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


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


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


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]


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


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


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.

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