previous chapter
4—La finta pazza : Mirror of an Audience
next chapter

La finta pazza :
Mirror of an Audience

The permanent impact of the Teatro Novissimo is embodied in the opera with which it opened in 1641, La finta pazza , a text by Giulio Strozzi set to music by Francesco Sacrati, designed and staged by Giacomo Torelli, and starring Anna Renzi in the title role. It was on this inaugural project, more than on any of its successors, that the energies of the Incogniti were focused most intensely. The fanfare of its launching reverberated well beyond the geographical boundaries of Venice and the chronological ones of the season.

As we have seen, La finta pazza was carefully prepared in advance by a systematic public relations campaign designed to whet the appetite of the large audience in Venice for Carnival; and interest was effectively maintained during the run and continued after by intensified propaganda that trumpeted its special marvels—above all, its prima donna and scenographer—and recounted the particulars of its success: twelve performances in seventeen days, the same audience attending not one or two but as many as four performances, crowds turned away at the door. And, in a move that was unprecedented in Venetian operatic history, the theater actually reopened after Easter to accommodate the throngs who had come to Venice for the express purpose of seeing the celebrated work.

All this publicity, printed and widely distributed, gave the opera a special reputation abroad. And that reputation was confirmed by live performances. Thanks to the efforts of a variety of traveling companies, La finta pazza made the rounds of opera houses throughout Italy and beyond. A performance by the Accademici Febiarmonici in Piacenza in 1644 was followed the next year by one in Florence as well as the one in Paris. Three years later, in 1647, a group known as the Accademici Discordati (a name chosen, perhaps, to contrast with the Febiarmonici) produced it in Bologna.[1] It appeared in Genoa in 1647, Reggio


Emilia and Turin in 1648, Naples and Milan in 1652, enjoying what might be considered its final run as late as 1679, or nearly forty years after its premiere.[2] So soon after that premiere did La finta pazza become public property—with a life of its own, independent of its origins, and subject to alterations—that as early as 1644 Strozzi felt impelled to publish the "true" Finta pazza in a third edition, in order to assert his paternity as well as the integrity of the original text:

I willingly undertook this third printing of the true Finta pazza because I saw that some wandering musicians [i.e., the Febiarmonici] have had it reprinted elsewhere in various ways, and that they go around performing it as if it were their own. The author takes little notice and would be glad to be able to thank God had his compositions been improved for him. Hence you will be the judge by reading the one and the other, and if you should not discover any improvement, you will say, if it was such a success altered, what must it have inspired in its original form, when in the mouth of Signora Anna Renzi, with the music of Signor Sacrati, and with the machines of Signor Torelli, it stupefied Venice itself. (Appendix I. 16e)

Strozzi was evidently referring to the libretto published in Codogno, which reflected the Piacenza performance; in 1644 it was the only one that had been published "elsewhere," without any mention of either Strozzi or the Venetian origin of the work. The kinds of changes he had in mind are spelled out in a later edition of the libretto (Bologna, 1647), whose text is the same as that of Piacenza but with a different prologue. According to the preface of the Bologna libretto: "The one who produced it for the first time outside Venice cut some scenes and added others for his convenience. In that manner it was presented. If it didn't satisfy your taste, don't blame the original author."[3] More specifically, many of the supernatural scenes, which required elaborate machinery, were eliminated, as well as those referring too directly to the myth of Venice and other peculiarly Venetian allusions.[4]

Strozzi's "third edition" can be regarded as yet another piece of propaganda on behalf of the work—and, implicitly, of the Teatro Novissimo—but the author was obviously responding to a need. Venetian copyright laws offered protection only within the domain. Beyond, Strozzi's work was common


property, his text available to every plagiarist. This was only the beginning of a problem that was to become severe during the following decades. As the most widely traveled work of its time, La finta pazza became in effect a model of the new Venetian genre to the world at large. The ways in which the Febiarmonici productions differed from the original version indicate just how specifically Venetian that original had been.

