Preferred Citation: Rosand, Ellen. Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.


Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice

The Creation of a Genre

Ellen Rosand

Berkeley · Los Angeles · Oxford
© 1990 The Regents of the University of California

For my parents,
Gertrude Fineman and Lester Fineman

Preferred Citation: Rosand, Ellen. Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1991 1991.

For my parents,
Gertrude Fineman and Lester Fineman


This book represents the culmination of research carried out over the past two decades. At every stage of its elephantine gestation, I have benefitted from the encouragement and criticism of friends and colleagues. Nino Pirrotta inspired my earliest attempts to understand opera in Venice and has remained a guiding spirit, a model of passionate and humane scholarship for my work ever since. Over the course of innumerable miles in Riverside Park, and then by post and phone, my erstwhile jogging companion Piero Weiss listened to ideas, read and reread drafts, translated, edited, and bore with me. Joseph Kerman was the first to recognize the book implicit in my disparate studies and ideas on Venetian and operatic topics, and he was also the first to read through the completed manuscript (no footnotes), which he subjected to the full treatment of his characteristic critical, but always responsive, pencil.

As readers for the University of California Press, Lorenzo Bianconi examined the text with a fine-tooth comb, sparing me the embarrassment of countless minor errors and several major ones; Howard Brown, with humor and sympathy, found his share of lacunae and redundancies; and Philip Brett, going well beyond the call of duty, made many excellent stylistic suggestions. I am indebted to Gary Tomlinson for the challenge of his ideas and stimulating queries over the years and for his specific suggestions more recently; to Andrew Porter, who long ago promised me a New Yorker editorial job on the manuscript and kept his word; and to Maria Teresa Muraro, whose friendship, hospitality, encouragement, and access to the Venetian libraries at the other end of an international telephone line were invaluable assets in the completion of my work.

I am grateful, too, to my former student Beth Glixon for making fair copies of the musical examples, to Christian Moevs for a large number of translations, and to my editors at the University of California Press, above all, to Doris Kretschmer for her sustained enthusiasm, to Peter Dreyer for his gentle editorial touch, and to Jane-Ellen Long, who calmly shepherded the manuscript through the final gauntlet of publication.

It is with pleasure that I acknowledge the National Endowment for the Humanities, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Philosophical Society, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and the Rutgers Uni-


versity Research Council for their support of a succession of research trips to Venice, each of which was intended to be the last.

This book could not have been completed without the sustenance, forbearance, and considerable intervention of my family: my sons Jonathan and Eric, who grew up tolerantly—and too fast—in the company of a sibling more demanding than any sister or brother, and their father, my husband David Ro-sand, whose passion for and knowledge of things Venetian nourished mine, and whose professional skill as a writer, editor, artist, and critic and intuition as an opera lover have had their impact on every page of this volume. Finally, I wish to express publicly my immense private gratitude to my parents for having waited patiently and supportively through many difficult years for me to finish this book, and to whom I lovingly, and thankfully, dedicate it.


Editorial Procedure

Editorial intervention has been kept to a minimum. Clefs have been modernized for voice parts only; the original clefs are indicated at the outset of each piece, along with the original key signature and meter, if any. For ease of reading, key signatures have usually been added when they are implied by the sources. Original note values have been maintained. An attempt has been made to regularize the barring. Thus, while pieces are generally barred according to the source, where additional bar-lines are required these are dotted. Changes of meter are provided where maintaining the same meter would produce measures of irregular, inconsistent length. Editorial accidentals as well as notes missing in the sources are enclosed in brackets. All expression and tempo markings are original and are indicated in italics. Figures are generally those in the sources. Occasionally a figure is added in brackets where the harmony might otherwise be ambiguous.

Poetic texts in the musical examples follow those of the manuscript sources; they have not been altered to conform to the texts quoted from the librettos. Punctuation has been clarified, however, and abbreviations have been expanded. In addition, the beginning of each poetic line has been marked by capitalizing its initial letter. In quoting from librettos and manuscript documents, I have chosen to retain the original capitalization and punctuation as well as spelling. Occasionally, however, punctuation and accents have been added to clarify the meaning.





Acta musicologica


Archiv für Musikwissenschaft


Current Musicology


Dizionario biografico degli italiani


Journal of the American Musicological Society


Journal of Musicology


Die Musikforschung


Music and Letters


The Musical Quarterly


Music Review


The Musical Times


Nuova rivista musicale italiana


Rivista italiana di musicologia


Rivista musicale italiana


Storia dell'opera italiana

Library sigla are those used in RISM (Répertoire international des sources musicales ) and listed in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (London, 1980).



Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice rather than "Venetian Opera in the Seventeenth Century": the difference is significant. My concern is with the development of a particular art form in a very particular place. Opera did not originate in Venice, but, as with so many inventions that flourished on the lagoon (printing, for example), what was conceived and born elsewhere found a most nurturing environment in the Most Serene Republic. With the political stability of its oligarchic structure and the economic democracy that sustained it, Venice offered a unique situation for the elaboration of others' inventions. The opening of the Teatro S. Cassiano in 1637 marked the beginning of an important new phase in the history of the young art. What happened to opera in Venice during the seventeenth century was fundamental to the art itself: there and then, opera as we know it assumed its definitive identity—as a mixed theatrical spectacle available to a socially diversified, and paying, audience; a public art.

Born in Florence, and further developed in Rome, opera essentially defined itself as a genre in Venice. There, and only there, three conditions existed that proved crucial for its permanent establishment: regular demand, dependable financial backing, and a broad and predictable audience.

Regularity of demand was guaranteed by the Venetian calendar. Carnival season had been a major tourist attraction in Venice for at least a century. Traditionally hospitable to extravagant entertainments of all kinds, it readily accommodated the latest fashion, music-drama, to display before an audience that was already prepared by the carnival atmosphere to enjoy it.

Dependable financial backing derived from the Venetian sociopolitical structure: competition among patrician families, essentially a self-ennobled merchant class, encouraged investment in theaters as a means of increasing wealth and status. A few powerful families sustained the major expenses of constructing new theaters or adapting old ones for operatic productions. But a broader aristocratic base supported these theaters as annual leaseholders of


boxes. Indeed, a list of such subscribers from any season in any theater offered a who's-who of Venetian society.

The audience for opera, drawn from the carnival crowds that annually swelled the population of the city, was unusually large; it was also unusually diverse. Carnival was a time of masks, social license, the blurring of class distinctions. When foreign tourists took their places in the theaters, they were surrounded by the full spectrum of Venetians, from the patricians in the boxes to the volgo in the stalls. The significance of this varied audience cannot be overestimated. It was responsible for the breadth of opera in Venice and the range of its appeal. It also provided the basis for the celebration of the myth of Venice that formed such a significant aspect of the public message of opera in the Serenissima: the spectacle of opera mirrored the spectacle of miraculous Venice herself.

Nourished by these particular conditions, opera took quick and healthy root on the lagoon: the first historic spectacle at S. Cassiano in 1637, Andromeda , spawned another in 1638, three more in 1639 (in two theaters), five in 1640 and 1641 (in three and four theaters respectively), and as many as seven in 1642.[1] Success begat success. The more they saw of this spectacular new art form, the more audiences wanted, and what they wanted had to be (or seem) new. The need to supply such a steadily expanding and increasingly demanding market placed great pressure on the muses of librettists and composers. They sought to develop procedures that would speed up the creative process, maximizing the appearance of novelty, of brilliant invention, while allowing them, as efficient craftsmen, to draw on their own—and others'—previous works. Their efforts soon resulted in the establishment of a conventional poetic and musical language and a conventional structural core for plots, one that could support a variety of superficial modifications — a change of setting, an extra complication, or some new topical allusions.

This conventional core not only sustained infinite variation in Venice; it was portable elsewhere. Indeed, just this portability was one of its essential features. For even as it offered hospitality to the new art, a permanent home, Venice sent it out again to the rest of Italy and, eventually, Europe. The troupes responsible for the first Venetian performances of opera were traveling companies ema-

[1] The chronology of the first five years is as follows: 1637: Andromeda (S. Cassiano). 1638: La maga fulminata (S. Cassiano). 1639: Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo (S. Cassiano); Delia (SS. Giovanni e Paolo); Armida (SS. Giovanni e Paolo). 1640: Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (S. Cassiano); Adone (SS. Giovanni e Paolo); Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (SS. Giovanni e Paolo); Arianna (S. Moisè); Il pastor regio (S. Moisè). 1641: Didone (S. Cassiano); Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (S. Cassiano or SS. Giovanni e Paolo); Le nozze d'Enea e Lavinia (SS. Giovanni e Paolo); La ninfa avara (S. Moisè); La finta pazza (Novissimo). 1642: La virtù de' strali d'Amore (S. Cassiano); Narciso ed Ecco immortalati (SS. Giovanni e Paolo); Gli amori di Giasone e d'Isifile (SS. Giovanni e Paolo); Sidonio e Dorisbe (S. Moisè); Amore innamorato (S. Moisè); Alcate (Novissimo); Bellerofonte (Novissimo).


nating from Rome—Venice was initially only a stop on their tour. They found a stable base of operation in Venice, but only during Carnival; off season they still earned their livelihood elsewhere, carrying with them the products of the Venetian stage. Elsewhere, however, the product had to be modified to appeal to different audiences and to suit different performing conditions: topical and local Venetian allusions, for example, would hardly be effective in, say, Bologna or Milan, and temporary theaters in such cities often lacked the possibility of sophisticated stage effects available in Venice. The conventional core, however, which comprised the basic features of the genre, could be adapted accordingly.

The chronological coverage of this book is less than the full seventeenth century promised by its title. Rather, it deals with the forty-year span between the opening of the first and last opera houses of the century: S. Cassiano in 1637 and S. Giovanni Grisostomo in 1678. This limitation is not arbitrary. By 1650 all of the important elements of opera had been laid out, and the next two decades were a period of consolidation. The opening of S. Giovanni Grisostomo, however, marked a change in attitude toward the art, the end of what we can now see as the first of the cycles (all of them of about forty years) that were to shape and reshape opera during the course of its subsequent history: an arc moving between the extremes of aesthetic principle and extravagant over-ripeness. The 1680s heralded the beginning of a new cycle: the development of the so-called reform movement that culminated in the enthronement of Metastasio. The opening of S. Giovanni Grisostomo also coincided with a general increase in operatic activity outside Venice, much of it in public theaters, and, consequently, of the definitive establishment of opera as a pan-Italian—indeed, fully European—phenomenon. The developments of the final decades of the seventeenth century thus belong to a new chapter in opera history.

Between 1637 and 1678, in nine different theaters, Venetian audiences saw more than 150 operas. These were the work of some twenty composers and nearly twice that many librettists. Several individuals stand out among them, for different reasons: the composers Claudio Monteverdi and Francesco Cavalli and the librettist Giovanni Faustini, to name the most prominent. Each of them had a shaping influence on the developing genre. But that influence is not always easy to measure. Monteverdi, for instance, was fully recognized as the greatest composer of his time, and his reputation lent enormous aesthetic prestige to the new genre in Venice. He was also an experienced opera composer, and his lessons to his various librettists in the writing of operatic poetry had important consequences for the future. The influence of his musical style, in particular his approach to text-setting, can be traced in the operas of Cavalli as well as those of other composers, such as Giovanni Antonio Boretti and An-


tonio Sartorio. But the impact of his operas themselves is less evident. Il ritorno d'Ulisse and L'incoronazione di Poppea are masterpieces of the genre—the latter is the only opera of the period to enjoy any real place in the twentieth-century repertory—but they were not typical of their time. They represent the culmination of Monteverdi's own development as a madrigalist and interpreter of dramatic poetry, but they did not serve as models for the future: no subsequent opera in Venice quite matches the rich musical elaborations of Ritorno or the mimetic and ethical force of Poppea .

Closer to providing such models were the works produced almost yearly by the collaboration of Cavalli and Faustini over the course of the decade 1640-50. It was essentially through them that opera in Venice assumed its characteristic physiognomy. But these works made their impact more through repetition than as individual aesthetic objects, demonstrating and reinforcing their successful formulas season after season. High as the quality of some of these operas may have been, it was the regular rhythm of their production that was most significant historically—and their replicability.

For the formula assured its own continuation, at once instigating and permitting its adoption and expansion by other librettists and other composers, who devoted their energies to supplying the market. However powerful, the impact of all individuals—Monteverdi, even Cavalli and Faustini—was relative. Their particular contributions were absorbed, swept up by a general tide of accumulating convention. The product that emerged, opera, was in this respect a group effort.

The complexity of the sources of the developing genre is reflected in the shifting focus of this book, which approaches the material from a variety of critical perspectives: from focus on a single individual (Monteverdi in chapters 1 and 9, Giovanni Faustini in chapter 6, and particularly Cavalli in the chapters devoted to the developing conventions), an intellectual movement (the Accademia degli Incogniti in chapter 2), or a theater (the Teatro Novissimo in chapter 3, S. Giovanni Grisostomo in chapter 13) to particular works that embody different stages of the development. La finta pazza (1641) at the beginning, the first operatic hit, exemplifies the confluence of the local and traveling companies (in chapters 3 and 4); Giasone (1649), in the middle, represents a moment of equilibrium in the cycle, a perfectly adjusted meeting of music and drama, the model of the genre to future generations (in chapters 9 and 11); Orfeo (1673), in its highly attractive, explicit way, displays the symptoms of decadence that had been gradually infecting the genre since midcentury (in chapter 13).

Other topics involve broader, more general issues that are critical to the history I am writing: the aesthetic soul-searching involved in trying to define


a bastard genre seeking to combine music and drama (in chapter 2), the emergence of the professional librettist (in chapter 6), the rise of the prima donna (in chapter 8). Most significant of all, and the subject of four full chapters, is the emergence of conventions within the works themselves, the enabling structural units that unified all the individual efforts of composers and librettists. Those conventions are of various kinds and sizes, affecting the several aspects of the works, from the relationship between text and music (in chapter 9) and formal structures for arias (in chapter 10) to dramatic situations suggesting particular musical settings (in chapters 11-12).

The shifting focus of this approach has resulted in a book whose structure might best be described as bipartite (perhaps "rounded binary" would be more accurate). The first eight chapters constitute an A section that is primarily concerned with extramusical issues: the aesthetic definition of opera, the chronology of theater openings and productions, the publication and contents of librettos, the iconography of Venice, and the changing roles of librettist, composer, and singer. The B section (chapters 9-12), attending more precisely to the works themselves, analyzes the development of musical, musico-textual, and musico-dramatic conventions in some detail. And the concluding chapter returns once more to the level of cultural and historical generalization, a final sententia on ripeness and decadence—with implications of eventual renewal.

Although the contributions of most of its individual members were anonymous, and difficult to distinguish from one another, the group responsible for the creation of opera in seventeenth-century Venice left a large body of commentary on what they were doing and why. Their letters, contracts, and libretto prefaces not only provide the documentary basis for our reconstruction of the past, they lend a personal, individual dimension to institutional history. To suggest the vitality of the ambience in which opera developed, I have quoted abundantly from this wealth of contemporary commentary, particularly in the A section of this study. The B section is embedded in a documentary context of another kind: a large number of musical examples, mostly complete pieces, drawn from the full range of works produced during this period. Here, for the first time, composers like Ziani, Boretti, and Sartorio take their place alongside Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Cesti as full participants in the development and confirmation of operatic conventions.

Venetian opera was established as a field for study relatively early in the history of musicology, with important steps taken before the end of the nineteenth century. Chief among the pioneers, most appropriately, was a Venetian, Taddeo Wiel, whose primary research facilitated the early efforts—by several German scholars (Hermann Kretzschmar and Hugo Goldschmidt, then Egon


Wellesz), and a Frenchman (Henry Prunières)—to place the music of Cavalli and Cesti in historical perspective.[2] That perspective was broadened in 1937 by Helmut Christian Wolff's dissertation on the later seventeenth century, which focused on Venetian works by composers other than Cavalli and Cesti. A new era of Venetian studies was initiated in the 1950s, when the burgeoning literature on Monteverdi yielded a significant monograph on the composer's Venetian operas by Anna Amalie Abert. And in that same year, 1954, Simon Towneley Worsthorne published the first substantial monograph on Venetian opera, in which he considered the librettos and staging of the operas as well as their music. The 1950s also saw publication of the first of Nino Pirrotta's and Wolfgang Osthoff's many contributions to the field, which approached the material from a variety of special angles, all of them with profound implications for our understanding of the larger phenomenon of opera in Venice. Both Pirrotta and Osthoff expanded the study of Venetian opera to include its social context, which, they demonstrated, offered significant insight into aspects of the creation, function, and meaning of the art.

The literature continued to grow in the course of the following decades with the publication of documentary studies that focused on the history of the theaters, by Remo Giazotto and Nicola Mangini, and a number of monographic dissertations, articles, and books on various figures and topics: William Holmes and Carl Schmidt on Cesti, Thomas Walker (a dissertation unfinished but nonetheless valuable), Martha Clinkscale, Edward Rutschman, and myself on aspects of Cavalli, and Jane Glover on Cavalli and on the Teatro S. Apollinare and the 1650s. More recent dissertations have continued to expand the field of study: Peter Jeffery on the manuscripts in the Contarini Collection, Beth Glixon on recitative, and Harris Saunders on the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo. These recent contributions have clarified our understanding of the role of individual figures and institutions in the history of opera in Venice. At the same time there have been important advances in the definition of the repertory itself. Claudio Sartori's libretto census, in particular, has finally made it possible to clarify the chronology of operatic activity in Venice, and to measure it against that of other centers.

In the past decade or so, however, the most important work in the field has been in the realm of social history. In a series of major publications Lorenzo Bianconi, Giovanni Morelli, and Thomas Walker have enriched and refined our view of these operas by uncovering the social and political matrices in which they were formed, the external forces that helped to shape the works of art; and their interpretations have been based upon the richest foundation of primary

[2] For the specific publications of these scholars, and those mentioned in the following paragraphs, see Bibliography.


documentation. My debt to these scholars—and to their students in Italy—can be read in the frequency with which they are cited in the footnotes to the following pages.

Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice builds on this previous scholarship. Although it aims to survey the entire field, from a variety of perspectives, its particular agenda is signaled by its subtitle: The Creation of a Genre . Its thesis, as already suggested, is that opera received its most lasting theoretical, as well as practical, definition in the public theaters of seicento Venice. I have used the words of the librettists themselves, and the message they convey through their often jocular, ironic, and defensive tone, as indications of contemporary attitudes toward the phenomenon of opera. And I consider their words a critical framework for discussion of the repertory. This has been done for the Arcadians who followed, and for the Florentines who preceded, but never for the seventeenth-century Venetians, precisely because their voices were never taken seriously. What they offer, in fact, is nothing less than an aesthetics of opera, as relevant today as it was then.

Just as their theoretical discussions can be applied to opera in general, so the practical realization of their ideas, the conventions they developed, continued to shape the operas with which we are most familiar. Modern opera-goers will recognize in those conventions the roots of favorite scenes: Cherubino's song, Tatiana's letter, Lucia's mad scene, Ulrica's invocation, even Tristan and Iseult's love duet, all trace their lineage back to seventeenth-century Venice. There, too, is the beginning of another phenomenon that modern opera-goers will recognize: the hedonistic contract between audience and singers, and its first concrete manifestation, in the da capo aria.

One reason that modern audiences may initially fail to appreciate the relationship of these conventions to their own experience is that they were created with disarmingly simple materials. Although the techniques of baroque scenographic spectacle were far from simple—in fact they have hardly been equaled since—the musical means of seventeenth-century opera were comparatively limited; the orchestra was small, the chorus virtually nonexistent. Voices were for the most part accompanied by continuo instruments; arias were short, ensembles few and far between. The forces, in other words, were not overwhelming. But the creators of these operas exploited their resources fully and subtly. Contrast, though on a comparatively small scale, was of the utmost importance: between speech and song, vocal and instrumental sound, string and continuo accompaniment, high and low voices, and between serious and comic moments. A couple of chords on the harpsichord might thus have been sufficient to create the impression of a fierce battle (Il ritorno d'Ulisse ), three soloists singing together the effect of a chorus of followers (L'incoronazione di


Poppea ), and a single juxtaposition of two unrelated tonal realms a fundamental conflict of personalities (Seneca and Nerone in Poppea ).

Given a chance to speak for themselves, to instruct us in their ways, seventeenth-century operas appear less archaic, less distant than, until recently, we have been led to believe. Not only were they made of the conventional units that have continued to shape opera to our own time, but they appealed to audiences in ways that remain essential to operatic experience. Their plots, however apparently exotic and gratuitously intricate, confronted fundamental realities, universal human passions—love, jealousy, ambition. They dealt with social issues and moral dilemmas—honor, fidelity, deception. Self-conscious from the beginning, the art that combined drama and music continued to make the most of its inherent implausibility by testing it constantly against a standard of verisimilitude. Even as it created depths of mimetic chiaroscuro, drawing an audience into the reality of its fictional pathos, it inevitably found moments in which to reinvoke disbelief: the singer directly addressing the audience, the text directly addressing the art, the topical allusion to life outside the theater. Perhaps the most obvious legacy of Venetian opera to modern practice is the phenomenon of the prima donna, the star singer who comes to outshine all else, who makes of the composer's art a vehicle for herself. But that perversion of original values, too, was part of the very vitality of the art, part of its dynamic rapport with its audience.

In witnessing the development of opera on the Venetian stage, we recognize an art we already know. Opera in seventeenth-century Venice is the art of opera itself.


Far recitare un'opera a Venezia :
Origins and Sources

This night, having . . . taken our places before, we went to the Opera where comedies and other plays are represented in recitative music by the most excellent musicians vocal and instrumental, with a variety of scenes painted and contrived with no less art of perspective, and machines for flying in the aire, and other wonderful motions; taken together it is one of the most magnificent and expensive diversions the wit of men can invent. . . . This held us by the eyes and ears till two in the morning.
John Evelyn, Diary

The experience that so delighted the English visitor to Venice in 1645—and for which he purchased tickets in advance—was a type of entertainment that had been established in that city for only eight seasons, since 1637: public commercial opera.[1] The history of its origins in Venice is the story of the beginning of the art as we still know it.

Opera is a mixed theatrical genre, a combination of drama, music, and scenic spectacle, and the balance of those constituent elements has always been a source of its vitality. That same balance is also the source of its problems as an art, raising aesthetic dilemmas that have challenged every generation since its creation. Nevertheless, whatever its uneasy sense of itself as a genre, opera has survived because it is essentially a popular art, because it has managed for nearly four centuries to pack houses, to marshal all its contributing forces to entertain audiences from a broad range of society. With all its expensive magnificence, its fantastic illusion of sound and sight, its glitter of talent and temperament, opera is public spectacle.

Opera has been spectacular from its beginning—but it has not always been public. The birthdate of opera is traditionally set at about 1600, its birthplace Florence. But the art that was created in Florence at the turn of the seventeenth century is in many ways unlike the sung drama we have come to recognize as

[1] Memoires of John Evelyn , ed. W. Bray (London, 1819), 1: 191. The opera was Ercole in Lidia (Bisaccioni / Rovetta), performed in 1645; according to Evelyn, the performance took place during Ascension week. But see ch. 3, n. 101 below.


opera. Indeed, in many respects the earliest operas—from Mantua and Rome as well as Florence—were more closely linked to the past than to the future. They manifest a closer kinship with such theatrical predecessors as humanist plays with music or the intermedi of the sixteenth-century courts than with the subsequent development of the genre. What we regard as opera was fundamentally an urban development, created with the tastes of a large, cosmopolitan, and varied audience in mind.[2]

The first operas, Dafne, Euridice, Orfeo, Arianna , like the intermedi before them, were courtly entertainments; the earliest of them, Dafne , even shared its subject matter and poet with an intermedio of 1589.[3] They were commissioned and created to celebrate specific political or social occasions, and were performed before an invited patrician audience. Productions enjoyed the relatively unrestricted budget of aristocratic patronage, and the music and poetry were subject only to the patrons' taste and the exigencies and decorum of the occasion.[4] The collaborators in these productions—poets, composers, scene and costume designers—were essentially servants of the court, and their works were conceived as celebration. Verbally and visually, iconographic conceit and allegorical allusion extolled a ruling dynasty—Medici, Gonzaga, or Barberini— besides marking the specific occasion.[5] The splendor and lavishness of the productions reflected further glory on the ruler, brightening his image at home and abroad.

Usually these works were produced only once, though court chroniclers were charged with preserving them for posterity through detailed descriptions that appeared in print. We learn a great deal about Peri's Euridice and Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo from the account by Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger, a Medici courtier who was a poet and dramatist in his own right as well as the first editor of his famous grand-uncle's poetry.[6] And Monteverdi's Arianna is brought to life through the chronicle of the Mantuan court reporter

[2] See Lorenzo Bianconi's eloquent treatment of the distinction between courtly and public opera in Il seicento (1982), translated as Music in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, 1987), 163-66. All citations are to the English edition.

[3] The third of the five intermedi for La pellegrina celebrated Apollo's victory over the serpent Python. The text was by Ottavio Rinuccini: librettist not only of Dafne but of Euridice and Arianna as well. The relationship between the two treatments of Apollo's victory is discussed in Barbara Russano Hanning, "Glorious Apollo: Poetic and Political Themes in the First Opera," Renaissance Quarterly 32 (1979): 485-513. On these intermedi in general, see Nino Pirrotta and Elena Povoledo, Li due Orfei (1969, 1975), translated as Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverd (Cambridge, 1982), 212-36. All citations are to the English edition.

[4] Although Orfeo (Striggio/Monteverdi) was not written for a specific political occasion, but as a carnival performance under the auspices of a Mantuan academy, it shares most of the distinctive features of the other works.

[5] For Medici iconography in the first Florentine operas, see Hanning, "Glorious Apollo."

[6] Descrizione delle felicissime Nozze della Cristianissima Maesta di Madama Maria Medici Regina di Francia e di Navarra (Florence: Marescotti, 1600), partly transcribed in Angelo Solerti, Gli albori del melodramma (Milan, Palermo, and Naples, 1904), 2: 113. See L. Rossi, "Michelangelo Buonarroti, il Giovane," DBI 15 (Rome, 1972): 178-81.


Federico Follino.[7] The early Florentine and Mantuan operas find analogues in Barberini Rome, where for more than a decade operatic entertainments enhanced the image of the papal court. They also find an echo later in the Paris of Louis XIV, where each one of Lully's and Quinault's tragédies lyriques began and ended with an encomium to le roi soleil .

This kind of opera, "performed in the palaces of great princes and other secular or ecclesiastic lords" ("fatta ne' palazzi de' principi grandi, e d'altri signori secolari o ecclesiastici"), was the first and most praiseworthy of the three categories of musical spectacle distinguished by the Jesuit Giovan Domenico Ottonelli in his moralizing treatise Della Cristiana moderatione del teatro (1652).[8] This category he labeled the princely. The second category, the academic , linked to the first and of nearly equal status, was the kind "put on sometimes by certain gentlemen or talented citizens or learned academicians" ("che rappresentano tal volta alcuni gentiluomini o cittadini virtuosi o accademici eruditi").

Opera in Venice, however, was of an entirely different order. Ottonelli called it "mercenaria." Musically and conceptually, of course, this "mercenary" opera was indebted to the earlier models produced at Florence, Mantua, and Rome. The idea of wholly sung drama would have been unthinkable without the first experiments of Rinuccini, Peri, and Caccini. Nevertheless, opera in Venice was more profoundly affected by other factors. Above all, it responded to the unique sociopolitical structure of the Republic and its distinctive urban fabric. Opera as we know it, as an art appealing to a broad audience, had its origins in this special environment. Venice nurtured opera's development in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Venetian Foundations

The Most Serene Republic of St. Mark had long enjoyed a distinctive reputation as a haven of freedom and stability, a state with its own special position in the world and in history. What modern historians have come to know as the "myth of Venice" played a role not only in preparing the ground for the establishment and subsequent flourishing of opera there, but also in the actual substance and message of what was mounted on stage.

[7] Compendio delle sontuose feste fatte l'anno MDCVIII nella città di Mantova (Mantua: Osanna, 1608); see Solerti, Gli albori , 2: 145-46. Orfeo , not being politically inspired, was not accompanied by such a description.

[8] The topic is treated in book 4, n. 3 of Ottonelli's treatise: "Delle commedie cantate a nostro tempo, e di quante sorti, e di che qualità si rappresentino." The relevant passages, as cited in Ferdinando Taviani, La commedia dell'arte e la società barocca: La fascinazione del teatro (Rome, 1969), 509-13, are given in Appendix II.3 below. See also Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza' alla 'Veramonda': Storie di Febiarmonici," RIM 10 (1975): 406-10.


Unique among the Italian states, Venice could not boast a Roman foundation. Rather, it owed its origins, as a haven for those fleeing the invading barbarians, to the fall of the Roman empire. Claiming to have been founded on the day of the Annunciation, 25 March 421 (according to the dominant legend), Venice promulgated itself as the first republic of the new Christian era, and therefore as the only legitimate successor to fallen pagan Rome. The greatness of the Venetian state was to be seen in its longevity and its political continuity; by the seventeenth century it had already lasted longer than ancient Rome. On a more practical level, the famed stability of Venice was said to depend on two special factors: its site and its constitution. The governmental structure of the Republic was celebrated for being a regimen temperature , a perfectly balanced state. Venice, according to its own myth, had realized the classical ideal of mixed government. The Doge represented the monarchical component, the Senate the aristocratic, and the Maggior Consiglio the democratic. As a constitutional oligarchy, Venice concentrated political power in a relatively restricted patriciate; within the nobility, however, that power was distributed in a way that precluded any individual or clan from assuming an undue share. This harmony of power was the prerogative of perhaps 2 percent of the population. That the disenfranchised majority seemed content, that patrician Venice suffered no serious internal dissension, appeared only to confirm its privileged state of grace. And that sanctified state was further manifest in the very image of this splendid city, founded miraculously upon the waters; unwalled, yet unconquered for more than a millennium. The physical city itself stood as proof of its uniqueness.[9]

The Venetian ruling class, although restricted and hereditary, was actually more open than that of other states. It comprised a large number of families of equal rank—equal in theory, that is, if not in practice. What especially distinguished the Venetian nobility was its active and privileged involvement in commerce. The ruling patrician was also a merchant of Venice, and his economic enterprise extended beyond investments in trade and banking to include all the arts—and so, eventually, opera. The Tron, Vendramin, Grimani, Giustiniani, and Contarini were among the leading families of the Venetian patriciate, and they were the most important backers of opera in Venice. Beyond the obvious desire to enhance family prestige, their interest in the art was largely commercial; they invested in opera houses primarily for financial gain, and the

[9] For literature on the myth of Venice, see Ellen Rosand, "Music in the Myth of Venice," Renaissance Quarterly 30 (1977): 511-37, n. 1; and, more recently, David Rosand," 'Venetia figurata': The Iconography of a Myth," in Interpretazioni veneziane: Studi di storia dell'arte in onore di Michelangelo Muraro , ed. David Rosand (Venice, 1984), 177-96, and James S. Grubb, "When Myths Lose Power: Four Decades of Venetian Historiography," Journal of Modern History 58 (1986): 43-94.


profit motive could not help but affect the product. Expenditures were carefully limited, imposing strictures on librettists, composers, and scene designers. The spectacle of the courts could hardly be indulged. In Venice, opera was a business.[10]

Venice had its own traditions of elaborate public pageantry, its own expanding calendar of annual politico-religious festivals: the Marriage to the Sea celebrated on Ascension Day, victory at Lepanto on the Feast of Sta. Giustina, and the Feast of St. Mark, to name only a few. It celebrated special occasions as well, its ducal coronations and royal visits. And all of these celebrations involved elaborate entertainments featuring music, spectacle, processions, and theatrical presentations.[11] But opera did not emerge in Venice from such a background of occasional or ceremonial spectacle; it had different progenitors. Its roots were, and remained, in the carnival season, with its established tradition of theatrical performances by troupes of itinerant players, performances for which tickets were sold.[12] These activities became especially intense after the crisis of the Interdict (1605-7), when, with the expulsion of the Jesuits from Venice, the comici , who had been excluded by them, returned to the city with impunity.[13]

Crossroads of east and west, Venice was a port city characterized by a lively cosmopolitan and even exotic atmosphere. Its carnival celebrations earned in-

[10] For three contrasting models of opera patronage in the seventeenth century, in Rome, Venice, and Reggio Emilia, see Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker, "Production, Consumption, and Political Function of Seventeenth-Century Opera," Early Music History 4 (1984): 209-96.

[11] Perhaps no series of events could match those mounted by the Serenissima in honor of the visit of Henry III in 1574. For a documentary history of that visit, see Pier de Nolhac and Angelo Solerti, Il viaggio in Italia di Enrico III re di Francia e le feste a Venezia, Ferrara, Mantova e Torino (Turin, 1890); also Angelo Solerti, "Le rappresentazioni musicali di Venezia dal 1571 al 1605," RMI 9 (1902): 554-58; and Margaret Gilmore, "Monteverdi and Dramatic Music in Venice, 1595-1637" (MS).

[12] A vivid picture of the flourishing theatrical life of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Venice is provided by Maria Teresa Muraro, "La festa a Venezia e le sue manifestazioni rappresentative: Le compagnie della Calza e le momarie ," in Storia della cultura veneta dal primo quattrocento al concilio di Trento , 3.3 (Vicenza, 1983): 315-42; see also Elena Povoledo, "Scène et mise en scène à Venise: De la décadence des compagnies de la Calza jusqu'à la représentation de L'Andromeda au Théâtre de San Cassian (1637)," in Renaissance, Maniérisme, Baroque , Actes du XI Stage International de Tours (Paris, 1972), 87-99. For a concise discussion of the traditional Venetian carnival activities, see Edward Muir, Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice (Princeton, 1981), 156-81; and, more recently, with emphasis on its sociological implications, Peter Burke, The Historical Anthropology of Early Modern Italy (Cambridge, 1987), ch. 13, "The Carnival of Venice."

[13] The return in full force of the comedy troupes in 1607, just after the Interdict, is documented in the diary of Gerolamo Priuli, who reports the presence of three different companies of actors at the same time (quoted in Nicola Mangini, I teatri di Venezia [Milan, 1974], 34). See also Mangini's discussion of the relationship of the comici and teatri stabili , 33-35; and Pompeo Molmenti, "Venezia alla metà del secolo XVII descritta da due contemporanei," in Curiosità di storia veneziana (Bologna, 1920), 313, 317. By the late 1620s the actors were performing at the same theaters that would soon host operatic entertainments: S. Cassiano, S. Moisè, S. Salvatore, and SS. Giovanni e Paolo. See Elena Povoledo, "Una rappresentazione accademica a Venezia nel 1634," in Studi sul teatro veneto fra rinascimento ed età barocca, ed . Maria Teresa Muraro (Florence, 1971), 119-69; also Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , ch. 2. "Il seicento."


ternational renown and made the city, long a necessary stop for travelers, a special attraction for tourists. The population of the city, which hovered around 50,000 during most of the seventeenth century, swelled to nearly twice that number each year for the approximately six to ten weeks of Carnival (from 26 December, the Feast of St. Stephen, to Shrove Tuesday).[14] That season of liberation, of the dropping of social barriers and distinctions, was celebrated by fireworks, ballets, masquerades, bull chases, fights. Much of the excitement was provided by the dramatic entertainments performed throughout the city, indoors and out, by resident groups as well as visitors, bands of comici dell'arte who arrived in Venice in time for Carnival and dispersed when it was over. Just such a group, a traveling company of musicians, headed by Benedetto Ferrari and Francesco Manelli, brought opera to the lagoon for the first time. It was during the carnival season of 1637 that opera in Venice began.

Almost exactly the same company had appeared in Padua the previous year. It returned to Venice in subsequent seasons, along with other similarly constituted groups inspired by its success.[15] These groups were responsible for producing operas of Ottonelli's third and least respectable category, for which the Jesuit reserved most of his admonitory passion: "the mercenary and dramatic musical representations, that is, the ones performed by those mercenary musicians who are professional actors, and who, organized in a company, are directed and governed by one of their own, acting as authority and head of the others" (Appendix II.3b).

Such traveling companies soon yielded to more permanent, locally based troupes and a more stable structure as the impact of the new entertainment made itself felt and began to be exploited by Venetian entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, many of the distinctive qualities of the first operas in Venice, those produced by Ferrari's company, survived. Since opera remained confined to carnival season, its potential audience remained essentially the same: a heterogeneous mix of patricians and cittadini , tourists and travelers, Venetians and foreigners, all of whom paid for the privilege of being entertained.[16]

[14] On the fluctuating population of Venice, see R. T. Rapp, Industry and Economic Decline in Seventeenth-Century Venice (Cambridge, Mass., 1976), 176-77.

[15] Such traveling opera companies, most of them from Rome or trained there, had appeared elsewhere in Italy before 1636. See Nino Pirrotta, "Commedia dell'Arte and Opera," in Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque , henceforth cited as Essays (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), 353-54; and id., "Tre capitoli su Cesti," in La scuola romana (Siena, 1953), 28-34; also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 395-405.

[16] Although diverse social classes were represented in the audience, the proportion of seats reserved for gondoliers and courtesans has probably been exaggerated; see Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 184. Lower-class opera-goers may have been irrelevant for the economic structure of the theater, as Bianconi claims, but, as I argue below, they had an impact on the aesthetic character of the works that were performed.


Commercial success was of primary concern, and that could be achieved only by creating works with broad audience appeal. Opera in Venice was distinguished from that in Florence and other courts of Italy by the nature of its audience and by its socioeconomic base. Public approbation was important not only to the financial backers; it affected composers, librettists, and scenographers as well. These were independent professionals, who were themselves often involved financially as well as artistically in their own productions. The aim was to turn a profit. The success of an opera depended on its appealing to a large and varied audience; it had to play for a season, to keep the house filled night after night.

Although initiatives of the private sector, the opera houses, like every other Venetian institution, were regulated by the government. An enterprise as public as the theater, attracting crowds of forestieri as well as Venetians, obviously required responsible scrutiny. Regulation involved various magistracies, including the Provveditori di comune and, more gravely, the Council of Ten; it was designed to ensure the well-being of the public as well as of the state as a whole. Theater buildings were regularly inspected for safety hazards and had to be licensed each season before productions could even be advertised. Opening and closing times, and even the price of librettos sold at the door, were established by government decree.[17]

Monteverdi in the Wings

The Venetian experiment of Ferrari and Manelli took immediate root. Their return with a new production the following season affirmed and confirmed the existence of opera in Venice as a seasonal occurrence. Ferrari and Manelli were not, however, the first composers of opera to reach Venice, though they may have been the first to bring opera to the Venetian stage. Claudio Monteverdi, undoubtedly the most celebrated opera composer of his day, had been living in Venice since 1613, when he assumed the position of maestro di cappella at San Marco (fig. 1). Monteverdi was the composer of numerous theatrical entertainments in addition to the two famous Mantuan operas Orfeo and Arianna of 1607-8. Most recently his "favola pastorale," Proserpina rapita , had been performed in Venice, in the Palazzo Mocenigo, in 1630. Yet the seventy-year-old composer remained aloof from the new operatic activities. Perhaps it would have been unseemly for the maestro di cappella to express overt interest in the public theater;[18] possibly, too, his advanced age discouraged him from under-

[17] See Cristoforo Ivanovich, Minerva al tavolino (Venice: Pezzana, 1681), 405-7 (Appendix II.6s).

[18] The same factor probably restrained his San Marco colleague, Giovanni Battista Rovettino, from participating in opera. For Monteverdi's reluctance, see Nino Pirrotta, "Early Venetian Libretti at Los Angeles," Essays , 321-22.



Giovanni Battista Marinoni,  Fiori poetici raccolti nel funerale del molto 
illustre e molto reverendo Signor Claudio Monteverde
(Venice, 1644), title page.

taking so large-scale a project as an opera. Whatever the cause, his silence is remarkable not only to us. It was noticed by several of his contemporaries. One of them, probably in late 1637 or 1638, commented expectantly that Monteverdi might surprise everyone and produce an opera for Venice after all: "God willing, one of these nights he too will step onto the stage, where everyone else


is about to appear, with the production of a musical drama," to which the appreciative response was: "Even if he doesn't actually appear, he'll be there in spirit, since he was so powerfully behind the whole business."[19] Clearly Monteverdi's participation was expected; and it was missed. In 1640 the librettist Giacomo Badoaro claimed to have written the text of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria for the express purpose of encouraging his friend Monteverdi to enter the operatic arena:

From the author to the Most Illustrious and Reverend Signor Claudio Monteverdi, Great Master of Music. Not to compete with those inspired minds, which in these very years have published their compositions in the Venetian theaters, but to stimulate the virtue of Your Excellence to make known to this city that in the warmth of the affections there is a great difference between a true sun and a painted one, I dedicated myself, as a matter of principle, to compose Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria . (Appendix I. 7a)

It was not until 1640, then, after three seasons of observing the operatic activities of younger musicians from the sidelines, that Monteverdi finally—and, it would seem, still reluctantly—made his move. He first revived an old opera, Arianna , which ostensibly required little of his time or energy. Then he produced a new one, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria , which obviously must have required a great deal of both.[20]

Although Arianna was one of Monteverdi's favorite works,[21] reviving it in Venice, thirty years after its creation, would seem to have been an unlikely, even unworkable, enterprise. The conditions of opera production, not to mention the aesthetics of opera and Monteverdi's own style, had changed radically. To be sure, some revisions were made in the work, apparently to suit new, Venetian conditions. These included the cutting of many of the choruses and the alteration of some passages specifically linked to the original performance in Mantua, as well as elimination of the designation tragedia from the title

[19] "Dio voglia non se avanzi anco sopra delle scene dove tutti li altri sono per capitare una di queste sere con una Comica, et musicale rappresentatione." "Se non vi sarà in atto vi potrà essere in potenza perche haverà consigliato forte il tutto" ("Satire, et altre raccolte per l'Academia de gl'Unisoni in casa di Giulio Strozzi," I-Vnm, It. X, 115 [7193], fifth satire, f. 61 ; quoted in Ellen Rosand, "Barbara Strozzi, virtuosissima cantatrice : The Composer's Voice," JAMS 31 [1978]: 251 n. 34).

[20] Two librettos of Arianna were printed in Venice, one in 1639, the other in 1640. The earlier, L'Arianna: Tragedia del Signor Ottavio Rinuccini . . . rappresentata in musica (Venice: Salvadori, 1639), appeared without the composer's name—and very possibly, therefore, without his approval. It surely did not correspond to a Venetian performance, but merely reprinted the original text of 1608 verbatim. The 1640 libretto, however, L'Arianna del Sig. Ottavio Rinuccini, posta in musica dal Sig. Claudio Monteverdi, rappresentata in Venetia l'anno 1640 (Venice: Bariletti, 1640), clearly corresponded to a performance in that year. Monteverdi had already expressed a desire to alter Arianna for a performance in Mantua in 1620, which apparently never took place (cf. letters of 17, 21, and 28 March 1620 in Claudio Monteverdi: Lettere, dediche, e prefazioni , ed. Domenico de' Paoli [Rome, 1973]).

[21] See Gary Tomlinson, "Madrigal, Monody, and Monteverdi's via naturale alla immitatione," JAMS 34 (1981): 86-96.


page.[22] Despite such adaptive changes, the opera remained very different in tone, structure, and content from any of its contemporaries on the Venetian stage. Clearly, however, Monteverdi's reputation must have been more than sufficient to compensate for the inevitable stylistic incongruities.[23] The dedication of the libretto to one Bortolo Stacio, signed by the printer, gives some sense of the composer's exalted status:

Now that Arianna, the most praised of dramatic compositions in Italian theaters, returns to the stage in Venice, the work of Signor Claudio Monteverdi, most celebrated Apollo of the century and the highest intelligence of the heaven of harmony, I take the occasion to no longer keep my [respect] hidden from you, but, by offering it in the name of Your Excellency, to manifest [that respect] to the world by means of its new reprinting. (Appendix I.6a)

And this is reinforced by Benedetto Ferrari's oft-mentioned sonnet of homage to the older master, whom he addressed as "l'Oracolo della musica" (Appendix I.6b).

Arianna was a monument to Monteverdi's past glory; Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria boldly affirmed his present powers. Any hesitation on the composer's part must have been dispelled by the success of the new work, which ran for ten performances in Venice and was produced in Bologna as well,[24] for he wrote two more operas before his death in 1643. Le nozze d'Enea e Lavinia was produced in the 1640-41 season and L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1642-43.[25] Three new operas in four years: an amazing creative spurt for a 75-year-old composer whose operatic career had long seemed finished.

The radical differences between these late works of Monteverdi and his first opera, Orfeo , have been noted by every student of the subject.[26] The evolution

[22] The choruses are placed between virgolette (inverted commas), the standard means of indicating textual cuts in performance. The prologue, originally addressed to Carlo Emmanuele of Savoy, was revised and addressed to the Venetian doge. See Nino Pirrotta, "Early Venetian Libretti," Essays , 320-21. The differences between the two librettos are briefly mentioned in Domenico de' Paoli, Claudio Monteverdi (Milan, 1979), 455-56.

[23] Despite its anachronistic appearance, Pirrotta regards Arianna as having encouraged a new interest in classicizing themes among Venetian operas ("Monteverdi and the Problems of Opera," Essays , 251).

[24] Pirrotta (ibid.) claimed that the Bologna performance of Il ritorno d'Ulisse was its premiere, another indication of Monteverdi's initial reluctance to participate in Venetian operatic life; but this was convincingly disputed by Wolfgang Osthoff ("Zur Bologneser Aufführung yon Monteverdis 'Ritorno di Ulisse' im Jahre 1640," in Mitteilungen der Kommission far Musikforschung [Vienna, 1958], 155-60). Osthoff's source for his dating of the Bologna performance, Le glorie della musica celebrate dalla sorella poesia, rappresentandosi in Bologna la Delia, e l'Ulisse nel teatro de gl'Illustriss. Guastavillani (Bologna: Ferroni, 1640), identifies some of the performers: Madalena Manelli played the role of Minerva (and Venere in Delia ), while Giulia Paolelli was Penelope (and Delia). On the dating of Ritorno , see ch. 3, no. 36, below.

[25] The title Le nozze d'Enea in Lavinia is given in the only printed document for the performance of the work, the Argomento e scenario (1640); I have adopted the more conventional form of the title from some of the manuscript librettos.

[26] Those differences prompted Nino Pirrotta to propose, for an essay attempting to explain or account for them, the whimsical title "Opera from Monteverdi to Monteverdi" ("Monteverdi and the Problems of Opera," Essays , 248).


of Monteverdi's own style would be enough to account for the major differences between the works. But, although Orfeo and Poppea do indeed exemplify two important points in his development, they also serve to illustrate vividly the distinctions between court and public opera. These distinctions can be brought into relief by a comparison of the surviving sources.

Orfeo and Poppea

The score of Orfeo , like those of its operatic predecessors in Florence and most of its successors in Rome, was published, although not until two years after the work was performed.[27] Dedicated by the composer to the patron of the Mantuan production, the publication was commemorative, its purpose to preserve the event for posterity.

The fable of Orpheus, which has already been represented in music under the auspices of your Highness on a small stage at the Accademia degli Invaghiti, now having to appear in the great theater of the universe to show itself to all men, there is no reason that it should allow itself to be associated with any other name than that of Your Glorious and Fortunate Highness. To you therefore I humbly consecrate it, so that you, who as a benign star were propitious at its birth, with the most serene rays of your grace, will deign to favor the progress of its life.[28]

Indeed, the edition, using the past tense, records a number of details of the original performance, particularly regarding specifics of orchestration, not fully indicated in the music itself. For example, a song at the beginning of act 1 "fu concertato al suono de tutti gli stromenti" ("was accompanied by the sound of all the instruments") and a ballet shortly thereafter "fu cantato al suono di cinque Viole da braccio" ("was sung to the sound of five viole da braccio").[29] There are even occasional references to staging, such as this near the beginning of act 2: "Questo ritornello fu sonato di dentro da un Clavicembano [sic ], duoi Chitaroni, & duoi Violini piccioli alla Francese" ("This ritornello was played from within by a clavicembalo, two chitaroni, and two small French violins").[30] And, at the beginning of act 5: "Duoi Organi di legno, & duoi

[27] L'Orfeo: Favola in Musica da Claudio Monteverdi Rappresentata in Mantova l'Anno 1607. & novamente data in luce. Al Serenissimo Signor D. Francesco Gonzaga, Principe di Mantova, e di Monferrato, . . . In Venetia appresso Ricciardo Amadino. MDCIX (facsimile published by Adolf Sandberger, Augsburg: Benno Filzer, 1927; henceforth cited as Orfeo ). Atypically, the score was reprinted in 1615 (facsimile published by Denis Stevens, Westmead, Farnsborough, Hants, England: Gregg International Publishers, 1972).

[28] "La favola d'Orfeo, che già nell'Academia de gl'Invaghiti sotto gl'auspitij di V.A. fu sopra angusta Scena musicalmente rappresentata, dovendo hora comparire nel gran Teatro dell'universo a far mostra di se a tutti gl'huomini, non è ragione che si lasci vedere con altro nome signata, che con quello dell'Altezza V. glorioso, & felice, A lei dunque humilmente la consacro, affinch'ella che a guisa di benigna stella le fu propitia nel suo nascimento, con i Serenissimi raggi della gratia sua, si degni di favorir il progresso della sua vita" (Orfeo , composer's preface).

[29] Orfeo , 8, 10.

[30] Orfeo , 27.


Chitaroni concertorno questo Canto sonando l'uno nel angolo sinistro de la Sena, l'altro nel destro" ("Two wooden organs and two chitaroni accompanied this song, one of them playing in the left corner of the stage, the other in the right corner").[31] But several directions are given in the present tense, suggesting that the purpose of the print may have been somewhat broader: to serve not only as a historical document but as a practical one as well, a kind of generic score providing the basis for future performances.[32] In fact, the score offers several choices, such as that for the opening toccata "che si suona avanti il levar da la tela tre volte con tutti li stromenti, & si faun tuono piu alto volendo sonar le trombe con le sordine" ("which is played three times with all the instruments before the curtain rises, and if one wishes to use muted trumpets, this piece should be played a tone higher").[33] Perhaps the most striking, most curious choice is offered for Orfeo's central number, "Possente spirto," where the singer is directed to perform only one of the two lines, the first unadorned, the second a highly elaborated version of the first: "Orfeo al suono del Organo di legno, & un Chitarone, canta una sola de le due parti" ("Orfeo, to the sound of the wood organ and a chitarone, sings only one of the two parts") (fig. 2).[34]

The libretto of Orfeo was also printed, two years earlier, presumably shortly before the first performance of the opera.[35] It matches the printed score quite closely, with the single major exception of the ending; the score alters the original myth so that the opera ends happily.[36] Although published by the ducal

[31] Orfeo , 89.

[32] However, we have no reliable records of later performances of Orfeo ; see Iain Fenlon, "The Mantuan 'Orfeo,' "m Claudio Monteverdi: Orfeo , ed. John Whenham (Cambridge, 1986), 18. The revival of scores that were published was somewhat exceptional, but Peri's and Rinuccini's Euridice (1600) was apparently performed in Bologna in 1616; Loreto Vittori's Galatea , published in 1639, served as the basis for a performance in 1644 (see Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 170); Domenico Mazzocchi's La catena d'Adone (1626) was performed in Bologna in 1648 and Piacenza in 1650 (see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 426 n. 194, 433 n. 219); and Stefano Landi's Sant'Alessio (1632) was performed in Reggio Emilia in 1645.

[33] On the transposition of the toccata, see Wolfgang Osthoff, "Trombe sordine," Archiv für Musikwissenschaft 13 (1956): 77-95.

[34] Orfeo , 52. A contemporary publication by Bartolomeo Barberini, Secondo libreto delli motetti (Venice: Vincenti, 1614), which provides two versions of each of its pieces, may shed some light on this. As Barberini explains in his preface to the reader, the first version, unornamented, is for those singers lacking "dispositione di passeggiare," that is, those unable to perform the embellishments, and for those with "dispositione," who already know the rules of embellishment and can do it themselves; the second, ornamented, is for those unschooled in the methods of embellishment but technically able to perform them. Pirrotta (Music and Theatre , 277), suggests that the unadorned version may have been intended to be sung as written. It is hardly likely, however, that a singer engaged for the title role of an opera would have lacked "dispositione di passeggiare." The most reasonable explanation, suggested to me by Lorenzo Bianconi, combines the function of documenting the past (this is how Francesco Rasi, the original Orfeo, sang the piece in 1607) with concern for the future (here is the skeleton, ornament it as you wish).

[35] La favola d'Orfeo: Rappresentata in musica il carnevale dell'anno M. D. CVII nell'Accademia de gli Invaghiti di Mantova, sotto i felici auspizij del Serenissimo Sig. Duca benignissimo lor protettore, In Mantova, per Francesco Osanna stampator Ducale. . . 1607 . There were probably at least two performances (see Fenlon, "Mantuan 'Orfeo,'" 9-18).

[36] There is a full literature on this alteration. Pirrotta was the first to suggest that the apotheosis preserved in the score was part of the original ending, which had to be modified because the performancesite was too small ("Theater, Sets, and Music in Monteverdi's Operas," Essays , 258-59, and "Monteverdi's Poetic Choices," Essays , 291 n. 44) and was then restored for a second performance. Fenlon ("Mantuan 'Orfeo ,' " 16), although agreeing with Pirrotta that the apotheosis did not take place at the first performance, holds to the more traditional view that the bacchic finale was the original one.



Claudio Monteverdi,  L'Orfeo, favola in musica  
(Venice, 1615), p. 52.

printer, this libretto was not designed primarily as a commemorative document. Thus it fails to mention either the composer or—and this is more unusual—the poet. It was used by the audience as an aid to following the action.[37]

[37] See Orfeo , ed. Whenham, appendix I, letter 9: "The play has been printed so that everyone in the audience can have a copy to follow while the performance is in progress."


In contrast to the score of Orfeo , that of Poppea was never printed. It survives in two manuscript copies, neither of which can be linked with its initial performance. Documentation for that first performance is slim indeed, resting solely on a scenario — a scene-by-scene synopsis of the action that was printed not for commemorative reasons but, once again, for the practical purpose of helping the audience in the theater to follow the performance.[38] The scenario mentions neither the composer nor the poet. In fact, there is no printed documentation whatsoever for Monteverdi's authorship of the music. Two librettos eventually appeared in print, but not until 1651 and 1656. The latter, published along with his other librettos by the poet himself, Gian Francesco Busenello, mentions the original date of performance on its title page but fails to include the composer's name.[39] As for the 1651 libretto, published in conjunction with a Neapolitan revival, it lacks the names of both the composer and the poet, as well as the original date.[40]

The two manuscript scores of Poppea might best be described as performance scores.[41] They memorialize expedients adopted for one or several specific performances after the premiere (figs. 3a, 3b). Transpositions, cuts, rearrangements, not all of them fully worked out or reconciled with one another, are indicated in various strata throughout both manuscripts. Preserved, it would seem, by chance, these scores owe their survival to the fact that the opera was revived; both are probably connected with the revival that took place in 'Naples in 1651.[42] Evidently, despite Monteverdi's enormous reputation, there was no interest in preserving the music of the first performance of Poppea .[43] That music per se had no practical value except as a basis for subsequent

[38] Scenario dell'opera reggia intitolata La Coronatione di Poppea. Che si rappresenta in Musica net Theatro dell'Illustr. Sig. Giovanni Grimani, In Venetia, 1643, presso Gio: Pietro Pinelli ; the scenario is available in a modern edition in Claudio Gallico, Monteverdi (Turin, 1979), 92- 96. For a full discussion of scenarios, see ch. 2 below; also Ellen Rosand, "The Opera Scenario, 1638-1655: A Preliminary Survey," in In cantu et in sermone: For Nino Pirrotta on His 80th Birthday , ed. Fabrizio della Seta and Franco Piperno (Florence, 1989 ), 335-46.

[39] See Delle hore ociose di Gio: Francesco Busenello. Parte prima. All'Eminentissimo Prencipe Il Sig. Cardinal Ottoboni (Venice: Giuliani, 1656).

[40] Il Nerone overo L'incoronatione di Poppea, Drama musicale dedicato all'Illustriss. & Eccellentiss. Sig. D. Inigo De Guevara, et Tassis (Naples: Molli, 1651).

[41] I-Vnm, It. IV, 439 (9963), facsimile ed. by Giacomo Benvenuti (Milan: Bocca, 1938), and Forni reprint (Bologna, n.d.); and I-Nc, Rari 6.4. 1.

[42] Wolfgang Osthoff was the author of two classic articles on the sources of Poppea : "Die venezianische und neapolitanische Fassung von Monteverdis 'Incoronazione di Poppea,'"AcM 26 (1954): 88-113, and "Neue Beobachtungen zu Quellen und Geschichte von Monteverdis 'Incoronazione di Pop-pea,' "Mf 11 (1958): 129-38. More recently, the origin and provenance of these scores have been discussed and extensively reevaluated by Alessandra Chiarelli, "'L'incoronazione di Poppea' o 'Il Nerone': Problemi di filologia testuale," RIM 9 (1974): 117-51; see also Peter Jeffery, "The Autograph Manuscripts of Francesco Cavalli" (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1980). The most recent reexamination of the sources, by Alan Curtis ("La Poppea impasticciata , or Who Wrote the Music to L'incoronazione [1643]?" JAMS 42 [1989]: 22-54; and preface to Claudio Monteverdi, L'incoronazione di Poppea , ed. Alan Curtis [London, 1989]), suggests the possibility that some of the surviving music may be by one or more younger composers.

[43] Busenello, to be sure, intended to immortalize his original text by printing it in his 1656 collection.



3. a,b.
Claudio Monteverdi,  L'incoronazione di Poppea , I-Vnm, It. IV, 439 (=9963), fols. 65v-66.


performance. The differences between the scores and other sources confirm the fact of multiple performances, and the kinds of alterations in each document indicate the liberties taken with the original opera—transposed here, cut there—in response to changing conditions of performance.

One major difference between the scores of the two operas that is only partly explained by their different functions concerns orchestration. The score of Orfeo is not only much more specific in its instrumental requirements (listing them, however incompletely, in its front matter), but it calls for a much larger, more varied instrumental group, essentially the late Renaissance orchestra that was customarily used for court entertainments; and this is deployed alone, in a large number of purely instrumental movements, especially dances, as well as in combination with voices, with particular expressive functions. In its successive strophes, for instance, "Possente spirto" displays first violins, then cornetti, then double harp, and finally violins again, the variety enhancing the moving power of Orfeo's prayer.[44]

The Poppea scores, on the other hand, contain considerably fewer instrumental movements, and the voice is invariably accompanied only by a bass line. Furthermore, they contain no instrumental specifications. This notational reticence is more than a matter of expediency. It reflects an actual difference in instrumental practice between the Mantua of 1607 and the Venice of 1642. The chief components of the typical Venetian opera orchestra, as attested by a few widely scattered documents, were a large continuo group (several harpsichords and several theorbos), which was evidently deployed in various combinations to accompany the voice. The two treble parts written out in most ritornelli and sinfonie were taken by two violins.[45]

The different orchestral requirements of Orfeo and Poppea underline the distinctions I have been making between court and urban opera. The instrumental display of Orfeo formed part of the court spectacle in Mantua. The reduced band of Poppea satisfied the economic conditions of a commercial en-

[44] On the typical intermedio orchestra, see Robert Lamar Weaver, "Sixteenth-Century Instrumentation," MQ 47 (1961): 363-78; id., "The Orchestra in Early Italian Opera," JAMS 17 (1964): 83-89; and Howard M. Brown, Sixteenth-Century Instrumentation: The Music for the Florentine Intermedi , Musico-logical Studies and Documents 30 ([Rome], 1973).

[45] The two violins were sometimes joined by alto and tenor instruments, the viola da braccio and the violetta. The chief documentary evidence for the makeup of the Venetian opera orchestra is found in two different sets of pay records, which date from 1658-59 (in the account book for Antioco , I-Vas, Scuola grande di San Marco, busta 194: unnumbered) and 1665 (for a revival of Ciro, b . 194, c. 268): that is, considerably later than Poppea . Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the orchestra changed much until late in the seventeenth century, when trumpets were introduced. For a discussion of these documents, see Denis Arnold, "Performing Practice," in The New Monteverdi Companion , ed. Denis Arnold and Nigel Fortune (London, 1985), 319-33, esp. 329-31; also Jane Glover, Cavalli (London, 1978), 106-12; and Edward Tarr and Thomas Walker, " 'Bellici carmi, festivo fragor': Die Verwendung der Trompete in der italienischen Oper des 17. Jahrhunderts," Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft 3 (1978): 143-203.


terprise. It allowed theaters to function without large stable orchestras. It also tended to focus greater attention on the singers.

A Mantuan opera of 1607 could be fixed, commemorated in print as a rare, even unique, object, a jewel in the crown of a ruling prince. Not so a Venetian opera of 1643. It was but one of a succession of similar events that would be remembered only as long as the season lasted, and then discarded—unless subsequently revived. Whereas we owe our knowledge of the music of Montever-di's Orfeo to the desire to preserve a moment of dynastic celebration, our knowledge of Poppea depends upon a more professionally utilitarian motive, the appropriation of a past event for the purposes of the present. Only because Poppea was revived, given renewed life on the stage, do we know anything of its music. Orfeo , although immortalized by the act of publication, embodied a tradition of court entertainment that was essentially over. The very survival of Poppea , imperfect as it is, testifies to its continuing vitality, to its function within a living tradition of public opera.

The Documents of a History

As the case of Poppea attests, the distinctive and cohesive character of the Venetian operatic tradition is exemplified by the nature of its surviving documents. These fall into two general categories: manuscript and printed, categories that themselves implicate a set of further distinctions, between the musical and the textual, the professional and the public. The manuscripts, that is, the scores, representing the professional side of things, are preserved, if at all, largely by accident, by virtue of the fact that they were reused. Relatively few have, in fact, survived. The nature and purpose of the printed sources, the public documents, primarily librettos, were very different. Quite apart from their practical function of serving the audience during performances, librettos were deliberately created for the purpose of documenting the individual work. Published in large enough numbers to have ensured the survival today of several complete sets, they record the chronological development of Venetian opera from year to year. The sheer accumulation of librettos—there were nine after four seasons, thirty-five after ten, and over one hundred by 1667— provides concrete evidence of the momentum of opera mania in seventeenth-century Venice.

In addition to appealing to the collectionist tendencies of a number of letterati , such as Apostolo Zeno, whose complete sets have come down to us,[46] the

[46] The Biblioteca Marciana in Venice possesses three such sets. The most nearly complete, containing a number of second editions, and possibly from the collection of the eighteenth-century bibliographer Antonio Groppo, is Dramm. 907-1126, which covers the years 1637-1796. The others are Dramm.3448-3578 (1637-1750), from Zeno's collection; and Dramm. 1127-1418 (1637-1836), from the Rossi legacy. Another virtually complete series is the Cicogna Collection at the Casa Goldoni. There are several others outside Venice, including I-Rig, I-MOe, US-Wc Schatz, and US-Lau. The most comprehensive listing of librettos, which includes the location of multiple copies, is found in Claudio Sartori, "Primo tentativo di catalogo unico dei libretti italiani a stampa fino all'anno 1800" (MS in the Ufficio Ricerca Fondi Musicali, Milan).


librettos inspired another type of historical record: the operatic chronology, for which they supplied the basic source material. The earliest of these publications, neither yet a chronology nor devoted exclusively to operatic or Venetian texts, was explicitly designed to take stock of the rapidly growing genre of the libretto. Leone Allacci's Drammaturgia , published in Rome in 1666, declares its purpose in the printer's preface: to preserve an undervalued and therefore highly perishable product:

It often happens that, after being read, librettos are rejected, and they are no longer valued, because of the silly things that are found in most of them, so that copies are lost, and not only is the memory of those obscured, who with great effort and study made some name for themselves, but also their countries and families. Since, in the opinion of some, [librettos] are in no small part derived from antiquity, and indistinguishable from one another in invention as well as subject matter, there having been no new' discoveries [of ancient plays], they have become so tediously similar in subject matter, usually concerning the disappearance of babies or children during the taking or sacking of a city, that readers assume they have already read them, and they intentionally abstain from seeing them, clearly recognizing them, as Burchiello said, to be patchworks of old rags, twisted and pilfered from here and there, without beginning or end, head or tail. (Appendix II.4)[47]

Allacci's volume, which underwent an ambitious revision in the eighteenth century,[48] was soon followed by the first true chronology. This was the work of the Dalmatian Cristoforo Ivanovich, himself the author of several librettos. "Le memorie teatrali di Venezia," published in Venice in 1681 (2d ed. 1688), formed an appendix to Ivanovich's Minerva al tavolino , a collection of letters on the subject of the wars against the Turks.[49] By providing a list of the dramas performed in Venice, Ivanovich, like Allacci before him, hoped to rescue them from oblivion: "From the reading of the dramas cited in the catalogue of the present 'Memorie,' posterity, for various reasons, will heap greater praise upon the authors than they received when their works were first performed" (Appendix II.6ff). Ivanovich's catalogue forms the climax of a lengthy essay on the

[47] Although he lived in Rome, Allacci maintained close connections with operatic life in Venice. He belonged to the operatically important Venetian Ac-cademia degli Incogniti (see ch. 2 below).

[48] Drammaturgia di Leone Allacci accresciuta e continuata fino all'anno MDCCL V (Venice: Giambattista Pasquali, 1755).

[49] On this important publication, see Thomas Walker, "Gli errori di Minerva al tavolino : Osservazioni sulla cronologia delle prime opere veneziane," in Venezia e il melodramma nel seicento , ed. Maria Teresa Muraro (Florence, 1976), 7-20; see also Miloš Velimirovic[*] , "Cristoforo Ivanovich from Budva, the First Historian of the Venetian Opera," ZVUK [Yugoslav Music Review ] 77-78 (1967): 135-45.


origins and contemporary practice of opera in Venice, which draws, in large measure, upon the prefaces of the printed librettos. His discussion of Venetian operatic practice remains by far the most explicit and reliable we have; and his chronology served as the foundation of all subsequent chronologies, notably those of the eighteenth-century writers Giovanni Carlo Bonlini (1730) and Antonio Groppo (1745).[50]

These chronologies, generally trustworthy with respect to titles, authors, theaters, and dates of performances, are less dependable for information not regularly available in printed librettos—most crucially, composers' names. Indeed, Ivanovich, particularly for the years preceding his arrival in Venice in 1657, tended to attribute music rather haphazardly (especially to Cavalli). Many of his attributions, repeated by Bonlini and Groppo, have remained unexamined, unchallenged, and uncorrected until recently.[51]

Another still insufficiently acknowledged shortcoming of all three volumes is their failure to recognize the inconsistent application of dates in the librettos they catalogued. That is, they ignored the whole problem of more veneto , dating Venetian style. Because the Venetian year traditionally began on I March, Carnival (and the opera season coincident with it), generally over by the end of February, was considered to belong to the previous year. Thus a libretto dated 1640 m.v . actually belonged to 1641, modern style (or 1640-41 if it appeared before I January). But not all Venetian dates were given more veneto . This is made clear in some cases by a discrepancy between title page and dedication date; the libretto of Cavalli's Giasone , for example, bears the date 1649 on its

[50] [Carlo Bonlini], Le glorie della poesia e della musica contenute nell'esatta notitia de teatri della cittá di Venezia (Venice: Bonarigo, [1730]) both acknowledged his debt to Ivanovich's catalogue and recognized its shortcomings: "Il primo, anzi l'unico, che fino ad ora abbia dato al Pubblico qualche succinta notizia in tal genere [dei' drami], fu il Dott. D. Cristoforo Iwanovich . . . il quale se ben Schiavon di natali, é andato del pari in dottrina, ed eruditione a i più fioriti In-gegni Italiani della sua etá. Questo famoso Auttore sul fine del Primo Tomo della sua Minerva al Tavolino , pone un breve Trattato, a cui da il nome di Memorie Teatrali della Cittá di Venezia, e quivi dopo aver dato in ristretto qualche contezza de' Teatri noti sino a nostri giorni, va tessendo un Catalogo de' Drami in Musica sino a' suoi giorni parimente in quelli rappresentati, e s'estende nella seconda Edizione delle sue virtuose fatiche sino all'Anno 1687. Ma questo Catalogo in alcuni Drami riesce non poco fallace, ed in altri ancora mancante, cosicché non é giunto a quella perfezione, che sarebbe desiderabile in una tale materia. E per veritá fattone un rigoroso rincontro con i Libretti ch'abbiamo in stampa, vi si scorgono circa quaranta sbagli di non poco rilevo, particolarmente nella notizia non ben esatta de' veri Maestri di Musica" (preface, 4-5). Antonio Groppo, Catalogo di tutti i drammi per musica (Venice: Groppo, 1745), referred to all three of his predecessors, Al-lacci, Ivanovich, and Bonlini, but without criticizing them (preface, 5-6). A more recent chronology, largely based on the others, is Livio Niso Galvani [Giuseppe Salvioli], I teatri musicali di Venezia nel secolo XVII, 1637-1700 (Milan, 1879). See also the chronology in Francesco Caffi, "Storia della musica teatrale in Venezia" (MS I-Vnm, It. IV, 747-49 [10462-65]).

[51] On Ivanovich's shortcomings, see Walker, "Errori." Walker's corrections resulted in a substantial reduction in the number of works ascribed to Cavalli, from forty-two (nearly a third of them missing) to the much more reasonable number of thirty-three (only five missing); the definitive list is given in Thomas Walker, "Cavalli," New Grove 4: 24-34.


title page, but the dedication is dated 30 January 1648. Clearly, then, the date on the title page should be read in modern style, that of the dedication more veneto ; the work was performed during the 1648-49 season, not that of 1649-[50] . Other cases are not so clear and can be resolved only through triangulation, using evidence external to the librettos themselves.[52]

In contrast to the librettos, whose preservation is virtually complete, the proportion of surviving scores is small. In particular, very few scores remain from the first—and, arguably, the most decisive—decade of operatic activity in Venice. Of the nearly fifty operas performed there between 1637 and 1650, music has survived for only thirteen, and by only three of the dozen or so composers known to have been involved: Monteverdi, Cavalli, and Sacrati.[53] No music at all survives from the operas of either Ferrari or Manelli, two of the most important composers of the decade, who were largely responsible for creating the musical style that came to be associated with opera in Venice.[54]

Through various circumstances, a number of the surviving scores were dispersed among libraries throughout Europe—including those in Modena, Florence, Naples, Oxford, Paris, and Vienna. Most of them duplicate scores held in the primary repository for this music, the Contarini Collection of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.[55] The 113 opera scores in the Contarini Collection (the period covered extends to 1684) owe their preservation to the efforts of two individuals: in the first place to Francesco Cavalli (1601-76), the com-

[52] Such confusion has affected the dating of works as important as Monteverdi's late operas. According to Ivanovich, three operas by Monteverdi were performed in 1641: Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (S. Cassiano), Le nozze d'Enea e Lavinia (SS. Giovanni e Paolo), and Arianna (S. Moisé); and one in 1643, L'incoronazione di Poppea . Bonlini, who tried to take more veneto into account by introducing what he called the autumn season (for those operas that began before the first of January but continued to be performed until the end of Carnival), revised Ivano-vich's chronology, ascribing Arianna to 1640, Il ritorno and Le nozze to 1641, and Poppea to autumn 1642. In fact, however, the coordination of various kinds of evidence permits a still more reasonable chronology, the one assumed on p. 18 above, which allows for the effort involved in readying a production for the stage. Arianna and Ritorno were performed in 1639-40; Le nozze (and Ritorno revived) in 1640-41 (the preface to the scenario of Le nozze mentions Il ritorno as having taken place the previous year); and Poppea in 1642-43 (scenario dated 1643). In the present study, all dates are given in modern style unless otherwise indicated.

[53] Sacrati joined this elite group only very recently, with the important discovery by Lorenzo Bianconi of a score of La finta pazza , which will be published shortly in facsimile in Drammaturgia musicale veneta.

[54] We can, of course, extrapolate some knowledge of their style from their non-operatic music, as Alessandro Magim did in his thesis at the University of Bologna, "Indagini stilistiche intorno L'incoronazione di Poppea " (1984): esp. ch. 3; see also id., "Le monodie di Benedetto Ferrari e L'incoronazione di Poppea : Un rilevamento stilistico comparativo," RIM 21 (1987): 266-99; and Curtis, preface to L'incoronazione di Poppea .

[55] The only two scores from before 1650 not duplicated in the Contarini Collection are Il ritorno (A-Wn 18763), which may have been brought to Vienna by Benedetto Ferrari, and La finta pazza at the Isola Borromeo (see Lorenzo Bianconi, preface to Giulio Strozzi and Francesco Sacrati, La finta pazza , ed. Lorenzo Bianconi and Thomas Walker, Drammaturgia musicale veneta 1 [in press]).


poser best represented in the collection. Near the end of his career, probably about 1670, Cavalli apparently arranged to have his operas recopied with a view to preserving them for posterity.[56] He clearly regarded them as important property, a significant part of his legacy, and made special provision for them in his will.[57] These fair copies, plus some of his autographs (which, we may assume, would also have been copied had he lived longer), eventually found their way into the Contarini Collection.[58]

The other collezionista responsible for the preservation of the scores was Marco Contarini himself, patrician and patron of opera, who built two theaters for private operatic performances at his villa at Piazzola, just northwest of Venice. Between 1679 and sometime before his death in 1689—probably in 1684—Contarini gradually and purposefully amassed a collection of scores.[59] Most of the scores in his collection date from earlier than 1679, the year his operatic productions began, and so cannot be connected with his own performances. Indeed, we should regard the entire Contarini Collection, fair copies as well as autographs (figs. 4, 5), as commemorative rather than functional documents, reflecting the desire of both Cavalli and Contarini to preserve a musical heritage.

Imperfect and incomplete as the musical sources may be, they far exceed those for the visual component of these operas. For an idea of what the works

[56] His latest scores were apparently copied first; and then the scribe seems to have started at the beginning and worked forward as far as 1650. On the copying of Cavalli's manuscripts, see Glover, Cavalli , 65-72. The matter is exhaustively treated in Jeffery, "Autograph Manuscripts," passim.

