previous chapter
6—La nausea di chi ascolta : The Consequences of Success
next chapter

6—
La nausea di chi ascolta :
The Consequences of Success

By the time the doors of the Teatro Novissimo closed in 1645, opera had established itself as a going concern in Venice. Although the Novissimo itself never reopened, the competition it had helped to inspire resumed at full tilt by 1648 among the other theaters: S. Cassiano, S. Moisè, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and a fourth, new, theater, at SS. Apostoli.[1]

By 1650 the pattern of performances for the rest of the century had been set: an average of four new operas per year, in however many theaters were currently in operation. The number of opera houses had jumped from one to four within the first five years. The next two decades were to witness the opening of three more: after SS. Apostoli in 1648, S. Apollinare in 1651 and S. Salvatore in 1661. And another two were added during the 1670s, S. Angelo in 1676 and S. Giovanni Grisostomo in 1678, for a total of nine.[2] These statistics give an inflated impression, however, for all nine theaters never functioned simultaneously. Seldom were more than four theaters open during a single season; the more usual number was two. The market for opera in Venice, having been created from nothing in 1637, and having increased steadily over the course of its first decade, then remained fairly constant for the next fifty years or so.[3]


155

In a few short years, opera had become a genre whose legitimacy was conferred by its own accumulating history, by the rapid, regular, and systematic accretion of a past. As well as inspiring a new sense of confidence, however, that very history imposed a new set of problems. Opera had to continue to please; and in order to do so it needed repeatedly to surpass itself with a steady supply of new works. The curiosity-seeking carnival audience would not be satisfied with less. Writing in 1650, Pietro Paolo Bissari summarized the dilemma quite aptly:

The city of Venice, having enjoyed approximately fifty opere regie in only a few years, of which few cities have seen the like, and those only with difficulty, at a wedding or on some other solemn occasion of their princes, has rendered the authors sterile and nauseated the listeners, it having become difficult to come up with things not already seen, or to make them appear more effective, with greater spectacle and display, than they ever seemed before. (Appendix I.26)

Making Histories

Bissari was neither the first nor the last to identify the problem.[4] From its very beginnings, opera in Venice had been marked by an intense awareness of itself and a determined effort to create a pedigree. This is evident in the tendency toward obsessive record-keeping that had characterized—even justified—the earliest Venetian librettos. Thus, the printer's preface to Ferrari's La maga fulminata , the second Venetian opera, referred to its only predecessor, the already legendary Andromeda , presumably as a means of sharing in its success (Appendix I.3b). And both of them were invoked in the preface to the third Venetian opera, Delia , by Strozzi, who, in homage to Ferrari, as we have seen, even borrowed a character from La maga fulminata , the witch Scarabea. Strozzi continued to keep records in his subsequent works, introducing his next libretto, La finta pazza , as his eighth "fatica rappresentativa," and mentioning both it and its two successors, La finta savia (1643) and Romolo e Remo (1645), in the preface to the former.[5] Not only in the prefaces, but in the texts of librettos themselves, opera's progress was being charted. As we are reminded by Armonia, a char-


156

acter in the prologue of Faustini's Ormindo (1644): "It has been five years already that I have shone on you from gilded stages and displayed my glories."[6]

Audiences could not fail to notice, since it was pointed out so regularly to them, that opera was getting on, was being engulfed by its own history. And they were becoming jaded, bored; they wanted novelty, and they wanted it often. Their demands placed a heavy burden on the creators of opera, who developed various strategies of response. In search of fresh plots, librettists reached out to new sources and new literary models, beyond mythology, Greek and Roman history, romance, and the pastoral to the more exotic history of the Near East and the more domestic novella .[7] Furthermore, they treated all of their sources with increasing freedom, adding an ever greater proportion of invenzione . In 1643 Busenello had briefly recounted Tacitus's version of the Poppaea story only to depart from it, concluding with laconic frankness: "But here things will be represented differently" ("Mù qui si rappresenta il fatto diverso"). Twelve years later, however, in the preface to Statira , he does not even bother to outline a historical version of the plot, declaring that only the names of the characters—but not their relationships—were borrowed from classical history.[8] Busenello's younger contemporary Castoreo stated the case for invenzione even more explicitly in the preface to his Pericle effeminato (1653):

If you find something in it connected with history, know that the rest is pure invention, and therefore you will be wasting your time if you go and sift through Plutarch and Thucydides to find out whether I have strayed from the truth; because my intention is not to report a history to you but to present a tale that has nothing historical in it besides its name. It is indeed true that its principal plot is drawn from Plutarch, who writes about the passions of Pericles and Aspasia, through which he acquired the epithet effeminate; nevertheless, in fitting them into this drama I have followed my own fancy. (Appendix I.40a)

In addition to reaching out to new sources, librettists turned their attention inward, on their own art, exploiting its already established conventions with ever greater energy. Along with composers and stage designers, they found essential materials in the already proven successes of the past. Increasingly, librettos that had been used before, either in Venice or elsewhere, were revised for new Venetian performances. Usually these needed to be adapted to their


157

new contexts—either modernized to suit the taste of the times or Venetianized ("Riformato all'uso di Venetia").[9] During the early 1650s there were several such revisions. Veremonda , by Luigi Zorsisto [Giulio Strozzi], which was performed with Cavalli's music at the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1653, was a doubly revised work. Not only was it imported from Naples, where it had been performed in Cavalli's setting the previous year, but it was a reworking of an earlier libretto by Cicognini, Celio , that had appeared in Florence in 1646.[10] Another Neapolitan libretto, Ciro (1653), by Giulio Cesare Sorrentino, was altered for Venetian use ("con prologo, aggiunte, imitationi, & aggiustamenti all'uso di questa città") by an unnamed poet and performed at SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1654. In this case, Cavalli merely retouched the original score by Francesco Provenzale.[11] Adaptation became so common during the 1660s that it could be invoked falsely to mask the original authorship of a work if necessary. For some reason Minato passed off his Seleuco of 1666 as the revision of an anonymous Neapolitan work, though he acknowledged his authorship at a subsequent revival.[12]

While some such adaptations were completely straightforward and aboveboard, giving due credit to the original author, others went unacknowledged, masking themselves as original works. Aureli, for example, based an entire libretto, Erismena (1655), on Faustini's Ormindo (1644), even appropriating the text of one of its most striking moments, the prison scene.[13] In fact, this kind of unacknowledged modeling must have been quite common, since librettists


158

often took elaborate pains to deny it—or used it as a subterfuge. One scene was cut from Faustini's Eritrea (1652) ostensibly because it had been used elsewhere: "The elephant scene, which Your Illustrious Lordship will observe [is] mentioned, and which was the invention of the poet, has been left out because it does not suit a queen's dignity to wear clothes that, although intended for her, have been worn first by someone else" (Appendix I.35b).[14] And, only a few years later, Castoreo defended himself against plagiarism in La guerriera spartana (1654): "There were some who accused [the warrior] of theft because they noticed on the hem of one of her dresses a certain decoration that seemed woven at the same loom as someone else's; but let it not even be mentioned, because I could thoroughly defend it should there be need" (Appendix I.41).[15]

Along with the wholesale adaptation of old texts, librettists also appropriated and rearranged more circumscribed material from earlier librettos: scene types, dramatic procedures, and so on. Much of this material belonged to the common stock available to any potential librettist, a body of conventions in part borrowed from spoken drama, in part established by repeated use in operatic works. In most cases the reuse of such material was generalized and natural, but in some it was more specific and can qualify as outright borrowing. Such borrowing was sometimes explicit: we have seen how Faustini acknowledged lifting an episode of madness for his Egisto (1643), although he did not name his source (Appendix I.31a). Librettists apparently had to be careful that their borrowings were generic enough not to arouse suspicion; but as these were the very stuff of their trade, they could hardly avoid them altogether. They had to strike a balance between convention and novelty: convention enabled librettists to construct their works quickly and made them easily accessible to their audience; novelty added the spice of variety that attracted special attention.

Just as librettists relied increasingly on the adaptation of older texts, so the composer's role was frequently limited to the reworking of another composer's score to adapt it to a new set of performing conditions (as in Ciro mentioned above). And they too made increasing use of previously composed music—individual arias or even, as in the case of Erismena , whole scenes. Composers adapted to the pressures of increased demand in other ways as well. Their response, to be discussed at length in the next several chapters, is manifested by a decrease in their impact on the shaping of librettos. This in turn was balanced by greater reliance on conventional formulae for setting individual poetic structures as well as dramatic situations.


159

The balance of convention and novelty presented a special problem in the realm of scene design. The situation was complicated by the overwhelming stature of one scenographer in particular, Giacomo Torelli. Although he himself left Venice for good by 1645, he remained a looming presence for many years, having made an indelible impression on the very conception of Venetian opera. It was difficult to match Torelli's achievement, let alone surpass it. Bissari confirmed Torelli's position in the preface to Yorilda (1648) by describing the effects of opera in the precise terms of his achievement: "Among the most often remarked upon curiosities of the modern dramas is the diversity of sets, which, pulled around or guided along wooden channels by a machine that changes them in an instant, open up new views everywhere" (Appendix I.25a).[16] Variety and speed of execution were among the chief marvels of Torelli's technique; but he was also widely praised for the verisimilitude and sheer extravagance of his conceptions.