The initial success of La finta pazza was not only owing to publicity or to extraordinary performers and scenography. It derived as well from qualities intrinsic to the opera itself. Strozzi had brought all his theatrical expertise to bear on the creation of a work that would appeal to its audience on many levels. His intellectual background and his previous activity as a panegyrist of Venice and writer and promoter of operatic entertainments enabled him to strike the appropriate chord. His libretto embodied just the right combination of ingredients to both stimulate and satisfy the public he knew so well.

La finta pazza is permeated by a profound self-consciousness, a thoroughgoing awareness of its own various aspects: as a theatrical entertainment in which music plays a special role and as the inaugural work of a unique new theater in the matchless city of Venice. This self-consciousness informs every dimension of the libretto, from the choice of subject, characters, and situations to the language of the dialogue. Reaching out beyond the stage and commenting upon itself even as it unfolds, the libretto weaves a complex and seductive web of connections with the audience. Such self-awareness, of course, is characteristic of theatrical entertainment in general: many of the techniques and devices in La finta pazza are commonplaces of spoken theater as well.[5] But La finta pazza complicated this potential by the very fact of its being sung: it was as a paradigmatic opera that it made—and still makes—its mark.

The work tells the familiar tale of Achilles on Skyros. Teti, in order to prevent her son from joining in the Trojan War, in which she knew he would die, conveyed him to the island of Skyros, where he lived disguised as one of King Licomede's daughters, revealing his true identity only to Deidamia, with whom he fell in love and produced a son. When Ulisse and Diomede land on the island in search of the missing hero, Acchille cannot resist the call to arms and betrays his identity. His departure for Troy is delayed by Deidamia, who, feigning madness, persuades him to marry her and take her with him. Whereupon they all depart for the war, an ending that is only temporarily happy, since the historical hero's fate is in any case sealed. Within the context of this rela-


tively straightforward plot, La finta pazza touches all of the characteristic themes and concerns of early Venetian opera.

Like all successful theatrical entertainments, La finta pazza engages its audience in the most central of theatrical questions: the distinction between illusion and reality. On the simplest level, the illusion comprises everything that takes place on stage, beyond the proscenium; it is defined as fiction by the real audience seated in the theater. But the stage illusion has many layers. The cast participates in overlapping, intercalated dramas. The action involving Deidamia and Acchille, initially kept obscured from most of the other characters through disguise and dissemblance, itself temporarily masks a larger conflict among the gods over the outcome of the Trojan War. This in turn conceals—and then reveals—a more relevant story, for the fall of Troy had important genealogical implications for a Venetian audience, who saw history as descending in the progression Troy-Rome-Venice and regarded themselves as the ultimate heirs of the Trojans. Three different levels of illusion intersect here, the last one approaching reality most closely for the Venetian audiences by reminding them, perhaps only subliminally, of their historical lineage.

Beyond these interleaved dramas, the stage illusion of La finta pazza is enriched and complicated by several plays-within-the-play, which the characters sometimes participate in, sometimes observe. As observers, they abandon one illusion to create another, for they then appear to share the point of view of the audience rather than that of their fellow characters. Implicitly they cross the frontier of the proscenium, temporarily renouncing ancient Greek citizenship to become modern Venetians.

As early as act 1, scene 6, Licomede lifts a curtain-behind-the-curtain to reveal his daughters on a small stage.[6] When Ulisse and Diomede react as audience to this play-within-a-play in their honor, they speak on two levels, responding for themselves to the actual scene in Skyros and for us, the audience, to the theatrical illusion created in the Teatro Novissimo. Ulisse exclaims: "This is either an earthly theater made by the gods or else a man-made heaven"; and Diomede responds, "Oh, most beautiful scene . . . ," an exchange that draws special attention to the scenography, one of the Novissimo's—and La finta pazza's —greatest attractions.[7]

The most complex and striking play-within-a-play is, appropriately, an opera (3.2). The libretto describes the scene: "Deidamia . . . having heard that


commedie in musica are to be performed in honor of the ambassadors, says she wants to participate, since she is an expert in stage machinery and in singing."[8] The opera, however, is evoked rather than seen; it is a creation of Deidamia's imagination:

What melodies are these? Tell me, what brand-new theaters [novissimi teatri ], what numerous scenes are being prepared in Skyros? I, too, would like to be part of the effort, since I possess the art of creating a hundred different scenes by a single whistle [sol fischio ], of counterfeiting seas, erecting mountains, and making beautiful heavens and stars, and opening up Hell, too, on whose Tartarean shores I can form the Styx and Cocytus.[9]

Here, at the height of her feigned madness, Deidamia plays several roles simultaneously to her two audiences, one on stage, the other in the theater. To her nurse and the Eunuch, who share her theatrical space, she is Deidamia gone mad. To the Venetian public, she is first of all Anna Renzi pretending to be Deidamia, of course, and Deidamia pretending to be mad; but she is also the mad Deidamia pretending to be the scenographer Torelli. And finally, her words themselves suggest that she is at the same time also speaking as a member of the audience in the Novissimo observing the marvels of the actual performance in which she is participating.

Her speech reverberates in many directions. Novissimi teatri is obviously a punning allusion to the Teatro Novissimo, and sol fischio calls attention to one of Torelli's most famous inventions, the system of winches and pulleys that allowed for the simultaneous changing of all the sets. Deidamia's description of Hades even anticipates a scene between Teti and Caronte (3.4). Her next observation is still more pointedly professional and, with an aesthetic as well as practical, even personal, thrust: "Today, when architecture is raining from the stars to ornament so many new and illustrious works, I, too, would like to create lofty and beautiful machines that can make a hundred Orpheuses break their necks."[10] Her remarks acknowledge the prominence of scenography in opera and at the same time suggest the physical texture of life on stage—the evidently real danger to singers of rapid and numerous scene-changes, with heavy sets dropping from above. If her view of opera is somewhat one-sided


in its emphasis on scenic spectacle—she is "mad," after all—the response of her nurse is more balanced, giving equal weight to all three traditional components: poetry and music as well as scenography. Nurses, of course, always tell the truth: "Poetry, machines, and song are apt to render even the wisest Sibyl mad; and when you add a love plot, it's no wonder this one has lost her mind."[11]

One further play-within-the-play is referred to, but not seen. Bearing only the most tangential relationship to the plot, it was undoubtedly inserted for the amusement of a special segment of the audience, namely the Incognito management. In this bizarre scene (2.2), Acchille challenges the Captain to a duel in defense of the principle that a young lover can change his affections and his love object whenever he wishes. The duel, reported to have taken place offstage, at the "teatro del porto,"[12] is evidently intended to parody the verbal duels, or debates, that provided the substance and justification for meetings of the Incognito academy.[13] Furthermore, Acchille's challenge provides the occasion for another little private joke. Ulisse refuses the challenge, asserting that he is constant in love and will die a faithful lover—an allusion, presumably, to his appearance in Il ritorno d'Ulisse , an opera of the previous season, which was currently being revived at the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[14] The expansive musical setting of Ulisse's text, which will be discussed in chapter 9, seems to underline its allusive significance.

In blurring the boundary between fact and fiction, these plays-within-a-play remind the audience of its status as audience witnessing a marvelous entertainment at the Teatro Novissimo. Indeed, if the audience needed any further reminder of where it was, it received it from Torelli's sets, at least one of which probably portrayed Skyros in the guise of Venice.[15]

The libretto bridges the gap between fictional and real worlds in other ways as well. Actors frequently shift their attention back and forth between stage and theater, playing off their fictional companions against the audience by addressing first one group then the other in asides, or by addressing both together in


language characterized by double entendre. In act 3, scene 5, for example, the Eunuch, searching high and low for a doctor to cure Deidamia of her feigned madness, turns to the audience for help: "If anyone within earshot knows some secret cure for madness, either from his own experience or from that of any of his relatives, please lend it to Deidamia."[16] Like Ulisse's speech in the duel scene, the weight of this text is underscored by a lyrical setting that distinguishes it clearly from its narrative context.[17] While a number of other passages appeal to the audience as a whole, some are directed to a specific component of that audience, such as those "lovely women" addressed in the prologue by Consiglio Improviso.