[57] Cavalli's will distinguished between specially bound volumes (the fair copies) and some other scores, which were left to his student Caliari. The document is transcribed in Taddeo Wiel, "Francesco Cavalli (16O2-1676) e la sua musica scenica," Nuovo archivio veneto , n.s., 28 (1914): 142-50. The details are summarized in Glover, Cavalli , 31, and in Jeffery, "Autograph Manuscripts," 81-86. Cavalli's library must also have included the Contarini copy of Poppea , which shows evidence of his hand (see Jeffery, "Autograph Manuscripts," 114). Osthoff's suggestion that Cavalli directed the Naples revival of Poppea ("Neue Beobachtungen," 137-38) has not been substantiated. The presence of his hand and some of his music in the manuscript merely indicates that he was involved in some way with the version of the opera that was eventually performed in Naples.

[58] The Contarini Collection, which included material other than opera scores as well, was acquired by the Marciana from Contarini's distant heirs in 1839; see Taddeo Wiel, I codici musicali contariniani del secolo XVII nella R. Biblioteca di San Marco in Venezia (Venice, 1888; repr. Bologna: Forni, 1969). Some clue to the order in which Contarini acquired the manuscript scores is provided by a handwritten list of operas found on the inside cover of a printed volume of Frescobaldi keyboard toccatas now in the Biblioteca Marciana (I-Vnm Musica 39). According to that list, dated 14 June 1681, which includes none of the Cavalli autographs, most of the scores were acquired in 1681 and 1682, and a few in 1683. (The list also includes a number of works not in the present Contarini Collection.) See Glover, Cavalli , 67-68. The most complete discussion of the development of the Contarini Collection, including a list of its contents, is found in Giovanni Morelli and Thomas Walker, "Migliori plettri," preface to Aurelio Aureli and Francesco Lucio, Medoro , ed. Giovanni Morelli and Thomas Walker, Drammaturgia musicale veneta 4 (Milan, 1984), CXL-CXLVI.

[59] Contarini apparently employed his own copyist for some of them, in particular, those in Hand A (according to Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri," CXLV).



Francesco Cavalli,  Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne , I-Vnm, It. IV, 404 (= 9928), f. 85v (copy).


Francesco Cavalli, Oristeo , I-Vnm, It. IV, 367 (=9891), f. 41 (autograph).


actually looked like on stage, the historian is forced to rely primarily on descriptions in librettos and to extrapolate from the few published engravings of scene designs.[60]

Beyond the primary source materials—the librettos and the scores—other kinds of documents bearing on the history and development of opera in seventeenth-century Venice are preserved in various archives. The most substantial and important are two large buste in the Archivio di Stato, Venice, known by students of the period as 188 and 194.[61] Comprising hundreds of folios each, they are the papers of Marco Faustini, who served as an impresario at various theaters from 1651 to 1668, working with every important composer, librettist, and singer of the period. His papers, which cover earlier years as well, include a wide variety of documents: from correspondence with agents, singers, and composers (Cesti, Cavalli, and Ziani) to contracts and theater budgets. Collectively, they supply the basis for a richly detailed history of opera during the period of his activity.

Other notable and more recently discovered Venetian archival sources include two buste of Cavalli documents from the Archivio S. Lorenzo[62] and one from the Monastero di Sta. Maria dell'Orazion a Malamocco in the Archivio di Stato,[63] and the theater documents in the Archivio Vendramin, now housed at the Casa Goldoni.[64] Still to be fully mined is a cache of documents found in the State Archives in Hannover among the correspondence of Johann Friedrich, duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg. The duke was an important political ally, sup-

[60] The stage designs for Venetian productions of this period were rarely published; but those that were are frequently reproduced. See, for example, Per Bjurström, Giacomo Torelli and Baroque Stage Design (Stockholm, 1961); Simon Towneley Worsthorne, Seventeenth-Century Venetian Opera (Oxford, 1954, rev. ed. 1968); Ludovico Zorzi, Maria Teresa Muraro, Gianfranco Prato, and Elvi Zorzi, eds., I teatri pubblici di Venezia (secoli XVII-XVIII ), exhib. cat. (Venice, 1971); Franco Mancini, Maria Teresa Muraro, and Elena Povoledo, eds., Illusione e prattica teatrale , exhib. cat. (Venice, 1975); Héléne Leclerc, Venise et l'avénement de l'opéra public à l'âge baroque (Paris, 1987).

[61] Scuola Grande di S. Marco, buste 188 and 194, henceforth cited as b. 188 and b. 194. They were first mentioned in 1887 by Bartolomeo Cecchetti, "Carte relative ai teatri di S. Cassiano e dei SS. Giovanni e Paolo," Archivio veneto 34 (1887): 246. See also Wiel, "Francesco Cavalli," 135-36 n. 2, and Henry Pruniéres, Cavalli et l' opßra vénitien au XVII siécle (Paris, 1931), 305-6 n. 3. Hermann Kretzschmar, to whom Wiel sent transcriptions, published an article about them in 1907: "Beiträge zur Geschichte der venetianischen Oper," Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters 14 (1907): 71-81. They were inventoried, somewhat inexactly, by Remo Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," NRMI 1 (1967): 245-86, 465-508; 3 (1969): 906-33; and quoted extensively in Bruno Brunelli, "L'impresario in angustie," Rivista italiana del dramma 3 (1941): 311-41; Remo Giazotto, "Nel CCC anno della morte di Antonio Cesti: Ventidue lettere ritrovate nell'Archivio di Stato di Venezia," NRMI 3 (1969): 496-512; and Carl Schmidt, "An Episode in the History of Venetian Opera: The Tito Commission (1665-66)," JAMS 31 (1978): 442-66.

[62] I-Vas, Archivio S. Lorenzo, buste 23 and 24. These are discussed in Glover, Cavalli , ch. I, as well as elsewhere.

[63] Busta 3; formerly part of the S. Lorenzo archive. These documents contain important information on Cavalli at S. Cassiano; see Giovanni Morelli and Thomas Walker, "Tre controversie intorno al San Cassiano," in Venezia e il melodrama nel seicento , ed. Maria Teresa Muraro (Florence, 1976), 97-120.

[64] I-Vcg, Archivio Vendramin 42 F 1-16.


plier of arms, and frequent visitor to Venice during this period.[65] These papers include letters and reports from the duke's agents in Venice, among them the composer Sartorio and the librettists Pietro Dolfin and Nicolò Beregan, who were entrusted with hiring musicians for him. A particularly rich source of operatic gossip is provided by the letters of the duke's secretary in Venice, Francesco Maria Massi.[66]

Travelers to Venice, who formed an important component of the operatic audience, were occasionally stimulated to comment on the operatic scene in their letters or diaries. Few as they are, these comments shed considerable light on the place of opera in the life of the city.[67] Somewhat more formal are the weekly avvisi reporting the news from various cities that circulated around Italy and abroad in manuscript and, eventually, printed form, from the late sixteenth century on. Several series of manuscript avvisi from the late seventeenth century have been preserved, in which information about opera is part of the detailed description of everyday Venetian events.[68] A number of issues of the Parisian journal Le Mercure galant , from the same period, contain lengthy reports of opera in Venice.[69]

All of these sources, taken together, allow us to assemble a history of opera in Venice. The most fundamental of them, however, are the printed librettos. In regularly supplying dates and names—of patrons, theaters, librettists, sometimes of composers, singers, and stage designers—as well as the actual texts that were sung, they provide the foundation of that history. But they provide much more. Their prefaces and dedications are rich in information. Their form and

[65] Niedersächsisches Haupt-Staatsarchiv Hannover, Aktes-Korrespondenzen italienischer Kardinäle und anderer Personen, besonders Italiener an Herzog Johann Friedrich, Cal. Br. vols. 1-6 (624-29). On the importance of the dukes of Brunswick-Lüneburg to Venetian political—and operatic—life, see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 269-70; also, in passing, Craig Monson, "Giulio Cesare in Egitto from Sartorio (1677) to Handel (1724)," ML 66 (1985): 313-37.

[66] There were similar correspondences with other foreign princes interested in Venetian opera, such as the duke of Modena and Mattias de' Medici (archival material in I-MOs Particolari and I-Fas); also I-Rvat (Archivio Chigi), I-Vmc (correspondence of Polo Michiel), I-R (Archivio Colonna).

[67] Such figures include John Evelyn (quoted on p. 9 above), Sir Philip Skippon (Journey through the Low Countries, Germany, Italy, and France [London, 1682; repr. 1752], 520-21); and Francesco de' Pannocchi-eschi; see Molmenti, "Venezia alla metá del sec. XVII," 313, 317. See also Alexandre-Toussaint de Limojon, Sier de Saint-Disdier, La Ville et la Répub-lique de Venise (Paris: Barbin, 1680).

[68] A number of series are preserved in Venice at the Biblioteca Marciana and the Archivio di Stato. For a summary of these, see Eleanor Selfridge-Field, Pallade veneta: Writings on Music in Venetian Society, 1650-1750 (Venice, 1985), chs. I and 2.

[69] Written anonymously by Chassebras de Cremailles during the 1680s, they were collected and republished by Pierre d'Ortigue de Vaumoriére in Lettres sur toutes sortes de sujets (Paris: J. Guignard, 1690). These descriptions are quoted extensively in Harris Sheridan Saunders, Jr., "The Repertoire of a Venetian Opera House (1678-1714): The Teatro Grimani di San Giovanni Grisostomo," Ph.D. diss. (Harvard University, 1985), ch. I. The earliest surviving sources of this kind reporting on opera in Venice date from the early 1660s; they appeared in Il rimino , a newssheet published in Rimini that was a compilation of avvisi from various cities. See Nevio Matteini, Il "Rimino," una delle prime "gazette" d'Italia: Saggio storico sui primordi della stampa (Bologna, 1967).


content change with the developing genre. Carefully read (on and between the lines) and considered in their entirety—from their actual poetic content (form, subject matter, and organization) to the layout of their title pages, from the publishers' and authors' prefaces to the dramatis personae and last-minute addenda—they offer a precise record of public opera at the most important period of its development, just as it was taking shape. It is against the facts and running commentary provided by the librettos that all the other sources, including the music, yield their full historical meaning.


Dramma per musica :
The Question of Genre

"Drama for music": this was the term by which opera librettos were generally known in the seventeenth century. The subtitle under which they were usually published, Dramma per musica , expresses quite effectively, even eloquently, the ambiguous nature of the libretto as a genre. Alone, these little books were but shadows, texts needing music (and staging) to endow them with life. Never intended to stand on their own, they were admittedly, glaringly, and self-consciously incomplete. Evaluation of their quality could not rest on their merits as literature or drama—the elegance of their poetry, the tautness of their plot structure, the verisimilitude of their action. Librettos had to be judged by the efficacy of the musical setting they inspired, the dramatic conviction of the combination: libretto plus music, a combination that, ideally, would exceed by far the simple sum of its parts.

Although every writer of librettos was aware of the extent to which the definition of his work depended on another artist's efforts, that awareness was not always shared by literary critics. Lacking appropriate instruments for evaluation, they often tried to judge librettos by purely literary standards, without considering them in the proper context, that of the opera house.[1] From the beginning of their history, librettos suffered abuse from critics for their failure to measure up as literature. The issue was most urgent for the earliest and most sensitive of these critics, those who had the most to lose—or gain: the librettists themselves, the inventors or creators of the genre. Critical abuse began as critical self-abuse.

[1] Some writers, such as Ludovico Antonio Muratori, displayed an acute ambivalence in their attitude toward opera: as literary critics they condemned it, but as members of the audience they applauded it enthusiastically. See Sergio Durante, "Vizi privati e virtù pubbliche del polemista teatrale da Muratori a Marcello," in Benedetto Marcello: La sua opera e il suo tempo , ed. Claudio Madricardo and Franco Rossi (Florence, 1988), 415-24. These critics lacked appropriate categories for judging theatrical works. See also Lorenzo Bianconi, "Il cinquecento e il seicento," in Teatro, musica, tradizione dei classici , Letteratura italiana 6 (Turin, 1986), 356-63.


It is worth noting that dramma per musica did not suggest itself immediately as a designation for operatic texts. It emerged only after librettists had wrestled for some time with the question of defining just what it was they were producing; and it developed not in the occasional operas produced during the first decades of the century in Florence and Rome, but later, in Venice, where the operatic experience was constant and intense. Ottavio Rinuccini's first two operatic texts, the mythical dramas Dafne and Euridice , bear no generic subtitle at all, while his third libretto, Arianna , is labeled a tragedia ; Striggio's Orfeo is called a favola in musica ; and in Rome librettos were variously referred to as dramma musicale, commedia musicale, opera musicale , or attione in musica .[2] The first Venetian librettos, too, exhibited a striking variety of generic designations, some of them borrowed from the past, others obviously invented ad hoc: favola, opera scenica, festa teatrale, dramma, opera drammatica, favola regia, opera regia, tragedia musicale, opera tragicomica musicale, dramma musicale , and others. One notable feature of this list is that only a few of the terms allude to the absent, yet central, ingredient, the music; the others imply self-sufficiency and could have been—and were—applied to any kind of dramatic work. The familiar and curiously neutral term opera appears in several of these subtitles. Originally applied to every category of written or improvised play, it became associated with a particular kind that was neither tragic nor comic but mixed features of both. Plays set in exotic lands, featuring royal or princely protagonists and eventful plots with happy endings, were called opere regie or opere reali . Busenello's L'incoronazione di Poppea , for example, was termed an opera regia . Although opera occasionally appeared unmodified in conjunction with some early librettos, it did not assume its modern significance until much later.[3]

It was not until the middle of the seventeenth century, then, after more than a decade of vigorous operatic activity—more than thirty operas by some twenty librettists and ten composers, in five theaters—that Venetian librettists began to designate their works dramma per musica with any consistency, thus signifying

[2] Nino Pirrotta has emphasized the significance of generic distinctions in early opera. He attaches considerable importance to the designation tragedia for Arianna , regarding that opera as the first real attempt to recreate tragedy in music. Its two predecessors, the favole Dafne and Euridice , represented, in contrast, "the brief pastoral phase of opera" ("Mon-teverdi and the Problems of Opera," Essays , 245-46). Barbara Russano Hanning, however, prefers to regard all three of Rinuccini's librettos as manifestations of the same impulse toward tragedy. See her "Apologia pro Ottavio Rinuccini," JAMS 26 (1973): 252; also id. Of Poetry and Music's Power (Ann Arbor, 1980), ch. 1, esp. 18.

[*] The generic subtitles for the early Roman operas occur in the argomenti , which were usually printed. The librettos, which were not printed as a rule, merely use the term dramma . For a list of Roman subtitles, see Margaret Murata, Operas for the Papal Court, 1631-1668 (Ann Arbor, 1981), appendix 2.

[3] On the use of the term opera regia in commedia dell'arte , where it seems to have referred to works exhibiting Spanish influence, see Cesare Molinari, La commedia dell'arte (Milan, 1985), 49. Pirrotta, "Corn-media dell'arte and Opera," Essays , 355 and nn. 33-34, regards this designation as the source for the term opera . An early use of opera , unmodified, appears in the scenario of Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo by Orazio Persiani (1639) in a descriptive passage.


recognition and acceptance of the imperfect state of their creations. Although it may seem like a matter of mere semantics, the terminological consensus thus reflected on the title pages of printed librettos actually represented a significant step in the history of the art. It was one of many indications that opera had aesthetically come of age, that it had achieved the status of a genre in its own right.

Lack of agreement on the question of categorizing subtitles was only one symptom of the malaise that appears to have afflicted most early Venetian librettists. The librettos offer many other indications of their authors' uneasiness with opera as a genre, of their concern with the propriety of mixing music and drama. Early prefaces and notes to the reader are filled with librettists' explanations and excuses, with justifications and defenses of their work. These writings enable us to witness, through their parental eyes, the birth pangs of dramma per musica .

The self-defense erected by the librettists to express their existential discomfort was two-pronged and paradoxical. On the one hand, they energetically justified the new genre; on the other, they repeatedly denied the seriousness of their commitment to it. Neither moral qualms nor aristocratic nonchalance, however, kept them from swelling the torrent of activity. Preoccupied with finding forebears to legitimize their bastard art, librettists turned up ancestors in every period, from classical antiquity to the day before yesterday. Among ancient authors called for the defense, the most frequently cited was, of course, Aristotle, bolstered by various others—including Homer, Virgil, Aristarchus, Lucan, Horace, Plutarch, Diodorus, Cicero, Strabo, Lucretius, Terence, and Seneca. Librettists also evoked the Tuscan classics Dante and Petrarch; masters of the modern Italian tradition such as Ariosto, Tasso, Chiabrera, Guarini, Marino, and Salvadori; and the Spanish dramatists.[4] In most cases, librettists' actual need for such authority—and their use of it—was quite superficial. Often they simply cited authorities rhetorically, as a preemptive strategy, in order to emphasize their purposeful departure from them. But they also invoked precedents from the past to justify various aspects of their works. In their search for precedents and their reinterpretation of the past for their own purposes, our librettists differed little from sixteenth-century authors.[5]

[4] One of the few Spanish dramatists actually cited was Lope de Vega; the significance of Spanish models, however, is often mentioned. On the influence of Spanish drama on members of the intellectual community of seventeenth-century Venice, see Benedetto Croce, "Appunti sui costumi e letteratura spagnuola in Italia," in Nuovi saggi sulla letteratura italiana del seicento (Bari, 1949), 235-39, and Antonio Belloni, Storia letteraria d'Italia: Il seicento (Milan, 1943), 354-61.

[5] For extensive discussion of and quotations from the full range of sixteenth-century critical commentaries on the ancient authors, see Bernard Weinberg, A History of Literary Criticism in the Italian Renaissance (Chicago, 1961).


The Accademia degli Incogniti

Their shared approach to libretto-writing, in particular their attitude toward authority as a source of justifying precedent, can be traced to a common background. Almost without exception, the librettists of the 1640s traveled in the same intellectual and social circles. They were Venetian aristocrats, and they belonged to the Accademia degli Incogniti, the successor, in a sense, to the large number of Venetian academies that had sponsored theatrical entertainments since the middle of the sixteenth century.[6] Founded in 1630 by the patrician Giovanni Francesco Loredano, the Accademia degli Incogniti included among its members nearly every Venetian intellectual of any importance, many of them future senators or councilors, and also a number of prominent non-Venetians.[7] Indeed, for several decades the academy functioned as an unofficial seat of political power in Venice. Aside from personal contacts, the group wielded its influence through the publications of its members, most of them prodigious writers—of novels, moral essays, and religious tracts, as well as opera librettos. In fact, as we shall see in the next chapters, the Incogniti were much involved in the whole phenomenon of opera in Venice, not only as authors but as founders and managers of the most successful opera theater of the 1640s, the Novissimo, which flourished from 1641 to 1645. The commanding role of these literary patricians guaranteed the close connection between politics and early opera in Venice, a connection fundamental to the establishment and success of the genre on the lagoon.

The basic philosophy of the academy derived from the teachings of the Peripatetic Cesare Cremonini, professor of philosophy at the University of Padua, with whom many of the members had studied. Cremonini was notorious for his strict interpretations of Aristotle and his heterodox religious views—he was brought before the Inquisition several times. He inculcated in his students the necessity of questioning accepted dogma, and he forcefully promoted Aristotelian arguments against belief in God as creator and provider. Skeptical of the immortality of the soul, he preached the importance of the here

[6] The standard sources of information on Venetian academies include Michele Battagia, Delle accademie veneziane (Venice, 1826) and Michele May-lander, Storia delle accademie d'Italia (Bologna, 1926-30); but see also I-Vmc, MSS Cicogna 3010-13, used extensively in Gilmore, "Monteverdi and Dramatic Music in Venice."

[7] The "forestieri" included such well-known literary figures as Gabriele Chiabrera savonese, G. B. Basile napolitano, Leone Allacci da Sciò; also from outside Venice were Maiolino Bisaccioni da Iesi, Pietro Paolo Bissari vicentino, and Scipione Herrico messinese. These names are given in Le glorie degli Incogniti overo gli huomini illustri dell'Accademia de' Signori Incogniti (Venice: Valvasense, 1647), which contains articles on 106 members of the academy, each of them including a bibliography as well as a portrait. The group was obviously much larger, but Giovanni Battista Fusconi, the secretary of the academy, who signed the dedication of the volume, explained that to include all of the members would be "un voler restringere la grandezza dell'oceano in un sol flume."


and now, and the value of physical pleasure above Christian morality. Such teaching set the intellectual and moral tone for our librettists, who had the opportunity of discussing the implications of their studies with Cremonini as well as many other matters at the meetings of their academy.[8]

Those meetings were usually organized as debates. The topics ranged from philosophical exchanges on such profound issues as the relationship (or not) between body and soul to the (perhaps) somewhat less serious question of the relative power of tears and song in promoting love.[9] Regardless of the significance of the question, all these debates required the same forensic skills, the ability to argue either side of a question with equal conviction. The Incogniti defended, on principle, the validity of multiple points of view, multiple interpretations. Equivocation and ambivalence were fundamental to their stand on all matters; they were taught to question every proposition, to see the other side of every issue.

The motto of the academy symbolized these aims: Ignoto Deo .[10] The political influence of the Incogniti, in keeping with their name, was usually covert and indirect, operating behind the scenes; and they often wrote in a secret, but obviously highly allusive, language. Their operatic involvements were not always overt either. While some of them affixed their own names to their librettos, others hid behind academic aliases or anonymity. Giacomo Badoaro, for example, left unsigned the letter to Monteverdi that prefaces Il ritorno d'Ulisse , and his authorship of the libretto itself is only revealed four years later in the preface to another libretto, Ulisse errante —or half revealed by his academic title "Assicurato Academico Incognito." In another case, the actual author of the libretto Amore innamorato (1642), which is signed by Giovanni Battista Fusconi, seems to have been intentionally obscured.[11]

These attitudes—the heavy emphasis on Aristotle, the training in debate, and the appreciation of equivocation promoted by the academy—strongly conditioned the impact of the Incogniti writers on the development of opera. The

[8] On the Incogniti, see Giorgio Spini, Ricerca dei libertini: La teoria dell'impostura delle religioni nel seicento italiano (Rome, 1950), 2d ed. (Florence, 1983), 147-99; also Rosand, "Barbara Strozzi," 245-49; id., "Seneca and the Interpretation of L'incoronazione di Poppea," JAMS 38 (1985): 36-47; Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' "410-24. For Cremonini's actual participation in the theatrical life of Venice, see ch. 5 below.

[9] The Incogniti debates appear in several publications, among them Discorsi academici de' Signori Incogniti havuti in Venetia nell'academia dell'Illustrissimo Signor G. F. Loredano (Venice: Sarzina, 1635); and Giovanni Francesco Loredano, Bizzarrie academiche (Venice: Sarzina, 1638).

[10] It referred to the unknown god worshipped by the Athenians, as reported by St. Paul. For further on the motto, see Lionello Puppi, "Ignoto Deo," Arte veneta 23 (1969): 169-80. This motto was depicted iconographically (in one of the Incognito publications) as a globe on which a river representing the Nile is shown with its source veiled because it was unknown; see Rosand, "Barbara Strozzi," 248 and n. 27.

[11] The real authors were the Incogniti Pietro Michele and Loredan himself; see Rosand, "Barbara Strozzi," n. 22, and Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 421 n. 175.


very ambiguity of sung drama appealed to them. It gave them the opportunity to exercise their forensic skills, as illustrated by the variety of defenses and definitions they erected: classical precedent, the inconsistencies inherent in the ancient rules, their limited applicability to the present—all of these were marshaled in defense of their efforts. They wrote librettos that claimed to be tragedies in order to flaunt both their classical education, their knowledge of "the rules," and their iconoclastic tendencies, their commitment to the moment, their respect for modern taste.

The issue most crucial to them, to which they directed most of their defensive energies, involved the propriety of sung drama. This, of course, had been central to the Florentine theorists of opera half a century earlier, who had sought to defuse it in two somewhat contradictory ways: by the adoption of a musical style that was uninflected enough to pass for speech and by a choice of plots in which musical speech was appropriate. This double strategy is clearly articulated by the anonymous author of a Florentine treatise on opera from about 1630, Il corago :

To begin with characters or interlocutors that musical setting seems to suit best, for secular plots the ancient deities such as Apollo, Thetis, Neptune and other respected gods seem very appropriate, as do demigods and ancient heroes, among whom one might especially list rivers and lakes, and especially those most famous among the Muses, such as Peneus, the Tiber, and the Trasimenus, and above all those personages whom we consider to have been perfect musicians, such as Orpheus, Amphion, and the like. The reason for all this is that since each listener knows all too well that at least in the more familiar parts of the earth ordinary men do not speak in music, but plainly, speaking in music is more consonant with one's conception of superhuman characters than with the notion and experience one has of ordinary men; because, given that musical discourse is more elevated, more authoritative, sweeter, and more noble than ordinary speech, one attributes it to characters who, through a certain innate feeling, have more of a sublime or divine quality. (Appendix II. 1b)

The Florentine solutions, however, did not satisfy the requirements of Venetian librettists. They evidently did not regard the Florentine operas—assuming they even knew them—as sufficiently authoritative to justify their own activities. In any case, it was the Venetians' need to establish a pedigree for sung drama that provoked their interest in ancient theatrical practices. It was an interest that was to be shared by most subsequent theoreticians or critics of opera, including Metastasio.

Their ad hoc investigative procedure involved several steps: first, to establish that music had functioned in various ways in classical drama; then, to demonstrate the relationship of their works to classical drama, by pointing out either similarities or differences. Similarities naturally justified themselves, but differences required further differentiation of the source material. They could


be explained as deriving from inconsistencies or ambiguities in the classical authors themselves or else as reflecting the librettist's desire—condoned by those very same ancient authors—to satisfy modern taste, even if that meant going against tradition.[12]

Music and Drama

In considering the function of music in ancient drama, the Incogniti librettists, very much in the tradition of sixteenth-century literary critics, rehearsed all the possibilities: that ancient drama was sung throughout, that only the choruses were sung, that none of it was sung.[13] In the end, however, it hardly mattered what evidence they adduced. Their conclusion was always the same: regardless of ancient practice, the requirements of modern taste alone were sufficient to justify dramma per musica .

Few librettists were as confident and succinct—and as circuitous—on the matter as Vincenzo Nolfi in the preface to his Bellerofonte (164:2). He readily accepted the classical precedent of sung drama as the least controversial feature of his activity, declaring axiomatically that his was "a kind of poem that has returned to the original nature of drama as far as singing is concerned." But he rejected historical precedents for every other aspect of his libretto, proclaiming it to be entirely modern, geared to a culture "that no longer acknowledges Epicharmus as father, nor Sicily as homeland, nor Aristotle as law-giver" (Appendix I. 19d). But then, in another twist, he went on to defend the idea of novelty and change of taste on the very basis of the precedent he had previously

[12] A rather nice example of their characteristic reasoning is provided by Busenello in connection with his libretto La prosperira infelice di Giulio Cesare dittatore (1646). He cites Seneca the dramatist to justify his rejection of modern taste embodied in his choice of five acts rather than three: "If the acts are five and not three, remember that all ancient dramas, and particularly the tragedies of Seneca, are divided into five acts" (Appendix I. 12a). But Seneca the man justifies the opposite attitude toward modern taste— acceptance: "It is necessary to satisfy modern taste to some extent, always keeping in mind the praise that Tacitus bestowed on Seneca, that is, that he had an imagination made to order for the taste of his times" (Appendix I. 12c). See Rosand, "Seneca," 40-41.

[13] All of the interpretations were based on a rather ambiguous passage from Aristotle's Poetics , ch. 1 (1447b): "There are, lastly, certain other arts, which combine all the means enumerated, rhythm, melody, and verse, e.g. dithyrambic and nomic poetry, tragedy and comedy; with this difference, however, that the three kinds of means are in some of them all employed together and in others brought in separately, one after the other" (The Complete Works of Aristotle , Revised Oxford Translation, ed. Jonathan Barnes [Princeton, 1984], 2:2317). See, for example, Benedetto Varchi, Lezzioni della poetica (1553-54); Giraldi Cintio, Discorso intorno al comporre delle come-die e delle tragedie (1543/54), quoted in Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 433-44; Lodovico Castelvetro, Poetica d'Aristotile vulgarizzata e sposta (Vienna, 1570), 33, 146; and Francesco Patrizi, Della poetica, La deca istoriale (Ferrara, 1586). See also Giorgio Bartoli's letter to Lorenzo Giacomim, summarized in Claude Palisca, "The Alterati of Florence: Pioneers in the Theory of Dramatic Music," in New Looks at Italian Opera: Essays in Honor of Donald J. Grout , ed. William W. Austin (Ithaca, N.Y., 1968), 31-34. The entire issue is discussed most recently and fully in Claude Palisca, Humanism in Italian Renaissance Musical Thought (New Haven, 1985), ch. 14, "Theory of Dramatic Music."


rejected, dropping the names of various authorities in his wake: "All customs change, and even the most depraved novelties can please, as Scaliger said in regard to the Amphytrion of Plautus. If the various Cratinuses, Aristophanes, and Terences were alive today, they too might change their ideas" (Appendix I.19e).

Pietro Paolo Bissari, more specific in his classical citations and more expansive and circumstantial in his discussion (as well as more consistent), prefaced his Torilda (1648) with a lengthy disquisition on classical drama. His aim was to show that every aspect of his libretto—machines, gods, dances, frequent changes of scene, infusion of comic elements, and even the placement of the orchestra in the theater—was based on classical precedent. Musical setting was second on his list, following frequent scene changes: "Nor would it be at variance with that practice for drama to be staged with music, since it is known that Phrynicus was elected Captain for this reason, that he had his tragedies sung with melodies and musical art that were modes appropriate for battle" (Appendix I.25b). Bissari, who was more anxious than most of his colleagues to establish the continuity between ancient drama and his own work, concluded his essay on an unusually positive note by suggesting that "in all of these works the ancient institutions seem revived rather than interrupted" (Appendix I.25e).[14]

Most writers, however, took a more tentative and circumspect stance, clothing their defenses in more theoretical garb. The anonymous (= Incognito) author of Le nozze d'Enea (1640 [1641]), for example, evidently believed that only the choruses of ancient drama were sung; but that hardly prevented him from justifying his own theatrical efforts, though it complicated his argument. He opened his defense by distinguishing between two types of tragedy, "di lieto fine" and "d'esito lugubre" ("called tragichissima by Aristotle"), and then offered the usual explanation, modern taste, for having chosen the former type for his libretto:

In order to accommodate myself to current taste, I have chosen a tragedy with a happy ending, rather than otherwise. Considering in addition that since it is to be sung, and not simply recited, such a tragedy seemed more appropriate: although not because I am certain that in ancient times melancholy tragedies were not also sung, or at least the choral part; but it is certain that such a practice was gradually abandoned, to the point where, even in "happy" tragedies, music had become an external, merely ornamental feature. (Appendix I.9c)[15]

[14] Torilda was one of the few librettos that explicitly offered spoken performance as an option. Another was Giulio Strozzi's La finta savia (1643).

[15] The author of this libretto derives his two kinds of tragedy from Renaissance commentaries on Aristotle. Le nozze d'Enea was long assumed to be the work of Giacomo Badoaro, an assumption questioned and tentatively dismissed in Walker, "Errori," 11-12, and Anna Sweykowska, "Le due poetiche venete e le ultime opere di Claudio Monteverdi," Quadrivium 18 (1977): 149.


Somewhat later in the letter, the author returned, again obliquely, to the issue of the function of music in ancient drama. He explained his substitution of ballets for "classical" choruses between the acts of his work on the grounds that sung choruses only had an effect when the rest of the drama was not sung (i.e., he assumed that in ancient drama only the choruses were sung): "Given that the entire tragedy is sung, to sing the choruses as well would become too tiresome; therefore, in order to please the spectators more with variety, ballets have been introduced" (Appendix I.9i).

Even those librettists who were unwilling to admit that music had played any part at all in early classical drama found a way to link their works with the past. Giacomo Badoaro, for example, to judge from his preface to Ulisse errante (1644), considered the complete musical performance of a drama to be very far from ancient practice. But he exploited the lack of consistency among ancient playwrights on other issues, such as the appropriate number of characters in a drama or the necessity of a prologue, to justify a wide variety of modern practices.

The author who perhaps more clearly than any other articulated the Incognito librettists' attitude toward classical sources, and the one who certainly presented them most cynically, was Gian Francesco Busenello, Monteverdi's collaborator in L'incoronazione di Poppea . In a letter to his friend Giovanni Grimani, proprietor/impresario of the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo, written upon the presentation of his drama Statira (1655), Busenello aired the entire controversy about the correct performance of ancient tragedy, systematically undermining the relevance of each of the issues in the debate. In general he discouraged the use of ancient precedent as a standard for measuring modern efforts. Since his poetry was designed to be sung, he argued, ancient poetic models should not be applied to it, the assumption being that ancient poetry was not sung (Appendix I.13b). But, he continued, like the skilled polemicist he was, "even if we allow that the poems of the ancient Greeks were sung, as some maintain, and that Homer himself was both the poet and composer of his own songs, that music was different from ours" (Appendix I.13c). Finally he deflated the significance of the whole investigation of ancient practice, refusing "to be the judge of whether it was the ancients or the moderns who brought musical plays into the theater" (Appendix I.13d). His attitude regarding the futility of such investigation is perhaps best captured by the final sentence of the preface to another of his librettos, La prosperità infelice di Giulio Cesare dittatore : "And may those who enjoy enslaving themselves to the ancient rules find their fulfillment in baying at the full moon" (Appendix I.12b).[16]

[16] See also a similar remark in the text of another of Busenello's librettos, Didone (1641), in Gian Francesco Busenello, Delle hore ociose (Venice: Giuliani, 1656), 53: "Non possono i Poeti a questi dì / Rappresentar le favole a lor modo, / Chi ha fisso questo chiodo, / Del vero studio il bel sentier smarì."


These early Venetian librettists' preoccupation with the genre of their works was not unambivalent. For at the same time as they defended their combination of music and drama either on the grounds of classical precedent or as a response to the demands of modern taste, they also blamed a variety of defects in their librettos, such as lapses in decorum, form, or style, on the special exigencies of music. These shortcomings, they claimed, were the inevitable result of combining two incompatible artistic media. The question of how music and drama must modify each other when they are combined is, of course, the central aesthetic issue of opera, and it is to these librettists that we owe the first and most articulate airing of the issue. Their need to justify opera, because it was new, prompted them to expose and attempt to resolve the inconsistencies, imperfections, and compromises inherent in it. Concern with this issue abated after some years of operatic experience, but it never completely disappeared.

Music served as scapegoat for a variety of literary offenses: for inelegant language, mixed meters, varied characters, and so on. One author, Niccolò Enea Bartolini, the librettist of Venere gelosa (1643), proceeded from the defensive premise that because his work was created to be sung, it should nonetheless not fear comparison with those that are merely intended to be recited. The implication, of course, was that it might otherwise be considered thoroughly inferior: "And if its poetry is not filled with aphorisms and witticisms, it cannot on that account be called either cold or lacking in spirit. I have maintained a high style, and with diversity of meters and propriety of language have sought to stimulate the imagination of the composer" (Appendix I.21).

The anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea also cited music as a blanket excuse for all sorts of lapses in his poetry, in particular his use of varied meters to distinguish between high and low characters:

And so to adapt to the characters, and to the emotions that they are to express, I have made use of a number of different meters; that is to say, I have given versi sdruccioli to people of low condition, and versi brevi and tronchi to choleric types, though knowing well that the better Tuscan tragedians used only lines of seven, eleven, and occasionally five syllables. Nevertheless, given that the ancient Greeks and Romans, in addition to the lamb, also used trimeter, tetrameter, and other meters in their tragedies, I do not see why [such variety] is prohibited to us, at least in the case of six- and eight-syllable lines. And besides, musical tragedies are entitled to a freedom not enjoyed by those that are merely spoken. (Appendix I.9f)

The same justification served for his mixture of characters—in particular, his introduction of comic characters within a serious plot:

I have made use of this fellow [Numano, called "the Strong" by Virgil] as a comic character, since I could not find in the author anyone more suitable [for such a role], and because I knew the disposition of many theatergoers, who prefer jokes like this to serious things as we see that Iro of our friend was a marvelous success. But re-


ally I would not have introduced this sort of character in a different kind of [i.e., non-musical] tragedy. (Appendix I.9e)

For Busenello, writing for music required the abandonment of poetic elegance and classical poetic forms. In the preface to Starira , he acknowledged the low style of his poetry; more ambitious literary embellishment, he implied, was not suitable for musical drama:

I would have been more eloquent in writing this play, and would have concentrated my faculties to elevate the style somewhat, if the brevity and conventions required by the [musical] stage had allowed it. It is one thing to compose an ode or a sonnet, in which enthusiasm is permitted to thought, and ecstasy to the imagination in exciting the ears with sweet stimuli and the heart with a sensual sparkle, by contriving a soothing and ingenious conclusion; it is another thing to compose a play, in which the characters are under constraints, and use common speech, and if the tone becomes too elevated it loses its seemliness and decorum. (Appendix I.13a)

And in the letter on Starira already mentioned, he explained that he had tried to follow the style of the best Italian authors instead of ancient writers in his "elocutions." Since he was writing poetry for music, with its "measures and numbers, irregularities and alliterations geared to music, Greek forms, such as strophes and antistrophes, hymns, idylls, and odes, are all irrelevant" (Appendix I.13b).

But the impact of music on drama went far beyond mere inelegance and infelicities imposed on its poetry; it thoroughly undermined its verisimilitude. It was difficult for any audience to believe that singing was speech. What sparked all of these librettists' preoccupation with the genre, their attempts to justify the combination of music and drama, either through classical precedent or modern taste, was their discomfort with the question of verisimilitude. This issue underlies all their defenses, although it is actually mentioned only rarely. One of the few authors to do so was Giacomo Badoaro, in the preface to Ulisse errante (1644). After having characteristically blamed his own specific failure to observe the ancient rules of drama on the special demands made by music, he addressed the question of verisimilitude: "It is normal today for the purpose of pleasing the spectators . . . to introduce improbable situations so long as they do not disturb the main action." Having introduced music into our dramas, he continues,

we cannot avoid the implausible, namely, that men should carry on their most important transactions while singing. Moreover, in order to enjoy variety in the theater, we are used to music for two, three, and more voices, which causes another unlikelihood: that several people conversing together should suddenly find themselves saying the same thing simultaneously. (Appendix I.8j)


The joining of music and drama could simply not be achieved without the loss of verisimilitude. No matter what precedents might be adduced, song could not pass for speech. As all these librettists recognized, and as Badoaro acknowledged, the impact of dramma per musica depended on an audience believing either that the singers were in fact really speaking, or else that they meant to be singing. The complete acceptance of the genre required the acceptance of unverisimilar action—and clearly, this never happened.

Verisimilitude, the eternal operatic embarrassment, continued to cast a shadow over opera well after 1650, but the focus narrowed somewhat from general skepticism of the whole enterprise to specific concern with the nature of the musical language itself. Badoaro's distinction between speech and song was rendered more precise in the by now classic formulation of this dilemma in a libretto of 1651 by Francesco Sbarra, Alessandro vincitor di se stesso :

I know that the ariette sung by Alexander and Aristotle will be judged as contrary to the decorum of such great personages; but I also know that musical recitation is improper altogether, since it does not imitate natural discourse and removes the soul from dramatic compositions, which should be nothing but imitations of human actions, and yet this defect is not only tolerated by the current century but received with applause. This kind of poetry today has no purpose other than to give delight; thus we should adjust to the practice of the times. (Appendix I.29e)

By 1651, through use, musical "speech," that is, recitative, had become thoroughly acceptable. But "song," that is, the arias, still posed a problem. Sbarra's statement is corroborated by the continued reluctance of librettists to introduce arias into their dramas, and their attempts to construct and invent evasions and pretexts for them. The development and persistence well beyond the middle of the century of conventional situations in which singing was either natural or purposely unnatural—songs within the drama, for instance, or scenes of madness and sleep—bear witness to the unresolvable contradiction posed by the mixing of music and drama.

Dramatic Structure: The Unities

In addition to defending their general involvement in opera by such shows of erudition, these early Venetian librettists also cited precedents from the past to justify certain specific features of their works. Their individual decisions regarding observance of the unities, division into acts, and the use of chorus were carefully examined in the light of classical authority. One of the most hotly debated topics concerned the appropriateness of adhering to the so-called Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. Originally conceived by sixteenth-century literary theorists and commentators on Aristotle as merely one aspect


of the larger issue of genre—in particular the distinctions between tragedy, comedy, and the epic—the unities had become an increasingly specific focus of discussion.[17] The subject continued to concern seventeenth-century writers.

The crux of the problem for the sixteenth century was the disagreement as to whether Aristotle had addressed the unities at all in his Poetics . In fact, Aristotle set some store on unity of action in tragedy—as opposed to the epic, which by definition encompassed many actions.[18] And he alluded to the unity of time when he observed that tragedy limited itself to what can occur during a single revolution of the sun—whereas the epic, again by definition, knows no such limits.[19] The third unity, that of place, did not figure at all in the Poetics . A number of the sixteenth-century elaborations and interpretations of the Poetics , however, did concern themselves specifically with the unities. One of these, Castelvetro's Poetica d'Aristotele vulgarizzata et sposta (1570), seems to have been the first to articulate unity of place as a rule and to formulate the concept of the three unities as they were subsequently understood—in France as well as Italy.[20]

The "rules" were originally interpreted as being genre-specific, applicable to tragedy only, and not to comedy or the epic; but a number of commentators, including Castelvetro, tried to adapt them to other genres as well. It was this attempt during the sixteenth century to broaden their application that stimulated librettists' concern with the unities. The question was most pressing—and most relevant—in those early Venetian librettos that aspired to the status of tragedy. The anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea , for example, whose preface I have already quoted, made a special effort to define his work as a tragedia (though di lieto fine ) and considered the problem of the unities at great length.[21] Significantly, librettists' concern with the unities diminished in proportion to their growing acceptance of the generic legitimacy of dramma per musica .

As for the literary theorists of the sixteenth century, so, too, for their seventeenth-century heirs the unities represented only part of the larger ques-

[17] See the summary in Joel E. Spingarn, A History of Literary Criticism in the Renaissance , 2d ed. (New York, 1908), 56-63, 84-96; also Weinberg, Literary Criticism , passim.

[18] The relevant passage in the Poetics, ch. 5 (1451a) reads: "Just as in the other imitative arts one imitation is always of one thing, so in poetry the story, as an imitation of action, must represent one action, a complete whole, with its several incidents so closely connected that the transposition or withdrawal of any one of them will disjoin and dislocate the whole" (Complete Works of Aristotle , ed. Barnes, 2: 2322).

[19] Poetics (1449b): "[Epic poetry] differs from it [tragedy], however, in that it is in one kind of verse and in narrative form; and also by its length—which is due to its action having no fixed limit of time, whereas tragedy endeavours to keep as far as possible within a single circuit of the sun, or something near that" (Complete Works of Aristotle , ed. Barnes, 2: 2320).

[20] See Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 502-17 for Castelvetro; chs. 9-13 treat the various Renaissance interpretations of the Poetics in great detail. See also Piero Weiss, "Neoclassical Criticism and Opera," Studies in the History of Music 2 (1987): 1-30.

[21] Only a few other authors explicitly considered their works to be tragedies. Paolo Vendramin, for example, called his Adone (1640) a tragedia musicale ,and Badoaro's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria is labeled a tragedia con lieto fine in one of its manuscript copies (I-Vmc, MS Cicogna 192, no. 3330).


tion of genre. But the topic nevertheless received special emphasis in the apologies of the librettists, perhaps because it came into direct conflict with one of the most essential requirements of the new operatic genre: variety. It was difficult for librettists to reconcile these two principles, the one theoretical, the other practical, but they spilled considerable ink in the attempt. As usual, their explanations took one of two forms: either they demonstrated how their works were unified—interpreting that concept with considerable freedom—or else they justified the fact that they were not.

Some authors minimized the distinctions between their works and classical drama. Fusconi, for example, in his preface to Amore innamorato (1642), states that the work "follows all the good rules taught by the masters: it ends within the span of one day, or little more; it has one plot line, with no extraneous events; and it does not stray at all from established custom" (Appendix I.27a). But no sooner has he affirmed his observation of the unities of time and action than he deftly—and predictably—undermines the significance of that affirmation by invoking modern taste:

But I do not think it makes sense to go to the trouble of defending something even the authors themselves were careless about. Especially given that our present age is made up of private opinions and interests and thus does not believe in any rules except those of whim and of passion. (Appendix I.27b)[22]

Giulio Strozzi, in the preface to his Delia (1639), adopts a similarly casual tone in minimizing the extent of his departure from the unity of time, implying quite effectively that a slight abuse of that unity is his only transgression. After defending his plot and characters by citing classical precedents, he confesses: "I have taken the liberty of a couple of hours: I don't know if Aristotle or Aristarchus will grant them to me" (Appendix I.15g).

But other librettists seem especially bent on preserving the unity of time above the other two. The author of Le nozze d'Enea found it necessary to stretch the boundaries of place, choosing a large geographical region rather than the corner of a city for his action, but he accepted the unity of time without question:

As for the physical setting, whereas for myself I would have chosen a city, or a part of one, as good tragedians, our friends both ancient and modern, do, nevertheless, in order to give the audience pleasure through variety, I have taken a little piece of the small portion of Italy that is Latium, so that the action can be now in court, now in the woods, and elsewhere, as the occasion requires. But as for time, I did

[22] It is perhaps noteworthy here that the libretto in question treats a mythological subject, in which the unities are more easily followed.


not want to diverge from the rule so often laid down by the master of true knowledge, which stipulates for tragedy the span of one day or a little more. (Appendix I.9d)

Unity of time was particularly significant in this instance: it seems to have served an important function with respect to dramatic verisimilitude. In explaining, later in the same essay, why he has chosen to divide his drama into five acts rather than the more modern three, the anonymous author alludes to the relationship between dramatic and real time:

And although the modern practice is to divide even spoken plays into three acts, I have preferred to divide mine into five, so that with more pauses the audience might rest from the mental effort of following a series of depicted events, and to this end I have settled on such a division. And also to adapt, at least in appearance, the timespan of the imitation to the duration of what it imitates. Given therefore that the action of the play covers one day, it would seem indeed that that is how long the play should last; but since this would be too inconvenient and tedious for the audience, the same continuous plot is divided into acts, so that one imagines that between one act and another more time elapses than actually does, and in this way, all told, one attains the span of one day. (Appendix I.9j)

Since the play could not possibly last as long as the time represented on stage, four intermissions—rather than two—made the illusion that much more suggestive.[23] Unity of time as a concept is addressed more explicitly by another librettist we have already heard from, Bissari, in his preface to Toritda (1648): "These operas do not fail those rules of quantity in that they generally represent the events of a single day in the prescribed limit of four hours" (Appendix I.25d).

One of the fullest discussions of the unities, as well as of other aspects of "classical" theory, to be found in these early librettos is Badoaro's preface to Ulisse errante (1644), his "Lettera dell'Assicurato Academico Incognito." Badoaro's generous airing of various possible interpretations of the "rules" was intended to assure the reader that his own decision to treat them in the freest possible manner was an educated, conscious one: "This opera necessarily required some transgression of the rules. I do not consider this a fault, and if others insist that it is, it will be a conscious, and not inadvertent, error" (Appendix I.8e). According to Badoaro, none of the three unities, no matter which interpretation is followed, accords with modern taste. Here is his scholastic defense of his position on the unity of time:

[23] It was important for the author to preserve the illusion that the time represented on stage was equivalent to that actually spent by the audience in the theater. For an analogous interpretation of the function of intermedi to enhance the dramatic verisimilitude of a play by framing it in unreality, see Pirrotta, Music and Theatre , "Temporal Perspective and Music," esp. 127-29.


As for the span of time covered by the plot, some wanted to allow a limit of eight hours, and no more, others one revolution of the sun, some two days, others three; and even these uncertain rules were not always observed by Aeschylus, by Euripides, or by Sophocles, in some of whose plots months go by, and even years. Others said that it was more than sufficient if the story could be grasped without effort in one act of memory, and I myself could accept this opinion. The precepts of poetics after all are not permanent, because the mutations of centuries give rise to diversity in composition. (Appendix I.8g)

Badoaro's apologia here, his justification for the stretching of time to its useful—if not logical—limits, recalls the sixteenth-century literary defenders or modernizers of Aristotle.[24] That justification was to supply the theoretical basis for exploitation on the part of later Venetian librettists to an extent Badoaro himself could hardly have imagined.[25]

As far as unity of place was concerned, the same argument applied. Ancient tragedy was different from modern drama, a difference Badoaro documents by a quick summary of its development adapted from Horace:

In its earliest days, Tragedy was recited by the poet alone, his face tinted with the dregs of crushed grapes. Later characters were introduced, and masks; and then choruses were added, and music, and sound effects, and scene-changes, and dances replaced the choruses; and perhaps in the future, as times change, our descendants will witness the introduction of still other forms. (Appendix I.8h)[26]

Since ancient tragedy was so different from modern drama, it followed that its rules could no longer be strictly applied. But free application of the rules resulted in a breach of verisimilitude—the very sin these rules were created to mitigate:

At one time changes of place were abhorred in these plays, but at present, in order to please the eyes, what was once prohibited seems to be prescribed, so that every day greater numbers of scene-changes are devised; now, in order to increase the delight of the audience, one thinks nothing of introducing some improbabilities, as long as they do not disfigure the plot. (Appendix I.8i-j)

[24] The argument is particularly reminiscent of Francesco Buonamici, Discorsi poetici nella Accademia fiorentina in difesa d'Aristotile (Florence, 1597); see Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 689, 696-97.

[25] The stretching of time to cover many days, even years, was not uncommon in some librettos (see, for example, Didone ). Most relevant for the production of Ulisse errante itself, the temporal elasticity provided the opportunity for a great number of scene changes to accommodate the scenography of Giacomo Torelli, newly moved to the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo from the Teatro Novissimo. See Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 41.

[26] Badoaro's account of the evolution of classical drama seems to derive from a conflation of Aristotle's Poetics and Horace's Ars poetica —along with Aristotle's text the most important focus for translation and commentary during the sixteenth century. The two works were often conflated or jointly interpreted. See Marvin T. Herrick, The Fusion of Horatian and Aristotelian Literary Criticism, 1531-1555 (Urbana, Ill., 1946), 406.


Badoaro does claim unity of action for his drama, but he does so by vastly stretching the definition of unity through elaborate verbal sophistry:

The plot . . . aims to be una unius [one in unity]. Unified, then, is my plot, because the subject unity is Ulysses; the formal unity is his errancy; nor do many errors constitute many plots, but only many parts of a plot, which constitute a single and great action, such as Aristotle advocates. (Appendix I.8c)

He argues from both sides of the question, proving unity of action at the same time as he defends its absence:

If someone objects that this subject is not appropriate for the stage, I will say that it is, hoping that as soon as he has heard the work, he will change his mind. If he says that it contains multiple plots, I will say that I was the first to point it out, and that can easily be seen from the subdivisions of the action that I send him, here enclosed, for this purpose. As for the adventures that befall Ulysses while traveling, it is true that they are multiple actions, but in respect to the intention of the traveler, which is to get back to his country, they are but a single action. (Appendix I.8b)

And he adds:

If these arguments are convincing, let them be accepted; if not, let it be said that I have wished to depict the greatest misfortunes experienced by Ulysses on his voyage home. Those who create their subjects out of their own imaginations do very well to proceed in strict accordance with the rules; given that the choice is theirs, they are wise to follow common practice; but he who commits himself to the hero of a known tale cannot take him on without the details of the events that necessarily go with the story. (Appendix I.8d)

Badoaro's emphasis on the incompatibility of the unities and modern practice was also expounded by several other spokesmen for the new genre. Busenello touches on the question of the unities in almost all of his writings. Revealing his acute awareness of the distinctions between ancient drama and his own librettos, he draws upon a wide variety of defenses to support his departures from classical precedent; his final defense, however, is always the same: modern taste. In Didone (1641) he excuses his breach of the unity of time by citing the precedent of Spanish drama: "This opera is influenced by modern opinions. It is not constructed according to the ancient rules but, according to Spanish usage, it represents years and not hours" (Appendix I.11a).[27] In Giulio Cesare (1646), however, he simply confesses to abusing the unities of both time and place without presenting a formal defense, citing as justification only his

[27] Busenello was presumably referring here to the dramas of Lope de Vega, whose views on the unities were specifically articulated in a letter to the Florentine playwright Jacopo Cicognini, in which he urgedhim to compose in the new style and not to follow the old rules for the unities; see Belloni, Il seicento , 354.


desire to please the public. Here the poet makes Tempo, one of the allegorical characters featured in the prologue, his mouthpiece:

Here you will see years / Epitomized in hours. / . . . Who could ever object / If one melodious night reveals to you / The happenings and deeds of a thousand days? / . . . And I, in order to delight you, / Disciples, or rather teachers, of Alcydes / With flattering art, / Have enclosed more than a year in an evening: / Without using either couriers or ships, / Without changing your seats, you will discover / Thessaly, Lesbos, the Lighthouse, Egypt, and Rome. (Appendix I.12d)

As far as unity of action is concerned, Busenello calls upon Guarini as a witness for his defense in the preface to Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (1640):

The other things in the present play [aside from the Apollo-Daphne plot] are episodes interwoven in the manner that you will see; and if perchance someone should judge that the unity of the plot is broken by the multiplicity of love stories (that is, of Apollo and Daphne, of Tithonus and Aurora, of Cephalus and Procris), let him be reassured by remembering that these interweavings do not destroy the unity, but rather embellish it; and let him remember that the Cavalier Guarino, in his Pastor Fido, did not intend a multiplicity of loves (that is, between Myrtillus and Amaryllis, and between Sylvius and Dorinda), but rather used the love story of Dorinda and Sylvius to adorn his tale. (Appendix I.10)[28]

Busenello sounds suspiciously like Badoaro when he demonstrates, by means of historical exegesis, the incompatibility of ancient rules and modern taste: neither Greek tragedy (originally performed on a cart with mud on the actors' faces), Homer (whose characters spoke three, four, or even five cantos in a row), nor Seneca (whose acts consist of but a single scene with chorus) would appeal to a modern audience; by extension, neither can the rules that governed them serve modern drama.[29]

It is worth noting the dates of Busenello's statements. Although, with the exception of Statira (1655), his librettos were among the earliest performed on the Venetian stage, neither they nor his prefaces appeared in print before 1656— that is, well after the establishment of dramma per musica in Venice. If he seems somewhat more radical in his pronouncements than his fellow librettists, more responsive to modern taste, it may be because he is observing the scene in retrospect, having been bolstered by their success as well as his own.

[28] Busenello also invoked Guarini in the letter he wrote to Giovanni Grimani in connection with his libretto of Statira (1655 ), when he compared Il pastor fido favorably with Tasso's Aminta ; the letter is excerpted in Arthur Livingston, La vita veneziana nelle opere di Gian Francesco Busenello (Venice, 1913), 369-79. See below, Appendix I.13b-d.

[29] He made these three points in the Starira letter; see Livingston, Vita veneziana .


Division into Acts

The division of their dramas into acts seems to have been a much simpler proposition for the librettists than adherence to the unities. To begin with, they had only two choices: three acts or five. Classical precedent as articulated by Horace was unambiguous: five-act division was the accepted norm for ancient drama.[30] But strong competition was readily available from the living tradition of the cornmedia dell'arte as well as from Spanish drama, with their three-act structures.[31] By its very simplicity, in fact, the choice between five or three acts focused the librettists' dilemma with particular clarity. It demanded a commitment, one that could not be hedged. Whatever the decision, it was an immediate confession that classical precedent either was or was not being followed. Given librettists' alleged discomfort with the necessity of abusing the unities, it is surprising how few of them chose the five-act format.

We have considered the defense by the librettist of Le nozze d'Enea of his five-act format on the basis of verisimilitude: five acts offer twice as many intermissions as three, hence twice as many opportunities for the audience to imagine the passage of time. It is interesting that this author does not even attempt to cite classical authority for his choice, but somewhat sheepishly acknowledges the modern preference for three acts. Busenello, on the other hand, justifies the five acts of his Giutio Cesare (1646) with a perfunctory bow to classical precedent: "If the acts are five and not three, remember that all ancient dramas, and especially the tragedies of Seneca, are divided into five acts" (Appendix I.12a). But Giulio Cesare happens to be Busenello's only five-act libretto.[32] And, as we have seen, he shows no compunction in dismissing classical precedent in the prefaces to his other librettos—and even in the preface to

[30] Horace, Ars poetica (The Complete Works of Horace , ed. Casper J. Kraemer, Jr. [New York, 1936]), 403: "A play which is to be in demand and, after production, to be revived, should consist of five acts—no more, no less."

[31] All of the scenarios in Flaminio Scala's Teatro delle favole rappresentative (Venice, 1611), for example, are in three acts. Significantly, however, most of the literary dramas by the same and other authors, which were designed to be read rather than staged, are in five acts. See, for example, Flaminio Scala, Il finto marito (1618) in Commedie dei comici dell'arte , ed. Laura Falavolti (Turin, 1982), 215-365. A number of early Roman librettos, themselves rather strongly influenced by the Spanish tradition, were also in three acts. These include La rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (1600) and Eumelio (1606), as well as Giulio Rospigliosi's Erminia sul Giordano (1633) and Stefano Landi's Sant'Alessio (1634). The "rules" of Spanish drama in the seventeenth century are articulated in Lope de Vega, Arte nuevo de hater comedias en este tiempo (Madrid, 1609). Lope himself abandoned the "rules" of tragedy, including five-act division and the "unities," in his plays. In the letter to Cicognini mentioned in n. 27 above, for example, he recommended the ordering of "actions . . . to cover the space not just of a day, but of many months, even years."

[32] And despite contrary evidence in the libretto itself (allusions in the preface and prologue), it may also be the only one never set to music. It was certainly not performed in 1646, the season for which it was intended, since all of the Venetian opera houses were closed in that year. See Walker, "Errori," 16.


Giulio Cesare with respect to other issues. Busenello reveals his true nature here, and the true functioning of his education. For him and his fellow academicians, the entire arsenal of precedent existed to be used or discarded as needed. And the needs changed frequently. What passed for legitimate one day failed the next. In any case, five-act librettos were exceedingly rare in Venice, even in the early years of generic insecurity.[33]

Three acts may have been the accepted norm for modern opera librettos (as they were for Spanish drama and cornmedia dell'arte ), but at least one of our early authors was moved to justify his choice. In the preface to his first libretto, Delia (1639), Giulio Strozzi claims three-act division as natural: "I have divided the work quite deliberately into three acts, a division common to all things: beginning, middle, and end"; and he defends it against the silent proponents of the "classical" five acts by distinguishing between ancient drama and his own work: "The ancients made five in theirs, because they interspersed them with singing [i.e., choruses]. This work, being wholly sung, has no need of so many pauses" (Appendix I.15e).[34]

After the early 1640s, the three-act division, a clear bow to modern taste, became completely conventional for dramma per musica ; five acts, however, remained the norm for spoken dramas.[35] The issue did not arise again until the end of the century, when a few of the most radical neoclassicizing librettists, especially Frigimelica Roberti, but also Zeno, used five-act division as an emblem of their orthodoxy.[36]

[33] Among the few were Paolo Vendramin's Adone (1640), the anonymous Le nozze d'Enea (1641), and Badoaro's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640) and L'Ulisse errante (1644)—but the score of Ritorno is in three acts and the other operas may also have been altered; we cannot know since their scores are lost. For a brief discussion of the differences between the manuscript librettos of Il ritorno d'Ulisse and the single extant score, see Wolfgang Osthoff, "Zu den Quellen von Monteverdis Ritorno di Ulisse in patria," Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 23 (1956 ): 67-78.

[34] In defending his division into acts, Strozzi implicitly and incidentally acknowledged his belief that ancient drama was only partly sung, and therefore not a model for him. His choice of the term azzione rather than the more common atto , however, smacks of self-conscious classicism that is undermined by the tripartite division. Such classicizing or pseudo-classicizing word choices were typical of Strozzi. In a similarly oblique acknowledgment of classical precedent, he ostentatiously gave the three acts of his next two librettos, La finta pazza (1641) and La finta savia (1643), Greek labels: "Protasi," "Epitasi," and "Catastrofe," thereby implying an awareness of ancient practice that would be belied by the three-act division itself. (These terms appear in Donatus's fourth-century commentary on Terence, i, 22, 27; see W. Beare, The Roman Stage [London, 1964], 217 and ch. 25, "The Roman Origin of the Law of Five Acts.") In another instance, Strozzi dignified the un-unified place of his Proserpina rapira with a Greek term, anatopismo , defined in the libretto as "un error di luoghi havendo qui per vaghezza il Poeta congiunto insieme il Lago di Pergusa, il monte d'Etna, il promontorio Pachino, etc."

[35] All of the plays written by Giacomo Castoreo for the Teatro ai Saloni were in five acts (with musical intermedi). Castoreo's librettos, however, were in three acts.

[36] Most of Frigimelica Roberti's librettos have five acts. They and other five-act librettos by such poets as Zeno and Pariati were a specialty of the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo; see ch. 13 below.



Another apparently clear-cut choice for early librettists involved the use of a chorus. Its presence in ancient tragedy was axiomatic; both Aristotle and Horace were clear about its importance, ascribing to it several different roles within the action.[37] The pastoral, too, made use of choral passages, which, however, were usually more tangential to the plot than those of tragedy. Opera, insofar as it was considered a revival of Greek tragedy, was thus bound to include choruses. And yet modern taste dictated otherwise, at least in Venice. Indeed, one of the conventional distinctions between Venetian opera and its predecessors hinges on the importance of choral episodes. Florentine, Mantuan, and Roman operas of the first half of the century employed them extensively, both within and between acts, where they served musical and dramatic purposes. In some of the earliest of these operas, choral passages provided the primary articulations within an otherwise nearly continuous flow of recitative, and thus contributed importantly to the shape of the works.[38] Venetian operas, on the other hand, are notable for their lack—or paucity—of choruses. They concentrate instead on soloists, using a variety of vocal styles to project the drama.[39]

An illustration of the contrast in the use of chorus between early opera and the Venetian dramma per musica is provided by a comparison of Monteverdi's early and late operas, a comparison already made with respect to their orchestral usage. In the tradition of the pastoral, and following the Florentine precedent, Orfeo contains multiple choruses—of nymphs and shepherds, of infernal spirits—that frame and comment on much of the action. In L'incoronazione di Poppea , however, there are only two choruses: Seneca's followers reacting to his decision to die, which requires only three singers for its performance (it is essentially a chorus of soloists), and Nerone's courtiers celebrating Poppea's coronation. A still more striking contrast is offered by the two versions of

[37] See Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 914-16. Aristotle, Poetics , ch. 18 (1456a): "The Chorus too should be regarded as one of the actors; it should be an integral part of the whole, and take a share in the action" (Complete Works of Aristotle , ed. Barnes, 2: 2330). Horace, Ars poetica , ed. Kraemer, 403-4: "The Chorus should discharge the part and duty of an actor with vigor, and chant nothing between the acts that does not forward the action and fit into the plot naturally. The Chorus must back the good and give sage counsel; must control the passionate and cherish those that fear to do evil; it must praise the thrifty meal, the blessings of justice, the laws, and Peace with her unbarred gates. It will respect confidences and implore heaven that prosperity may revisit the miserable and quit the proud." Extensive description of the chorus is absent in Horace's discussion of comedy (p. 406).

[38] In Peri's Euridice and Cavalieri's La rappresentazione di Anima e di Corpo , for instance. The chorus certainly played an important role in later Roman operas based on the model of tragedy. See Margaret Murata, "Classical Tragedy in the History of Early Opera in Rome," Early Music History 4 (1984): 101-34.

[39] The absence of choruses is analogous to the reduced importance of the instrumental movements in Venetian, as opposed to early court, opera. See Donald J. Grout, "The Chorus in Early Opera," in Festschrift Friedrich Blume , ed. Anna Amalie Abert and Wilhelm Pfannkuch (Basel, 1963), 151-61.


Rinuccini's Arianna , the original one for Mantua in 1608 and the revision for Venice in 1640. The libretto printed in 1640, as already observed, differs significantly—though subtly—from the original one. In addition to lacking the generic subtitle tragedia , it places many of the original choruses between virgolette . It would seem, then, that the designation tragedia was associated with extensive choruses. The changes in the 1640 version brought Arianna more closely into line with the increasingly conventionalized Venetian dramma per musica —though it was still far from typical.

Not even the most classicizing of the early Venetian librettists included many choruses in their dramas, and those they did include occurred within, rather than at the ends of, acts. As usual, they felt self-conscious enough to call attention to their lapse. The author of Le nozze d'Enea gives a characteristically thorough, and learned, defense:

The chorus was an integral part of ancient tragedies, entering not only as a character, but singing, mainly between the acts, accompanied by gestures and dancing, and with those characteristic lamentations and outbursts. But in modern plays it is less important, and in some it does little more than separate the acts. Since I have introduced even several choruses within each act, I have not used them at the ends; because given that the entire tragedy is sung, singing the choruses as well would become too monotonous; and thus to give the audience greater satisfaction with variety, ballets have been introduced, derived in some way from the plot, just as the ancient choruses danced to sung tetrameter, a meter very well suited to the movements of the body. (Appendix I.9h-i)

Here the complete musical setting of the drama served as a double excuse, both for not writing choruses between the acts and for including ballets instead, which, in addition to providing that essential commodity, variety, could, by stretching classical theory a little, actually be justified as an extension of the ancient practice of choral dancing.

Bissari, too, in the preface to Torilda , defends his substitution of ballets for choruses between acts with a similar excuse: the choruses danced.

In the divertissements [scherzi ] and dances that are woven into modern performances, ancient practices are revived . . . which made their tragedies less monotonous. . . . Because the new stagings are embellished with these things, it cannot be said that they lack the customary choruses, especially since the choruses appeared mainly in dances: and those dances, to which song will be added, will not be dissimilar to that hyporchema of which Atheneus writes, which was distinguished by being sung and played. (Appendix I.25c)[40]

[40] Most operas of the 1640s contained ballets at the ends of their first and second acts. True to classical precedent, these were usually linked in some way, however loosely, to the dramatic events of the operas. For a summary of the changing function of these ballets in seventeenth-century opera, see Katherine Kuzmick Hansell, "Il ballo teatrale e l'opera italiana," in StOpIt , 5 (Turin, 1988): 177-92.


Modern Taste and Ethics

Behind all of these specific decisions—about the use of chorus, division into acts, and even adherence to the unities—lay a central conflict between traditional rules and modern taste. That conflict touches on an even more fundamental issue, to which these librettists were especially sensitive, one at the very basis of their whole enterprise: the purpose of their works.

The overt commercial values that had shaped opera in Venice from its earliest days gave a new focus to the question, but in addressing it, librettists were following an old tradition, that of the sixteenth-century writers who attempted to understand and communicate the aims of drama in the light of ancient poetic theory.[41] They acknowledged Aristotle's emphasis on emotional catharsis, but generally followed Horace in regarding their purpose as involving both delectation (il diletto ) and edification (l'utile ). The exact definition of these terms, as well as the proportion of the two ingredients in any single work, however, were matters that required considerable discussion. Following Horace, most previous theorists had allowed a mixture of the two aims, the one being a necessary means to the other. So, too, with our librettists, although their generic insecurity led them, at least during the 1640s, defensively to emphasize l'utile above il diletto .

An effort to demonstrate ethical content evidently inspired such elaborate interpretations as the one offered by Giulio Strozzi in the prefatory "Allegoria" of his libretto Delia :

But since . . . I did not work at random in structuring this plot, I shall tell you its allegorical meaning. The sons of the Sun . . . are wretched mortals, subjected to punishment by him for their pride and audacity. The Cyclopes represent the evil vapors. . . . The Sun shoots the Cyclopes, that is, those pernicious fumes, with arrows . . . and overcomes evil. [The Sun pretends to be] the shepherd of Admetus, that is, of the wise prince, who contributes by appropriate means to our salvation. . . . Like the sacred poems, this entire composition can be spiritually applied to the human soul, which seeks to unite with God, by whom it is received in glory. (Appendix I.15b)[42]

Strozzi claims a high moral significance, indeed, for a text that might seem a rather unlikely vehicle.

Moral scruples appear to have been operating once again in the preface to his next libretto, La finta pazza , in which he defends the apparently low tone of the work: "Do not laugh at the humbleness of the name ['The Feigned Madwoman'], nor at the [low] nature of the subject, because I wished to keep

[41] See Spingarn, History , 47; also Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 505-8, on Castelvetro.

[42] Such an allegorical gloss continues the kind of moralizing impulse that had made pagan texts like Ovid safe for centuries of Christian readers.


my claims modest, and my invitation narrow, so that, without high-sounding titles, I could much more easily live up to the low expectations of the work" (Appendix I.16b). Not only is the apparent modesty of the libretto intentional, but so is the seemingly indecorous behavior of one of the principal characters, Deidamia, who feigns madness. Her action, however, offers a moral lesson: as Strozzi reminds his readers, "many great men, through feigned madness, have put into effect their wisest counsel, to the great benefit of the nation" ("molti huomini grandi con simulata pazzia hanno effettuato i lor prudentissimi consigli in gran benefitio della patria").

Didactic value of a more specific kind is ascribed to Deidamia's madness by Bisaccioni. In his commentary on Strozzi's work, he interprets it as a practical lesson in child-rearing, illustrating "how wary fathers should be, in raising their children, to provide for them and foresee the dangers they face" ("quanto debbano i padri star oculati nel provedere e prevedere i pericoli dei figli nell'allevarli"). And this lesson in turn proves that, unlikely as it may seem, "stage works should be heard and considered more for edification than for pleasure" ("l'opere sceniche dovrebbono per utile, più che per diletto udirsi, e considerare"). The message certainly transcends the medium.[43]

Some librettists, however, made a point of denying moral purpose to their works. The oft-quoted anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea asserts that although the Horatian l'utite is in fact the "fin principale" of poetry, his aim is "diletto maggiore" as well as the Aristotelian excitation of the passions:

But although it is true that tragedies with tragic endings are superior to the other kind [i.e., his tragedy "di lieto fine"], even this kind is capable of exciting the passions; and besides it produces greater pleasure, which, even if it is not the principal aim of poetry, as edification is, still must be much sought after by the poet, especially since it is demanded by the temper of the times, to which poets have always adapted themselves in large measure. (Appendix I.9b)

And the librettist of Bellerofonte no longer even felt the pull of l'utile as he boldly rejected Horatian authority and proclaimed it diletto as poetry's chief purpose: "Of the two aims of poetry that Horace taught, only pleasure remains. In this age men have no need to learn the way of the world from the writings of others" (Appendix I.19f).

Denial no less than affirmation of ethical aims calls attention to an issue that obviously concerned these librettists. Such aims might be difficult to discern without the authors' hints, but they were inherent in many of these texts, even the most unlikely of them, those that seem especially hedonistic and amoral. One early librettist, Paolo Vendramin, offers a key to the interpretation of such

[43] Il cannocchiale per la Finta pazza, dilineato da M[aiolino] B[isaccioni] C[onte] di Glenova ] (Venice: Surian, 1641).


texts in ethical terms. In the prologue to his Adone , he comments on the tragic death of the hero, pointing out the moral of the story: "Se stupor, se pietà sia, che v'ingombre / Spettatori a tal fin; fattevi accorti, / Ch'i diletti de l'huom tutti son corti / E le gioie d'Amor tutte son'ombre" ("Spectators, whether it be shock or pity that weighs you down / At such an ending; be aware / That all the pleasures of man are brief/And all the joys of love are shadows").

Vendramin's moral lesson could be applied even under the opposite conditions; a happy ending could be as instructive as a tragic one. This point is crucial to the interpretation of one of the most problematic librettos of the period, Busenello's L'incoronazione di Poppea —and undoubtedly to that of others as well. Poppea's illicit rise to power, which culminates in her coronation as Nerone's empress, is built on lust and the death and exile of apparently innocent, moral individuals. In the end, however, despite the overwhelming victory of Poppea, the work is less a celebration of the vices of murder and lust than a cautionary tale. The audience, undoubtedly familiar with their Seneca, knew that Poppea's triumph was only momentary and that she would soon be violently killed by her husband. The lesson of her story, then, although only implicit, can be considered no less moral than that of Vendramin's Adone .[44]

After the middle of the century, when their number had increased markedly, most librettists abandoned the theoretical defense of their works; they could now accept as axiomatic the premises argued by their more academically inclined predecessors. Some, however, still felt compelled to account for the gap between the ethical aims of ancient drama and the more hedonistic purposes of their own works. As late as 1667 Nicolò Minato asserted the ethical intentions of his La caduta di Elio Seiano quite explicitly in his preface:

And if you come across some who say [the actions] are not to their liking, look closely and you will see that they are people of low condition who are unable to comprehend the elevated sentiments of a heroic soul. Remember that the performance of these dramas was invented by the ancients to teach perfection in morals, and thus the actions that are represented in them must be modeled after the idea of what should be, if not after what actually is. (Appendix I.43)[45]

And the publisher's preface to the anonymous Achille in Sciro (1664) still concerns itself with the aims of drama: "If this play does not proceed according to the strict rules of Aristotle, [at least] it follows the pleasant custom of the age, being a new kind of composition, which, unlike the ancient ones, has as its aim more to delight than to instruct" (Appendix I.54).[46]

[44] This interpretation is amplified in Rosand, "Seneca," 34-52; see also Pirrotta, "Monteverdi's Poetic Choices," Essays , 316.

[45] On La caduta di Elio Seiano and its twin, La prosperità di Elio Seiano , see Craig Monson, "A Seventeenth-Century Opera Cycle: The Rise and Fall of Aelius Sejanus" (manuscript).

[46] According to Bonlini, Le glorie della poesia e della musica , 66, the author of Achille in Sciro was Ippolito Bentivoglio.


The issue became especially pressing in the case of some of the more lascivious librettos of this later period, although not all librettists attempted to excuse their salaciousness with the same circuitous and pathetic justification as Giacomo Castoreo in the preface to his Pericle effeminato (1653):

If I have not maintained either decorum in the characters or verisimilitude in the incidents, do not find fault with me, since I am following the misguided custom, introduced by many and practiced by all. Those metaphors that go by the name of playful, though they stray rather far from moral propriety, listen to them if you wish, but know that my intention was never to introduce obscenity into them; rather it was to induce you to mourn with me the depraved corruption of the century, in which poetic talent, which in other times was used to intimidate tyrants with civility of conduct, can find no means to delight you except through the effrontery of indecent jokes. (Appendix I.40b)

Much later, in the preface to his Alcibiade (1680), a thin pro forma reference to morality was all that Aurelio Aureli could muster to excuse his thoroughly licentious libretto: "You will enjoy a few lascivious though restrained actions, composed by me with the sole aim that you learn to shun them, and not to imitate them." ("Goderai di qualche scherzo lascivo ma pero moderato, com-posto da me a solo fine, che tu impari a sfuggirlo, e non ad imitarlo.")[47]

For the first generation of librettists—the Incogniti Busenello, Badoaro, Bartolini, Bisaccioni, and Strozzi, who were truly academic in their education and interests—the authority of the ancients was part of their cultural heritage. It loomed in the background, waiting to be applied whenever and however it was needed. The main purpose of all of their citations, as Badoaro neatly put it, was to show that they knew the rules: "In every age the road of invention has been shown to be open, and we have no other obligation in regard to the precepts of the ancients than to know them" (Appendix I.8k). What they did with them after that was a matter of individual choice.

