia from the title


page.[22] Despite such adaptive changes, the opera remained very different in tone, structure, and content from any of its contemporaries on the Venetian stage. Clearly, however, Monteverdi's reputation must have been more than sufficient to compensate for the inevitable stylistic incongruities.[23] The dedication of the libretto to one Bortolo Stacio, signed by the printer, gives some sense of the composer's exalted status:

Now that Arianna, the most praised of dramatic compositions in Italian theaters, returns to the stage in Venice, the work of Signor Claudio Monteverdi, most celebrated Apollo of the century and the highest intelligence of the heaven of harmony, I take the occasion to no longer keep my [respect] hidden from you, but, by offering it in the name of Your Excellency, to manifest [that respect] to the world by means of its new reprinting. (Appendix I.6a)

And this is reinforced by Benedetto Ferrari's oft-mentioned sonnet of homage to the older master, whom he addressed as "l'Oracolo della musica" (Appendix I.6b).

Arianna was a monument to Monteverdi's past glory; Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria boldly affirmed his present powers. Any hesitation on the composer's part must have been dispelled by the success of the new work, which ran for ten performances in Venice and was produced in Bologna as well,[24] for he wrote two more operas before his death in 1643. Le nozze d'Enea e Lavinia was produced in the 1640-41 season and L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1642-43.[25] Three new operas in four years: an amazing creative spurt for a 75-year-old composer whose operatic career had long seemed finished.

The radical differences between these late works of Monteverdi and his first opera, Orfeo , have been noted by every student of the subject.[26] The evolution


of Monteverdi's own style would be enough to account for the major differences between the works. But, although Orfeo and Poppea do indeed exemplify two important points in his development, they also serve to illustrate vividly the distinctions between court and public opera. These distinctions can be brought into relief by a comparison of the surviving sources.

Orfeo and Poppea

The score of Orfeo , like those of its operatic predecessors in Florence and most of its successors in Rome, was published, although not until two years after the work was performed.[27] Dedicated by the composer to the patron of the Mantuan production, the publication was commemorative, its purpose to preserve the event for posterity.

The fable of Orpheus, which has already been represented in music under the auspices of your Highness on a small stage at the Accademia degli Invaghiti, now having to appear in the great theater of the universe to show itself to all men, there is no reason that it should allow itself to be associated with any other name than that of Your Glorious and Fortunate Highness. To you therefore I humbly consecrate it, so that you, who as a benign star were propitious at its birth, with the most serene rays of your grace, will deign to favor the progress of its life.[28]

Indeed, the edition, using the past tense, records a number of details of the original performance, particularly regarding specifics of orchestration, not fully indicated in the music itself. For example, a song at the beginning of act 1 "fu concertato al suono de tutti gli stromenti" ("was accompanied by the sound of all the instruments") and a ballet shortly thereafter "fu cantato al suono di cinque Viole da braccio" ("was sung to the sound of five viole da braccio").[29] There are even occasional references to staging, such as this near the beginning of act 2: "Questo ritornello fu sonato di dentro da un Clavicembano [sic ], duoi Chitaroni, & duoi Violini piccioli alla Francese" ("This ritornello was played from within by a clavicembalo, two chitaroni, and two small French violins").[30] And, at the beginning of act 5: "Duoi Organi di legno, & duoi


Chitaroni concertorno questo Canto sonando l'uno nel angolo sinistro de la Sena, l'altro nel destro" ("Two wooden organs and two chitaroni accompanied this song, one of them playing in the left corner of the stage, the other in the right corner").[31] But several directions are given in the present tense, suggesting that the purpose of the print may have been somewhat broader: to serve not only as a historical document but as a practical one as well, a kind of generic score providing the basis for future performances.[32] In fact, the score offers several choices, such as that for the opening toccata "che si suona avanti il levar da la tela tre volte con tutti li stromenti, & si faun tuono piu alto volendo sonar le trombe con le sordine" ("which is played three times with all the instruments before the curtain rises, and if one wishes to use muted trumpets, this piece should be played a tone higher").[33] Perhaps the most striking, most curious choice is offered for Orfeo's central number, "Possente spirto," where the singer is directed to perform only one of the two lines, the first unadorned, the second a highly elaborated version of the first: "Orfeo al suono del Organo di legno, & un Chitarone, canta una sola de le due parti" ("Orfeo, to the sound of the wood organ and a chitarone, sings only one of the two parts") (fig. 2).[34]

The libretto of Orfeo was also printed, two years earlier, presumably shortly before the first performance of the opera.[35] It matches the printed score quite closely, with the single major exception of the ending; the score alters the original myth so that the opera ends happily.[36] Although published by the ducal


Claudio Monteverdi,  L'Orfeo, favola in musica  
(Venice, 1615), p. 52.