At least one opera was specifically designed to meet the challenge of Torelli head on. In Bradamante (Bissari/?Cavalli, 1650), an extraneous character ("personaggio accidentale") is introduced for the express purpose of enhancing the spectacle: Bellerofonte, mounted on Pegasus, attempts to obstruct Astolfo's moonward journey on the hippogriff, but fails, falling to earth in ignominious defeat—and in a triumph of stagecraft. This "caduta di Bellerofonte," created by the scenographer Giovanni Burnacini, makes a direct (scenic) reference to Torelli's notorious and much publicized similar achievement in Bellerofonte several years before.[17]

Economic considerations must have affected scenography more than any other component of opera. The level of financial support that Torelli had so briefly enjoyed at the Teatro Novissimo was not easily matched elsewhere; even the queen of France had balked at the expenses incurred for La finta pazza in Paris.[18] Physical resources were obviously as necessary for scenic spectacle as financial ones, for the productions at two of the smaller Venetian theaters, S. Moisè and S. Apollinare, were regularly berated (by their own creators) for the inadequacy of their spectacle.[19]

Since it was so difficult to surpass Torelli's accomplishment, scenographers, even more obviously than their librettist and composer colleagues, tended to


160

make use of conventional formulas; they borrowed and rearranged old materials. Indeed, most operas after 1650 called for a rather standard group of sets or scene types that could be reused and easily adapted to successive productions: a city, a royal palace, a courtyard, a chamber, a garden, a wood, a hellmouth (figs. 17-23).[20]

Some of the most striking scenic effects after 1650 occurred in prologues—in that of Ciro (1654), for example (apparently a highly effective prologue, since it was used subsequently for other works as well).[21] Architecture asserts her superiority over Poetry and Music in Ciro by making a spectacle of her own deconstruction, falling apart in full view of the audience, and she creates a similar spectacle of herself in the prologue to Veremonda (Naples, 1652).[22] Prologues, the traditional locus of aesthetic commentary from the author, were readily detached from the drama. Thus, if it were concentrated there, extravagant scenography could easily be eliminated if sufficient funds or equipment were unavailable. Despite an increased reliance on convention and the relegation of many of the most striking scenographic effects to detachable prologues after 1650, most observers continued to be struck by the visual marvels of opera for the remainder of the century.[23]

One of the most far-reaching consequences of the institutionalization of opera in the 1650s has yet to be mentioned. The needs created by intensifying


161

17.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Venere gelosa  (1643), 2.1-7: Città di Nasso. 
Engraving from Apparati scenici  (Venice, 1644).

commercial activity, with the attendant promise of financial reward, brought into being a new kind of professional, the poet who devoted himself exclusively, willingly, and even proudly to dramma per musica : the librettist. We have been talking about librettists, operatic poets, all along, of course, about the various members of the Accademia degli Incogniti and about Ferrari, but in fact, until the middle of the century the authors of operatic texts were either more or less than librettists. Ferrari was librettist, composer, performer, and impresario all in one. An old-fashioned "theater man" in the style of his near contemporary Giovanni Battista Andreini, who led his own troupe of comici ,


162

18.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Bellerofonte  (1642), 1.4-10: Regio cortile. 
Engraving by Giovanni Giorgi.

and wrote and starred in his own plays, Ferrari embodies the essential link between commedia dell'arte and opera.[24]

The talents of his chief competitor among the early operatic poets, Strozzi, were more exclusively literary. But even then, libretto-writing was only one


163

19.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Venere gelosa  (1643), 2.10-3.4: Cortile del Re di Nasso. 
Engraving from Apparati scenici  (Venice, 1644).

facet of Strozzi's literary activities; he also wrote plays, poetry both epic and lyric, and history. The same was true, of course, of Strozzi's Incognito colleagues, who claimed to have become librettists in spite of themselves. I have already remarked upon their disinclination to admit involvement in libretto-writing, their disguising of their own authorship by means of standard seicento obfuscation: pseudonyms, allusions, anonymity. Even when they did confess, they were usually apologetic, explaining their librettistic activity as the result of some extenuating circumstance or gratuitous act.

Debts of friendship were often cited as an excuse. Pietro Michele, the "Incognito" author of Amore innamorato , had apparently agreed to write the libretto out of friendship for Loredan but refused to have anything further to do with


164

20.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Bellerofonte  (1642), 3.8-12: Sala regia. 
Engraving by Giovanni Giorgi.

it, lacking the inclination "di buffoneggiare ne i Theatri."[25] The anonymous author of Argiope (1649), too, though a famous poet, needed the encouragement of friends in order to undertake writing the libretto; this according to Fusconi's preface:


165

21.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Bellerofonte  (1642), 3.1-7: Boschetto del giardino reale. 
Engraving by Giovanni Giorgi.

The fabric of this tale results from the pleas of friends, dashed off rather than woven, in fourteen evenings, by the pen of that most famous swan of the Adriatic, who keeps Italian poetry alive in our century. Since he was on the verge of departure, and awaiting favorable winds for a long sea voyage, he could not apply himself to it except at moments stolen from sleep. (Appendix I.28b)[26]


166

22.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Venere gelosa  (1643), 3.6-10: Campagna di Nasso. 
Engraving from Apparati scenici  (Venice, 1644).

What sprezzatura : to knock off a libretto in fourteen sleepless nights, just to please friends. Friendship evidently could force even non-poets to try their hand; and if their work was criticized, they could always blame the music.[27]


167

23.
Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Venere gelosa  (1643), 2.8-9: Inferno. 
Engraving from Apparati scenici (Venice, 1644).

Many of these authors claimed amateur status, insisting that they had written librettos merely to while away their idle hours or to ward off boredom. As Badoaro wrote (anonymously) in the preface to Il ritorno d'Ulisse : "the world knows that my pen fights to defeat boredom, and not to earn glory" (Appendix I.7b). In the same vein, Busenello called his published (1656) collection of librettos Le hore ociose (The Idle Hours ). A few writers even used illness as an excuse, both for having indulged in libretto-writing at all and for whatever shortcomings might be found in their works.[28]


168

Even Minato, who was to become one of the most successful of all Venetian librettists, began his career by belittling his own theatrical efforts, asserting his greater commitment to his real profession, the law, and claiming that he had written his dramas during time he would otherwise have spent sleeping: "Know that I am not a poet. . . . My vocation is in the Forum; to serve him who can command me, I have stolen a few hours from sleep in order to devote them to this drama. I swear to you that the sun has never seen me with pen in hand to form characters in ink."[29]

In the same self-deprecating tone, several authors modestly insisted that they composed not for fame or riches but "per mero capriccio." The first writer actually to use the expression may have been Francesco Melosio, in the preface to Sidonio e Dorisbe (1642): "Be satisfied with knowing that I write out of mere whim, and that I do not want to bind myself to the strict observance of the rules."[30] The most notorious declaration of these sentiments, however, came from the pen of Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, in the preface to Giasone (1649): "I write out of mere whim; my whim has no other aim than to give pleasure. To bring pleasure to myself is nothing other than to accommodate the inclination and taste of those who listen or read."[31]

Cicognini's statement raises once again the issue of il diletto versus l'utile that had concerned the earlier, academic librettists. But that issue now had a new twist. Melosio, who, like the academics, was suffering the pangs of generic insecurity that characterized the early 1640s, used the phrase primarily to absolve himself of sins against literary rules. But Cicognini uses it in a more modern context, to express the pressures that were to characterize the next phase of operatic development, after 1650. His capriccio , though perhaps unbound by literary rules, serves another master. It is closely linked to, even determined by, audience taste.[32] Because Giasone was so popular (the libretto went through four printings by 1650), the phrase "mero capriccio" may have been associated with Cicognini by his contemporaries, even though he was not the first to adopt it. In the way he meant it—but also in the older, more general


169

sense of freedom from "the rules"—it became a kind of battle cry in librettists' prefaces after 1650.

Giovanni Faustini, "Librettist"

Amid the commonplaces of librettists' apologia—obligations of friendship, excuses of ill-health, and other denials of serious intentions, as well as embarrassed admissions of venal pandering to audience taste—one figure stands out. Giovanni Faustini (c. 1619-51) was the only author of his generation who confessed openly and proudly to being a professional writer of librettos, and he did this in a statement that seems pointedly intended as a response to Cicognini and to those others who declared capriccio rather than art to be their aim:

I am not one of those . . . who write to satisfy their whims. I strain my pen, I confess my ambition, to see if it can raise me above the ordinary and common achievements of dull and plebeian talents. This honorable madness, which began to assault me when I had scarcely emerged from swaddling clothes and has not yet abated, forces me to the assiduous creation of various compositions. (Appendix I.33a)

These are the words of a committed professional, a man proud and passionate about what he does. Missing is the ironic and casual tone of most self-declarations, the sprezzatura , the excuses, self-deprecations, and false modesty shading into hypocrisy. Such a statement from a writer of drammi per musica could only have been possible after midcentury—that is, after opera had become securely established as a genre. It recognizes the stability of opera and the concomitant possibility of new status for its poets.