Subject Matter

One area in which the impact of ancient precedent remained evident, at least on the surface, was in the choice of subject matter. The stories were old. A number of the earliest Venetian operas, like those in Florence and Rome, had mythological subjects. Most of them were based on Ovidian tales (probably filtered through modern translation and adaptation, especially that of Anguillara): Andromeda, Adone, Apollo e Dafne, Arianna .[48] Others treated mythological char-

[47] Further on the question of moral decadence in Venetian librettos, see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 267.

[48] Le metamorfosi di Ovidio ridotte da Gio. Andrea dell'Anguillara in ottava rima (1554). The importance of Anguillara as a source for Ovidian transformations in seventeenth-century opera plots is discussed in Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 218-19; see also Ellen Rosand, "L'Ovidio trasformato," preface to Aurelio Aureli and Antonio Sartorio, Orfeo , ed.Ellen Rosand, Drammaturgia musicale veneta 6 (1983), X-XI.


acters more freely: Amore innamorato, Venere gelosa, Delia . Still others, borrowing their plots from Homer and Virgil, recounted the exploits of Greek and Trojan heroes: Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo, Il ritorno d'Ulisse, Didone, Le nozze d'Enea . Another important category of libretto was the romance derived from more recent Italian literature, from Ariosto or Tasso: Bradamante, Armida . In most cases, the librettist relied on an earlier literary or dramatic model; newly invented plots were uncommon during the first decade of opera in Venice. Yet the nature of the source determined the librettist's attitude toward it, the extent to which he followed or elaborated upon it. Mythology, dealing with the exploits of the Olympian deities, allowed relatively free rein to the librettist's imagination. The various events of divine careers were self-sufficient, lending themselves to isolation as well as to combination and permutation. They could also be combined with those of other gods with whom they intersected, linked by their common Olympian citizenship. A divine cast could be expanded or contracted at will, characters could be added for their particular attributes— their comic potential, for example, like Momus or Mercury. Their characterization left more room for invention or imagination, for expansion. Most important, mythology not only permitted the suspension of disbelief, it actually encouraged it. Gods and goddesses were automatically exempted from the rules of human behavior.[49]

History, on the other hand, whatever its mythological dimensions, made greater claims on verisimilitude. The Trojan War had causes and results; it had a beginning and an end. Ulysses and Aeneas, though legendary, were human beings with well-known histories and destinies; their adventures were replete with historical implications and consequences. It is no wonder, therefore, that early librettists felt more strictly bound by human history than by divine myth, and that they felt compelled to justify any liberties they took as far as plot development was concerned.

One of the most notorious revisionists in this sense was, predictably, Busenello. His treatment of the Virgilian episode of Dido and Aeneas bows so deeply to "modern taste" that it verges on the absurd: he supplied that quint-essentially tragic story with a happy ending. And yet he found full academic justification for his departure.

And because according to good doctrine it is permissible for poets not only to alter [fictional] stories but even history, Dido takes Iarbas for her husband. And if it was

[49] Cf. Il corago o vero alcune osservazioni per metter bene in scena le composizioni drammatiche , ed. Paolo Fabbri and Angelo Pompilio (Florence, 1983) (Appendix II.1b). The willingness of audiences to accept gods' and goddesses' singing had important implications for the development of occasions for arias in early opera.


a famous anachronism in Virgil that Dido lost her life not for Sychaeus, her husband, but for Aeneas, great minds should be able to tolerate that here there occurs a marriage that is different both from the stories and the histories. He who writes satisfies his own fancy, and it is in order to avoid the tragic ending of Dido's death that the aforementioned marriage to Iarbas has been introduced. It is not necessary here to remind men of understanding how the best poets represented things in their own way; books are open, and learning is not a stranger in this world. (Appendix I.11b)

The convention of the happy ending in tragedy, of course, was hardly new with opera. Aristotle himself had confronted the issue. Judging the happy ending more proper to comedy, he recognized its use in tragedy as a form of pandering to audience taste.[50] Renaissance authors deliberately exploited the option. Giraldi Cintio, for example, all of whose tragedies end happily, acknowledges their generic impurity by calling them tragedie miste . He, too, admits that his motive was "exclusively to serve the needs of the spectators, and to make them [the tragedies] more pleasing on the stage, and to conform better to the usage of our times."[51] The issue remained problematic into the seventeenth century, and the rationale for the happy ending the same, its appeal to popular taste—as Giulio Strozzi reminds us in defending his tragedy Erotilla , written in honor of the marriage of the prince of Sulmona.

But what have tragedies to do with weddings? In truth the incongruity would be great if mine were not one of those tragedies that are allowed to have a happy ending and to leave a sweet taste in the mouths of the spectators. . . . It is true that, according to the rules of Aristotle, such tragedies seem less perfect, but in accordance with the taste of the day, which is the rule of all rules, they are received with greater enthusiasm, and listened to with greater patience. (Appendix I. 14a,c)[52]

Within this same passage, Strozzi makes a further distinction, one also emphasized by Renaissance writers, between tragedy with a happy ending and tragicomedy:

Nor do I want anyone to baptize it a tragicomedy, because it would show that they do not understand the significance of that term, nor know in what sense the ancients used it. For they called tragicomedies only those comedies in which some more noble and tragic characters were inserted, such as heroes or gods; but they never used that term for tragedies to which they gave happy endings. (Appendix I. 14b)

[50] Aristotle, Poetics , ch. 13 (1453a).

[51] Quoted from Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 1: 442.

[52] L'Erotilla: Tragedia di Giulio Strozzi , saggio primo, terza impressione, in I saggi poetici di Giulio Strozzi (Venice: Alberti, 1621). This is the same distinction made by the author of Le nozze d'Enea , between tragedie lugubri and di lieto fine (Appendix 1.9b-c).


That distinction, as we shall see, proved to be of particular relevance in the subsequent development of the Venetian libretto.[53]

In any case, whether in tragedy or tragicomedy, the happy ending already boasted a lengthy operatic pedigree, having been introduced in the first surviving opera from Florence, Peri's Euridice , and used on many subsequent occasions. Busenello nevertheless felt compelled to justify the practice in his Didone , perhaps because the tragic outcome of the story was so well known. Whatever the reason, he seems to have been the first librettist to cite ancient authority—though he is rather vague on exactly which authority he is referring to—to justify the practice in opera.

Other librettists, however, stuck more closely to their sources, at least in the early period. In Il ritorno d'Ulisse , for example, Badoaro follows the Odyssey quite faithfully. But when he treated the same subject in another libretto, Ulisse errante (1644), he took many more liberties with his source. The contrast, as pointed out by Badoaro himself in the preface, was intentional, a response to critics of his earlier work who had apparently judged it lacking in invention.

Many years ago [i.e., four] I produced Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria , a drama wholly derived from Homer and deemed excellent by Aristotle in his Poetics , and even then I heard dogs barking, but I was not slow to respond with stones in my hands. Now I present Ulisse errante , which consists, in substance, of twelve books of Homer's Odyssey . I have partly reduced the episodes, partly built up the subject with inventions as I deemed necessary, without departing from the essence of the story. (Appendix I. 8a)

Although Il ritorno d'Ulisse is indeed close to the Odyssey , it does not follow it exactly. Badoaro's play with dialogue is naturally much shorter and more focused than the Homeric epic, in which the action is described rather than enacted. The generic distinction is one to which Badoaro, predictably, was extremely sensitive. He nimbly explains the difference, though with reference not to Il ritorno d'Ulisse itself but to Ulisse errante :

[53] Originally the term tragicomedy , as coined by Plautus, referred to a play that combined elements of both tragedy and comedy in mixing kings, gods, and servants. The happy ending does not seem to have figured significantly in Plautus's original definition, though Renaissance writers such as Giraldi Cintio used the term for tragedies with happy endings. See Weinberg, Literary Criticism , 210. The most complete discussion of tragicomedy in the Renaissance is by Battista Guarini, Il Verrato (Ferrara: Galdura, 1588), discussed in Weinberg, 658-68. See also his Compendio della poesia tragicomica (Venice: Ciotti, 1601). Guarini defined tragicomedy as a combination of tragedy and comedy that "takes from the one the great personages, but not the action; the verisimilar plot, but which is not true; the passions moved, but blunted; pleasure, not sadness; danger, but not death. From the other, controlled laughter, modest jests, the contrived knot, the happy reversal, and above all the comic order" (Il Verrato , f. 19 , quoted and translated by Weinberg, 659-60). On tragicomedy, see the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics , ed. Alex Preminger (Princeton, 1965), 865-68.


If some wit should assert . . . that it is a subject more suitable for an epic than a tragedy, I will say that whoever wishes to read it in an epic will go to Homer's Odyssey , and whoever wishes to hear it as a tragedy will come to the theater of the Most Illustrious Signor Giovanni Grimani, where, in a short time, and with less effort, he may behold it in greater splendor upon the stage. (Appendix I. 8f)

The characterizations in Il ritorno d'Ulisse are generally based on Homer, but they are developed in various ways. The secondary figures left greater latitude for expansion than the protagonists: less is known about them, their histories are less important. One in particular, the beggar Irus, gains much fuller characterization at Badoaro's hands. Labeled a "parasito" by Badoaro (and in Monteverdi's score, "parte ridicola"), he has a much more prominent role in the opera than in the epic, providing the opportunity for a full range of comic imitations—blustering, stuttering, crying. His effect is hardly comic, however, when, having been roundly beaten by Ulisse, he is not propped passively against the courtyard wall to scare away stray animals, as in the Odyssey , but actively determines to commit suicide.[54]

The abuse of decorum perpetrated on this "tragedia" by the presence of a comic character such as Iro was noted by the anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea , who modeled an indecorous comic character of his own on him.[55] Once again, the desire to satisfy modern taste inspired breaking the "rules"—in this case, those of genre. But a precise precedent for doing so was easy to find; the anonymous author had a number of models besides Iro to choose from, and even earlier ones. He could have looked to Ermafrodito in Strozzi's Delia of 1639, to whom Strozzi had called particular attention in his preface: "I have introduced here the hilarode of the Greeks in the person of the playful Ermafrodito, a novel character, who, between the severity of the tragic and the facetiousness of the comic, sits very nicely upon our stage" (Appendix I. 15f). Strozzi himself had modeled his character on a still earlier one, who had appeared on stage the year before: Scarabea, from Ferrari's La maga fulminata .[56] And he acknowledged his debt explicitly in Ermafrodito's first speech:

Con lusinghe ladre

Mercurio mio padre

Venere assaggio:

Nacqui di bella Dea;

E la nudrice mia fù Scarabea.

With deceitful sighs

Mercury my father

Tasted Venus.

I was born of a beautiful goddess

And my nurse was Scarabea.

[54] See Ellen Rosand, "Iro and the Interpretation of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria," JM 7 (1989): 141-64.

[55] The relevant passage is quoted on pp. 43-44 above. See also Appendix 1.9e.

[56] The modeling of Ermafrodito on Scarabea was evidently one of the many revisions to the libretto, which Strozzi claimed to have sketched for a different purpose, some ten years earlier (Appendix I. 15h); see also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 411 and n. 137.


L'han gia molti udita

Vecchia rimbambita

D'amore cantar,

Ma non è maraviglia

D'una Tiorba, e d'un Poeta è figlia.

Latte Scarabeo

Mi fece un Orfeo

Si lungo, e sottil:

Son di Venere figlio,

Ma nel restate à Scarabea simiglio.

Many have already heard her,

The old woman grown childish,

Sing of love.

But it's no wonder,

Since she's the daughter of a theorbo and a poet.

Scarabean milk

Made me an Orpheus

So long and thin.

I am Venus's child,

But in all else I resemble Scarabea.

In all these cases, the comic character provides relief from the serious drama, and in so doing represents a breach of the rules of tragedy. Although the perpetrators were self-conscious about it, at least they felt they were not alone. They could rely, with comforting tautology, on one another's example for justification.

This solidarity, supplying one another with support or precedent, marks an important turning point in the development of Venetian opera. The practice actually began as soon as it could, with the second opera performed in Venice referring to the first, and it grew up alongside and quite soon replaced the function of invoking classical models. Librettists cited one another's works, as they had done and continued to do with all sources, quite intentionally, with full awareness of their twin needs: for specific precedents and for a general history of their own, both of which would support the legitimacy of their activity. Such cross-references were a crucial component of opera's increasingly secure establishment in Venice, at once creating and recording its own history.

The growing number of such cross-references produced a decisive shift in the equilibrium between ancient authority and modern taste. By concretizing the concept of modern taste, these specific examples gave it greater weight, and certainly greater relevance for contemporary efforts. The borrowing of material from one libretto in another over an extended period of time eventually resulted in the establishment of a set of conventions that defined Venetian opera as a genre.

Badoaro's elaboration on Homer in Ulisse errante , like Busenello's alteration of Virgil in Didone , reveals another important trend in the development of the genre—one that, although established in the early 1640s, gained momentum rapidly in the course of the decade. This was the tendency toward increasing freedom in the adaptation of sources, toward increasing inventione . But in this same early period, not all librettists felt obliged to apologize for taking liberties with sources. Giovanni Faustini did just the opposite. In the preface to his


second libretto, Egisto (1643), he admits not to excessive inventione but to a borrowing: "I confess to you that I have taken the episode with Cupid from Ausonius, with the same license that the Latin poets used to take the ideas of the Greeks in order to adorn their own stories and epic compositions" (Appendix I.31b). The essential difference between Faustini's libretto and those we have been discussing, implied here but not stated, is that the remainder of his text is not taken from any obvious source, but is freely invented, suggesting a different model: tragicomedy rather than tragedy.[57]

This contrast between librettists who defended invention and one who defended borrowing stands for a basic dichotomy in the early history of opera in Venice. Badoaro and Busenello, the Incogniti apologists, represented one side; Faustini and others, to be discussed in the following chapters, represented the other. The academic theoreticians and the practical men of the theater: these two currents, epitomizing the struggle between theory and practice, were the main tributaries of the new genre, dramma per musica . From the beginning of its history, opera in Venice was shaped by this dialectic. The professional theater men, like Ferrari and Manelli, brought opera to Venice; the academics, the writers whose views on the nature of tragedy and its relation to their own theatrical efforts we have been considering, helped to provide it with intellectual and historical substance.[58] Although they themselves did not use the term, choosing tragedia or dramma instead, their efforts bear major responsibility for defining dramma per musica for the future. In airing and then dismissing the "rules" as inconsistent or irrelevant, the Incogniti librettists disposed of the issues that troubled them as intellectuals well versed in the classics, helping to clear the ground and set opera on a firm footing for their less intellectual, more pragmatic successors. Their theoretical defenses lent a patina of legitimacy to the bastard genre.

[57] Faustini's librettos, which were the models for most librettos written in the second half of the century, almost seem created to fulfill Guarini's criteria for tragicomedy (see n. 53 above).

[58] For evidence of tension between the two groups, see Ferrari's pointed anti-academic comments in the preface to the Bologna edition of his Pastor regio (1641) (Appendix I.5a). One figure seems to have bridged both worlds: Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, a professional theater man, was reported also to have participated in the "erudita conversatione" with members of the Incogniti, Loredan, Pietro Michele, Herrico, and Strozzi. See Angelo Bon-tempi, Historia musica (Perugia, 1695), 188; quoted in Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 213 n. 11.


Da rappresentare in musica :
The Rise of Commercial Opera

The agreement among librettists on the designation dramma per musica conferred a certain aesthetic legitimacy on their art, affording it a definite place in the taxonomy of genres. But this consensus was not the only sign that opera had achieved some legitimacy by the mid seventeenth century. We can follow its establishment as an independent art form in the primary documentary sources, especially the librettos. They testify to the thickly competitive atmosphere of the theatrical world of Venice and to the rapidly developing self-consciousness of that world.

The relationship of printed libretto to performed opera changed radically during the first decade. The change is revealed most succinctly on the title pages, epitomized in the forms of a single verb, rappresentare . Its appearance in the past tense, rappresentato , suggests that the work has already been performed. In the infinitive, da rappresentare or da rappresentarsi , it indicates that the opera is yet to be performed. If the verb does not appear at all, the libretto was probably not associated with a performance but published for some other reason.[1] Judging, then, from their title pages, librettos of the late 1630s and early 1640s were routinely published, if at all, after a work had been performed (rappresentato ), whereas later ones were usually published beforehand (da rappresentarsi ).

As with most generalizations, this one requires qualification. The change from rappresentato to da rappresentare was neither linear nor consistent. Da rappresentare on a title page does not guarantee that the work was ever actually performed, while rappresentato could refer to an event of ten or more years earlier; each libretto needs to be evaluated individually. But the exceptions, rather than undermining the generalization, give it greater weight, since their departure from convention was usually explicit and intentional.

The considerations that determined whether a libretto was published before or after a performance are embedded in the complex early history of opera in

[1] Pirrotta was the first to point out the importance of careful scrutiny of title pages ("Early Venetian Libretti," Essays , 317-24). The absence of any verb at all on a libretto title page often signified a purely literary print or reprint; on literary prints, see Robert S. Freeman, Opera without Drama: Currents of Change in Italian Opera, 1675 to 1725 (Ann Arbor, 1981), 24.


Venice. A libretto printed before a performance served a very different purpose from one printed afterwards. The latter could only have a commemorative value; it could recall the aura and even some of the details of a past success, reminding those who had seen the work what it was like and suggesting for those who had not just what they had missed. On the other hand, a libretto printed ahead of time could function as advertising for a forthcoming performance, to attract an audience; in addition, of course, it could serve the audience in the theater, as an aid to following the action on stage. The increasing incidence of publication beforehand confirms opera's changing status: its growing stability during the 1640s, both as a regular part of the carnival season and as a genre. Some of the forces that eventually prompted the shift from after to before are revealed by an examination of the librettos published during the first four seasons of operatic activity in Venice.

The arrival of the first opera company headed by the poet-musician Benedetto Ferrari to produce Andromeda at the Teatro S. Cassiano during Carnival of 1637 has been described many times. The earliest and fullest description—and a chief source for all the others—is contained in the libretto itself, which appeared in print some two months after the opera was performed (fig. 6). Another early account, only in part derived from the libretto, is that of Ivanovich in Minerva al tavolino , an account allegedly based on a report given to him in 1664 (i.e., nearly thirty years after the event) by Marchese Pio Enea degli Obizzi, whom he claims to quote directly. According to Pio Enea, the first step toward Andromeda had been taken the previous year in Padua, when a special kind of tournament, entitled Ermiona , was produced, probably on 11 April:

In the year 1636 the generous desire was born in some friends and companions of mine in Padua to arrange a tournament; so I, in order to further dignify it, took up the story of Cadmus, and composed an introduction for it, which was then set to music in the form in which it appeared in print for all to see. For this purpose a spacious place, adjoining Pra della Valle, was enclosed, and with horse-drawn machines, as are seen in these drawings, a magnificent spectacle was effected. The concourse of Venetian nobility, cavalieri from the mainland, and students from the university was great, even though the performance took place in the month of October, which is normally devoted to vacation.[2] Whether because of the good fortune of the cavalieri who composed it, or the merits of those who performed in it, it was universally applauded . . . . From this it followed that the next year, under the sponsorship of a number of noblemen, various excellent professional musicians got together, through whose efforts there appeared, in 1637 at the S. Cassiano theater, Andromeda by Benedetto Ferrari, poet, composer, and excellent theorbo player. (Appendix II. 6k)

[2] Although Ivanovich gave October as the month of the performance, the libretto of Ermiona gives the possibly more plausible, because more specific, date of 11 April, which is confirmed by letters of Pio Enea to the duke of Mantua from 10 March and 14 April; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 410 n. 132.



Benedetto Ferrari, Andromed a (Venice, 1637), libretto title page.


Pio Enea's account of the influence of Ermiona on Andromeda is substantiated by a comparison of the librettos of the two works.[3] It was probably no mere coincidence, then, that just a month after the Paduan spectacle, in May 1636, the brothers Francesco and Ettore Tron, members of a prominent noble family and proprietors of the Teatro S. Cassiano, were granted permission by the Council of Ten to reopen their old theater as a "theatro de musica qual se prattica in più parte per lo diletto de l'insigni pubblici."[4] Originally constructed for the purpose of presenting plays, the theater had been closed since a fire had damaged it in 1629.[5] The Tron brothers were not the only ones seeking to capitalize on the success of Ermiona . As we learn from the commemorative libretto of the work published in 1638, Ermiona was performed by a traveling company made up of many of the same musicians who were to perform in Andromeda .[6] The company, too, was apparently hoping to repeat a previous triumph.

The shared cast is indicative of more profound similarities that link Ermiona and Andromeda , from the organization of the spectacle to the nature of the audience that witnessed it. Indeed, Ermiona introduced two important new elements that became crucial to Venetian opera. As distinct from a typical court opera, it was not commissioned to celebrate a special occasion;[7] and the audience was a relatively mixed one—nobiltà veneta, cavalieri della terraferma , and scolari dello studio .[8] Furthermore, the theater in which Ermiona was performed, with its multiple tiers of boxes built to accommodate that diverse audience, may well have served as the model for Venetian opera houses, with their various rows and categories of boxes. The Paduan arrangement is described in the libretto as follows:

[3] See Pierluigi Petrobelli, "'L'Ermiona' di Pio Enea degli Obizzi ed i primi spettacoli d'opera veneziani," Quademi della Rassegna musicale 3 (1965): 125-41.

[4] Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 37. In December 1628 the Council often had assumed control of "le maschere, commedie et li musicali interventi." See ibid., 31, and Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 252.

[5] According to Ivanovich, who sketches a history of each of the theaters (see Appendix II.6p).

[6] L'ERMIONA del S. Marchese Pio Enea Obizzi Per introduzione d'un Torneo à piedi & a cavalli E d'un Balletto rappresentato in Musica nella Città di Padova l'Anno M. DC. XXXVI dedicata Al Sereniss. Principe di Venetia FRANCESCO ERIZO descritta dal S. Nicolo Enea Bartolini Gentilhuomo, & Academico° Senese (Padua: Paolo Frambotto, 1638). This libretto may have been published as an afterthought, inspired by the publication of Andromeda . It may, therefore, represent an attempt at corrective history, an effort to emphasize the connection between Ermiona and the blossoming Venetian opera. The Ermiona company, listed in the libretto, included Girolamo Medici, Madalena Manelli, Anselmo Marconi, Antonio Grimani, Felicita Uga, Giovanni Felice Sances, composer of the music, and Francesco Monteverdi, the first three of whom appeared in Andromeda as well.

[7] Like a typical court opera, however, it received only a single performance; see Petrobelli," 'L'Ermiona,'" 127. For a recent attempt to emphasize the differences rather than the similarities between the two works, see Silvano Benedetti, "Il teatro musicale a Venezia nel '600: Aspetti organizzativi," Studi veneziani 8 (1984): 185-220.

[8] The makeup of the audience is also mentioned in the preface to the libretto; see Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 38.


Five rows of galleries circled all around, one above the other, with parapets of marble balusters; the spaces, large enough to accommodate sixteen spectators each, were separated by partitions, which were finished on their exterior ends like columns, from which supports of silvered wood held the candlesticks that illuminated the theater. The two highest and most distant rows were filled with common citizens; in the third sat the students and foreign nobility; the second, as the more worthy place, was for the rectors and the Venetian noblemen; and in the first there were the gentlewomen and the principal gentlemen of the city. (Appendix I.1)[9]

As for Andromeda , its libretto was published not by the author, Ferrari, as we might expect, but by the printer Antonio Bariletti, who signed the dedication to the Venetian nobleman Marco Antonio Pisano, dating it 6 May 1637 and referring to the performance as having occurred two months earlier ("già son due mesi"), or during the previous Carnival.[10] Bariletti's dedication, cast in the characteristically ornate and effusive language of such addresses, offers as his purpose in publishing the libretto the desire to provide the heroine Andromeda with a living protector, thus assuring her a permanent sense of security, or, we might say, immortality.

After the dedication, Bariletti addresses a lengthy note to the reader, which begins with a bow to the company responsible for the production: "To the glory of the musicians, who in the number of six (in addition to the author) staged Andromeda with great splendor and refinement, at their own expense, with a little extra help, and no less for the pleasure of those who have not seen it, I have deemed it fitting to give a brief account of it in this form" (Appendix 1.2a). Ivanovich's—or Pio Enea's—version of this episode adds one crucial detail: "con la protezione di più Nobili." Ferrari's troupe may have footed most of the bill (according to Bariletti), but the company enjoyed patrician patronage in some way—"qualche consideratione," in Bariletti's words. This is an important point: it raises the question of the financial underpinnings of the new genre. Presumably "la protezione di più Nobili" of Ferrari's troupe was a reference to the Tron family and, possibly, the noble families who rented boxes.

Bariletti's note to the reader is followed by a detailed description of the production, with special emphasis on the visual effects and on the amazed response of the audience to the magic of the stage transformations: "The curtain having disappeared, the stage was seen to be entirely sea, with such an artful horizon of waters and rocks that its naturalness (although reigned) inspired doubt in the audience as to whether they were really in a theater or on an actual

[9] On the influence of the tournament theater, see Bjurström, Torelli , 38-39.

[10] Since Carnival that year ended on 24 February, the performance probably took place shortly before that.


seashore" (Appendix 1.2b).[11] The description also identifies the cast by name and provides some incidental details about the music.[12]

Madalena Manelli romana (Francesco's wife), who played the part of Andromeda "mirabilmente," also sang the prologue "divinamente."[13] This was followed by "una soavissima Sinfonia" played by "più forbiti sonatori," among whom was the "author" (i.e., poet) of the opera "con la sua miracolosa Tiorba." The part of Giunone was sung by Francesco Angeletti of Assisi; that of Mer-curio exquisitely by Don Annibale Graselli from Città di Castello, who also sang Ascalà Cavalier "con mille gratie di Paradiso," and Perseo. Francesco Manelli of Tivoli, "autore della musica dell'opera," portrayed Nettuno "egregiamente," as well as Astarco Mago. (This is the only mention of the composer.) Protheo was played "gentilissimamente" by Giovanni Battista Bisucci bolognese, who also sang Giove "celestemente." At the end of the first act there was sung "first, from within, a madrigal for several voices concerted with various instruments; and then three beautiful young men, dressed as Cupids, came out to perform a most gracious ballet for intermezzo . . . . To the accompaniment of a mellifluous instrumental melody Astrea appeared in the sky and Venere in the sea." Astrea was played "gratiosamente" by Girolamo Medici romano, and Venere "soavissimamente" by Anselmo Marconi romano.

These, then, were the singers who participated in Andromeda —seven rather than the six cited by Bariletti earlier in the preface. Four were from Rome (Madalena Manelli, Girolamo Medici, and Anselmo Marconi, plus Francesco Manelli from nearby Tivoli); one each from Assisi (Francesco Angeletti), Città di Castello (Don Annibale Graselli), and Bologna (Giovanni Battista Bisucci). The only Venetian involved in the production was Giovanni Battista Balbi, "inventore del balletto" and "ballarino celebre."[14] More interesting perhaps than their place of origin is the fact that, with the exception of the two Manelli, all these singers were currently employed in Venice, at San Marco, suggesting that their presence on the lagoon was neither casual nor temporary. While we do not have similar information about every early opera cast, this one and some others suggest that the San Marco musicians took no small part in early operatic activity in Venice.[15]

[11] The scenographer, though not mentioned, was probably Giuseppe Alabardi, or "Schioppi veneziano"; see n. 17 below.

[12] The full description is printed in Worsthome, Venetian Opera , appendix III, 168-69.

[13] No prologue is recorded in the libretto, however.

[14] Balbi had a long career, first as a choreographer, later as a scenographer and impresario. He produced operas for Naples in the early 1650s and was responsible for the scenography for the Venetian production of Alessandro vincitor di se stesso in 1651. For his subsequent career, see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' "406 n. 125, and nn. 33 and 76 below.

[15] See Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 39; and Francesco Caffi, Storia della musica sacra nella già cappella ducale di San Marco in Venezia (dal 1318 al 1797 ) (Venice, 1853; rev. ed., ed. Elvidio Surian, Venice, 1987), 398: "tutti, non uno eccettuati, tutti coloro chequel dramma [Andromeda ] cantarono furono distintissimi cantori della Capella ducale." Manelli was appointed to San Marco on 3 October 1638—that is, after Andromeda (I-Vas, Proc. de Supra, Chiesa actorurn 144, f. 28 , 3 Ott. 1638: "che iij codotto per cantor Basso in Chiesa di S. Marco Francesco Manelli con salario di ducati sessanta all'anno"); see also Pierluigi Petrobelli, "Francesco Manelli: Documenti e osservazioni," Chigiana 24 (1967): 53. But Caffi's list contains too many names. It includes Guidantonio Boretti, whose first operatic appearance occurred the season after Andromeda , in La rnaga fulminata , and Francesco Antegnati, who sang in neither Andromeda nor La maga fulminata . One San Marco singer who performed in Ermiona , but in neither Andromeda nor La maga fulminata , was Francesco Monteverdi, the composer's son. He did appear in Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo in the following year, however.


Although the foreigners in Ferrari's band were perhaps fewer than Bariletti's description implies, the mixture of travelers and local musicians that performed in both Ermiona and Andromeda matches Ottonelli's description of the typical operatic troupe of "mercenarii musici." These groups were generally self-sufficient, but they were occasionally forced to draw upon local talent to supplement their number.

They strive to assemble enough accomplished companions so that the company alone, composed of paid professional actors, is sufficient to carry out the undertaking, without having to call upon the assistance of other singers or players. Sometimes they succeed in this intent, and sometimes not. And when they do not succeed, they do not give up, but go with the company, which is at least partly formed, to a major city; . . . and they take steps to find out, if they do not know already, what singers and players are available in the city, either secular, ecclesiastical, or monastic, who could be invited—for pay, or else exhorted with affection, and also sometimes almost forced, with the aid of important intercessors—to accept one or more parts as assistant musician in a public theater, in order to reach a sufficient number to have the drama or musical play heard, seen, and enjoyed by the listeners and spectators. (Appendix II.3c)

Bariletti's extended description of the action is followed by three sonnets (one of them by Busenello) dedicated to Benedetto Ferrari, "l'Autore, Poeta, Musico, e Sonator di Tiorba Eccellentissimo," the dramatis personae, and, finally, the actual text of the drama. The volume concludes with more poetry: six sonnets by Ferrari "In lode de Signori Musici più celebri, ch'intervennero nell'Andromeda," and three more by other authors in his honor.

With this elaborate volume Bariletti expressly sought to give permanence to an otherwise ephemeral event. Publication of the libretto would assure Andromeda a fixed place in history. For this purpose, the actual text of the drama—a rather disconnected series of episodes--was probably the least important part of the publication.[16] Rather, it was the wealth of information about the performance, the evocation of the event itself, that had the greatest impact on subsequent operatic developments in Venice. The sonnets contributed by a number of important Venetian citizens served to lend an air of respectability to the

[16] See Petrobelli, "'L'Ermiona,'" 129-30, on similar lack of coherence in Ermiona .


publication. Bariletti's enthusiasm for his project was obviously inspired by its novelty. Subsequent librettos, though often highly informative, rarely supply comparable detail, particularly about the music.

As if to confirm the effectiveness of Bariletti's publicity, the following year witnessed the second Venetian opera production, La maga fulminata , performed at the same theater by essentially the same troupe. Ferrari again wrote the text and Manelli the music; the scenographer was Giuseppe Alabardi, called "Schioppi veneziano," who had possibly served in the same capacity for Andromeda , although his name was not mentioned.[17] Four of the original singers took part—Angeletti, Bisucci, and the two Manelli—and there were three new ones: Felicita Uga romana, who had sung in Ermiona , Antonio Panni reggiano, and Guido Antonio Boretti from Gubbio.[18] Like the libretto of Andromeda , that of La maga futminata was published after the first performance, but sooner, possibly before the end of the run. The dedication is dated 6 February, which was still well within the carnival season and probably quite close to the actual date of the premiere. It is likely, in fact, that the libretto was already in press when the first performance took place (fig. 7).

In this case the librettist himself must have played a significant role in the publication, since he signed the dedication, to Viscount Basilio Feilding (sic ), the English ambassador to the Serenissima.[19] And in that dedication he offered a rather charming—and informative—justification for the print:

It was enjoyed and applauded by you in the theater; may it not displease you in your study. A beautiful woman entices in public, and delights in private. I have already presented to Your Excellency musical tokens of my respectful service [i.e., Musiche varie ]; now I offer you poetic ones, because I want my homage to you to compete in permanence with the years; and (if it were granted me), I would like it to last for eternity. (Appendix I. 3a)

Again, the aim was permanence and signaled an implicit recognition of the fleeting, ephemeral quality of performance.

The note to the reader that follows can be interpreted in the same light. Like that in Andromeda , it is signed by the printer, Bariletti, and it offers a similarly

[17] The sets were probably the same for both operas; see Bjurström, Torelli , 43. Alabardi, a painter, was responsible for the scenography of several pre-operatic spectacles as well. They included Rosilda, a tragedy by Tobia de' Ferrari, performed by the Accademia dei Sollevati in 1625, and Proserpina rapita, a text by Giulio Strozzi set to music by Monteverdi and performed in Palazzo Mocenigo in 1630. See Povoledo, "Una rappresentazione accademica," 144-47 and fig. 84, which reproduces Alabardi's single scene for Rosilda . See also id., "Lo Schioppi viniziano pittor di teatro," Prospettive 16 (1958): 45-50.

[18] Felicita Uga had been in Venice since 1634; see Povoledo, "Una rappresentazione accademica," 136-37, 152. Boretti is not to be confused with the future composer Giovanni Antonio; see Ellen Ro-sand, "Boretti," New Grove , 3: 48.

[19] Feilding was the dedicatee of Ferrari's Musiche varie a voce sola Libro secondo (Venice: Magni, 1637) as well as of Manelli's Musiche of 1636, published by Madalena Manelli "ad istanza d'alcuni Cavalieri" (possibly an attempt to secure a Venetian position for Manelli).



Benedetto Ferrari, La maga fulminata  (Venice, 1638), libretto title page.


detailed description of the performance and a rave review. With regard to the opera company itself, it is actually more informative. Bariletti repeats and expands upon the information provided in the Andromeda preface, including some previously unknown facts about the composer, as well as details concerning economic matters. His observations reveal considerable sensitivity to the novelty as well as the larger importance of Ferrari's whole enterprise:

If the Andromeda of Benedetto Ferrari, represented in music last year, was pleasing to the utmost degree, this year his Maga fulminata fulminated all minds with wonder. Not content with having sweetened the waters of the Adriatic with the unique sound of his ever-so-sweet theorbo, with the most refined concerts of two volumes of music published by him,[20] he has wished also to gild this clime with the dark characters of his pen. It fell to me to publish his Andromeda ; and I have been honored as well with his Maga , which was impressed on hearts before it was impressed on paper. Welcome it, readers, as the most noble offspring of an illustrious author, who from his own resources, and those of only five fellow musicians,[21] and with the expenditure of no more than two thousand scudi, has been able to steal the souls of the listeners with the royal representation [reale rappresentatione ][22] of that play; similar undertakings cost princes infinite amounts of money.[23] In addition, where can you find in our time a private virtuoso who has been granted the courage to put hand to such tasks and to discharge them with honor, as he has done, whose glory, and that of his companions, is applauded by the universal acclamation of the Most Serene City of Venice? Meanwhile, welcome no less my intention, which is to be of use to you and please you by offering to you, by means of my presses, the illustrious labors of such a noble virtuoso, and by describing to you the musical performance of the work, which went as follows. (Appendix 1.3b)

This then is followed by a scene-by-scene description that, although quite elaborate, is somewhat less rich in musical references than that of Andromeda .

As in the Andromeda print, the description of the action of La maga fulminata is succeeded by a clutch of sonnets in praise of Ferrari by various Venetian literary figures, and the text of the drama is followed by three more poems, one of them by Ferrari himself.[24] Again, these contributions seem intended to lend a kind of literary legitimacy to the publication. One novelty in the libretto is the portrait of Ferrari, aged thirty-four, which is inserted in most copies just before the text of the drama (fig. 8).

[20] These were Musiche varie a voce sola del Sig.r Benedetto Ferrari da Reggio (Venice: Magni, 1633) and the previously mentioned Musiche varie a voce sola del Sig. Benedetto Ferrari (note the absence of Reggio), libro secondo (1637).

[21] Bariletti here slightly underestimated the number of musicians. There were, as we counted, seven names listed in the libretto.

[22] On the cost of the production, see ch. 5 below; reale rappresentatione is equivalent to opera regia , for which term see ch. 2, n. 3, above.

[23] The reference to the expenses of princely productions reveals Bariletti's appreciation of "Venetian" opera. Cf. Ivanovich's similar acknowledgment of the difference between "princely " and "mercenary" opera (Appendix II.6g). It is a difference acknowledged by other authors as well; cf. the expression affatto reale in the preface to Bellerofonte (1642) (Appendix 1.20a).

[24] The authors included at least one future librettist, Francesco Sbarra.



Portrait of Benedetto Ferrari, from the libretto of  La maga fulminata  
(Venice, 1638).


The Beginning of Competition

The publicity created around Andromeda and expanded in connection with La maga fulminata paid immediate and lasting dividends. Interest was such that the libretto of La maga fulminata quickly sold out and was reprinted in the same year.[25] More significant, by the next year a second opera company had been formed and a second theater converted for use as an opera house: the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[26]

Owned by the Grimani family, the original Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo was probably built sometime between 1635 and 1637. According to Giustiniano Martinioni's revision of Francesco Sansovino's standard guide to Venice, the wooden theater was soon moved from its original site on the Fondamenta Nuove to a location nearby (in Calle della Testa at Sta. Marina) and rebuilt, part in stone, part in wood.[27] The move and reconstruction, which probably occurred sometime in 1638, were arguably stimulated by the Grimani family's desire to exploit the political potential of the new genre, to compete with those families who had already invested in it. This motivation is clearly acknowledged in Bonlini's account: "In the year 1639, following the example of the theater of S. Cassiano, the first Opera in Musica was recited . . . in that of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, built a short time after the two already mentioned [i.e., the two S. Cassiano theaters], not only for the purpose of emulating them, but also to overshadow their fame."[28] The Grimani theater certainly exceeded that of S. Cassiano in size as well as magnificence, for in 1645, even after several other theaters had opened, it was referred to as the most comfortable and beautiful in the city: "il teatro, stimato più commodo, e bello di questa città."[29] This reputation it maintained for close to forty years, until the construction of a new Teatro Grimani, the S. Giovanni Grisostomo, in 1678.[30]

[25] With a few minor changes: copies in I-Vmc and US-Lau.

[26] Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 56, considers SS. Giovanni e Paolo to be the fourth opera theater, after S. Cassiano, S. Moist, and S. Salvatore. But only S. Cassiano had as yet been used for opera. Ivanovich, Minerva , 399, lists it as third, after S. Cassiano and S. Salvatore; Bonlini, Le glorie della poesia , 20, as third after two S. Cassiano theaters, one of them our opera house, the other a theater built in the preceding century, where spoken dramas had been performed.

[27] Francesco Sansovino, Venetia città nobilissima et singolare . . . con aggiunta di tutte le cose notabili . . . da D. Giustiniano Martinioni (Venice: Curti, 1663), 397. For Ivanovich, see Appendix II.6p; see also Mangini, I teatri di Venezia, 56 .

[28] "L'anno 1639. ad esempio del Teatro di S. Cassiano fu recitata la prima Opera in Musica . . . in quello di SS. Gio e Paolo, già eretto poco tempo doppo li due accennati ad emularne non solo, ma ad offuscarne la Gloria ancora" (Bonlini, Le glorie della poesia , 20). For the two S. Cassiano theaters, see Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 19-26.

[29] In a letter from the Florentine ambassador in Venice to Matthias de' Medici cited by Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' "435 n. 229.

[30] It is difficult to estimate the exact sizes of the individual theaters during this period. Some certainly had a greater number of boxes than others, and some, such as S. Moisé and S. Apollinare, had the reputation for being particularly small. Comparative figures are available for a later period, from the reports of Chassebras de Cramailles published in the Mercure galant of March and April 1683 and from notes made on a trip to Venice in 1688 by the Swedish architect Nicolas Tessin; see Per Bjurström,"Unveröffenthchtes von Nicodemus Tessin d. J.: Reisenotizen fiber Barock-Theater in Venedig und Piazzola," Kleine Schriften der Gesellschaft fur Theatergeschichte 21 (1966): 14-41. These descriptions and figures are all cited and discussed in the appropriate chapters of Mangini, I teatri di Venezia .


Ferrari's troupe, reconstituted to include, among others, two experienced theater men, the scenic designer of Ermiona , Alfonso Chenda "detto il Rivarola," and the librettist Giulio Strozzi, moved to the new theater in time for the 1639 season, when they produced not one but two operas.[31] Both season and theater were inaugurated with a setting of. Strozzi's Delia by Ferrari's usual collaborator, Manelli. Ferrari's own authorial efforts were reserved for the second production, Armida , for which he wrote not only the text but the music as well.

In the meantime, a new company, an "Accademia per recitar l'Opera," had taken charge of Ferrari's former theater at S. Cassiano.[32] It, too, consisted of a composer, a poet, a ballet master, and singers, including several veterans from Ferrari's troupe.[33] Unlike Ferrari's, however, it was not in any sense a traveling company. Its composer and leader was Francesco Cavalli, a Venetian who had already made something of, a name for himself. in the realm of. sacred music at San Marco and was soon to dominate the operatic field. His chief. associates— the librettist Orazio Persiani and the ballet master (scenographer) Balbi—were also local residents, and most of the singers belonged to the San Marco chapel.[34] The new company began its activity with a collaboration between two of. its founders. Cavalli's setting of Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo , a libretto by Persiani, was performed in 1639, during the same season as Delia and Armida at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

In the space of. three seasons Venice had seen five new operas, by three librettists and three composers, at two theaters. These numbers were to increase dramatically the very next year, 1640, when a third theater, the Teatro S.

[31] Chenda was an architect as well as a scenographer of vast experience. In addition to building the theater in Padua where Ermiona took place, he had been responsible, earlier, for constructing a theater in his native Ferrara. He worked at SS. Giovanni e Paolo until his death in 1640 and was followed there by other illustrious scenographers: Giovanni Burnacini, responsible for La finta savia in 1643 and possibly, before that, Le nozze d'Enea, Narciso ed Ecco immortalati, Gli amori di Giasone e d' Isifile , and L'incoronazione di Poppea , was succeeded, though only briefly, by Giacomo Torelli; see p. 102 below For more on Chenda and Burnacini, see Bjurström, Torelli , 44-45; also Mancini, Muraro, and Povoledo, eds., Illusione e pratica teatrale , 54-62. Strozzi had been writing dramatic texts for Monteverdi since the late 1620s.

[32] See Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 98-101. The company was founded on 14 April 1638, that is, some nine months before its first production. It dissolved in 1644.

[33] Bisucci, from Andromeda and Maga ; Felicita Uga, from Ermiona and Maga , whose presence in Venice, since 1634, anticipated Ferrari's by some years (see n. 17 above): and Balbi, who had participated in all three previous productions. Though a choreographer, Balbi may have acted as scenographer in this company.

[34] See Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 98, 102. Mangini, I teatri dr Venezia , 40, claims that after Ferrari's departure, the Tron brothers took over the running of their theater themselves. But this seems to have happened after Cavalli's first few seasons.


Moisè, owned by the Zane family, opened its doors to opera.[35] Its two productions raised the number of new operas in a single season to at least four (most likely five): Arianna (Rinuccini/Monteverdi) and Il pastor regio (Ferrari/ Ferrari) at S. Moisè; Adone (Vendramin/Manelli) and probably Il ritorno d'Ulisse (Badoaro/Monteverdi) at SS. Giovanni e Paolo;[36] and Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (Busenello/Cavalli) at S. Cassiano. In this year, the names of two new librettists (Vendramin, Busenello) and one new composer (Monteverdi) were added to the fast-expanding roll of opera makers.[37] Approximately five productions per season remained the norm until 1645, when theatrical entertainments and all other carnival activities were suspended by government decree because of the war with the Turks that had begun early that year.[38]

The economic arrangements supporting the individual undertakings at S. Cassiano, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and S. Moisè differed in detail, but they shared the special tripartite, cooperative organization that characterized opera production in Venice well into the eighteenth century. Indeed, although the system developed gradually over a period of years, its origins and structure are evident in the first S. Cassiano venture. There were essentially three agents responsible for the operation: theater owners, impresarios, and artists. Theater owners, like the Tron, Zane, or Grimani, belonged to the great patrician families of Venice;

[35] According to Ivanovich, Minerva , 399, the Teatto S. Moisè was the fourth theater to be opened in Venice, after S. Cassiano, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and S. Salvatore; but no operas were produced at S. Salvatore until 1661. Bonlini, Le glorie della poesia , 21, also lists it fourth, but after the two at S. Cassiano and SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

[36] Although Ritorno was traditionally ascribed to the 1641 season, Osthoff ("Zur Bologneser Aufführung") has argued that the 1641 Venetian performance was a revival and that the opera actually had its premiere in Venice the year before, just prior to the Bologna performance of 1640, a performance documented by Le glorie della musica (cited in ch. 1 above). That Ritorno had been performed m Venice by 1640 is documented by a reference to the opera in a book by the Incognito author Federico Malipiero published in 1640, La peripezia d'Ulisse overo la casta Penelope (Venice: Surian, 1640) (Lettore: "Ella fù una fatica motivatami . . . da una Musa, e da un Cigno, ch'entrambi abitando l'arene dell'Adria, ne formano appunto un richissimo Parnaso di meraviglia. M'apportò'l caso ne' Veneti Teatri a vedere l'Ulisse in Patria descritto poeticamente, e rappresentato Musicalmente con quello splendore, ch'è per renderlo memorabile in'ogni secolo. M'allettò cosi l'epico della Poesia, com'il delicato della Musica, ch'io non seppi rattenerne la penna, che non lasciassi correrla dietro'l genio. Viddi d'Omero le prodigiose fatiche rapportate dalla Grecia nella Latina Lingua. L'udij recitativamente rappresentate. L'ammirai poeticamente nella Toscana ispiegate. Parvemi, che lo portarle nella prosa fosse appunto fatica adeguata, a cui pretende co'l fuggir l'ozio d'involarsi alla carriera de' vizij"); and by the preface to the Argomento et scenario delle nozze d'Enea (Venice, 1640) (Appendix 1.9a).

[37] Curiously, Ferrari's company (at least the Manelli part) seems to have been simultaneously active at S. Moisè and SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1640. And Cavalli seems to have begun an association with S. Moisè in 1642, while he was still involved at S. Cassiano (Nino Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman: News of the Operatic Parnassus in 1642," Essays , 333-34). Contracts were apparently not as exclusive as they became later. It is worth noting that many of the composers and librettists, and probably the singers as well, moved back and forth between theaters with some frequency. Ferrari, for example, moved from S. Cassiano (1637, 1638), to SS. Giovanni e Paolo (1639), to S. Moisè (1640, 1641). Manelli moved from S. Cassiano (1637, 38) to SS. Giovanni e Paolo (1639-40). Monteverdi worked at S. Moisè (1640) and SS. Giovanni e Paolo (1640, 1641, 1643). Busenello moved from S. Cassiano (1640, 1641) to SS. Giovanni e Paolo (1643).

[38] See Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 416 n. 154.


they invested in the buildings themselves, but generally delegated responsibility for what went on in them to an impresario—or a society (like Cavalli's) or troupe (like Ferrari's)—with whom they contracted seasonally. That party either supplied itself or hired at its own expense singers, players, and workers of various kinds. Besides paying the rent, the impresario or society covered operating costs for such necessities as scenery and illumination. The expenses were offset and profits made by receipts from the rental of boxes and by ticket sales.

The capital derived from box rentals depended on the number of boxes as well as the prices charged for them—which, at least in some theaters, depended on the position of the box. In both these matters individual theaters differed considerably. Figures for the earliest period are lacking, but by 1666 S. Cassiano had ninety-eight boxes (twenty-nine in each of the first two tiers), which rented for twenty-five ducats each.[39] SS. Giovanni e Paolo, although the "most magnificent" of the theaters, seems to have had fewer, only seventy-seven, which were arranged in four rows.[40] The number of boxes in S. Moisè during this period is unknown, but the theater had the reputation of being uncomfortably small, so presumably there were fewer, if any.[41]

Most boxes were rented in perpetuity, but paid for on a seasonal basis by members of the aristocracy, Venetian and foreign. Individual tickets, purchased nightly, were of two kinds: the bollettini were required for everyone entering the theater, including box-holders; scagni , purchased for an additional sum, entitled

[39] According to b . 194: 18. See Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 260; Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 223. The importance of the income derived from box rental is emphasized in Ivanovich, Minerva , 401-4, 410.

[40] B . 194: 135. But the original number may have been higher, since in 1645 Giovanni Grimani indicated that two boxes (per row?) needed to be eliminated because the people in the end boxes could not hear the singers well, presumably because they were too far over the stage; see n. 86 below. The plan of the theater, drawn by Tommaso Bezzi, which dates from late in the century (after 1678), shows boxes extending over the stage to the sides (illustration in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , no. 15). The number of boxes, in any case, was increased to 5 rows of 29 each, or 145, by 1683 (as reported by Cramailles in Le Mercure galant ); see n. 30 above.

[41] Pirrotta ("Theater, Sets, and Music," Essays , 262) interpreted two pieces of information provided in the prologue to Sidonio e Dorisbe , performed at S. Moist in 1642, as indicating that the theater had no boxes (in fact, he suggests [263-64] that other theaters may not have had boxes either until later). The first is a description of the theater as a "narrow and poorly decorated room." The second is a stage direction indicating that Tempo, one of the characters speaking in the prologue, is to take a place near some ladies, whose gambling he has interrupted. Pirrotta cited 1688 as the date when boxes (two tiers) were added, but this may have occurred earlier, in 1668, when, according to Taddeo Wiel (I teatri musicali veneziani nel settecento: Catalogo delle opere in musica rappresentate nel secolo XVIII in Venezia [1701-1800 ] [Venice, 1897], XLIII), the theater was entirely rebuilt. It must have had boxes by 1673, since a letter from 4 February of that year to Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg from his agent in Venice, Francesco Massi, discusses the rental of boxes in S. Moist as well as in S. Cassiano, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and S. Samuele (Appendix IIIB. 19). Another theater famous for its small size, S. Apollinare, had only forty-eight boxes, in three tiers, which rented for twenty ducats per season (b . 194: 92-102). Mangini (I teatri di Venezia , 63 n. 4) claims that the Teatro Novissimo did not have any boxes at all, but this is belied by the documents reporting their construction, quoted in Benedetti, "Il teatro musicale," 200-201; see also Bjurström, Torelli , 36. For a glimpse of the politics involved in box rental, see Appendix IIIB.20.


the holders to seats in the parterre.[42] The artists, who originally participated in the running of the theater (such as Ferrari's troupe or Caralli's), eventually became employees of the impresario. Among them, the librettist became financially independent of the others, deriving his income exclusively from libretto sales and the largesse of his dedicatees.

Despite the proliferation of theaters and new works, opera remained confined to the carnival season.[43] Even allowing for a reasonable rehearsal period, opera companies were essentially unemployed for at least half the year. This hardly presented a problem for Cavalli and his troupe, since they were employed elsewhere in Venice. But several members of Ferrari's company, including Ferrari himself, did not yet have fixed posts. For several off-seasons they continued the itinerant ways that had brought them to Padua and Venice in the first place, producing four of their Venetian operas in Bologna in 1640 and 1641, and two in Milan several years later.[44]

The Scenario and the Libretto

Several of the operas of 1639 and 1640, like Andromeda and La maga fulminata , were memorialized by librettos issued after the performances. Two of them, however, also received advance publicity. Delia and Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo were both announced by a new kind of publication, one that was to become quite common during the next decade or so: the scenario. The Argomento e scenario della Delia and the Breve espositione della festa di Teti e Peleo , slim pamphlets of thirty-three and twenty-three pages respectively, were printed before their operas were performed (da rappresentarsi ). The former bears the date 5 November 1638, whereas the libretto is dated more than three months later, 20 January 1639. The latter, undated, probably appeared closer to the date of the libretto, 24 January 1639, with which it is usually bound, though it was clearly a separate publication with its own title page and pagination. The dedications of both scenarios were signed by the librettists (figs. 9, 10).

[42] See Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 182-89, and Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 103-4; also Ivanovich, Minerva , 401-4, 410.

[43] On the unusual reopening of the Teatro Novissimo after Easter, see n. 73 below. 44. The works performed in Bologna were Delia and Il ritorno d'Ulisse in 1640, and La maga fulminata and Il pastor regio in 1641; those performed in Milan were II pastor regio and Delia in 1646-47 (when the Venetian theaters were closed); they had been given in Genoa in 1645 (along with Cavalli's Egisto); II pastor regio was performed again in Piacenza in 1646; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" passim, and Armando Fabio Ivaldi, "Gh Adorno e l'hostariateatro del Falcone di Genova (1600-1680)," RIM 15 (1981): 136, 143, 144, 147-51. Ferrari's was the first of a number of traveling opera companies that were responsible for bringing Venetian opera to the provinces and making it a national (later international) phenomenon; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 397-405. The name "Febiarmonici," which came to be used generically for such groups, originally referred to a specific one associated with productions of a particular opera, La finta pazza . Ferrari's company was referred to more descriptively as the "annuale comitiva dei più leggiadri Musici dell'Italia" (in Manelli's dedication of the Bologna edition of La maga fulminata [1641]).


These scenarios essentially fulfill the promise of their titles. They contain a synopsis and a running description of the action, material that had been incorporated, along with the actual text of the drama, within the more ambitious librettos of Andromeda and La maga fulminata . In addition, the scenario for Delia includes a lengthy preface by the author clearly aimed at arousing public interest in the forthcoming production. It also calls attention to the unprecedented event of a second new production within the same season, Ferrari's Armida . This was all part of a public relations effort on behalf of the new theater. Strozzi did try, however, to disguise the rather blatant propagandistic purpose of the scenario by suggesting that it had the practical function of providing basic information about the action for the benefit of the scene designer: "Because the sublime intellects of Your Lordship [the dedicatee, Ercole Danesi] and of Signor Alfonso Rivarola [the scene designer] cannot philosophize about the stage-machinery if I do not reveal to you what I have been doing day to day with my pen, I am sending you this summary of my Delia" (Appendix I. 15a).[45] Accordingly, the dedication is followed by a scene-by-scene plot description and an explanation of its significance. Then the publicity campaign begins in full force:

Signor Giovanni Grimani . . . has chosen Delia to be the first opera to appear in that most noble theater, which he, with such generosity of spirit, has caused to be born, so to speak, in the space of a few days in this city of Venice, and which is destined to last many years for the sole benefit of music. And indeed it seemed to me that the stones joined together by themselves, as if induced by the harmony of new Amphions, so little was the effort with which this ample and solid theater rose from the foundations; in which I hear that a production of Signor Benedetto Ferrari is also scheduled to be performed this year, a noteworthy effort, because without using either words or ideas from Tasso, he has simultaneously composed and embellished with music a new Armida, which will be, as the other two of these past years, the marvel of the stage, since it is currently being ennobled by the machines of Your Lordship and Signor Alfonso, and honored (as will be the Delia that precedes it) by the voices of some of the most melodious swans of our Italy. I send you, in conclusion, the number of characters that make up my Delia. (Appendix I. 15c)

The scenario concludes with a wonderfully informal and informative postscript, redolent of Strozzi's characteristic advertising tone:

I was forgetting to tell you that Signor Francesco Manelli romano, who, as you know, to great applause clothed Andromeda and La maga fulminata of Signor Benedetto Ferrari with music, has demonstrated this time an excess of his affection and the summit of his talent in honoring my Delia. I know what I am saying: Venice will be astonished to hear what heights are reached by the effort Signor Manelli has made in this work. He has an admirable way of portraying the words [un'imitatione

[45] Atypically, the dedicatee collaborated on the scene designs and staging. Strozzi's remark calls special attention to the scenography, obviously an attraction of this—any—production.



Giulio Strozzi, Delia  (Venice, 1639), scenario title page.



Orazio Persiani,  Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo  (Venice, 1639), 
scenario title page.


di parole mirabile ], a distinctive, varied, and delightful harmonic style [un'armonia apropria, varia, e dilettevole ]; in short, when this effort comes off the press it will be known whether I have spoken out of self-interest or rather, instead, have cheated the truth. (Appendix I. 15d)

Beyond the utilitarian function of identifying the composer, this particular passage serves also to justify Strozzi's own efforts. By invoking its two predecessors, Strozzi places his work in the context of an already established, if recent, operatic tradition, thereby claiming a legitimacy based on successful precedent. Andromeda and La maga fulminata buttress not only his Delia but the whole enterprise at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

The Peleo scenario does not share the self-advertising tone of Delia , but it does provide a few important bits of practical information about the performance not given in the libretto—information clearly intended to attract a local audience: the place of the performance, the name of the composer, and the general provenance of the singers, who were both foreigners and local (some "conceduti all'auttore da diversi potentati," others "stipendiati nella Cappella della Serenissima Republica Veneta").[46]

These little volumes, the Delia scenario in particular, were evidently responding to a new force in the marketplace: theatrical rivalry. With two theaters now in operation, competition had begun. The function of scenarios, however, was not limited to advertising; once they had attracted an audience, the synopsis and scene-by-scene descriptions helped it to follow the complicated action on the stage. As publications, scenarios had many practical advantages over librettos. They were much shorter, most subsequent examples comprising fewer than twenty-four pages, or a single duodecimo fascicle, in contrast to several times that number in most librettos, and so they were cheaper to print. They could also be produced far more quickly. And, since they did not contain any actual dialogue, they could easily be published in advance of a performance, going to press as soon as the librettist had outlined the action, before he had completed the versification.

A melancholy witness to the largely practical function of scenarios is their poor rate of survival. Lacking even the meager literary merits of a libretto, and having no permanent value outside the particular performance they described, they were likely to have been disposed of immediately after the performance, like our present-day playbills: theatrical ephemera, pale historical records of a single past event, and not especially worth saving.[47]

[46] This confirms Ottonelli's point about borrowing locals; see p. 72 above.

[47] Because of their poor rate of survival, the general dearth of scenarios after the 1640s is not absolute proof that they never existed. I have been able to locate only nineteen, covering the period from 1638 to 1655, a few in unique copies. These are listed in Rosand, "Opera Scenario," appendix.


In most cases, scenarios were soon followed by librettos. For at least two early operas, however, Il ritorno d'Ulisse (1640) and Le nozze d'Enea (1641), commemorative librettos seem never to have been published,[48] and for several other operas, including Didone and L'incoronazione di Poppea , librettos were published so long after the scenarios that they can hardly be considered documents of the same occasion.[49] Significantly, and unusually, however, there are contemporary manuscripts of all four of these librettos, some of them in multiple copies.[50] These rather anomalous examples involve the works of only three men: Badoaro, Busenello, and the anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea —the three most academic of the early librettists. Clearly their failure or reluctance to publish their librettos—or even, in two cases, to admit author-ship—was no coincidence. It is likely that these aristocratic authors hesitated to identify themselves with the commercial aspect of publication. Their elaborate defenses of the genre itself suggest that their reluctance to publish may have been compounded by some sense of discomfort, which made them unwilling to pass off their products as literature.[51]

Similar discomfort probably accounts for the publication of a number of early librettos under pseudonyms, or else by someone other than the author, such as the printer or stage designer. Whatever the reason for dissembling or obscuring authorship, by the mid 1640s any reluctance, modesty, or squeamishness on the part of librettists, no matter how aristocratic, had been overcome by a desire to participate in the action.

Scenarios filled the twin needs of publicity and practical assistance for about a decade, from 1638 to shortly after the middle of the century—that is, during the period in which dramma per musica was assuming its identity. By 1650, however, they had virtually disappeared; their demise coincided with the increasing trend toward publication of librettos before rather than after performances. These librettos incorporated the functions of the scenario within their more ambitious purpose. Some of them even specifically claimed for themselves one of those functions, that of helping the audience to follow the plot:

[48] A scenario survives for Le nozze d'Enea but not for Il ritorno d'Ulisse , although one may well have been published and lost.

[49] But no scenario survives for Apollo e Dafne , whose libretto was also published well after the performance.

[50] Those for Poppea have been studied by Chiarelli (" 'L'incoronazione di Poppea' "); those of Il ritorno by Osthoff ("Zu den Quellen"); those of Le nozze have not yet been studied, but would reward comparative analysis. Other manuscript librettos that would bear further study are those of Apollo e Dafne in I-Pu, I-RVI, I-TVco; and Didone in I-Fn I-Vmc. For a complete list of these manuscripts, see Rosand, "Opera Scenario," 340 n. 8.

[51] Badoaro's name is nowhere evident in the libretto of Ulisse errante ; only his academic alias identifies him. But he gives himself away by referring to his It ritorno d'Ulisse , which he had already (though not publicly) admitted having written in the letter to Monteverdi that prefaces one of the manuscript copies of the libretto (Appendix I.7).


The desire was born in me to have [this text] printed in order to satisfy those who enjoy such things [as operas] more when they are accompanied by reading. (Appendix I. 8n)

I composed the present work to be recited at the Teatro Novissimo, which, since it was to be published for the greater convenience of the spectators, I wished to bring into the world adorned with the name of Your Illustrious Lordship. (Appendix 1.23b)

It is obvious from their front matter that librettos, unlike scenarios, represented the author's investment.[52] His name was featured prominently on the title page, to the exclusion of that of any of the other collaborators, and he signed the dedication. Other information about him, irrelevant to the specific performance but flattering to his image, was often included, such as a list of his works or encomiastic sonnets by other authors in his honor. Not only did librettos frequently fail even in prefatory material to provide the names of composer and scene designer, but a number of them conspicuously lack significant information relating to the specific performance, such as the name of the theater.[53] Indeed, some point distinctly away from the particular performance to a loftier end, revealing their aspirations to the permanence of literature. Scenarios, in contrast, tended to emphasize practical information, and they were as likely to mention the composer, singers, and stage designer as the librettist.

The financial involvement of the librettist in the printing of his text is confirmed by Ivanovich, who devoted an entire chapter of his "Memorie" to the subject, "Qual fu prima, e qual'è al presente l'utile dell'Autore del Drama." Looking back on the first Venetian operas, Ivanovich saw them from the jaded perspective of a witness to dozens of subsequent works. To him they represented a golden age: "In the beginning, when dramma per musica first appeared in Venetian theaters, the authors were satisfied with the glory that came from applause" (Appendix II.6z). But as time went on, he continues, the number of theaters increased and there were not enough dramatists to supply them; it was then that financial rewards began to be offered to poets in order to attract them to music drama. "Because of this the custom was introduced (still current today) of leaving to the author of the drama, as a reward for his efforts, everything that is realized from the sale of the librettos printed at his expense, and from the dedication that he makes, according to his own choice, and this profit depends on the success of the opera" (Appendix II. 6aa). Ivanovich's golden age,

[52] Occasionally, under special circumstances, the investment was made by another party, such as the printer, stage designer, or theater impresario, but never the composer. See ch. 6 below.

[53] Rather than naming the specific theater in which a performance took place, the libretto of Torilda (1648), for example, provides the generic information that it is intended "per i Veneti teatri."


if it ever existed, was shorter than his account implies. If he judged motivation by publication, perhaps he had in mind those aristocratic academics who never or only retrospectively involved themselves in the publication of their works. They were soon followed and outnumbered by authors avidly interested in publishing for profit.

A demand had to exist before a librettist would risk such an investment. During the first five years that demand was created by the success of each individual production: librettos published afterwards capitalized on it. On the other hand, printing a libretto ahead of the performance, before its success was proven, was risky; besides, it put a great deal of pressure on librettist, composer, and even on the singers. So much was done at the last moment—the musical setting, the casting, the rehearsals—that it was difficult to establish a text that accurately reflected the finished work. Within a few years, however, the cumulative success of the genre as a whole was evidently sufficient to justify advance publication of librettos despite all the pressures. Sporadically after 1642, consistently after 1650, they appeared ahead of the performance. The rare occasions later in the century when librettos were not printed until afterwards seem always to have been the result of special circumstances. Rather than trying to establish correct texts sooner, which was an impossibility given the mechanics of operatic production, librettists developed various methods of minimizing the inevitable discrepancies between the printed librettos and the words finally sung.

The Teatro Novissimo

The first Venetian librettos, then, with a few notable exceptions, were printed after the fact, when the operas had already been produced, rappresentato —presumably with success. The exceptions prove the rule. Virtually all of those printed ahead of time were for operas performed at the Teatro Novissimo, a theater with its own special story and influence. [54] The fourth theater to present opera in Venice, the Novissimo differed from both its predecessors and successors in several important respects. Although it had a shorter life span than any of its competitors—only five seasons of activity can be documented—and although it produced fewer operas—only six—the Novissimo had a greater impact than any other single theater on the establishment of opera in Venice.

Unlike its predecessors, it was not a preexisting theater converted or reconstructed for use as an opera house. It was a brand-new building—hence,

[54] These include La finta pazza (1641), Bellerofonte (1642), and Venere gelosa (1643). Another, Amore innamorato (1642), not for the Novissimo but for S. Moist, was also printed ahead of time, possibly to steal the thunder from a very similar opera, La virtù de'strali d'Amore , which was scheduled to compete with it at S. Cassiano; see Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 328. Atypically, the text of Amore innamorato is preceded by a complete scenario of the kind normally published separately.


unuoubtedly, its name—constructed specifically to house "opere eroiche, solamente in musica, e non commedie" ("only heroic operas in music, not plays").[55] From its inception, the project represented a concerted effort on the part of a group of Venetian noblemen rather than a single family. Its management by committee rather than by an individual proprietor was one of its unique features.

On 30 May 1640, "diversi cavalieri," together with the patrician Luigi Michiel, had signed a contract with the Dominican monks of SS. Giovanni e Paolo agreeing to oversee construction of and to manage a theater on a property adjacent to the monastery. These "cavalieri" were members of the Accademia degli Incogniti, whose involvement with the enterprise determined the entire course of the Novissimo's brilliant though brief career. [56] We have already considered the Incogniti from the point of view of their theoretical writings, which had a fundamental influence on the definition of opera as a genre; their impact on its social, practical, and economic structure, specifically through their activities at the Novissimo, was equally profound. They were largely responsible for the creation of the model spectacle that defined Venetian opera for the rest of the century. Primarily through their influence, that model combined aspects of Ottonelli's second and third categories of opera, the academic and the mercenary: "those presented sometimes by various gentlemen or talented citizens or learned academicians for one good reason or another" and those "presented by those mercenary musicians, actors by profession, who, organized in a company, are directed and governed by one of their own, as the chief authority and head of the others" (Appendix II.3a, b). For the Incogniti hired a group of traveling musicians from Rome to carry out their program.

Individual members of the Academy like Pio Enea, Strozzi, Badoaro, and Busenello had participated in opera from the outset and were active in various theaters, but it was only at the Novissimo that the Incogniti acted as a group. Their influence permeated all aspects of the endeavor, which served as the perfect focus for their abundant energy and multiple talents. The broad base of financial support they commanded with the help of their patrician associates permitted, at least initially, a certain extravagance that could not be taken for

[55] Its name distinguished it from the "Teatro Nuovo" in the same parish, that is, SS. Giovanni e Paolo; the pertinent documents are quoted in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 62. See also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 415-17, and Benedetti, "Il teatro musicale," 200-209. On the Novissimo in general, see Guglielmina Verardo Tieri, "II teatro Novissimo: Storia di 'mutationi, macchine, e musiche,'" NRMI 10 (1976): 555-95.

[56] The story is somewhat more complicated. On 2 October, 1640, three noblemen, Girolamo Lando, Giacomo Marcello, and Giacomo da Mosto, urged that the monks lease the theater for 200 ducats to one Geronimo Lappoli, "forestiero," on the condition that only operas be performed ("non intendendo, che per nisun modo si rappresentino comedie buffonesche o di altra natura, ma solo delle sopradette eroiche opere in canto"). In the summer of 1642, when the friars agreed to widen the theater by twelve feet, the contract was renegotiated at 300 ducats. Lappoll renewed it for two more years in March of 1643, but the rent for the second year—1645—was never paid. See Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 415; also Benedetti, "Il teatro musicale," 203-4.


granted in other commercial theatrical efforts.[57] Moreover, the fame and reputation of the group lent enormous prestige to the undertaking. Most important, the Academy possessed a built-in mechanism for publicity, a pool of writers with well-lubricated pens who could supply a full range of verbal resources, everything from libretto texts to advertising copy. The internally generated publicity surrounding the inaugural production at the Novissimo, La finta pazza , was sufficient to assure opera an indelible spot on the cultural map of Europe.

The most striking aspect of Incognito publicity, however, and their most fundamental aim, was political. In keeping with their close association with the ruling Venetian patriciate, these writers repeatedly asserted a connection between the magnificence of Venetian operatic spectacles and the splendor of the Serenissima herself. Their involvement in these spectacles was a projection of their patriotism, a way of polishing the image of Venice. A connection between splendor on the stage and the image of the city had been implicit in the patrician involvement in earlier theatrical ventures as well, particularly in the three other opera houses, but it was made explicit for the first time in connection with the Novissimo. The Incogniti not only participated in the phenomenon, they defined it. It was the Incogniti who laid the groundwork for the political interpretation of the development of Venetian opera advanced some thirty years later by Ivanovich. As we shall see, much of the verbiage surrounding the individual productions at the theater was devoted to embroidering an elaborate defense of the traditional myth of Venice.

When the Novissimo opened its doors during Carnival of 1641, Venice's fifth consecutive opera season, it faced stiff competition from the three older theaters. S. Cassiano, still being served by Cavalli's troupe, was planning to mount a production of Didone (Busenello/Cavalli); SS. Giovanni e Paolo had two Monteverdi operas scheduled, Le nozze d'Enea and a revival of Il ritorno d'Ulisse , probably performed by Ferrari's and Manelli's troupe;[58] and S. Moisè was preparing a production of Ferrari's La ninfa avara .[59]

La finta pazza , with which the Novissimo vociferously initiated its activity in early January, became the first and possibly the greatest operatic "hit" of the century. It set the standard for measuring operatic success. The production

[57] An indication of the kind of indirect patrician support that sustained the Novissimo venture is the fact that Giacomo Badoaro was one of Lappoli's creditors when he defaulted on rental payments in 1645. See Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 415, and Benedetti, "Il teatro musicale," 205. 58. The assumption is based on the fact that they had taken Ritorno to Bologna the previous season.

[59] The total of four operas at theaters other than the Novissimo confirms the information in a letter from Prince Matthias de' Medici, who reported in 1641 that he had heard "tutte queste Comedie cantate, che sono al numero di Cinque"; see Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 193; also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 402 n. 105.


combined the theatrical know-how of arguably the most experienced and able librettist in the business, Giulio Strozzi (fig. 11),[60] possibly the moving force behind the whole Novissimo venture, and the formidable talents of three newcomers to the Rialto. These were the scene designer Giacomo Torelli, "engineer to the doge," who, after several spectacular productions at the Novissimo, was called to France in the service of the queen;[61] the Parmesan composer and impresario Francesco Sacrati, who subsequently collaborated on four more operas in Venice and was compared flatteringly with Monteverdi; and his pro-tégée, the soprano Anna Renzi, who became the first "prima donna" in operatic history.[62]

The success of La finta pazza was choreographed carefully from the start. In accord with recently established custom, a scenario was printed before the premiere, its dedication signed 4 January 1641. Strozzi was by now an old hand at writing publicity for the inauguration of theaters, having performed this function for SS. Giovanni e Paolo two years before. But the title page of the scenario for La finta pazza is especially—and uniquely—explicit in its claim for attention:

ARGOMENTO E SCENARIO DELLA FINTA PAZZA. Drama di Giulio Strozzi . Da rappresentarsi con solenne apparato di Musiche, Macchine, e Scene, il presente Carnovale, dell'Anno Mille e seicento quarantuno, nel Theatro Novissimo della Città di Venetia. (fig. 12)[63]

Atypically, however, and for the first time in Venice, Strozzi also published a full libretto before the premiere, which also contained a considerable measure of propaganda.

[60] Strozzi, the author most recently of Delia, had been writing dramatic texts for years. He had undoubtedly improved his skills with the help of Monteverdi, his collaborator on the abortive La finta pazza Licori (1627) (see Gary Tomlinson, "Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy: Monteverdi's 'finta' Finta pazza," JAMS 36 [1983]: 303-11); I cinque fratelli (1628), a non-theatrical work; and Proserpina rapita (1630) (see Paolo Fabbri, Monteverdi [Turin, 1985], 280-83).

[61] On Torelli in Paris, see Bjurström, Torelli , 122-95; also Cesare Molinari, Le nozze degli dei: Un saggio sul grande spettacolo italiano nel seicento (Rome, 1968), 163-70; and Raimondo Guarino, La tragedia e le macchine: "Andromède" di Corneille e Torelli (Rome, 1982).

[62] On Sacrati, see Claudio Sartori, "Un fantomatico compositore per un'opera che forse non era un'opera," NRMI 5 (1971): 788-98. The comparison to Monteverdi occurs in the preface to Badoaro's Ulisse errante (1644). On Anna Renzi, see Claudio Sartori, "La prima diva della lirica italiana: Anna Renzi," NRMI 2 (1968): 430-52, and ch. 8 below.

[63] It is the only scenario with so much information on the title page; normally the title of the work sufficed. See Rosand, "Opera Scenario," appendix.



Portrait of Giulio Strozzi, from  Le glorie degli Incogniti  
(Venice, 1647).



Giulio Strozzi, La finta pazza  (Venice, 1641), scenario title page.