printer, this libretto was not designed primarily as a commemorative document. Thus it fails to mention either the composer or—and this is more unusual—the poet. It was used by the audience as an aid to following the action.[37]


In contrast to the score of Orfeo , that of Poppea was never printed. It survives in two manuscript copies, neither of which can be linked with its initial performance. Documentation for that first performance is slim indeed, resting solely on a scenario — a scene-by-scene synopsis of the action that was printed not for commemorative reasons but, once again, for the practical purpose of helping the audience in the theater to follow the performance.[38] The scenario mentions neither the composer nor the poet. In fact, there is no printed documentation whatsoever for Monteverdi's authorship of the music. Two librettos eventually appeared in print, but not until 1651 and 1656. The latter, published along with his other librettos by the poet himself, Gian Francesco Busenello, mentions the original date of performance on its title page but fails to include the composer's name.[39] As for the 1651 libretto, published in conjunction with a Neapolitan revival, it lacks the names of both the composer and the poet, as well as the original date.[40]

The two manuscript scores of Poppea might best be described as performance scores.[41] They memorialize expedients adopted for one or several specific performances after the premiere (figs. 3a, 3b). Transpositions, cuts, rearrangements, not all of them fully worked out or reconciled with one another, are indicated in various strata throughout both manuscripts. Preserved, it would seem, by chance, these scores owe their survival to the fact that the opera was revived; both are probably connected with the revival that took place in 'Naples in 1651.[42] Evidently, despite Monteverdi's enormous reputation, there was no interest in preserving the music of the first performance of Poppea .[43] That music per se had no practical value except as a basis for subsequent


3. a,b.
Claudio Monteverdi,  L'incoronazione di Poppea , I-Vnm, It. IV, 439 (=9963), fols. 65v-66.


performance. The differences between the scores and other sources confirm the fact of multiple performances, and the kinds of alterations in each document indicate the liberties taken with the original opera—transposed here, cut there—in response to changing conditions of performance.

One major difference between the scores of the two operas that is only partly explained by their different functions concerns orchestration. The score of Orfeo is not only much more specific in its instrumental requirements (listing them, however incompletely, in its front matter), but it calls for a much larger, more varied instrumental group, essentially the late Renaissance orchestra that was customarily used for court entertainments; and this is deployed alone, in a large number of purely instrumental movements, especially dances, as well as in combination with voices, with particular expressive functions. In its successive strophes, for instance, "Possente spirto" displays first violins, then cornetti, then double harp, and finally violins again, the variety enhancing the moving power of Orfeo's prayer.[44]

The Poppea scores, on the other hand, contain considerably fewer instrumental movements, and the voice is invariably accompanied only by a bass line. Furthermore, they contain no instrumental specifications. This notational reticence is more than a matter of expediency. It reflects an actual difference in instrumental practice between the Mantua of 1607 and the Venice of 1642. The chief components of the typical Venetian opera orchestra, as attested by a few widely scattered documents, were a large continuo group (several harpsichords and several theorbos), which was evidently deployed in various combinations to accompany the voice. The two treble parts written out in most ritornelli and sinfonie were taken by two violins.[45]

The different orchestral requirements of Orfeo and Poppea underline the distinctions I have been making between court and urban opera. The instrumental display of Orfeo formed part of the court spectacle in Mantua. The reduced band of Poppea satisfied the economic conditions of a commercial en-


terprise. It allowed theaters to function without large stable orchestras. It also tended to focus greater attention on the singers.

A Mantuan opera of 1607 could be fixed, commemorated in print as a rare, even unique, object, a jewel in the crown of a ruling prince. Not so a Venetian opera of 1643. It was but one of a succession of similar events that would be remembered only as long as the season lasted, and then discarded—unless subsequently revived. Whereas we owe our knowledge of the music of Montever-di's Orfeo to the desire to preserve a moment of dynastic celebration, our knowledge of Poppea depends upon a more professionally utilitarian motive, the appropriation of a past event for the purposes of the present. Only because Poppea was revived, given renewed life on the stage, do we know anything of its music. Orfeo , although immortalized by the act of publication, embodied a tradition of court entertainment that was essentially over. The very survival of Poppea , imperfect as it is, testifies to its continuing vitality, to its function within a living tradition of public opera.

The Documents of a History

As the case of Poppea attests, the distinctive and cohesive character of the Venetian operatic tradition is exemplified by the nature of its surviving documents. These fall into two general categories: manuscript and printed, categories that themselves implicate a set of further distinctions, between the musical and the textual, the professional and the public. The manuscripts, that is, the scores, representing the professional side of things, are preserved, if at all, largely by accident, by virtue of the fact that they were reused. Relatively few have, in fact, survived. The nature and purpose of the printed sources, the public documents, primarily librettos, were very different. Quite apart from their practical function of serving the audience during performances, librettos were deliberately created for the purpose of documenting the individual work. Published in large enough numbers to have ensured the survival today of several complete sets, they record the chronological development of Venetian opera from year to year. The sheer accumulation of librettos—there were nine after four seasons, thirty-five after ten, and over one hundred by 1667— provides concrete evidence of the momentum of opera mania in seventeenth-century Venice.