Partly because his activities are so well documented, not only by himself but by his younger brother Marco and by the printers of his librettos, we can reconstruct Faustini's career in considerable detail. Encouraged and sustained by the commercial structure of Venetian opera, as well as by the general tendency toward historical documentation, which he shared, Faustini set about his career in a self-conscious, highly professional way. Each of his librettos was published with an opus number, and nearly all of them contain prefaces and dedications that reveal his attitudes toward his work and declare his aims and ideals as a librettist. The strength of his commitment to libretto-writing is manifested not only by his pride in his work but by his gratuitous creation of librettos—that is, without specific commissions. Quite the opposite of being forced reluctantly to write librettos, Faustini could not help himself; he was the willing victim of his own furor poeticus .

Although still quite young when he avowed his personal commitment to libretto-writing in 1651, Faustini was speaking as a man of experience, as possibly the most successful librettist in Venice, who had already seen seven of his


170

texts performed during the previous decade, all but one of them set to music by the leading composer of the time, Cavalli.[33] In fact, in 1651 Faustini was rather nearer the end of his career than the beginning, for he died suddenly within that year, at the age of thirty-one.[34]

But 1651 marked an important change in his status that probably encouraged his assertion of professionalism. Whether because of his commitment to the artistic integrity of his librettos or a desire to maximize his profit from them, on 19 May 1650 Faustini the librettist became an impresario. On that date he signed a contract with Zanetta Piamonte and the brothers Francesco and Giovanni Battista Ceroni, co-owners of the property, to manage the newly renovated Teatro S. Apollinare for three years, with an extension of three more, beginning the following June. Faustini agreed to undertake the work necessary to furnish the premises in accordance with their new function.[35]

The libretto in which his credo appeared, Oristeo , was Faustini's first work for his own theater; it marked his official debut as an impresario.[36] Some insight into the reasons for this expansion of operatic responsibility is provided by the remainder of the same preface. He wrote the libretto and its successor, he says, to discharge debts that had forced him to move (from S. Cassiano) to the Teatro S. Moisè, which, however, because of its small size, had proved unsatisfactory.[37]

I wrote Oristeo and Rosinda, however, without my usual impetus, devoting little time to their creation, in order to free myself from the debts that inadvertently enclosed me within the confines of a theater where, if nothing else, the eye accustomed to the spaciousness of royal scenes [scene reali ] became disillusioned by the proximity of the set. It is true that the abovementioned theater, in which Ersilla and


171

Euripo appeared, and in which these twins were supposed to be presented, is not dissimilar to the one I myself have built in order to cut short the sloth of the institution of my financial independence. But it is also very true that from them, as from corpses, I do not expect to gain applause, and I am reserving for happier times and more majestic theaters Eupatra, Alciade, and Meraspe, heroes who have left their embryo stage, and are almost finished. (Appendix I.33b)

The implication here is that although S. Apollinare was no larger than S. Moisè, Faustini's share of the profits would be greater because he was now not only the librettist but the impresario as well. S. Apollinare, the seventh theater to open (both Ivanovich and Bonlini agree on the numbering), was indeed quite small, with considerably fewer boxes than SS. Giovanni e Paolo and probably S. Cassiano. But the rental fee was low enough, only sixty ducats, so that Faustini's expectations of making a profit were not unreasonable.[38] Moreover, he had high hopes of moving to "more majestic theaters," presumably to increase his profits, as soon as possible.

The prefaces of two of his earlier librettos, Egisto (1643) and Doriclea (1645), already contain hints of Faustini's frustration with the limited power accorded the librettist in operatic productions. The two works are linked by a series of events whose nature we can only guess. Although performed first, Egisto , as we learn from its preface, was written after Doriclea . Faustini tells us a story that leaves numerous questions unanswered:

In order not to let Doriclea perish, with a hasty pen I have created Egisto, which I cast into the arms of fortune. If it is not deserving of your applause, excuse the quality of its being, because having been born in but a few days, it might better be called a miscarriage than an offspring of the mind. I created it with scales in hand, and adapted it to the weakness of those who are to perform it. Theaters want machines that arouse astonishment and pleasure, and sometimes makeup, gold, and purple deceive the eyes and make deformed objects seen), beautiful. If you are critical, do not abhor the madness of my Egisto as an imitation of an action that you have already seen on the stage, transferred from comic [i.e., commedia dell'arte ] to musical drama, because the authoritative entreaties of a powerful person have compelled me to insert it in the opera, to satisfy the inclination of the performer. (Appendix I.31a)

Evidently Doriclea had been cancelled at the last minute and Faustini was obliged to substitute Egisto for it.[39] He defended himself against anticipated


172

criticism of the new work by citing the short time he had had to complete it, and he justified his inclusion of what some might regard as a ridiculous scene, Egisto's mad scene, claiming that it was ordered by "le preghiere autorevoli di personaggio grande"—presumably some noble proprietor—in order to satisfy the whim of a singer. Although he belittles his creation as "una sconciatura" rather than "un parto dell'intelletto," he blames not himself but external demands made on him. Squeezed by the importunities of the "personaggio grande" and a singer's whim, he evidently felt that the aesthetic value of his work had been compromised.

The dedication to the Venetian nobleman Mauritio Tirelli of Doriclea , which was eventually staged two years later, provides further evidence of the pressures under which Faustini was working.

I can no longer restrain, my most Excellent Sir, the generous impulses of Doriclea: impatient of remaining buried within the confines of her father's house, she is setting out to reach the goal of immortal glory. Simple-hearted and young, and guided by the blind escort of her daring, she does not fear the Alcides, who challenge her, nor heed the traps laid to impede her journey by two powerful enemies, selfish rivalry and presumptuous ignorance. . . . It is up to Your Lordship, for the affection you bear this Amazon, who uttered her first cries, one might say, in your arms, to secure her path, and to defend her reputation against the shameless ambition of certain rude versifiers, who, lacking ideas, or rather, squandering those of others, pursue the arts of slander, attempting to deface the compositions of minds better than theirs, not knowing, these magpies, the difficulty of inventing because they have never invented, and that it is, as you once said to me, a kind of philosophizing. (Appendix I.32)

Apparently, Doriclea had been prevented from reaching the stage originally because of some criticism of its content, perhaps by other librettists, for whom Faustini showed undisguised disdain, labeling them "rude versifiers" (rozzi versificatori), unworthy of being called poets. Although Faustini's remarks are permeated with bitterness, they raise the important issue of inventione , a quality for which he was especially noted.[40]

Invention of new plots was yet another response to the pressures of institutionalization. It was Faustini's personal solution to the problem of pleasing the jaded audience, of providing it with material it had not seen before. Unlike his contemporaries, he did not borrow his plots from mythology or history; rather, he "invented" most of them, possibly on the model of commedia dell'arte , incorporating elements of the pastoral and romance as well.[41]


173

Faustini's plots are variations on one basic pattern, what we might call the Faustini mold. Set in foreign lands, usually African, they involve characters of widely contrasting social levels, many of them borrowed from the romance tradition: knights errant, maidens in disguise, magicians. The action revolves around the romantic misadventures of two pairs of lovers of noble birth, attended by assorted comic servants—nurse, confidant, squire—who, through various complications and coincidences are separated and then reunited at the very last moment. His ability to maintain suspense up to his denouements, in fact, was highly valued by Faustini's contemporaries. It was a way of keeping the audience involved.[42]

Many of the devices that help to propel his dramas and contribute to the confusion—such as disguises, overheard conversations, misdelivered letters, and sleeping potions—were standard comic routines going back through Spanish drama and the pastoral to Roman comedy. To provide pseudo-historical backgrounds for his characters, Faustini made use of elaborate antefatti , which were included in the printed librettos. Originally fairly brief, these antefatti run to more than four tightly packed pages in some of his later librettos. They lent an aura of verisimilitude to his inventions. In addition, by varying the antefatti , Faustini was able to minimize the similarity of his plots.

Even though they were all cast in the same mold, Faustini's librettos satisfied the demand for novelty because they were "invented." But the mold itself soon became conventional; used in all fourteen of Faustini's drammi per musica , it was adopted by many subsequent librettists, who superimposed it on a wide variety of situations, historical and mythological as well as newly concocted. They stretched and varied it with additional characters and new plot twists, but the basic structure remained the same. Faustini's drive to invent, inspired by his honorable madness, provided a model for dealing with the problem of novelty. By offering a conventional plot structure that was infinitely adaptable, Faustini's librettos establish an important new stage in the development of opera.