You illustrious fair ladies, to whom I dispense my treasures in loves desired, and in whose minds I would enjoy a worthy throne, well do you know that I revolve among the shining and blessed spheres of your eyes, and invite you all to pleasure at every hour. . . . Come, come, turn your eyes here, let a beautiful Fury be your teacher in learning how to explain to lovers changes of heart, and voice, and appearance. In the meantime, I return to the breast of the most beautiful. And which of you does not want me in your bosom?[18]

Then there are the allusions to the mores of modern society, such as Caronte's description of women in act 3, scene 2: "Though they have angelic and divine faces, beautiful women burn to be more beautiful still. They unhook the sun to gild their hair, they paint their lips, they burnish their skin."[19]

A number of references and word choices are amusingly evocative, laden with Venetian relevance. Caronte is the "gondolier of Cocytus," his boat the "traghetto of Hell." Beyond the obvious puns, which were probably not lost on any careful listener—on the name of the composer ("questi orror Sacrati") and the impresario (or leaseholder) of the theater ("E stecchi, e spine, e Lappole")—


there are probably numerous others that can no longer be recognized today.[20] The text itself contains a number of pointed "academic" references to various poetic styles and conventions. Caronte sings a passage in ottava rima (3.4), and Deidamia, as part of her mad act, parodies conventional invocation scenes by singing in versi sdruccioli . And there are numerous other affectations of locution and vocabulary.[21]

One central topic that would have been appreciated by all segments of the audience, though undoubtedly on different levels, was the question of sung drama itself. Like most early Venetian operas, La finta pazza reveals a preoccupation with the legitimacy of its own genre. We have already investigated the more overt evidence of that preoccupation in the remarks of the librettists about their works. A large part of their self-defense was directed toward justifying sung drama. Strozzi himself was as concerned as anyone about the problem. But the academic background of the librettists notwithstanding, this was no mere intellectual issue. A theater audience, no matter what its composition, could hardly have failed to notice that the characters on stage, though pretending for the most part to speak, were actually singing. La finta pazza , playing out the aesthetic issue, makes music part of the illusion, a further enrichment of the theatrical experience. It questions and at the same time demonstrates the validity of combining music and drama, and it implicates its audience in the affirmation, or at least in the discussion. Distinctions between actors who sing and singers who act, between speech and song, are constantly invoked as issues central to the art's own discourse. And the line between the two modes of expression is repeatedly obscured and redrawn.

Lorenzo Bianconi's recent discovery of a score for La finta pazza allows us to evaluate the nature of the musical illusion suggested by the libretto. In fact, the levels of musical discourse are nearly as varied as the textual ones. As in most early operas, three can be distinguished from one another: song (illustrated by formal songs such as those sung by the Nurse and the Eunuch), realistic speech (represented by normal, open-ended recitative in versi sciolti ), and expressive or musical speech (which is portrayed in recitative heightened by repetition, sequence, or some other musical patterning in response to intensity of feeling, to emphasize the importance of certain words or ideas to the drama). In addition to highlighting individual textual points or dramatic moments, the


shifts between these different modes challenge the audience to define and understand their experience. Are the characters speaking or singing? What is the difference? The multiple levels of musical illusion amplify those in the text.

Among the various scenes, characters, and references that play upon the legitimacy of sung drama is one critical figure, the Eunuch, a singer by profession. His job is to guard and serve the daughters of Licomede, or, more pointedly, to entertain them by singing. In two different scenes the Eunuch offers a pretext for repeated references to music, as well as for several actual songs. During the first (1.6), the play-within-the-play that features Licomede's daughters on their own small stage, he is urged to sing; he refuses, unleashing a bitter diatribe against music, thick with double entendre: "Cursed be the day that I met you, Music, eternal death of him who uses you at court. Why can't my chest explode with my vocal chords? I serve a cruel tyrant who, with the liberty of others in her hands, makes free harmony mercenary."[22] References to corde and to the enforced mercenary goal of libera armonia may be allusions to features of contemporary operatic practice: castration and commercialization.[23] The Eunuch finally does sing, of course, producing a typically lascivious song of advice that compares the fate of unmarried women to that of the rose, appreciated in the morning, scorned by evening. One of the few closed forms in the score, it is directed to its double audience, on stage and in the theater.[24]