In his preface to this libretto, Strozzi provides extensive information about the production. He begins with a little self-promotion, linking the work to his previous successes and complimenting himself for his management of the plot: "This is the eighth theatrical effort that I find myself having made; five of them have already trod the boards more than once,[64] and in this one I have succeeded quite well in untying more than one knot without magic, and without resorting to supernatural and divine assistance" (Appendix I. 16a). [65] In addition, he praises in elaborate if obviously rhetorical terms the contribution of Sacrati and his band of singers, above all Anna Renzi:

The poverty of my ideas is made up for by the treasure of the music of Sig. Francesco Sacrati from Parma, who has known how to adorn my verses marvelously with his harmonies, and just as miraculously he has also been able to assemble an excellent chorus of so many most exquisite swans of Italy; and all the way from the Tiber, in the most extreme cold of a horrid season he has brought to the Adriatic a most gentle Siren, who sweetly steals the heart and charms the eyes and ears of the listeners. The city of Venice must be grateful to the diligence of Sig. Sacrati for the favor of the most skillful Signora Anna. (Appendix I. 16c)[66]

Although neither libretto nor scenario mentions Torelli by name, the scenario refers frequently to the magical effects of the stage designs (which, as we have already seen, were atypically mentioned on its title page). Torelli's contribution received its due in another volume, the Cannocchiale (telescope) per la finta pazza by one "M. B. di G." This elaborate publication, of fifty-five pages, vividly describes the visual effects of the opera. Probably published after Easter, certainly after the opera season had closed, it was evidently intended to augment the effect of the publicity campaign for the opera and the theater by prolonging the memory of its success.

[64] Besides Delia (1639) and Proserpina rapita (1630), he may have meant Erotilla tragedia (1621), Il natal d'Amore, Anachronismo (1621), and possibly La finta pazza Licori in dialogue form, as it was apparently performed in Palazzo Mocenigo in 1627 (see Monteverdi's letter of 5 June 1627 in Lettere , ed. de' Paoli, 253; English trans. in The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi , ed. Denis Stevens [Cambridge, 1980], no. 96, p. 323). Erotilla and Il natal d'Amore were spoken dramas, but the text of part of the latter (3. 1), revised, was set to music by Giovanni Rovetta in 1629. Strozzi's bibliography, including works that were never published, is given in Le gIorie degli Incogniti , 281-83.

[65] This may be a competitive reference to the plots of earlier Venetian operas, nearly all of which involved magical or supernatural solutions. La finta pazza does include divine characters, but they do not resolve the plot. For a libretto and facsimile of the score, see La finta pazza , ed. Bianconi and Walker.

[66] Sacrati's role as head of the troupe of performers was evidently similar to Ferrari's, but he was probably not financially responsible to the theater owners, as both Ferrari and Cavalli had been. His function as impresario at the Novissimo — and the preeminence of that theater—is documented by an interesting letter from him to Matthias de' Medici dated Venice, 19 November 1641, or slightly more than a month before the opening of the new season: "Qui è già calato mezzo Roma, fra cantatrici, e musici, ma sin'hora poco v'è di buono, ed io posso gloriarmi che non è venuto, ne verrà alcun personaggio quest'anno, che prima a me non siimi offerto." And he continues by reporting that Matthias's singer, Michele Grasseschi, had offered himself and been accepted, as had been the "castratino" of Archduke Leopold (letter in Sartori, "Un fantomatico compositore," 798).


This becomes clear in the volume itself. The cryptic author's initials are those of Maiolino Bisaccioni, count of Genoa, Incognito, and eventually the author of several librettos in his own right.[67] Bisaccioni begins by justifying the publication of this unusual volume, the very title of which declares its purpose of bringing the spectacle closer to the reader. The scenario as well as the libretto, he says, have both been published in order to serve those members of the audience too far away to appreciate the production, either because of absence—never having made it to the theater at all—or because of distance—having attended the performance, but being seated too far from the stage (thus implying that the theater was uncommonly large). But these publications did not do justice to the machines, the costumes, or the crowds, a shortcoming that the Cannocchiale would attempt to rectify. Bisaccioni hoped that even the remotest of readers would be able to imagine what was seen by the front-row audience in the theater.[68]

Although obviously intended to serve as propaganda for the Teatro Novissimo, and especially, perhaps, as publicity for the scene designer, Torelli, the Cannocchiale supplies, in passing, a number of interesting details about the brief history of opera in Venice up to that point. It gives an idea of the kind of competition that was already rampant, competition that its very publication documents. And it asserts explicitly for the first time the relationship between opera and "the miraculous city of Venice" that was so essential to the development of the genre there, emphasizing the function of the art as a projection of the Venetian self-image: "May the eyes of those even in the most distant and secluded foreign countries enjoy in these pages what eyes and ears have enjoyed in this city, which in its every aspect surpasses the bounds of the marvelous" (Appendix I. 17b). The subject of the final phrase is the city of Venice rather than the spectacle itself. This is part of the litany of the myth. The book claims to address a readership extending from Venice to Italy at large and the entire world.

In the past, theaters may have opened in other places as well, and a single one was sufficient to render a people famous and memorable for an entire century. But Venice has rejoiced in no fewer than four at the same time, all

[67] These included Ercole in Lidia (1645), the last opera to be performed at the Novissimo, Semiramide in India (1648), at S. Cassiano, and Orithia (1650), at SS. Apostoli. Neither the Cannocchiale nor any of his librettos appears in the bibliography of his works in Le glorie degli Incogniti . For his bibliography, see V. Castronovo, "Maiolino Bisaccioni," DBI 10 (Rome, 1968): 639-43.

[68] "I considered these days, that Sig. Giulio Strozzi's composition of the Finta pazza , the machines invented by Sig. Iacomo Torelli, and the music woven for them by Sig. Francesco Sacrati were a sky worthy of being contemplated by everyone, but so far from so many people that it would diminish the value for the many who came to view so noble an undertaking if one did not make it possible for everyone to see and admire it; the scenario was printed, and also the libretto, but the machines and the costumes and the actions remained far from the view of the audience, and thus unappreciated" (Appendix I. 17a).


competing with one another in size, scenography, music, staging, and machines (Appendix I. 17c). Bisaccioni's rather gradual historical buildup culminates predictably in a bold demonstration of the superiority of the Novissimo to all other theaters, a superiority that relies in part on the perfection of its construction, carried out with the help of Torelli.

The last of these [theaters], which as it happens was called the Novissimo, surpassed all belief because in the space of six months it was built from the foundations and perfected with the assistance, for its construction as well as for the sets and machines, of Sig. Giacomo Torelli from Fano; who came to exercise his talents in military matters in the service of this August Senate, and, impatient of idleness, has shown what his talent is capable of. (Appendix I. 17d)[69]

After these general remarks, the Cannocchiale moves to specific description of the opera itself, concentrating primarily on the staging, the marvels of the machinery, the speed and smoothness of the transformations (one of them so simple that "a single fifteen-year-old boy set it in motion"), and the success of the pictorial illusion.[70] It also comments on the singers, adding to the information provided in Strozzi's preface to the libretto. Several remarks on the star of the show, Anna Renzi, amplify what we know of her from other sources: "Signora Anna Renzi from Rome, a young woman as skillful in acting as she is excellent in music, as cheerful in feigning madness as she is wise in knowing how to imitate it, and modest in all her habits" (Appendix I. 17e). The part of Acchille was played by a "young castrato from Rome (like all the other musicians brought in from various places) of beautiful appearance, who resembled an Amazon in his mixture of warlike spirit and feminine delicacy" (Appendix I. 17j).[71] Bisaccioni also singled out a singer from Pistoia for special praise, reporting that he sang "so delicately that the souls of the listeners, as if drawn through the portals of the ears, raised themselves to heaven to assist in the enjoyment of such sweetness" (Appendix I. 17i).

One of the most important contributions of the Cannocchiale is the insight it offers into the effect of the work on the audience, most of whom attended two, three, or even four performances (Appendix I. 17f). The scenery was so well painted that the audience forgot that they were in Venice, the illusion so overpowering that "the eye did not know where to stop, for that shallow scenic space knew how to feign an immensity of sea and land" (Appendix I. 17h). Such

[69] Torelli's participation as architect of the Novissimo is confirmed in a letter now in the Biblioteca Correr, Venice, quoted in full in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 63.

[70] "[U]n solo Giovanetto di quindici anni le dava il moro" (Cannocchiale , 21). These descriptions are quoted at length by Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 64-65, and Bjurström, Torelli , 53-58.

[71] This may have been the first operatic appearance of the Roman castrato Atto Melani (born 1626); see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 414 n. 147.


was the art of the scene painter that the eye was deceived into thinking that painting was sculpture, that flatness was depth (Appendix I. 17k).

Bisaccioni attempted to recreate the excitement of being in the theater, of actually experiencing the work as it unfolded: "When the theater was filled to its utmost capacity with spectators, who were impatiently awaiting the movement of the curtain, a sinfonia was begun, of instruments played no less expertly than sweetly, after which the curtain rose with incredible rapidity" (Appendix I. 17g). [72] His description concludes with a publicist's confirmation of the success of the work that borders on the tautological. The opera's fame has caused unusually large crowds to gather in'Venice—an implicit credit to the efficacy of the advance advertising.

The public's desire to see it again never ended; and thus, however many times it was repeated, the place was crowded with people, and many were led to curse their own laziness when they arrived and had to leave because they could not find any place to sit. Nor did the long period between the end of Carnival and Easter lessen the desire in the city to see such an applauded work again, even though familiarity normally breeds contempt; and thus it was necessary to reopen the theater and perform it a number of times, which further spread the fame of this delightful spectacle to the cities of Italy and beyond, and was the reason that, quite exceptionally, Venice was filled ten days early with the crowds that normally gather for the devotions and ceremonies of Ascension Day. (Appendix I. 171)[73]

For all its ca mpanilismo and self-promotion, the Cannocchiale can be trusted in its general outlines. Its reporting involves exaggeration rather than invention, for many of its observations can be validated from other sources. In a second printing of the libretto, a note from the publisher to the "frequente compratore" explains that he was forced "by the avidity of the readers of this work to print it twice in one month, such was the approbation received from every tongue by the Finta pazza at the Novissimo theater in the city of Venice, where it was performed with regal display twelve times in seventeen days" (Appendix I. 16d).[74] The printing of a second edition as well as the information

[72] Notice that the curtain was raised, not lowered; both systems were apparently in use; see Pirrotta, "Theater, Sets, and Music," Essays . 256 n. 8.

[73] This passage indicates that the Novissimo reopened after Easter, at least in 1641. It seems also to have done so in 1645. when John Evelyn reported having seen a performance there in June. But this was highly unusual; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' "416 n. 154.

[74] This was not actually the first libretto to have required a second printing—La maga fulminata was (see p. 77 above). That the first printing was sold out suggests it had been published before the performance; it may even have been calculated to sell out by a limited press run. Twelve performances within seventeen days must have been a large number for 1641. (The ten performances of Il ritorno d'Ulisse in 1640 [Appendix I.7c] were evidently considered worth mentioning.) Although documentary evidence for number and frequency of operatic performances is scarce, the numbers must have gone up as the century progressed. In 1649 there were eighteen performances of Giasone (Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 15), and Robert Bargrave reported sixteen performances of an opera in 1656 (Michael Tilmouth, "Music on the Travels of an English Merchant: Robert Bargrave [1628-61]," Music and Letters 53 [1972]: 156). In the 1658-59 season there weretwenty-four performances of Antioco from 25 January through 24 February, sometimes seven days per week (see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 224); and in 1669, there were thirty-five performances of Argia (see I-Vcg, Archivio Vendramin 42 F [44], unnumbered folio, illustrated in fig. 24). Audiences apparently were accustomed to seeing the same opera more than once, to judge from Maria Mancini Colonna's remark that in 1666 she had seen Tito (Beregan/Cesti) five times in succession (see Alberto Cametti, Il teatro di Tordinona poi di Apollo [Tivoli, 1938], 2: 335).


provided in it about the success of the work—the number of performances, the amount of applause—continued the publicity campaign initiated by the scenario, the first libretto, and the Cannocchiale .[75]

The Venetian success of La finta pazza was enormous. But the work made its fullest impact in subsequent performances outside Venice, where it was brought, variously altered and rearranged, by a succession of traveling opera companies—most famously in Paris under the auspices of Torelli and Balbi, one of the first of a series of Italian operas performed in the French capital.[76] The glow of success enjoyed by La finta pazza , fanned as it was by the full deployment of the Incogniti publicity machine, continued to surround the productions of the Novissimo. Strozzi wrote no further librettos for that theater, returning to SS. Giovanni e Paolo, but Sacrati continued to serve as composer-impresario, Torelli as scenographer, and Anna Renzi as prima donna. The season of 1642 saw two new productions. The first, Alcate , on a libretto by Marc'Antonio Tirabosco, was set not by Sacrati but by Manelli, and Torelli seems to have had no part in it.[77] The libretto, atypically for this theater, was published after the performance, on 13 February 1642. The real successor of La finta pazza was the second production of 1642, Bellerofonte , with a libretto by Vincenzo Nolfi, music by Sacrati, machines by Torelli, and starring Anna Renzi.

In fact, Bellerofonte seems to have been even more elaborate than its spectacular predecessor. Its libretto and scenario, like those of La finta pazza , were both printed before the performance. As we learn from a note to the reader attached to the end of the libretto, the scenario came first: "Various things in the opera were altered and corrected after the scenario was printed; thus if in number of scenes or in some part of what is presented in them you find some

[75] Among the additions to the second edition of the libretto are three encomiastic sonnets in praise of Anna Renzi by Francesco Melosio, a librettist whose first work was performed the following season at S. Moisè, and two passages of text "inadvertently omitted" from act 2 (from scene 4 for Venere and Vulcano and from scene 7 for Ginnone), but they were also omitted from the first edition, without comment.

[76] Balbi, whom we know from Ermiona, Peleo , and Delia , choreographed the ballets for Paris. On this production, see Henry Prunières, L'Opéra en France avant Lulli (Paris, 1913), 68-77. The French documents seem to suggest that the work was not sung throughout. This led Sartori ("Un fantomatico compositore") to the conclusion that it was not a real opera; see also id., "Ancora della 'Finta pazza' di Strozzi e Sacrati," NRMI 11 (1977): 335-38.

[77] There is some problem about Alcate with respect to Torelli and the involvement of the Incogniti. Bjurström (Torelli , 58) mentions a libretto, F-Bn Yth52325, with the conflated title Alcate overo il Bellerofonte (Venice: Surian, 1642). This may be the publisher's mistake (or, more likely, Bjurström's, since the libretto is not listed in Sartori, "Primo tentativo"). Bjurström (Torelli , 73-74), claims that Torelli's sets for Lafinta pazza and Bellerofonte could easily have been used for Alcate .


divergences from the one to the other, do not immediately become critical; take everything with goodwill, because our only aim is to minimize your boredom and maximize your pleasure" (Appendix I. 19h).

The scenario was probably prepared by the theater management, since it is unsigned, bears no author's name on its title page, and continues the publicity campaign initiated the previous year by the Finta pazza publications. Indeed, it is atypical of scenarios in opening with a preface. Reminding the reader of the extraordinary success of the opera of the previous year, which had rendered the Novissimo "worthy of the favor and applause of the whole city," it praises the forthcoming opera, Bellerofonte , "likewise a musical drama," which, it is hoped, will maintain if not improve the reputation of the theater. Bellerofonte is "the very recent work of Signor Vincenzo Nolfi, gentleman of Fano." Although the work was a rush job, it is nevertheless a masterpiece, which, in any case, is largely owing to the generosity of the patrons, "questi Signori interessati," who spared no efforts in obtaining however many machines the poet felt necessary (Appendix I. 19a).[78]

The preface to the scenario concludes with several paragraphs addressed "to the curious reader" by Torelli, unnamed but identified as "l'inventore delle machine." In a conventionally self-effacing note laced with only a touch of paranoia, he divulges the curious information that his sets are being plagiarized. His swipe at the narrowness of the theater is the only indication we have of any deficiency at the Novissimo:

If in the scenes and machines I have constructed for you you do not find that perfection and beauty that you deserve and that you have a right to expect in virtuosic emulation of other celebrated and most noble theaters in such a glorious country, forgive me because the desire to delight you won over my awareness of the weakness of my talent. Appreciate the little that I can offer you in relation to the great deal that I wish to offer you; I confess that the imperfections are infinite, nor do I allow myself to be flattered by the speed with which others have adopted, perhaps in order to use them, things first invented, established, and, I might even say, bestowed, by me. Whatever they are, they are certainly the simple fruits of my invention. The site of the Teatro Novissimo cannot give you a full idea of things, as its narrowness would make it impossible even for an extraordinary architect to work perfectly.[79] Let this too convince you to excuse and bear with me. My weaknesses, in any case, will be largely covered up by the brush of Signor Domenico Bruni of Brescia, who with his usual success painted the sets. (Appendix I. 19b)

In contrast to that of the scenario, the preface to the libretto of Bellerofonte , signed by the author, is less concerned with propaganda than with aesthetic

[78] Fano was also Torelli's home town. Torelli's machines must have been expensive if the queen of France was concerned about their cost in La finta pazza (see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 416 n. 152). This passage reminds us once again that because it drew upon the resources of a group of patricians, the Novissimo organization enjoyed a comparatively solid financial situation.

[79] In fact, the Dominican friars agreed to correct that deficiency—see n. 56 above.


issues, of more specific relevance to the librettist as poet than as servant of the theater. But Nolfi offers a novel, and revealing, excuse for his literary shortcomings: his deference to the wishes of the scene designer: "You are wasting time, O Reader, if with the Poetics of the Stagirite [Aristotle] in hand you go tracking down the errors of this work, because I confess freely that in composing it I did not aim to observe any precepts other than the desires of the scene designer" (Appendix I. 19c). And again, slightly later: "The tale that was crumbling because of its antiquity has been restored by my pen in a dramatic form, under the constraint of very little time, in order to be crowned by the beauty of the theatrical machines and sets" (Appendix I. 19g). The preface is followed by Torelli's note, reprinted from the scenario, and the front matter of the libretto concludes with poems addressed to the poet, two of the singers (including Renzi), and the composer.

The unusual emphasis on the scenographer in both the scenario and the libretto is capped in a third publication issued shortly after the performance. A deluxe commemorative quarto volume similar in function to the Cannocchiale per lafinta pazza , this book was published under the aegis of Torelli himself and accordingly emphasizes the visual aspects of the production to an even greater degree. In addition to an elaborate narrative account of the performance, the entire text of the libretto is reproduced, along with ten engravings of scene designs.[80]

From our point of view, the most interesting section is the "Descrittione de gli Apparati" by Giulio del Colle. In its effort to place first the machines and then the Novissimo in their proper context, this report provides a veritable history of opera in Venice up to 1642, isolating many of the elements that were to prove crucial to its development—though much of this was recognized only in retrospect by later historians. Del Colle's description was obviously an important source for Ivanovich, who used it, amplified with information culled from later librettos, as the basis for his history of Venetian opera.[81]

Del Colle opens with a typically chauvinistic encomium to Venice and its unique history, including the usual favorable comparison to Rome, which it surpasses by virtue of its singular and miraculous site and, especially, in the number and magnificence of its theaters. Particularly in recent years, these have produced works that would have caused ancient Rome to blush with shame at being so surpassed (Appendix 1.20a). The most magnificent of all, of course, is

[80] Il BELLERO FONTE: Drama Musicale Del SigVicenzo Nolfi da f. RAPPRESENTA TO NEL TEATRO NOVISSIMO IN VENETIA DA GIACOMO Torelli Da Fano Inuentore delli Apparati, DEDICATO Al Ser . ferdinando II Gran Duca di Toscana 1642 .

[81] Lengthy excerpts are quoted in translation, and several of the engravings reproduced, in Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , appendix V; see also Bjurström, Torelli , 58-73, cat. nos. 3-10, and figs. 18, 20, and 21 below.


the Teatro Novissimo, which, "built two years ago, has really caused a sensation and has deserved and won acclaim. This year it presented Bellerofonte, a drama by Signor Vincenzo Nolfi from Fano; and since, for many reasons, the things introduced in it are worthy of minute description, I have decided to undertake the task, however imperfectly" (Appendix I.20b).

Del Colle then goes on to describe the action of the drama itself, commenting on the various singers as he sketches the individual characters. He mentions only three by name: Giulia Saus Paolelli from Rome, who had resided and performed in Venice for the previous three years; Michele Grasseschi, a contralto on loan from Prince Matthias de' Medici of Florence; and Anna Renzi romana, "true embodiment of music and unique marvel of the stage, who, during the course of the performance first gave vent to, then hid, then disguised, then revealed, and then lamented her amorous passions." But he gives the city of origin for most of the others and, more important, supplies vocal ranges for all of the roles, which would be otherwise unknown to us, since the music of Bellerofonte has not survived. His complete list comprises Innocenza (soprano from Parma), La Giustizia (a castrato from Rome), Nettuno (tenor from Parma), Paristide (tenor from Pistoia), Il Re (bass from Siena), Regina Anthia (Signora Giulia Saus Paolelli romana), Defiride, the nurse (a castrato from Parma), Pallade and Diana (two soprano castratos), Melistea (a castrato from Pistoia), Eolo (a Sienese bass), Bellerofonte (Signor Michele Grasseschi, contralto), and Archimene (Anna Renzi romana) (Appendix I.20c).[82] Most of del Colle's text, however, is devoted to a vivid description of the costumes, sets, and the workings of the machinery, in which he emphasizes the novelty of Torelli's inventions. As in the similar descriptions in the Cannocchiale and even in the earlier librettos of Andromeda and La maga fulminata so long before, a special point is made of the amazed reaction of the public, its inability to penetrate the illusion.[83]

After Bellerofonte , activity at the Novissimo began to slacken somewhat. Only one opera was produced during each of its next (and last) three seasons: Venere gelosa in 1643, Deidamia in 1644, and Ercole in Lidia in 1645. Sacrati and

[82] Giulia Saus Paolelli, who starred as Penelope and Delia in the Bologna productions of Il ritorno d'Ulisse and Delia in 1640 (and presumably in the Venetian productions as well), became a very successful stage personality in Venice. She was praised by Fulvio Testi in a letter of 3 December 1633 to the duke of Modena (Lettere , ed. M. L. Doglio [Bari, 1967], 1: no. 473), and by Leonardo Quirini (Vezzi d'Erato [Venice: Hertz, 1653]).

[83] In act 1, scene 3: "Slowly descending, the two clouds bore the goddesses to the ground on either side of the stage, with a movement both unexpected and marvellous, without showing how it was arranged, and straightway scattered through the scene without the means being understood by the amazed audience" (Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 178). And later, "Amore made an entry, flying from the left with great speed to the middle of the scene. He wounded [Anthea]. . . . Then, rising again, he flew to the right, drawing the eyes of the theater which, astonished, tried in vain to penetrate the machinery and discover the artifice" (2.10; Worsthorne. 181). This was truly l'arte che nasconde l'arte .


Torelli seem to have been directly involved only in the first of these; in fact, following Strozzi's lead, they both began to work at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Sacrati collaborated with several other composers there in a joint setting of Strozzi's La finta savia already in 1643, and he provided all of the music for Badoaro's Ulisse errante in 1644, for which Torelli served as scenographer. Anna Renzi, too, moved over to SS. Giovanni e Paolo after Bellerofonte to sing in L'incoronazione di Poppea and La finta savia in 1643, though she returned to the Novissimo in 1644 and 1645 for Deidamia and Ercole in Lidia .[84]

In fact, the theater of SS. Giovanni e Paolo and the Novissimo had always been linked, by geographical proximity and outlook as well as personnel. Strozzi, as we know, had written his Delia for the Grimani theater in 1639, before the Novissimo was built, and many other members of the Accademia degli Incogniti, including Busenello, Badoaro, and the anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea , were active there rather than at the Novissimo. It was natural, then, for Strozzi to have returned to SS. Giovanni e Paolo and to have brought his Novissimo colleagues with him in 1643. Torelli, for his part, may even have found the older theater more congenial to his scenographic technology. At least one of his inventions, the fine machine for changing all the sets simultaneously by means of a lever or winch moved by a weight, described in the eighteenth century, may have originated there.[85] SS. Giovanni e Paolo was certainly the larger theater. In fact, although in 1645 it was deemed the most comfortable and beautiful theater in Venice, as we have noted, Giovanni Grimani himself thought it was too deep and should be shortened by two boxes because "those facing the stage hear the performers poorly."[86] It is just possible that the general exodus from the Novissimo to SS. Giovanni e Paolo was in some way connected to the signing of a new rental contract at the Novissimo by Gironimo Lappoli in 1643, though the nature of the relationship between the two events is uncertain.[87] The fact that Strozzi's operatic trilogy—which began with La

[84] Renzi was joined at SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1643 by the Roman soprano Anna di Valerio or Anna Valeri; see Wolfgang Osthoff, "Filiberto Laurenzis Musik zu 'La finta savia' im Zusammenhang der frühvenezianischen Oper," in Venezia e il melodramma nel seicento , ed. Maria Teresa Muraro (Florence, 1976), 174, and a letter from one of Cardinal Mazarin's agents in Piacenza of 25 March 1643 (F-Pre, Corr. polit., Parme, t. 2, ff. 39-41), quoted in Margaret Murata, "Why the First Opera Given in Paris Wasn't Roman," in L'opera tra Venezia e Parigi , ed. Lorenzo Bianconi (in press); see also Curtis, "La Poppea impasticciata ," 42 n. 28.

[85] "Fù nel Teatro SS. Giovanni & Paolo in Venezia ch'inventò la bella machina di mutar in un tratto tutte le scene per mezzo di leva o di argano mosso da un peso" (Francesco Milizia, Memorie degli architetti antichi e moderni [Parma, 1781], 2:213). But there was confusion over the names of the two theaters. He could have meant the Novissimo in the parish of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Moreover, the invention is alluded to in the first of the Novissimo librettos. See ch. 4 below.

[86] "E che sarebbe bene farlo due Colonnate, cioè due Palchi meno di quello è di presente, perchè quelli che sono in faccia alla Scena, sentono poco i Recitanti" (Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 229).

[87] See Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 65 (on Girolamo [ = Gironimo] Lappoli). Other SS. Giovanni e Paolo operas with Incognito connections include Il ritorno d'Ulisse (1640-41); Narciso ed Ecco immortalatiand Gli amori di Giasone e d'Isifile (1642); L'incoronazione di Poppea and La finta savia (1643); Il principe giardiniero (the Incognito connection derives from the note to the reader, which is signed by Fusconi) and Ulisse errante (1644); Romolo e Remo and Bellerofonte (1645); Deidamia (1647); Torilda (1648); and Argiope (1649).


finta pazza and included La finta savia and Romoto e Remo —was split between the two theaters suggests that SS. Giovanni e Paolo was considered in some sense a natural twin or even heir of the Novissimo.

But in 1643, despite the loss of Strozzi, Sacrati, and Anna Renzi, the energy of the Novissimo was still far from spent. Venere gelosa , by all (admittedly prejudiced) accounts, was just as marvelous and successful as any of its predecessors. The text, by a new librettist, Niccolò Enea Bartolini,[88] was published as expected before the premiere and reprinted at least four times in Venice and also in Padua; it contains the characteristic Incognito peroration on the aesthetics of opera, but is not especially informative about the performance. Nor, atypically for the Novissimo, does a scenario seem to have been published for the purpose. Torelli, however, made up for this with another commemorative volume, the last of his efforts in that direction, issued in 1644.

The title of this publication, Apparati scenici per lo Teatro Novissimo di Venetia nell'anno 1644 d'inventione e cura di Iacomo Torelli da Fano , is neutral, making no reference to any specific opera. Indeed, even the dedication of the volume seems purposely noncommittal. It simply introduces the designs as having been made for the Teatro Novissimo and shown "this past Carnival to the eyes of Venice in the representation of a musical drama."[89] The description of the opera in question by Bisaccioni, the author of the Cannocchiale , makes it clear, however, that it was Venere gelosa , performed during the previous season (1643). But the printing of the Apparati scenici , whose dedication was signed by Torelli on 24 January 1644, was a year late if it was intended to commemorate only Venere gelosa , and in fact only nine of the twelve plates relate to that work. The other three probably illustrate Deidamia , the opera then on the boards.[90]

Furthermore, of the eight stage sets listed in the libretto for Deidamia , the five not included in the Apparati could have been drawn from those of Venere gelosa .[91] Thus, while the Apparati scenici describes only Venere gelosa , it in fact

[88] Bartolini is familiar to us as the author of the narrative description of the Paduan Ermiona seven years earlier.

[89] "questo Carneval passato all'occhio di Venetia nella rappresentatione d'un drama musicale" (Apparati scenici , dedication).

[90] Bjurström, Torelli , 89-94, cat. nos. 2o-22; also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 416 n. 153, and figs. 17, 19, 22, and 23 below.

[91] And some from La finta pazza or Bellerofonte as well; see Bjurström, Torelli , 91. Presumably this was necessary because Torelli was no longer available to create new sets at the Novissimo, having moved by 1644 to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Torelli himself may have authorized or suggested the use of some old sets for Deidamia because he was pressed for time, especially if he was already contracted to produce Ulisse errante for SS. Giovanni e Paolo. His unrealized promise to publish the stage designs of Ulisse errante is another indication of the time pressures under which he operated.


illustrates both Venere gelosa and Deidamia —and not only three of the latter's sets but probably all of them. This is confirmed in a note to the reader appended to the volume.

These sets were so marvelously and exquisitely presented that they convinced their maker to allow them to be seen this year, 1643 [1644], also. And in truth he judged very wisely, since people have derived inexpressible satisfaction from them, to the extent that many thought they were new, and others that they had been improved; and this because of the addition of other very beautiful sets included here [i.e., the three already mentioned], and because the drama turned out to be marvelously beautiful: whence it was shown that to repeat beautiful things even twice is commendable. (Appendix I.22c)

Like the Cannocchiale and the deluxe Bellerofonte , the Apparati scenici sheds valuable light on the current state of opera in Venice. It begins (like Bellerofonte ) with a capsule history of the city and its theaters in order to place the Teatro Novissimo and especially the featured production, Venere gelosa , in their proper context—on a pedestal, as the culmination of a brief but glorious tradition. In so doing, it makes its own considerable contribution to the blossoming mythology:

Venice, always and on every occasion extraordinary, and never tired of displaying her greatness, has discovered the remarkable also in virtuoso entertainment, having introduced a few years ago the presentation in music of grand drama with such sets and stage-machines that they surpass all belief; and what the richest treasuries can produce only with difficulty (and only rarely) in royal halls [Regie Sale ] here we see easily achieved with private resources, not only in one, but in three theaters [tre orchestre ] at once;[92] and competing with each other for the greatest perfections, they each draw spectators from the most remote parts of Italy. I am not undertaking to write down what was done in Venere gelosa because I deem it the most notable of this year's, and this city's, theatrical productions, nor because my choice aims to detract from the others' merits, but rather because I enjoyed this one first, and I have preserved the most vivid memory of it. . . . But not even of this one do I want to write every detail, because it seems to me enough to report the most important things of the drama, as much as is needed to show what its scenic clothes, or shall we say sets, were like. (Appendix I.22a)

The author will tell only as much about the drama as is necessary to illustrate or describe the scenography—by which strategy, of course, he hopes to achieve exactly what he disclaims, to convince the readers of the superiority of Venere gelosa to all other operas of the season, especially, we might guess, to the opera at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

[92] In 1644 there were actually four theaters (not "orchestras"): S. Cassiano, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, S. Moisè, and the Novissimo.


His description of the effect of the final scene gives a good idea of the audience's reaction and provides a fitting conclusion to the volume:

At the birth of this scene the whole theater, not just the stage or the buildings, was supposed to rise, and it rose indeed, for with the movement of those great back-drops and the disappearance of the sky, and upon seeing all the parts of that great machine turn and mix in great confusion, not one of the spectators sat still: they stood up and turned around and did not know what they were seeing or what to expect, if not a great novelty; but soon the eye was satisfied, because it saw the scene transformed into a lovely and delightful garden, which was far different from any that have been depicted, either on stage or in print. (Appendix I.22b)

This Apparati scenici was the last volume of his stage designs Torelli published in Venice, although he promised a similar one for his next opera, Ulisse errante , at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, in a note to the reader in the libretto of that work: "Experience makes me recognize the fact that favors often increase the daring of those who receive them; I received Ulisse errante from the hand of the author with the privileged authority to print it in large format with illustrations after the performances, and I undertook this to be able to show to the world the efforts I faced in order to serve these gentlemen well" (Appendix I.8m).[93]

Torelli obviously assumed the responsibility (and profits?) of the librettist in this case. Perhaps permission to publish the libretto as well as engravings of the sets was part of his contract with the theater management, possibly an inducement to leave the Novissimo. Interesting also, given the precedent of the Cannocchiale and the deluxe Bellerofonte , is the proviso that he should not publish the engravings until after the performance, as if prior publication might diminish their effect. Conversely, the publication of this particular libretto before the premiere (which is implied in Torelli's preface, though not by any verb on the title page) seems explicitly intended to enhance the audience's enjoyment of the performance.

It is evident that by 1644 Torelli's exclusive ties to the Novissimo, like those of a number of his collaborators, had loosened, if not broken altogether. The staging of neither Deidamia that year nor Ercole in Lidia the next is specifically ascribed to him. And, as we know, 1644 saw the performance of his first, and only, new work for another Venetian theater, Ulisse errante at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. This was followed by revivals there of two works that had originally been produced with his sets at the Novissimo: Bellerofonte in 1645 and Deidamia in 1647. But by then Torelli was gone: in the spring of 1645, after the

[93] This passage reveals once more the abstention of a patrician librettist from the publication business. As already observed, Badoaro's name appears nowhere in this libretto; only his academic alias identifies him. It is worth noting that, even without his name, Badoaro would not let this publication out of his hands without the de rigueur aesthetic statement, perhaps one of the longest in any libretto (see Appendix I. 8).


opera season, he accepted an invitation from the queen of France and left for Paris, "sacrificing all of his important interests in Venice," thus bringing to a close the Venetian chapter of his career.[94]

Although Torelli was not the only scenographer active in Venice in the early years of public opera (we have noted Alabardi at S. Cassiano, and Chenda and Burnacini at SS. Giovanni e Paolo), he clearly left an indelible mark upon the Venetian stage—and, through the engravings of his designs, upon our knowledge of its visual spectacle.[95] Stage design had traditionally aimed at producing marvelous effects; Torelli's special contribution was to achieve those effects with a mechanical efficiency that enhanced the marvelous. By creating a central mechanism that controlled all the moving parts, he could set the entire stage into simultaneous motion. Light and shadow further contributed to the smooth transition of space, adding the final convincing touches to the illusion of a world in mutation. No longer merely a backdrop or setting, the scenery actively participated in the drama, changing with, and as part of, the action.

Torelli's (and Sacrati's) transfer to SS. Giovanni e Paolo may have represented a significant victory for the management of that theater, but it did not signal the end of the Teatro Novissimo's career as a major opera house or a change in its mission. The Incogniti involvement continued—and with it the propaganda about Venice, about opera, and about the Novissimo initiated with La finta pazza —in the two operas that followed Torelli's departure, Deidamia and Ercole in Lidia , both of them starring Anna Renzi. These marked the librettistic debuts of Scipione Herrico and Bisaccioni, though the latter at least was no stranger to matters operatic. And at least one of the new operas, Ercole in Lidia , marked the operatic debut of a composer from the San Marco chapel, Giovanni Rovetta.[96] Both librettists proclaim their indebtedness to anonymous collaborators (probably their fellow Incogniti), Herrico because he was a novice, Bisaccioni because he lacked inspiration (Appendix I.23a, 24a-b).

Herrico's dedication to Alvise da Mosto, "Nobile Veneto," borrows the old Novissimo rhetoric and has the familiar ring of Venetian myth making:

This great city, as it is in its site, so always it has shown itself, and shows itself, to be admirable and extraordinary in its public and in its private actions. In these times foreigners are astonished to see the ornate theaters in which so many dramatic

[94] Prunières, L'Opéra en France , 68-77, prints the documentation surrounding Torelli's employment in Paris; the passage quoted comes from a letter of 11 September 1645 (372-73).

[95] Another early Venetian scenographer was Gaspare Beccari, active at S. Moisè in the early 1640s; see Bjurström, Torelli , 43-46; also Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 37-50 ("The Spectacle"); Lorenzo Bianconi, "Scena, musica e pubblico nell'opera del seicento," in Illusione e pratica teatrale , 15-24: and Mercedes Viale Ferrero, "Luogo teatrale e spazio scenico," StOpIt , 5 (Turin, 1988): 3-24.

[96] The composer of the other opera, Deidamia , is unknown. The lost score was traditionally attributed to Cavalli; but see Walker, "Errori."


works are presented in music, and which are so ingeniously composed, and so full of diverse and marvelous effects. Whence the opportunity is offered for many fine talents to exercise themselves and receive great praise, whether in poetry, or in music, or in the construction of stage-machines, or in other similarly honored and related labors.

Now, coming to this noble refuge of every virtue, and admiring such fine rivalries, I, too, was stimulated by poetic fervor, and that same reason that persuaded me not to compete with so many skilled men urged me on with a sweet desire to imitate them. Finally, with the continual requests of my friends added to this internal inclination of mine, I entered the arena to please them, and they guided my style, which is by habit very far from this kind of poetizing. I have written this work for performance in the Teatro Novissimo, and since it was to be printed for the greater convenience of the audience, I wanted it to appear adorned with the name of Your Most Illustrious Lordship, who will deign to receive it as much in my name, as a token of my loyal service, as in the name of those who had a part in it with me, in the invention and in the ideas. (Appendix I.23a-b)

Although Torelli was probably not directly involved in designing the scenes for these operas, he may still have had some hand in the productions. At least no other scenographer is mentioned in connection with them. As we have seen, Deidamia probably used sets from his other operas, especially Venere gelosa ; and the same may also have been true for Ercole in Lidia , since none of the sets mentioned in the scenario or libretto seem to make demands beyond the variety available from La finta pazza, Bellerofonte , and Venere gelosa .[97] In any case, the stage designs played no little part in the impression made by Ercole in Lidia on John Evelyn in 1645:

This night, having with my Lord Bruce taken our places before, we went to the Opera where comedies and other plays are represented in recitative music by the most excellent musicians vocal and instrumental, with a variety of scenes painted and contrived with no less art of perspective, and machines for flying in the aire, and other wonderful motions; taken together it is one of the most magnificent and expensive diversions the wit of men can invent. The history was Hercules in Lydia, the scenes changed thirteen times. The famous voices, Anna Rencia, a Roman, and reputed the best treble of women; but there was an eunuch who in my opinion surpassed her; also a Genoeze that sang an incomparable bass. This held us by the eyes and ears till two in the morning.[98]

There has always been some question as to when the Novissimo actually closed its doors for good. Like much of the confusion surrounding the chronology of early Venetian opera, this uncertainty derives in part from Ivanovich, who gives two conflicting dates, 1646 in his chapter on the history of Venetian theaters, 1647 in his chronology. This is his version of the demise of the Novissimo: "Musical performances took place there until 1646, when the theater

[97] Bjurström, Torelli , 97.

[98] Memoires of John Evelyn , 1: 191.


was completely destroyed, and its site was where at present the Riding-School has been set up, behind the Mendicanti, toward the Fondamenta Nuove" (Appendix II. 6q). In his chronology, however, Ivanovich assigns Busenello's Giulio Cesare and a revival of Deidamia to the Novissimo, in 1646 and 1647 respectively; and various chroniclers, following Ivanovich, have chosen one of those two dates for the closing of the theater. But Ivanovich's confusion was itself the result of an ambiguity in the naming of theaters on the title pages of librettos, between "Novissimo" and "Novo," a designation that referred at this time to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. The confusion was compounded by the fact that the Novissimo and SS. Giovanni e Paolo were both located in the same parish. Giulio Cesare , for example, was certainly written for the SS. Giovanni e Paolo, though it was probably never performed,[99] and the revival of Deidamia , according to the libretto, clearly took place not at the Novissimo but at the "Teatro Novo."[100]

Evelyn's description of Ercole in Lidia of 1645, then, is the last document of a performance at the Novissimo. Whether or not the theater was actually destroyed soon after, as Ivanovich implies, the focus of operatic interest and activity had certainly shifted elsewhere, primarily to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. In the meantime, S. Cassiano and S. Moisè continued to compete as well, each averaging two operas per season. Like all of the theaters in Venice, the Novissimo closed in 1645 and remained closed through 1646 and 1647. But unlike the others, it never reopened.[101] Possibly because of the enormous cost of Torelli's scenographic extravaganzas, which may have accumulated, and because it failed to recoup the expenses of Ercole in Lidia , which was apparently interrupted during its run, the theater was bankrupt by 1646.[102] The Dominican friars, unlike the patrician proprietors of the other theaters, were understandably not committed enough to the venture to bail it out. And so, when the Novissimo closed in 1645, it closed forever. The strength of the initial enterprise, which lay in the cooperation of a large number of energetic collaborators, may ultimately have become the source of its failure. No family's reputation

[99] See the dedication of Busenello's Le bore ociose .

[100] Likewise, Ferrari's Il principe giardiniero (1643) and Strozzi's Romolo e Remo (1645), though assigned to the "Teatro Novo" on their title pages, were certainly performed at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. But for some reason they were listed properly by Ivanovich. It may have been common practice to use "Nuovo" to distinguish new or reconstructed theaters from older ones in the same parish; such was evidently the case not only for SS. Giovanni e Paolo but for S. Cassiano and S. Moisè as well.

[101] Because of the War of Candia, the government decreed a ban on all public performances, beginning in 1645 (see ch. 5 below). There is some evidence, however, that a few operas may have been performed during those years, but outside of the Carnival season: Ercole in Lidia in June 1645 at the Novissimo (where it was seen by John Evelyn) and Deidamia in May 1647 at SS. Giovanni e Paolo (a libretto published in that year and indicating performance in that theater bears a dedication date of 30 May).

[102] For the documentary evidence for the closing of the theaters, which was part of the general suspension of Carnival activities, see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 416-17.


and position depended on its success. By 1645 the status of the theater was not important enough to any single individual to inspire the heavy economic transfusion that would have ensured its survival.

Although the bright light of the Novissimo was extinguished in 1645, the effect of that theater on the subsequent history of opera in Venice was permanent. Its activities may have been concentrated in a few short seasons, but in that brief time steps fundamental to opera's development were taken and reinforced. By launching the career of the first "prima donna," the Incognito managers set new standards for singers, elevating them to greater prominence and greater influence in the operatic partnership with composers and librettists. By providing an environment—physical as well as financial—for the exercise of Torelli's special creative talents, they raised the level and importance of operatic stage design, transforming it into an independent art. Most important, they traded on the unspoken but fundamental connection between opera and the image of the Republic. In making that connection patent, the Novissimo Incogniti fulfilled their responsibility as patriotic Venetians. And, by the very energy of their publicity campaign on behalf of their theater and their city, they stimulated interest and excitement in the new art. Their success created a market for opera both in Venice and abroad.


La finta pazza :
Mirror of an Audience

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

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

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

[1] Sacrati himself was probably involved in the Bologna production as a member or leader of the Discordati; see Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 194. Although apparently the name of a specific academy, "Febiarmonici" was also used generically to refer to opera companies in Naples, Milan, Turin, andGenoa; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 387 n. 52 and 4o3-4 n. 114.


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

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

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

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

[2] This revival, under a new title, Gli amori sagaci , took place in Reggio Emilia. It is unlikely, after four decades, that it contained much, if any, of Sacrati's original music. With one exception, all of these performances are documented by librettos (the exception is Reggio, 1648, for which only a scenario survives); the sources are all evaluated in Bianconi, preface to La finta pazza .

[3] "Chi la fece rappresentare la prima volta fuori Venetia levò alcune Scene, altre ve n'aggiunse per sua commodità. In questa maniera è stata consegnata, se non satisfacesse al tuo gusto non incolpare il primiero Auttore." There were two editions of the work published in Bologna in 1647, one dedicated to Cornelio Malvasia by Curzio Manara (I-Bc), the other without dedication (I-Vgc).

[4] See Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 424 nn. 182-84.


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

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

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

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

[5] Some of the text was in fact spoken in the Paris production of 1645; see Sartori, "Un fantomatico compositore," 792-93; id., "Ancora della 'Finta pazza,'" 336-37.


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

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

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

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

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

[6] This particular scene exploited one of Torelli's scenographic innovations, whereby a small background scene could be opened up within an otherwise fiat backdrop. See Bjurström, Torelli , 103.

[7] ULISSE : "O formano gli Dei / Questi teatri in terra, / O innalzano i mortali / Questi apparati in Cielo." DIOMEDE : "O bellissima Scena. . . ."


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

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

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

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

[8] "Udito che in Sciro si dovevano rappresentar Commedie in Musica per honorar gli Ambasciadori, dice di voler anch'essa far la sua parte, come esperta di Macchine e di Canto."

[9] "Che melodie son queste? / Ditemi? che novissimi teatri, / Che numerose scene / S'apparecchiano in Sciro? / Voglio esser ancor'io del faticare a parte; / Ch'a me non manca l'arte, ad un sol fischio / Di cento variar scenici aspetti, /Finger mari, erger monti, e mostre belle / Far di cieli, e di Stelle / D'aprir l'inferno, e nel tartareo lito / Formar Stige e Cocito."

[10] "Hoggi, che dalle stelle, / Per tante opere ornar illustri e nove, / L'Architettura piove, anch'io spiegar vorrei / Macchine eccelse, e belle / Di far romper il collo a cento Orfei." This text points up another of Torelli's striking scenographic innovations, the use of a counterweight system that would enable any number of fiats to drop down from their storage place behind the upper proscenium.


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

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

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

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

[11] "Versi, macchine e canto / Son atte a render pazze / Le più saggie Sibille; e se v'aggiungi / Un amoroso affetto, meraviglia non è, se da costei / Partito è l'intelletto."

[12] In order to save time, as the librettist explains. "Anderebbe qui una richissima comparsa di Barriera, ma studiosi della brevità, habbiamo finto, ch'ella sia di già seguita al porto" (La finta pazza [Venice: Surian, 1641], 2.4-5).

[13] A number of these debates were printed in Loredano, Le bizzarrie academiche. La finta pazza also features a scene involving the distribution of flowers (1.6), which may refer to an actual event in which members of the Incogniti participated—another injoke. Such an event is described m Veglia prima de' Signori academici Unisoni havuta in Venetia in casa del Signor Giulio Strozzi (Venice: Sarzina, 1638); see Ro-sand, "Barbara Strozzi," 244, 251.

[14] On the dating of Il ritorno d'Ulisse , see ch. 1, nn. 24, 52, above.

[15] Although engravings of Torelli's sets for the Venice production of La finta pazza have not survived, one of those for the Paris production of 1645 shows the city of Paris in the background (see Bjurström, Torelli , 137); and Torelli's second production at the Novissimo, Bellerofonte , featured a view of Venice in the background of one of the scenes (see fig. 16).


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

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

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

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

[16] "Ma s'altri che m'ascolta, / In se sperimentato, / O ne' congiunti suoi / Havesse alcun segreto / Di sanar la pazzia / L'impresti a Deidamia."

[17] See example 3.

[18] "Voi belle donne illustri, / Ben lo sapete, a cui / Ne' mendicati amori / Dispenso i miei tesori, /E d'haver godo un degno / Trono nel vostro ingegno: / Che tra le sfere lucide, e beate / M'aggiro de' vostr'occhi, e invito ogn'ora / Voi tutte al godimento. . . . / Su, su, volgete gli occhi, e un bel Furore / Sia vostro insegnamento / Per saper a gli amanti / Spiegar varie dal core / E le voci, e i sembianti / Rivolo intanto alia più bella in seno; / E chi sarà di voi, / Che non mi voglia in grembo?"

[19] "Se ben han volti angelici, e divini, / Braman le belle ancor d'esser più belle. / Staccano il Sol per indorarsi i crini, / Tingonsi il labbro, illustransi la pelle." The toilette of Venetian women was traditionally an issue of public discussion. Appropriate dress and behavior for women as well as men were legislated by Venetian sumptuary laws, and changing fashions were illustrated in the pictorial arts. The subject is amply treated in Pompeo Molmenti, La storia di Venezia nella vita privata dalle origini alla caduta della repubblica , 7th ed. (Bergamo, 1927-29). See especially vol. 2, Lo splendore , ch. 9, "Il tipo dell'uomo e della donna: Le vesti e gli abbigliamenti." Three particularly rich sources of illustration of womens' dress in late Renaissance Venice are Cesare Vecellio, Degli abiti antichi e moderni (Venice, 1589), Pietro Bertelli, Diversarum nationum habitus centum et quatuor (Padua, 1589), and Giacomo Franco, Habiti delle donne venetiane (Venice, 1610). All three volumes illustrate Venetian women in the act of bleaching their hair in the sun (see Molmenti, 2: 305).


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

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

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

[20] It is surely no coincidence that many of these allusions occur in passages that were cut in editions of the libretto published outside Venice.

[21] These include classical quotations parodied or turned upside down (see Bianconi, preface to La finta pazza ). Such purposeful allusions are exphcitly documented in the preface to a later Novissimo libretto, Venere gelosa (1643), 14: "Comparve . . . un buffone del Re chiamato Trulla, del quale si servì l'Autore dell'opera per burlarsi di certi Poetastri, e penne de' nostri tempi, che stimando, trovar translato, e Parole sconcie, e fantastiche, si sconciano in trovarne per parlare da strambi, che però stuzzicato da quelle per prenderne diletto, così verseggiò": (and there follows some dialogue).


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

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

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

[22] "Sia maledetto il dì, ch'io ti conobbi, / Musica, eterna morte, / Di chi t'adopra in Corte. / Come scoppian le corde / Che non mi scoppia il petto? / Servo tiranna ria / Dell'altrui libertà, / Che mercenaria fà / La libera armonia."

[23] Corde may refer to the sperm ducts, which were cut when boys were castrated. The reference to the mercenary use of "free harmony" recalls the reasons some Incogniti advanced for Apollo's refusal to grant Anna Renzi a place in Parnassus: "lo sdegno, che prendeva Sua Maestà [Apollo] dal vedere la Musica, ch'è un attrovato divino, divenuta stromento d'una poco honorata mercantia; mentre osservava l'avaritia di molti, che si servivano del mezzo d'una voce canora per incantare gli animi, accioché non badassero alla spesa" (Bizzarrie academiche del Loredano , parte seconda [Bologna: G. Longhi, 1676], 180-82; quoted in Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 418 and nn. 163-64); see also John Rosselli, "From Princely Service to the Open Market: Singers of Italian Opera and Their Patrons," Cambridge Opera Journal I (1989): 24.

[24] "Belle Rose, che regine / Sete pur degli altri fiori, / La Natura fra le spine / Chiuse in van vostri tesori: / Già d'un Maggio ornavi il seno, / Hor di Rose l'Anno è pieno.
"Belle Donne, voi, che nate / Per bear gli uomini sete, /Più racchiuse, più peccate, / Più guardinghe, più cadete. / Foste un tempo un sol secondo, / Hor di Donne è pieno il mondo.
"Sembra Rosa la bellezza: / Quando spunta si gradisce: / Sul mattino ella s'apprezza: / Su la sera si schernisce. / Se Donzella non si sposa, / Presto langue come Rosa."

[25] This is a conventional sexual allusion; for example, in Gli amori di Giasone e d'Isifile by Orazio Persiani (Venice: Bariletti, 1642), Ermafrodite sings: "M'addoppiasti il diletto / Natura e ti ringrazio /Passando di Donzella m pargoletto / Mi rinovo il placer quand'io son satio, / E fo con doppio spasso /In Musica d'Amor soprano, e basso" (p. 5). Strozzi's Delia contains some similar language; cf. Wolfgang Osthoff, "Maschera e musica," NRMI 1 (1967): 30. See also the much more graphic text of the anonymous mid-seicento cantata, "Lilla vergognosetta" (IMOe Mus. G. 258), which provides a lexicon for such references. The cantata is discussed by Margaret Murata, "Singing about Singing, or The Power of Music, Sixty Years After," in Ill cantu et in sermone: For Nino Pirrotta on His 80th Birthday , ed. Fabrizio della Seta and Franco Piperno (Florence, 1989), 363-82.


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

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

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

[26] The castrato was a favorite butt of sexual satire throughout the seventeenth century. See, for example, the poem by Francesco Melosio, "Difesa di un musico castrato amante" (Poesie e prose [Venice, 1704], 436); and the "Lamento del castrato" by Fabrizio Fontana (with text possibly also by Francesco Melosio) in I-Bc Q14, fols. 134 -39. For a thorough investigation of the castrato during this period, see John Rosselli, "The Castrati as a Professional Group and a Social Phenomenon, 1550-1850," AcM 60 (1988): 143-79. While castratos were certainly important in these operas, they did not receive the attention lavished on the female prima donnas. They had not yet achieved the status they would enjoy in Handel's day.

[27] For more on madness as an operatic convention, see ch. 11 below; also Ellen Rosand, "Operatic Madness: A Challenge to Convention," in Music and Text: Critical Inquiries , ed. Steven Scher (in press).


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

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

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

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

[28] The distinction between song and speech in Deidamia's role is not made especially clear by the poet. Other librettists were perhaps more careful than Strozzi to justify specific formal texts. In any case, the casts and plots of subsequent Venetian operas confirm the continued importance of justifying singing, even through the 1660s; see Pirrotta, "Early Opera and Aria," Music and Theatre , ch. 6, and ch. 9 below.

[29] "Dolce cambio di Natura, / Donna in huomo trasformarsi, / Huomo in donna tramutarsi, / Variar nome e figura / . . . Quanti invidiano il mio stato, /Per far l'huomo e la donzella?" (2.2).


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

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

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

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

[30] See Osthoff, "Maschera e musica," esp. 29-30.


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

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

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

[31] This relationship is fully explored in ch. 11 below.

[32] "Iarba, accortosi delle accoglienze troppo cortesi, fatte dalla Regina ad Enea, e scoprendo falsi i pretesti addotti dalla Regina, per escluder gl'amori, e le pretese nozze con lei, dice per martello qualche verità nelle cose d'Amore" (Didone , scenario, 3.1).

[33] In Busenello's collected works, Delle hore ociose (Venice: Giuliani, 1656). The later addition of these scenes is actually documented by the score of the work (I-Vnm, It. IV, 355 [9879]), for they alone are written in a hand other than that of the main copyist. See Jeffery, "Autograph Manuscripts," 125; also Glover, Cavalli , 72; and especially Rosand, "Opera Scenario," 341-42.


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

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

Non possono i Poeti a questi dì

The poets of these days

Rappresentar le favole a lor modo,

Can't represent stories in their own way.

Chi ha fisso questo chiodo,

He who adheres to this rule

Del vero studio il bel sentier smarrì.

Has lost the path of true learning.

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

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

[34] Cavalli emphasizes this aside by setting much of it to repeated notes at the top of Iarba's range; the character explains the reasons for his madness with maddening logic. It is a sentiment that echoes, amplifies, and particularizes the message in Busenello's opening note to the reader, where he admitted to having embroidered the Virgilian plot to create a happy ending, which he claims is only as anachronistic as Virgil himself: ancient poets followed their own laws, so why can't modern poets do the same? (Appendix I.11b).

[35] Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 328 nn. 10-11, has identified the strophic aria "Amor proprio è una rapa" from the same scene as a text borrowed from an earlier Ferrari libretto, Il pastor regio (1640), which would suggest that the whole scene might have been added later or revised after it was written. I have not been able to locate the text in edition of Il pastor regio , however.

[36] Paolo Fabbri argues ("Alle origini di un 'topos' operistico: La scena di follia," in L'opera fra Venezia e Parig ) that the "action already seen several times on stage, transferred from spoken to musical drama," refers primarily to the convention of madness in corn-media dell'arte ; but the performer who wanted a mad scene surely had in mind Deidamia's success in the musical drama two years earlier. On this scene and its relationship to exigent "commedia dell'arte" performers, see ch. 11 below. Interestingly, Faustini's apology is omitted from the prefaces to the librettos printed in conjunction with revivals of Egisto in Bologna (1647) and Florence (1667), presumably because operatic madness had become thoroughly conventionalized in the interim.


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

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

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


All'immortalità del nome di Venetia :
The Serenissima on Stage

The extraordinary success of La finta pazza was in large measure a function of its sheer theatricality, its ability to reach out and engage its audience—by direct address, through topical allusions, by scenographic marvels. One strong component of the bond between the opera and its original public was political, depending upon that special self-awareness of the Venetians. La finta pazza played to their venezianità , to their shared sense of being citizens of a unique state, uniquely situated in time and place.

In this light, Strozzi's choice of subject is of particular relevance, for it affirms one reading of the mythical foundation of Venice. In act 1, scene 4, Venere consoles herself for her future loss of the Trojan War:

I know the Fate of Asia requires that I be conquered in the end, but destiny will make amends for the great sorrow of my losses. Venetian and Roman will not from the Greek Achilles spring, but from good Trojan blood: And thus I have good reason to be proud.[1]

Taking comfort in the knowledge that, despite the fall of Troy, the Trojans will emerge as the progenitors of two future civilizations, she gives voice to the myth of the Trojan origins of the city on the lagoon.

Other librettos of the late 1630s and early 1640s also exploited the events and personages surrounding the Trojan War and its consequence, the subsequent founding of Rome, as the basis of their plots: Didone, Le nozze d'Enea e Lavinia, Il ritorno d'Ulisse, Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo , to mention only the most conspicuous. While the connections between these works, their common historical background and shared characters, would have enhanced their combined, cumulative impact on any audience, the choice of the Trojan theme had

[1] "So, ch'il Fato d'Asia vuol, / Ch'io rimanga vinta alfin, / Ma ristora il grande mal / Delle perdite mie anco il destin. / Deve il Veneto, e 'l Roman / Non d'Achille Greco uscir, /Ma dal buon sangue Troian: / Onde ho giusta cagion d'insuperbir" (La finta pazza 1.4). This scene is cut in all the non Venetian editions of the libretto.


special resonance for an audience of Venetians. As Strozzi's Venere declares, the fall of Troy is prelude to the future rise of Venice.

The Myth of Venice

In their misty visions of the origins of their city, Venetian chronicles traced two alternative routes back to Troy. One offered a direct line of descent: just as the Trojan Aeneas had founded Rome, so, in parallel course, Antenor had fled burning Troy for northern Italy, there to found Venice—not, significantly, Padua (which more famously claimed him as progenitor).[2] The second version, less direct, but boasting a more celebrated genealogy, went via Rome. The city established by Aeneas developed into the Roman Republic and matured into the full glory of empire, only to succumb to inevitable decline. Once-mighty Rome fell to the invading barbarian hordes, and from the ruins of one great historical epoch there rose a new, divinely ordained republic founded in Christian liberty. The successor to the pagan state created by Aeneas was the Republic of Saint Mark, which, favored by God, was destined to surpass Rome in power and vastness of dominion, glory and abundance of riches. Either way, then, the myth of Venice was based, ultimately, on the Trojan succession.

Integral to that myth of Venice as the safeguard of liberty and justice and preserver of civilization was the Rome-Venice paragone . Evolving as a response to the need for historical self-definition, an exercise in political etiology, the myth proved extraordinarily successful at home as well as abroad in promoting the image of Venice. It shaped the political imagination of the Serenissima and came to permeate every aspect of Venetian culture as well. Broadcast in a remarkable variety of literary efforts—including religious and political tracts and histories, in addition to encomiastic poetry and occasional scripts—it assumed pictorial form in the decorations of the Ducal Palace and other public buildings. The personification of the state as an armed female warrior, Venetia, was explicitly modeled on the goddess Roma.[3]

Although the myth had slowly evolved in the course of the Middle Ages—crudely asserted in the chronicles, more elegantly and influentially articulated by Petrarch—events in more recent history stimulated important elaborations of the basic material. The most serious threat to the survival of Venice, the

[2] Not only was Venice thus founded by a heroic, free, and noble people—and not by fearful fishermen in flight from invading barbarians, another version of its origins—but it was, according to these same chronicles, established immediately after the fall of Troy, long before Rome. For a review of the early sources, see A. Carile and G. Fedalto, Le origini di Venezia (Bologna, 1978), 55-68. On Trojan descent as a sine qua non of imperial ambition, see Frances A. Yates, Astraea: The Imperial Theme in the Sixteenth Century (Boston, 1975), 50, 130-33.

[3] See David Rosand," 'Venetia Figurata,' "177-96. For the decorations of the Ducal Palace, see Wolfgang Wolters, Der Bilderschmuck des Dogenpalastes: Untersuchungen zur Selbstdarstellung der Republik Venedig im 16. Jahrhundert (Wiesbaden, 1983).


League of Cambrai (1508) and the accompanying papal interdict (1509), forced significant and resonant modifications. That crisis was successfully resolved with the Peace of Bologna (1529-30), but Venice could no longer rely on her military might. With her imperial momentum thwarted, she now emphasized her diplomatic virtues, her role as champion of peace as well as liberty. A new, Renaissance iconography was developed as part of this self-conscious presentation of a new rhetorical image of Venice, one populated by Olympian deities and pagan heroes. It is most publicly announced in the sculptural program of the Loggetta of San Marco designed by Jacopo Sansovino in 1537: in niches, bronze figures of Minerva, Apollo, Mercury, and Peace declare the special attributes of the state; in the attic above, a relief representing Venice as Justice is flanked by others of Venus (Cyprus) and Jupiter (Crete), suggesting the expanse of Venice's maritime empire.[4]

In the Ducal Palace, the central architectural monument of Venetian political power and wisdom, this imagery was brought to still more spectacular life in the paintings of Veronese and Tintoretto. Personified in those canvases were the same virtues, attributes, and qualities that were celebrated again and again in the encomiastic poetry in praise of Venice. Venetian poets invoked the same allegorical dramatis personae in giving voice to the myth. Thus, for example, a poem by Domenico Venier, written before the middle of the sixteenth century and set to music by Baldassare Donato, sings of "Gloriosa felice alma Vineggia / Di Giustizia, d'amor, di pace albergo." Another, also set by Donato, celebrates the "Quattro Dee che 'l mondo honora et ama," the four political virtues of Victory, Peace, Wisdom, and Fame. And, combining these several arts, theatrical presentations in the Ducal Palace gave further life to their message in the late cinquecento. In a masque such as the Rappresentatione fatta avanti il Serenissimo Prencipe di Venetia Nicolò da Ponte, il giorno di S. Stefano 1580, the text of which was duly published, the characters include Peace and Victory as well as Wisdom, by now traditional personifications of Venice's political virtù .[5] Venice had quite effectively pressed all the arts into service in presenting

[4] For the development of this Olympian iconography, see David Rosand, "Venezia e gli dei," in "Renoratio urbis": Venezia nell'età di Andrea Gritti (1523-1538 ), ed. Manfredo Tafuri (Rome, 1984), 201-15, with further bibliography. The particularly musical dimensions of Venice's self-image as a harmonically proportioned state are discussed in Ellen Rosand, "Music in the Myth of Venice." On the historical situation and its consequences, see esp. Felix Gilbert, "Venice in the Crisis of the League of Cambrai," in Renaissance Venice , ed. J. R. Hale (London, 1973), 274-92, and id., The Pope, His Banker, and Venice (Cambridge, Mass., 1980).

[5] Wisdom, addressing the other characters, declaims: "Tra voi non cresca lite, / Ambe giostrate al pari, /Ambe siete sorelle, / Nate ad un parto istesso, / Ecco la cara Madre / VENETIA, ch'apre il grembo / Virginal, fatto sol per voi fecondo, / State mill'anni in quest'aurato tetto, / Consolate di Madre, e di ricetto." See Rosand, "Music in the Myth," 528-29, 537. Donato's madrigals were probably sung at one of those uniquely Venetian religious-civic occasions, the joint celebration of Ascension Day and the Marriage of Venice to the Sea—for which see Muir, Civic Ritual , 119-34.


herself to the world, and the Venetians themselves were at once participants in and audience to this spectacle.

In the opening years of the seventeenth century, a crisis once again confronted Venice, an open conflict with Rome that led to yet another papal interdict (1606-7). Seizing the occasion, Venetian apologists—led by Paolo Sarpi—reaffirmed the superiority of their city over (now modern) Rome, celebrating it as a haven of religious liberty.[6] And the War of Candia (Crete), beginning in 1645, offered still further occasion for mounting the literary defense of Venice—now as the civilized Christian bulwark against the pagan barbarians of the east.[7]

Among the most prominent of the writers whose pens were in the active service of the Serenissima and who exploited the Rome-Venice paragone toward that end was Giulio Strozzi. His epic poem Venetia edificata (1624), a monumental verse narration of the founding of Venice, epitomizes the mythic vision of Venetian history (figs. 13, 14). Continuing the long tradition of genealogical epics, Strozzi's "poema eroico" aspires to be the Venetian Aeneid —and, by implication, to crown its poet as a Virgil redivivus —although Ariosto is fully acknowledged as a more modern model. The author's ornate dedication of his work to the "immortal" name of Venice establishes its reverential tone and encomiastic intent; filling two pages, it offers an epigraphic summary of the myth of Venice:


[6] On Sarpi, see Gaetano Cozzi, Paolo Sarpi tra Venezia e l'Europa (Turin, 1979); also William J. Bouwsma, Venice and the Defense of Republican Liberty: Renaissance Values in the Age of the Counter Reformation (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968).

[7] For some of the literature published during this period, see Emmanuele A. Cicogna, Saggio di bibliografia veneziana (Venice, 1847), 259-60.

[8] "To the immortality of the name of the Most Serene Republic of Venice, heir to ancient valor, Bulwark of Italy, Jewel of Europe, Marvel of the universe, Defender of the Christian faith, First-born of the Holy Church, Oracle of all princes, Splendor of all ages, Seminary of unconquered heroes, Home of true liberty, Most glorious in peace, Most powerful in war, Always magnanimous, Always happy, Always just, This brief compendium of Venetian praises is reverently offered, presented, and consecrated, by Giulio Strozzi, the humble servant, and admirer of so many virtues" (La Venetia edificata, poema eroico di Giulio Strozzi, con gli argomenti del Sig. Francesco Cortesi , In Venetia, MDCXXIIII, Appresso Antonio Pinelli, Stampator Ducale, 2-2 ). The work has a complicated history of publication. Cicogna, Saggio di bibliografia , lists a number of editions beginning with one of the first twelve cantos in 1621. The first complete edition of 1624 was followed by others in 1625 and 1626 (see nos. 1825 and 1827).



Giulio Strozzi, La Venetia edificata  [venice, 1624), title page.



Portrait of Giulio Strozzi, from  La Venetia edificata  
(Venice, 1624).


In twenty-four cantos Venetia edificata recounts the foundation of Venice, combining assumptions of its Trojan origins with a more historical placement of that event in the time of Attila's invasion of Italy. Through the complex narrative—of declining Roman power and virtue, of barbarian destruction and perfidy, of the machinations of an evil sorceress and the prophecies of a good magician (Arthurian Merlin, the essential seer in such historical epics), of love thwarted but eventually rewarded—Venice comes to be founded miraculously on the lagoon for all eternity. Art herself is the agent here. Lamenting the destruction of so many noble cities, she intercedes with God and obtains the divine plans for the new foundation, as well as the holy protection of Saint Mark and the four archangels. Strozzi's verse summary heading canto 11 translates as follows: "Art, in order to 'mend such great destruction of the works of her illustrious and worthy hand, having ascended into Heaven, strives wisely to express her sorrow to the divine ears: God reveals to his beloved the plan of an eternal city, where in a little cove of the Sea will be enclosed all that Genius, Nature, and Heaven can achieve."[9]

In the front matter of Venetia edificata is a prefatory poem in praise of the author by one of Strozzi's future colleagues as Accademico Incognito and librettist, Francesco Busenello. And two of its fourteen stanzas further summarize the basic catechism of the myth:

Queen of the Sea, Goddess of the waves, metropolis of Faith, nest of Peace, who is only like herself, who lights a perpetual torch in Liberty, who in Heaven sees no glory to which she herself is not heir.

Sister of Astraea, immortal maiden, who blesses her vassals with sacred laws; she, who is herself both pole and star, nor fears the rage of evil influence: sing of her, praise her, in a thousand ways you will immortalize yourself by praising her.[10]

[9] "L'ARTE per riparar tante rouine / Dell'opre di sua mano illustre, e degna / In Cielo ascesa, all'orecchie diuine / Di scoprir'il suo mal saggia s'ingegna: / D'vna Città, che non mai venga a fine, / Iddio l'esempio alla diletta insegna; / Oue si chiuda in picciol sen di Mare / Quant'Ingegno, e Natura, e Ciel può fare" (Venetia edificata , 105).
Francesco Cortesi's prose summary of this canto reads: "Dimostra l'undecimo Canto, come I'ARTE veduti gl'incendij di tante, e tante Città, si risolve d'irsene in Cielo a ritrovar il supremo Fattore, e narrategli le sue disgratie, a chiedergli una Città eterna (per cosi dire) dove la libertà, e 'l vero culto non patissero mutatione. Il che fatto, le vien promesso con giuramento dal sommo Monarca, che la Città di Venetia sarà quella, che a tall vicende non verrà in alcun tempo sottoposta. Et data la sudetta Città in cura di San Marco, al quale era stata ultimamente disfatta da gli Hunni la seggia d'Aquilea, e destinati alla guardia di Venetia quattro Angeli, c'hanno la custodia delle nostre vite, entra l'ARTE per gratia fatale da Dio nella Celeste Galleria, ov'in molti quadri svelati vede quanto havea da succedere ne' secoli venturi alla nuova Repubblica: e preso di lassù lo sbozzo, scende in terra a riformarla, secondo' l disegno del Cielo. San Marco havuto da Dio uno squittino, e registro di tutti coloro, a' quali doverà assistere con particolare protettione, viene alia difesa della nuova Città con gli Angeli sudetti, mentre ella era dalle trame d'Irene [the sorceress on the side of Attila] infelicemente travagliata, essendosi la maggior parte de' Senatori della creduta Oriana [wife of Ezzelino, king of the Dalmatians], & di Degna sua figliuola con gran disturbo della pubblica quiete, e libertà fortemente invaghiti."

[10] "La Regina del Mar, la Dea dell'onde, / Metropoli di Fé, nido di Pace, / Che sola se medesma corrisponde, / Ch'accende in libertà perpetua face, / Che nel Ciel sue glorie altro non vede, / Se non se propria di se stessa herede."La sorella d'Astrea, l'alma Donzella, / Che in sacre leggi i suoi vassalli bea, / Quella, ch'è di se stessa, e Polo, e Stella, / Ne teme rabbia d'influenza rea; / Canta pur, loda pur, in mille modi / Te stesso eternai nelle sue lodi."
Cesare Cremonini, the intellectual inspiration of the Incogniti, had himself left a model of patriotic poetry, a verse drama on the origins of Venice: Il nascimento di Venetia (Venice: Ciotti, 1617). His most explicit declaration of the myth occurs in act 5, scene 14, where Nettuno compares Venice to its predecessors, Athens and Rome: "La dottissima Athene, / Ch'è di già nata, e sorge alta, & illustre / Cadrà lassa, tantosto / Precipitata da sapor corrotto; / E Roma, c'ha più lungo il nascimento, / Misera oppressa da suo proprio peso / Fia ruina a se stessa. / Vedranno ambe di se mille rivolte, / Soggiaceran ben mille volte, e mille / A tirannico affetto, / Sorgerà questa tua men frettolosa, / Ma vivrà sempre co'l tenor medesimo / Di libertà, di concordia, di pace, / E non cadrà, se non quand'anco cada / Per non risorger più da l'onde il Sole." In the last scene, the chorus sings a hymn to the Serenissima, using distinctly familiar language: "Così mentre di voglie regolate, / E di chiari intelletti / Nobilissimo numero raccolto / Di libertà sotto l'Auguste Insegne, / Farà di molti senni un senno solo, / E di molti consigli una prudenza. Fortunata Città c'havrete in sorte / Il giusto reggimento / D'una tanto perfetta sapienza, / Composta del saper di molti saggi." For further comment on Venetia edificata and Strozzi in the context of Venetian opera, see Osthoff, "Maschera e musica," 33.


Strozzi the dramatist carried the message of his Venetia edificata directly into the theater. La finta pazza was the first of a trilogy of librettos by him that together span the period from the Trojan War to the founding of Rome. The others were La finta savia (1643), dealing with the proto-history of Rome, and Romolo e Remo (1645), which concerns its founding. The author himself outlines the structure of the trilogy in an essay at the end of the second work, La finta savia :

These dramas [La finta pazza and La finta savia ] are imperfect poems: the one contains a Greek story, and the other a Latin one; the one leads toward the destruction of Troy, the other refers to the future founding of Rome, which [poems], in the coming years, God willing, we are preparing to complete. . . . The real name of the finta savia was Anthusa, which we, for greater elegance, have changed to Aretusa: and the name Anthusa was the third name of the city of Rome. . . . The second name of Rome was Amaryllis, drawn from the loves of Ilia and Mars, which will be expounded by me in the future drama of Romolo e Remo . (Appendix 1.18c)[11]

And he explained the relationship of his trilogy to the standard Venetian genealogy in the Argomento e scenario of Romolo e Remo . Here is his description of the prologue: "Aeneas descends on the chariot of his mother, Venus, and seeing Fame drowsy among the clouds, he invites her to broadcast for many centuries the works of his glorious descendants for the future founding of Rome, of whose valor the Most Serene Republic of Venice has remained the eternal heir."[12] The prologue concludes with the following dialogue between Enea and Fama:

[11] On this trilogy, see Osthoff, "Maschera e musica," 34-35, and id., "Filiberto Laurenzi," 176-77.

[12] "Scende Enea sul carro di Venere sua Madre, e veduta la Fama sonnacchiosa tra le nugole l'invita à portar' intorno per molti secoli l'opre de' suoi gloriosi Nipoti per la futura fondatione di Roma, del cui valore à rimasta eterna herede la Serenissima Republica di Venetia" (Romolo e Remo , scenario 8).





You, having wreathed her tresses with immortal laurel, divulge that today both the walls and the great empire of Rome were founded.

Oh happy voyage, oh welcome news.