In their poetic structure, however, Faustini's texts were not much different from those of his predecessors. Like theirs, his poetry consisted primarily of freely alternating settenario and endecasillabo verses, unrhymed or rhymed irregularly—what we would call versi sciolti or recitative poetry. These were interrupted occasionally by closed forms structured by a single meter (versi misurati ) or regular rhyme scheme, usually both—that is, aria poetry. Although such closed forms were traditionally strophic, Faustini sometimes employed briefer closed passages, of three or four lines, which he repeated after a certain


174

interval as a refrain. These structured passages were usually set in aria style by composers.[43]

Although Faustini may have become an impresario partly in order to achieve artistic independence, economic considerations were apparently foremost in his mind in 1651. According to his grand plan, announced in the preface to Oristeo , he had no intention of remaining at S. Apollinare for the rest of his career. He projected two librettos to be performed there, the twins Oristeo and Rosinda , for which, he admitted, he did not expect to receive much applause, but only some financial rewards. As he put it, he had constructed the theater "to cut short the sloth of the institution of my financial independence" ("per decapitare l'otio della institutione del mio viver libero"), an aim reiterated in the brief preface to Rosinda : "I stated in the preceding Oristeo that these two dramas were composed by me in order to discharge a debt, not out of eagerness for applause" (Appendix I.34). As for his almost finished works, Eupatra, Alciade , and Meraspe , "heroes past the embryo stage and almost finished," he would reserve them for better times and more majestic theaters (Appendix I.33b).

As it happened, things did not proceed according to plan. For the following season Faustini projected another pair of operas, this time the "twin princesses" Calisto and Eritrea , "conceived and delivered this year" ("generate, e partorite quest'anno"). But on 19 December 1651, before either work could be produced, Faustini died. He managed to sign the dedication of Calisto , which had evidently been scheduled to be performed first, but Eritrea , in press at his death, was published posthumously, with a dedication to Marc'Antonio Corraro signed by the printer, Giacomo Batti.[44] From it, in addition to being reminded of Faustini's contribution to libretto literature, we learn something more about the difficult conditions under which he had worked:

While a reigned death of Eritrea will delight Your Illustrious Lordship's ear, the all-too-real one of Signor Giovanni Faustini will dolefully move your soul. This celebrated man of letters died a few days ago, and after having created eleven operas, he left in press that of his beloved Eritrea. This poor queen, all beaten down by her unlucky encounters, by the extravagance of her misfortunes, has finally seen the light of day, obliged to obey that father who promised her in Calisto. There was no lack of obstacles to hinder her in her journey, besides the loss of him who, having


175

begotten her, ought to have assisted her further. And she has lost as well the company of the virtuoso Bonifatio, who at the beginning of her journey halted both her step and her life. (Appendix I.35a)[45]

Batti's allusion to Eritrea's difficulties suggests that Faustini's problems plagued him until his death. The impression is reinforced in the preface to another posthumous libretto, that of Eupatra , published in 1655 by the printer Bartolomeo Ginammi, in which the librettist's premature death was attributed to overwork, he "having always dedicated his entire soul to invention, from which, through his continuous and unceasing dedication, derived the seeds of his illness, which too bitterly took his life at the age of 32 [sic ]" (Appendix I.36e).[46]

The romantic image created by Faustini himself of the passionate librettist driven by "honorable madness" to "invent" operatic texts even beyond those required for a specific season is embroidered by the printer here. Whether his death was hastened by poetic frenzy or by financial pressures, it is clear that Faustini left behind many unpaid bills as well as unperformed works, a combination that, ironically, was to prove highly significant for the future development of opera in Venice.

Faustini's Heirs

Faustini's premature death in 1651, just at the threshold of an important new phase in the development of Venetian opera, left a vacuum, not least for Cavalli, who had relied almost exclusively on him to supply operatic texts during the previous ten years. Fortunately, however, Faustini did not die intestate. He left heirs, both literal and figurative, in whose hands his estate prospered. His brother Marco, a lawyer, assumed Giovanni's role as impresario at S. Apollinare and became one of the most important operatic powers of the next two decades; and two new poets, Minato and Aureli, together took over his artistic role as the dominant librettists in Venice, a position they shared until Minato's departure for Vienna in 1669. Even more important than his position, however, they inherited his poetic style, which through them was to become the lingua franca of the seicento libretto.

Significantly, the careers of these two librettists and Marco Faustini were linked. Aureli's first libretto was written under contract with Marco for a performance at S. Apollinare in 1652, and all but one of his next eleven texts


176

(through 1668) were commissioned by Marco as well. Minato, a close friend of Aureli's, with whom he subsequently shared the duties of impresario at S. Salvatore, also wrote for Marco Faustini, though only sporadically, in 1658 and 1659 at S. Cassiano, and in 1664 at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

The first two librettos of Aureli, Erginda (1652), a failure, and Erismena (1655), an enormous success, reveal the influence of Giovanni Faustini most clearly. Both were based on invented plots in the Faustini mold, the latter even being modeled on a Faustini original.[47] This is particularly understandable since they were both written for Faustini's old collaborator, Cavalli. With his third libretto, Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (1657), however, Aureli began to develop a style of his own, finding explicit inspiration in history and mythology, and adding extra characters to the Faustini formula that helped to mask its symmetries. Although he cited several sources for the story and characters of Ro-dope , including Polidorus, Virgil, Herodotus, Strabo, "& altri Autori," Aureli firmly rejected them, indicating that the relationships between his characters would follow an independent course. History provided the antefatti ; the poet himself devised their working out.

Aureli's subsequent librettos were all similarly structured: a historical or mythological core and ambience—provided by the Greek dramatists, Virgil, Ovid, Tacitus, even Ariosto—was elaborated and developed in accordance with operatic conventions inherited from comedy and pastoral by way of Faustini. This procedure, the embroidery of preexistent sources, seems to have been more congenial to Aureli than the freely invented Faustini model. Aureli's intellectual background was evidently quite different from that of Faustini. He was more of an academic librettist in the tradition of Busehello or Strozzi than a man of the theater like Faustini, and the rather ostentatious flaunting of history and mythology was part of his academic pose.

The separation—illustrated in the preface to Rodope , and in those of practically all of Aureli's subsequent librettos—between received history and invention found a more precise formulation, and possibly inspiration, in the librettos of Minato. In every one of his librettos beginning with the second, Xerse (1654), Minato separated historical elements ("quello che si hà dall'historia") from fictional ones ("quello che si tinge"). His reliance on Faustini, like Aureli's, was strongest at the outset of his career; his first libretto, Orimonte (1650), was a freely composed romance in the Faustini mold. Like Aureli's Erismena , it was written to be set by Cavalli, and the Faustini mold may even have been the cornposer's idea. Like Erginda , though perhaps for somewhat


177

different reasons, Minato's Orimonte was a failure.[48] For his second opera, Xerse (1654), however, Minato adopted a different strategy, combining history with invention somewhat along the lines of Aureli's slightly later effort. Xerse was based on material taken from Herodotus that was embroidered upon by the librettist, a procedure that proved successful for the remainder of Minato's career, as well as for Aureli's. In the argomento to his next libretto, Artemisia (1656), Minato called his inventions "verisimili" and justified them in true academic fashion by paying tribute to Aristotle. After having outlined "quello che si ha dall'istoria," he initiated "quello che si tinge" as follows: "Now, following the precepts of the master of all, Aristotle, and wishing, as he teaches, to invent on the basis of history to compose this drama, I have undertaken to imagine that. . . ."[49] Not only did a preexisting classical source underlie his drama but the very technique of elaborating that source found classical justification as well.

Aureli indulged in a similar kind of scholarly apologetics in his preface to Medoro (1658). After acknowledging Ariosto as the source for his subject, he further invoked the poet—and not without reason—to justify his own invenzioni : "Angelica, after having healed Medoro's wounds, and having secretly made him her husband, goes back with him to Cathay, her kingdom in India; but what variety of adventures she experienced in love before raising him to the throne, Ariosto left it up to another pen to write; and this affords the material for the composition of this drama, in which, with the help of realistic adventures, it is imagined that. . . ."[50]

Whether it was the result of their similar education or a more general sign of the times, the adoption of similar formulas by both Aureli and Minato signaled a new stage in the development of the Venetian libretto; the texts of the next half-century were characterized by a mixture of history and invention. The balance between the two, however, so clearly marked in their early works, became increasingly weighted in favor of invention until, by the late 1670s and 1680s, although still evoked by the titles of librettos and the names of a few characters, "l'historia" had become a mere pretense, to be ignored as much as


178

possible. Aureli himself, in fact, became one of the chief abusers of history, as well as mythology, in his later works.[51]

The use of "historical" sources initially had little effect on the Faustini formula; indeed, the librettos of Aureli and Minato continued to exploit the same dramatic structure and theatrical situations that had been conventionalized by Faustini. Their plots still centered on two pairs of lovers (attended by the requisite servants), whose separation, misunderstandings, and eventual reconciliation provided the substance of the drama. But the historical sources supplied the basis for that essential commodity, variety, as well as providing a challenge to the skill of the librettists.