The second "music" scene mixes a similar variety of apposite musical references. Again the Eunuch plays the unwilling singer who, having stopped another song after a single stanza, is accused by the "mad" Deidamia of castrating canzonette . He himself alludes in various ways to his own ambiguous sexuality, mixing musical and sexual metaphors: references to chords or ducts (corde , as above), to serving as bass in the (sexual) music of the world, and to supporting the counterpoint of others.[25] Castratos, of course, represented a


special class of singer. Though they had long performed as church musicians, their appearance on the operatic stage must have elicited particular curiosity on the part of the audience. Knowing allusions to their sexuality were a sure source of titillation.[26]

The presence of a singer in the dramatis personae and the use of the singing scene was a convention borrowed from spoken comedy, but it found special relevance in opera as a reminder of the underlying aesthetic ambivalence of the genre. These singers are not the heroes, the Apollos and Orpheuses, whose musical exploits provided the subject matter of the very earliest operas; they are dramatically extraneous characters, who seem to exist primarily to point up the fact that the others are actors who happen to be singing. Although La finta pazza was not the first opera to feature such an extraneous "singer" (there had been one in Strozzi's Delia two years earlier), its popularity may have given special impetus to what was to become a long tradition. The singing scene may have been introduced into opera originally for reasons of verisimilitude or for ironic commentary, but it persisted well beyond the period of necessity as one of the best-loved conventions of Venetian opera throughout the century. Indeed, the "music" or "singing" scene has retained its appeal as an aesthetic conceit in opera even to this day.

In addition to the Eunuch, the dramatis personae of La finta pazza include several other characters for whom singing was not unnatural, at least part of the time. The gods, for instance, by virtue of their divinity, were exempt from laws governing normal human discourse. Deidamia, while pretending to be mad, released herself from the bonds of realistic behavior. Her singing in fact was a persuasive part of the act that convinced her fellow characters of her distraught condition, and it was enjoyed by the audience made party to her pretense. Obviously, madness was a particularly suitable justification for irrational behavior, for singing rather than speaking.[27] But Deidamia also sang when her


emotions got the better of her. Emotional excess, which induced a kind of madness, permitted, sometimes even demanded, extravagant musical expression.[28]

Acchille is another character who claims a certain immunity from decorum, and this by virtue of his disguise. Himself only in private, he must pretend to be someone else at all other times; and the deception frees him from having to behave in a verisimilar manner—in fact it requires just the opposite. However unnaturally he speaks—or sings—while disguised, the audience forgives him; it knows he is pretending. Actually, though, Acchille's singing threatens to give him away, for the historical Achilles was well known as a musician, having received musical instruction from Chiron, legendary educator of heroes. His singing, then, is doubly justified, by his disguise and by his training.

Disguise as a device of plot is of particular importance to this opera. Whether introduced for the specific purpose of legitimizing singing or for the more general purpose of stretching verisimilitude, this most obvious (and most superficial) form of pretense lies at the core of La finta pazza and literally generates all of its action. Disguise is intrinsic to the story of Achilles' seclusion on Skyros and was undoubtedly one of its major attractions to Strozzi. The account of Papinius Statius (Achilleis ) must have seemed ideal material for a libretto. Acchille's sexual transformation is made all the more convincing (and humorous) in the opera by the casting of a castrato in the role. The other castrato in the cast more perfectly fit his part: the Eunuch was a "real" one, both on and off stage, in the drama as well as in life. Acchille, on the other hand, despite being a castrato off stage, needed his virility in the opera—the plot depended on it. His high voice, then, gave ironic credibility to his disguise as a woman.