Of whose valor may the Venetian lion remain the eternal heir, planting his foot on more blessed shores.[13]

Strozzi reasserted the relationship in his description of the concluding scene of the opera (3.12), in which Numitore, Flora, Remo, and Ilia "settle their affairs, pray to Heaven for their prosperity, and invite their peoples, who were of noble Trojan blood, as the Venetians still are, to applaud their deeds."[14]

While Strozzi was a particularly vocal patriot, whose commitment to polishing Venice's image shines through most of his works, he was not the only librettist to explicate a connection between his themes and the Venetian political myth. Here, for example, is the author of Le nozze d'Enea (1640 [1641]), sounding very much like Strozzi:

Hymen himself takes the opportunity to touch upon the origin and greatness of Rome . . . and then the birth of our Venice, certainly an event, it is safe to say, of no less significance, since this most noble city began at the time when Rome fell under the yoke of the Barbarians, who, by invading Italy, pushed many of her in- habitants, who were not at all ignoble, to take refuge in these lagoons in order to escape their fury; and in this way they founded the city . . . which through the valor of our fathers attained the greatness for which we admire her now. (Appendix 1.9k)

In his description of the closing scene, the author takes a final opportunity to refer to the myth: "Hymen . . . with Venus and Juno . . . unites the happy couple, foretelling from such a marriage the greatness of Rome, and the birth and marvel of the city of Venice. Here the opera ends" (Appendix 1.91).[15]

Perhaps the most explicit statement of the Rome-Venice connection occurs in the preface to another libretto based on Homeric legend, Nolfi's Bellerofonte (1642), the immediate successor to La finta pazza at the Teatro Novissimo.

[13] ENEA : "Tu d'alloro immortal conta la chioma / Pubblica hoggi fondate / E le mura, e l'Impero alto di Roma." FAMA : "O felice viaggio, ò nuove grate." ENEA : "Del cui valore il Veneto Leone/Rimanga eterno Erede, /Assicurando il piede / Frà spiagge più beate" (Romolo e Remo , prologue).

[14] "vengono à cose stabilite à pregar il Cielo per le loro prosperità & invitano i lor Popoli ch'erano del nobil sangue Troiano, come sono i Veneti ancora, ad applaudire alle lor'Opre" (Romolo e Remo , scenario, p. 36).

[15] Not all of the manuscript copies of the libretto have the final scene as described by the author. One that does, however, is I-Vmc Cod. Cicogna 192/2 (3331). The relevant lines replace and continue beyond the tutti for Enea, Lavinia, and the four deities that begins: "Cosa non sia / Nel ciel, nel mondo." The extra lines, spoken by Himeneo, read as follows: "Dall'alte nozze e belle / Qual veggio in girar d'anni / Città sino alle stelle / Erger superba i vanni. / Mà, che del Mondo avrà l'impero augusto / Da sotto il giogo in fin barbaro ingiusto / Caduta fortunata, / Onde qual suol Fenice / Dal rogo in ac-qua nata / Sorga Città felice. / Vergine, e dove è tutto al fin mortale / Ella sola perpetua, et immortale / Di pura Fè gl'onori."


The special qualities and circumstances of the city of Venice cannot be adequately described, because they exceed any term and epithet with which a worldly thing can be magnified, unless perhaps she be called rival of ancient Rome, or rather, ancient Rome come to life again in our time; in fact, if you consider the majesty of dominion, the dignity of government, the prudence and virtue of the citizens, the magnificence of the public and private buildings, and so many other marks of nobility and excellence, you will find that the expression is well suited to the comparison. In fact, her singular and miraculous site makes Venice superior to Rome, and to every other work of human hands, so that one can only acknowledge her a work of divinity.

Only in entertainments, I still think, and the famous temporary theaters of the Scauti and Curioni, is Venice not equal; but for this it worked in her favor that the Republic of Rome, established at the end of the wars and expansion, and having as a political principle athletic and bloody games, like those to which her citizens were accustomed from their military exploits, and that freed them from certain feelings of pity and tenderness that are almost innate in mankind, engaged herself in these with zeal. But the goals and institutions of this Most Serene Nation are different, and are directed only toward self-preservation, to the public good, and to the security of her subjects, whom she guides and governs with most sacred and truly Christian laws; nor is she, if indeed she takes up the sword of war, in any way ambitious or unjust, but she always either defends her own threatened or besieged states, or else comes to the aid of friends who have been oppressed by the iniquitous appetites of the powerful.

As for scenic spectacles, those instructors of men, which by offering a true model for living set them on the path of virtue, she has in these last years multiplied her power with sets and performances that are indeed regal [affatto reali ], that would make ancient Latium blush; heavenly harmony, wondrous illusions and stage-machines, most magnificent displays of costumes, and all this in multiple theaters, with almost incredible productions. (Appendix 1.20a)

Bellerofonte , especially distinguished by its literal incorporation of Venetian imagery, is the first opera in which the city was actually represented on stage by the scenery. Its prologue concludes with the emergence from the sea, by command of Nettuno, of "a most exquisite and lifelike model of Venice. . . which everyone acclaimed as a tour de force: the eye was deceived by the Piazza, with its public buildings imitated to the life, and it delighted increasingly in the deception, almost forgetting where it actually was, thanks to that fiction"[16] (figs. 15, 16).

After expressing their astonishment at the magical appearance of so beautiful a sight, like an enactment of the paintings celebrating Venice on the ceilings of the Ducal Palace, Innocenza and Astrea, the goddess of Justice, join Nettuno in singing the praises of the Serenissima, concluding the prologue with a (com-

[16] "D'ordine suo viddesi sorger dal mare in modello la Città di Venetia cosí esquisita, e vivamente formata, che la confessò ogn'uno un sforzo dell'arte: Ingannava l'occhio la Piazza con le fabriche publiche al naturale immitate, e dell'inganno ogn'hor più godeva scordandosi quasi per quella finta della vera dove realmente si tratteneva" (Bellerofonte , p. 9).



Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Bellerofonte  (1642), prologue. 
Engraving by Giovanni Giorgi.

petitive) hymn in her honor: "City wise, rich, and noble over any the world admires, Sparta, Athens, and Stagira are but a modest shadow of your greatness. Henceforth the ages to come will see Heaven, swollen with light, rush to your shores as a river to pay you tribute."[17]

[17] "Città sopra qualunque il mondo ammira/ Saggia ricca e gentile, /Son del le tue grandezze un'ombra vile / Sparta, Atene, e Stagira. / Quindi vedranno i secoli futuri / Correrà i lidi tuoi gonfio di lume / Per tributarti il Ciel converso in flume" (p. 22). Astraea also appears, along with Neptune, Venus, and Juno, in Andromeda ; see the preface by Bariletti, in Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , appendix 3. For further bibliography on political spectacle, see the items mentioned in n. 4 above; for the late sixteenth century in particular, see Solerti, "Le rappresentazioni musicali di Venezia."



Giacomo Torelli, stage set for  Bellerofonte  (1642), prologue. 
Engraving by Giovanni Giorgi.

Venice was depicted onstage in another libretto a few years later, Busenello's La prosperità infelice di Giulio Cesare dittatore .[18] Like Bellerofonte , Busenello's text gives dramatic life to the traditional myth of Venice's origins, making use of the standard iconography. In the final scene of the opera (the epilogue) Libertà and Nettuno play out the myth in detail:

[18] This work, as I have already remarked, was probably written in 1646 for the Teatro Grimani, but not published until 1656; it does not seem to have been performed, perhaps because the theaters were closed during the 1646 season. These passages are discussed in Livingston, La vita veneziana , 206-8.



Ill-treated by Rome, I turn toward the lofty peaks of sublime Olympus, because I foresee my losses clearly, nor do I know when fate will allow me to return to live on earth in safety.


Stay, Liberty. Your residence will be a glorious and great city, which, virgin and invincible, will have the waves as its foundation and Heaven as its roof. Here you will see divided among a thousand heads the power of authority. Venice will be the name of this supreme and triumphant city, which will make the Adriatic shores famous; epitome of wonders, portrait of the spheres, summary of the world, rich empyrean of the arts, compendium of nature, and abridgement of the great universe. Powerful, and free, and just, in every season three signs will grow bright in the political Zodiac: Virgo, Libra, and the Lion.


And how you console me, Oh, how you increase my dignity, O Neptune; but if only I could see among the models of eternal ideas the lofty cast and immortal image of the city that is more of Heaven than of earth.


Look there, for Jove, out of his divinity, is showing a small model of happy Venice. And look how, as proof, divine lightning flashes about it, and she, serene in herself, in her radiant circle, renders the sun idle and superfluous.


O blessed dwelling, earthly heaven for togaed demigods, you will reign over the waters, and of your empire nature will be the boundary, and the sun the sentinel.


Hear, Liberty, listen to what prophetic Neptune foretells: many centuries from now you will sing the praises and I the cheers of immortal VENICE in a joyful style, in the world-famous GRIMANI THEATER.


Long live VENICE, hurrah, let every pen describe the glories of your name, the histories of your exploits, and may destiny bejewel the crowns of her most generous LION. (Appendix I.12e)[19]

The scene between Libertà and Nettuno is an allegorized reenactment of Saint Mark's holy vision, in which it is foretold that he will come to rest in Venice. Caught in a storm upon the lagoon, Mark finds refuge among its islands; in a dream an angel, or Christ himself, declares: "Pax tibi Marce Evangelista Meus. Hic requiescet corpus tuum."[20] In enumerating the unique qualities of Libertà's new haven, Nettuno charts the three signs of Venice's political

[19] The refrain, "Viva Venetia, viva," is standard in the political litany of the Serenissima. Many poems, including one of Venier's set by Donato, end with this rousing affirmation. See Rosand, "Music in the Myth," 527-30. On Donato and Venier, Martha Feldman, "Venice and the Madrigal in the Mid-Sixteenth Century" (Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1987).

[20] The "Sogno di San Marco" is, of course, a crucial scene in Venetian versions of the saint's life and as such forms part of the major illustrative cycles in the Church of San Marco and in Tintoretto's canvases from the Scuola Grande di San Marco. For Tintoretto's painting, the execution of which is generally ascribed to his son Domenico, see Rodolfo Pallucchini and Paola Rossi, Tintoretto: Le opere sacre e profane (Milan, 1982), 1: 256; 2: fig. 744. On the legend of St. Mark, see Giuseppe Pavanello, "S. Marco nella leggenda e nella storia," Rivista della città di Venezia 7 (1928): 293-324, and Silvio Tramontin, "San Marco," in Culto dei santi a Venezia (Venice, 1965), 41-73.


zodiac. Vergine : founded on the Feast of the Annunciation (25 March), Venice associated herself with the Virgin Mary ab initio , as well as with the virgin goddess Astraea, and claimed for her unconquered self the epithet "Venetia sempre vergine";[21]Libra : the scales of justice, the chief virtue claimed by the Republic; and Leone : the winged lion of her patron, Saint Mark. One of Busenello's aims in his thumbnail sketch of the mythic origins of Venice was obviously to exalt the city's present glories, in particular the Grimani theater. Involving that theater so directly as the stage from which Venice's glories will be proclaimed, he confirmed the political significance of opera, its importance as a means of enhancing the image of the Serenissima.

Busenello's view of opera as one of the jewels of the city was shared by other authors, among them Giovanni Faustini, whose contemporary Ormindo (1644) is yet another opera that portrays Venice on stage. The setting of the prologue represents Piazza San Marco, "the most conspicuous part of the city of Venice" ("parte più cospicua della Città di Venetia"), and the protagonist is Armonia, who summarizes the familiar genealogical myth in slightly new—operatic—terms.

It has been five years already that I have shone on you from gilded stages and illuminated my glories; your immortal Muses and divine swans adorn my tresses with new garlands. I, who as a child trod the stages of Athens in jeweled buskins, I, who when Greece was conquered and tamed by the victors of Rome saw no splendor or magnificence equal to yours, Most Serene and immortal Virgin.[22]

Harmony, a metaphor for civilization, has passed from Greece to Rome to Venice, whose "pompe e fasti" she deems superior to those of any other place. Here Venice is praised specifically for her hospitality to music, echoing Francesco Sansovino's remark that "music has her own special place in this city." Again, the Rome-Venice paragone is invoked in favor of Venice.[23] The illusion of the stage representing Venice itself is reinforced elsewhere in the opera; for example, when Nerillo remarks, touristlike, on the wonders of the city he is seeing for the first time:

[21] See references in the text of Bellerofonte , on pp. 134-35 above; also Sansovino, Venetia città nobilissima , 323. For more on this imagery, see David Ro-sand, "'Venetia Figurata.'"

[22] "E' già varcato un lustro / Che sù palchi dorati / In te risplendo, e le mie glorie illustro, / Di novi fregi adornano i miei crini / L'Alme tue muse, e i Cigni tuoi divini. / Io che bambina passeggiai d'Atene / Con gemmati coturni in sù le Scene, / Io, che condotta fui, / Vinta la Grecia, e doma / Da vincitori à Roma, / Non vidi à le tue pompe, à fasti tuoi, / O pompa, ò fasto eguale, / Vergine Serenissima, e immortale" (Ormindo , prologue, 12).

[23] "Musica ha la sua propria sede in questa città" (Sansovino, Venetia , 380). See also Sansovino's description of Apollo, one of the four bronze figures in niches on the Loggetta: "questa natlone si diletta per ordinario della musica, & pero Apollo è figurato per la musica. Ma perche dall'unione de i Magistrati che sono congiunti insieme con temperamento indicibile, esce inusitata harmonia, la qual perpetua questo ammirando governo, pero fu fabricato l'Apollo." For further discussion of the place of music in the myth of Venice, see Rosand, "Music in the Myth."


Che città, che città

Che costumi, che gente

Sfacciata, ed insolente.[24]

What a city, what a city,

What customs, what people

Impudent and insolent!

Not all of the librettos based on Trojan or Roman history state the Venetian connection as specifically as La finta pazza, Le nozze d'Enea , or Giulio Cesare . But the mythology was so much a part of the Venetian consciousness that it automatically formed part of the cultural context in which these stories were understood. It most likely underlies operas with Roman plots in which Venice is never even mentioned—such as the best known of Busenello's librettos, L'incoronazione di Poppea , notorious for its portrayal of Roman decadence. There is some indication that the work could have been understood by its contemporaries as a moral lesson implying the superiority of Venice over Rome, and suggesting that such immorality was only possible in a decaying society, not in a civilized nation.[25]

This response is offered in a book by a Venetian cleric, Federico Malipiero, who, like Strozzi and Busenello, was a member of the Accademia degli Incogniti. L'imperatrice ambiziosa (1642) tells the story of Poppaea and Nero, although it is actually more concerned with Nero's mother Agrippina, the empress of the title. And it is her downfall that inspires Malipiero's philosophical conclusion:

This was the greatness of a woman, incomparable in every way. Thus did she fall from supreme eminence to the darkest depths, because the higher mortals rise, the more they are subject to uncertainty. Empires are transformed in a flash, like human happiness, which can collapse and be extinguished in a single moment. Often the tombs of one kingdom have become the cradles of another, and from the ruins of a fallen republic has arisen the magnificence of a new one.[26]

[24] Ormindo 2.6. The confluence of stage and real worlds is a convention of Renaissance theater. A number of comedies by Machiavelli, Ariosto, and others were set in the cities where they were performed. Cf., for example, the opening of Machiavelli's Mandragola (1518): "Vedete l'apparato: / Quale or vi si dimostra / Questa è Firenze vostra; / Un'altra volta sarà Roma o Pisa." More pertinent to my point, in Aretino's Cortigiana (1534) an entire scene (3.7) is devoted to the praise of Venice on stage. Aretino, for his own good reasons, rehearses the entire litany of the myth of Venice, especially of its liberty and hospitality; see Patricia H. Labalme, "Personality and Politics in Venice: Pietro Aretino," in Titian: His World and His Legacy , ed. David Ro-sand (New York, 1982), 119-32. For further discussion of this convention of spoken theater, see Pirrotta, Music and Theatre , 77-78; see also Ludovico Zorzi, Il teatro e la città: Saggi sulla scena italiana (Turin, 1977), esp. ch. 3, "Venezia: La repubblica a teatro."

[25] The Venice-Rome paragone may be implicit in three later librettos on Roman subjects by Nicolò Minato: Scipione affricano (1664), Mutio Scevola (1665), and Pompeo magno (1666). See Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 257-58, on political pamphlets and their possible relation to two more explicitly political librettos of Minato's, La prosperità and La caduta di Elio Seiano (1667). See also Monson, "Aelius Sejanus." On the persistence of Roman themes throughout seventeenth-century Venetian opera, including a complete list of titles, see Giovanni Morelli, "Il filo di Poppea: Il soggetto anticoromano nell'opera veneziana del seicento, osservazioni," in Venezia e la Roma del Papa (Milan, 1987), 245-74; Morelli considers the political significance of Roman subject matter on 258-62.

[26] "Queste dunque descritte fur le grandezzed'una Donna inarivabile in tutte le cose. Così trabbocò dall'eminenza al profondo, perche quanto più le mortali cose sono ellevate, tanto più sono all'incertezza assoggettate. Gli imperij si mutano a momenti, come la felicità humana traccolla, e fornisce in un punto. Le tombe spesso d'un regno fur le culle d'un altro, e sopra le rovine d'una caduta Republica insorsero le magnificenze d'una novella" (Federico Malipiero, L'imperatrice ambiziosa [Venice: Surian, 1642], 184). Malipiero, incidentally, was himself involved with things operatic, and his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey in the early 1640S may have been responses to the same impetus that led librettists to choose Roman and Trojan subjects. His motive for translating the Homeric epics and writing the histories of great men (such as Solomon, Hannibal, and others) was moral: he hoped to provide exempla virtutis for men to follow—an aim he would have shared with at least some librettists; see Rosand, "Seneca," 47-52.


The implications are clear. Malipiero's invocation of the conventional Rome-Venice paragone is only slightly veiled.

Although not always in connection with Rome, Venice as a political or symbolic image figures in one way or another in practically every work produced during the first five or six seasons of operatic activity, whether metaphorically, through choice of plot, or in a more literal way, through direct reference. We have seen her depicted visually. She is personified even earlier in the final scene of Ferrari's Armida (1639), where Venetia herself sings her own praises to an audience of Nereids:

Would I, mother of heroes, support of the glorious Adriatic empire, leave you on a solitary path? Happy is he who rests in this place. My waves are swollen with treasures, and my sands teem with triumphs. When the sea murmurs, it speaks of me, and it says in its language that there is no nation more beautiful outside of Heaven.

And the Nereids respond with the typical encomium to the city (like the conclusion of Giulio Cesare and Bellerofonte ):

Come, glorious heroes, to celebrate among us, while to the sound of musical harmonies every shore and bank echoes, Long live VENICE![27]

Even Ermiona , the lost "proto-Venetian" opera performed in Padua in 1636, contained a number of topical allusions to Venice. In his account of the performance, Bartolini describes Venus stopping to deliver "the praises of the Serene Republic of Venice" ("le lodi della Serenissima Republica di Venezia"), which, he continues, "is the greatest marvel that has ever been in the universe" ("è la maggior meraviglia che mai sia stata nell'universo").[28]

Aside from the Troy-Rome-Venice succession, other thematic relationships to Venetian imagery are established through ancient mythology. Andromeda ,

[27] "Io che madre d'heroi, / D'Hadria sostegno il glorioso Impero / Sovra un ermo sentier lascerò voi? . . . / Felice chi nposa in questa sede. / Sono i miei flutti di tesori gonfi, /E le mie Irene pullulan trionfi. / Quando mormora il Mar, da me ragiona; / E dice in sua favella, / Patria non è fuori del Ciel più bella." "Venite incliti Heroi / A' festeggiar tra noi. / Mentr'al suono, di musici concenti / Ogni piaggia risuona, & ogni riva / Viva VENETIA viva" (3.6). The Argomento describes this scene: "Vengono i due felici Heroi su' l suo [Jupiter's] trono levati dall'Invitta Regina del Mare sempre gloriosa VENETIA, per poi felicemente indirizzargli à i loro Imperi."

[28] Ermiona , description, 93.


for example, involves a rescue at sea. And even Arianna may have been selected for revival in 1640, despite its old-fashioned style, partly for the relevance of its subject matter to Venetian iconography. -Ariadne is the subject of one of four paintings by Tintoretto in the Sala Dorata of the Ducal Palace described by Carlo Ridolfi, the seicento biographer of the Venetian painters, as treating "subjects appropriate to the government of that Republic" ("soggetti adeguati al ministerio di quella Republica"). (The others are Vulcan with the Cyclopes, the Three Graces with Mercury, and Mars being chased away by Minerva while Peace and Abundance celebrate together.) According to Ridolfi's reading, the picture portrays the abandoned Ariadne discovered by Bacchus on the beach and crowned by Venus (with a golden crown) declaring her free and welcoming her among the heavenly bodies, "which is meant to signify Venice born on a shore of the sea, and made abundant not only in every earthly good, through Heavenly grace, but crowned with the crown of liberty by the divine hand, whose power is recorded in eternal characters in Heaven."[29]

By the mid 1640s, plots centering around the Trojan War and the founding of Rome had begun to give way to a greater variety of subject matter; connections between these new works and the myth of Venice continued to be maintained, but in different ways. However, the Rome-Venice paragone was now firmly ensconced in the history of Venetian opera. This is clear from the first attempt to view that history, Ivanovich's "Memorie teatrali." The connection between Rome and Venice was central to an understanding of the development of Venetian opera, a development Ivanovich viewed in political terms.

His essay opens with an unequivocal statement of the standard tenet of the myth: "Never in the world was there a republic that excelled all other republics as did Rome; nor any other that better imitated Rome than the republic of Venice" (Appendix II.6d).[30] His opening four chapters deal specifically with that relationship. The first tells how "the republic of Venice, imitating the Roman republic, created anew the magnificence of theaters," because both republics understood the secret of successful government: "Through material goods and games, used judiciously, the ruler gains the love of his people, who can never more easily forget their yoke than when sated or diverted by plea-

[29] "che vuol dinotare, Venetia nata in una spiagia di mare, resa abbondevole non solo d'ogni bene terreno, mediante la celeste gratia, ma coronata con corona di libertà dalla divina mano, il cui dominio è registrato a caratteri eterni nel Cielo" (Carlo Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell'arte [Venice, 1648], ed. Detlev Freiherrn von Hadeln [Berlin, 1914-24], 2: 43). See Charles de Tolnay, "Tintoretto's Salotto Dorato Cycle in the Doge's Palace," in Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Mario Salmi (Rome, 1961-63), 3: 117-31. Part of the same scene, featuring Ariadne and Bacchus, is also portrayed in Cremonini's Il nascimento di Venetia ; see n. 10 above.

[30] In a sonnet the Dalmatian poet had characterized his adopted home as "sole heir of Roman glory."


sures" (Appendix II.6d-e). In chapter 4 he compares Venetian theaters to those of Rome, finding many similarities—and incidentally providing important information about the structure of theaters and practice of theatergoing in his own day.

Present-day theaters can hold a small number of people compared with ancient ones; moreover, instead of stands several ranks of boxes are constructed, most of' them for the convenience of the nobility, for the ladies like to stay unmasked there and to feel at liberty. In the middle are benches, rented from night to night with no distinction as to rank, since the use of masks obviates the need for respect that was shown to the Roman senators and matrons, who made a grand appearance; for in this respect too, Venice, born free, wishes to preserve freedom for all. (Appendix II.6h)

Venetian spectacle, Ivanovich admits, cannot match in splendor that of ancient Rome, for the latter, instead of using artifice to portray violence, enacted it literally at whatever human sacrifice (Appendix II.6i). But, whereas the Roman theater, habituating the people to slaughter and horrors, was intended to serve an admonitory function, Venetian theater has a different purpose: "Today, however, musical theater has been introduced, for the lifting of the spirits and as a virtuous diversion, since one can observe the appearance of amusing machines suggested by the drama, which give great delight, along with the spectacle of sets and costumes that satisfy everyone's curiosity to the utmost" (Appendix II.6j).

Although Ivanovich was writing much later, when Venice was clearly at the height of her operatic (though no longer political) power, the importance he ascribes to the Rome-Venice comparison and his emphasis on the political component of opera are, as we have seen, borne out by the earlier sources themselves, from which he clearly derived much of his material.[31] In fact, Ivanovich's patrons, the Grimani family, were quite used to having their theater compared favorably with those of ancient Rome. In the preface to his Scipione affricano , performed at the Grimani theater in 1665, Nicolò Minato had invoked the familiar paragone : "You will see that the most-famous Grimani theater is capable of rivaling the Marcellus and Pompey theaters, and any other of the most famous ones that glorious antiquity might bring to mind."[32] So, too, had Aurelio Aureli in the dedication of his Eliogabalo of 1668 to the brothers Gian Carlo and Vincenzo Grimani, "who no less than the Pompeys and the Trajans

[31] The similarity between Ivanovich's description of Roman theatrical practices and those from the preface to Bellerofonte , quoted above, p. 134, is one of many indications that Ivanovich read the librettos he catalogued.

[32] "Lo vedrai nel Famosissimo Teatro Grimano, che sà nell'età nostra emulare i Teatri Marcelli, i Pompeiani, e qualunque altri più illustri sapesse la pomposa antichità nella memoria svegliarti" (Scipione affricano , preface, dedication dated 9 February 1664 [1665]).


make themselves known in the world as true Maecenases of the muses by the construction of sumptuous theaters and through the patronage of musicians."[33]

The Reality of Venice

During the late 1640s and 1650s, pressed by the success of opera to search for new sources for their plots, librettists moved away from the Trojan-Roman orbit in an eastward direction, and a number of librettos of this period are set in foreign locales like Susa, Assyria, Media, Tauris. These librettos, however, were no less closely connected to Venetian politics than their predecessors. If less concerned with the legendary origins of Venice, they seem to bear an even more specific relationship to current events. References to and personifications of Venice continue to cultivate or expand upon her image as a stronghold of freedom and haven against the barbarians, but the barbarians are now pointedly Turkish, as if in response to Venice's growing preoccupation with the Ottoman threat to her maritime power.[34] During the 1650s and 1660s, when legendary Roman heroes began to be featured with increasing frequency in opera librettos, their exploits invited comparison with those of Venetian military heroes in the War of Candia (the Rome-Venice equation once again).[35]

Venice's preoccupation with Ottoman power reached its first crisis in 1645 with the outbreak of the war, which drained Venetian manpower and resources for nearly a quarter of a century (1645-69). Its onset inspired an outpouring of patriotic zeal among the Venetian nobility, who were called upon for financial support as well as personal participation.[36] In part because this same nobility was among its chief patrons and enthusiasts, opera could not help but be affected by the crisis. Along with the prohibition of all other public spectacles, opera theaters were closed for the 1646 season, and it was not until several years

[33] "che non meno de' Pompei, e de' Traiani coll'erettione di sontuosi Teatri, e con la protettione de' Virtuosi si fanno conoscer nel Mondo per veri Mecenati delle Muse" (Eliogabalo , dedication, 10 January 1667 [1668], p. 2).

[34] Two librettos of 1651 featured Alexander the Great, Alessandro vincitor di se stesso by Sbarra and Gli amori d'Alessandro magno e di Rossane by Cicognini, while two operas of 1654 featured Persian subjects, Ciro by Sorrentino and Xerse by Minato. On the significance of these themes, see Wolfgang Osthoff, "Antonio Cestis 'Alessandro vincitor di se stesso,' " Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 24 (1960): 13-43.

[35] See Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 189. The implicit comparison is made explicit by Marco Rosetti in canto 34 of his long poem of 1684-93 commemorating the War of Candia, La sacra lega divisa in quaranta libri overo canti consacrata al Ser. Prencipe et Ecc. Senato della gloriosissima repubblica (Padua: Seminario, 1696). He praises the Venetian hero Francesco Morosini: "In paragone dell'opere sue sono un nulla quelle degli Scipioni e di Pompeo. . . . Questi pugnarono contro un solo re, e tu con poche forze e molto ingegno di man togliesti a tutta l'Asia un regno" (Antonio Medin, La storia della repubblica di Venezia nella poesia [Milan, 1904], 366).

[36] For the patriotic enthusiasm inspired by the War of Candia, and especially its literary expression, see Medin, La storia . . . nella poesia , 315-79. The events surrounding this costly and protracted war are chronicled in S. Romanin, Storia documentata di Venezia (Venice, 1853-61), 7: 343-526; for a modern review, see Roberto Cessi, Storia della repubblica di Venezia (Milan and Messina, 1968), 2: 193-204.


later, when the immediate crisis had passed, that Venice's operatic life returned to full strength—except, as we have seen, for the Teatro Novissimo, which never reopened.[37]

Other critical moments in the War of Candia occurred in 1651, with the Venetian victory at Paros, and again in 1656, with the successful battle of the Dardanelles. Although the outcome for the Venetians was positive—at least in the short run—these military efforts proved costly, drawing heavily upon resources and morale. They also appear to have affected operatic life: several theaters were closed for the 1651 season, and a few remained inoperative for several subsequent years as well.[38] Librettists were among those involved in the events of 1651. A volume commemorating the victory at Paros published in that year contained poetry by Busenello, Aureli, Minato, and Giacomo dall'Angelo, among others.[39]

During this period, references to Venice are usually both more explicit and extrinsic to the actual plots of librettos: they appear either in prefaces or else in prologues (or epilogues), those framing elements marginal to the drama that were traditionally reserved for occasional references to patrons or for other kinds of special communications from poet to audience. Because of their occasional nature, such prologues were rarely repeated when their accompanying operas were performed outside Venice.[40] But for Venetian purposes, practically every libretto prologue of the late 1640s and early 1650s refers to war, to the Turk, and to Venice as the bastion of peace, the most peace-loving nation on earth. In the prologue of Ersilla (1648) by Giovanni Faustini, for example, Venere (Ciprigna), goddess of Cyprus,[41] praises the "heroic guests" (presum-

[37] SS. Giovanni e Paolo may have opened during the spring of 1647 for a performance of Deidamia (see ch. 3, n. 101, above). S. Cassiano and S. Moisè seem to have opened for the 1647-48 season; they were joined by SS. Giovanni e Paolo and SS. Apostoli in 1649-50. The operas listed by Ivanovich for the intervening years—all of them with librettos by Busenello, namely La prosperità infelice di Giulio Cesare and L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1646 and Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne in 1647—were not performed then. In his efforts to cover all seasons, Ivanovich may have extrapolated performances from a misreading of the date on Busenello's publication of his collected librettos, Le hore ociose of 1656.

[38] S. Cassiano was closed from 1651 to 1657; S. Moisè closed from 1650 to 1653; SS. Apostoli closed in 1653.

[39] Le glorie dell'armi venete celebrate nell'accademia de' Signori Imperfetti per la vittoria ottenuta contro l'armi ottomane (Venice: Pinelli, 1651). Busenello was the protettore of the academy, Aureli the secretary, and Minato one of the consiglieri (see Rosand, "L'Ovidio trasformato," LIII n. 77).

[40] They would have been changed for subsequent performances in Venice too. On the impact of new prologues affixed to Venetian operas exported to Naples during the 1660s and 1670s, see Bianconi, "Scena, musica e pubblico," 21-22; also id., Seventeenth Century , 190, and id., "Funktionen des Operntheaters in Neapel bis 1700 und die Rolle Alessandro Scarlattis," in Colloquium Alessandro Scarlatti: Würz-burg 1975 , ed. Wolfgang Osthoff and J. Ruile-Dronke (Tutzing, 1979), 112-13. The new prologues served to transform Venetian belligerence toward the Turk into Neapolitan allegiance to the sovereign.

[41] Since Cyprus was a Venetian possession, seaborne Venus was an especially appropriate mythological symbol of Venetian empire. For Venezia/Venere, see David Rosand, " 'Venetia Figurata,' " 188-90.


ably the Venetians anchored near Candia) for taking a stand as sole defenders of the world against the Turkish barbarians:

Heroic guests, who sit on my Cythera laden down with steel, warriors witnessing the errors of Ersilla, may Glory crown your locks with laurels, and with a golden trumpet sing your fame in resonant sound. You alone restrain the unleashed fury of the barbarian world. . . . I will terrify the tyrant on the throne of Byzantium with great-hearted pride, invincible and holy, from a floating and shining city. At the Lion's roars, the grave of Leander conquered by Xerxes [i.e., the waters of the Hellespont] turned back, frightened, toward the Black Sea. It feared, it trembled, that the magnanimous beast might drink Ottoman treachery at the spring of the Tartarean lair.[42]

And the prologue of Fusconi's Argiope (1649), written later than the rest of the libretto (which dates from 1645), represents an allegorical conflict between Guerra and Pace that concludes with Pace hailing Venice as her ideal resting place:

On my flying chariot, I made my Halcyons swiftly direct their steps here, only to rest until the Kingdom of the Waters was born. Clear city, chosen by the wisdom of Jove as a second heaven, and built for noble souls! O Fates, ignore your custom and spin fast the years, so that others need not have to suffer, waiting, and with a propitious star let fair Venice be born in the bosom of Neptune, she who with wisdom and valor will be the Lady of the Sea, the glory of the world.[43]

Several prologues by Giacomo Castoreo written during the 1650s find ways of praising Venice's peacekeeping efforts through the mouths of a variety of

[42] "Hospiti Heroi, che sù la mia Citera / Carchi d'acciar sedete / De gl'errori d'Ersilla / Guerrieri spettatori, / V'incoroni la gloria il crin d'allori, / E con la tromba d'oro / Di voi canti la lama in suon sonoro: / D'un barbarico mondo / Voi soli raffrenate / Le furie scatenate / . . . . Sbigottirò nel soglio / Di Bizantio il Tiranno, /Con glorioso orgoglio / De petti invitti, e santi, / La Città natatrici, e folgoranti. / Del Leone a ruggiti / Il domato da Zerse / Sepolcro di Leandro / Pavido al negro mare il piè, converse; / Temè, tremò, ch'andasse / La magnanima fera / A' bever ne le fonti / De la Tartara Tana / La perfidia Ottomana" (Ersilla , prologue). The apostrophe to the "Venetian heroes" is fairly common. The prologue to Faustini's Doriclea (1645) concludes with it too, delivered by Gloria: "Di voi Veneti Heroi, / Le cui virtù sublimi / Volan dal freddo Borea à caldi Eoi, / Di voi nido e il tempio, in lui vivrete, / Ad onta di Saturnio, immortalati, / A secoli venturi, ò fortunati." It is worth remembering that 1645 was the time when political tensions with the Turk were such that the theaters were about to close for several years.

[43] "Su'l mio carro volante / Qui fei velocemente / A gli Alcioni miei drizzar le piante. / Solo per riposarmi infino a tanto, / Che nel Regno de l'Acque habbia il natale. / Chiara Città dal sen di Glove eletta, / Per Ciel secondo, e a nobil alme eretta, / Fuori del fatal'uso / De i volumi de gli anni, / Rapide o Parche homai rotate il fuso, / Perch'altri in aspettar più non s'affanni, / E con propitia stella / Nasca a Nettuno in sen Venetia bella / Che con saver, e con valor profondo / Sarà Donna del Mar, gloria del Mondo" (Argiope , prologue). Like Amore innamorato in 1642, Argiope is an arrangement by Fusconi of subject matter by another author (see ch. 6, n. 26, below, and Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 417 n. 156). The postponement of the production of Argiope —from 1645, when it was written, to 1649—may well have been owing to the politically inspired closing of the theaters, which would also account for the heavy emphasis in the later prologue on Venice's role as keeper of the peace.


divinities.[44] In that to Eurimene (1643), an allegory of war between Venere in a flying chariot and Matte on the ground, Venere tells Matte of Giove's decision that the Turk should be made to suffer defeat at the hands of the Venetians and urges him to stop the fighting.[45] Apollo sings a hymn of praise to Venice, haven of peace, in the prologue to Arsinoe (1655-56).[46] And the prologue to Oronte (1656) concludes with the goddess Iride exhorting members of the audience, in their capacity as defenders against the Orient, to attend to the drama.[47]

Toward the end of the 1650s, these references become even more pointed; they mention not only Venice's general attributes as bastion of peace and defender against the Turk, but specific geographical locations related to the battle for Crete and particular events. The prologue of Tolomeo , an anonymous text for a play with musical intermedi (1658-59), features a large number of deities associated with war: Vittoria, Vulcano, Venere, Pallade, and Matte. After a succession of specific references to Mongibello and Crete, Vittoria ends the prologue with her promise to serve the Venetian forces.[48]

The prologue of a libretto of the same year (1659), Elena , performed at S. Cassiano, concludes with a dialogue between Verità and Pace, which alludes to the extraordinary length of the war that has occupied Venice. (Byron referred to the War of Candia as the Iliad of Venice.)


Let the glorious Adriatic heroes hear. The time will come when the afflicted and weary Thracian, repentant in the end for his foolish pride, will beg for peace from the Great Lion.


By now, in spite of Discord, my peaceful hand is dispensing olives in Adria. Indeed, it seems to me that the great Lion has arrived with his roars to frighten the moon [i.e., the crescent moon of the Turkish flag].[49]

[44] Many of the texts Castoreo wrote during the 1650s were for the Teatro ai Saloni, a private theater founded by 1650 "senza alcun giro di Palchi, ma con alcuni pochi in faccia alla Scena" (Ivanovich, Minerva , 400). At the Saloni, performances were normally spoken, with only the prologue and intermedi set to music. Several theaters, including the Saloni, S. Salvatore, and SS. Giovanni e Paolo, seem to have specialized in politically allusive prologues.

[45] "Segua ciò che destina / Il Tonante superno, / Che dell'eccelsa Monarchia d'Oriente, / Cada l'ingiusto Orgoglio / Del Hadria invitta à far scabello al soglio. /Non più guerra" (Eurimene , prologue).

[46] "O dell'Adria ch'accoglie / Di sue glorie motrice, in sen la Pace, / Illustri Lidi, e fortunate Arene. / Dalle dorate Soglie / Dell'Oriente guerriero à voi sen viene / Il Monarca del lume, / Alle vostre vittorie, Amico Nume: / Frenate Alme sublimi / Que' bellici rigori, ond'atterite / Nella Barbara Reggia, il fiero Trace, / E pacifici udite / D'un Arsinoe vagante i strani casi: / Ne prohibite al core, / Che frà sdegni di Marte, in reggia Scena, / Possa tall'hor, udir l'ire d'Amore" (Arsinoe , prologue).

[47] "Veneti Eroi, che 'l frenator d'Oriente / Entro il Bosforo suo tenete à freno: / Arridi à vostre glorie il mio sereno, / Iride vi Coroni il Crin vincente.
"Quando però co i Veli, onde circonda / Il Tiranno Pangèo, l'empia Cervice / Prima v'asciugherà la Dea vittrice / Quel bel sudor, che i vostri Lauri innonda.
"Ma i Lumi avvezzi a vagheggiar sul Mare/ Fra i Cipressi di Traccia i proprii Allori, / Non sdegnino mirar fra dolci amori / Le Fortune d'Oronte ancor ch'amare" (Oronte , prologue).

[48] "A la Veneta Armata, à l'onde Egee, / In Asia, in Creta, al venerabil stuolo / Ratta mi porta obbediente volo" (Tolomeo , prologue).

[49] VERITÀ : "Odan de l'Adria i gloriosi Eroi. / Tempo verrà ch'afflitto e stanco il Trace / Pentito al fin de folli orgogli suoi / Implorerà dal Gran Leon laPace." PACE : "In onta di Discordia omai gli ulivi / Mia Pacifica mano à l'Adria aduna. / Già, già mi par, ch'il gran Leon arrivi / Co' suoi Ruggiti à spaventar la Luna" (Elena , prologue). Elena was left unfinished by Faustini at his death and completed by Nicolò Minato for performance in 1659. See ch. 6, n. 184, below.


Sometimes these allusions are embedded in cleverly operatic contexts. The prologue of dall'Angelo's Cleopatra (1662), performed at the Teatro S. Salvatore, mixes specific political references with self-conscious comments about opera.[50] Except for Glove, all the characters are personifications of operatic elements: Poesia, Inventione, Pittura, and Musica. Glove remarks on the fact that war seems to be a constant state of affairs (it has, after all, been raging for more than a decade):

What's this? Will the furor of haughty, tempestuous Mars always triumph? And will the happy torch of peace never shine in the bosom of fair Adria? But what peace? What peace? To arms, rage on, Venetian heroes, against the wicked Ottoman. See, I unfold my wings to join you, and bring my indignation to check this audacity. Crete is mine, let that be enough. I have come down only to lend you my thunderbolts, and just as I struck the wicked giants with them, so do I mean to reduce the Thracians to ashes.[51]

Poesia attempts to dissuade Glove from his warlike designs:

Supreme mover, check your fury. Do not, no, do not disturb the serenity of the tranquil Venetian breast. Pray, no, do not, even for a few moments, infuse those proud hearts with bellicose spirits. . . . Behold the Venetian heroes collected in the fair circle of this new theater, who await from our music [plettro sonoro ] sweet solace for their heavy thoughts.[52]

Poesia apparently convinces Glove to desist, at least temporarily, and to awaken Fortune in support of Cleopatra , opera and heroine.

A similar mixture characterizes another prologue from this same general period, that to Aureli's Antigona (1660). Set in the Kingdom of Music, it features

[50] The theater had only opened in 1661. But the volume published by the Accademia degli Imperfetti in 1651 (see p. 144 and n. 39 above) was certainly connected to the group that was later active at S. Salvatore. Except for Busenello, all of the librettists represented in the book, including dall'Angelo, wrote texts for S. Salvatore.

[51] "E che? sempre di Marte / Orgoglioso / Procelloso / Il furor trionferà? / Ne di pace / Lieta face / D'Adria bella nel sen risplenderà? / Ma che pace? che pace? à l'armi, / À l'ire / Contro l'empio Ottoman Veneti Eroi / Ecco dispiego il volo, / Anch'io trà voi / Porto miei sdegni à rintuzzar l'ardire. / (s'avanza con un volo dell'Aquila verso l'audienza ) Creta è mia, Tanto basti, A vol discendo / Sol per prestarvi i folgori Tonanti / E se già fulminai gl'empi Giganti / D'incenerir il Trace anco pretendo" (Cleopatra , prologue).

[52] "Supremo motore / Raffrena il furore. / Del Veneto seno / Tranquillo il sereno / Non no non turbar. / Que' gl'animi alteri / Con spirti guerrieri / Per brevi momenti, / Deh no, non destar. / . . . Mira i Veneti Eroi / Raccolti in vago giro / Di Teatro novello; / Ch'attendono da noi / Con plettro sonoro, / A lot gravi pensier dolce ristoro" (Cleopatra , prologue). S. Salvatore may have been known as a "Teatro Novello" because it had recently been converted to opera. This may be analogous to "Teatro Nuovo," for which, see ch. 3, n. 100 above. The libretto of the inaugural opera of S. Salvatore, Giuseppe Artale's Pasife , also contains elaborate Venice imagery, in both prologue and epilogue.


Pace, Poesia, Musica, Furore Tacito, and Allegrezza. Pace explains her presence in this realm. The war having abated, she can turn to other duties and is bringing singers to the Kingdom of Music:

Now that fury, drunk with human blood lies buried in the lap of sweet oblivion, I bring to your soil singing goddesses. With the audacious one chained at my feet, I passed triumphant under the Gallic sky from the Spanish kingdom, and here have folded my wings. And while I distribute olive branches, prepare immortal garlands for my tresses.[53]

In the 1670 revival the prologue had a different text, reflecting the changed political situation. The War of Candia had ended with the signing of a treaty in 1669; hence the final lines of the text were altered to read as follows:

Janus has closed the doors, and the lethal rage of Mars rests weary in his breast. Now that Adria enjoys my longed-for olives, prepare immortal garlands for my hair.[54]

Then Musica, Poesia, and Apollo sing the praises of Pace, who responds to them.


This lyre, which sweetly lends its harmonious sound to the song, will expound your glories on golden strings; Pindus will bring forth laurels for your hair.


Bind, then, the violent angry right hand of the god of arms, and I shall compose eternal hymns in your praise, and add new ornaments to your virtues.


I shall sing with harmonious breaths as many hymns as Poesia weaves to your fair name; and I shall spread your glories through the air.


With the major tumults of Italy calmed, and the Hispanic laurels grafted onto the fleur-de-lis through the royal wedding, you will see me cast lightning flashes of peace on the Venetian sands, to make fruitful that green and fertile soil.[55]

[53] "Hor, che di sangue humano ebro il furore / In grembo à dolce oblio sepolto giace / Porto sul vostro suol Dive canore. / Incatenato à piedi miei l'audace. / Sotto il Gallico Ciel dal Regno Hispano / passai fastosa, hot qui raccolte hò l'ali, / E mentre porto a vol gl'Ulivi in mano, / Preparatemi al crin fregi immortali" (Antigona , prologue). The appearance of allegorical personifications of operatic elements was quite common during this period. A number of aesthetic points made by them, regarding such issues as their mutual relationship, are helpful in opera criticism. This statement, that peace brings singers, suggests that the war may have had something to do with the problems of the season, to which Aureli abundantly referred in his preface; see ch. 7 below.

[54] "Chiuse hà Giano le porte, e al tier Gradivo / Stanche posano in sen l'ire letali. / Hor ch'Adria gode il mio bramato ulivo / Preparatemi al crin fregi immortali."

[55] APOLLO : "Questa Cetra, che soave / Rende al canto il suon concorde, / Le tue glorie in auree corde / Spiegherà / Pindo lauri al tuo crin germoglierà." POESIA : "Lega pur la furibonda / Destra irata al Dio dell'armi / Che in tua lode eterni carmi/ Formerò / Novi fregi à tuoi merti aggiungerò." MUSICA : "Quanti carmi al tuo bel nome / Tesserà la Poesia, / Io con fiati d'armonia / Canterò / Le tue glorie per l'Etra spargerò." PACE : "Dell'Italia placati / I tumulti maggiori, / E tai Gigli innestati / Col Reale Himeneo gli Hispani allori, / Sù le Venete arene / A fecondar quel verde suol ferace / Mivedrete vibrar lampi di pace" (Antigona , preface). This is a reference to the marriage of Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain and the French king, Louis XIV, which, although it did not take place until June 1660, was planned as early as 1658 as part of the negotiations between the two nations that culminated in the Peace of the Pyrenees of late 1659. Venice hoped that once peace was concluded, France (and even Spain) might make some contribution to the Venetian campaign against the Turk. Apparently Mazarin had promised additional troops in 1659, and some French troops, under Almerigo d'Este, did fight in Candia in 1660. See Romanin, Storia documentata , 7: 443-44, and Cessi, Storia delia repubblica di Venezia , 2: 202. For a more detailed chronicle of these events, see Romanin, Storia documentata , 7: 343-526. It was for the celebration of this same marriage in Paris that Cavalli was commissioned to compose Ercole amante (1662).


Several years earlier, Ivanovich made his debut as a librettist with Amor guerriero , performed at SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1663. The prologue, although filled with allusion, is not concerned with the details of war but, like so many earlier ones, rehearses the typical Venetian litany, as if a general reminder of Venetian superiority were needed in the face of hard times. Ivanovich's prologue is also somewhat old-fashioned in that, like some earlier ones, it takes place in a Venetian—or pre-Venetian—setting: "The scene represents a sea beach near the Adriatic lagoons, with an island in the middle, at the edge of which is seen a shell driven by two sea horses."[56] Questioned by a very skeptical Aurora, Amore foretells the story of the founding of Venice on the lagoon (an old topic, not aired in opera since the 1640s, but given a new, theatrical twist here). Ivanovich, the enthusiastic immigrant, makes use of the standard iconography.


But tell me, why today did you exchange the shores of Amanthus for such deserted sands?


In this marshy seaweed you will see a city that with regal foot will tame the haughty sea and extend her dominion to where you rise; and these Adriatic shores you now perceive as so forlorn will be the nest of mercy, the seat of Astraea, who will balance kingdoms on her scales; and for her wise genius [this city] will be always feared in war, and peace.


Amore, what are you saying?


The miracle will be worthy of eternal wonder.


Who told you this?


So Proteus foretold one day, singing on the sandy shores.


I am amazed: and I foresee the Aeolian kingdoms as tributaries of the heroes to come. Let Fate, fortunate and happy indeed, write this day the victories of Adria.[57]

[56] "La scena rappresenta spiaggia di Mare intorno alle lagune Adriatiche con un'isoletta in mezzo, à piè della quale si vedrà una Conca guidata da due Cavalli marini" (Amor guerriero , prologue).

[57] AURORA : "Mà dimmi, da che viene, / Che d'Amatunta i lidi / Hoggi cangiasti in sì deserte arene?" AMOR : "In quest'Alghe palustri / Vedrai Città che con regal suo piede / Premendo il mar altero, / Sin 1à dove tu sorgi / Dilaterà l'impero, / E quest'Adriache piaggie / Ch'hor solitarie scorgi / Havrà pietà per Nido, Astrea per sede / Ch'adeguerà su la bilancia i Regni; / E per genio sagace / Sarà sempre temuta in guerra, e in Pace." AURORA : "Che parli Amor?" AMOR : "Di meraviglie eterne / Sarà degno il portento." AURORA : "A te chi '1 disse?" AMOR : "Così Protheo cantando / Sù l'arenose sponde, un dì predisse." AURORA : "Stupita io resto: & à venturi Eroi / Presagisco in tributo i Regni Eoi. / . . . Scriva il Fato / Fortunato, e lieto sì / Dell'Adria le Vittorie in questo dì" (Amor guerriero , prologue).


Generation after generation, Venetians never seem to have tired of hearing the mythology of their origins repeated on stage.

Despite all the allegorical representations in prologues and the selection of relevant historical or pseudo-historical themes for plot material, the connection between opera and politics may still strike us as somewhat oblique. Exotic and historically remote plots, after all, responded most immediately to a standard need for variety and spectacle in the theater; and prologues and epilogues stand by definition outside the drama proper.[58] Parallels between current events and staged action, between the exploits of actual and of operatic heroes, are not always so clear or precise.[59] Generally, Venetian opera conveyed its political message by suggestion, by implicating the knowing audience in its world of allusion as well as illusion. Its political message, the shared celebration of Venice, was imparted with the willing collusion of the spectators.

In several publications of the 1660s and later, however, the message was asserted more openly. Perhaps the most unequivocal statement of the political significance of opera occurs in the preface to a libretto by Francesco Sbarra, L'amor della patria superiore ad ogn'altro (1668), a bluntly didactic title reminiscent of Viennese oratorios of this period, but highly unusual for a Venetian opera.[60] The preface, signed by the Venetian printer Nicolò Pezzana and offered in praise of the author, describes Sbarra's librettistic activities and the plot of this drama in unabashedly patriotic terms. The work's aim is to instruct the audience (readers?) in the proper service of their country:

In order to recognize the extraordinary talent and most fertile intellect of Sig. Francesco Sbarra, it is enough to glance at his works, among which the subject that he examines with the most heartfelt intensity is the greater good of the Most Serene Republic. As a most loyal subject, he has chosen the work called L'amor della patria . . . because he knows how to adapt himself to contemporary public concerns, con-

[58] They were considered interchangeable, as revealed by the many instances in which the same prologue was used in several different operas. A particularly intriguing example is the one from Ciro (1654), used again for a number of operas, including Giasone and Erismena (Bologna, 1661 and 1668, Forlì, 1673; it probably also introduced the original Venetian production in 1655, since it is described in the scenario). For more on some of these interchangeable prologues, see Owen Jander, "The Prologues and Intermezzos of Alessandro Stradella," Analecta musicologica 7 (1969): 87-111.

[59] A well-known, though non-Venetian, exception, preserved by accident, is the Lanterna di Diogene from Vienna; see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 261-62. But cf. Penelope la casta (Venice, 1685), whose dramatis personae include, besides the main protagonists, a number of abstract figures such as "necessità del governo" and "politica di Stato." And the moral purpose of the plot is articulated in a prologue featuring "il possibile," "l'impossibile," "il Dubbio," and "la Temerità amorosa." The overt moral message here may be associated with the particular character and aims of the theater in which the opera was performed, S. Giovanni Grisostomo; see Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 44 and ch. 13, below.

[60] The work was first performed in Munich in 1665, in a setting by J. K. Kerll (see Renate Brockpähler, Handbuch zur Geschichte der Barockoper in Deutschland [Emsdetten, 1964], 277). Listed by neither Ivanovich nor Bonlini, it was probably never performed in Venice, since it mentions neither a theater nor composer (by now these were significant omissions). We first met Sbarra as the author of a poem in honor of Benedetto Ferrari in the latter's La rnaga fulminata of 1638.


cerns already so treacherously upset by the Ottoman ferocity. He has deemed it appropriate that I (as I had already done for the Erudite tirannide dell'interesse of the same author) should, by means of my press, publish this one also, expanded by Signor Sbarra himself, so that, just as the most fervent zeal is passionately applied to public relief, so to the same degree everyone might understand, if they respond properly, what his own responsibilities are, and the obligation of each person to contribute with his love and actions to the breath and prosperity of his beloved homeland.

Responding to that noble stimulus propounded by this work, of the most memorable example of a complete Republic, with deeds so glorious that they are worthy of being carved in adamant in the hearts of true lovers of the revered and beloved homeland, to preserve the most precious treasure, the priceless jewel of secure liberty. The sole purpose of expressing this most devoted homage is the burning desire that it become universally impressed, sustained, and with work confirmed in all hearts, that, indeed, THE LOVE OF ONE'S COUNTRY IS SUPERIOR TO ANY OTHER . (Appendix I.30)

This rousing salute to the Serenissima only makes explicit what had been implicit in its predecessors. For all its delights, opera still had a responsibility to instruct its audience; and, being Venetian, that audience was to be made to recognize its privileged status and its obligations to the prosperous and beloved Republic.

Topical allusions and references to Venice, including such overt calls to patriotism, tended to occur within prologues during the 1660s. In the following decade, however, this was no longer the case. By 1670 the prologue had been virtually abandoned, and with it the Venetian topicality it had once contained.[61] Confirmation of this trend is provided by Camillo Contarini in his preface to Arbace (1667), where he criticizes the elimination of the prologue by other librettists: "They do not know how to resolve their plots except through the marriage of the characters they present, and they give birth to monstrous creatures without a head (which is the prologue, a principal part of dramas) like those Indian monsters, abridgements of nature."[62] The abandonment of the prologue signaled opera's transcendence of its earlier Venetian parochialism; it was one sure sign of the Europeanization of the genre by 1670, which was manifested, as we shall see, in other ways as well.

In his chronicle Ivanovich gave ample weight to the political function of opera. In his view, both the Bacchanalia of ancient Rome and the "trattenimenti carnovaleschi di Venezia" (i.e., opera)

[61] Occasionally, as in Aurli's Artaxerse (1669), prologue material was incorporated as the first scene of the opera.

[62] "Non sanno terminare i loro discioglimenti, che con le nozze de' personaggi da loro rappresentati, e partoriscono mostruosi Aborti senza capo (ch'è il Prologo, membro principale de' Drami) à guisa di quei Mostri Indiani, abbreviature di natura" (Arbace , preface).


are objects of extremely subtle politics, on which depend the success and abundance of the government, and through these amusements, used according to the standards of decency, the Prince gains the love of his people, who can never more easily forget their yoke than when sated or diverted by pleasures.

When the people have nothing to gnaw on, they gnaw on the reputation of the Prince, and when they have no entertainments, they can easily degenerate through idleness into schemes with very bad consequences. (Appendix II.6e)

Like the circuses of ancient Rome and the entertainments of modern courts, opera in Venice provided a diversion for the masses, a safety valve.[63] In this it was an extension of traditional Venetian social organization; like the scuole and the guilds, through which large segments of the disenfranchised plebeian population of Venice participated in the social and political as well as economic life of the city, the public spectacle of opera provided the disparate populace with a certain common bond. In the experience of the theater, the citizens of the Republic affirmed their allegiance to the idea of Venice.

On the more quotidian level of political fortune, opera could offer respite in times of crisis.[64] Aside from the official closing of the theaters during 1646, owing to the outbreak of the War of Candia, opera generally retained its seasonal rhythm in Venice.[65] For the duration of that lengthy conflict and during the other costly conflicts with the Ottomans that succeeded it, opera continued to offer an escape from thoughts of war. By its very existence, it represented Venice at her best. In the face of external threat, it maintained the peaceful spectacle of the Serenissima. In the face of the waning international fortunes of the Republic, opera affirmed the vitality of Venice, an ironic contrast that had been noted earlier by Francesco Pannocchieschi (nephew and coadjutor of the papal nuncio) in a "relazione sulle cose della Repubblica" (1647-52):

What astonished me was to see how people were living at that time in Venice; how that city, always full of riches and luxuries, kept itself absorbed in continual festivities, both public and private, which not only seemed inappropriate for a country

[63] For an exhaustive consideration of the issue in Roman antiquity, see Paul Vayne, Le Pain et le cirque: Sociologie historique d'un pluralisme politique (Paris, 1976).

[64] An anonymous libretto published in Venice in 1664, Achille in Sciro (on the very same subject as La finta pazza ), confirms the notion of opera as an art of peace. The dedication to Filippo Giuliano Mazarini Mancini, duke of Nevers, signed by the printer Stefano Curti, reads, in part, as follows: "Or mentre che V. E. fà qualche pausa per la Pace, che regna in Francia dagl'Impieghi di Guerra, non dovrà disdegnare, che io venga ad offerirle un pacifico trattenimento di canto, e di poesia, quando anche il grande Achille soleva mitigare col canto, e col suono gli ardori del suo spirito Guerriero nella ritiratezza di Sciro." The original libretto of this opera was first performed in Ferrara (1663). It names Giovanni Legrenzi as composer. Bonlini ascribes the poetry to the Marchese Ippolito Bentivoglio.

[65] With the possible exception of 1651 and some years during the 1680s. In 1684 the Council of Ten prohibited all sorts of performances in Advent for the duration of the new war with the Turks. In 1699 it closed theaters "in every future year" for the novena of Christmas. See Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 31.


that was at war at the time, but that would have seemed excessive even in another country that was calmer and more peaceful.[66]

All of the manifestations of venezianità —the evocations of the Serenissima, the actual appearance of images of Venice on the stage, the personifications of her virtues, the references to her grandeur and history in prologues and epilogues, and even the quick local allusions in the dialogue—rendered opera a very Venetian art indeed. Like the public arts of the previous century—painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theater—opera, too, sang the litany of the myth of Venice. And like them, it in turn contributed to that myth. However crude Ivanovich's account may be, however filled with hyperbole, it is nonetheless clear that opera in Venice existed, in a fundamental way, in the service of the state. Indeed, the establishment and development of opera on the lagoon provide yet another chapter in the myth of Venice, one more manifestation of Venetian liberty and superiority—not to mention Venetian hospitality.

[66] "Quello che più mi faceva restare attonito era il vedere come si vivesse in quel tempo in Venetia; come piena sempre di richezze e di lussi se ne stesse quella Città involta per lo più in continue feste sì pubbliche come private, che non solamente pareva disconvenissero ad un paese che haveva all'hora la guerra, ma che ad ogn'altro più quieto etiandio e più pacifico sembrato superflue" (quoted in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 29-30).


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]

[1] Only one opera seems to have been performed in Venice in 1647 (a revival of Deidamia at SS. Giovanni e Paolo), but there were four in each of the following three seasons, one per theater. (The numbers are compiled from Ivanovich, Minerva , Bonlini, Le glorie , and Sartori, "Catalogo unico.") The "sixth" Venetian theater, at SS. Apostoli, according to Ivanovich, was actually two different theaters situated in private houses ("ne' Casamenti privati"), which produced operas from 1649 until 1652 and then closed: "ma come, che questi erano in apparenza: così sparvero senza speranza di riaprirsi" (Minerva , 399-400).

[2] This number does not include the Teatro ai Saloni from the 1650s, the one at S. Samuele, which opened in 1656, and a theater at Cannaregio opened in 1680, none of which ever actually functioned as opera houses; see Ivanovich, Minerva , 398-401

[3] There were a few exceptionally busy seasons, such as 1676-77, when, according to a report in Le Mercure galant of August 1677, there were nine operas in five theaters (though Ivanovich lists only seven), and 1680, when ten different operas were performed in seven theaters (according to Ivanovich). The relevant passage from the French journal is given in Selfridge-Field, Pallade veneta , 338-40.


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-

[4] Already in 1642, in the preface to Amore innamorato , Fusconi had complained about opera audiences "who are only content with miracles and who would scorn the very harmony of heaven if they were to hear it more than once" (Appendix I.27c). And Ferrari lamented the same thing in Il principe giardiniere (1643) (Appendix I.4); see also his preface to Il pastor regio (Bologna, 1641) (Appendix I.5). Aureli complained similarly in practically every one of his librettos, especially that of Le fatiche d'Ercole per Deianira (1662) (Appendix I.46b). The complaint, in fact, became increasingly justified—and conventional.

[5] Such self-reference becomes standard practice. Not only are nearly all the librettos of Faustini, Aureli, and Minato sequentially numbered, but many contain up-to-date bibliographies of their authors' works.


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

[6] "È gia varcato un lustro / Che su palchi dorati / In te risplendo, e le mie glorie illustro" (Ormindo prologue, quoted in ch. 5, n. 22 above).

[7] On the Cento novelle amorose of the Incogniti as a possible source for libretto material, see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 422 n. 179; also Maria Gabriella Stassi, "Le novelle di Maiohno Bisaccioni tra 'favola' e 'istoria,' "m L'arte dell'interpretare: Studi critici offerti a Giovanni Getto (Cuneo, 1984), 291-316. For an interesting discussion of the new, freer, and more irregular kinds of plots that characterized Venetian operas of these years, see Carl Dahlhaus, "Drammaturgia dell'opera italiana," in StOpIt , 6 (Turin, 1988): 79-162, esp. 148-49.

[8] See his Starira letter, quoted and discussed in Livingston, Busenello , 369-79, esp. 372, on the derivation of the character names.


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

[9] See Ercole in Tebe. Drama per musica del Dottor G. A. Moniglia Fiorentino. Riformato all'uso di Venetia da Aurelio Aureli (Venice: Curti & Nicolini, 1671). The meaning of "l'uso di Venetia" is not altogether clear; some authors implied that it meant cutting, or adhering to "la brevità veneta." We might say that La finta pazza was "de-Venetianized" for export.

[10] Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " identify Luigi Zorsisto as an anagrammatic pseudonym for Giulio Strozzi and demonstrate the relationship of the Veremonda and Celio librettos (445-54); they also document the connections between Neapolitan and Venetian operatic life in the early 1650s, which were chiefly the result of the activities of a group of traveling musicians. For texts of the relevant documents, see Ulisse Prota-Giurleo, Francesco Cirillo e l'introduzione del melodramma a Napoli (Grumo Nevano, 1952); also Bianconi, "Funktionen des Operntheaters in Neapel," 13-116.

[11] See Michael F. Robinson, "Provenzale," New Grove , 15:3 16-17. Ciro was revised for another Venetian performance in 1665, and still another layer of music was added, by Andrea Mattioli. Both Venetian productions were thus pasticcios. There were many more such revivals and revisions during the 1660s, most of which had originated in Venice in the first place: Orontea and Giasone , both originally from 1649, in 1666; Dori , from Innsbruck (1657), and Alessandro amante , a "rifacimento" of Gli amori d'Alessandro magno e di Rossane (1659), in 1667; Eliogabalo (a "rifacimento" of an anonymous earlier libretto) and Seleuco (1666) in 1668; and Argia (Innsbruck, 1655) and Antigona delusa da Alceste (1660) in 1669.

[12] Since another of his works was performed in the same season at the same theater, S. Salvatore, Minato's invention of counterfeit Neapolitan origins for Seleuco may have been a way of making the season's offerings seem more exotic, particularly since this was the first season since 1661 in which S. Salvatore had managed to mount two productions.

[13] See Ellen Rosand, " 'Ormindo travestito' in 'Erismena,' " JAMS 28 (1975): 268-91; see also Beth Glixon, "Recitative in Seventeenth-Century Venetian Opera: Its Dramatic Function and Musical Language" (Ph.D. diss., Rutgers University, 1985), 180-81, who makes a good case for Aureli's Le fortune di Rodope e Damira , too, being modeled on Ormindo .


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.

[14] This is a special case; the scene probably had to be omitted for reasons of economy or space at the little Teatro S. Apollinare (see p. 171 below). Interestingly, in the libretto for the revival of the opera in 1661, references to elephants were restored (added?) in act 1, scenes 4 and 6.

[15] Castoreo may have had Veremonda in mind, performed the previous season at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, which also featured a female warrior as the title heroine.


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

[16] See Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 41-42 n. 5.

[17] Bianconi suggests that Bissari himself may have played Bellerofonte ("Scena, musica e pubblico," 19), a suggestion based on a sonnet addressed to "Sig. . . . Bissari per la caduta di Bellerofonte nell'opera della sua Bradamante," in the copy of the libretto in I-Rsc, Carvalhaes 2362.

[18] See Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 416 n. 152.

[19] Many of the S. Moisè prefaces in particular allude to the poverty of scenic resources. Pirrotta ("Theater, Sets, and Music," Essays , 261-62) mentions some of the problems there. The S. Apollinare prefaces frequently complain of the same thing—for example, that of Eupatra (1655) (see Appendix I.36c). On the limitations of S. Apollinare, see Jane Glover, "The Teatro Sant'Apollinare and the Development of Seventeenth-Century Venetian Opera" (Ph.D. diss., Oxford University, 1975), ch. 2.


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

[20] Pirrotta ("Theater, Sets, and Music," Essays , 267-70) attempts an intriguing reconstruction of the (lost) sets of Poppea by analogy with various designs by Torelli, illustrating the existence of generic settings. That these persisted throughout the century is indicated by the lists of settings in librettos. The characteristic scene-types of Venetian opera are enumerated and described in Claude-François Ménes-trier, Des Representations en musique anciennes et modernes (Paris, 1681), 168-74, excerpt reprinted in Quellentexte zur Konzeption der europäischen Oper im 17. Jahrhundert , ed. Heinz Becker (Kassel, 1981), 85-87.

[21] It introduced Erismena in 1655 and a revival of Giasone in 1666.

[22] This seems to have happened as early as 1639, in the prologue to Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo (Persiani/Cavalli), which ends with the rubric: "qui cadde a terra il teatro." Both the Ciro and Veremonda prologues were staged by G. B. Balbi, which might account for their similarity. This was a favorite conceit, even later in the century, however. In Il novello Giasone (Rome, 1671), for example, the original prologue of 1649 is interrupted by an accident to the flying chariot of the Sun; Music, Poetry, and Painting are beside themselves in worried desperation when Architecture reassures them: all is under control, everything, including the accident, has been planned for the greater delight of the audience. See Bianconi, "Scena, musica e pubblico," 21. The grand master of such illusions of disaster—failed mechanisms, accidental fires on stage, floods threatening the audience—was, of course, Gianlorenzo Bernini: see Irving Lavin, Bernini and the Unity of the Visual Arts (New York, 1980), 1: 146-57.

[23] Although a real decline is not documentable after 1650, a resurgence of interest in scenography is certainly evident toward the end of the 1670s, particularly with the opening of the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo, whose productions were especially elaborate from the scenic point of view. The staging of Nerone (1679), for example, received an extremely detailed and enthusiastic description from the Venetian correspondent to Le Mercure galant (see Self-ridge-Field, Pallade veneta , 340-44). And the whole project of the Contarini theaters at Piazzola aimed to restore scenography to the position it had enjoyed at court theaters and at the Novissimo. See Paolo Camerini, Piazzola (Milan, 1925), and, for descriptions of the fabulous scenic effects that were possible at Piazzola, L'orologio del piacere che mostra l'ore del dilettevole soggiorno havuto della serenissima d'Ernest Augusto Vescovo d'Osnabruc, Duca di Branswich, Lunebergo, etc . (Piazzola, 1685).



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 ,



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

[24] Pirrotta ("Ferrari," Enciclopedia dello spettacolo [Rome, 1958], 5: cols. 187-88) quotes a document in which Ferrari actually describes himself as a "theater man" ("quella del teatro è stata la mia prima professione"), but in the preface to the Bologna edition of Il pastor regio he claims that he is primarily a musician (Appendix I.5a). On the career of Andreini, see Molinari, La commedia dell'arte , 145-50; also Ferdinando Taviani and Mirella Schino, Il segreto della Commedia dell'Arte: La memoria delle compagnie italiane del XVI, XVII, e XVIII secolo (Florence, 1982, 2d ed. 1986), 105-9. There were many other figures like Andreini in the realm of Improvised theater; in fact, every troupe was led by a complete "theater person."



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



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:

[25] This is revealed in the publisher's preface to another work by Michele, his Rime . . . parte prima (Venice, 1642): "La Psiche Favoletta per Musica composta sopra l'ordine d'uno scenario dattagli dall'Illustriss. Signor Gio. Francesco Loredano, a cui non ha saputo negare di farlo, essendo tra loro congiunti di tale strettezza d'Amicitia che si può agguagliare ad ogn'una delle più famose. Questa Psiche i giorni a dietro fu stampata, senza, che l'Autore lo sapesse sotto nome di Amore Innamorato, col prologo, e con altre tre o quattro scene piene di concetti di burla per allettare la plebe de gli Auditori quando si recitò; aggiuntevi da altri non havendo il Michiele inclinatione di buffoneggiare ne i Theatri. Un giorno però si lascierà vedere nell'habito suo proprio, e forse accompagnata da tre altre simili compositioni, chesono la Tisbina, la Fugga di Elena, e le Nozze di Bradamante." Cf. ch. 2, p. 38 and n. 11, above; also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 421 n. 175.



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]

[26] Although Bonlini suggests that the author in question was again Michele, the title page of the libretto lists him simply as N.



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]

[27] This was Marc'Antonio Tirabosco's tack in the preface to Alcate (1642): "Il veder comparire tra le più famose penne la mia, deve a raglone . . . chiamarvi alle maraviglie, poichè à me, che non fò professione di poeta, non conviene il presumere di poggiar col sù, dove le palme, e gl'allori germogliano per decorare gli Eccellenti compositori . . . . Hora mi è convenuto ubbidire alle preghiere di vero amico, à cui sono grandemente obligato, & era peccato d'ingratitudine l'oppormi alle sue giuste brame. Hò dunque pochi giorni sono, benche da sommi travagli agitato, tanto di tempo, e di respiro goduto, che applicatomi à questo drama musicale l'hò ridotto al fine col favore della contemplatione, che illustrando il mio in-gegno l'ha reso atto a ricevere un picciolo raggio di quel divino spirito che vuol riscaldare ogni Poeta. Signori, [purche] l'Alcate è di già pervenuto sotto alla commune censura imploro da vol cortese un compatimento non rigoroso. . . . Haverete almeno in essa una schiettezza di dire, così richiestami per la musica."



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]

[28] See Bisaccioni's preface to Ercole in Lidia (1645) (Appendix I.24b) and Francesco Sbarra's letter to Michel'Angelo Torcigliani introducing his Alessandro vincitor di se stesso (1651) (Appendix I.29b).


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

[29] "Sappi, ch'io non fò del Poeta. Le mie applicationi sono nel Foro: per servire a chi puote comandarmi hò rubbate alcune hore al sonno per darle à questo Drama. Ti giuro, che il Sole mai mi ha veduto con la penna alla mano per caraterizar questi inchios-tri" (Orirnonte [1650], preface).

[30] "Ti basti di sapere, che io compongo per mero capriccio, e che non voglio obbligarmi alla stretta osservanza delle regole" (Sidonio e Dorisbe , preface).

[31] "Io compongo per mero capriccio; il mio capriccio non ha altra fine, cheil dilettare: L'apportar diletto appresso di me, non e altro, che l'incontrare il genio, & il gusto di chi ascolta o legge" (Giasone , preface).

[32] This is the same point made more negatively, and indirectly, by Bissari in the passage from Bradamante already quoted (Appendix I.26). He blamed librettists' sterility on the audience's need to see things they had not yet seen. Audience taste was becoming increasingly exigent. Having overcome the generic insecurity of their predecessors, the second generation of librettists now had to face the problem of excesses and absurdities inspired by a jaded public. Literary rules no longer frightened them, but propriety still did.


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


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

[33] The exception was Ersilla (1648), supposedly set to music "da diversi," but the preface to Faustini's posthumous Alciade (1667) includes Ersilda (sic ) among the works by Faustini set by either Cavalli or Ziani (see Appendix I.38a). Faustini's first five librettos were performed, one each season, at the Teatro S. Cassiano—originally under Cavalli's and Persiani's direction, but then probably under Faustini's own. These were La virtù de' strali d'Amore (1642), Egisto (1643), Ormindo (1644), Doriclea (1645), and Titone (1645); the next two, Ersilla (1648) and Euripo (1649), were performed at the much smaller theater at S. Moisè.

[34] This is the age given in the preface to Alciade (Appendix I.38a). It conflicts, however, with that given in the necrology records: 36 (I-Vas, Necrologia 1651, f. 877:"19 dicembre 1651. Il signor Zuane Faustini del quondam signor Anzolo d'anni 36 da mal maligno giorni 3-") and m the preface to Eupatra : 32 (Appendix I.36e).

[35] "Il conduttore s'impegnava a fare tutti i lavori necessari per attrezzare l'ambiente alla sua nuova destinazione possendo perciò in quello [loco] far quella quantità di Palchi e far recitar quelle opere che ad esso parerà e piacerà" (b. 194: 179). Quoted in Glover, "Sant'Apollinare," 17-18.

[36] In addition to the possibility that he managed S. Cassiano after Cavalli withdrew in 1644, he may have had some administrative responsibility at S. Moisè, though Pirrotta ("The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 333-34) suggests that Cavalli acted as impresario there. Another librettist, Castoreo, took over the management of S. Cassiano in 1648 (25 April); see Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 114.

[37] The debt at S. Cassiano may have been caused by the abrupt closing of the theater in 1645 for the War of Candia—Faustini may have suffered losses like the Novissimo management. Perhaps he paid for the printing of the librettos of Doriclea and Titone and then was unable to recoup his expenses because the theater closed before the end of the season.


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

[38] S. Apollinare had only forty-eight boxes. But whereas SS. Giovanni e Paolo and S. Cassiano had many more, the rent for those theaters was considerably higher; at S. Cassiano in 1658, for instance, it was 800 ducats. See Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 223. Faustini's financial arrangements with S. Apollinare are discussed in Glover, "Sant'Apollinare," ch. 2.

[39] An analogous fate had been suffered by Melosio's Sidonio e Dorisbe and Orione , the former replacing the latter, which had been written first. But the highly plausible explanation for that substitution given by Pirrotta ("The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 327-28), that Orione was too similar to other operas of the same or immediately preceding season, does not seem to serve in Faustini's case.


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]

[40] Faustini's remarks here resemble those anti-academic comments by Ferrari in the preface to his Il pastor regio of 1641 (see appendix I.5a).