Faustini's texts were rather indistinguishable from one another insofar as his invented characters tended to be generalized and interchangeable types; their names carried no particular association or expectation. Characters drawn from historical sources, on the other hand, had clear, individual identities; they brought with them well-known names, personalities, and backgrounds. The combination of these characters with the recently established conventions of operatic plots offered new theatrical possibilities, new ways for librettists to demonstrate ingenuity. By the mid 1650s audiences had come to appreciate and expect such conventions—a mad scene, a lament, a comic romp between an old nurse and a young squire—and the further complication of historical personages in those stock situations undoubtedly added a new and special appeal.

The contribution of Aureli and Minato to the Venetian libretto extended beyond dramatic structure, however, to the poetry itself. They essentially followed the style of Faustini (and his predecessors) in casting large portions of their texts in free, recitative meter, interspersed with more structured passages of poetry intended for arias, but they gradually altered the proportions, increasing the number of arias in direct response to new demands on the part of the audience and singers.

Progress in the developing genre had created a broad range of new difficulties for the makers of operas during the late 1650s and 1660s. The problems Minato and Aureli confronted were consequently somewhat different from those faced by their prolific predecessor Faustini. In addition to the familiar demand for novelty, there were two main issues: the pressure of deadlines and the increasing dominance of singers. Whereas Faustini had not lived quite long enough to complain, like Bissari, about jaded audiences, they were one of Aureli's most frequent targets. Understandably so: if Venetian audiences were jaded by 1650, they must have been absolutely surfeited by the end of that decade. Continuing at the pace of approximately four per year, the number of


179

old operas had swelled from something under the fifty counted by Bissari in 1650—he had exaggerated slightly—to close to ninety by 1660 (there were thirty-eight new ones introduced between 1650 and 1659). Aureli lamented this state of affairs in the preface to almost every one of his librettos, beginning with Le fatiche d'Ercole per Deianira in 1662: "Nowadays the people of the city of Venice have become so indifferent in their tastes for dramas that they no longer know what they want to see, nor does the intellect of the author know anymore what to invent in order to win the applause of the spectators, or to satisfy the majority (since to satisfy everyone is impossible)" (Appendix I.46b). He struck the same tone in Gli amori d'Apollo e di Leucotoe the following year: "I declare that the talents of our age are so capricious, and the people of Venice so difficult to satisfy, because by now they have been satiated by the performance of so many dramas, that I would not consider it a blunder to commit some blunders, as long as I were sure that these would amuse the listeners, and please those who spend [i. e., the patrons]" (Appendix I.47). And once again, in Perseo , two years later: "I know that the taste of the people of Venice has reached such a point that it no longer knows what it wants to see, nor do the writers know any longer what to invent to satisfy the bizarre caprice of this city" (Appendix I.48).

Similar complaints even found their way into operatic dialogue, as in the following passage from Gli avvenimenti d'Orinda (1659) by one of Aureli's contemporaries, Antonio Zaguri. The prologue includes a debate on aesthetics among Capriccio, Momo, Fortuna, and Inventlone; in response to the idea that Capriccio might possibly invent something new, Momo replies:

Ch'egli faccia novità,

That he should create a novelty,

Ch'io lo creda, ò questo no,

That I should believe it, oh, no, indeed.

Troppo il mondo ritrovò.

Everything has been too much repeated,

Nè inventar altro si sa.

Nor does one know how to invent anything else.

Et hot suole anco la Gente

Some have even reached the point

Chiamar vecchio il Sol nascente.

Of calling old the rising sun.

As librettists struggled to alleviate the audience's boredom through new twists of plot and dramatic devices, they had also to contend with the unprecedented attention now being lavished on the singers. This difficulty was perhaps easier to resolve, although not without compromising aesthetic ideals. They could simply supply additional arias, which allowed singers to display their sheer vocal powers more obviously than recitative dialogue. Faustini himself had not been immune to pressures from singers, as we know from the preface to his Egisto (Appendix I.31a). But Aureli was obsessed by his audience's demand for arias, which he mentions in a number of different prefaces.[52]


180

If the steady demands of past theatrical seasons were responsible for a stultifying accumulation of old works that increasingly tested the possibilities for novelty, the unrelenting demands of present and future seasons created a problem of another kind, pressures on the resources of Venice itself for personnel. The compact, stable troupes of the early impresarios, Ferrari, Sacrati, and Cavalli, had become insufficient. The days were gone, too, when both librettist and composer lived in Venice and singers could be borrowed from San Marco. As more and more librettists, composers, and singers were required for the operatic industry, they had to be drawn from a widening geographical area. The readying of productions involving such disparate elements, which relied heavily on communication by post, became increasingly difficult, often resulting in last-minute compromises, cancellations, or replacements.

Geographical separation, difficulties with last-minute arrangements—the hiring of singers, the completion of the score—placed a severe strain on everyone concerned. Librettists, composers, and singers all operated under great constraints of time. Although Faustini had referred to his hurried creation of Rosinda and Oristeo , we know that he composed his other librettos at greater leisure, managing to complete a number of them well before they were needed. Aureli, however, seems almost always to have been working under pressure. In one instance he complained that lack of time had made him turn out an inferior work, "not a child but an abortion of the imagination,"[53] and he attributed the higher quality of a subsequent work (Le fatiche d'Ercole ) to the unusual absence of such a deadline:

If now and then I did not succeed in hitting the mark, know that I also did not always have the time that is required for such compositions. That this is true you will see from the consequences, since I hope that in these labors of mine dedicated to Ercole you will recognize the difference there is between writing in a hurry and composing with a tranquil mind, and at one's leisure. I confess that I have toiled harder in this than in my other dramas to answer to your liking. (Appendix I.46c)

Minato voiced similar complaints, explaining in one instance that he had worked so quickly and so close to the last minute that he had had no time to correct his libretto.[54]

The difficulties faced by this generation constituted the main challenge of Marco Faustini's career as an impresario. Although Aureli in particular is an articulate witness to the difficulties, they take on a special immediacy when viewed through the eyes of Faustini, whose job it was to overcome them.


181

Marco Faustini, Impresario

More than any other of the period, the career of Marco Faustini epitomizes and illuminates the world of opera institutionalized. The kinds of problems he faced with his business partners, singers, librettists, and composers as the impresario of three different theaters over a period of nearly two decades (1651-68), and the solutions he devised, all with the aim of selling tickets, reflect the extent to which aesthetic questions were subject to commercial conditions. His controversies, like operatic life itself, grew more and more complicated with each succeeding season as past works continued to accumulate, making the expected novelty ever more difficult to attain. The planning of future seasons began to require more time than before; the hiring of singers, composers, and librettists, in competition with other theaters and patrons, required greater concessions to each group. Faustini's work involved a delicate balancing act among disparate, competing elements, each with its own agenda.

Faustini assumed his brother's responsibilities at S. Apollinare immediately after Giovanni's death, as can be inferred from the wording of his contract of 25 October 1655 with the owners of the theater; it was to run for ten years from June 1656, the date of expiration of Giovanni's contract. Conditions of rental were to conform to the "lease made to Sig. Giovanni Faustini his brother on 19 May 1650."[55] Marco had rights to only half of the theater, those of the other half remaining with one of the original owners, Francesco Ceroni, with whom Faustini litigated continually until 1657, when he abandoned S. Apollinare for S. Cassiano.[56]

The unpublished, unperformed librettos that Giovanni Faustini had left at his death represented a valuable property for a beginning impresario, especially one who was not a librettist himself, for in the intensely competitive theatrical world of the 1650s, new texts were not so easy to come by. Giovanni's legacy provided Marco with a stock-in-trade, enough material to tide him over for a few seasons until he could begin commissioning librettos on his own. But the legacy clearly meant more to Marco than mere operatic capital. There is evidence that his motives were emotional as well as economic, and that his career as an impresario, which began and ended with Giovanni Faustini productions,


182

was essentially a way of promoting the reputation of his brother. Part of' his strategy was to elaborate the image of the "frenzied poet" that Giovanni himself had initiated.

Giovanni's legacy also benefited the printers of his posthumous librettos. They were probably the ones who stood to profit from sales, now that the author was no longer living. It was also in their interest to keep the Faustini myth alive, to connect the posthumous works via a romantic image of the driven genius to Faustini's past successes. It was undoubtedly for these reasons that Giovanni's entire list of operas was repeatedly invoked, by title as well as number, in each of the posthumous publications. As a result, Faustini's works survived well beyond the normal lifespan of librettos at a time when, once performed, an opera was considered old, and novelty was the single quality appreciated above all others in a libretto. But not only were Faustini's works cited again and again, his untimely death was repeatedly, and ostentatiously, lamented.

Nowhere is this more striking than in the front matter of Eupatra (1655), published four years after the librettist's death. The dedication is to Alvise Duodo, the recipient of previous librettos and business partner of both Marco and Giovanni;[57] it is signed by Bartolomeo Ginammi, the publisher:

Death has no arrow that can harm those who live by their talent and die by necessity of nature. One of these is Sig. Giovanni Faustini of glorious memory, whose death we already mourned, or rather, whom we admired as he was snatched from the hands of death, and whom we applauded as wedded to immortality. Even envy has no venom to poison this glory, nor fog to dim this splendor, while even now new offspring of that most noble mind are being born, among whom is Eupatra, who cannot be called an orphan as long as her father lives in the memory of his descendants, and Your Most Illustrious Lordship is more than ever vigorous in protecting him. (Appendix I.36a)

In the preface to the reader, Ginammi amplified his evaluation with some interesting aesthetic judgments. Not only did he praise Faustini's inventione , but also his method of dramatic development, which saved the denouement for the very end. The passage concludes by referring once more to the author's inventione , to his previous twelve works, and to the untold number of treasures still awaiting performance.