Acchille's disguise, in addition to legitimizing his singing in general, gives him the excuse to extol the delights afforded by transformations, a theme appropriate to any theatrical representation—particularly from the mouth of a castrato—but especially relevant to a Venetian audience during Carnival: "O sweet change of nature, a woman transforming herself into a man, a man changing himself into a woman, varying name and figure. . . how many of you envy my state, that of being both man and girl?"[29] Like several others we have noted, the significance of this passage is underscored by its poetic structure and


musical setting: three symmetrical quatrains set lyrically, as a song. Directed pointedly at the audience, it might have served as a theme song for any number of subsequent Venetian operas.[30]

Only a few of the nine operas that preceded La finta pazza in Venice utilize disguise, but it is prominent in many later ones. Indeed, La finta pazza probably created the vogue for disguise, just as it did for so many other operatic conventions. It is worth noting, though, that in La finta pazza a man pretends to be a woman—in most other operas, before as well as after, the disguise works the other way. Admittedly, few other early librettists found disguise as conveniently built into their sources as Strozzi did, but they did not hesitate to introduce it when absent. The plot of nearly every opera of the 1640s, and many later ones, hinges on the disguise and subsequent uncovering of at least one character.

The device was carried to an extreme in the last opera performed at the Novissimo, Ercole in Lidia (1645), in which a single character, Rodopea, is so completely disguised that no one, either in the drama or the audience, learns the character's true identity until the final scene of the opera. During the course of action, however, Rodopea appears to reveal her/himself several times, first as a woman, then as a woman pretending to be a man in disguise, then as a man pretending to be a woman, and so on. The librettist's description of the character hardly does justice to the complex gyrations of the plot: "Rodopea creduta donna vestita da huomo scoperta per Alceo figliuolo d'Ercole." The singing actress who played the role was, of course, none other than Anna Renzi. Like the singing scene, the convention of disguise persisted in opera well beyond the period of its specific usefulness. Its pure and timeless value as a theatrical device kept it alive as an operatic convention to the end of the seventeenth century and beyond.

Although the impact of La finta pazza was undoubtedly enhanced by Incognito propaganda, its intrinsic appeal is confirmed by its longevity as an operatic vehicle, and especially by the extent to which subsequent operas availed themselves of its most striking features. I have mentioned two: song and disguise; there are others, such as sleep, which is used as a dramatic expedient—Deidamia feigns sleep in order to encourage Acchille to speak his mind. But these devices were such common theatrical property that their adoption or transformation into operatic conventions cannot be automatically ascribed to the influence of any single work. This is not true of one, however, undoubtedly the most conspicuous feature of La finta pazza : madness, to which its very title drew immediate attention. The appearance of mad scenes in a number of sub-


sequent operas surely reflects the influence of La finta pazza ; it also strongly suggests that the same opera may indeed have inspired the adoption of the other, more general, theatrical devices.

Heiress to the numerous "pazze" of commedia dell'arte , tragicomedy, and the pastoral, and progenitor of as many others in musical guise, Strozzi's Deidamia was actually not the first operatic madwoman. But her predecessor, Strozzi's own Licori, to whom she was intimately related, probably never saw the light of the theater.[31] Her successors were much more forthcoming. They seem to have turned up almost immediately, even while Deidamia herself was still ranting on stage. During Carnival of 1641, when Venetian audiences could have seen five different operas at the four theaters then in operation, both Didone (Busenello/Cavalli) at S. Cassiano and La ninfa avara (Ferrari) at S. Moist had characters suffering from temporary—not feigned—madness, probably inspired by La finta pazza , which was playing to packed houses at the Teatro Novissimo.

Lack of precise dating usually makes it difficult to ascribe priority to one or another opera of the same season. But whether or not it was actually performed first, immediate borrowing from La finta pazza would have been facilitated by the printing of its libretto before the first performance. The indebtedness of Didone to an earlier model is particularly striking. The madness of Iarba, Didone's eventual husband (one of Busenello's bows to modern taste), was certainly a late addition, since it was not mentioned in the scenario published to coincide with the first performance. The solo scene in which Iarba's madness first manifests itself (2.12) is actually described in the scenario as act 3, scene 1, but without any reference to madness. "Iarba, noticing the too polite reception accorded Enea by the Queen, and discovering that her pretexts for turning away his love and his proposal of marriage are false, enunciates forcefully some truths about love."[32] And his three subsequent mad scenes (2.13; 3.2, 10) do not occur in the scenario at all. The appearance of these scenes in the score and libretto of Didone might easily have postdated the opera's first performances, since the score is a fair copy of the performance material and the libretto was not printed until many years later.[33] In any case, the madness begins at the very


end of act 2, at a joint in the drama where it could have been added without difficulty.

