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


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]


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


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-


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


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-


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


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)


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-


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-


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.


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.


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-


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.


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