In addition to appealing to the collectionist tendencies of a number of letterati , such as Apostolo Zeno, whose complete sets have come down to us,[46] the


librettos inspired another type of historical record: the operatic chronology, for which they supplied the basic source material. The earliest of these publications, neither yet a chronology nor devoted exclusively to operatic or Venetian texts, was explicitly designed to take stock of the rapidly growing genre of the libretto. Leone Allacci's Drammaturgia , published in Rome in 1666, declares its purpose in the printer's preface: to preserve an undervalued and therefore highly perishable product:

It often happens that, after being read, librettos are rejected, and they are no longer valued, because of the silly things that are found in most of them, so that copies are lost, and not only is the memory of those obscured, who with great effort and study made some name for themselves, but also their countries and families. Since, in the opinion of some, [librettos] are in no small part derived from antiquity, and indistinguishable from one another in invention as well as subject matter, there having been no new' discoveries [of ancient plays], they have become so tediously similar in subject matter, usually concerning the disappearance of babies or children during the taking or sacking of a city, that readers assume they have already read them, and they intentionally abstain from seeing them, clearly recognizing them, as Burchiello said, to be patchworks of old rags, twisted and pilfered from here and there, without beginning or end, head or tail. (Appendix II.4)[47]

Allacci's volume, which underwent an ambitious revision in the eighteenth century,[48] was soon followed by the first true chronology. This was the work of the Dalmatian Cristoforo Ivanovich, himself the author of several librettos. "Le memorie teatrali di Venezia," published in Venice in 1681 (2d ed. 1688), formed an appendix to Ivanovich's Minerva al tavolino , a collection of letters on the subject of the wars against the Turks.[49] By providing a list of the dramas performed in Venice, Ivanovich, like Allacci before him, hoped to rescue them from oblivion: "From the reading of the dramas cited in the catalogue of the present 'Memorie,' posterity, for various reasons, will heap greater praise upon the authors than they received when their works were first performed" (Appendix II.6ff). Ivanovich's catalogue forms the climax of a lengthy essay on the


origins and contemporary practice of opera in Venice, which draws, in large measure, upon the prefaces of the printed librettos. His discussion of Venetian operatic practice remains by far the most explicit and reliable we have; and his chronology served as the foundation of all subsequent chronologies, notably those of the eighteenth-century writers Giovanni Carlo Bonlini (1730) and Antonio Groppo (1745).[50]

These chronologies, generally trustworthy with respect to titles, authors, theaters, and dates of performances, are less dependable for information not regularly available in printed librettos—most crucially, composers' names. Indeed, Ivanovich, particularly for the years preceding his arrival in Venice in 1657, tended to attribute music rather haphazardly (especially to Cavalli). Many of his attributions, repeated by Bonlini and Groppo, have remained unexamined, unchallenged, and uncorrected until recently.[51]

Another still insufficiently acknowledged shortcoming of all three volumes is their failure to recognize the inconsistent application of dates in the librettos they catalogued. That is, they ignored the whole problem of more veneto , dating Venetian style. Because the Venetian year traditionally began on I March, Carnival (and the opera season coincident with it), generally over by the end of February, was considered to belong to the previous year. Thus a libretto dated 1640 m.v . actually belonged to 1641, modern style (or 1640-41 if it appeared before I January). But not all Venetian dates were given more veneto . This is made clear in some cases by a discrepancy between title page and dedication date; the libretto of Cavalli's Giasone , for example, bears the date 1649 on its


title page, but the dedication is dated 30 January 1648. Clearly, then, the date on the title page should be read in modern style, that of the dedication more veneto ; the work was performed during the 1648-49 season, not that of 1649-[50] . Other cases are not so clear and can be resolved only through triangulation, using evidence external to the librettos themselves.[52]

In contrast to the librettos, whose preservation is virtually complete, the proportion of surviving scores is small. In particular, very few scores remain from the first—and, arguably, the most decisive—decade of operatic activity in Venice. Of the nearly fifty operas performed there between 1637 and 1650, music has survived for only thirteen, and by only three of the dozen or so composers known to have been involved: Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Sacrati.[53] No music at all survives from the operas of either Ferrari or Manelli, two of the most important composers of the decade, who were largely responsible for creating the musical style that came to be associated with opera in Venice.[54]