Almost as if to excuse—as well as to underscore—the relationship between his work and Strozzi's, Busenello concludes the first of Iarba's three mad scenes with an aside to the audience, a message from the poet through the mouth of a madman:

Non possono i Poeti a questi dì

The poets of these days

Rappresentar le favole a lor modo,

Can't represent stories in their own way.

Chi ha fisso questo chiodo,

He who adheres to this rule

Del vero studio il bel sentier smarrì.

Has lost the path of true learning.

Iarba's sudden transformation from rejected lover into librettist's spokesman commenting on the action is a sure sign of madness![34] Madness may also have been an afterthought in the other opera of 1641, La ninfa avara . The publication of its libretto likewise followed the original production, appearing at least a year later—which left plenty of time to accommodate the last-minute insertion of a mad scene.[35]

The 1642 season seems to have been free of operatic madness, but in the following year a mad episode was ostentatiously grafted onto another opera that was originally constructed without it, Faustini's and Cavalli's Egisto at S. Cassiano. In the preface to his libretto, Faustini apologized for introducing a mad scene for the hero "in imitation of an action already seen several times on stage," explaining that he had bowed to pressure from an "important person" (the impresario?) who wished to satisfy the performer of the role (Appendix 1.31a).[36] While not finta , Egisto's madness was temporary, and like Deidamia's served to achieve the desired end, his reconciliation with his recalcitrant be-


loved, Climene. Madness, feigned or real, but transitory, persisted for a number of years as an expedient, becoming for a while the conventional fate of rejected lovers. Perhaps the last instance of the direct influence of La finta pazza , however, occurred in 1657, in an opera by Aureli and Pietro Andrea Ziani, Le fortune di Rodope e Damira . In it, Damira feigns madness to regain her husband who has fallen in love with Rodope. The role featured Anna Renzi, "la finta pazza" herself, in her final Venetian performance.

Incognito propaganda was instrumental in assuring the initial impact of La finta pazza on its Venetian audience, and that impact provided the impetus for its circulation around Italy. But publicity alone cannot account for its popularity. There was something inherent in the work itself, like the scenario of a commedia dell'arte , a basic structure that lent itself to improvisation and accommodation, that made the opera portable. These intrinsic qualities are set into relief by the librettos printed in subsequent years in connection with performances by traveling opera companies in Piacenza, Florence, Bologna, and elsewhere. The extent to which those performances altered the original, cutting all "Venetian" allusions—for example, to the Trojan succession or to the Teatro Novissimo—confirms the parochial relevance of such passages. It also attests to the viability of the work without them. The venezianità of the original Finta pazza , reflecting the patriotism of the Incogniti, certainly contributed to its initial success at the Teatro Novissimo—we shall examine this in the next chapter. But it was without the Venetian references that the opera was known outside Venice. The local allusions were sustained by a more generic sense of theater. Because it exploited theatrical experience in the broadest possible way, La finta pazza could appeal to a wide and complex public, patrician and common, Venetian and foreign.

The success of some later operas equaled that of La finta pazza , but the climate for their success owed much to that first operatic hit. Because of its wide dissemination, La finta pazza paved the way; it defined the new genre for an audience of unprecedented size. More effectively than any previous work, it demonstrated what opera was and what it could be; it epitomized the means by which opera exercises its fascination on its audience. By its bold and basic music-theatricality, it provided a mirror in which a broad spectrum of society, not only Venetians, could see itself reflected.


previous chapter
4—La finta pazza : Mirror of an Audience
next chapter