Here, finally, is the Eupatra promised four years ago, the twelfth dramatic effort of Sig. Giovanni Faustini of happy memory. If his works have won universal applause in this city and in all Italy, where they are often performed, it is not to be feared that this princess will not also receive the laurels she deserves. It will be wondrous for its invention and structure. . . . The author, as if foreseeing his untimely death,


183

left some pages of brief notes in his own hand, as to where certain canzonette belonged, which were then composed by a most capable person. Only to idiots do those tales seem obscure that resolve in the final scenes; but connoisseurs and scholars admire them, because in such compositions even the most attentive minds must remain in suspense, and this is what the author always practiced, not only in the twelve works published so far, but in still others, which are being saved for future years. (Appendix I.36b, d)

Marco managed to keep things going at S. Apollinare for several seasons after Giovanni's death, producing a total of five operas there, one on a libretto by his brother and two each by new librettists, Castoreo and Aureli. As for the music, Giovanni's regular collaborator Cavalli seems to have resisted working for Marco, who was able to secure his services for only one of the operas, Erismena ,[58] and had to rely on less experienced composers for the others: Francesco Lucio, a veteran of a couple of seasons, for Pericle effeminato (1653), and Pietro Andrea Ziani, a rank beginner, for the other three.[59]

Despite the success of Erismena , Marco Faustini evidently found S. Apollinare as unsatisfactory as his brother had feared it would be. He left for S. Cassiano in 1657 (probably because of costly struggles with Ceroni, one of the owners), signing a contract with the Tron brothers on 5 May 1657 to manage their theater for ten years—a contract he failed to fulfill.[60] On the same day, Marco formed a partnership, along with Corraro, Duodo, and Polifilo Zuancarli—his associates at S. Apollinare as well—to produce operas. Because of its size, S. Cassiano would probably have fulfilled Giovanni's hopes for "a more majestic theater" as a showcase for his later works, but in the end only one of them, Elena , ever appeared there.

For Antioco (1658-59) and Elena (1659-60), two of the three works he produced during his brief stay at S. Cassiano, Marco was able to secure the services of Cavalli and Minato, who had been collaborating at SS. Giovanni e Paolo during the previous two seasons.[61] Only the first of Minato's librettos


184

was original, however; Elena was an arrangement or working out of a scenario left by Giovanni Faustini, another piece of his legacy. Since it had not been included in his Oristeo list, and since it had evidently survived in a highly unfinished state, Elena was presumably one of Faustini's last projects. According to Minato's dedication and note to the reader, the deceased author had left an outline of the subject, which he, Minato, had fleshed out:

The subject of this drama was a product of the most fertile imagination of the late Sign. Giovanni Faustini of famous memory, whose virtues amazed not only the theaters of this city but even those of the most distant lands. Many sublime pens were asked, after his death, to dress it with the mantle of poetry, but for various reasons they all refused. I, however, did not know how to refuse this honor. (Appendix I.37a)

Following these conventional allusions to Faustini's reputation and death, Minato concluded with an elaborate evocation of the romance of his predecessor's existence: "I pray to heaven that the peace of his ashes not be disturbed by someone with my shortcomings who, in daring to touch his achievement, might diminish it. I declare, however, that whatever is bad in it is mine, and everything that shines with merit is his. Gentle reader, then, admire the subject, be indulgent toward the words" (Appendix I.37b).

It almost seems as though Marco kept the legacy of Giovanni's librettos in reserve, spending it parsimoniously to maintain its value, or else perhaps drawing upon it when nothing else was forthcoming. After having guarded his brother's works for five years, he probably made the Elena sketch available to Minato, who may have been too pressed to write a wholly new text for 1659, having already written Antioco for the previous season.[62] In the following year, the peripatetic Marco moved once again with his company, this time permanently, to the most majestic of all the Venetian theaters, SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Here he eventually attempted to produce the remainder of Giovanni's works.[63]

Marco's Guerra dei teatri

The decade of the 1660s saw a radical change in the structure of operatic politics. The 1650s had represented a period of expansion, a kind of operatic free-for-all


185

following the establishment of the genre at the end of the 1640s. The 1660s, in contrast, were a decade dominated by two theaters, one old, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, the other brand-new, the Vendramin theater of S. Salvatore at S. Luca, which opened for operatic business in 1661.[64] The competition between these theaters flavored and controlled operatic life in Venice for the next fifteen years. Despite a brief challenge in 1666, issued by the temporary resurgence of S. Cassiano and S. Moisè, their near-monopoly only began to erode in the early 1670s with the reopening of S. Moisè under new, aggressive management, which generated enormous publicity by reducing ticket prices. The monopoly was definitively broken toward the end of the decade with the opening of two new theaters, S. Angelo and S. Giovanni Grisostomo.

Although SS. Giovanni e Paolo had operated continuously since its opening in 1639 (it was the only theater to have done so), Marco Faustini's move there in 1660 initiated a new surge of activity, resulting in twelve successive two-opera seasons. These were nearly matched by the productions at S. Salvatore, which soon recovered after the spectacular failure of its inaugural opera, Pasife .[65] The competitive climate of these years, which focused increasingly on the rivalry between these two theaters, is attested by the theatrical gossip of the time, references in librettos and elsewhere to upsets, changes of plans, and so on. According to Aureli's preface to Antigona of 1660, Faustini's first season, rumor had it that there would be no performances at all at SS. Giovanni e Paolo:

How easily the opinion of the multitude is deceived you will see this time from the results; the rumor spreading through the city of Venice that this year there were to be no performances in the theater of SS. Giovanni e Paolo prompted those in charge of the administration and patronage of the same to show you that in the brief span of this carnival not only is the theater open, but it is even staging two dramas. (Appendix I.45a)[66]


186

Apparently, however, the decision to mount a second opera was made at the last minute, since Aureli was forced to adapt his work to accommodate the resources available from the first one, Gli avvenimenti d'Orinda (Pietro Angelo Zaguri/P. A. Ziani): "For lack of time it proved expedient for me to adapt the drama to the sets (except for one), to the same ballets, and to some of the machines created by the Most Illustrious Sig. Zaguri" (Appendix I.45b).

That such rumors and changes in plans had more than local significance is confirmed by Il rimino . The issue of 13 December 1661 reported that the (evidently recent) decision of SS. Giovanni e Paolo to mount two operas would force the other theaters, namely S. Salvatore, to do likewise: "if not to surpass it, at least to keep up" ("se non di sopravanzare, almeno di caminare del pari").[67] In fact, however, S. Salvatore did not "caminare del pari" until 1666, when it managed to stage two operas for the first time since its disastrous opening season. In the following year, its attempt to "sopravanzare" took an unprecedented form. Instead of dividing the season into the customary two parts, with one opera for each, its two operas were planned as a pair, to alternate on a regular basis. Minato's La prosperità di Elio Seiano was to be followed—and resolved—the next evening, by his La caduta di Elio Seiano , both set to music by Antonio Sartorio, creating a kind of Ring avant la lettre. In the end, however, the plan failed; the premiere of the second opera did not take place until some two weeks after the first, owing to unspecified circumstances. It is possible that Minato's project had been publicity-inspired rather than practical in the first place.[68]

The efforts of SS. Giovanni e Paolo and S. Salvatore to maintain a regular rhythm of two productions per season involved their managements in highly competitive negotiations for singers, librettists, and composers, and the situation was complicated by competition from outside Venice. Indeed, the success of traveling companies in inspiring a taste for Venetian opera in the provinces had resulted, by the 1650s, in regular opera seasons in a number of Italian cities—Bologna, Genoa, Milan, for example—not to mention at foreign courts


187

in France and Austria, all of which sought out the services of the most renowned singers, composers, and librettists from Venice. Personnel problems required extreme flexibility on the part of theater managements; they had to be prepared to arrange eleventh-hour substitutions, revisions, and even new commissions. There are numerous records of last-minute cancellations and postponements during these years, and various shortcuts were developed to deal with such situations. On some occasions, when the first opera was unsuccessful or not ready, it was replaced by the second, and a new second opera hurriedly prepared.[69] Aureli's Antigona was surely not the only second opera designed to make use of material from the first. At least once, a missing second opera was substituted for by repetition of the first with some of its arias changed.[70]

The competition of these years increased the value of every proven librettist, composer, and singer. Seeking to engage the best and most popular artists, theater managers tried to avoid being outbid by one another.[71] Often they attempted to protect themselves by extending contracts to cover more than one season, yet they needed the flexibility to cancel them if the collaboration proved unsuccessful. The painstaking delicacy of these negotiations, particularly with singers, is recorded with special vividness in Faustini's papers.