Through various circumstances, a number of the surviving scores were dispersed among libraries throughout Europe—including those in Modena, Florence, Naples, Oxford, Paris, and Vienna. Most of them duplicate scores held in the primary repository for this music, the Contarini Collection of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.[55] The 113 opera scores in the Contarini Collection (the period covered extends to 1684) owe their preservation to the efforts of two individuals: in the first place to Francesco Cavalli (1601-76), the com-


poser best represented in the collection. Near the end of his career, probably about 1670, Cavalli apparently arranged to have his operas recopied with a view to preserving them for posterity.[56] He clearly regarded them as important property, a significant part of his legacy, and made special provision for them in his will.[57] These fair copies, plus some of his autographs (which, we may assume, would also have been copied had he lived longer), eventually found their way into the Contarini Collection.[58]

The other collezionista responsible for the preservation of the scores was Marco Contarini himself, patrician and patron of opera, who built two theaters for private operatic performances at his villa at Piazzola, just northwest of Venice. Between 1679 and sometime before his death in 1689—probably in 1684—Contarini gradually and purposefully amassed a collection of scores.[59] Most of the scores in his collection date from earlier than 1679, the year his operatic productions began, and so cannot be connected with his own performances. Indeed, we should regard the entire Contarini Collection, fair copies as well as autographs (figs. 4, 5), as commemorative rather than functional documents, reflecting the desire of both Cavalli and Contarini to preserve a musical heritage.

Imperfect and incomplete as the musical sources may be, they far exceed those for the visual component of these operas. For an idea of what the works


Francesco Cavalli,  Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne , I-Vnm, It. IV, 404 (= 9928), f. 85v (copy).

Francesco Cavalli, Oristeo , I-Vnm, It. IV, 367 (=9891), f. 41 (autograph).


actually looked like on stage, the historian is forced to rely primarily on descriptions in librettos and to extrapolate from the few published engravings of scene designs.[60]

Beyond the primary source materials—the librettos and the scores—other kinds of documents bearing on the history and development of opera in seventeenth-century Venice are preserved in various archives. The most substantial and important are two large buste in the Archivio di Stato, Venice, known by students of the period as 188 and 194.[61] Comprising hundreds of folios each, they are the papers of Marco Faustini, who served as an impresario at various theaters from 1651 to 1668, working with every important composer, librettist, and singer of the period. His papers, which cover earlier years as well, include a wide variety of documents: from correspondence with agents, singers, and composers (Cesti, Cavalli, and Ziani) to contracts and theater budgets. Collectively, they supply the basis for a richly detailed history of opera during the period of his activity.

Other notable and more recently discovered Venetian archival sources include two buste of Cavalli documents from the Archivio S. Lorenzo[62] and one from the Monastero di Sta. Maria dell'Orazion a Malamocco in the Archivio di Stato,[63] and the theater documents in the Archivio Vendramin, now housed at the Casa Goldoni.[64] Still to be fully mined is a cache of documents found in the State Archives in Hannover among the correspondence of Johann Friedrich, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The duke was an important political ally, sup-


plier of arms, and frequent visitor to Venice during this period.[65] These papers include letters and reports from the duke's agents in Venice, among them the composer Sartorio and the librettists Pietro Dolfin and Nicolò Beregan, who were entrusted with hiring musicians for him. A particularly rich source of operatic gossip is provided by the letters of the duke's secretary in Venice, Francesco Maria Massi.[66]

Travelers to Venice, who formed an important component of the operatic audience, were occasionally stimulated to comment on the operatic scene in their letters or diaries. Few as they are, these comments shed considerable light on the place of opera in the life of the city.[67] Somewhat more formal are the weekly avvisi reporting the news from various cities that circulated around Italy and abroad in manuscript and, eventually, printed form, from the late sixteenth century on. Several series of manuscript avvisi from the late seventeenth century have been preserved, in which information about opera is part of the detailed description of everyday Venetian events.[68] A number of issues of the Parisian journal Le Mercure galant , from the same period, contain lengthy reports of opera in Venice.[69]

All of these sources, taken together, allow us to assemble a history of opera in Venice. The most fundamental of them, however, are the printed librettos. In regularly supplying dates and names—of patrons, theaters, librettists, sometimes of composers, singers, and stage designers—as well as the actual texts that were sung, they provide the foundation of that history. But they provide much more. Their prefaces and dedications are rich in information. Their form and


content change with the developing genre. Carefully read (on and between the lines) and considered in their entirety—from their actual poetic content (form, subject matter, and organization) to the layout of their title pages, from the publishers' and authors' prefaces to the dramatis personae and last-minute addenda—they offer a precise record of public opera at the most important period of its development, just as it was taking shape. It is against the facts and running commentary provided by the librettos that all the other sources, including the music, yield their full historical meaning.


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