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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.

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