Although less revealing of the impresario's relationship with composers than with singers, the papers nevertheless indicate the kinds of compromises Faustini was forced to accept in order to assure himself of their services. Negotiations with both Cesti and Ziani must have been quite unpleasant, though for different reasons. Cesti, who did not write his first opera for Faustini until 1666, played hard to get, promising to provide scores and then backing out of his promises, setting and then withdrawing conditions, which included the hiring of certain singers.[72] Ziani, who had worked for Faustini quite regularly since 1657 at S. Apollinare, was more difficult personally. He constantly reproached the impresario for esteeming him less than Cesti and Cavalli and paying him poorly. His letters to Faustini are filled with reminders of his own trustworthiness and the record of his past accomplishments.[73] The case of Ca-


188

valli, clearly the most sought-after composer of the day, proved the most disappointing of all. Cavalli was evidently reluctant to sign the contract offered him in 1662, finally agreeing to do so on condition that Faustini accept one rather than the two new operas he had asked for, since he lacked the time to write a second one: "An obstacle has intervened in my affectionate agreement, introduced by Your Lordship and not by me: because you would like two operas, and I, for lack of time, cannot promise them to you, having also some other interests of my own that keep me busy. . . . Rest assured that if time permitted, I would not spare even greater effort" (Appendix IIIA. 3b).[74] Faustini's frustration must have been very great in 1665 when Cavalli, ostensibly too busy to supply another opera for SS. Giovanni e Paolo, moved to S. Salvatore, where he promptly composed two new operas, Mutio Scevola and Pompeo magno , for the seasons of 1665 and 1666.[75]

The need to produce two operas per season and the limited number of experienced librettists available made it natural for an impresario to exploit whatever texts he could get his hands on. In most seasons, Faustini was able to rely on Aureli for one libretto, but he had difficulty finding an author for the other one—Minato was available only once, providing Faustini with Scipione affricano (1664), before he moved over to S. Salvatore with Cavalli. In other seasons Faustini managed to convince a variety of noblemen and a canon to turn author: Counts Zaguri and Nicolò Beregan in 1660 and 1661, respectively, and Dott. Cristoforo Ivanovich in 1663.[76]

Given these conditions, it is no wonder that the legacy of Giovanni Faustini continued to furnish performance materials during the 1660s, though it is surprising that the first Faustini revival, Eritrea in 1661, took place not at SS. Giovanni e Paolo but at S. Salvatore.[77] But Faustini's librettos were now at least


189

ten years old—some of them closer to twenty—and getting more antiquated every day. Not having evolved along with Venetian taste, they could no longer stand quite on their own. The problem was particularly acute because the new generation of librettists who had borrowed Faustini's plot structures and character types had themselves moved on to other things. In the late 1650s and the 1660s, as we have seen, "historical" subjects had become popular again; "invented" romance no longer appealed. Indeed, the Faustini model plot was under attack in at least one quarter already at the end of the 1650s, or so it would seem from the publisher's preface to L'incostanza trionfante overo il Theseo (1658), one of the most problematic operas of the period:

With great pains, the author has avoided introducing into this drama those events that have been and are common to almost all such works. Thus you will see in it neither letters, nor portraits, nor medals, nor princes nor princesses in disguise, nor babies exchanged by nurses, nor other such professed inventions, which, even though they are presented as new and different, are always the same and can certainly no longer give pleasure. You will find instead an uninterrupted series of illusions, intrigues, and artifices that proceed naturally—or politically—and that I hope will not displease you. (Appendix I.52)[78]

More significant than the subject matter and plot devices, however, the poetic structure of librettos had changed considerably during the 1650s, with a tremendous increase in the proportion of aria to recitative verse.[79] It is no wonder, then, that Faustini's works had to be modernized if they were to succeed on stage. Many of Marco Faustini's trials and tribulations at SS. Giovanni e Paolo resulted from his intractability, his stubborn championing of his brother's reputation in the face of new stylistic requirements.

Even the very first of Faustini's librettos to be performed posthumously, Eupatra (1655), had needed editing, although it was only four years old.[80] New comic scenes had replaced scenes with deities—all of which functioned as intermedi—and two arias were added for one of the main characters, Irene. These changes testify to the new taste: the growing importance of comic char-


190

acters, the decline in importance of divinities, the increase in the number of arias. Perhaps in order to enhance their value or credibility, the new arias were explained in a printer's note to the reader as adhering to the late poet's own suggestions (Appendix I. 36d).

A second printer's note informs us that special care had been taken in adding material, since Faustini had so resented having his works tampered with (they were evidently regarded as sacrosanct): "For your enjoyment, printed here are the additions to Eupatra, made by most able individuals, which [additions], however, were always loathed by the author. Nevertheless they have been arranged so that they do not detract at all from the lofty tone of the opera" (Appendix I. 36f).[81]

The problem of modernization was correspondingly greater when Eritrea , a nine-year-old opera, was revived at the Teatro S. Salvatore in 1661. A few added arias and scenes would not suffice. Besides a new prologue, there were changes among the comic characters—a new one was added (Trinano), another was transformed from a young lady to an old nurse (Misena), and a third underwent a name-change (from Lesbo to Florindo)—and a number of comic scenes were inserted. Several arias were added at the ends of scenes, some second strophes of arias were cut, and some strophic arias were replaced by more complex forms. Perhaps more revealing than the additions, however, were the deletions. These involved an enormous amount of recitative, several duets, and two soliloquies for one of the main characters.[82]

The differences between the two versions of Eritrea were so great that a new libretto, "con nuove aggiunte d'incerto autore," was published for the occasion; but in addition Faustini's original libretto was reprinted intact. This was for purposes of comparison, as we learn from a new preface, printed in both librettos.[83]

Here, in spite of time (and she has the glory of defeating it), Eritrea once again sees the light of day. The merit of him who wrote it served as a shield to protect it from the blows of oblivion. Time may indeed have triumphed over the life of the author, but it labored in vain to eclipse the name of one who is restored to life. But because a thousand things have been added and deleted, it was proper to reprint it first in the same form in which it was performed, with great splendor, in this city, and in the form in which the author created it; and afterwards you will have, in the same


191

libretto,[84] the version being performed now, it having pleased the one who was responsible for it to do it this way, in order to satisfy his most kind masters, to whom he feels greatly indebted; so that the original author will not be deprived of his credit, and those who are presenting it now will be satisfied. (Appendix I.35c)[85]

The problems raised by Faustini's plan to produce another of his brother's posthumous librettos, Medea placata , at SS. Giovanni e Paolo in the following year were evidently even more daunting.[86] It appears that no amount of revision was sufficient to make the work viable, for it was withdrawn at the last minute, during rehearsals, for being "unpleasing to the listeners." (We can only guess the reasons for this.) It was replaced by Aureli's and Ziani's Gli scherzi di Fortuna , which received its premiere only about a week later, in late January.[87] This, in turn, was succeeded on 3 February by another collaboration by the same pair, Le fatiche d'Ercole .[88]

The withdrawal of Medea placata in 1662 scarcely resolved Faustini's difficulties; things deteriorated considerably in subsequent seasons. He seems to have faced something of a crisis in 1665 when Cavalli defected, along with Minato, to S. Salvatore.[89] That crisis was intensified by rumors that two dormant theaters, S. Cassiano and S. Moisè, were about to reopen, threatening to drain further the limited supply of librettists, composers, and singers. The two theaters did open, if only briefly, each producing two operas in 1666, swelling the total for that season to eight; and S. Moist produced one more in 1667. Faustini's (probably fruitless) efforts to move the opening day of his 1666 season forward by two weeks, from the traditional St. Stephen's Day (26 December)


192

to the Feast of St. Lucy (14 December), may be seen as an attempt to seize the initiative from his competitors.[90]

Faced with the prospect of intensified competition, the impresario seems to have been even more anxious than usual to exploit his fratrimony. Despite the failure of Medea placata , Marco planned a revival of one of Giovanni's earliest librettos, the more than twenty-year-old Doriclea , for the 1666 season. Perhaps hoping that the effects of age could be minimized by a fresh setting—but also because the original composer, Cavalli, was working for S. Salvatore—he commissioned Ziani to write the music.[91] The composer's reaction to the text, expressed in a letter to the impresario, provides us with a sense of just how much libretto fashions had changed since Giovanni's death:

It seems to me that the opera is a little dry, particularly in the long soliloquies, because it is barren of canzonette . You will see that I have carved out a few more arias [ariette ] than you thought necessary, in order to enliven it as much as possible, but I doubt (if it were not adorned with arias) that you would want to [have it performed?]. You know the modern practice, and such long soliloquies are loathed by everyone, so I advise you ahead of time so that you may decide for the best. I am too troubled first by Beregan's opera, which has enjoyed great success, both because it is new and welcome and because he is highly regarded; and Doriclea (it is indeed very beautiful) but it is an old opera, and its poetry has been heard before, and really I don't think it can compete with Tito. (Appendix IIIA. 5a)