[41] For some examples of surviving commedia dell'arte scenarios, which share a number of features with Faustini's librettos, see Flaminio Scala, Il teatro delle favole rappresentative [Venice, 1611], ed. Ferruccio Marotti (Milan, 1976); see also Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte: Flaminio Scala's Il teatro delle favole rappresentative , trans. Henry F. Salerno (NewYork, 1967); and Roberto Tessari, La commedia dell'arte nel seicento (Florence, 1969).


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

[42] This is a feature emphasized in the printer's preface to Eupatra (see Appendix I.36d).


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

[43] For an admirable recent discussion of the verse types of Italian opera, see Paolo Fabbri, "Istituti metrici e formali," in StOpIt , 6: 165-233. For Italian poetry in general, the standard study is W. Theodore Elwert, Italienische Metrik (Munich, 1968), translated as Versificazione italiana dalle origini ai giorni nostri (Florence, 1983); see also Mario Ramous, La metrica (Milan, 1984). The terms versi sciolti and versi misurati , while not used as such by these authors, emphasize the essential difference between recitative (unrhymed) and aria (rhymed) poetry and, for that reason, are employed here—as they are in other studies of seventeenth-century opera (see, for example, Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri").

[44] Corraro was one of Faustini's management associates, along with Alvise Duodo; see Glover, "Sant'Apollinare," 19-22, 28.


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

[45] The meaning of "the company of the virtuoso Bonifatio" ("la compagnia del virtuoso Bonifatio") is ambiguous. It may refer to a theatrical company or perhaps to a single performer.

[46] The idea of premature death from overwork evidently exercised a certain fascination; it was also cited in the case of Boretti (see Appendix IIIB.11c).


(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

[47] The evident failure of Erginda may be judged by its lack of subsequent performances. On the Erisrnena situation, see n. 13 above.


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

[48] The libretto of Orimonte was admittedly weak, but there were apparently more practical reasons for its lack of success; see Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 97-120.

[49] "Hora seguendo i documenti del Maestro del tutto Aristotile, volendo, come egli insegna, fingere sopra l'Istoria, per comporre il presente Dramma, si è preso assunto di figurare. . . ." In the preface to Artemisia , however, Minato gave greater emphasis to the "invented" component: "In quel drama [Xerse ] ti reccai qualche accidente tratto da famosissimo Autore, ch'in altro Idioma lo scrisse: In questo tutto ciò, ch'io t'apporto e di mia pura inventione."

[50] "Angelica dopo haver risanate le ferite a Me-doro, e fattolo privatamente suo sposo, se ne ritornò con esso al Cataio suo Regno nell'India; ma qual varietà d'accidenti passasse in Amore prima d'ergerlo al Trono, fu dall'Ariosto lasciato in libertà di scriverlo ad altra penna; il che dà materia alla tessitura di questo Dramma, mentre con supposti d'accidenti verisimili si finge. . . . "


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

[51] Two excellent examples of Aureli's special brand of distortion are Orfeo (1673) and Olimpia vendicata (1681); see Ellen Rosand, "Orlando in Seicento Venice: The Road Not Taken," in Opera seria as a Social Phenomenon , ed. Michael Collins and Elise Kirk (Austin, 1984), 87-104.


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]

[52] See especially those of Le fatiche d'Ercole per Deianira and Claudio Cesare (see Appendix I.46 and 50).


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.

[53] "non dirò un parto, ma un'abhorto d'ingegno" (Antigona , preface). Lack of time also necessitated a shortcut, forcing him to utilize preexistent material; see p. 186 below.

[54] "io involto in molt'altre occupationi ho fatica ad haver tempo di scrivere, non che di emendare" (Mutio Scevola , preface [1665]).


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,

[55] "Per tutto conforme l'affittanza fatta al Sign. Zuane Faustini suo fratello ne gli atti del Sign. Alberto Mascalco notaro di questa città li 19 V 1650" (b .194: 168). A large portion of this document, actually a contract with Zanetta Piamonte, proprietor of half of the theater, is quoted in Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 279. The correct date of the contract is 25 October, not 21 September as Giazotto has it, or 25 December, the date given in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 68. The documents pertaining to the leasing of S. Apollinare are transcribed in Glover, "Sant' Apollinare," esp. ch. 2, "The Administration of the Teatro Sant' Apollinare," and appendix 1.

[56] The documents of this litigation are found in b. 194: 163-69 . See Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 68, and Glover, "Sant'Apollinare," ch. 2.


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,

[57] On Alvise Duodo's relationship with the Faustini brothers, see Glover, "Sant'Apollinare," 19-22, 28.


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

[58] Cavalli was apparently disinclined to work for Faustini because of some negative experiences with the latter's partner, Duodo. He expressed his dissatisfaction in a letter of July 1654 to Marco (b . 188: 14) (see Appendix IIIA. 1).

[59] Lucio had two previous operas to his credit, both written for SS. Apostoli: Orontea and Gli amori d'Alessandro e di Rossane ; see Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri," CXXXII-CXXXIV. Ziani's three operas for Faustini were La guerriera spartana (1653), Eupatra (1654), and Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (1657).

[60] Contract of 5 May 1657. See Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 41; text given in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 71; see also Glover, "Sant'Apollinare," 24; Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 257-58.

[61] Minato's move from SS. Giovanni e Paolo to S. Cassiano under Faustini may have been encouraged by Aureli's move in the opposite direction, from Faustini's service at S. Apollinare to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Minato alludes to this in the preface to Antioco (Appendix I.42). The non-Cavalli-Minato work at S. Cassiano, L'incostanza trionfante ovvero il Theseo , actually produced first, in 1658, was a problematic libretto by Francesco Piccoli set to music by Ziani (see n. 78 below). The Antioco production is at present the best-documented work of this period, thanks to the survival of a production book among Faustini's papers (in b . 194, unnumbered ); it forms one of the central focuses of Bianconi's and Walker's masterful study, "Production."


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

[62] Minato's editorial intervention also involved the writing of a new prologue and some new arias, Nuovo prologo et ariette (1659), which are found in the score (I-Vnm, It. IV, 369 [9893]).

[63] On the beginning of Faustini's connection with SS. Giovanni e Paolo, see Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 59, esp. n. 11. The first dated document associating Marco with the theater is a contract with the scenographer Ippolito Mazzarini of 6 June 1660 (b . 194: 11). See Brunelli, "Angustie," 315. Only a preliminary draft of Faustini's original contract with the owners of the theater and a subsequent renewal, dated 23 February 1665, seem to have survived (b . 194: 134). See also Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 266-67.


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]

[64] According to Ivanovich, the Teatro S. Salvatore was the second to have opened, after S. Cassiano. Originally "fatto per recitar Commedie," it was reborn, following a fire, and began producing operas in 1661 (Minerva , 399). Bonlini lists it as eighth (Le glorie , 14). A large group of documents pertaining to this theater is found in I-Vcg, Archivio Vendramin. A number of them are utilized in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 48-55. One of them, a budget for the 1669 performance of Argia , is illustrated in fig. 24 (see n. 105 below). The opening of S. Salvatore must have bothered Faustini, to judge from Ziani's remarks in a letter to the impresario of 12 June 1666 (b . 188: 268) (Appendix IIIA. 12); see Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 507.

[65] The furor surrounding the premiere of Pasife is described in a letter of 20 February 1661 from Giovanni da Mosto to Ottavio Labia. "Fu curiosa quela [the opera] di S. Lucca, che non pottendosi più tollerare proruppe l'auditorio in una insolenza la prima sera, che anco fu l'ultima, gettando in scena tutto quelo veniva alle mani, abbrugiando tutti l'opera [the libretto] et con gridi e batterelle fussimo sino le 8 della notte con il maggior solazzo, che mai habbi hautto. Il teatro pieno di dame fu causa che ovviò maggior male, perche in una parola meritavano di peggio. Ghe la mando [i.e., the opera's libretto] insieme con un'altra, che questa sera devesi reccitare nel teatro medemo, et stimo con simile aplauso." Quoted in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 52-53 n. 26, from Andrea da Mosto, "Uomini e cose del '600 veneziano (da un epistolario inedito)," Rivista di Venezia 12, no. 3 (1933): 117. The second opera referred to by da Mosto was the revival of Faustini's and Cavalli's Eritrea .

[66] The same rumor is also reported in b . 188: 375.


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

[67] "Gl' interessati in questi Teatri [S. Luca and Grimani], accelerano i loro preparamenti; e poi che si aspettano li due Prencipi di Bransvich, oltre il terzo Cattolico, che continua a soggiornare in questa Città, e si aspetta parimente da Fiorenza di passaggio, e ritorno in Ispruch il Sereniss. Arciduca, et Arciduchessa sua Consorte, fanno a gara li medesimi inter-essati, et havendo quei del Teatro di San Gio: e Paolo rissoluto rappresentare due Opere; si sforzano gl'altri di San Luca, se non di sopravanzare, almeno di caminare del pari, in modo che non guardano a qual si sia opera [=spesa]: et i medesimi di S. Gio: e Paolo, oltre l'haver fatta provisione di Musici assai stimati serventi a Prencipi, hanno fatto venire da Roma una cantatrice sopramodo stimata, non meno nel cantare, che nell'esser bella, in età di 15 in 16 anni, alla quale di Donatico hanno stipolato 150 Doppie di sopra una veste di brocato d'oro, per il viaggio 200 scudi d'argento, et il tutto fino a primi giorni di Quaresima per se, sua Madre, un Virtuoso venuto ad accompagnarlo, per un Servitore, et una Cameriera" (quoted in Matteini, Il "Rimino, " 91-92). An excerpt from this report is quoted in Selfridge-Field, Pallade veneta , 336.

[68] This story, which can be gleaned from Minato's prefaces to the two librettos, dated 15 January and 3 February respectively, is recounted in Monson, "Aelius Sejanus."


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-

[69] This was the case with Cavalli's final opera, Massenzio , which was replaced at the last minute by a setting of the same libretto by Sartorio; see Dolfin's letter to Johann Friedrich of 23 December 1672 (Appendix IIIB. 10).

[70] This was reported to have occurred in 1683 at S. Giovanni Grisostomo: avviso of 6 February (I-Vnm, It. VI, 460 [12104]); see Appendix IIIC.4.

[71] This attitude is explicit in a letter of 20 September 1675 in which Nicolò Beregan expresses to Duke Johann Friedrich his desire to hire a certain singer, Gratianini, the moment he set foot in Venice, before the management of any other theater could contact him (Appendix IIIB.24). See also letter of 17 November 1675 (Appendix IIIB.25).

[72] These difficulties are revealed in Cesti's correspondence with Faustini, preserved in twenty-one letters in the Faustini documents. The letters are listed and discussed in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 442-66. Four are transcribed in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 74-77. For transcriptions of some others, see Giazotto, "Antonio Cesti," 496-512. See also Brunelli, "Angustie," passim.

[73] Excerpts from Ziani's correspondence with Faustini are published in Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 465-508, appendix B. See also Brunelli, "Angustie," passim. Two complete letters are transcribed in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 78-80, both ofthem expressing Ziani's envy of his fellow composers. For an example, see letter of 25 July 1665 (Appendix IIIA. 5).


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

[74] From letter of 8 August 1662 (b . 188: 380); facsimile in Wolfgang Osthoff, "Cavalli," in La musica (Turin, 1966), 829; the document, which is somewhat damaged, is transcribed in Glover, Cavalli , 168-69. Cavalli tried to convince Faustini to accept the recently performed Ercole amante instead of a second new opera, but evidently without success (see also the undated document, b . 194: 49, transcribed in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 74).

[75] To add insult to injury, Cavalli's Pompeo magno was reported a resounding success, while the reviews of the competing opera at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Cesti's and Beregan's Tito , were mixed, according to Ziani's letter to Faustini of 9 May 1666 (b . 188: 279) (Appendix IIIA. 11a). Faustini succeeded in getting Cavalli back in 1667, for one opera, the ill-fated Eliogabalo (contract of 29 June 1667 [b . 194: 50], excerpted in Brunelli, "Angustie," 334-35; see also Glover, Cavalli , 28).

[76] Things were evidently just as difficult at S. Salvatore, where at least three noblemen, Giuseppe Artale, Giacomo dall'Angelo, and Ippolito Bentivoglio, were pressed into service during the early 1660s. Dall'Angelo was a member of the same academy as Aureli and Minato, the Imperfetti.

[77] Perhaps Minato, who was involved in the management of S. Salvatore at the time, got special permission (from Marco) for the revival. This is suggested by the printer's dedication to the second edition of the libretto (Appendix I. 35c). On the question of authors' rights, see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 237-39 and nn. 75-76. It is a question that needs further investigation.


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-

[78] This libretto went through several editions in its first year, not because it sold out but because of rewritings, accusations of theft, and so forth. It was the opera Ziani later said he wrote over and over again. See ch. 7, n. 26.

[79] Even works revived in successive years were felt to need alteration; arias were often changed, characters added or eliminated. But this was perhaps more in response to cast changes or simply an effort to make the work look newer. Sometimes new arias were even added for later performances of an opera during the same season, as indicated in second and third editions of various librettos (such as those of Antigona [1660] and Claudio Cesare [1672], for example).

[80] Technically it was the second of his operas to be performed posthumously, since Faustini died during the 1651 season, before Eritrea was produced. This is clear from the preface to the libretto and from documents presented in Beth Glixon and Jonathan Glixon, "Marco Faustini and Venetian Opera Production in the 1650s: Recent Archival Discoveries," paper delivered at a meeting of the South-Central Chapter of the American Musicological Society, Lexington, Kentucky, 1990.


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

[81] We know from the Egisto preface (quoted above) that he even resented having to tamper with them himself.

[82] Actually, there were seven new comic scenes, but some of them replaced old ones. Theramene's delirio (2.5) was replaced by a comic scene and his soliloquy in 3.11 was simply eliminated. Trinano, under the name Vaffrino, and several of his new solo scenes were already present in the Bologna revival of the opera in 1654 (Eritrea [Bologna: del Dozza, 1654]).

[83] Only the date on the title page was altered, to 1662, which must have confused the chroniclers, since they all assumed that the work was actually performed at S. Apollinare in 1662, when, in fact, the theater had long been closed.


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)

[84] They ended up being two separate librettos, the reprint of 1662 and L'Eritrea . . . Da rappresentarsi nel Novissimo Teatro di S. Salvatore, Anno 1661 (Venice: Batti, 1661).

[85] Perhaps two publications were required because the opera was not performed in Faustini's theater; Marco may have insisted.

[86] This libretto was never mentioned by Giovanni; but it was listed among his unperformed works in the preface to another of Giovanni's posthumous librettos, Alciade , published in 1667 (Appendix I.38a).

[87] Il rimino of 17 January, 1662, report for 14 January: "fin dalla settimana passata doveva aprirsi il teatro di SS. Giovanni e Paolo, e recitarsi l'opera intitolata Medea placata , ma fattane la prova, e stimatasi di poco gradimento agli auditori, hanno havuto per bene gli interessati di lasciarla da parte, e provedere d'altro soggetto, per il che in ordine alli Amori di Pirro infruttuosi , che furono rappresentati l'anno passato, si reciteranno le nozze del medesimo [ = Gli scherzi di fortuna ]" (see Selfridge-Field, Pallade veneta , 337, document no. A22).

[88] Both Gli scherzi di fortuna and Le fatiche d'Ercole must have been nearly ready while Medea placata was in rehearsal. Ercole was the libretto Aureli felt leisurely about (cf. p. 180 above and appendix I.46c). These works are twice mentioned in Il rimino (Selfridge-Field, Pallade veneta , documents nos. A23 and A24).

[89] Aureli too eventually moved to S. Salvatore, but only in 1670, after Minato's precipitous departure for Vienna, which resulted in a lawsuit brought against him by the Vendramin brothers for breach of the three-year contract he had signed with them in 1667. Aureli seems to have assumed Minato's role of impresario there, since he signed many of the subsequent contracts and other papers. The details of Minato's lawsuit and its aftermath can be pieced together by documents in the Vendramin archives; see especially b . 42 F 6/1-6 [49], ff. 28-30, 41-48; also Ellen Rosand, "Minato," New Grove , 12: 332; and Benedetti, "Il teatro musicale," 213-14.


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-

[90] His intention is documented in a letter to him from the singer Antonio Cavagna of 14 November 1666 (b . 188: 37): "a me non è stata sin hora nota la premura che V. S. E. tiene di recitar a S. Lucia, che però farò tutti li miei sforzi per trovarmi a tempo." Giovanni Faustini had apparently tried something similar in 1651, according to Glixon and Glixon, "Marco Faustini."

[91] Despite Cavalli's contract with S. Salvatore, Faustini may have asked him to revise his old score and been refused. This is suggested by references to Cavalli in several documents dealing with this commission, including two letters to Faustini from Antonio Cavagna, a singer with whom he was negotiating (b . 188: 127 and 125), and one from Ziani dated 25 July 1665 (b . 188: 82), which is excerpted in Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 503-4, and quoted in part in Appendix IIIA. 5.

[92] The theatrical politics involved difficulties with singers and, possibly, competition between Cesti and Ziani. These circumstances are discussed in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 457-62, and Brunelli, "Angustie," 319-22.

[93] Or nearly a month after the Feast of St. Lucy that Faustini had proposed as opening day for the 1666 season.


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-

[94] From Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 460.

[95] This whole story is detailed in Brunelli, "Angustie," 321. The printer's complaint is found in b . 194: 78-80 . For some idea of the tightness of printing schedules for librettos, see Massi's letter to Johann Friedrich of 27 January 1672 [1673] (Appendix IIIB. 17).

[96] Apparently Alciade was initially planned for the 1666 season; see Ziani's letter to Faustini of 28 November 1665 (b . 188: 354) (Appendix IIIA. 10).

[97] There are several references in Faustini's earlier correspondence to Beregan's alterations of the Meraspe libretto. Evidently Meraspe , like Elena , had survived in the form of a scenario that needed to be fleshed out with poetry. In any case it was apparently given to several authors to elaborate. Cesti was to set text revised by Beregan. After he had resigned his commission, Pallavicino was apparently engaged to replace him. But the opera did not please the singers; see below. Documents concerning Meraspe include b . 188: 163 and 294-99.


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.

[98] Like Alciade , which was planned for 1666 but not performed until 1667, Meraspe was initially planned for one season (1667) but postponed until the next (1668), when it was unsuccessful; see Brunelli, "Angustie," 334-40. Alessandro may refer to La magnanimità d'Alessandro , which had been performed in Innsbruck in 1662 (see Appendix IIIA. 13). This was not the only time a suggestion for a replacement for a Faustini libretto was offered. Moniglia's Semiramide was proposed instead of Meraspe in letters from the singer Donati to Faustini of 5 and 27 July 1667 (b . 188: 172, 174).

[99] This presumably means that they served as material for other librettos, which Marco had also claimed (Appendix IIIA. 14: "hanno rubato l'inventioni")—such as Aureli's Erismena and Rodope e Damira . They had, in fact, entered the mainstream of operatic convention.

[100] Note the similarity of the positive aspects listed in the remainder of this preface (Appendix I.38b) to the points made in the preface to Theseo (Appendix I.52), and also to the complaints Giovanni Faustini himself voiced in his preface to Egisto (Appendix I.31a). The problems raised by reviving Alciade must have been similar to those encountered with Nicola Coresi, husband of the Roman singer Antonia Coresi, regarding Meraspe the following year; see Appendix IIIA. 17.


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.

[101] Obviously the libretto contained some of the original Faustini poetry, but not much. An old prologue was considered acceptable since prologues were by now anachronistic and obsolete anyhow.

[102] Letters of 13 and 4 June 1667 (b . 188: 164 and 163); see Appendix IIIA. 17a and ch. 8, n. 70, below.

[103] According to this document (b . 188: 199-200), dated 15 December 1667 (see Brunelli, "Angustie," 340, and Appendix IIIA.22), Faustini ceded his entire interest in SS. Giovanni e Paolo to the Grimani brothers.


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-

[104] Most boxes at S. Apollinare rented for twenty ducats, while the more numerous ones at S. Cassiano went for twenty-five ducats, which should have yielded a much greater profit. But Bianconi and Walker ("Production," 222-23) suggest that for S. Cassiano, at least, profits were eroded by Faustini's contract with the Tron family, whereby he was required to pay the costs of readying the theater for opera.

[105] The cost of La maga fulminata is mentioned in the preface to the libretto (Appendix I.3b). The information for S. Salvatore comes from a sheet of accounts in I-Vcg, Archivio Vendramin, Teatro S. Salvatore, b . 42 F 6/1-6 [49], no. 20, 13 April 1669 (fig. 24). Conversion rates for Venetian currency, derived from information in the Faustini papers, are as follows: lira = 20 soldi; ducat = 6 lire, 4 soldi; scudo = 14 lire; doble = 28 lire; cecchino = 17 lire. See N. Papadopoli-Aldobrandini, Le monete di Venezia descritte ed illustrate (Venice, 1907), 3: 267-356 (1646-59); also Bianconi and Walker, "Production," appendix 2, "Monetary Systems," which seeks to determine the relationship between Venetian currency values and those of Rome and Modena of the same period. Inflation could not have explained the geometric rise in expenses, since it was relatively low during this period. This is indicated by various comparative figures, such as the salary for the first violinist, which rose modestly from 17 lire in 1658 to 18.12 lire in 1665 (see Antioco and Ciro payment records in b . 194: Antioco account book, unnumbered, and 286). On the economic situation in Venice during this period, see Crisis and Change in the Venetian Economy in the 16th and 17th Centuries , ed., Brian Pullan (London, 1968); id., Aspetti e cause della decadenza economica veneziana nel secolo XVII (Venice and Rome, 1961); and Domenico Sella, Commerci e industrie a Venezia nel secolo XVII (Venice and Rome, 1961).



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.


I compositori scenici :
Librettist and Composer

Marco Faustini's failure was intrinsic to the system of opera production that had nourished him. The institutionalization of opera had initiated a chain reaction. The increased demand for new works intensified the pressures on a limited pool of opera makers, whose expansion required the exploitation of additional (including foreign) suppliers, which in turn created difficulties of communication and coordination at every stage in the preparation of a production: at conception, composition, and rehearsal. Conception was impeded by the fact that the libretto was often written before the cast had been assembled, making it difficult for the poet to decide on the number and importance of the various characters. Composition suffered from the geographical distance between librettist and composer, who often resided in different cities and therefore could not work together;[1] furthermore, like librettists, composers did not always know their casts in advance and were unable to tailor their music accordingly. Finally, the rehearsal period became increasingly difficult since, in addition to providing the opportunity for the normal ironing out of staging problems, it had to allow for many alterations involving text and music that would formerly have been taken care of earlier, at the stage of composition or even conception.

One of the significant results of institutionalization, then, was a change in the relationship among the makers of operas, among librettist, composer, and performers. Originally part of a single impetus, the three functions grew increasingly separate and independent of one another. This growing independence, even as it reflected the development of opera, in turn had its own impact on that development.

[1] One of the most revealing documents we have of the kind of interaction that took place between librettist and composer during this period has survived precisely because of the distance that separated them: Ivanovich's letter of 26 June 1673 to Giovanni Maria Pagliardi, concerning their collaboration on Lismaco . The letter is given in Appendix II. 5.


Collaborative Talents

In Ferrari's tiny troupe, whose Andromeda and La maga fulminata had been the first operas in Venice, librettist, composer, and performers were closely linked—by geographical proximity, background, and common goal. Ferrari, being a musician himself, although he did not actually compose the music for either opera, was certainly sensitive to the requirements of music, and the collaboration between him and Manelli must have been worked out on an intimate, daily basis. Both text and music must also have been precisely fashioned to suit the abilities of the singers in the company. The multiple talents and responsibilities of the various members of the troupe—Ferrari, as we know, played the theorbo in the orchestra, and Manelli sang—bridged the boundaries not only between text and music but between creation and performance as well.

The relationship between librettist and composer was of course closer still in those subsequent operas for which Ferrari served as both: Armida (1639), Il pastor regio (1640), La ninfa avara (1641), and Il principe giardiniere (1644). Unfortunately, we are unable to evaluate the results, since none of these scores have survived.[2] Although a number of composers began their operatic careers as singers, including Manelli, Cesti, and Boretti,[3] few of them combined Ferrari's publicly recognized "multiplici virtù," which suggested comparison to "un mostro diversamente simile alla chimera,"[4] and made him an ideal maker of operas. But he considered himself primarily a musician rather than a poet, claiming that his most important attribute as a writer was knowing what kind of poetry was best suited to musical setting.[5] To the extent that the two can be

[2] An example of Ferrari's dual efforts in the chamber music field, his Musiche e poesie varie , vol. 3 (1641), has survived, but it has not yet been scrutinized from this perspective.

[3] Cesti's first operatic role may have been as either Egeo or Dema in the Florentine performance of Cavalli's Giasone in 1650; he also appeared in a performance in Lucca in the same year. See Lorenzo Bianconi, "Cesti," DBI 24 (Rome, 1980): 283; also Francesco Sbarra's letter to Michel'Angelo Torcigliani, printed as a preface to his Alessandro vincitor di se stesso (1651) (partly reproduced in Appendix I.29). Giovanni Antonio Boretti (not Guido Antonio, who appeared in Andromeda in 1637) performed in Ziani's and Aureli's Le fortune di Rodope e Damira in Turin in 1662; see Rosand, "Boretti."

[4] The expression comes from Fusconi's prefatory letter in Ferrari's Argomento e scenario del principe giardiniero (1643). Composer-librettists were definitely a rare breed. After Ferrari, no such figure appeared in connection with Venetian opera until Romolo Pignatta, whose Asmiro re di Corinto was performed at the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1696 (see Magini, "Indagini," 425). Among the few others, active elsewhere, were two singers, both castratos: Giovanni Andrea Angelini Bontempi, who wrote both words and music of his Paride (Dresden, 1662) (see Colin Timms, "Bontempi," New Grove , 3: 37-38), and Francesco Antonio Pistocchi. Because of his diverse talents, Pistocchi was considered an ideal operatic poet by the Arcadian critic Pier Jacopo Martello (see his Della tragedia antica e moderna [Rome, 1715], "Sessione quinta," in Piero Weiss, "Pier Jacopo Martello on Opera [1715]: An Annotated Translation," MQ 66 [1980]: 378-403, esp. 386 and n. 8). The Roman theater manager Filippo Acciaiuoli is supposed to have written both words and music of the opera Chi è cagion del suo mal pianga se stesso (Rome, 1682); see Thomas Walker, "Acciaiuoli," New Grove , 1: 33-34.

[5] As he declared in his preface to the Bologna edition of Il pastor regio in 1641: "I don't care about being a poet, but I profess myself to be a good musician, and to know what kind of poetry is best suited to music" (Appendix I.5a).


separated, then, the composer in Ferrari clearly held sway over the poet. His self-evaluation reveals his attitude toward the relative importance and stature of music and text, at least in his own works. That attitude, the subservience of text to music, or of the librettist to the composer, is reflected more generally, though only fleetingly, in the operas of his time.

Indeed, several early composers of Venetian opera, although they may not have shared Ferrari's poetic skills, exercised control over their poets in various ways. The most striking example, of course, is Monteverdi, whose influence on the texts of his operas was fundamental. His famous lessons to Giulio Strozzi, revealed in letters he wrote concerning their collaboration on La finta pazza Licori , involved dramatic issues as fundamental as plot structure, characterization, and verisimilitude.[6] Monteverdi also instructed his other poets in the art of libretto-writing, although our evidence for this is somewhat more indirect. One of them, the anonymous author of Le nozze d'Enea , confessed to having made a number of changes in his text in order to suit Monteverdi's style: "I have shunned remote thoughts and concepts and rather been attentive to the affections, as Signor Monteverdi wishes, and in order to please him I have also changed and omitted many of the things I had originally included" (Appendix I.9g). Another, Badoaro, gained his education in retrospect, claiming that he hardly recognized his Ritorno d'Ulisse in Monteverdi's setting because of the many changes made by the composer.[7]

To be sure, Monteverdi, like Ferrari, represents a special case, though in a different way. His long experience and many successes had earned him a reputation as the greatest opera composer in Italy. He was credited by at least one seventeenth-century observer as having been the moving force behind the development of opera in Venice, although his participation in the Venetian opera scene was delayed somewhat, as we have already noted.[8] Furthermore, Monteverdi's commitment to the ideals of the seconda prattica placed him in a special position with regard to words. In order to investigate fully the power of his music to communicate feeling through text, Monteverdi essentially had to create the text himself, often using what was provided by the poet as a skeleton to be fleshed out with repetitions, cuts, emphases, and so on (this will be examined further in chapter 9).[9]

[6] This correspondence is discussed more fully in ch. 11 below.

[7] Badoaro made this confession in the letter to the composer that prefaces one of the manuscript librettos of Il ritorno d'Ulisse , quoted in Appendix I.7c.

[8] See ch. I, pp. 15-17 and n. 19, above.

[9] For Monteverdi's need to create his own text to compensate for inadequacies in the poetry, see Gary Tomlinson, "Madrigal, Monody, and Monteverdi's via naturale alla immitatione," JAMS 34 (1981): 60-108. A more positive view of Monteverdi's intention is offered in Ellen Rosand, "Monteverdi's Mimetic Art: L'incoronazione di Poppea," Cambridge Opera Journal 1 (1989): 113-37.


Close working relationships seem also to have existed between other early composers and their librettists. Cavalli, for example, exercising his prerogative as impresario in some cases and in others his position as the most important and respected opera composer in Venice after Monteverdi, personally commissioned or arranged for many poets to write for him: these included Persiani, Busenello, Faustini, Melosio, Minato, and Aureli.[10] They, in turn, knowing the composer for whom they were writing, could fashion their texts to suit him. Indeed, the scores of a number of Cavalli's operas reveal that the music actually took shape along with the text—much as we imagine the Ferrari-Manelli creations to have emerged. Several, including Veremonda (1653), Xerse (1654), Statira (1655), and Arternisia (1656), preserve earlier versions of the text than those in the printed librettos, whose development out of those earlier versions can be traced in the scores themselves.[11]

In a more general way, Cavalli's long-term working relationship with Giovanni Faustini, which produced at least ten operas, must have influenced the poet's style. Faustini's lengthy affective monologues in versi sciolti punctuated by refrains may well have been written to suit Cavalli's gifts as a composer of expressive recitative. Furthermore, Faustini's practice (though hardly his alone) of postponing resolution of his complex plots until the final scene, immediately preceded, even triggered, by a protagonist's lament, may have developed in response to Cavalli's skill at composing affective laments in a mixed recitative-aria style.

The librettos of Cavalli's only other steady collaborator, Minato--who may have been coerced by the composer into writing texts for him[12] —were in various respects modeled on those of Faustini; he too punctuated lengthy monologues by refrains and wrote short strophic texts to be set as arias as well as extended lament texts. The composer indicated his appreciation of Minato in his response to Marco Faustini's request for new works in 1662. In a letter to the impresario of 8 August (Appendix IIIA. 3), he explained that he had decided to abandon operatic composition altogether, but that Minato's insistence had persuaded him to change his mind.[13]

[10] Busenello in fact seems to have written differently for Monteverdi than he did for Cavalli (see ch. 9). For Melosio's relationship to Cavalli, see Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 331-34; for that of Faustini, Minato, and Aureli, see below. Cesti's relationship with Beregan, the author of several of his librettos, is documented in a series of letters from the composer; for an example, see below, n. 72.

[11] See Jeffery, "Autograph Manuscripts," 262. The process of alteration is particularly clear in the aria "D'Ermosilla giovinetta" in Starira (I-Vnm, It. IV, 372 [9896], f. 17 libretto, p. 30) (Jeffery, 227). See also the opening aria of Xerse (I-Vnm, It. IV, 374 [9898], ff. 1-2") and the second ending of Hipermestra (I-Vnm, It. IV, 362 [9886], ff. 134-37). The accidental nature of the preservation of these—or any—scores suggests that similar documentation must have existed in others. For Artemisia , see below, p. 218 and n. 69.

[12] Minato's "Sappi, ch'io non fò del Poeta . . ." (Orimonte preface, quoted above, ch. 6, p. 168, n. 29) may suggest some sort of mild coercion.

[13] For Cavalli's collaborations with Minato, seeEdward Raymond Rutschman, "The Minato-Cavalli Operas: The Search for Structure in Libretto and Solo Scene" (Ph.D. diss., University of Washington, 1979); also id., "Minato and the Venetian Opera Libretto," CM 27 (1982): 84-91; and Martha Clinkscale, "Pier Francesco Cavalli's Xerse " (Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1970).


While Cavalli's impact on Minato's texts can only be inferred, his specific influence on a third librettist, Aureli, is documented. The young Aureli consciously modeled Erismena (1655), his second libretto, on the style of Cavalli's regular librettist, the recently deceased Faustini, even borrowing a lengthy passage from Faustini's Ormindo . The borrowing, from an opera Cavalli had set to music more than a decade earlier, was certainly the cornposer's idea, since he used his old music, a particularly moving lament dialogue, in the new context. Erismena became one of the most successful operas of the entire century.[14]

Cavalli was the last (possibly the only) composer of the period to wield power as an impresario. The rapidly increasing complexity of the operatic scene must have made that role unbearable to him, for he gave it up quite early in his operatic career, choosing to work under contract, first with Bortolo Castoreo and others at S. Cassiano, then with Giovanni Faustini at S. Apollinare and with Marco Faustini at S. Cassiano and SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and finally with Mi-nato at S. Salvatore.[15] Even after he renounced his managerial responsibilities, his reputation was sufficient to assure his continued aesthetic control over his subsequent works, but his early shift from employer to employee was one sign of more general adjustments in the operatic hierarchy, of the decline in the composer's comparative status with respect to the librettist—and soon the singer.

Three special individuals—Ferrari, the composer-librettist, Monteverdi, the "creator of opera," and Cavalli, the dean of Venetian opera composers and its leading businessman[16] —maintained the power of the composer somewhat artificially. Competing forces gradually undermined that power, however. Perhaps this change was part of what Ferrari had in mind when he complained so poignantly, already in 1643, that he felt obsolete:

Although a veteran of scenic compositions, I am distressed by the refinement of the century, its factions torment me, but virtue, in the end, is a sun that, despite the clouds of passion surrounding it, never ceases to shine. These days musical theaters attract the most melodious swans; and sirens yearn to be angelic instead

[14] Cf. above, ch. 6, p. 157 and n. 13. The only other Cavalli setting of an Aureli libretto, Eliogabalo , was never performed. It was the last work scheduled by Marco Faustini for SS. Giovanni e Paolo. For the possibility that the work was canceled because the music was considered too old-fashioned, see ch. 8 below.

[15] Cavalli's career as impresario at S. Cassiano, which lasted from 1638 (contract signed 14 April) until 1644 (document signed 4 June), is outlined and documented in Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 97-120. He seems also to have acted in a managerial capacity at S. Moisè, where his Amore innamorato was produced in 1642 (see Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 333-34).

[16] Cavalli's considerable business dealings are detailed in Glover, Cavalli , ch. 1, and Morelli and Walker, "Tre Controversie."


of maritime. . . . With your usual kindness, forgive the defects of my Giardiniere , of my music, and of my theorbo. (Appendix I.4)

The death of Monteverdi, Cavalli's withdrawal from managerial duties, and Ferrari's lament about the changing order of things, all of which occurred around the same time, mark a shift. During the course of the 1640s, the various mechanisms of propaganda used to stimulate the growth of opera in Venice, in particular the printing press, focused with increasing exclusivity on the new professional librettist.

As printed scenarios, librettos, and reports of performances make increasingly clear, the librettist was considered "l'auttore." It was his text that was immortalized through print—usually, as we know, at his own expense (Appendix II.6bb)—and his name that was associated with the opera in the mind of the public. He was usually the recipient of any laudatory sonnets printed in the libretto, though an occasional singer or composer might be eulogized in the same way (often by the librettist himself). The librettist's preeminence, even as late as 1671, was recognized in the following praise of Nicolò Beregan:

The opera of Sig. Nicola [i.e., Heraclio ] is so beautiful that it never becomes tedious. So lofty is its governing idea that Sig. Nicola has been deified in that theater [SS. Giovanni e Paolo], where without his say-so no new production will be undertaken, and if he invents new worlds of exquisiteness, everyone will converge to admire him, since there is really no one comparable to him in invention, magnificence, and summit [Piramide ] of imagination. (Appendix IIIB.6)[17]

It was also the poor librettist who had to bear the brunt of the public's fickleness, to respond to the taste for novelty, and to produce a constant stream of texts rapidly, on demand.[18] Librettists often compounded their responsibility and control over operatic productions by assuming the duties of impresario—as both investors and organizers. Indeed, unlike the composers, Cavalli being a temporary exception, most of the early librettists, including Ferrari, Faustini, Minato, Aureli, Beregan, and Pietro Dolfin, were involved in theater management as well.[19]

[17] "Piramide," literally "pyramid," which might be translated as "glory," was Beregan's nickname.

[18] The pressures on librettists are amply documented in various letters to Johann Friedrich from his secretary Massi. In one (Appendix IIIB.23) he detailed the many problems faced by Pietro Dolfin in trying to put on one of his operas at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and concluded that he "would never counsel a friend of his to produce operas in Venice." Even though their works were performed regularly, unless they belonged to the patrician class, librettists apparently had trouble making ends meet. In another letter (Appendix IIIB.1), Massi asked Johann Friedrich for some extra funds to sustain Aureli in his time of need.

[19] Among other librettists involved as impresarios were Bortolo Castoreo (author of Armidoro [1651] for S. Cassiano) and at least some of the Incogniti, such as Badoaro (at the Novissimo). Marco Faustini, as we know, was not a librettist, but Vincenzo Grimani, one of the brothers who took over his responsibilities at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, was. Santurini, impresario at S. Moisè, began his theatrical career as a scenographer. The next importantcomposer to function in the capacity of impresario after Cavalli seems to have been Antonio Vivaldi. Librettists sometimes performed the functions of impresarios in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. See John Rosselli, The Opera Industry in Italy from Cimarosa to Verdi: The Role of the Impresario (Cambridge, 1984).


Obviously, composers did not completely lose their influence on the work, even in the eyes of the public. And their names were often included on the title pages of librettos or mentioned in prefaces, almost always in positive, if rather conventional, terms: the composer, variously called the Apollo (Monteverdi, Cavalli, Sartorio, Boretti) or the Amphion (Cavalli, Ziani) of the century, or else the Sun (Monteverdi and Cavalli) or the Moon (Sacrati), often covered or minimized the imperfections, enlivened the inanimate corpse, or sweetened the bitterness of the libretto;[20] or he may have honored, enriched, ennobled, adorned, illustrated, or otherwise favored it.

Composers, as well as scene designers, costumers, and singers—the most obvious creators of pure spectacle—were presumably mentioned in the hope that their names would attract the crowds and thus guarantee the commercial success of an opera.[21] To that end, various flattering biographical details were occasionally supplied, such as the fact that a composer served one or another princely patron. But in more than half the librettos printed between 1637 and 1675, composers' names did not appear at all. We have seen that Giovanni Faustini completed a number of librettos for which no specific productions had yet been planned. They were written for performances in the indefinite future, in a theater and with a cast and composer as yet unknown. Although Faustini was especially industrious, the dissociation between libretto and eventual setting was becoming increasingly characteristic of opera. Librettists, under pressure to produce works quickly, and assured of a steady market, began to write and print texts ahead of time, often before all of the other arrangements for a production could be concluded.

Librettists' Tribulations

Geographical separation, difficulties with last-minute arrangements—the hiring of singers, the completion of the score—all this placed a severe strain on everyone concerned in operatic production. If in many cases librettos were written before composers had been engaged to set them, in others librettists had to write their texts with composers breathing down their necks. Both situations were symptoms of the same disease: the lack of coordination between supply and demand that resulted from the institutionalization of opera.

[20] See, for example, the prefaces of Amore innamorato, Bellerofonte, Erismena , and Antigona . The famous comparison of Monteverdi's sun to Sacrati's moon occurs in the preface to Badoaro's Ulisse errante (1644) (Appendix I.81).

[21] It is thus perhaps somewhat surprising, given his reputation at the time, that Monteverdi's name is nowhere mentioned in the Poppea scenario—but then again, neither is Busenello's.


Time was sometimes so short that composers were forced to begin setting librettos before they had been completed, presumably without even having read the whole text. A number of librettists remarked defensively on the conditions that forced such piecemeal settings. One (Francesco Sbarra) complained publicly to a friend that because of illness and the pressures of a deadline for performance, he had to send his text off immediately to be set (by Cesti):

Because I didn't have even the minimum time necessary to check it over, I had to allow it to be placed under the notes in the very same form in which I sketched it. Furthermore, since it ended up being too long for the music, it had to be shortened, and consequently it can only have been mangled; and they tell me that they had to print it in that form. (Appendix I.29c)

And he begged his friend to see to it that the libretto was corrected before being printed:

I appeal to Your Lordship to do me the favor of checking this work and altering it as you see fit before it is printed. . . . You will find many errors of language, numerous weaknesses and harshnesses in the poetry, and in the humor an infinity of our local idioms that are unsuitable elsewhere, in addition to many dissonances caused by the shortening of the work. (Appendix I.29d)[22]

Perhaps the most vivid description of piecemeal composition was that by the librettist of Hipsicratea (1660), Giovanni Maria Milcetti:

This work was written in Badia delle Carceri and from there sent, page by page, to Murano, whereupon it was immediately structured into scenes. Anyone who knows the distances between the two places will not be surprised by the differences in poetic structure and words between the printed libretto and the opera performed in the theater, because, in effect, even before the poetry was finished and organized it was already being set to music, and the sinfonie were already being sung. (Appendix I.53a)[23]

As usual, rhetoric mixes with reality in these complaints. Like the librettists' common disavowal of serious commitment to writing, the excuse of "l'angustia del tempo" was part of their characteristically apologetic preemptive strategy. In an amusing variation on this approach, a few authors admitted to inordinately long gestation periods for their librettos. Matteo Noris's first libretto, Zenobia (1666), for example, took him four years to write, while Be-

[22] Alessandro vincitor di se stesso (1651), "Lettera dell'autore al signor Michel'Angelo Torcigliani." According to the same letter, Sbarra designed his work for a specific troupe, Cesti's, which he had seen in Lucca (see Appendix I. 29a); therefore he wrote the correct number of parts—not always possible for a librettist to do.

[23] Milcetti may have been writing from Carceri, a town in the Basso Veneto near Este. It is not clear to what "la Badia delle Carceri" refers.


regan claimed that his second libretto, Tito (1666), took five.[24] The seriousness of long-term commitment was evidently deemed as admirable as the sprezzatura of speedy composition.

Whether or not they wrote under pressure of time, librettists had to be ready to make changes in their texts, either at the request of the composer or in response to the requirements of a particular performance. It is quite clear from a variety of evidence that it was only during the rehearsal period that an opera took its final (though not necessarily permanent) shape. The librettist as well as the composer was expected to attend rehearsals in order to accommodate these alterations. In one instance the author of Adone (1639), Paolo Vendramin, wrote to the composer, Manelli, explaining that he could not be present for the rehearsals, and charged him with the responsibility of overseeing the production: "It will be up to you to lend it that study and that diligence that I could not, and which is required when producing an opera in Venice."[25] In another instance, the librettist Francesco Piccoli "being unable to assist in the completion . . . nor in the alterations, indeed changes, required by the staging" of his L'incostanza trionfante overo il Theseo (1658), it was necessary to engage another librettist for the final changes.[26]

In a note at the end of his Hipsicratea (1660), the author Milcetti asked the composer Don Pietro Molinari to add some arias to his text because he was unavailable for final alterations:

Since distance does not allow me to be around to see to the needs of my drama, I am happy that Your Lordship will insert the songs [canzonette ] that you describe. I beg you to mark them in the margins with a star or with double commas, as is the custom. I say this because I do not like to dress what is mine in others' ornaments; thus I will be extremely glad if the difference is clear. (Appendix I. 53b)[27]

[24] "Sono anni quattro in circa, che hò delineato questo, mio parto . . . . Fino ad ora si è nascosto per non lasciarsi vedere cosi imperfetto, e deforme, & al presente arroscisse anco sù la candidezza de fogli. E si conosce senza senno nel comparire su le publiche Scene" (Zenobia , preface); "Dio voglla . . . che questo Drama, composto nello spatio d'un lustro, ancorche concepito da Elefante, non sortisca una vita da Efemera" (Tito , preface). Tito , which Beregan must have begun sometime around 1661, was still not ready to be set to music by 12 July 1665, but that was six full months before it was scheduled to be performed; see Cesti's letter to Beregan in Giazotto, "Cesti," 499.

[25] "Toccherà a lei di darh quello studio, e quella diligenza, che io non hò potuto, e che merita il far recitare un'Opera à Venezia" (Adotie , preface, 6). Vendramin had legal reasons for not coming to Venice at the time; see Arthur Livingston, "Una scap-patella di Polo Vendramin e un sonetto di Gian Francesco Busenello," Fanfulla della Domenica , 24 September 1911, and Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 422 n. 178.

[26] "non potendo egli assistere alia perfettione dell'Opera ne' alle alterationi, anzi diversificationi necessitate dalla pratica della Scena" (Theseo , publisher's preface). This production was particularly difficult. It was the one Ziani complained about having had to revise ten times ("un Teseo fatto e rifatto dieci volte" [b. 188: 268]; also "un Teseo fatto e ri-fatto" [b. 188: 255]). The problems obviously did not begin at the rehearsals, but much earlier. They are evident, but can be unraveled only with difficulty, in the prefaces to the various versions of the libretto published during the inaugural season.

[27] Evidently the composer wrote the extra text too. Milcetti seems unusually moralistic in his discomfort at parading the poetry of another author as his own; more likely, he was worried about ruining his reputation, particularly if the new text proved inferior.


Composers must often have been required to add text, particularly for arias. In sending his libretto Lismaco to its composer, Giovanni Maria Pagliardi, Ivanovich encouraged him to make whatever changes he thought necessary:

If you find some emotion [affetto ] in the recitative that can be reduced to a cavata , don't hesitate to do so, since anything that stands out unexpectedly is pleasing. As far as the number of ariette is concerned, to be arranged with their sinfonie , use your discretion, with due attention to the brevity that is so important here [in Venice]. (Appendix II.5b)

The numerous textual alterations that occurred either at the time of setting to music or during rehearsals created a special problem at the publication stage. If printed librettos, like their less expensive predecessors the scenarios, were to be of use to the audience in the theater, they had to correspond to tire work being performed on stage. This was rendered difficult by the length of librettos—too long to be printed in the period, at most a matter of a few days, between rehearsals and premiere. As it was, librettos often did not come off the press until the very last minute.[28] Printers compensated for this difficulty by devising various methods of incorporating last-minute alterations. In fact, the frequency and extent of such changes is confirmed by the development of standard techniques for indicating them: the use of virgolette , which could be added on the printer's copy of the manuscript even at the last minute before typesetting, and brief stop-press additions, which could be set at the bottom of pages that had already been printed.

At first, at least, virgolette gave the clearest message: they indicated text that was not sung. I have already mentioned one of the earliest uses, that in the 1640 print of Rinuccini's Arianna , which followed the revival of Monteverdi's opera in that year. Although they were unexplained, the virgolette were placed next to passages that were obviously cut in the revival (nearly all of the choruses, as well as some of the dialogue)—those passages, in fact, that would have been anachronistic in Venice. The printer—and probably Monteverdi too—had edited the text according to Venetian usage ("secondo l'uso di Venezia"), without acknowledging as much.[29] At first it was usually recitative that was cut, but as the century wore on virgolette tended to appear next to second strophes of arias as well.[30] Although they retained their original function throughout the cen-

[28] A letter from Massi to Duke Johann Friedrich, dated 27 January 1672 [1673], indicates that the libretto of Massenzio was not ready until 3 A.M . on the morning of the premiere (Appendix IIIB. 17). Printers could run into trouble if they began publishing too soon, as in the case of Doriclea ; see ch. 6, pp. 192-93, above.

[29] "L'uso di Venezia," or "brevità veneta" (mentioned in the preface to Pasife as well as elsewhere) was one of the most frequent reasons given for cutting; others included adapting a play for sung rather than spoken performance (as in La finta savia and Torilda [see n. 33 below] and just plain fear of boring the audience ["per levare il tedio"]).

[30] It is difficult to draw chronological conclusions from the practice of cutting second strophes, however, since many second editions of librettos of the same period add strophes to arias.


tury, virgolette were also increasingly used to distinguish material added to a libretto by another hand.[31]

For more complicated situations, and when time did not allow for virgolette , librettists used the preface to explain discrepancies or else resorted to stop-press additions. Since these affected only a single page of type, they could presumably be produced at the very last minute, conceivably even on the day of the performance, even though librettos were stitched (though not bound). A note in the preface to Aureli's Gl'amori infrutuosi di Pirro (1661), for example, explained that the libretto had been printed too soon to incorporate virgolette .[32] The tightness of schedule is nicely illustrated by another Aureli libretto, La costanza di Rosmonda (1659), in which virgotette appear in the second and third acts only. A last-minute postscript explains the discrepancy: the first act had been printed before cuts were made so it appeared without virgolette , whereas the other two acts had been printed late enough to incorporate them (Appendix I.44a). Of course, we have no idea which lines of act I were affected; we know only that some were cut.

What postscripts lacked in specificity, however, they made up in flexibility, for they could convey many different kinds of information about a variety of last-minute changes, and not just cuts. Most important, they often justified such changes, thus providing valuable insight into aesthetic and practical considerations affecting opera production. At the end of his Delia (1639), for example, Strozzi informs the reader that his text has been altered by the composer, Manelli: "So that your eyes will agree with your ears, know, exquisite reader, that in representing the work more than three hundred lines have been omitted, in order not to abuse your courtesy" (Appendix I.15i). And then he proceeds to justify the cuts: "It is necessary that the poet abandon his ornaments, that is, his digressions and episodes, to make way for the singers' ornaments. Do not, therefore, fault the performers for doing what they have done the better to serve you" (Appendix I.15j). In one of his later librettos, La finta savia (1643), Strozzi again explains that the unusually lengthy text has been cut because it was too long for musical setting, having been written to be performed without music as well (Appendix I.18a).[33]

[31] As in Hipsicratea , mentioned above; virgolette were also used to differentiate the various hands in Ciro (1653-54), which was revised twice, and La schiava fortunata (1674), originally by Moniglia and Cesti, with new music by Marc'Antonio Ziani and new text, possibly, by Giulio Cesare Corradi (according to Ivanovich), among other instances.

[32] "[P]er non arrecarti tedio con la longhezza, si tralasciano molti versi, che per essere già stati stampati non s'hanno potuto segnar con i punti, onde ti prego a supplire con la velocità dello sguardo nella lettura" (Gl'amori infrutuosi di Pirro , preface).

[33] Perhaps surprisingly, in view of the qualms of the academic librettists discussed in ch. 2, Bissari's Torilda (1648) was one of the few other librettos that offered the option of spoken performance (according to a stop-press addition at the end of the 1648 libretto: "le Virgole poste nel margine segnano quel, che si può tralasciare in Recita musicale, come per altra Recita serve l'opera intiera").


Although some changes clearly occurred when the composer initially set the text to music and may have been justified by aesthetic considerations, many more must have been made at the last minute in response to specific performance conditions. In Veremonda (1653), for instance, several lines were added in a scene of the second act: "Since, owing to the distance of the Fort of Calpe, Zelamina and Zaida couldn't be understood, they have been made to come outside to speak, and then, having seen Delio, in respect for Giacutte, to go back in until he leaves. As a consequence, the following lines in the middle of act 2, scene 8, must be altered and added."[34]

Whereas librettist and composer had to make these small adjustments on the spot, some changes were effected simply by a new direction to the singer (with perhaps a record of it left in the libretto), as in La costanza di Rosmonda (1659): "In act 1, scene 14, where it says 'Clitennestra recites in a balcony,' it was thought better to have her appear on the stage in order to make her visible to the eyes of everyone, especially those seated in the boxes" (Appendix I.44b).

The preface to Aureli's Claudio Cesare (1672), finally, summarizes quite effectively the kinds of changes that took place during rehearsals and the typical librettist's attitude toward them:

After the libretto was printed and the opera rehearsed on stage, it was decided to cut various superfluous parts of it; therefore, you are urged kindly to pass over various lines and certain scenes, which for greater brevity have been cut, since we did not have the opportunity of doing so, the libretto already having been printed. Below you will also find three aria texts that have been changed; all of this information is given so that only what is read will be sung, thus bringing greater delight to the audience. You will appreciate the difficulties that composers [compositori , meaning composers and librettists] face today in satisfying not only the strange tastes of this city, but also the extravagant whims of the performers [i Signori Musici recitanti ]. (Appendix I.50b-c)

Composers' Obligations

The kinds of alterations that so preoccupied librettists were of less concern to composers; or at least their concern was less obvious. One reason for this difference was sociological. Librettists, however inadequate, casual, or amateurish they claimed to be, were educated in and practiced lettere : they were writers, whose words laid traditional claim to immortality, especially since the invention of the printing press, and whose capabilities were judged by well-

[34] "Perche, per la lontananza della Fortezza di Calpe, Zelamina, & Zaida non potevano esser intese, si fanno uscir fuori à parlare, e poi, veduto Delio, per rispetto di Giacutte, ritornar dentro , fin ch'egli parta. Però, si devono mutare, & aggiungere questi Versi nel mezzo della Scena Ottava dell'Atto Secondo." This information is provided in a note at the end of the libretto, probably by the producer, Balbi, who signed the preface. The four added lines are also given in the note.


established critical criteria. Composers, on the other hand, no matter how intelligent and well educated—and whatever the higher claims of music as theory—were essentially artisans, practitioners of a trade, for hire. Theirs was a service profession. Last-minute modifications determined by the demands of a patron, an occasion, or a particular performance site were a traditional part of their job. Such changes were, of course, more fundamental to the structure of librettos than of scores: they involved adding or subtracting characters, eliminating precious lines of poetry, metaphors, special turns of plot, and other such invenzioni . For composers the changes were minimal: a transposition here, an aria there.

Librettists might have been more relaxed had their works remained as ephemeral as opera scores or performances. It was the act of printing the libretto per se—a sign and consequence of institutionalization, as we have seen—that stimulated these writers' anxiety and caused them to express their concern so openly. Their professional identities (as well as their material profits) were embodied in the published work.

Librettos enjoyed an independent existence as printed texts. Scores did not; they were working documents, tied to the facts and moments of performance. Whereas it was to the librettist's advantage to distinguish between the composition and rehearsal stage in the development of his text, such a distinction was hardly relevant to the composer, for whom the two stages merged in the normal process of composition. Indeed, composition was not considered complete until the work had been readied for performance; the composer's presence at rehearsals was an integral part of his contract. This is clearly set forth in Cavalli's contract of 24 July 1658 with Marco Faustini at S. Cassiano, which stipulates that, in addition to providing one opera per year for three years himself ("con la diligenza et Virtù sua propria"), he "be present at all the rehearsals that are needed, and also to change parts, alter, cut, and add whatever is necessary in the music in the service of the opera" (Appendix IIIA.2).[35]

Although composers' scores are never as explicit as printed librettos in distinguishing between the stages of composition—between what took place before and what took place during rehearsals—they often record something of the composer's process, his methods of shaping and continually modifying his musical setting as he moved toward performance or even from one perfor-

[35] The contract is given in full in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 72. Cavalli's responsibilities were laid out in essentially the same way nearly ten years later in his final contract with Faustini, of 29 June 1667 (b. 194: 50): "dovendo assister alle prove et occorrendo anco aggiunger, alterare, et levare quelle cose, che fossero necessarie, et occorressero conforme alla sodisfazione d'esso Sig. Faustini, al quale doverano restare l'originali" (i.e., the score and parts). This was the contract for the ill-fated Eliogabalo . Here it is clearly spelled out that the composer did not have the rights to his score (cf. ch. 6, n. 77, above); also Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 237 n. 72. This contract is partially transcribed in Brunelli, "Angustie," 334-35.


mance to the next. Printed librettos, by their very fixity, help to shape speculation about the meanings of the scores to which they are connected. Differences between libretto and score might indicate that the score either represents a modification for a subsequent performance or an earlier stage of the libretto, which later was revised for publication by the poet; or again, the score might represent a later version that the poet could not or would not adopt for his published text.

These differences could, of course, have originated at the composition stage. Even during the early years of intimate collaboration, composers did not always set the poet's text exactly. We have already referred to important differences between Monteverdi's and Badoaro's versions of Il ritorno d'Ulisse . The scores of Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea , too, diverge considerably not only from Busenello's printed text and the several extant manuscript versions of the libretto but from the scenario as well.[36]

A number of Cavalli's scores are quite different from their printed librettos. Strophic texts are set non-strophically, both as arias and recitatives, refrain lines are added, and, of course, passages of text omitted. Such differences, however, probably more reflect the temporal relationship between extant score and printed libretto than any aesthetic question. These discrepancies would probably have disappeared if the libretto could have been printed late enough to include all last-minute alterations. On the other hand, they also reveal the kinds of changes Cavalli and, presumably, other composers normally made as they worked from a manuscript libretto, changes that might subsequently be incorporated in printed librettos. In the case of librettos printed before the works were performed, we can usually assume that most differences from the score reflect composers' changes. But if they were printed afterwards, as in Busenello's Delle hore ociose , which contains all of his librettos, we must also consider that the librettist may have revised his text in the interim, and that his original text, or one closer to it, is represented in the music.[37]

Since composers presumably had less of a stake in a precisely finished product than did librettists, and since it was part of their job to make continual adjustments and changes up to the last minute, many of the indignities librettists complained about were simply matters of course to them. Piecemeal composition, for example, which might have prevented librettists from editing or polishing their works to their own literary satisfaction, was more the rule than the exception for composers. They reported the receipt and dispatching of

[36] But, since we know that both scores are late, their differences from the librettos might have reflected changes made well after Monteverdi's death. On these differences, see Curtis, preface to L'incoronazione di Poppea , and id., "La Poppea impasticciata "; also Rosand, "Monteverdi's Mimetic Art," and id., "Seneca."

[37] Curtis, however, argues that Busenello's print is probably closest to his original text (preface to L'incoronazione di Poppea ).


single acts or groups of scenes of librettos and scores with apparent equanimity. Thus Ziani, writing to Faustini on 2 August 1665 about the ill-fated Doriclea (whose last-minute cancellation we have already discussed), reported that he had just sent him the music of act 1, but was awaiting the arrival of act 2 of the libretto so that he could begin to set it.[38] And Cesti exhibited similar nonchalance when he wrote on 21 June 1665 to Beregan, whose Tito he had been contracted to set, urging him to send act 1 as soon as it was ready, without waiting until the entire work was completed.[39] He made the same request again on 12 July. He must have received the text (and set it) by 2 August, when he reacted enthusiastically to the arrival of act 2 in another letter to Beregan: "I received the second act; it is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful."[40]

Composers' piecemeal settings routinely found their way to the singers (or impresario) in the same fashion. Cavalli sent the first act of his Hipermestra to Florence ahead of the others.[41] Cesti and Ziani both refer often to having sent off a single act or several scenes with the promise of the rest in due course. In a letter of 20 December 1666, Cesti writes that he has just mailed half of act 2 of Tito and hopes that act 1 has arrived, although it lacks the opening sinfonia ("la Sinfonia avanti s'alzi la tenda"), which he will write after having finished the opera "because it isn't so urgent at the moment" ("per non essere presentemente di tanta necessità")[42] Although piecemeal setting may not have bothered composers, it seems (reassuringly) to have had a negative effect on some singers, who were frustrated in their attempt to understand their parts. As we shall see, Nicola Coresi complained that he had received the wrong impression of his role in Meraspe from the excerpt he had been sent originally;[43] and Catterin'Angela Botteghi asked to see the whole libretto of the same opera so that she could understand better how to interpret her role.[44]

Composers may have taken piecemeal composition for granted, but they were not altogether insensitive to the time pressures that plagued librettists. Ziani lost no opportunity of reminding Faustini how he had saved the day by writing Annibale in Capua in five (or six) days.[45] Speed was his trademark, a characteristic both he and, apparently, his critics emphasized, though obviously

[38] Letter from Vienna (b. 188: 75) partially transcribed in Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 504-5.

[39] Letter from Innsbruck (b. 188: 119): "Quando havesse all'ordine tanto basterebbe mandarmi il 1º Atto" (Giazotto, "Cesti," 499).

[40] "Ho ricevuto il 2º Atto bellissimo, bellissimo, bellissimo." Letter from Innsbruck (b . 188: 76-80); see Giazotto, "Cesti," 501.

[41] According to letters from Atto Melani quoted in Lorenzo Bianconi, "Caletti," DBI 16 (Rome, 1973): 692 (I-Fas, Archivio Mediceo del Principato, F. 5452, cc. 747-48, and F. 5453, cc. 595-96).

[42] Letter to Beregan (b . 194: 138); see Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 459, and Giazotto, "Cesti," 507. In the end, the sinfonia, in three parts, was pieced together from several of his earlier operas; see Schmidt, 459 n. 49.

[43] Letter from Rome, 13 August 1667 (b . 188: 166); see Brunelli, "Angustie," 337; also ch. 8 below.

[44] Letter from Florence, 27 August 1667 (b . 188: 170); see Brunelli, "Angustie," 339.

[45] Letters of 25 July 1665 (b . 188: 82) and 9 May and 10 July 1666 (b . 188: 279, 269); transcribed in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 78-79.


for opposite purposes. Ziani regarded his facility ("solita facilità") as an inimitable quality,[46] which he invoked ironically in a request to Faustini for payment ("I write quickly but am paid slowly") as well as to counter criticism of his works: "If my arias are, have been, and will have been good, for the theater as well as for church, all of them pass under the same rush in the making."[47] He imputed to the envy of his competitors the accusation of his having written Alciade while in transit from Innsbruck to Venice, yet he himself described some music he was sending to Faustini as "another piece of an opera completed by me in transit."[48]

Ziani was especially famous (or infamous) for his speed, but other composers could work just as quickly when necessary—though they and their supporters did not hesitate to exaggerate such feats. Sartorio, for example, was reported to have set Bussani's Massenzio in thirteen days, although it probably took him closer to a month.[49] Whereas Sartorio survived the pressure and even profited from it in enhanced reputation, not all composers were so resilient. One of them, Giovanni Antonio Boretti, reportedly even died from the anxieties of readying an opera for production: "Poor Gio Ant Borretti . . . died yesterday after two weeks of sickness caused by readying his opera for production" (Appendix IIIB.11c).[50]

Although they were often at the mercy of circumstances beyond their control, composers, like their librettist colleagues, recognized the difference between working at leisure and under pressure. Cesti, for example, who complained about having to compose five acts of Il potno d'oro in six weeks, wrote

[46] "Non so se le fatiche continue di questo Paese di tal uno, apporterà a lei pregiudizio se pure la pre-stezza del operate del Ziani non dasse motivo ad altri d'imitarlo e superarlo." Letter of 10 July 1666 (b . 188: 269); transcribed in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 79.

[47] "Il mio scrivere è presto, ma son tardi pagato. . . . Se le mie arie sono, sono state e saranno state buone sì per teatro come per le chiese tutte passano soto alla medema fretta nell'operatione." Letter of 9 May 1666 (b . 188: 279); transcribed in Quellen-texte , ed. Becker, 78.

[48] "Bugiardi e maligni sono quelli che tassano Alciade fatto per viaggio (che non è veto però) ma se fosse stato fatto anco sopra alle zangole gli farei un presente della sedia e a suo dispetto farò sempre buona riuscita" (ibid.). "Gli mando un altro pezzo d'opera fatto da me in viaggio." Letter of 3 November 1665 from Innsbruck (b . 188: 226), not included in Giazotto's inventory but identified as Ziani's in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 459 n. 47.

[49] He actually composed it between 23 December 1672 and 25 January 1673. The date of completion is established by a letter of 20 January 1672 [1673] from Dolfin to Duke Johann Friedrich (Appendix IIIB. 16). The letter reports that the premiere of Massenzio was scheduled for the following Wednesday. Since 20 January was a Friday in 1673, the following Wednesday would have been 25 January. According to the same author, writing on 23 December, Sartorio began writing the opera on that date (Appendix IIIB. 10); Dolfin subsequently reported that it had taken Sartorio only thirteen days to complete the work (letter of 3 February 1673, Appendix IIIB. 18).

[50] It is not clear whether Boretti's problems were caused by Claudio Cesare or Domitiano , or both, since they seem to have been intended for the same season; the dedications of both librettos are dated 27 December 1672, but Bonlini lists Claudio Cesare for 1672 (along with Adelaide ) and Domitiano alone for 1673. A second edition of the latter libretto, however, alludes to difficulties with the season: "In quest'anno gl'accidenti han variato gl'ordini nelle Rappresentationi del Drama; onde la mid debolezza non ti com-parirà sù la Scena, colpo del caso, che in ogni cosa ne hà parte," confirming that Domitiano was the fatal work. Furthermore, it was plagued with difficulties created by a poor cast (see Appendix IIIB.13).


appreciatively to his librettist Beregan about being able to take his time over Tito , working at the relaxed pace of one act per month: "When one can enjoy the benefit of time, things come out much better."[51] In the event, however, he did not finish the opera any too soon—in fact, not until 17 January, less than a month before the premiere at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[52]

The main source of trouble for composers, as for librettists, was the time it took to negotiate with the singers. It is clear that casts were often not fully assembled until well after the librettist and composer would have had to begin work. Librettists could still manage with a fairly general notion of the cast; some idea as to the number and relative importance of the singers would suffice for an initial draft of the text, which could be modified later. Giovanni Faustini, we remember, had sketched a number of librettos without knowing who would perform (or even set) them. It was unthinkable, however, for a composer to begin work before he knew at least the ranges of the voices for which he was writing. In the early days of the stable, continuous companies of Ferrari-Manelli, Cavalli-Faustini, and Sacrati, this was not a problem, and there were even periods of stability later in the century, when casts carried over from one season to the next.

But last-minute hiring and cast changes were increasingly the rule.[53] Composing Alciade (1666), Ziani had to make several decisions on his own ("in order not to lose time") because Faustini had not informed him of the cast in time. He wrote the role of the boatman (Nocchiero ) for the bass singer (who otherwise had a very small part and could evidently double here) and Lerilda for a soprano (of which Faustini had several to choose from). And he asked for information on the voice for the "Vecchia" Clipea in act 3, not indicated by Faustini, having assigned it, in the interim, to the soprano who also played Idiotea—and who, he said, had not appeared on stage for a while (Appendix IIIA.10). Even in parts that had been cast, however, he was forced to make a number of alterations in response to last-minute substitutions or even careless assumptions: octave

[51] "Quando si gode il benefizio del tempo, le cose riescon molto meglio." Letter of 16 August 1665 (b . 188: 88-89), transcribed in Giazotto, "Cesti," 503-4; the contents of this letter are summarized in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 456. While Giazotto claims that this letter was addressed to Faustini, Schmidt assumes, more convincingly, that the recipient was Beregan.

[52] Letter of 17 January 1666 (b . 188; 305, 344). The dedication of the libretto was signed 13 February 1666; see Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 460. From Ziani's letters to Faustini of 3 April and 9 May 1666 (b . 188: 255-56 , 279-80) we learn that the music and the performers of Tito had been well enough received, but that the libretto had been criticized, and that Faustini's profits had not been particularly high. These letters are summarized in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 462-63, and partially transcribed in Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 506. For the letter of 9 May, see Appendix IIIA.11.

[53] This is documented repeatedly in the Faustini papers as well as in the correspondence of Duke Johann Friedrich's Venetian agents. See, for example, the letter of 30 December 1672 from Dolfin in which he mentions the possibility that his singer, Lucretia, might have had to learn a part in two days (Appendix IIIB. 11a).


transposition of one role (Guerra) from baritone to alto, and transposition a fourth or fifth lower to suit the alto performer of the messenger (Nuntio Messo ) in Doriclea , which he had originally scored for soprano.[54]

Cesti, too, repeatedly requested information about the intended singers for his Tito , at one point asking specifically who would sing the hunter (Cacciator ) in the final scene of act 2, "because there is no indication."[55] At another point he made a revealing suggestion of his own, that instead of two sopranos and a contralto, it would be better to have a lower voice, either tenor or baritone, "because in the most beautiful scenes diversity of voices seems much better, and if the scene between Domitiano and Berenice, as it is, scored for two sopranos, were sung by two different voice parts, it would stand out marvelously, and I am taking into account that with the two Amorini there will be nine sopranos."[56]

The information requested by both Ziani and Cesti evidently concerned minor roles, many of which involved decisions about doubling. Clearly the major roles would have been assigned earlier. Normally, casts were decided upon several months before the beginning of a season—usually by August—with singers scheduled to arrive in Venice, parts learned, by mid November at the latest—that is, about six weeks before the premiere, when rehearsals began.[57] The planning of special stage effects and the construction of machinery

[54] Letter of 3 November 1665 (b . 188: 226). Ziani had written nearly the entire role of Euristo in Akiade for soprano, not realizing that the singer was an alto. He finished it in the proper range and presumably altered the part already written (Appendix IIIA.11). Changes like these are reflected in a number of scores in the Contarini collection, especially Poppea, Calisto , and Xerse , though they may just as easily be for revivals as for last-minute cast changes. There is some confusion about this letter. Giazotto fails to mention it but lists another one, of 13 December 1665 (b. 194: 116), which he says concerns the types of voices to be used for Doriclea ("La guerra dei palchi," 507).

[55] "perche non v'è alcun segno" (letter of 16 August 1665 [b . 188: 88-89]); see Giazotto, "Cesti," 504, and the discussion in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 455-56.

[56] "perche nelle scene più belle paria molto meglio la diversità delle voci, e se la scena fra Domitiano e Berenice, come è fatta in duoi soprani, fosse cantata con due patti diverse, spiccherebbe a meraviglia; e considero che saranno con li duoi Amorini in numero 9 soprani." Letter to Beregan of 2 August 1665 (b . 188: 76-80); see Giazotto, "Cesti," 501. The contents of this letter are discussed in Schmidt, "The Tito Commission," 452-53.

[57] This timetable is generally supported by the Faustini correspondence with singers. For example, according to a letter from her husband Nicola, dated 27 August 1667, Antonia Coresi (or Tonina) knew her part well enough to go on stage the very next day: "sa la parte in maniera che ancora per lei si potrebbe andar domani in scena" (b. 188: 166; in Brunelli, "Angustie," 338). Many reports from Venice document that rehearsals were taking place during November. "Qua siva concertando le opere," writes Massi, for example, in a letter to Johann Friedrich, 28 November 1670 (vol. 4, no. 627, f. 216). A particularly late contract was the one signed by Faustini with Pietro Lucini on 11 November 1665 (b . 194: 53; see Brunelli, "Angustie," 325; also Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 458 n. 46). The panic expressed in Alvise Duodo's letter to Faustini of 5 November 1658 is understandable. He reports that the costumes are not being worked on, what musicians there are have not received their parts, and "God knows an opera can't be performed in this form." And he reminds Faustini that, to top it all off, one of the principal parts has not even been assigned yet; nor has anything been heard from the Roman contralto to whom thirty scudi have already been advanced (b. 188: 19-2o); text in Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 224 n. 47.


probably began before the singers arrived—in October.[58] But there were often troublesome exceptions. Long-distance negotiations with at least one singer, the much-sought-after castrato Ciecolino (Antonio Rivani), were still in progress on 17 November 1670, a mere month before the season was to begin.[59] Two years later the same difficult singer did not arrive in Venice until late December, after the season had started, "tardi per recitare," but not too late to appear in at least some performances.[60]

Although negotiations with singers often concluded surprisingly close to the beginning of the season, there was apparently considerable flexibility with respect to the actual date of opening night for a work. Traditionally, of course, the season coincided with Carnival, which began the day after Christmas, and most opera houses opened as close to that time as possible. We noted earlier how Marco Faustini tried to move the opening day of SS. Giovanni e Paolo forward by some two weeks in 1666 in order to seize the advantage from his competition.[61] Later in the century, openings in early December or even late November were not uncommon, particularly in years when Carnival was unusually short.[62] Theater managers could hardly be blamed for wanting to squeeze more performances into a season.

[58] Letter from Massi to Johann Friedrich, 5 October 1670 (vol. 4, no. 627, f. 200): "Si va ogni giorno più fissamente pensando all'opera, si assoldano musici, e siva inventando nuove mutanze nell'ordine del Theatro. Tengono che in quest'anno si vedranno cose fuori dell'ordinario." Contracts with scene designers were often the first to be signed. Faustini signed one with Gasparo Mauro on 8 March 1665 for Tito and Doriclea (b . 188: 109), transcribed in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 444 n. 9, and a month later, on 8 April 1665, he signed a three-year contract with Horatio Franchi in which the latter agreed to produce costumes for two operas per year at the annual salary of 800 ducats (the figure is comparatively high because Franchi was required to supply the materials himself [b. 194: 42]). But negotiations with a few singers for the same season were concluded even earlier: contracts with Nicola Coresi and Sebastian Cioni were dated 17 February and 7 March 1665, respectively. See Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 445 n. II.

[59] Letter from Massi, 17 November 1670 (vol. 4, no. 627, f. 211 ): "sono qui cominciate le comedie a San Samuele, e qua Cecolino al quale hanno offerte dobble 250; ma lui non vuol recitare se non sono almeno 300." Ciecolino, or Ciccolino, had been employed by the duke of Savoy since 1668, when he precipitously left the service of Queen Christina in Rome. During the 1650s his patron was Cardinal Gian Carlo de' Medici of Florence. See Rosselli, "From Princely Service," 7.

[60] See letters from Massi of 9 December 1672 (Appendix IIIB.8), 30 December 1672 (IIIB.11b), and 13 January 1673 (IIIB.15). Late arrivals were obviously not uncommon, as illustrated by the case of a Signor Clemente, whose late arrival forced Aureli to carve a new role out of existing text in an opera that had already been cast: "per essere il Sagnor Clemente arrivato in tempo ch'erano già dispensate le parti del Drama, m'è convenuto inserirlo nell'uno, e nell'altro al meglio, che hà potuto permettere la brevità del tempo; havendo havuto un solo riguardo, di non privarti del godimento della voce di un Virtuoso si insigne" ( Gl'amori infrutuosi di Pirro , preface). This singer may have been the Antonio Clementi who played Berecintia in Ercole in Tebe in Florence in 1661 (see Robert Lamar Weaver and Norma Wright Weaver, A Chronology of Music in the Florentine Theater, 1590-1750 [Detroit, 1978], 131), or else Clemente Hader (see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 277).

[61] It should be reiterated, perhaps, that competition was especially fierce in 1666, with four theaters planning productions rather than the more usual two.

[62] Such was the case in 1672-73, according to several documents in the Johann Friedrich correspondence. See, for example, Massi's letter of 28 October 1672 (vol. 4, no. 627, f. 303): "Comincieranno le opere avanti il tempo, perche il Carnevale venturo sarà breve"; also 29 November (f. 287): "Si allestiscono li Teatri per le opere, quali principieranno pertempo per esser corto il carnevale." See also manuscript avvisi in I-Vnm, It. VI, 459 [12103], of 21 November 1682 (Appendix IIIC.1) and S December 1682 (Appendix IIIC.2), which indicate that the traditional opening day was anticipated for the benefit of the duke of Mantua, an important patron; but another report, from 11 December 1683 (It. VI, 460 [12104]), indicates that the operas were not always ready when opening day was pushed forward too far (Appendix IIIC.5).


In any case, since the opening date was not strictly fixed, it could be postponed if the opera were not ready yet; if the problem concerned the second opera of the season, the first could continue until the second was ready, or else an opera from a previous season could be substituted at the last minute. All of these situations actually occurred. Composers were announced and changed (Argiope );[63] a new libretto and setting, or just a new setting, commissioned at the last minute (Eliogabalo, Massenzio );[64] or an old opera substituted (Orontea for Doriclea ).[65]

Naturally the most intense pressure occurred during the rehearsal period, when a libretto, along with the score, took its final shape. Many operas were reportedly revised and readied for performance in a matter of days: twelve days proved adequate to prepare Annibale in Capua for performance in 1661 (twice as long as the five [or six] it took Ziani to write it, as he never tired of saying), ten for a revival of Cesti's Orontea in 1666, and a record eight for his Dori in 1667.[66] Printed librettos and manuscript scores both reveal the kinds of changes that would have taken place during rehearsals, or else during the run of the work. The cast of Faustini's and Cavalli's Calisto , for example, gained a character, a crude peasant (Bifotco ), at the last minute (or at least after the libretto had been printed and the score copied). Bifolco appears in three scenes, twice alone and once with another character, in acts 2 and 3. Faustini refers to these scenes in a note to the reader as "superimposed on the original structure of the story to delight you,"[67] and Cavalli's score accounts for the addition with the rubric:

[63] The preface to Argiope promised two composers, Rovetta and Leardini (Appendix I.28c), but a stop-press addition on the last page of the volume, p. 96, announced that in the end, Rovetta did not contribute (Appendix I.28d). The production of Argiope was delayed by several years, as we have seen, possibly as a result of the War of Candia.

[64] Cavalli's setting of Bussani's Massenzio was scrapped at rehearsal and Sartorio commissioned to provide a new setting (letter of 23 December 1672 from Dolfin to Johann Friedrich [Appendix IIIB.10]). The case of Eliogabalo was somewhat different. Cavalli's setting of Aureli's original libretto, intended for the season of 1668 at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, was canceled at the last minute, in part because of Faustini's difficulties with the Grimani brothers. They commissioned Aureli to write a new libretto on the same subject, to be set to music by Boretti, which was performed that same season, 1668. In a contract with Marco Faustini of 10 October 1667, Aureli agreed to "adjust certain things in Eliogabalo, " which suggests that he was not the original author (b. 194: 31; transcribed in Brunelli, "An-gustie," 335), a fact that he himself confirms in the dedication to the second Eliogabalo signed 10 January 1667 [1668] (Appendix I.49).

[65] The substitution is specifically documented in the note to the reader of Orontea , signed 10 January 1666 (see ch. 6, pp. 192-93, above). The note is translated in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 460.

[66] Apparently the revival of Dori in Florence in 1661 took only four days to prepare; see Carl B. Schmidt, "Antonio Cesti's La Dori," RIM 10 (1975): 460; also id., "Tito Commission," 463 n. 55; the relevant letter from Cesti is quoted in John W. Hill, "Le relazioni di Antonio Cesti con la corte e i teatri di Firenze," RIM 11 (1976): 27.

[67] "inestate nella Favola per dilettarti fuori della sua tessitura." The "diletto" was probably provided by some stage business performed by the country bumpkin. The added text is given at the end of the libretto, on pp. 76-82.


"Qui và la Scena del Bifolco," though no music is provided.[68] Conversely, the cast of Cavalli's and Minato's Artemisia was modified by reduction sometime after the music was written, but before the libretto was printed. The score, mostly autograph, has music for a character called Cleante, who does not appear in the libretto, and it actually illustrates how the reduction was achieved. In three places, music for Cleante has been crossed out and the text distributed to other characters in the opera.[69] The fact that Cleante never made it into the printed libretto and that the score is one of Cavalli's composing scores rather than a fair copy suggests a relatively early date for the modification.[70]

Dramatic coherence, what there was of it, was increasingly at the mercy of such exigencies. A curious extreme was surely reached in 1676 when Giulio Cesare Corradi, the librettist of Germanico sul Reno , claimed to have added a scene for an Orfeo, not listed in the cast and totally extraneous to the plot, in order to exhibit the talents not of a singer but of a special violinist.[71] But once again, the incorporation of such late arrivals, motivated by the usual desire to appeal to the audience, exacted a toll principally on the librettists. The required changes were often substantial enough to interfere with whatever dramatic continuity or balance their original texts may have aspiredto. To composers the cost was negligible. Musical modifications were usually relatively minor and had little if any effect on the opera as a whole.

We return then to the social distinction between librettist and composer and their different claims, aspirations, and functions with respect to dramma per musica . Librettists were deeply concerned with the dramatic coherence and literary integrity of their work, as we have seen in the elaborate strategies they developed for preserving it or compensating for its absence. Composers could not possibly have felt the same way. Their scores could never have aspired to the objective wholeness of librettos; their music was doubly contingent: on their librettists and on their performers. Musical coherence independent of el-

[68] I-Vnm, It. IV, 353 (9877), ff. 59 and 101 .

[69] I-Vnm, It. IV 352 [9876], ff. 18 -19, 42 -44, and 67-68 . See Jeffery, "Autograph Manuscripts," 238-39.

[70] Much earlier, that is, than the adjustment Au-reli had to make in his and Ziani's Gl'amori infrutuosi di Pirro (1661), mentioned in n. 60 above. Additions to casts during the run of an opera were apparently not that uncommon, as indicated by the following avviso of 2 January 1683 [1684] (I-Vnm, It. IV, 460 [12104]): "Si proseguiscono le recite nelle quattro enumerati Teatri, et in quello di SS. Giovanni e Pao-lo vi si è accresciuto un personaggio con nuove aggiunte, e canzonette. Superando però il vanto di tutti quello di San Luca per le esquisite voci."

[71] "Ti prego pure à non far rifiessione sopra l'Orfeo di Stige nel fine del Atto Secondo, accessorio solo introdotto per farti sentire un famoso Suonatore da Violino" (Germanleo sul Reno , preface). This suggests the beginning of an increased emphasis on virtuoso instrumentalists, which Harris Saunders sees as a special feature of later seventeenth-century opera in Venice ("The Teatro Grimani di San Giovanni Grisostomo: The Interaction of Family Interests and Opera in Venice," paper read at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, New Orleans, 1987).


ther was an anachronism and an impossibility. Indeed, once the formerly unified activity of producing an opera had disintegrated into an amalgam of specialized tasks, the subservience of the composer in the operatic hierarchy became still clearer.

The kinds of alterations composers were called upon to make during rehearsals or in preparation for revivals, to adapt their works to new performers or to the requirements of a new theater or audience, remained central to their profession. But because of institutionalization and the consequent logistical problems raised by geographical separation and competing patronage, these alterations could not always be made by the original composers. Cesti, for example, instructed Beregan to arrange for Rovettino to fulfill his rehearsal obligations—namely, "to cut, add, change, or do whatever else was necessary in the music"—since he could not come to Venice for the premiere of his Tito , owing to commitments to his employer in Vienna.[72] And Ziani, although he referred on several occasions to his obligatory presence in Venice for the rehearsals of his work, assuring Faustini at one point that he would not "leave Venice until the whole score has been furnished and accommodated,"[73] later gave him rather grudging permission to engage someone else for the task.[74]

Given the nature and extent of some of the changes that took place at rehearsals—new arias, cuts, transpositions, rearrangements, even whole new roles—which might have been supplied by someone other than the original composer, many of these works would certainly qualify as pasticcios. But they were not the first such cooperative ventures. Multiple authorship may not have become a necessity until the pressures of institutionalization made it so, but it had been a reality, even a positive feature considered worthy of advertising, well before then.

Some early Venetian operas were specifically designed and promoted as pasticcios. La finta savia (1643), for example, proudly boasted the music of four different composers: Laurenzi, Crivelli, Merula, and Ferrari (Appendix I.18b).[75] Many of the operas we have already mentioned ended up as pasticcios, either by design or by accident. Argiope (1649), as we have seen, was touted as

[72] Letter of 6 December 1665 to Beregan (b . 194: 145, 156): "Occorrendo poi di levare, aggiungere, mutare e qualsivoglia altra cosa nella musica io prego V.S. Ill. a far supplire al Signor Rovettino . . . che mi dichiaro sodlsfattissimo sapendo che m'ha voluto sempre bene et ha favorito altre volte il mio poco talento" (see Giazotto, "Cesti," 506-7).

[73] "Non partirò di Venetia se non la vederò del tutto fornita & acumodata." Letter of 2 August 1665 (b . 188: 75); Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 504-5.

[74] "Che io habbi per male, che altri mettino le mani in mia absenza nelle mie opere non ci penso niente, perchè per commodità della scena non si può di meno." Letter of 10 July 1666 (b . 188: 269); Giazotto, "La guerra dei palchi," 507.

[75] There were actually six composers involved, including Alessandro Leardini and Vincenzo Tozzi. See Osthoff, "Laurenzi," 175. For an extended discussion and schematic indication of the distribution of the text of La finta savia among these six composers, see Magini, "Indagim," 540-45.


a pasticcio manqué;[76] Faustini's revival of Cesti's Orontea became a pasticcio in effect when it was prefaced by Ziani's new setting of the prologue to Doriclea .[77] And Cavalli's Giasone became part of an overt pasticcio when it appeared in Rome as Il novello Giasone in 1671 with some music by Stradella. Indeed, nearly every work that was revived, either in Venice or elsewhere, in the original composer's absence, or after his death, was a pasticcio. The most famous of these, at least in the versions that have come down to us, is Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea , the only modern "classic" of Venetian opera. Both extant scores, which probably reflect the Naples revival of 1651, contain music that Monteverdi could not have written. The only disagreement in this case is over the amount of original music still remaining.[78]

But that is not a meaningful question for operatic music of this period. Unlike that of the libretto, the sanctity of the operatic score was a concept virtually unknown and irrelevant in seicento Venice. Although it is difficult to judge from our distance, the replacement of one composer by another does not seem to have created a problem of stylistic incongruity either for contemporary audiences or for the composers themselves. Operas were increasingly bound by musico-dramatic conventions, making substitution of composers relatively easy.[79]

Because their professional stature and livelihood depended on it, librettists emphatically claimed and numbered their texts, carefully keeping track of their careers and burnishing their reputations. Composers, however, as they continued, often anonymously, to fulfill their multiple functions, increasingly disappeared behind their creations, leaving the singers to represent them.

[76] See n. 63 above.

[77] See above, ch. 6, p. 192 and n. 92.

[78] Curtis finds considerable evidence, notational as well as musical, of the intervention of composers younger than Monteverdi in the score of Poppea ; see "La Poppea impasticciata. "

[79] It is worth emphasizing that individual styles emerged quite late among opera composers, particularly in comparison with the sixteenth-century madrigalists. The strength and demands of operatic conventions undoubtedly helped to thwart such development. Equally significant, perhaps, is the fact that because opera scores were not published, they did not circulate, and were thus not available to be scrutinized. The music remained ephemeral, tied to the moment of its performance. The printing press did not serve these composers as it did both their madrigalist predecessors and their literary colleagues, the librettists.


I più canori cigni e le suavissime sirene :
The Singers

An opera did not exist independent of its singers, either at its conception or its performance; they were its spokesmen, its true publicists. The singers mediated between opera and its audience. Transforming a private arrangement into a public spectacle, they transported the operatic product to the consumers.

In companies like Ferrari's or Sacrati's, singers were well known to composer and librettist from the very beginning of a project. Their roles, like costumes, were cut to measure in advance, fitted during rehearsals, and displayed at the performance. Composers themselves even used the tailoring metaphor to characterize their work. "I made the part to his measure" ("Holli fato la parte a suo dosso") was the way Sacrati described his composition of the title role of Bellerofonte , written for Michele Grasseschi. [1] We know too that Monteverdi's conception of the character of Licori in his aborted La finta pazza Licori was very much conditioned by the abilities of the singer he envisioned in the role, Margherita Basile. Whatever adjustments were found necessary during rehearsals took place behind the scenes, quietly, within the close professional family that together produced the work. Most of them would have gone unrecorded in librettos, since the early librettos were usually not issued until after the performance and could thus have incorporated the changes. The other chief documentary evidence of such changes, letters between the makers of operas, were of course unnecessary when a troupe lived and worked in such close proximity. Such alterations moved out into the open, as it were, only when practical conditions of institutionalization forced them there, when the original partnership among the makers of operas had begun to dissolve into the division of labor described in the previous pages.

[1] Letter of 26 October 1641 (I-Fas, Fondo Mediceo del Principato, F. 5421, c. 516), quoted in Magini, "Indagini," 517. Other letters in Sartori, "Un fantomatico compositore," 798, and Alessandro Ademollo, I primi fasti delia musica italiana a Parigi (1645-1662 ) (Milan, [1884]), 99-105. For more on Grasseschi's career in Florence, see Weaver and Weaver, Florentine Theater , entries for 1657, 1658, 1660, and 1661.


At the same time as singers became divorced from the original act of composition, they also became the increasing focus of public attention; and this required ever greater efforts on the part of composer and librettist to enhance their stature, to show them off to best advantage, even if it meant compromising their own aesthetic values. From a position of equality (or even less) in the original operatic partnership, singers rose to a position of undisputed preeminence. Once representatives of the art, they became its very embodiment. Paradoxically, the separation of the singers from the actual creation of the work eventually resulted in an increase in their final impact on it—or at least the visibility of their impact. Their growing influence, external as well as internal, can be measured in terms as diverse as salaries, contract negotiations, audience attention, and, of greatest aesthetic significance, changing ratio of aria to recitative.

The Wages of Singing

Some measure of the relative importance of the various contributors to the operatic enterprise is offered by a comparison of their earnings. The figures reflect the hierarchy at any given time, and compared over a substantial period, they reveal significant shifts in that hierarchy as well. The few documents we have for this period—two theater budgets, several contracts, and some references in correspondence—relate especially to composers and singers; information on librettists' earnings, which were based primarily on libretto sales and thus independent of theater budgets, is more difficult to come by.[2] Composers were evidently paid at different rates, depending on their reputation. Thus Cavalli's fee was unusually high. He received 400 ducats from Faustini for Antioco (1658) and Elena (1659), and 450 ten years later for Eliogabalo .[3] To be sure, in 1658 Cavalli was practically at the apex of his career: in addition to holding the prestigious position of organist at San Marco, he was the best-known composer of opera not only in Venice, whose theaters he had supplied regularly for twenty years, but in all of Italy. His Venetian works had been performed throughout the Italian peninsula, and he had fulfilled at least two

[2] The earnings of librettists were augmented by the largesse of dedicatees; see Bianconi and Walker, "Production, " 238 n. 75. Aureli signed a contract with Faustini to adjust the text of Eliogabalo for Cavalli, agreeing to divide the gift he received for the dedication with Faustini; and since Faustini was paying printing and binding costs, he would also receive half of the profits from sales. This must have been exceptional, since it had to be spelled out in a contract (b . 194:31; transcribed in Brunelli, "Angustie," 335). In 1686 dedication gifts for three operas (paid to both composer and librettist) cost Duke Ernst August 266 Thalers, equivalent to the cost of employing the duke's ten Venetian gondoliers for a month (Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 269 n. 150).

[3] See the Cavalli-Faustini contracts, Appendix IIIA.2-4.


"foreign" commissions: Orione for Milan (1653) and Hipermestra (1654, performed 1658) for Florence.

Other composers were paid considerably less. Ziani, for example, earned only 50 ducats for Annibale in Capua in 1660, even though this was his fifth opera for Faustini. And he complained later in a letter to the impresario that it was 70 ducats lower than normal.[4] His fee rose considerably in the following years—to 200 ducats for Amor guerriero in 1663 and Doriclea in 1666—but it remained much lower than Cavalli's usual fee, which he resentfully noted in the same letter as 100 dobles . Granting that Cavalli's fee was justified by his reputation, Ziani nevertheless regarded his own poor salary as an insult. He was even more irritated, however, by the disparity between his salary and those of the singers: "If you pay singers 150 and 100 dobles [=440-660 ducats] apiece, why shouldn't a famous composer, who is the prime vehicle for putting on an opera, be given at least as much or only slightly less?" (Appendix IIIA. 5c).[5] Ziani also complained that he was paid less well than Cesti. As for Cesti, we do not know how much he actually received for his Venetian operas, but he himself noted jealously that he earned less than Cavalli.[6]

High as it may have been for a composer, Cavalli's fee nevertheless compared unfavorably with those of the singers. In 1666 a salary of 300 scudi (or 450 ducats, exactly Cavalli's fee) was considered standard for an average female singer,[7] but most singers' salaries were higher. The best-paid singer in Antioco , for example, "Signora Girolama," received 750 ducats, nearly twice as much as the composer,[8] while several others earned only slightly less than he did (only one earned much less, 50 ducats).[9] Naturally singers were paid according to their rank or importance in the opera, but the wide discrepancies in their earnings also depended in part on geographical considerations. Most were imported from outside Venice, and their fees were calculated to include traveling and living expenses. Thus, Signora Girolama's 750 ducats included round-trip

[4] Letter of 25 July 1665 (b . 188: 82), Appendix IIIA. sb; excerpted in Giazotto, "La guerra dei pal-chi," 503-4. His low salary may reflect the fact that he was otherwise unemployed and possibly desperate, having left his position as maestro di cappella at Bergarno in 1659.

[5] See Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 225 n. 50. In bringing up this comparison, Ziani notices a certain inequity in the hierarchy. If anything, though, he has underestimated singers' salaries for this period. On his appreciation of Cavalli, see his letter of 9 May 1666 (Appendix IIIA. 11b).

[6] Letter of 21 June 1665 (b . 188: 119, 137); partially transcribed in Giazotto, "Cesti," 498-99: "mi vedro costretto di dover poi pubblicare molta maggiore la ricognizione ad esempio del Signor Cavalli."

[7] See Brunelli, "Angustie," 327. Letter from Carlo Mazzini to Faustini (b . 194: 144): "non è dovere che loro vadino se non hanno 300 scudi per una, sì come si costuma a dare ad ogni benche ordinaria virtuosa."

[8] The "prima donna" of Elena , Lucietta Gombo detta Widmann, earned 650 ducats; see her contract with Faustini, dated 18 July 1659 (b . 194: 10); transcribed in Brunelli, "Angustie," 314. The figures for Antioco are drawn from Faustini's account book in b . 194: unnumbered.

[9] See Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 224.


travel between Rome and Venice; a singer from Turin was paid slightly more than one from Milan; and the singer who earned only 50 ducats was a Venetian. [10]

Salary was obviously a matter of prestige, among singers as well as between singers and composers. Apparently, singers borrowed from certain establishments were paid more than others. In one revealing instance, a singer agreed to take a lower salary as long as he could say that he had earned a higher one, "in deference to the prince he serves" ("in riguardo al principe che serve"). n Singers' fees seem to have varied from theater to theater, too, and were probably inflated as the result of competition among the various houses. S. Salvatore apparently paid more than SS. Giovanni e Paolo and often succeeded thereby in luring singers away from the older establishment. In 1665 a singer at the latter (Cavagna) complained to Faustini that another (Ciecolino) was earning more at S. Salvatore than he was at SS. Giovanni e Paolo; Cavagna was eventually offered even more than that by S. Salvatore, but affirmed his loyalty to Faustini by agreeing to accept the same fee he had earned in 1662.[12]

These figures indicate that in the 1660s singers were generally considered on a par with the most important composer of the time: exceptional ones were paid more, ordinary ones about the same or perhaps slightly less. But this parity did not last. Although the composer's fee—at least Cavalli's—remained fairly constant over the decade 1658-68, those of the singers rose substantially. If Signora Girolama earned almost twice as much as the composer already in 1658, another, Giulia Masotti, one of the most sought-after singers of the period, earned four times as much in 1666 (at SS. Giovanni e Paolo), and nearly six times as much in 1669 (at S. Salvatore).[13] Cavagna, who had earned 350 ducats in 1658,

[10] Girolama's contract is spelled out in b . 188:22 (see Rosselli, "From Princely Service," 25 n. 86). Her salary also included living expenses, but not lodging, while in Venice, which was calculated in addition; Cavagna, from Turin, received 350 ducats, Manni, from Milan, 332. The Venetian was Antonio Formenti. The comparative figures are sometimes misleading since it was not always clear when fees included traveling expenses and when they did not. Moreover, the currencies in which fees are quoted, even within the same document, are not always the same, nor are the conversion rates always given. In general, I have adopted the conversion rates listed in ch. 6, n. 105, above.

[11] The singer was the casttaro Rascarini, according to another castrato and fellow employee of the duke of Savoy, Giovanni Antonio Cavagna or Cavagnino (letter to Faustini of 27 June 1665 [b . 188: 117]).

[12] Letter of 3 April 1665 (b . 188: 98-99). As we remember, 1665-66 was a particularly difficult year for Faustini, in part because of competition from S. Salvatore. Cavagna seems to have been part of the problem. In both 1666 and 1667 he played off his obligations to his patron, the duke of Savoy, against his contract with SS. Giovanni e Paolo; see Rosselli, "From Princely Service," 7, 9-10, esp. n. 32.

[13] In 1666 the figure was 380 doble , or 1,600 ducats, not including living expenses; for living quarters Giulia had her choice of Faustini's or Giovanni Grimani's house. Her contract with Faustini (b . 194: 110) is transcribed in Brunelli, "Angustie," 332. In 1669 it was 15,920 life (about 2,500 ducats or 1,200 scudi). This figure may have included 200 scudi for traveling expenses (see I-Vcg, Archivio Vendramin, cited in ch. 6, n. 105, above). The figures in the Vendramin archives are especially confusing; some are clearly in ducats, others in doppie or doble .


considered 600 ducats too little in 1665.[14] And Ciecolino, whose salary of 150 doppie (more than 600 ducats) had been considered enviably high in 1665, was offered 250 in 1670, but refused to sing for less than 300, or twice as much as his salary four years before.[15] In addition to increasing in proportion to other expenditures, then, singers' salaries, unlike those of composers, evidently kept rising with their reputations. They must have continued their disproportionate escalation, since twenty years later the prima donna Margherita Salicola earned 500 doppie , or 19,000 lire, for her performance in Penelope la casta (1685).[16] This figure, we should note, equaled the total cost of producing La maga fulminata , the second Venetian opera, in 1638.[17]

Their comparatively high and rapidly rising salaries only confirm what is clear from other evidence—namely, that the singers had come to be regarded as the most important members of the operatic hierarchy. Impresarios devoted a major portion of their energies to securing casts, dispatching agents to attend performances all over Italy to report on particularly outstanding singers. By the late 1660s it was understood that a singer could make or break an entire season, almost regardless of the opera being performed. That point is brought home rather explicitly in a report to Faustini from one of his agents, the librettist Pietro Dolfin, who had attended a performance in Verona by Anna Venturi, a singer Faustini had recently engaged:

The opera pleased me in all its aspects (considering that I was in Verona), but Signora Anna, in the part of Romilda displeased me so greatly that she became insupportable, not only to me but to everyone who was with me, and they encouraged her every time she came on stage with everyone present greeting her every time she came on stage with what one might call a beating with the cackles they made during her trills and cadenze . She is so odious that she alone is enough to cause an opera to fail, and so disgraceful that the other singer from Mantua and [the one called] Or-setta seem like angels. (Appendix IIIA.9)[18]

[14] ee letter of 3 April 1665 (b . 188: 98-99) mentioned in n. 12 above.

[15] Letter from Massi to Johann Friedrich, 17 November 1670 (vol 4, no. 627, f. 211 ): "è qua Ciecolino al quale hanno offerte dobble 250, ma lui non vuol recitare se non sono almeno 300."

[16] Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 276. We do not know what happened to composers' salaries in this period. The last documented salary for Cavalli is 450 in ducats in 1668 at SS. Giovanni e Paolo (Appendix IIIA.4).

[17] The figure given for La maga fulminata was 2,000 scudi (Appendix 1.3b). Although we do not have precise figures for inflation, we do know that ticket prices remained the same throughout this period, and that the salaries of the instrumentalists did not change appreciably; see ch. 6, n. 105, above.

[18] See Brunelli, "Angustie," 325-26. There were many complaints about Anna Venturi, who was the wife of the tenor, Carlo Righenzi. Sebastiano Cioni, another stager, accused her of singing out of tune, insisting that she did not fit in any company of virtuosi, and predicting that Cavagnino, supposedly hired to sing with her, "resterà molto scandalizzato quando si vedrà a petto una donna tale" (b . 188:129-30). Marc'Antonio Cornaro, one of Faustini's chief associates and agents, assured him that she would never make it in Venice: "certo certo non farà riuscita in Venezia" (letter of 6 November 1665 [b . 188: 207]).


And he concluded, naturally, by strongly urging Faustini not to hire her. Evidently, it was her trills and cadenzas that bothered Dolfin the most. In the end, Faustini received so many complaints about her that he broke their contract, settling accounts with her in two installments.[19]

Singers were frequently credited with primary responsibility for the outcome of an opera.[20] Poor singing was reportedly responsible for the failure of Domitiano (Noris/Boretti), an opera otherwise praised for the superior quality of its text and music, at SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1673, while what was considered by some to be an inferior work of the same season at S. Salvatore, Orfeo by Aureli and Sartorio, was apparently rescued by an excellent cast, according to one account:

Last night, the 30th of December, the opera at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, entitled Domitiano by Noris, opened, which was truly staged superbly, in a beautiful production, but so poor in singers that it is pitiful; aside from Signora Giulia [Masotti], no one can sing; to such a sorry state has opera in Venice been reduced. It's true that the S. Lucca [i.e., S. Salvatore] management, despite a ragged opera of Aureli's called Orfeo , because it has better singers, will triumph over the SS. Giovanni-Paolisti. (Appendix IIIB. 13)

The particular stars were Gratianini, who made such a good impression that he was given the title role in the second opera of the season, Massenzio ,[21] and Tonina, "marvelous of voice, exquisite, clever, and attractive for a Roman" ("di voce meravigliosa esquisita, furba, et attrattiva per esser Romana").[22] In fact, the failure of Domitiano , which in addition to its poor cast may have owed something to the death of its composer, Boretti, during the rehearsal period, was catastrophic for SS. Giovanni e Paolo: Grimani reportedly lost 3,000 lire that season. To make matters worse, one of the singers employed by the theater was shot and killed while riding in a gondola with four or five of his fellow singers.[23]

Actually, neither the verdict on the singers of Orfeo nor that on the opera as a whole was unanimous. One report described "Tonina," who played Euridice, as "divina," but the other singers as merely "ascoltabili"; one of them, a certain Pia, had so deteriorated since the previous year, particularly in the "crudeness" of her voice, that she made no impression at all.[24] Another report

[19] On 7 February and 1 March 1666 (b . 194: 113; b . 188: 353).

[20] According to a letter from Dolfin to Johann Friedrich of 19 December 1670 (vol. 2, no. 625, f. 409), the singers saved S. Salvatore from bankruptcy: "se la copia d'esquisiti cantanti non la sostenasse si sarebbe sin hora chiuso il Teatro."

[21] Gratianini was the singer Beregan would be so anxious to hire for S. Salvatore in 1675 (Appendix IIIB.24); see the letter from Dolfin to Johann Friedrich, 20 January 1672 [1673] (Appendix IIIB. 16a).

[22] Tonina is Antonia Coresi. Letter from Massi, 16 December 1672 (Appendix IIIB.9).

[23] Letter from Massi to Johann Friedrich, 10 February 1673 (Appendix IIIB.21).

[24] Letter from Dolfin, 23 December 1672 (Appendix IIIB. 10).


noted the unfortunate absence of two singers, Lucretia and the castrato Lassi.[25] And still another (prejudiced) report criticized "the singer of Signor Leonardo Loredano," who replaced Lucretia for the third soprano role (Euridice's maidservant?) as "insoportabile."[26] As far as the opera itself was concerned, several accounts were quite positive, one of them considering it praiseworthy despite the fact that it was written by Aureli.[27]

The Prima Donna

The most impressive index of the singers' growing stature was their increasing influence on the works they sang. Roles had always had to be adjusted to fit their ranges and to show off their particular vocal strengths. But singers eventually became responsible for more profound changes that involved dramatic structure and even undermined the verisimilar balance and pacing that had been so carefully achieved between action and contemplation, between kinesis and stasis. Their gradual accrual of power is documented in their correspondence with impresarios, in remarks of librettists, and, most important, in the operas themselves.

Although the big jump in their earnings did not occur until the third decade of operatic activity in Venice, singers had manifested their influence on opera much earlier, actually after only the first few seasons. Composers, accustomed from the beginning to altering their scores to suit, seem to have taken their subservience to singers for granted; librettists, apparently, did not. On the contrary, in the absence of more direct documentation, their complaints about having to satisfy singers' whims are one of our chief sources of information on the subject.

A very early indictment of singer-power came from Ferrari on the occasion of a revival of his Il pastor regio in Bologna in 1641:

Having to present my Maga fulminata and Pastor regio at Sig. Guastavillani's theater in Bologna, it was necessary, to please my friends and because of the whims of some of the singers, who are never satisfied, to add and cut some things from the works; thus you should not be surprised if you find them to be quite different from their first printing in Venice. (Appendix I.5b)[28]

[25] Letter from Dolfin to Johann Friedrich, 30 December 1672 (Appendix IIIB.12).

[26] "La putta protetta" of Signor Leonardo Loredan is mentioned in Dolfin's letters of 23 December 1672 and 2o January 1673 (Appendix IIIB. 10 and 16). He expressed the fear that she would "spoil the other apples."

[27] Letter from Massi of 27 January 1672 [1673] (Appendix IIIB. 17).

[28] Singers' exigencies may have been partly responsible for the changes perpetrated on La finta pazza when it was revived in Piacenza in 1644, about which Strozzi complained in the preface to his reprint of the same year (Appendix I. 16e).


Giovanni Faustini, too, we recall, lamented the inordinate influence of singers quite early in his career—in his second libretto, Egisto , of 1643 (Appendix 1.31a). Although Ferrari did not indicate precisely the kinds of changes his singers wanted, beyond the addition and cutting of unnamed passages, Faustini was quite specific. He had to add a mad scene for his protagonist. In his case, the reasons were clear: La finta pazza , the operatic hit of 1641, had made mad scenes de rigueur in any work that wished to compete with it.

The elevation of the mad scene to such importance in the early 1640S was in no small measure owing to the protagonist of the original mad scene, Anna Renzi, the singer who has appropriately been called the first diva of the Italian operatic stage.[29] It exemplifies the impact of the singer beyond the confines of the single work, an impact that extended to the establishment of a convention and, ultimately, to the development of opera itself.

The career of Anna Renzi, while symptomatic of maturing opera in seventeenth-century Venice, was also quite unusual. Although she was but the first of a long line of star singers, she was uniquely implicated in the development of the genre itself. (I have already touched upon her significance in chapter 4.) Renzi was created, in part, by the press; her undoubtedly extraordinary performances were aggrandized by Incognito publicity as part of their general, successful campaign to establish opera as a going concern in Venice. Owing to this, we know exactly which Venetian operas she appeared in and which roles she sang; more significant, we know a good deal about her voice and personality, her art of singing as it was viewed by her contemporaries—and even her appearance (fig. 25).

She began her career in Rome, performing in operas at the house of the French ambassador, and was brought to Venice late in 1640 to create the role of Deidamia in La finta pazza , the inaugural opera at the Novissimo. We first learn about her presence in Venice from the libretto of that opera, an Incognito publication of 1641, whose author, Giulio Strozzi, describes her rather conventionally as "a sweet siren who gently ravishes the souls and pleases the eyes and ears of the listeners" (Appendix I. 16c). The city of Venice, Strozzi continues, should be forever grateful to Francesco Sacrati, composer and musical director of La finta pazza , for having brought Renzi from Rome. Indeed, Sacrati undoubtedly composed the role of Deidamia specifically for Renzi, fitting it to her particular talents as he did for other singers. Renzi's powers were extolled further and somewhat more explicitly in the Cannocchiale per la finta pazza of the same year, in which she was praised for being "as valorous in action as she is

[29] Sartori, La prima diva della lirica italiana: Anna Renzi." For Renzi's career, see also Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 417-18; Thomas Walker, "Anna Renzi," New Grove , 15: 745-46; and Sergio Durante, "Il cantante: Aspetti e problemi della professlone," StOpIt , 4 (Turin, 1987): 361-64.



Portrait of Anna Renzi, from  Le glorie della signora Anna Renzi romana  (Venice: 1644). 
Venice, Fondazione Scientifica Querini Stampalia.


excellent in music" (Appendix I. 17e). She starred in subsequent productions at the Novissimo and SS. Giovanni e Paolo, most notably, from our point of view, as Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1643.[30]

We would know very little more about her were it not for a special volume published in her honor in 1644, yet another product of the Incognito press. Le glorie della signora Anna Renzi (fig. 26) is by Giulio Strozzi and is dedicated to Filiberto Laurenzi, Renzi's teacher ("Chirone della Signora Anna").[31] It features a large number of encomiastic poems by various authors, many of them represented only by their initials or academic names, but identifiable as Incogniti. [32] The poems describe her performances in various roles. One of them, an "idilio," much longer than the others, narrates her career, opera by opera, in rich detail, concluding with a vivid description of her portrayal of Ottavia in L'incoronazione di Poppea .[33]

The most revealing part of the book, however, is the lengthy laudatory essay by Strozzi himself that opens the volume. Filled with enthusiasm for her style of singing, Strozzi's observations are extraordinarily informative, especially in comparison to the usually perfunctory remarks about singers found in similar volumes—most of them earlier, such as those dedicated to Isabella Trevisan, Leonora Baroni, and others[34] —and to the comments found in libretto prefaces. Most descriptions of singers involve single adjectives and adverbs, strung together in a variety of lengths. The preface to Andromeda , for example, set a standard for variety of single-adverb description of the singers: they sang "mirabilmente," "divinamente," "s quisitamente," "egregiamente," "gentilissimamente," "celestamente," "gratiosamente," and "soavissimamente."

In terms quite unlike those of conventional flattery, Strozzi describes Renzi's actions on stage, the movements of her body, arms, face, and voice, with the attentiveness of a stage director. Interestingly, he begins by remarking on the passion and verisimilitude of her acting and diction:

[30] At the Novissimo, Renzi played Archimene in Bellerofonte (1642), Deidamia in Deidamia (1644), and a leading role (Rodopea?) in Ercole in Lidia (1645), in which she was admired by John Evelyn. At SS. Giovanni e Paolo, she was Aretusa in La finta savia (1643) and starred in Torilda (1648) and Argiope (1649). In Poppea and La finta savia she was joined by Anna Valeri, as Poppea and Aventina; see Osthoff, "Laurenzi," 174-75. Other singers in La finta savia included Stefano Costa as Numitore, and "Corbacchio," or Rabacchio. Osthoff ("Neue Beobachtungen," 135-37) suggests that Renzi also sang the role of Ottavia in the Naples production of Poppea , a role that was expanded by the addition of a new solo scene; but documentary evidence for her presence in Naples is lacking.

[31] Laurenzi's mythological title comes from a poem addressed to him by Francesco Maria Gigante at the end of the Strozzi volume. Laurenzi's career is outlined in Osthoff, "Laurenzi," 173-94, and, more recently, in Magini, "Indagini," 514-53.

[32] The authors represented in this volume are identified, some more accurately than others, in Sartori, "La prima diva"; see also Osthoff, "Laurenzi," 177.

[33] This text is given in ch. 12 below. A number of the shorter poems in the volume are addressed to her in the role of Ottavia.

[34] See, for example, the Applausi poetici alle glorie delia Signora Leonora Baroni (Rome: Costazuti, 1639, 1641) and Echi poetici all'armonia musicale della signora Isabella Trevisani romana (Bologna: Ferroni, 1648).



Le glorie della signora Anna Renzi romana  (Venice, 1644), title page.
Venice, Fondazione Scientifica Querini Stampalia.


The action that gives soul, spirit, and existence to things must be governed by the movements of the body, by gestures, by the face and by the voice, now raising it, now lowering it, becoming enraged and immediately becoming calm again; at times speaking hurriedly, at others slowly, moving the body now in one, now in another direction, drawing in the arms, and extending them, laughing and crying, now with little, now with much agitation of the hands. Our Signora Anna is endowed with such lifelike expression that her responses and speeches seem not memorized but born at the very moment. In sum, she transforms herself completely into the person she represents, and seems now a Thalia full of comic gaiety, now a Melpomene rich in tragic majesty. (Appendix II.2a)

Only then does Strozzi arrive at her vocal qualities—obviously in service to her acting, a contributory aspect of her theatrical presence. He enriches his description with some rare practical advice on the care of the voice, which reveals the extent of his own experience with singers: "She has a fluent tongue, smooth pronunciation, not affected, not rapid, a full, sonorous voice, not harsh, not hoarse, nor one that offends you with excessive subtlety; which arises from the temperament of the chest and throat, for which good voice much warmth is needed to expand the passages, and enough humidity to soften it and make it tender" (Appendix II.2b).[35] The specifics of her vocal technique come next, along with appreciation of her resilient professionalism, her ability to create her role anew night after night: "She has felicitous passages, a lively trill, both double and rinforzato , and it has befallen her to have to bear the full weight of an opera no fewer than twenty-six times, repeating it virtually every evening, without losing even a single carat of her theatrical and most perfect voice" (Appendix II.2c). Strozzi then moves to a consideration of Renzi's mind, and her off-stage personality:

I have considered, aside from her physiognomy, that in her that maxim holds true according to which for the formation of a sublime spirit these things are needed, namely, great intellect, much imagination, and a good memory, as if these three things were not contradictory and did not stand in natural opposition when found in the same subject: all gifts of generous nature, who only rarely knows how to unite these three qualities, as if in a republic, no one holding the majority. Signora Anna, of melancholy temperament by nature, is a woman of few words, but those are appropriate, sensible, and worthy for her beautiful sayings, of the reward of praise. (Appendix II.2d)

Finally, he describes her way of studying human behavior as a means of understanding and portraying characters: "She silently observes the actions of others, and when she is called upon to represent them, helped by her sanguine temperament and bile, which fires her (without which men cannot undertake great things), shows the spirit and valor learned by studying and observing.

[35] Giulio Strozzi's experience with singers must have been nourished by his relationship with Barbara Strozzi, the chamber singer and composer whom he adopted, and whose career he encouraged in many different ways. See Rosarid, "Barbara Strozzi," esp. 257-58.


Whence the heavens were propitious in providing her with such an admirable and singular intelligence" (Appendix II.2e).

This description offers a convincing portrait of a consummate singing actress, one who clearly imposed her own personality on the roles she sang. Renzi was the kind of singer who, in addition to realizing Strozzi's model of the ideal performer, almost certainly would have appealed to Monteverdi, notorious for his concern with singers' interpretation of his roles. The chief evidence for that concern is a series of letters of 1627 to Alessandro Striggio the Younger, focused on La finta pazza Licori , a libretto by Giulio Strozzi.[36] Indeed, Strozzi's appreciation of dramatic singing, expressed so eloquently in his encomium to Anna Renzi, may have been part of Monteverdi's legacy to him.

Renzi and the Novissimo flourished together; their successes were closely linked, the one nourishing the other. But her influence lasted well beyond the Novissimo years. She appeared regularly at SS. Giovanni e Paolo until 1649.[37] And after two brief periods in Innsbruck and one in Genoa, she returned to Venice to sing for Marco Faustini at S. Apollinare in 1655 and at S. Cassiano in 1657.[38] At S. Cassiano, as Damira in Aureli's and Ziani's Le fortune di Rodope e Damira , Renzi closed her memorable Venetian career as she had opened it, portraying a "finta pazza."

All of Renzi's roles were clearly tailor-made for her by composers and librettists intimately acquainted with her abilities. Her presence was intrinsic to the works she sang, her special talents part of their conception. She was active at a time when mutuality in operatic creation was still possible, when text, musical setting, and performance were inextricably linked from the start. Renzi's connections with the composers and librettists who wrote for her were unusually close. Sacrati evidently knew her in Rome before he engaged her for the Novissimo; Laurenzi was her teacher well before he composed her role in La finta savia ;[39] Busenello and Fusconi were her friends, the latter even serving as the executor of her will.[40] She was the dedicatee of several publications, including Fusconi's libretto of Argiope ,[41] yet a further affirmation of her close ties with the makers of operas.

[36] These letters are discussed in ch. 11 below.

[37] Her last documented performance at SS. Giovanni e Paolo was in Argiope , in 1649.

[38] She sang in the Genoese productions of Cesare areante and Torilda in 1653; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 442 n. 257. Renzi's appearance in Eupatra at S. Apollinare in 1655 has recently been documented by Glixon and Glixon, "Marco Faustini."

[39] She had already performed in Laurenzi's Il favorito del principe in Rome in 1640; see Magini, "Indagini stilistiche," 515-16.

[40] I-Vas, Notarile, Testamenti chiusi, atti Beaciani Francesco, test. n. 69; see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,'" 417 n. 157.

[41] The dedication was dated 1645 (Appendix I.28). Another work dedicated to Renzi was Canzonette amorose a doi, e tre voci per cantar' sopra il clavicembalo, o tiorba del Signor Horatio Tarditi, raccolte d'Alessandro Vincenti dedicate alla molto illustre, e vir-tuosissima signora la Signora Anna Renzi (Venice: Vincenti, 1642). Her name was undoubtedly invoked chiefly as a means of attracting special attention to the volume.


Fortunately, the music for four of Renzi's roles has survived, representing the work of four different composers: that of Deidamia from Sacrati's La finta pazza , Ottavia from Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppea , Aretusa from Laurenzi's La finta savia , and Damira from Ziani's Le fortune di Rodope e Damira .[42] From that music and from Strozzi's description of her singing, it is clear that Renzi's vocal style was not primarily showy or virtuosic—though she certainly possessed flexibility of voice. Her roles called for dramatic intensity above all. Her interpretations, then, would have enhanced the effect of opera as drama; opera was not yet the vehicle of vocal pyrotechnics it was soon to become. And yet, for all that she evidently lived her role, became her character, this first prima donna could not help but focus attention on the performer per se. If, as a public representative of the Novissimo company, she shared the responsibility of having helped to establish opera as a genre, she also shared the responsibility for its subsequent development, in particular the meteoric rise of the virtuoso.

Renzi's career essentially established the model of the prima donna (and primo uomo ), in which the character becomes the vehicle for the singer. As she was with "la finta pazza," so other singers too became associated with particular kinds of roles. The hunchback stutterer featured in several operas between Torilda (1648) and Erginda (1652) may well have been played by the same singer.[43] Carlo Righenzi, a famous "burro" tenor, who sang the role of Gelone in Orontea in Venice in 1666, created similar roles in other operas.[44] And there are many records of librettists as well as composers having conceived of certain roles, even whole operas, with specific singers in mind. Thus in 1673 Dolfin

[42] Fourteen of Laurenzi's arias from La finta savia , a pasticcio, have survived—because they were published in Arie a una voce . . . dal Sig. Filiberto Laurenti (Venice: Magni, 1643). They include nine for Aretusa. See Osthoff, "Laurenzi," 173-94.

[43] The best-known hunchback stutterer in opera was probably Demo in Giasone (1649). The singer may have been Girolamo Antignati, who is identified as the stutterer in one edition of la Torilda, Drama per i moderni teatri (Venice: Valvasense, 1648). This particular print concludes with seven pages of "Applausi dispensati in recita musicale della Torilda" (114-20). Antignati, in the role of Nuto, the stutterer, is one of the singers honored by poetry. For some later character-actor associations, see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 249, esp. n. 104; also appendix 1. For a list of singers compiled from Francesco Caffi's unfinished "Storia della musica teatrale," see Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , appendix 4. The cast lists for the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo, showing a number of regulars, which are also based on Caffi's manuscript, are recorded in Saunders, "The Repertoire," appendix F; in appendix G, Saunders provides an alphabetical index of singers, derived largely from those lists.

[44] Righenzi, tenor, and sometime poet and impresario, may have appeared in Ferrara in Egisto in 1648 (cf. Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 401 and n. 101); he was certainly active as an impresario in Bologna, where he signed several librettos, including that of La virtù de' strali d'Amore (1648); he sang in a number of operas in Florence from 1657 to 1663, including Il potestà di Colognole (1657), Il pazzo per forza (1658), La serva nobile (1660), Ercole in Tebe (1661), and Erismena (1661). He also appeared in Milan in Crispo (20 December 1663), La farsa musicale (9 February 1664), and Xerse (5 August 1665), and in Turin in Xerse (1667). He was responsible for the revisions of the text of at least one opera performed in Verona, Minato's and Cavalli's Xerse (1665) (in which his wife had made such a poor impression on Dolfin; see n. 18 above). He also acted as an agent for Marco Faustini during the 1660s (there are communications from him in b . 188 and b . 194).


reported that he had been so impressed by the performance of a particular singer, Gratianini, that he was inspired to write a libretto especially to accommodate him.[45] Singers even took on public associations with their roles, often becoming known by the characters' names (as had, traditionally, commedia dell'arte actors). Anna Maria Sardelli was called Campaspe, the role she played in Alessandro vincitot di se stesso (Venice, 1651); Giulia Masotti was La Dori, after her role in Cesti's eponymous opera (Venice, 1663, 1667, and 1671); and Giovanni Francesco Grossi was regularly called Siface after his appearance in that role in a Roman production of Scipione affricano (Minato/Cavalli) in 1671.[46]

The publicity surrounding Anna Renzi may represent something of a special case, forming part of a more general campaign on the part of the Incogniti, but the kind of singer-worship implicit in Strozzi's Le glorie della Signora Anna Renzi reached exaggerated proportions by the 1670s and 1680s, when "Applausi," usually broadsides containing celebratory poems, were literally showered on the prima donna at curtain calls. This procedure is vividly described by the Parisian diplomat Saint-Disdier, a keen observer of Venetian society: "The partisans of these admirable singers have quantities of sonnets printed in their honor, and during the applause that these singers inspire, they shower thousands of them from the heights of Paradise, filling the loges and parterre."[47]

Like Anna Renzi, subsequent prima donnas enjoyed close relationships with librettists, composers, and impresarios, but they were generally of a more idiosyncratic and personal nature. Such relationships were encouraged by the long-standing practice whereby singers traveling to Venice, along with their entourages—including relatives and servants—were customarily lodged at the house of the impresario or theater owner. Arrangements like these were usually spelled out in singers' contracts, as in that between Faustini and Giulia Masotti in 1666.[48] Such temporary arrangements evolved into more permanent ones, in

[45] Letter of 3 February 1673 (Appendix IIIB. 18). Gratianini played the title role in Massenzio (Bussani/ Sartorio) at S. Salvatore and also performed in Orfeo in the same season at the same theater (see Appendix IIIB. 16a). This was the same singer that Beregan later wrote about so enthusiastically to Johann Friedrich, expressing his desire to hire him before any other management could get its hands on him (letters of 20 September and 17 November 1675, Appendix IIIB.24, 25).

[46] See Michael Tilmouth, "Grossi," New Grove , 7: 743-44.

[47] "Les Partisans de ces admirables Chanteuses font imprimer quantité de Sonnets à leur louange, et parmy les acclamations qu'elles s'attirent en chantant, ils en sement des milliers du haut du Paradis, et en remplissent les Loges, et le Parterre" (Saint-Disdier, La Ville et la RépubIique de Venise , 423 [Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 85]). A manuscript of one such "Applauso" by Pietro Dolfin for Tonina Coresi, who played Euridice in Sartorio's Orfeo (1672), is preserved in the Hannover documents (vol. 2, no. 625, f. 443): "Il merito della Sig Tonina Coresi che nell opra dell'Orfeo rappresenta la parte d'Euridice Sonnetto Venetiano gettato l'ultima recita dà palchi dà chi puo I'A.V. imaginarsi." For an indication of the nature and number of such broadsides in late seventeenth-century Italy, particularly Rome, see Lowell Lindgren and Carl B. Schmidt, "A Collection of 137 Broadsides Concerning Theatre in Late Seventeenth-Century Italy: An Annotated Catalogue," Harvard Library Bulletin 28 0980): 185-233.

[48] See n. 13 above. The contract (b . 194: 100) is summarized in Brunelli, "Angustie," 332. The item in question is no. 3: "Haveri essa Sig. Giulia l'alloggio e le spese del vitto, o in casa di detto Sig.Faustini, overo in casa Grimani, secondo la sodisfattione di lei, e ciò per il tempo che si trattenerà in Venetia."


which singers actually became part of the households of their aristocratic patrons, who vied with one another for such prized possessions—another phenomenon deemed worthy of mention by Saint-Disdier:

When a new young woman appears in Venice to sing at the opera, the principal noblemen make it a point of honor to become her protector, especially if she sings very well, and they spare nothing to that end. A Cornaro is arguing over one of them with the duke of Mantua, and he finally wins her. Victory belongs to him who offers the richest presents, even though the charms of her voice are not accompanied by those of beauty.[49]

Patrons acted as agents for their charges, negotiating contracts as well as providing for their other immediate needs. In the case of particularly young singers, their protectors sometimes arranged for additional vocal training. Their ties were so close that a singer was often referred to by the name of her patron.

The various ramifications of these relationships are illustrated by the case of Lucretia "Dolfin," a singer who came to live in the house of the librettist/ impresario Pietro Dolfin sometime in the 1669-70 season. Referring to her variously as "my pupil" (mia allieva ), "my new singer" (mia nuova cantatrice ), or even "the child of my house" (la putta di mia casa ), Dolfin took complete charge of her career. He exercised strict control over her contracts, refusing to allow her to sing in one instance because the part offered was smaller than those she was accustomed to, and in another because the other members of the cast were not of sufficient calibre.[50]

That Dolfin's interest in Lucretia exceeded the purely professional is evident from a story involving Nicolò Beregan, another aristocratic librettist and frequent patron of singers. It is told in one of those letters to Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick and Lüneburg from which we have been quoting:

This most noble sphere [of women] is admirably adorned by the most beautiful young singer that Signor Pietro [Dolfin] keeps under his wing. She, having achieved excellence from continued study and from her most sonorous voice, is the beloved idol of the same Signor Pietro, whose jealousy is amazing. That lusty old wolf, our own Signor Nicola, has already eyed her, but Signor Pietro, who is nervous, won't have him around. Having become aware of this, Signor Nicola, in order to spite

[49] "Dés qu'il paroist à Venise une nouvelle fille pour chanter à l'Opera, les principaux Nobles se font un poinct d'honneur d'en estre les Maistres, si elle chante fort bien, et ils n'épargnent rien pour en venir à bout: un Cornaro en disputa une avec le Duc de Mantoue, et l'emporta en fin, c'estoit à qui luy feroit de plus riches presens, bien que les charmes de sa voix ne fussent pas accompagnez de tous ceux de la beautY" (La Ville et la République de Venise , 423 [Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 85]). The various kinds of patronage enjoyed by singers of this period are discussed in Rosselli, "From Princely Service," esp. 7-12.

[50] According to letters from Dolfin and Beregan to Johann Friedrich, of 23 and 30 December 1672 respectively (Appendix IIIB.10, 13). See n. 26 above.


Signor Pietro while he was writing the drama for SS. Giovanni e Paolo, tried to insinuate himself into that theater, and he was so successful that he managed to get himself appointed librettist for this year. Signor Pietro, who had already composed the drama, was stuck, and had to put up with the jest of Signor Nicola, who, working quickly on the Grimani brothers, succeeded in officially obliging Signor Pietro to make available for the season, along with other famous singers, his own sweetheart. Whence Signor Nicola is happy because with this pretext he is obliged to graze with his eyes in the theater, and even to insinuate himself into it, if possible. But the other one saw through this amorous trickery and resolved not to leave his beloved, not even for a moment. Thus, if Your Lordship is in Venice for carnival, you will enjoy watching two dramas at the same time, one in music, the other in prose, one with the actions in silent pantomime, the other with notes and voices. Thus between these two farces you will have double pleasure, seeing feigned passions represented in the one, real love in the other. (Appendix IIIB.3)[51]

Thus were the public and personal dimensions of operatic life in Venice confused, to the amusement of avid observers. Indeed, opera seems to have offered itself as an appropriate model for comprehending reality. This account suggests the degree to which opera had taken hold of the Venetian imagination. In terms of our present discourse, the story illustrates the power of the virtuoso; for in this case, a singer—unwittingly, to be sure—actually determined the choice of a libretto for a particular season.

Primi uomini ed altre

It was more customary for prima donnas (and primi uomini ) to wield their power more directly. Even during Anna Renzi's generation, singers had begun to exert their influence in specific ways that overlapped the responsibilities of their partners in operatic creation. Sometimes this was actually encouraged by the librettist—and condoned by the composer. As early as 1640, a rubric in the margin of Ferrari's libretto for Il pastor regio gave a singer permission to insert an aria "at her pleasure";[52] a singer in Artemisia (Minato/Cavalli, 1656) was directed to change a certain aria every night;[52] and in La costanza di Rosrnonda (Aureli/Rovettino, 1659), a singer was invited to insert "un aria francese."[54]

[51] Dolfin seems in fact to have been displaced as librettist by Beregan, whose Heraclio , set to music by Ziani, was the second opera of the 1670-71 season at SS. Giovanni e Paolo (the first was Semiramide [Moniglia-Noris/Ziani]). Dolfin's Ermengarda , which had been performed in 1669-70 with Sartorio's music, was his last libretto for the Grimani brothers. He discusses Ermengarda in a letter to Johann Friedrich of 26 December 1669 (see Appendix IIIB.2).

[52] Il pastor regio (Venice: Bariletti, 1640), 21: "Qui canta la fanciulla [Psitide] un aria a bene placito."

[53] Artemisia (Venice: Giuliani, 1656), 3.9, p. 58, next to Erillo's aria, "Chiedete, e sperate": "quest'aria ogni sera sarà variata."

[54] La costanza di Rosmonda (Venice: Valvasense, 1659), 1. 1, for the slave, Vespino. His introductory recitative, which ends "Nel linguaggio natio [clearly French] vo procurar almeno / La fatica addolcir col canto mio," is followed by the rubric "Quivi zappando la terra canta un'aria francese." It was apparently not that unusual for an "aria francese" to beinserted by a comic character For a similar rubric in a Roman edition of Minato's La prosperira di Elio Seiano (1672), for which the text and music of the piece have actually been reconstructed, see Monson, "Aelius Sejanus," 19-21.


Since neither text nor music was provided, in all three of these cases the singer was evidently expected to supply the aria from his or her own personal repertoire. This practice of inserting arias ad libitum, sporadic at first, reached a climax toward 1700 with the so-called arie di baule (literally, baggage arias) so ridiculed by Benedetto Marcello in Il teatro alla moda .

On other occasions the impact of the singers extended well beyond the insertion of songs, to impinge upon the turf of composer, librettist, and even impresario. It could influence such matters as the choice of the opera to be performed, the cast, the composer,[55] the dramatic structure of the libretto—length of scenes, proportion of aria to recitative—as well as the size (and shape) of their own individual parts. Evidence of performers' attempts to exert their influence permeates the correspondence between Marco Faustini and the various singers with whom he negotiated contracts. Singers frequently expressed interest in the other members of prospective casts, making suggestions for inclusions as well as exclusions. Sebastiano Cioni, for example, refused to appear with Anna Venturi because she sang out of tune;[56] Giuseppe Donati hoped that Gabrielli had not been engaged, because of personal incompatibility: "his personality doesn't mesh with mine because I want to live in peace and quiet and don't want fights or dissension and that requires agreement and not malice and envy."[57] Another singer would not sign a contract because the rest of the cast was poor;[58] while two others refused to appear together because they shared a protector.[59]

One of Faustini's regular singers, the castrato Antonio Cavagna, was particularly exigent about his participation in the 1666 season. Having looked over the part he was scheduled to sing, possibly that of Artabano in Doriclea , he did not hesitate to request two additional arias. Furthermore, he informed Faustini peremptorily that he expected to sing in Roman pitch (i.e., a whole tone lower than Venetian pitch): "I intend to sing with the instruments tuned to Roman

[55] Cesti claimed at least once that a certain singer had agreed to participate in a production only if he, Cesti, wrote the music (see letter to Beregan of 12 July 1665 discussed in Schmidt, "Tito Commission," 451; text given in Giazotto, "Cesti," 499: "il signor D. Giulio s'era disposto di recitar nell'opera, col solo riguardo ch'io vi facevo la musica mentre per altro egli mostravasi lontanissimo da questi impegni"). In another instance a singer (Formenti) and the prince of Bavaria, his patron, were reportedly willing to agree to a contract only because Sartorio would be writing the music (letter from Dolfin to Johann Friedrich, 15 April 1672; see Appendix IIIB.7).

[56] Letter of 6 November 1665 (see Appendix IIIA. 8).

[57] "Il suo umore non si confa punto con il mio perche voglio vivere quieto e non voglio liti ne discordie perche ciò ricerca unione e non malignità et invidie" (letter of 5 July 1667; in Brunelh, "Angustie," 339, mentioned below, n. 68]).

[58] Letter of 17 October 1665 (see Appendix IIIA.6).

[59] Documented in Massi's letter of 20 October 1673 (see Appendix IIIB.22).


pitch [al giusto tono di Roma ] and not as I did in Statira , in Teseo , and in other works, because it is better for my voice, and I say it nova so that no one will complain about it later" (Appendix IIIA.6).[60] In a subsequent reference to his role, Cavagna complained about the incoherence of one of the arias, refusing to sing it unless it was reset by the composer: "As for the arietta 'Dolce foco,' it isn't very good to sing because it is very mannered and beggarly, and unless you get him [the composer] to write new music for it I won't sing it at all" (Appendix IIIA. 7). He was concerned , too, about his role in Alciade , originally scheduled for the 1666 season, but postponed until 1667. He objected to his costume and to potential comparison with the stars of the production; he also complained about the range of one of his arias:

Only two things frighten me: one, to have to sing with the mask of a Moor, something I no longer do, and which I didn't understand until after I read the third act; the other, to have to sing between two angels, Signora Antonia and Signora Giulia. The canzonetta that you enclosed, excuse me, but who wrote it? It is for contralto, not for soprano, and is very different from Signor Ziani's style, so I will be content with singing the duet and that Signora Giulia sing her song alone. (Appendix IIIA. 16)[61]

"La Signora Giulia," to whom Cavagna referred, was the same Vincenza Giulia Masotti whose salary was so high in 1669 and who was distinguished as the only competent singer in Domitiano .[62] Praised by another singer, Nicola Coresi, as "the most superb woman in the world,"[63] and much sought after by Faustini and other impresarios, she was constantly wary of her status: her part had to be the largest in the opera, even if there were two major female roles. It was actually written into her contract that she have "la parte prima" and that she be able to examine her parts before agreeing to do them.[64] Because the former stipulation could not be fulfilled in the case of Alciade (another prima donna, Antonia Coresi, having already been engaged for the other major female role), Masotti's agent suggested substituting a different opera!

[60] Among other things, this letter, of 17 October 1665 (b . 188: 212), informs us that Cavagna sang in Statira (Busenello/Cavalli, 1655) and Teseo (Piccoli/Ziani, 1658), which we would not otherwise know. An earlier letter, of 10 October (b . 188:211), suggests that Cavagna's role in Doriclea was Artabano, a king. But kings were rarely portrayed by castratos; in Cavalli's setting Artabano was a tenor.

[61] This may refer to the aria he sent back for rewriting; see below. (The role in question was probably that of Megaristo, Alciade's servant.

[62] See Beregan's letter of 30 December 1672 (Appendix IIIB. 13); also Dolfin's of 30 December (Appendix IIIB. 12), and Massi's of 9 and 16 December (Appendix IIIB.8, 9).

[63] "la più superba donna che sia al mondo" (letter of 19 October 1665 [b . 194: 48]).

[64] She had to promise not to allow the scores out of her hands in Rome (b . 194: 109, item 6): "Che per accertarsi d'essere favorita delle prime parti vuol vedere avanti di partir di Roma tutte due l'opere che si hanno da rappresentare, assicurando però che non saranno vedute, ne usciranno dalle sue mani" (from Brunelli, "Angustie," 331).


She told me that an excellent solution would be to present Argia or Alessandro instead, and that when it was resolved to present Argia, Signora Giulia would agree that Apolloni, the author of the opera, could add and cut all the scenes that he wished. . . . I say only that changing the opera would dispel all doubts about the part, all the more since Signora Giulia is very inclined toward it, having the example of what happened in Rosilena. (Appendix IIIA. 13)[65]

In the end, of course, she got more than she asked for, when the opera in which she had achieved her greatest success, Dori —rather than either Argia or Alessandro , which she had suggested—was revived at the last minute. [66] She must have repeated her earlier success in Dori since the opera was revived for her yet again, in 1671.[67]

Not all singers wanted large parts, however. Giuseppe Donati agreed to sing the title role in Meraspe , but asked that it not be too difficult. He also suggested as a possible substitute for Meraspe , in case Faustini was looking for one, Cesti's Semiramide .[68] When his role arrived, he found it too high and asked permission to have it adjusted, though in a faintly apologetic tone, repeatedly assuring Faustini that he would do nothing without the composer's permission:

It has to be altered in some places so as not to spoil the composition; without [the original composer's] agreement, I will not touch it; but since it is a thing of little importance, I believe he will be satisfied, it being necessary only at cadences that I make sure the voice part remains fixed and, even without moving the basso continuo, that it does not relinquish its normal harmony. But without his approval I don't intend to put my hands where they don't belong. (Appendix IIIA. 18)

Of all the operas cast by Faustini, Meraspe seems to have caused the most trouble. Donati was not the only one who tried to discourage Faustini from producing it.[69] The tenor Nicola Coresi, husband of the much more sought-

[65] Faustini's angry response to Giulia's implied criticism of his brother's librettos is preserved in the draft of a letter (b . 188: 294-95) already quoted (see Appendix IIIA.14). Apparently Rosilena (Aureli/ Rovettino), the "new" opera in which Giulia had appeared several seasons earlier (1663), had been a failure, whereas she had been a great success in Dori, a revival, in the same season (b . 188: 345).

[66] Readied for performance in only eight days (according to the publisher's preface, dated 16 January 1667), it shared the season with Alciade , replacing Meraspe , which was postponed to the following season (see ch. 6, p. 194, above).

[67] See letter from Massi to Johann Friedrich, 26 December 1670 (Appendix IIIB. 5). This third revival evidently cemented her connection with the opera, since she was subsequently called by the nickname "La Dori" (see Appendix IIIB.9).

[68] Letters from Rome of 5 and 27 July 1667 (b . 188: 172, 174). It is interesting to note how' frequently substitutes were being proposed for Giovanni Faustini's librettos (see ch. 6, n. 98 above). Apparently Faustini did consider Semiramide , but fruitlessly, as indicated by the preface to the work that was performed instead, a revival of Giasone (1666): "Ti preparavo la Semiramide Opera del Signor Moniglia, ma questa gran Regina . . . non ha per adesso volsuto arischiarsi fin dall'Asia trasportarsi Pelegrina nell'Adria col seguito d'infinite disaventure." Semiramide , though in a setting by Ziani, was eventually performed in 1670-71, unsuccessfully, according to a letter from Massi to Johann Friedrich, 12 December 1670 (vol. 4, no. 627, f. 217): "Si e principiato a recitar a S. Zuanipolo la Semiramide, opera non riuscita, e poco lodata, ancor che li musici siano esquisiti." In this case, apparently, unlike Orfeo , good singers could not save a poor opera.

[69] In a letter of 4 June 1667 (b . 188: 163); see Brunelli, "Angustie," 336 n. 53.


after Roman singer Antonia Coresi, also attempted to talk Faustini into a substitution. When Faustini refused, he suggested alterations in the structure of the libretto, specifically the shortening of some scenes: "And if you are absolutely resolved to do Meraspe , at least let it be altered, as you once promised me, so that those scenes are cut which are so long that the same characters remain on stage forever."[70]

Coresi continued his criticism of the libretto in a subsequent letter, invoking the concept of "Venetian brevity": "It seems to me that to begin with there are long dull speeches [gran dicerie ], as in the fourth scene of the second act where it says 'Piange Olinda,' which is the kind of boring speech that can never sound beautiful, and that, as you know, must be shunned in Venice" (Appendix IIIA. 17a).[71] He then proceeded to attack the music:

In the second scene of act three there is a song [canzona ] that begins "Ride il core," which is worthless, having already been seen by the best musicians of Rome. Your Lordship should have it changed or else I will, my chief purpose being that my wife bring herself honor this year; however, she must be satisfied that the part is altered where necessary, and thus Your Lordship will be well served and we satisfied. (Appendix IIIA. 17b)

He concluded by asking Faustini to have Cavalli alter one of his wife's arias to the specifications of her range: "Please do me the favor of presenting the enclosed to Sig. Francesco Cavalli, to whom I indicate my wife's range so that he can accommodate her" (Appendix IIIA. 17c) [72]

In a subsequent letter, Coresi again asked to have the aria "Ride il core" rewritten (by Pallavicino this time), preferring, he said, to have all the music by the same composer rather than having it done in Rome. [73] But this time Faustini responded that Pallavicino was out of town and asked Coresi to have a new piece supplied of his own choice.[74] Finally, in another letter, Coresi questioned rather unsubtly the completeness--that is, the size—of his wife's part: "In act 3 she has nothing but the second and third scenes, so that it seems impossible to me that there is nothing more. You should check to see if you haven't left out a scene, because she ends with that duet that says 'Vincerai, vincerò,' and then the canzonetta that concludes the opera" (Appendix IIIA.21).

[70] "E se ella assolutamente risolve di fare il Meraspe , almeno faccia accomodare, conforme una volta mi disse, e non vi sieno quelle scene così lunghe che li medesimi personaggi stanno sempre in scena" (letter of 4 June 1667 [b . 188: 163]).

[71] Coresi's criticisms are very much like Ziani's regarding Doriclea (Appendix IIIA. 5), which probably referred to monologues like Doriclea's in 3.1. The monologue is illustrated in ch. 12 below (example 80).

[72] Brunelli, "Angustie," 336, n. 54. Coresi was mistaken about the composer of Meraspe ; it was Pallavicino rather than Cavalh, a mistake he corrected in a subsequent letter. Cavalli actually did sign a contract with Faustini only ten days later, on 23 June 1667, to write an opera for the 1667 season, to be present at rehearsals, and to make the necessary additions, alterations, and cuts, but the opera was to be Eliogabalo (b . 194: 50); Brunelli, "Angustie," 334; see ch. 7, n. 35, above.

[73] Letter of 30 July 1667 (b. 188: 165). He seems not to have appreciated the fact that many operas were pasticcios!

[74] Letter of 6 August 1667 (b . 188: 168).


The comments of the solicitous husband were not always negative, however. He was apparently quite taken with the first act of his wife's part in Massenzio in 1673, according to a report by Dolfin (Appendix IIIB. 11c). Nor was Coresi's concern unselfishly limited to his wife's roles. Indeed, he continually complained about the size and content of his own, clearly secondary, parts as well. When Faustini attempted to alleviate one complaint by adding the prologue to his role in Meraspe , Coresi refused it: "Regarding the prologue that Your Excellency sends me, there are four short words; however, I pray you with all my heart not to make me do it, because, not having ever done a prologue, I don't want to start now, and besides, this is a part that anyone can do" (Appendix IIIA. 15).[75] He was thoroughly insulted by the part Faustini sent him the following year, and promptly returned it with a petulant note, explaining that he never would have accepted it had he known how small it was going to be:

I received the part of Caristo, which I send back to Your Excellency because it is not a part to send someone like me . . . and if I accepted the part last year it was because you showed me only a single scene, but now that I have seen the whole thing, I have discovered how little you esteem me. If you show this part around Venice, you will see that it is a part to be given to the lowest of musicians. (Appendix IIIA. 19)

Two weeks later, having cooled off slightly, Coresi explained further some of his objections to the part. As it turned out, it was not so much its small size as the fact that it lacked an aria: "I have always told you that I don't care to perform if I do not have a part worthy of me, and for a part to be worthy it is not enough that it have poetry of high quality, since even a thousand lines of brilliant repartee would not make a good part, something you either don't know or don't care to know, if they didn't include a bit of song."[76]

In 1667 it was predictable that any role without an aria, even a minor role, would be difficult to cast. Ever since the beginning of opera in Venice, but especially after 1650, the value of arias—and their proportion with respect to recitative—had been rising steadily. As early as 1645, Faustini had added arias (among other things) to his Doriclea , and every new version of an old opera had to display at least some new arias.[77]

[75] Letter of 3 November 1666; Brunelli, "Angustie," 333-34. Two weeks later, when he agreed to do it after all, he admitted that he just had not wanted to bother changing costume (letter of 17 November 1666 [b . i88: 36]).

[76] Letter of 27 August 1667 from Rome (b . 188: 166); Brunelli, "Angustie," 338. Meraspe , as we know, was more than a decade old, and so undoubtedly had many fewer arias than singers expected by 1667. Cf. Appendix IIIA 5a for Ziani's comments on this subject.

[77] See ch. 6, pp. 188-90, above on Eritrea and Eupatra . Occasionally only second strophes were added, although at other times, second strophes were cut; see ch. 7, n. 30, above.


Librettists deplored this increase because it tended to trivialize their poetry and undermine the integrity of their dramas; and they were quick to place the blame on a combination of public taste and singers' whim. Aureli summed it up with a characteristic pun in the preface to his Le fatiche d'Ercole per Deianira of 1662: "I know I have expended more than one breath in claiming that I write out of mere whim, and to obey him who commands me, and not out of ambition to immortalize myself with those works, which, in being composed entirely in music, have no foundation other than air [l'aria ]" (Appendix 1.46a). The public is the scapegoat in Aureli's more explicit preface to Claudio Cesare ten years later: "I present to you my Claudio, richer in songs and ariette than in incident. It is enough to say that it is a dramma per musica . What can be done? If these days the whim of Venice wishes it thus, I shall try to satisfy their taste" (Appendix 1.50a). But Aureli as well as other librettists regularly blamed the singers too, as in this epilogue to the same libretto: "Have sympathy for the difficulty composers face these days in being able to satisfy not only the numerous strange whims of this city, but also the moods of the singers" (Appendix I. 50c).

Singing and/or Acting

Aureli's complaints were symptomatic of criticism of the time; by the late seventeenth century, opera was generally regarded as having drowned in a flood of canzonette . But it was a flood that had begun much earlier, whose origins were in a sense implicit in the genre from the very beginning. The development of opera in Venice relied on the approval of an unusually heterogeneous audience; it was easy for such an audience to focus on the singers as the most obvious representatives of the genre—which had been encouraged by the early publicity surrounding Anna Renzi. And focus on the singers was guaranteed by arias that served as a kind of musical spotlight, as show-stoppers that allowed singers to stand still and demonstrate their vocal prowess to an admiring, responsive audience.

I am speaking here about a different kind of singer from Anna Renzi, one defined essentially by voice rather than by acting abilities. During the earlier history of opera, a dichotomy was recognized between singers who acted and actors who sang. The first Orfeos, Jacopo Peri and Francesco Rasi, were of the former type. The first Arianna, Virginia Andrea Ramponi, was of the latter. The dichotomy—and the possibility of interchange—is explicit in the case of Monteverdi's Arianna : although eventually performed by an actress, the title role had been conceived for a singer. The anonymous author of Il corago , writing probably in the 1630s, confronted the issue directly:


Above all, to be a good staging actor, one must also be a good speaking actor, from which we have seen that some who had particular grace in reciting were marvelous when they also knew how to sing. On this subject, some question whether one should choose a not bad musician who is a perfect actor or an excellent musician who has little or no talent for acting, the case being that excellent singers, no matter how cold their acting, gave greater pleasure to those few who know a great deal about music, whereas the normal theater audience received greater satisfaction from perfect actors with mediocre voices and musical ability. Therefore, since the composer has to distribute the parts appropriately and use everyone to perfection, he will try to imitate as far as possible the excellent singers, but putting those who are bloodless and stiff at reciting in parts that are not very active and surrounding them by many stage props, as in clouds and other machines in the air, where not much expressive movement or acting ability is required. (Appendix II. 1e)

Once again, Anna Renzi offers a standard of measurement. Although she had effectively initiated the age of the prima donna, appreciation of her performances had emphasized her abilities as an actress. She was a singer who found most vivid expression in the stile recitativo . Her style—recitando rather than cantando —was predicated on the centrality of recitative, of dramatic verisimilitude. It is difficult to think of her having demanded more arias; indeed, she established her reputation in operas that had relatively few of them. But operatic style changed around her. After the middle of the century she was undoubtedly still making the same impression, but she was singing more arias. Her younger contemporaries and successors benefitted from her achievement and stature, though they did not share her background and training. Whereas she had put herself at the service of the drama, they were more self-centered, exigent, and ornamental. Their arias resembled the scenic distraction that the author of Il corago had recommended as compensation for poor or unconvincing actors. Arias focused the audience's attention on the singers—attention stimulated by, and in turn causing, a variety of off-stage intrigues.

The rapid increase in the number and size of arias—which began to gather momentum during the course of the 1650s, accelerated during the 1660s, and culminated in the following two decades—is the most obvious sign of the ascent of the singer, qua singer, to first place in the operatic hierarchy. Originally merely the mouthpiece of the librettist and composer, the singer gradually wrested control of opera from their hands. In order to satisfy performers' demands for arias, librettists were forced to rewrite their dramas. Composers had to accommodate to these demands either by writing extra arias or by seeing other composers called in to do so, their music being cut and replaced to satisfy the whims of the singers. By the end of the century, the original relationship among the makers of opera had been thoroughly transformed. For their adoring audience, the singers had grown to personify opera itself.