Although Ziani regarded the text as old-fashioned, particularly in comparison to the other opera of that season at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Beregan's Tito , he nevertheless finished his setting in time for the scheduled performance. But for complex reasons having to do with theatrical politics, it was replaced at the last minute, except for the prologue, by Cesti's Orontea .[92] As we read in the anonymous dedication (evidently by Marco) of Orontea , dated 10 January 1666 [1667] (that is, quite close to the premiere):[93] "Having incurred great expense during the past nine months to present to you, magnificently staged, the drama Doriclea—written by the gifted Giovanni Faustini of high repute, and previ-


193

ously performed in this city with great success during 1643 [sic ]—new difficulties have been encountered that have compelled me to postpone this work for a more favorable occasion."[94] The printer was also anxious to be compensated for the expenses he had incurred, for two of the three acts of Doriclea had already been set and printed when the opera was cancelled.[95]

Burned first with Medea placata , then again with Doriclea , Marco should have realized that the Faustini myth had outlived its usefulness; but he did not. Whether he was blinded by fraternal piety or merely desperate for new librettos, the fiasco with Doriclea did not discourage him from scheduling productions of two more of his brother's librettos in 1667: Alciade and Meraspe .[96] These were the two works (besides Eupatra ) that Giovanni had mentioned in his Oristeo preface of 1651 as being nearly ready, and for which he had been awaiting "more propitious occasions and a vaster theater" (Appendix I.33b).

SS. Giovanni e Paolo was certainly vaster than S. Apollinare, but the season of 1666 turned out to be anything but propitious. In a letter of October 1666 to the agent of one of the singers with whom he was negotiating for the following season (and who had apparently insulted him by proposing two other operas, Cesti's Alessandro and Argia ), Faustini finally acknowledged explicitly his sense of responsibility to his brother's memory.

Both operas [Alciade and Meraspe ] are by Sig. Giovanni Faustini of happy memory, my brother, who died in 1651 at the young age of 30 years [sic ], having published and produced 14 operas, all set to music by Signor Cavalli and Signor Ziani, and who was admirable in invention, and from which all these men who have up to now produced operas in this city have stolen the beautiful ideas, which are performed almost every year in the principal musical theaters of Italy; whence Your Illustrious Lordship may judge if I am about to abandon the production of those, which were left by him as favorites and promised in his publications in order to present Argia and Alessandro, operas already produced and seen in Venice; . . . the first, Alciade, was left . . . in all perfection; the second, called Il tiranno humiliato d'Amore, less perfect. It would be indecent to alter its beautiful subject in any part; I had the most illustrious Beregano do the first act,[97] and since he could not continue, I gave the second and third to a most capable individual, who entered very well into the spirit of the [work], and thus the opera will be admirable in every respect. I have been too long-winded in this part, but I shall be forgiven because I am too in-


194

volved in producing the works of a brother of mine, which have been exalted to the highest degree by everyone who has heard them, and for the production of which I took up the theater. (Appendix IIIA. 15)[98]

The preface to Alciade , signed by the printers, Francesco Nicolini and Steffano Curti, contains the fullest elaboration of the myth we have yet encountered, emphasizing all of the traditional points—inventione , the number of works, the untimely death—and includes a complete and chronologically accurate bibliography, attribution of all the musical settings, as well as some critical evaluation of the works, culled, apparently, from previous prefaces of Faustini librettos, especially that of Eupatra :

In his earliest youth, Signor Giovanni Faustini, for his own pleasure, devoted his talent to musical dramatic compositions, in which he proved remarkable, especially for his invention. And, in the course of only nine years (having been carried off too prematurely by death in 1651, his thirty-second year) there were staged in the theaters of this city to great acclaim La virtù de'strali d'Amore, Egisto, Ormindo, Titone, Doriclea, Ersilda, Euripo, Oristeo, Rosinda, Calisto, Eritrea, and after his death also Eupatra, then Elena rapita da Teseo, dressed with the mantle of poetry by a sublime artist [i.e., Minato], all set to music by either Signor Francesco Cavalli, most worthy organist of the Most Serene Republic, or Signor Don Pietro Andrea Zianni, presently chapel master of Her Majesty the Empress; they satisfied not only the taste of this city, especially discerning from having heard so many similar performances, but of many of the other major cities of Italy, in which time after time they were performed to unstinting applause; furthermore, their many and various inventions have served, their origins forgotten, to adorn and enrich other compositions.[99] Three works of this artist still remain: Medea placata, Alciade, and Meraspe, overo il tiranno humiliato d'Amore. This year, at the most noble Grimani theater, first Alciade and then Meraspe will appear, promised by the author in his publications in the year 1651, when he passed to another life. (Appendix I.38a)[100]

It seems that Alciade was finally performed in 1667, sharing the stage with Cesti's and Apolloni's Dori. Meraspe , however, which had needed more revision than Alciade in the first place, according to Faustini (Appendix III.A14), was postponed until the following season.


195

The unsigned preface of Meraspe , dated 12 December 1667, instead of giving final voice to the Faustini myth, acknowledged the strain of upholding it:

The present drama was left unfinished by the late Signor Giovanni Faustini, since he composed only two acts of it, but poor in arias [ariette ], and the greater part in recitative style, as was the custom at that time; whence, to adapt it to modern usage, the efforts of more than one pen were necessary, though without altering the subject at all, since the scenario was completely finished by the author, as was the prologue. In the poetry, however, a few things by the author himself will be mixed in, which were necessary to insert in order to give meaning to the title of the work. (Appendix I.39)[101]

The "other pens," as we have seen, included that of Nicolò Beregan. It is clear that in the end the recitative had not been altered enough, because the singers complained about it. In letters of June 1667 they criticized the "long boring speeches . . . which in Venice need to be avoided" ("gran dicerie. . . che a Venezia bisogna sfuggirle") and "the scenes that are so long that the same characters remain forever on the stage" ("le scene cosï lunghe che li medesimi personaggi stanno sempre in scena").[102]

Although Meraspe finally reached the stage in late 1667, its appearance hardly represented a victory for Marco. In fact, it was the last step before his defeat: the negotiations over the opera marked the impresario's final scene. On 15 December, just a few days after the Meraspe premiere, he signed over all his rights and obligations to Carlo and Vincenzo Grimani, the owners of the theater for whom he had worked.[103] He left operatic life as his brother had left life itself: suddenly, and deeply in debt. Originally his source of inspiration and success, Giovanni's librettos had become a liability that helped to precipitate Marco's downfall.

The very same conditions that had contributed to the flourishing of Marco Faustini's career in the first place ultimately led to his abrupt retirement. When he stepped into the breach to rescue his brother's finances and literary reputation in 1651, Venetian opera had just reached an important milestone: it had achieved the status of a genre in its own right. But it would not stand still. The business of opera had undergone tremendous change since Marco's debut as impresario. What had begun as a relatively small-scale operation had blossomed into a much more complex endeavor. Expenses at the tiny Teatro S. Apollinare had been comparatively low, particularly because of the low rent, and were more than covered by the income from box rental. But, although both S.


196

Cassiano and SS. Giovanni e Paolo were much larger and had more boxes, increasing expenses, particularly for singers' fees, were not as easily recouped by box rental.[104]

The mounting of an operatic spectacle had assumed a degree of complication that Marco Faustini could not have foreseen at the outset of his career. At that time he was, operatically speaking, a rich man, with several librettos in hand, a composer accustomed to their style and tied to him by debts of friendship, and a financially profitable arrangement with the owners of the theater. By 1667, however, his store of librettos was exhausted, his composers were reluctant to commit themselves, and his singers were scattered all over Italy and making contractual demands that he could no longer meet.

In terms of absolute cost, operatic expenses had more than doubled during the period of Faustini's activity. Although we have figures for neither S. Apollinare in 1651 nor SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1667, we can extrapolate from some figures available for other seasons (fig. 24). We know, for example, that in 1669 the total cost of a production at S. Salvatore was 62,966 Venetian lire, nearly twice that of Antioco at S. Cassiano ten years earlier, which in turn was twice that of the second production at S. Cassiano in 1638, where a small company of six, including composer, librettist, and singers, all serving multiple functions, shouldered the entire responsibility of presenting La maga fulminata for 2,000 scudi (or 19,200 Venetian lire).[105]


The business of opera was clearly much more expensive now; but increased cost was not the only consequence of operatic overdevelopment. It affected the very fabric of the art. Most significant, new exigencies, the result of institu-


197

24.
Accounts for Argia  (13 April 1669), Teatro Vendramin at S. Salvatore. 
Venice, Casa Goldoni.

tionalization, altered the relationship among the makers of opera that had characterized the 1640s and 1650s, increasing their independence from one another and creating a new hierarchy, in which, finally, the singer came out on top. The growing separation of the tasks of librettist, composer, scene designer, and performer—a division of labor making possible something like mass production-had a profound effect on the nature of the operatic work.


198

previous chapter
6—La nausea di chi ascolta : The Consequences of Success
next chapter