Gran dicerie e canzonette :
Recitative and Aria

As the geographical and creative separation between composers and librettists increased, the language of their communication with one another became, by necessity, more explicit and efficient. Librettists' texts differentiated more clearly between aria and recitative verse and composers' responses became more predictable. Aria and recitative attained their own distinct, and mutually exclusive, identities.

The Florentine Background

At the beginning of its development, operatic poetry was relatively undifferentiated. The first librettists, borrowing from the pastoral, chose versi sciolti for their dramas, a meter characterized by freely alternating settenario and endecasillabo lines, unrhymed or rhymed irregularly. Lacking formal restraints or conditions, the pastoral meter suited the open-ended stile recitativo devised by the Florentine composers for the clear and immediate communication of dramatic poetry in music. The stile recitativo was relatively unencumbered by textural, harmonic, or melodic responsibilities. It could thus aspire to the condition of speech, ebbing and flowing in response to the changing emotional temperature of a dramatic text. Governed by the form and sense of poetry rather than by principles of musical structure, it was an effective means of communication that did not strain verisimilitude.

The musico-dramatic continuity promoted by versi sciolti was occasionally interrupted by an unusual textual passage that attracted special attention to itself by virtue of its structure: a succession of tightly rhymed lines, perhaps, or a passage in a new meter. Inspired by some unusual event or emotion in the drama, such passages frequently gained further emphasis (and greater differentiation from their context) through immediate repetition of their distinctive verse structure, thereby producing a strophic form. Self-contained forms like


these suggested a contrast in musical setting, a more closed, structured treatment in which the freedom of speech would yield to the control of musical form. But any kind of musical structure, especially strophic repetition, interrupted the dramatic continuity and undermined the verisimilitude that the stile recitativo had been developed to sustain. The use of the same music for two different passages of text was inimical to a style in which music sought to respond directly, newly, and uniquely to specific words. It broke the illusion of spontaneity: people did not speak in strophes, or in rhyme, or in meter, let alone in melody—at least not under ordinary circumstances.[1]

But not all circumstances in opera were ordinary. Some explicitly called for music. In addition to dialogue, operas (like plays) contained songs, choruses, and dances. For such occasions, musical organization was not merely possible; it was necessary. There were other instances, too, not so obvious, in which organized music was more effective than ordinary speech for projecting character and situation: moments of great emotional intensity—elation or despair—often needed a special outlet, the heightened emphasis provided by song.[2]

Formal music, then, might temporarily slow the dramatic action by stepping outside its flow, but by that very separateness it could also serve the action by summarizing, punctuating, or commenting on it; or it could carry the action on a new level, that of music rather than speech, as songs and choruses. Early librettists reserved textual formality for just such occasions: where it could contribute directly to the drama without seriously disrupting or undermining its verisimilitude.[3]

[1] Caccini implicitly recognized the aesthetic contradiction embodied in strophic settings when he defended the "arie" in his Le nuove musiche not for their expressive verisimilitude but for their pleasing qualities, terming them good for relieving depression ("per sollevamento tal volta degli animi oppressi"). The contradiction is spelled out in Il corago , the treatise already mentioned on the production of theatrical spectacles, operatic and spoken, dating from about 1630. Its anonymous author mentions lack of verisimilitude as one of the chief inconveniences ("incomodità") of arias (Appendix II. 1a).

[2] In ch. 5 of his Trattato della musica scenica (1640) (De'trattati di musica [Florence: A. F. Gori, 1763], 2), part 2, "La commozione d'affetto in scena richiede il canto, e non il parlare quieto," Giovanni Battista Doni argues that certain vehement emotions require musical expression because even in speech such emotions cause the voice to be heightened in a way that approaches song: "Ma che gli affetti veementi siano potenti incentivi della Musica, e che dove si rappresentano in Scena, ivi massimamente si richiegga la melodia, da quello si può conoscere, che naturalmente sospendendo la voce, come si fa ne' lamenti, minaccie, giubbili, ed altre umane passioni, ci avviciniamo al canto." In chs. 10 ("Che la Musica Scenica si può perfezionare assai") and 11 (". . . In che differisca lo stile Recitativo dal Rappresentativo, ed Espressivo"), Doni speaks of the necessity of variety in dramatic music and argues that, although verisimilitude of expression is necessary (the style closest to speech), so is beauty (a more songlike style). His three styles of theatrical music, the narrative, the expressive, and the madrigalistic, are discussed in Hanning, Of Poetry and Music's Power , 72-73.

[3] On the function of formal music in early opera, see Pirrotta, Music and Theatre , ch. 6 ("Early Opera and Aria"), 269; also id., "Monteverdi and the Problems of Opera," Essays , 249-50. Pirrotta developed a special critical vocabulary that elegantly isolates and distinguishes three ways of thinking about the music of early opera. "Recitar cantando" (sung recitation), an expression frequently used by the early theorists of opera themselves, refers to their basic intention to imitate speech in song, Doni's stile recitativo . The reverse, "cantar recitando" (singing in arecitational manner) refers essentially to non-operatic music with representational or dramatic intentions, e.g., Caccini's "madrigali." Finally, the fanciful "cantar cantando" (singing in a singing manner) describes those operatic moments that do not pretend to be speech at all but assert themselves as song—Orfeo's "Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi," for example.


The composer's response to the librettist's formal hints depended, of course, on his interpretation of their function. If actual songs or choruses were indicated, he usually chose aria style, a measured, lyrical setting that unfolded according to musical rules. In more ambiguous cases he might try to minimize, undermine, or counteract their static implications by using a declamatory vocal style or writing a strophic recitative only loosely structured by means of a repeated bass; or else he could use a combination of styles, reserving lyricism perhaps just for the conclusion of such a passage. Finally, he might choose to ignore the librettist's formal hints altogether, or, conversely, to impose a formal structure where the libretto had none, in response to his own interpretation of the drama.

The composer's confirmations of the librettist's formal structures, even if they resulted in more highly organized music, were as consonant with the precepts of the stile rappresentativo as was open-ended recitative. Both kinds of response were governed by the words; the aim of both was the same: to interpret, reflect, or project the drama through its poetry. The stile rappresentativo of the Florentines, then, actually covered a wide spectrum of music, ranging from free, speech-imitating recitative to more formal, self-contained, and musical moments. This wide spectrum eventually separated into recitative and aria.

Closed forms, for solo as well as chorus, internal as well as external to the drama, were built into opera from the very start. Orpheus, the quintessential operatic hero, sang his way into Hades, proving that music could promote action. To be sure, singing was his natural mode of expression. Yet even for him librettists and composers distinguished between speech and song. He achieved his goal specifically through a formally organized song: Rinuccini's "Funeste piaggie" comprises three irregular stanzas linked by a refrain set lyrically by Peri; Striggio's "Possente spirto" is a six-strophe text in terza rima , which Monteverdi cast as an increasingly elaborate series of strophic variations. Despite—or actually because of—their form, Orfeo's songs satisfied the requirements of verisimilitude.

Even in operas not featuring musicians, however, music per se could serve the drama. Songs were a frequent ingredient of early opera, as they had been in the pastoral. Nymphs and shepherds could sing in musical plays because they sang in nature. Likewise, divinities could express themselves in any form they chose; their songs actually helped to distinguish them from ordinary mortals.


Verisimilitude was not an issue for the inhabitants of Olympus or Arcadia.[4] Yet, even more realistic opera plots concerned with human characters, such as Arianna in Mantua and those involving biblical and chivalric heroes introduced in Rome during the 1620s and 1630s, contained a variety of closed forms. These were mostly choruses and dances, though there were some solo songs as well— especially for servants and other minor characters, but occasionally also for protagonists. If they did not always serve specific dramatic functions as songs, they at least did not interrupt the action.[5]

Venetian Conservatism

By 1640, Roman librettos distinguished quite clearly between aria and recitative verse; they contained numerous closed forms (suggesting musical interruptions), especially strophic ones, in a wide variety of meters. By comparison, early Venetian librettos are remarkably undifferentiated in poetic style and exceptionally poor in arias. The first two Venetian librettos, Ferrari's Andromeda and La maga fulminata , contain very few hints of anything but recitative. Interruptions of the open-ended recitative style in Andromeda are limited to five strophic texts, all but one for chorus (i.e., structurally external to the dramatic narrative), and a few rhymed quatrains or otherwise patterned metric arrangements for Venere and Astrea that suggest some kind of closed setting. In La maga fulminata the number of such indications is somewhat greater, particularly in connection with the comic nurse, Scarabea. Her speeches are quite highly organized in meter and rhyme, lending them a sing-song quality that tends to emphasize their humor. In addition, strophic texts are provided for several characters, including the god Mercurio and the enchanted mortal Pallante. While strophic arrangements of settenario and endecasillabo lines are the most common formal signals, both librettos also contain individually closed sections marked by unusual metric organizations involving regular successions or alternations of short and long lines, many of them in versi misurati .[6]

[4] This is another point made explicit in Il corago ; see Appendix II. 1b.

[5] The author of Il corago assumes the appropriateness of singing for comic characters when he suggests that their music imitate as closely as possible the vulgar inflections characteristic of their speech (Appendix II. 1d). On operatic songs, see Pirrotta, Music and Theatre , 273-75. Murata, Operas for the Papal Court, 1631-1668 , 185-86, mentions three different, characteristic arias in Sant'Alessio (1632), which introduce, summarize, and divert dramatic action without interrupting it. She discusses Roman aria texts in general on 179-80, and 184—88; see also Silke Leopold," 'Quelle bazzicature poetiche, appellate ariette': Dichtungsformen m der frühen italienischen Oper (1600-1640)," Hamburger Jahrbuch für Musikwissenschaft 3 (1978): 101-41.

[6] For example, Scarabea's solo scene, 1.4, is marked by three passages of alternating rhyming lines of four and ten syllables interspersed with more usual versi sciolti .


In light of the progress toward integration of music and drama in the works of his predecessors to the south, Ferrari's reticence toward closed forms is somewhat surprising. Lacking Manelli's settings, we cannot be sure, but the musical highlights of both operas seem to have been the choruses—or "madrigali," as they were called in the descriptions published soon after the works were performed. Apparently, the question of verisimilitude, rendered less urgent through experience in Florence and Rome, was still an issue in Venice. Perhaps this was because of the wider social range of the opera audience there, an audience that may have been less willing and able than its courtly counterparts in central Italy to suspend disbelief for entertainment's sake. [7]

Elaborate scenery and, of course, mythological plots should have helped to diffuse the need for strict verisimilitude or at least have expanded its limits. But, as I suggested earlier, perhaps even more than for the aristocratic Medici and Gonzaga audiences, satisfied by implicit connections between opera and classical drama, for Venetian hoi polloi identification with the actions on stage was a prerequisite for the appreciation—and success—of a work. Plays with songs, commedie , had been the usual fare of Venetian audiences during the early years of the century, and they provided the standard for verisimilitude in its early operas.

The absence of firm poetic distinctions between recitative and aria (and the limited number of arias) in early Venetian librettos may also be the result of another, quite opposite, influence, that of the academic librettists, who, as we have seen, took control of opera in Venice during its crucial formative period— the first decade. It was they who felt the pressures of classical precedent most strongly; and, aside from Ferrari's first two librettos, it is their texts that adhere most closely to notions of propriety that frequent arias would have violated. To be sure, whereas the problem of verisimilitude was attenuated considerably in mythological or magical contexts, it was especially troublesome in librettos that dealt with more realistic, historical subjects—subjects that the academic librettists introduced quite deliberately in their attempts to emulate the classical dramatists.[8]

[7] The author of Il corago expresses his faith in the effect of repeated exposure to opera on the ability of the audience to suspend disbelief: "con il tempo il popolo s'avvezzarebbe a gustar ogni cosa rappresentata in musica" (p. 64).

[8] This was another problem anticipated by the anonymous author of Il corago , who advised the would-be musical dramatist to choose subject matter distant from the present, either from mythology or biblical history (Appendix II. 1c).


Monteverdi and His Collaborators

Among the academics, perhaps the most ascetic of all early Venetian librettists when it came to arias was Giacomo Badoaro. His initial entry into the operatic field, Il ritorno d'Ulisse , was written for Monteverdi and performed in 1640.[9] It is cast primarily in versi sciolti and provides few clues as to where a composer might have halted the recitative flow to write an aria. We are at an advantage here, however, with respect to Ferrari's librettos, because we have Monteverdi's score, which, while fundamentally in recitative, is surprisingly rich in lyrical moments—though these do not always qualify as full arias. The inspiration for these moments can usually be traced to subtle formal hints in the libretto, passages of text that are more highly organized than those around them. Quatrains or sestets may be structured by means of regular rhyme or repeated meter: a group of four settenari , perhaps, or a succession of six regularly rhymed alternating settenari and endecasillabi . While such metric organization suggests musical closure, it does not insist upon it—in fact, the rhyme is never that tight; sometimes a group of endecasillabi remains ambiguous because the rhymes are so far apart. Badoaro almost never used versi misurati , which would automatically distinguish themselves from recitative poetry. However subtle the librettist's formal suggestions might have been, Monteverdi nearly always capitalized on them.

Only on three occasions are Badoaro's formal hints unambiguous. His libretto contains three strophic texts, which Monteverdi set as strophic variation arias. Badoaro's conservative use of strophic form, in only these three instances, confirms his belief in the need for verisimilitude. Each of the three texts—and, by extension, Monteverdi's aria settings—is dramatically justified. In each case, the formal structure enhances the drama rather than undermining it. Melanto, a simple servant girl flirting with her lover, sings the first of them; the second is sung by Minerva, a goddess in disguise—and therefore doubly exempt from normal rules of behavior; and Iro, the parasite, a ridiculous comic character whose appetite is as peculiar as his manner of speech, sings the third.

Although Monteverdi's score is filled with lyrical, or arioso, expansions, the composer nevertheless seems to have wanted more structure than the libretto provided, and often edited Badoaro's text accordingly. His intervention is notable in three of the most intensely emotional moments of the drama, all of them marked by the presence of refrains. In one of them, in act 1, scene 9, where Ulisse finally recognizes that he has returned to Ithaca, Monteverdi converted

[9] This date is discussed in ch. 3, n. 36 above.


an exceedingly amorphous text into what almost amounts to a strophic aria, utilizing two irregularly spaced refrain lines (italicized) to mark the opening and closing of each strophe. Badoaro's text reads as follows (example I):


O fortunato Ulisse ,

O happy Ulysses

Fuggi del tuo dolor

Flee from the old error

L'antico error;

Of your sorrow;

Lascia il pianto,

Let be your weeping:

Dolce canto

A sweet song

Dal tuo cor lieto disserra;

Unleash from your glad heart;

Non si disperi più mortale in terra :

Let mortals of this earth cease from despairing .

O fortunato Ulisse .

O happy Ulysses .

Dolce vicenda si può soffrir,

Sweet vicissitudes one may suffer—

Hor diletto, hor martir, hor pace, hor guerra

Now delight, now martyrdom, now peace, now war;

Non si disperi più mortale in terra .[10]

Let mortals of this earth cease from despairing .

Monteverdi expanded the two refrain lines enormously through textual and musical repetition so that they take up most of the aria; then, despite their unequal length, he treated the penultimate line of each "strophe" similarly, using the same extended melisma for "lieto" and "guerra." Inspired by Badoaro's refrain as well as by the expressive content of Ulisse's words, which actually invite song ("dolce canto . . . disserra"), Monteverdi's lyrical setting effectively changes not only the weight but the form of the text.

In another highly dramatic moment toward the end of the opera (3.8), where Ericlea wrestles with herself about revealing Ulisse's identity to Penelope, Monteverdi turned an irregular, 24-line text into a refrain form comprising four unequal sections of nine, four, five, and six lines, each closing with a sententia of self-justification (italicized) (example 2):



Ericlea, che vuoi far,

Ericlea, what will you do,


Vuoi tacer ò parlar?

Will you be silent, or speak?


Se parli tu consoli,

If you speak, you will bring comfort,


Obbedisci se tacci

You obey if you are silent.


Sei tenuta à servir

You are compelled to serve,


Obbligata ad'amar

Obliged to love.


Vuoi tacer, ò parlar?

Will you be silent, or speak?


Ma ceda l'obbedienza alla pietà,[11]

But let obedience yield to pity.


Non si dee sempre dir ciò che si sà .

We must not always tell that which we know .




[10] The texts of Il ritorno d'Ulisse are taken from what appears to be the oldest of the nine surviving manuscript librettos , I-Vmc 564. These manuscripts (seven are listed in Osthoff, "Zu den Quellen," 69) reveal a number of metric irregularities. The libretto readings often differ from those in the manuscript score (A-Wn 18763). This particular aria text comes at the end of 1.8 in I-Vmc 564.

[11] Note the slightly different readings in libretto and score.



Medicar chi languisce, o che diletto

To minister to him who languishes, oh, what delight!


Mà che ingiurie, e dispetto

But what injury, what spite,


Scoprir gli altrui pensier

To disclose another's thoughts;


Bella cosa tal volta è un bel tacer .

At times silence is golden .


È ferità crudele

It is ferocious cruelty


Il poter con parole

To be able with words


Consolar chi si duole, e non lo far;

To comfort the grieving, and not do it;


Mà del pentirsi al fin

But repentance, in the end


Assai lunge è il taccer più che il parlar .

Far longer from silence than from speaking lasts .





Del secreto tacciuto

A fine secret wrapped in silence


Tosto scoprir si può,

Can always be disclosed later;


Una sol volta detto

Once said,


Celarlo non potrò.

Hide it I can no more.


Ericlea, che farai, taccerai tù

Ericlea, what will you do, will you be silent?


Che in somma un beI tacer scritto non fù .[12]

For, in sum, silence is not a law .




By adding a ritornello after sections 1, 3, and 4, and setting each final sententious line to the same highly expanded music, the composer intensified the formal implications—and the affect—of Ericlea's monologue. The music con-cretely marks her progress from her initial vow of silence (sections 1 and 2), through ambivalence (section 3), to her decision to speak. As in Ulisse's aria, but by different means, Monteverdi superimposed a kind of strophic structure on the text and, far from sacrificing affective intensity, he increased it. The absence of a confirming ritornello after the second "refrain" (line 13) and consequent telescoping of sections 2 and 3 creates a sense of urgency that matches Ericlea's ambivalence.

Monteverdi's most impressive intervention, one that involved extensive text editing as well as reweighting, occurs in the very first scene of the opera, where he completely restructured Penelope's opening lament. He took a diffuse text of no fewer than 125 lines, in four uneven sections, that wandered rather aimlessly from topic to topic, and transformed it into a tripartite recitative of slowly building intensity, utilizing two irregular refrains provided by the librettist as structural pillars of the powerfully dramatic form. Intensified by the composer's restructuring, Penelope's torment resonates throughout the entire opera. [13]

Although written expressly for Monteverdi, Badoaro's libretto clearly did not completely satisfy the composer's lyrical impulse, his yearning for texts to set lyrically. In fact, as we have already noted, Monteverdi's alterations—

[12] Note the slightly different readings in libretto and score.

[13] See Tutte le opere di Claudio Monteverdi , ed. Gian Francesco Malipiero (Asolo, 1926-42), 12: 14-22.


which, in addition to those already mentioned, involved a variety of repetitions, single-line expansions, the creation of refrains, cuts, and so on—rendered the text virtually unrecognizable to its original author, or so Badoaro admiringly reported in a letter attached to one of the contemporary manuscript copies of the libretto.

To the Most Illustrious and most Reverend Signor Claudio Monte Verde Great Master of Music: Not in order to compete with those talented men who, in recent years have publicized their compositions in the Venetian theaters, but to stimulate the imagination of Your Lordship to make known to this city that in warming the affections there is a great difference between a real sun and a painted one, I initially dedicated myself to compose the Return of Ulysses . . . . Now, having seen the opera performed ten times, always before the same [large] audience of the city, I can positively and heartily affirm that my Ulysses is more obligated to Your Lordship than the real Ulysses was to the always charming Minerva . . . We admire with the greatest astonishment those rich ideas of yours, not without some perturbation, because I can no longer recognize this work as mine. (Appendix 1.7a, c)

Monteverdi's powerful brand of editing is set into relief by comparison with an opera contemporary with Il ritorno d'Ulisse , Sacrati's setting of Strozzi's La finta pazza . To be sure, of the latter two collaborators, the librettist rather than the composer was the more experienced and more self-confident; certainly La finta pazza is a more effective and skillful text than Il ritorno d'Ulisse . It is also considerably richer in explicit invitations to lyricism, containing eleven formal texts, all but two of them strophic, many utilizing versi misurati , and nearly all of them dramatically explicable as actual songs.[14]

Whatever the reason, Sacrati seems to have accepted Strozzi's text quite willingly, satisfied to follow the libretto's lyrical implications without creating his own closed forms. He did sidestep Strozzi's structural directive in one case, however, setting each of the two quatrains (strophes) of Deidamia's aria "Verga tiranna ignobile" to different music, thereby creating an AB aria instead of a strophic one; and in two other instances (Acchille's aria "Felicissimo giorno" in 1.3 and the Eunuch's "Serva, serva chi vuole" in 2.10) he restructured Strozzi's text slightly by bringing back the opening line (or lines) later in the form, creating a miniature ABA in the first instance and a rondo in the second (the composer's repetitions are in italics):

[14] These figures are based on the original edition of the libretto (Venice, 1641). The recently uncovered score, which coincides with the libretto published in connection with a performance in Piacenza in 1644, has a few additional arias.



Felicissimo giorno
Se le nubi squarciate
Di queste spoglie ingrate
Faccia Acchille ad Acchille il suo ritorno.
Felicissimo giorno .

Oh, most happy day,
If the clearing mists
Of these ungrateful clothes
Allow Acchille to return to himself,
Oh, most happy day .


Serva, serva, chi vuole,
Ch'io non hò voglie ignobili,ed ancelle
Fuggono insin le Stelle
Per non servir il Sole.
Serva, serva chi vuole ,
Ch'io non hò voglie ignobili, ed ancelle :
O che gentil solazzo
Haver poco salario, e 'l padron pazzo.
Serva, serva chi vuole ,
Ch'io non hò voglie ignobili, ed ancelle .[15]

Let him who wishes be a servant,
For I have no such ignoble and housemaidenly desires.
Even the stars flee
So as not to serve the sun.
Let him who wishes be a servant ,
For I have no such ignoble and housemaidenly desires .
Oh, what gentle consolation
To have a low salary and a mad master.
Let him who wishes be a servant ,
For I have no such ignoble and housemaidenly desires .

As for Strozzi's recitative verse, Sacrati emphasized a fair number of lines and couplets by arioso treatment, many of them significant with respect to the meaning of the work. In act 2, scene 2, for example, a particularly pregnant speech within an exchange between Ulisse and Acchille, although formally rather neutral, is nevertheless set lyrically. In response to Acchille's question as to whether he thinks that a young lover can change his affections and his beloved when he wishes, Ulisse responds:


Questo nò, no 'l dirò mai,
In amor io son costante,
Fede eterna le giurai,
E morrò fedele amante.

This, no, I'll never say it,
In love I am constant,
I swore eternal faith
And I'll die a faithful lover.

The exchange involves Ulisse's fidelity, and is probably an allusion to his role in Il ritorno d'Ulisse of the previous season.

In another instance, a six-line passage of Deidamia's in 3.2 that refers pointedly to matters outside the drama itself, namely to the theater management, is also set lyrically:


In vece d'herbe, e fiori, hoggi mi dà
E stecchi, e spine, e lappole[16]
Vostra paternità?
Che padri ingannatori,
Pieni d'insidie, e trappole,
Vivono in quest'età?

In lieu of herbs, and flowers, today
Your paternity vouchsafes me
Sticks and thorns and cockleburs?
What deceiving fathers,
Full of wiles and traps,
Has this age begotten?

[15] The musical settings for these and other texts cited from La finta pazza may be found in La finta pazza , ed. Bianconi.

[16] Lappoli was the leaser of the Teatro Novissimo (see ch. 4 above).


Aria style, finally, is used to set a particular passage directed to the audience by the Eunuch in 3.3 (example 3):



Io non son buono
A ricordarlo al padre.

I am not able
To remind her father of it.


Mà s'altri, che mi ascolta,
In sè sperimentato,
O ne congiunti suoi
Havesse alcun segreto
Da sanar la pazzia,
L'impresti à Deidamia.

But if anyone who can hear me
Has himself experienced,
Or has any relatives who have,
Any secret way
To cure madness,
Let him lend it to Deidamia.

Other, briefer passages elicit lyrical treatment because of their emotional content. These include Acchille's plea to Deidamia for forgiveness at the end of a speech in 3.4 ("Perdona, tu, perdona"), and Deidamia's acceptance of his hand later in the same scene ("Caro pegno di fede").

Such passages are neither as elaborate nor as frequent as Monteverdi's arioso expansions in Il ritorno d'Ulisse ; furthermore, Sacrati ignores a number of formal hints—such as the four sestets at the end of act 1, and various rhymed couplets and quatrains, and lengthy sequences of settenari that Monteverdi would have pounced on as excuses for musical elaboration or structure. La finta pazza contains extended passages of straight recitative setting of versi sciolti uninterrupted by lyricism that nevertheless reveal in Sacrati a powerful musical imagination at work. It must be said that poet and composer were more compatible in La finta pazza than in Il ritorno d'Ulisse .

Monteverdi's next librettist, Busenello, less conservative than Badoaro, as well as more experienced in the art of libretto-writing, seems to have produced a more satisfactory text. [17] Although L'incoronazione di Poppea also needed many alterations, to judge from the printed libretto, it seems to have provided Monteverdi with what he lacked in Il ritorno d'Ulissenamely , multiple occasions for lyrical expansion. In addition to thirteen strophic texts, most of them for secondary characters, and all of them arias in Monteverdi's score, the libretto of Poppea contains a large number of prominent couplets and quatrains. Monteverdi almost always set these lyrically, sometimes splitting them line by line, sometimes treating them as a whole ("Poppea sta di buon core," end of 1. 10), and sometimes turning them into miniature ABA arias by repeating the first line at the end as a refrain ("E pur io torno" [1.1]; "O felice Drusilla" [3. 1]). In

[17] But see Rosand, "Seneca," for some general examples of incompatibility between the two. Gary Tomlinson, Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1987), 216 and n. 3, argues that Monteverdi took more liberties with Busenello's text than with Badoaro's. But, although there are many fascinating differences between the scores and the librettos of Poppea , including the manuscripts as well as Busenello's printed text, none of them quite equals Monteverdi's radical restructuring of Penelope's lament. I discuss some of these alterations in "Monteverdi's Mimetic Art."


L'incoronazione di Poppea , as in Il ritorno d'Ulisse , Monteverdi left almost no suggestion for musical structuring or lyrical expansion unexploited; but in the libretto of Poppea there were more of them.[18]

Poppea , even more than Il ritorno , depends on lyricism; it owes its affective impact to distinctions between speech and song. Whether fleeting emotional outburst or fully considered pleading, song lies at the heart of the work, touching all the characters and all the situations. Nino Pirrotta regards the unusual abundance of song in Poppea as evidence of relaxed standards of verisimilitude, which he ascribes to the fact that the characters are carried away by love.[19] In fact, very little of the lyrical expansion in Poppea is actually formal, and thus "unnatural." Predictably, most of the strophic arias are songs sung by comic characters, the repetition and patterning enhancing the humorous effect; those that are not (and even some of those that are) are treated as quite free strophic variations, which minimizes their repetitiveness. And in most cases, whether comic or serious, the structure contributes to the development of the drama.[20] Monteverdi's song, a correlative of heightened passion, emerges from and fades back into speech quite naturally, feelingly. Poppea is especially lyrical, airy (arioso ), but not especially formal.

Busenello and Cavalli

Busenello's distinctions between aria and recitative are not totally unambiguous; but Monteverdi could read them, or at least he did read them, the way he wanted to. Beyond the arias, Busenello's text provided Monteverdi with the kind of structure and imagery that stimulated his musical imagination. Given what we know of the composer, and in the context of the deficiencies of Il ritorno d'Ulisse , it is likely that the text of Poppea was constructed to Montever-

[18] The question of authenticity has been raised repeatedly with reference to Poppea , most notably by Walker ("Errori") and Curtis ("La Poppea impasticciata "). Their skepticism is chiefly based on the fact that the two scores were copied in conjunction with a revival (or revivals) that took place well after Monteverdi's death, and that both of them contain obvious alterations, including transpositions as well as, probably, newly composed music. Both scores certainly contain music that Monteverdi did not write, most notably the final duet "Pur ti miro" and, in the Naples score, some new music for Ottavia. But, until more convincing documentary evidence becomes available, I will maintain my belief in the essential authenticity of the work as a whole—with minor exceptions—which rests on stylistic characteristics that distinguish Poppea from the music of any other known composer. These include an attitude toward text-setting that marks Monteverdi's works in all genres. Indeed, it is my contention that Monteverdi's treatment of Busenello's text in particular (but also Badoaro's) is the natural culmination of his experience in writing madrigals, an experience that no other known opera composer of the time shared. Monteverdi's unique attitude toward the text, in fact, renders his Venetian operas atypical. Although they had great significance in establishing the genre on a firm footing, they are not strongly implicated in its future development.

[19] Pirrotta, "Monteverdi and the Problems of Opera," Essays , 252-53.

[20] See, for example, Poppea's self-comforting refrain "Per me guereggia Amor" (1.4); Drusilla's ironically exuberant "Felice cor mio" (2. 10) and "O felice Drusilla" (3. 1); Arnalta's sleepy lullaby (2. 12). See Rosand, "Monteverdi's Mimetic Art."


di's specifications, or at least with his tendency toward mimetic musical expansion in mind. This is particularly clear from a comparison with Busenello's two previous librettos, written for Cavalli, Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (1640) and, especially, Didone (1641). The feature that chiefly distinguishes Didone from Poppea is its many strophic texts and few independent quatrains. In practically every scene of the earlier libretto, the free succession of versi sciolti yields to organization in the form of strophes, usually three or four, but sometimes as many as eight (eleven in one case!), comprising from three to eight lines each, which are set off from the surrounding text by their more regular meter and/or rhyme scheme.

In Didone , then, Busenello established strophicism as the clearest and most frequent closed form for opera. But its musical implications remained ambiguous for a number of years. The distinctions between the strophic forms and the surrounding poetry are not all equally sharp. While a number of strophes utilize meters that contrast strongly with the predominant versi sciolti , such as quinari or ottonariversi misuratiothers are cast in the characteristic meters of recitative—settenario and endecasillabo —though in more structured patterns: typically a quatrain of settenari followed by a hendecasyllabic couplet. In some cases the strophes fail to create a strong metrical effect because their rhymes lack prominence. They may be too far apart, as in a succession of rhyming hendecasyllabic verses, or they may be counteracted by an opposing or simply non-confirming metrical structure; or else the rhyme may be restricted to the closing couplet, with the remaining text unrhymed, much like the standard recitative verse.

The formal units created by these strophes, some of them more insistent than others, always suggested some change in musical language, a closed rather than open-ended setting that would reflect, through musical repetition, the specially structured text. But since such musical repetition, whether in aria, recitative, or mixed style, generally threatened the illusion of dramatic continuity and verisimilitude, it could be used only rarely, and in specific circumstances.

Busenello's sensitivity to the implications of strophic form is revealed by the occasions on which he employed it. Nearly all of the twenty-six strophic texts in Didone are dramatically justified in one of the standard ways. A number of them are for gods, traditionally exempted from the laws governing human behavior; several others are for essentially comic or ironic characters (Sinon Greco, the ladies-in-waiting), who speak in clichés, and whose unwanted advice falls quite naturally into rhyme; and three of them are for the boy Ascanio, who may be thought of as not yet having learned the rules of adult behavior or whose youth is projected in his rhythmic, singsong speech. Busenello's serious


characters fall into patterned rhythm and rhyme only in spite of themselves, when self-control has failed owing to some kind of extraordinary pressure: fear of death, abandonment, or madness. In general, then, the librettist is quite conservative in his demands on the composer. His strophic forms suggest some special musical structuring, but not indiscriminately, and not necessarily in the form of an aria, as we can see from Cavalli's score.

If Busenello is conservative, Cavalli is downright reactionary in his respect for verisimilitude. To compensate, however, he penetrates more deeply into the drama, finding justification for musical expansion on psychological grounds. Of the twenty-six strophic texts in Busenello's libretto, Cavalli set only twelve as strophic arias; he set eight as strophic recitative, four with mixed treatment—part recitative, part aria—and ignored or changed the strophic form altogether in two. The libretto has only one non-strophic closed form, a series of quinari sdruccioli for Ecuba's invocation, which Cavalli set as an aria.[21] With his thirteen arias in the whole opera, Cavalli exploited fewer than half of the opportunities provided in the libretto for formal music.

Perhaps the most eloquent illustration of Cavalli's attitude toward verisimilitude and toward Busenello's textual directives—his basic disinclination to confirm strophic structure in music—is provided by an example in which he changed compositional styles, from recitative to aria, within the same strophic form. In act 3, scene 6, the gods have just informed Enea that he must leave Carthage. He knows that he is obliged to obey them, although he is reluctant to abandon his beloved Didone. Busenello provides him with a text consisting of seven strophes of six hendecasyllabic lines each, with the rhyme scheme abbacc , in which Enea expresses his bitter conflict between his love for Didone and the realization that the gods' command is law (example 4). He articulates that conflict most explicitly in the third strophe:


Fierissimo contrasto, aspro conflitto;
Amor m'induce ai pianti a viva forza,
Honor trova le lagrime, e le sforza
A' soffocarsi in mezo il core afflitto.
Son pianta combattuta da due venti,
E vengon da due inferni i miei tormenti.

Most savage contention, bitter conflict!
Love leads me with brute force to weep,
Honor meets the tears and compels them
To be stifled within the afflicted heart.
I am a plant shaken by opposing winds,
And from opposing hells come all my torments.

Cavalli set the first four strophes, in which Enea gives voice to his torment, in expressive recitative style. Although they share general harmonic shape, the four strophes vary in length, are supported by different bass lines, move to different internal cadential goals, and exhibit remarkably different rhythmic and melodic profiles.[22] The most abrupt change, however, occurs at the fifth stro-

[21] A second strophe is added later in the score, however (I-Vnm, It. IV, 355 [9879], ff. 33 -34).

[22] For a compelling discussion of this piece, see Glixon, "Recitative," 121-24.


phe, where recitative yields to aria. It is at this point that Enea's thoughts shift from himself and his own conflict to his beloved Didone, whom he addresses gently:


Dormi, cara Didone, il Ciel cortese
Non ti faccia sognar l'andata mia,
II corpo in Nave, e l'alma à te s'invia,

Non sien mai spente le mie voglie accese,
Ite sotto al guancial del mio tesoro,
O miei sospiri, e dite, ch'io mi moro.

Sleep, dear Dido; may kind Heaven
Keep you from dreaming of my going.
Though my body be embarked, my soul makes its
   way to you.
My kindled desires will never be extinguished.
Go beneath the pillow of my treasure,
O my sighs, and proclaim that I am dying!

Cavalli set this strophe and the next as a kind of lullaby in lyrical aria style; clearly responding to a change in the mood of Busenello's text, he himself supplies, through music, an emotional climax to the turmoil expressed in the previous recitative strophes. Even the two aria strophes are not treated in a strictly strophic manner, however, although they share many features. Nor is aria style maintained consistently throughout them; the penultimate line of each is set as recitative, which overflows into the final lyrical line. In fact, the second strophe builds on the first in many ways, but its whole structure is more continuous and its phrases are more closely related, producing a greater sense of growth from one to the next. This second strophe is also more final than the first, containing a lengthy ritardando and cadence in the subdominant just before the recitative line. Melodic restraint and balance in the first strophe rather fittingly convey Enea's feelings, his tender sorrow, his hesitancy, his fear of disturbing Didone's repose and of her awakening, perhaps to thwart his resolution. Full of self-doubt, he is most concerned with reassuring her. He speaks louder and more forcefully in the next strophe as he becomes stronger in his resolve. Now he is more passionately concerned with himself, with expressing his own suffering. The more sustained buildup of musical tension and affect of the second strophe heightens the opposition between desire and destiny. [23] In the final strophe, he returns once more to the basic conflict—and to recitative style—as he bids his beloved addio .

The form of Busenello's text alone, then, does not allow us to predict Cavalli's response. Indeed, text meaning—or, rather, dramatic context—far outweighs rhyme scheme, meter, or any other formal device as the chief determinant of his style. Nowhere is this clearer than in the recitative itself, from which Cavalli occasionally extracted lines for lyrical setting purely on the basis of their meaning: emotional outbursts, resolute conclusions or summaries, statements of intention could all incite his lyrical imagination. In many cases

[23] See Ellen Rosand, "Comic Contrast and Dramatic Continuity: Observations on the Form and Function of Aria in the Operas of Francesco Cavalli," MR 37 (1976): 98-102.


these passages take on a culminative structural function when they occur at the ends of scenes or action segments. Unlike Monteverdi, however, Cavalli does not seem to have been seeking excuses for lyricism; he flatly rejected some obvious opportunities, maintaining a powerful commitment to recitative even within closed forms.

Indeed, despite Didone's much larger number of strophic texts, its center of gravity—unlike that of Poppea —lies not in the arias or in arioso but in the recitative. The first act in particular, arguably the highpoint of Cavalli's accomplishments in this style, provides a lesson in recitative expression that other composers, even Monteverdi, rarely matched.[24] Only infrequently interrupted by arias—and then less interrupted than intensified—the dramatic thread is sustained essentially by recitative, now narrative, now heightened by feeling, which even intrudes, as we have seen, into the arias themselves. The mutuality of text and music in the recitative of Didone is almost matched in the arias, which rarely move beyond straightforward text presentation into musical elaboration. Typically, the setting is line for line, with any repetition or musical expansion saved for the end. In fact, there is often more "music" in the recitative than in the arias, more of the composer's art.

The small proportion of Busenello's strophic texts set completely as arias is a reflection of Cavalli's attitude toward verisimilitude. It also confirms the fact that, in 1641, strophic texts did not necessarily require aria setting. Indeed, aside from distinctions in meter and rhyme, librettists had not yet developed specific, unambiguous poetic signs for arias—as opposed to strophic recitative or mixed style; nor were such signs yet necessary. In opera of the early 1640s, strophic recitative or a mixed recitative-aria style was still a viable response to a strophic text, as it had been since the beginning of the century—a strategy designed to limit or minimize undramatic stasis. The choice was still primarily the composer's. It was only with the increased emphasis on the singer—and the aria— that the librettist's language gradually acquired greater specificity.

Cavalli and Faustini

An important step in that direction was taken by Cavalli's next—and probably most important—librettist, Giovanni Faustini. Undoubtedly encouraged by the composer, with whom he collaborated steadily and exclusively for a decade, Faustini developed more explicit and more varied ways of indicating closed forms and suggesting a change from recitative to aria style. In addition to

[24] Sacrati's recitative in La finta pazza is occasionally comparable, particularly in some of the more.expressive passages such as those in the dialogue between Deidamia and her nurse in 2.4 (see La finta pazza, ed. Bianconi).


strophic arrangements, Faustini's texts included numerous passages marked off by refrains as well as individual sections of highly metrical, rhymed texts forming individual poetic stanzas. Cavalli's response was generally more predictable than it had been in Didone .

Faustini's formal signals were not only clearer and more varied than Busenello's; they were also more numerous, but not because he was any less bound by verisimilitude than his colleague. On the contrary, he expressed his commitment to verisimilitude by stretching its boundaries, developing additional pretexts, new ways of justifying formal music. His librettos are constructed with a view to rendering song more natural. If his lack of academic background proved an advantage in this connection, it was because it permitted him to move beyond classical and mythological sources for his librettos, to create characters and situations that were not weighted down by responsibilities inherited from the past. He was free to create an imaginary new world in which fictional behavior—speaking in song—was more plausible.

Faustini exercised his freedom of invention by imbuing his characters with qualities, and his plots with incidents, that translated well into formal music—comic servants pontificating or spewing clichès, expansive, self-indulgent heroes and heroines easily carried away by love (and grief), and plots revolving around disguise, which encouraged, even required, participants to behave or think unrealistically—unlike themselves. Furthermore, to stimulate their inclination to musical expression, Faustini presented many of his characters in solo scenes, thereby releasing them from the necessity of realistic communication with their fellow actors. It was easier for an audience to accept the singing of soliloquies, of inner thoughts, than to accept sung communication between two characters. Finally, Faustini constructed texts that were formal and dramatic at the same time, that served the needs of music and action simultaneously.

His librettos contain far fewer strophic forms than Busenello's; but these are at once more standardized and more clearly differentiated from their recitative surroundings—and this by virtue not of meter but of rhyme. They usually consist of three six-line strophes that, although utilizing the preferred recitative meter—the standard seven- and eleven-syllable lines—are tightly rhymed, normally closing with a couplet. Most significant for their translation into music, successive strophes frequently share a concluding refrain (it occasionally opens the strophe as well) that emphasizes even further their isolation from their context. Cavalli, in response to their greater formal clarity and standardization, was much more consistent than before in setting them as lyrical arias. In Ormindo (1644), for example, Cavalli set twelve of the fourteen strophic texts as arias and only two as recitative. But the score has many more than twelve arias. Indeed, strophic texts comprise only about half of the total number of closed


forms in a typical Faustini libretto. Most of the others are articulated by means of refrains.

Refrains were an important component of Faustini's attempt to stretch verisimilitude. Comprising either single or multiple lines, they could promote continuity as well as closure: a refrain might recur within a recitative text for dramatic reasons, for emphasis, only temporarily interrupting the recitative flow; or it might enclose a static form. Refrains recur effectively and affectively in a wide range of situations throughout the libretto of Ormindo . While Cavalli invariably marked their recurrence musically, his treatment varied, depending on their form or dramatic context. If his response to strophic texts had become conventionalized, with refrains he continued to exercise his composer's freedom. The drama was still in his hands.

In Ormindo , Faustini often used a single-line refrain to isolate a tight rhyming quatrain or cinquain—abba, abaa , or abbaa —within a lengthy section of recitative verse. In Cavalli's setting, some of these brief texts become miniature tripartite arias, while others shade into the recitative background. In act 1, scene 8, for example, he makes a little ABA aria out of Erisbe's simple quatrain responding to Ormindo's protestations of love (refrains italicized) (example 5):


Fortunato mio cor ,
Con diluvii di gioie
Tempra l'incendio tuo benigno amor.
Fortunato mio cor .

Fortunate is my heart ,
With floods of joy
Your benign love tempers its flames.
Fortunate is my heart .

He gives additional prominence to the single-line refrain through extensive repetition of its text and music and by the addition of strings to the continuo accompaniment. Similar quatrains for Melide (a lady-in-waiting) and Erice (the nurse) in act 1, scene 5, however, are treated as simple recitative, with just a hint of extra musical expression given to the refrain line (example 6a, b):



Frena il cordoglio, frena .
Mercè d'Amore ancora
Vedrò cangiata in gioia ogni tua pena,
Frena il cordoglio, frena .

Cease your sorrow, cease .
Thanks to Love
Will I see all your suffering transformed to joy.
Cease your sorrow, cease .


Rasserena la fronte ,
Ancora Amida ancora
Cancellerà co' baci i sprezzi, e l'onte.
Rasserena la fronte .

Calm your brow .
Amida once more, once more
Will cancel his scorn and insults with his kisses.
Calm your brow .

Cavalli evidently regarded these formal hints as an excuse rather than a command for lyrical emphasis. His settings clearly depended on larger dramatic considerations. In the first example, lyrical expansion of Erisbe's protestation


of love to Ormindo is particularly appropriate because it needs to be overheard by her other lover, Amida; in the second and third examples, Melide and Erice are merely encouraging their mistress, Sicle, not to lose hope.

In the case of lengthier refrains—of four and five lines—Faustini's message may be louder, but Cavalli's response is just as independent. Indeed, although in these cases he invariably set the refrain lyrically—to impart the emphasis Faustini called for—Cavalli's treatment still depends primarily on his own interpretation of the drama. In act I, scene 7, for example, a five-line refrain encloses a highly structured seven-line text for Erisbe (example 7):

Se nel sen di giovanetti
L'alma mia
Sol desia di trar diletti ,
Vecchio Rè
Per marito il Ciel mi diè
Famelica, e digiuna
Di dolcezze veraci,
Con sospiri interotti
Passo le triste notti,
Satia di freddi, e di sciapiti baci
Pasco sol di desio l'avide brame,
E à mensa Real moro di fame.
Se nel sen . . .

Though from youthful hearts alone
Does my soul
Desire to find pleasure ,
An old king
For a husband did Heaven give me .
Famished and starved
For true sweetness,
With interrupted sighs
I spend sad nights,
Sated with cold and wasted kisses,
My eager yearnings feed only on desire,
And at a royal table I die of hunger.
Though from . . .

Cavalli expanded the refrain considerably by means of text repetition and melismatic extension, dividing it into two distinct sections with contrasting music for its final couplet, music that is then repeated and further expanded in a lengthy ritornello. Alone, Cavalli's setting of this five-line text has all the earmarks of a bipartite aria. It recurs intact as a refrain, complete with ritornello, creating a fully rounded ABA structure with recitative B section; lyrical expansion weights the refrain more heavily than the B section, whose text is heard only once. This emphasis is particularly appropriate since the refrain effectively encapsulates Erisbe's predicament, the incompatibility of her youthful yearnings with her marriage to an aged husband, a conflict that lends plausibility to her subsequent behavior.

But the composer does not always emphasize the refrain at the expense of the enclosed text. In act 1, scene 5, a four-line refrain, itself including a refrain, encloses five lines of equally structured text for Sicle (example 8):


Chi, chi mi toglie al die
Carnefice pietoso
De le sciagure mie?
Chi, chi mi toglie al die.

Who, who will deliver me from this existence,
What merciful executioner
Of my misfortunes?
Who, who will deliver me from this existence.


Angoscie aspre, ed acerbe,
Se tanto fiere siete,
Perche non m'uccidete?
De la sua vita priva
Non viva più la misera, non viva.
Chi, chi mi toglie al die . . .[25]

Harsh and bitter anguish,
If you are so savage,
Why do you not kill me?
Deprived of her life,
Let the unhappy one no longer live.
Who, who will deliver me . . .

Cavalli's setting is much more continuous; he distinguishes his refrain from the enclosed text chiefly by meter, not by affective intensity, which continues to build in the central section. The return of the refrain thus becomes the climax of the whole passage, imparting a sense of continuity rather than contrast, and creating a form that, despite—because of?—its closure, convincingly portrays Sicle's increasing desperation over her betrayal by Amida. Closure is reinforced in two different ways in these two examples: in the first by expansion of the refrain itself, in the second by the building of the middle section toward culmination in the refrain. In both cases formal closure suited or enhanced the dramatic situation. In neither was it the form of the text alone that determined the musical treatment.

Musical closure was not a necessary consequence of all refrains, however. For a text for Erisbe's aged husband Hariadeno in act 1, scene 9, in which a two-line refrain encloses nine rhyming settenari , Cavalli provided an undifferentiated recitative setting, emphasizing neither the refrain nor the highly structured central section. An aria was possible here, but the composer did not deem lyricism appropriate to the dramatic situation. Perhaps he wished to minimize sympathy for Hariadeno, to enhance his characterization as a cold old man. Drama rather than form must have been the chief motivating factor, since Cavalli set a number of texts less highly structured than this one as arias. In act 3, scene 13, he wrote an aria to a simple seven-line text, five settenari followed by a hendecasyllabic couplet, without refrain, obviously because of its dramatic position: it serves as an emotional release for Ormindo, who joyfully recognizes Hariadeno as his long-lost father.

Cavalli was more likely to accept Faustini's formal cues under certain conditions. Monologue scenes, for example, which often end with strophic texts, frequently display other hints for closure such as a refrain or a metrical passage of text. Lyricism and formality are justified in these instances, or at least mitigated, as we have already said, by the understanding that the character is voicing his thoughts to himself—and only incidentally to the audience—rather than to his fellow actors. The monologue situation seems to have encouraged Cavalli to set such texts lyrically, thereby producing a lyrical crescendo that culminated in the strophic aria.

[25] Cf. ch. 10, p. 298.


Melide's monologue in 2.5, for example, comprises two sections, a six-line passage of versi sciolti and three six-line strophes of ottonari with refrain, calling for recitative and aria setting, respectively. Indeed, the recitative text prepares that of the aria. In it Melide reflects that she, too, wishes to love, but has decided not to, since Cupid is so cruel (example 9):

Volevo amar anch'io,
Ma vedo, che chi serve
Amore, ingiusto Dio,
Riceve in guiderdon doglie proterve,
Onde il cor sbigottito
Di non innamorarsi hà stabilito.

I, too, should have wished to love;
But I see that whoever serves
Love, O unjust gods,
Is rewarded by ferocious pains;
Whence this dumbfounded heart
Has determined never to love.

She then addresses her aria to the god of love himself:

Tendi l'arco à tuo volere. . . .

Use your bow as you will . . .

Rather than treating the opening six lines as recitative, however, Cavalli, taking advantage of their closed rhyme scheme, ababcc , set them in duple-meter aria style, actually rounding out the form by bringing back the musical material developed in lines 1-2 for line 6 and for a concluding sinfonia. The lyrical setting of this section is clearly not required by the meaning or form of the text, but it provides an effective musical springboard for the following strophic aria, which, although in a different meter, is in the same key.

Although quite rudimentary in form, this little scene prefigures the later operatic scena , which, after a lengthy period of expansion, ultimately solidified in the cantabile-cabaletta convention of nineteenth-century Italian opera. A position is taken at the beginning of the scene and expounded or amplified at the end: an opening aria launches a topic that the closing aria discharges. Paired arias like these, usually separated by a recitative passage that developed the argument of the first aria and precipitated the second, were particularly common for Faustini's secondary characters; they became a staple for the protagonists only later in the century.[26]

Like Monteverdi, Cavalli would change or reorganize text when it suited his purposes. Nowhere in Ormindo is the composer's independence of the libretto more powerfully demonstrated than in the dialogue aria at the climax of the opera, just before the resolution of the plot (in act 3, scene 12).[27] The two

[26] Escalating lyrical sequences like this, which are quite common in Ormindo , are discussed in ch. 1o below. The various sections of these scenes were sometimes linked musically, not only by key but even by shared motivic material. For some slightly later examples, see Harold S. Powers, "L'Erismena travestita," in Studies in Music History: Essays for Oliver Strunk , ed. Harold S. Powers (Princeton, 1968), 293-97. And see id., " 'La solita forma' and 'The Uses of Convention,' " AcM 59 (1987): 65-90, on the cantabile-cabaletta convention in later opera, particularly Verdi.

[27] This aria is discussed and illustrated in Rosand, " 'Ormindo travestito,' "268-91.


characters involved are the protagonists Ormindo and Erisbe, illicit lovers who, while attempting to flee the kingdom of Erisbe's husband Hariadeno (the fact that he is also Ormindo's father is as yet unknown), have been captured, imprisoned, and poisoned by the king's soldiers, and are now awaiting the poison's fatal effect. No aria is signaled here by the librettist, who has provided an irregular text, structured only by a single recurrence of Ormindo's two-line refrain, "Non ti doler d'Amore, / Non l'oltraggiar mio Core" (example 10):


ERISBE : Ah questo è l'Himeneo,

Is this the marriage


Che ci promise d'Amatunta il Dio?

We were promised by the Cyprian god?


Son queste le sue faci,

Are these his torches


Ch'arder doveano intorno à nostri letti,

That should have burned around our beds


Per infiammarci maggiormente i petti?

To further inflame our hearts?


O di superbo, e dispietato Nume,

Oh, of haughty and unfeeling god


Traditrice natura, empio costume.

Deceitful nature, wicked custom.

ORMINDO : Non ti doler d'Amore ,

Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core ,

Do not offend him, my beloved .


Querelati del Cielo

Complain to Heaven


Contro di noi d'hostilità ripieno,

That is filled with hostility against us.


Ei fè l'aere sereno

It is he who made the air,


Per negarci il fuggir, divenir fosco

To deny us flight, become murky,


Egli crudel ci preparò quel tosco.

He, cruel one, prepared for us that poison.


Non ti doler d'Amore ,

Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core .

Do not offend him, my beloved .


Sua mercede godrem gioia infinita

As his reward we shall taste infinite joy


Ne' felici giardini,

In the happy gardens,


Di veraci riposi unichi nidi,

Of true rest, the only shelter,


Spiriti uniti eternamente, e fidi.

Spirits united and true for eternity.

ERISBE : Sì, sì, che questa notte

Yes, yes, this night


In virtude d'Amore àle nostre alme

Thanks to Love, to our souls


Aprirà un dì lucente

Shall open up a shining day


Perpetuo, e permanente.

Perpetual, and permanent.

[ORMINDONon ti doler d'Amore ,

[Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core. ]

Do not offend him, my beloved .]

ERISBE : L'ombra, ch'hor vela il mondo,

The shadow that now veils the earth


Se terrore produce

Although generating terror,


A noi partorirà stato giocondo

Will create for us a state of joy,


Contro il costume suo madre di luce.

Becoming, contrary to its nature, the mother of light.

[ORMINDO Non ti doler d'Amore ,

[Do not blame Love ,


Non l'oltraggiar mio Core .]

Do not offend him, my beloved .]

ERISBE : Ma temo ohimè ben mio

But I fear, alas, my beloved


Che nel varcar di Lete,

That in passing through Lethe


Non spegna in te l'ardor l'acqua d'oblio.

The waters of forgetfulness may extinguish your passion.


Cavalli molded this text into a lengthy, three-part ostinato aria, each part containing a statement by Erisbe followed by Ormindo's refrain. While the librettist repeats Ormindo's refrain only once, within Ormindo's single speech, interspersed with five lines of recitative, Cavalli uses it twice again (bracketed here) to comfort Erisbe during her speech, integrating it into her lament by using the same ostinato figure to accompany it. Moreover, he expands these lines extensively by means of internal text repetitions. The ostinato, which has acquired enormous momentum through its persistence, almost uninterrupted, through thirty-two lines of text, terminates abruptly as Erisbe feels the first effects of the poison, and Cavalli shifts to recitative for her three final lines—and from a diatonic to a chromatic accompaniment. Extra word repetitions and aria setting were not suggested by this text. Cavalli the dramatist modified the libretto to create a much larger and more highly structured form than that provided by Faustini, a form that expresses with great intensity the lovers' increasing closeness as death approaches.

Despite the greater specificity and range of Faustini's formal cues, in particular the standardized strophic forms that evoked consistent aria treatment from the composer, Ormindo is remarkably rich in instances of the composer exercising his stylistic prerogative: in his treatment of refrains, in his use of lyricism within recitative, and in his expansion and rearrangement of text. Recitative and aria styles still mix freely, and some of the most expressive passages in the score are those particularly Cavallian efflorescences, the arioso expansions of single lines or couplets within passages of text that were clearly intended as recitative. The freedom granted by the librettist and exercised by the composer here was reduced considerably by the middle of the century, as the distinction between aria and recitative became more absolute.[28] That distinction was strengthened as the formal structure of aria texts became increasingly confirmed by their meaning and dramatic function, and eventually their position within the scene. A new stage in this development is represented by Cicognini's and Cavalli's Giasone of 1649, one of the most popular and, consequently, most influential operas of the entire century.

Cavalli and Cicognini

Giacinto Andrea Cicognini's background and career differed as much from those of his contemporaries as did his librettos. Educated in Florence rather than Venice, he was well versed in the tradition of Spanish comedias , of which he produced several adaptations and translations.[29] And he was fully established as

[28] The variety of Faustini's affective refrains, one important source of that freedom, eventually bore formal fruit in the da capo aria. See ch. 10 below.

[29] For Cicognini, see Robert Lamar Weaver, "Cicognini," New Grove , 4: 390; Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri," CXXXIV-CXXXV; and M. Vi-gilante, "Giacinto Andrea Cicognini," DBI , 25 (Rome, 1981): 428-31.


the author of a number of prose dramas before entering the world of opera toward the end of his literary career. Two of his librettos, Giasone and Gli amori d'Alessandro magno e di Rossane , even led an independent existence as prose dramas; in the former case, the libretto was the source of the play, while in the latter the relationship was reversed.[30] Cicognini's librettos are more varied, more individualized, and poetically more sophisticated than those of his Venetian contemporaries. They stand out especially for their mixture of comic and serious characters—even the permeation of serious elements by comedy—and for the dramatic impact of the poetry itself. Although versi sciolti still form the basis of his poetic language, Cicognini employed a much greater variety of meters throughout his text, primarily in the arias, but also in recitative for dramatic purposes.

The most famous scene in Giasone is Medea's invocation of the spirits of the Underworld at the end of the first act. Standing as the prototype of all subsequent operatic incantations, it illustrates the ways in which Cicognini used poetry for dramatic contrast. The variety of accent produced by the changing meters (two symmetrical groups of quinari sdruccioli , each closing with a tronco [A: 12 lines], followed by a group of mixed settenari and endecasillabi [B: 11 lines], then an irregular mixture of two-, three-, four-, five-, seven-, and eleven-syllable lines, variously accented [C], and finally ten quaternari tronchi [D]) combined with free rhyme irregularly interspersed with couplets, and the contrast between sdruccioli, piano , and tronco verse-endings creates a scene of remarkable energy (example 11):



Dell'Antro magico
Stridenti Cardini
Il varco apritemi,
E frà le tenebre
Del negro Ospitio
Lassate me.
Sù l'Ara orribile
Del lago Stigio
I fochi splendino,
E sù ne mandino
Fumi, che turbino
La luce al Sol:

Of this magic cavern,
You creaking hinges,
Open wide for me.
And into the darkness
Of the black hospice
Let me go.
On the horrible altar
Of the Stygian lake
Let the flames rise,
And send forth
Clouds of smoke to obscure
The light of the sun.


Dall'abbruciate glebe
Gran Monarca dell'Ombre intento ascoltami,
E se i dardi d'Amor già mai ti punsero,
Adempi ò Rè de i sotterranei popoli,
L'amoroso desio, che '1 cor mi stimola,
E tutto Averno alla bell'opra uniscasi;

From your fiery globes,
Great monarch of the shades, listen carefully!
And if Love's darts have ever struck you,
Fulfill, O King of the Underworld,
The amorous desire that quickens my heart,
And let all Hades join in the fair deed.

[30] See Anna Amalie Abert, Claudio Monteverdi und das musikalische Drama (Lippstadt, 1954), 156-63.


I Mostri formidabili,
Del bel Vello di Frisso,
Sentinelle feroci infaticabili,
Per potenza d'Abisso
Si rendono a Giasone oggi domabili.

Let the horrendous monsters,
Fierce, untiring guardians
Of Phrixos's lovely fleece
Through the powers of the abyss
Be subdued by Jason today.


Dall'arsa Dite
(Quante portate
Serpi alla fronte)
Furie venite,
E di Pluto gl'Imperi a me svelate.
Già questa verga io scoto
Già percoto
Il suol col piè:
Volate a me:
Cosi indarno vi chiamo?
Quai strepiti,
Quai sibili,
Non lascian penetrar nel cieco baratro
Le mie voci terribili?
Dalla sabbia
Di Cocito
Tutta rabbia
Quà v'invito,
Al mio soglio,
Quà, vi voglio,
A che si tarda più?
Numi Tartarei, sù, sù, sù, sù;
. . .

From fiery Dis
(Oh, how many
Serpents you bear on your brow)
Furies, come,
And reveal to me Pluto's kingdom!
I already sway this wand,
Already the earth
Quakes beneath our feet.
Spirits of
Fly to me!
Do I call you in vain?
What clamor,
What hissing,
Prevents my terrible words
From penetrating into the blind chasm?
From the shore
Of Cocytus
All the furies
I summon here.
To my throne
I order you.
Why do you still tarry?
Spirits of Tartarus, up, up, up, up!
. . .


Si, si, si,
Il mio Rè,
Al suo prò
Di la giù
Si, si, si

Yes, yes, yes,
My king
Will conquer.
For him
The deity
Of the Underworld
Will fight.
Yes, yes, yes,
He will conquer,
He will conquer.

Such verses imperiously demanded to be matched in the musical setting, and Cavalli responded effectively to the poet's cues with music that reinforces the metric individuality of the scene. In restricting the melody to repeated notes and simple triadic figures following precisely the accentuation of the text, the composer powerfully projects the intensity of Medea's invocation. It is worth noting here that the composer distinguishes individual metric sections of the text


from one another and that part of his setting—the first twelve lines—clearly qualifies as a closed form or aria, though it is not particularly lyrical.

More generally speaking, Cicognini controls meter and rhyme with particular skill to distinguish clearly between recitative and aria verse. Indeed, the contrast between the two types of poetry is much cleaner in Giasone than in any of Faustini's (or Busenello's) librettos. Strophicism is by far Cicognini's preferred method of indicating an aria, characterizing more than two-thirds (seventeen of twenty-four) of the closed forms in the work; and Cavalli set virtually all of Cicognini's strophic texts as arias. All seven of the non-strophic arias,like those of Faustini, are based upon sections of text that stand out because of their special meter and rhyme—like the opening section of Medea's incantation scene already mentioned. But their independent setting is assured—or at least strongly suggested—by their highly individualized meter and unusual length: several of them comprise as many as ten or eleven lines.

Cicognini's strophic texts as well are unusually long. Rather than the characteristic Faustinian six lines, most of Cicognini's strophes range between eight and ten lines. Furthermore, they are extremely varied: hardly any two forms share the same meter or rhyme.[31] The variety is achieved not only through the choice of a different meter for virtually every text but through the metric changes within individual texts themselves. Whereas some arias are in a single meter, relying on the rhyme scheme to articulate their form, others combine lines of very different meters, sometimes as many as five or six in a single strophe. Delfa's aria in 3.10, for example, utilizes four meters and a variety of accentuation patterns and verse endings, which produces a distinctly offbalance (comic?) effect (example 12):[32]

[31] With respect to metric variety, Cicognmi was atypical of his generation (though at least one of his older contemporaries, Bartolini, considered it an important feature of dramatic poetry; see Appendix I.21). Poets of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries tended to use much greater variety than those of Cicognini's generation. See, for example, Ivanovich's letter to Pagliardi of 1673, in which he specifically mentions the metric variety in his Lismaco: "Hò adoperato varietà di metri; a finche campeggino nella loro bizzarria gli andamenti della sua musica" (letter of 26 June 1673, Appendix II. 5a). See, more generally, the directives in Martello's Della tragedia antica e moderna , trans. Weiss, "Pier Jacopo Martello on Opera," 395-96. The positive effect of metric variety on the musical setting of dramatic poetry was recognized at the beginning of the seventeenth century as well. See Alessandro Guidotti's preface to Cavalieri's La rappresentatione di anima e di corpo: "Conviene. . .che [il Poema] sia. . .pieno di versetti, non solamente di sette sillabe, ma di cinque e di otto, et alle volte in sdruccioli, e con le rime vicini per la vaghezza della musica, fa grazioso effetto." Doni, too, acknowledged the advantages of such variety, distinguishing between "versi lunghi" (that is, endecasillabi, ) "versi mezzani" (or settenari ), and "versi piccoli" (quinari or quatternari ). See his Trattato della musica scenica , ch. 7, p. 18; see also Leopold, " 'Quelle bazzicature poetiche,' "passim

[32] Cicognini also uses metric regularity for specific dramatic effect, as in Giasone's presentation aria "Delizie contenti" in 1.2; the piece is elegantly analyzed in Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 206.


È. follia
Frà gl'Amori
Seminar la Gelosia,
Per raccoglier al fin' rabble, e rancori,
Consolar sol' ne può
Quel ben' che in sen ci stà.
La Gioia, che passò,
In fumo, in ombra, in nulla se ne và;
Chi vuol sbandir dal cor' doglia, e martello
Lasci amar, ami ogn'un, goda 'l più bello.

It is madness
To sow jealousy
Between lovers,
Only to reap anger and bitterness in the end.
Only the lover we hold in our arms
Can bring comfort.
Joy that is passed
Goes up in smoke, in shadow, in nothing.
Whoever wishes to banish woe and anguish from his heart,
Should let himself love, love everyone, and enjoy the best.

Cavalli's setting underscores the irregular structure of the text by sticking quite closely to it, creating an aria that is comically erratic and unpredictable, particularly in its phrase structure. The pattering musical rhythm exactly translates that of the text, from which the unassuming melody, consisting primarily of repeated notes and mincing half-steps, does not detract. Only at the final line does the voice finally cease its patter, the bass now taking over for a characteristic conclusive flourish. Although Cavalli has followed the text precisely, almost slavishly, until this point, he expands the aria at the end, slowing the vocal part down for the last line, which contains the main message of the aria.

In contrast to Faustini's exploitation of refrain forms, only three of Cicognini's arias—one of them strophic—are marked by a refrain—apparently too few for Cavalli, who created several refrain forms himself by repeating first lines of arias at the end.[33] Cicognini hardly used refrains in his recitative either; but when he did their message seems clear: Cavalli regarded them all as invitations to lyrical setting. And he found plenty of other opportunities for arioso expansion—within and increasingly at the ends of speeches. Significantly, the most extended arioso passages are reserved for Egeo and, especially, Isifile, the two principals whose love remains unrequited for most of the opera and who therefore have less to sing about and are more prone to emotional excess seeking or requiring an outlet than the other characters.

In keeping with a rather old-fashioned conception of verisimilitude, Cicognini distributed his arias quite unevenly among the cast. The four principals, Giasone, Medea, Isifile, and Egeo, sing very few—only one or at the most two each—all of them specially justified by the dramatic circumstances. (And this despite the fact that established legend was left far behind in this plot, the

[33] These include Alinda's non-strophic aria "Quanti soldati" in 2.12, Egeo's strophic aria "Perch'io torni à penar" in 3.6, and Isifile's non-strophic "Gioite, gioite" in 3.7. The libretto has a third non-strophic refrain aria in 1.2 (Giasone's "Amor tutto è pietà"), but it was replaced in the score by the strophic aria "Delizie contenti" mentioned above. Cicognini tended to use inexact refrains somewhat more frequently at the ends of strophes.


traditional names of the characters notwithstanding). This contrasts markedly with the large number of arias given to the secondary characters: five for the old nurse Delfa, and three each for Alinda and Oreste. Confirmation, perhaps, of a kind of abstract taste for arias is provided by Rosminda, a gardener, who seems to have been introduced solely for the purpose of singing an aria in 1.3—and possibly to provide cover for the set change required for Medea's appearance in her throne room in 1.4.[34]

Cicognini's decisions were determined by considerations of verisimilitude not only in the distribution of arias, but in their dramatic function and placement within scenes. With the exception of three or four, all the arias take place out of earshot of the other characters—either in solo scenes or when the other character in the scene is asleep;[35] or else they are specifically used, as arias, to enhance a dramatic situation or a characterization. For example, Giasone's first appearance in the opera is marked by an expansive aria that conveys, economically and operatically—both to the audience and to his lieutenant Ercole—Medea's power over him. Ercole, responding to his captain's "aria as aria" as evidence of irrationality, urges him to return to his senses.

In placing most of his arias at the beginnings of scenes, Cicognini exploits their natural potential for emphasis: to set up a situation against which other characters (or the same character in a monologue) can react. In the few instances, usually comic monologues, where he places them at the ends of scenes, they are more static, summarizing the action that has occurred and marking the singer's exit.[36] Of course the dynamics of the two kinds of scenes are very different from one another, and the variety of aria placement corresponds to larger dramatic considerations. Arias can be propulsive at beginnings of scenes but not at ends. Giasone's scene-opener, in addition to characterizing his position within the plot, sets the whole drama in motion, beginning to build anticipation for the appearance of the legendary Medea two scenes later. Monologue scenes that close with arias are usually external to the plot; they are intended not to further the action but to develop characterization, to let the audience in on the character's thoughts.[37]

Cicognini distinguished more clearly between aria and recitative than any previous librettist, reinforcing that distinction by comfortable, appropriate

[34] Rosmina has a second aria in the Vienna score of Giasone ; perhaps she was one of those singers for whom a part had to be expanded at the last minute.

[35] Cicognini must have enjoyed sleep as a pretext for song, since he used it twice in Giasone , in 2.2 and 3.3 (as well as in Orontea ).

[36] There are only three such arias in Giasone , all sung by comic characters: Delfa in 1.13, Oreste in 3.2, and Delfa again in 3.10. Medea closes the first act with what might be regarded as an exit aria (section D of her monologue discussed above).

[37] Several scenes in Giasone end with brief arioso passages, whose lyrical setting is intended to mark the texts for future attention—in the very next scene; see "Alla nave" (2.6) and "Adoriamoci in sogno" (3.2).


placement within the drama, and provided the opportunity for greater musical variety in his arias. But Cavalli still asserted his privileges as a musical dramatist in the usual ways: by imposing his own form on arias and, even more characteristically, by exercising his option of setting recitative text lyrically for affective purposes.

The composer's ultimate control over the librettist's form is especially striking in the opening scene of act 3, for Oreste and Delfa, confidant and nurse of Isifile and Medea respectively, who represent opposite sides in their mistresses' tug-of-war for Giasone. Their dialogue is organized in three strophes of four successive ottonari sdruccioli , two strophes for Oreste enclosing one for Delfa. Although formally parallel, the three stanzas do not share the same mood. Oreste's opening strophe, in which he comments lyrically on the beauty of the shadowy night, is countered by Delfa, who punctures his lyrical effusion by denigrating the shadow as temporary and fleeting, offering the non-sequitur that she would find the embraces of a lovable husband more delightful. Her response causes an abrupt change in Oreste's tone as he defensively strikes back at her, hoping to disqualify himself as an object of her desires (example 13):


ORESTE : Nel boschetto, ove odor spirano,

In this wood where lovely flowers


Vaghi fiori, e '1 suol ricamano,

Breathe out their scents and embroider the ground,


Ove l'Aure intorno aggirano,

Where gentle breezes waft,


A posar l'ombre ne chiamano;

The shade beckons us to repose.

DELFA : L'ombra a me non è giovevolle,

Shade does not please me,


Ch'è fugace, e vana, è instabile,

is fleeting, useless, and fickle.


Più che l'ombra, è dilettevole

More than shade, it is delightful


Abbracciar marito amabile.

To embrace a palpable body.

ORESTE : Nel bramar sei larga, e calida,

Your passion is ravenous and hot,


Fiacca, e scarsa è mia cupidine,

Weak and scarce is my desire.


E Pigmea mia forza invalida,

And pygmy are my feeble powers,


Polifema è tua libidine.

Polyphemous your libido.

Despite their different moods, Cavalli set both of Oreste's strophes to the same music; at least in the first strophe that music hews closely to the meaning of the text. Three sequential phrases of ascending eighth-notes in 5/4 meter set the first three parallel lines; but for the fourth line, appropriate to its meaning—rest after action ("A posar l'ombre ne chiamano")—Cavalli counteracts the parallelism, almost wilfully doubling the note values as the melody descends from its peak to cadence on its low point. The result is a rather asymmetrical, but nicely shaped, strophe that ignores the text form as it follows, literally, its meaning.


Delfa's strophe, though it is in the same form, is set to different music, but with equal attention to text meaning. Here Cavalli's treatment is again sequential, with three of the four parallel lines set syllabically to repeated quarter notes; it is the second line of this strophe that evoked a contrasting setting from him, in this case an acceleration rather than deceleration, to elaborate, wide-ranging melismatic motion in sixteenth-notes for literal portrayal of the words: "Ch'è fugace, e vana, è instabile." These are the subtle adjustments that contribute so much to the effective matching of music and text that characterizes this opera.

To serve the drama, Cavalli not only suppressed or overrode textual regularity; for the same purpose he occasionally did the opposite and regularized Cicognini's poetry. One of the best examples of this procedure occurs in the duet between Giasone and Medea in 3.2. The scene, entirely in recitative meter, is laid out almost symmetrically for the two characters. Following an opening quatrain for Medea, set in rather lyrical, well-shaped recitative style by the composer, each of the lovers has a three-line stanza, which Cavalli set in a parallel, if not exactly strophic, manner, again in a kind of arioso style. The lovers then join voices for a brief duet, which is followed by two passages of text, the first for Medea, the second for Giasone. These, although they begin similarly, are of unequal length and dissimilar form (example 14):


MEDEA : Dormi stanco Giasone,

Sleep, weary Jason,


E del mio cor, che gl'occhi tuo[i] rapiro,

And for my heart, which your eyes have ravished,


Stan le palpebre tue cara prigione.

Let your eyelids be the sweet prison.

GIASONE : Dormi ch'io dormi, ò bella,

Sleep while I sleep, my beauty,


E mentre i sensi miei consegno al sonno,

And while my senses are consigned to sleep,


Oggi per te Giason vantar si puole,

Today, because of you, Jason can boast


D'haver l'alma trà l'ombre, e'in braccio
ilsol e

That he has his soul in the shadows and the sun in his arms.

Cavalli transforms this text into a kind of reciprocal refrain-enclosed lullaby, setting the two lovers' statements to similar ("strophic") music, despite their different texts. Taking advantage of the parallelism of the opening lines, he turns them into refrains, which he brings back at the end of each strophe, compensating for the differences in their texts—essentially Giasone's extra line—in a freer, strongly text-interpretative central section where the formal disparity passes virtually unnoticed. Cavalli's molding of this lullaby into the climax of a wonderfully symmetrical scene owes its impetus, perhaps, to Cicognini's word choice; but it is the composer who increased the mutuality of the lovers by making them closer in music than they are in words.


Cicognini's Legacy

For the Arcadian critics bent on the reform of Italian literature at the end of the seventeenth century, Cicognini's Giasone was a crucial work. According to Giovanni Maria Crescimbeni, one of their chief spokesmen, the author of Giasone was worthy of both praise and blame: praise for having created the first and most perfect drama in existence ("il primo, e il più perfetto Dramma, che si trovi"), and blame for having opened the floodgates to all kinds of abuses, the mixing of genres, the abandonment of linguistic elegance and purity, and, through the introduction of arias, the destruction of verisimilitude in drama.

Around the middle of that century, Giacinto Andrea Cicognini. . . introduced drama [as opposed to favole pastorali ] with his Giasone , which, to tell the truth, is the first and the most perfect drama there is; and with it he brought the end of acting, and consequently, of true and good comedy as well as tragedy. Since to stimulate to a greater degree with novelty the jaded taste of the spectators, equally nauseated by the vileness of comic things and the seriousness of tragic ones, the inventor of drama united them, mixing kings and heroes and other illustrious personages with buffoons and servants and the lowest men with unheard of monstrousness. This concoction of characters was the reason for the complete ruin of the rules of poetry, which went so far into disuse that not even locution was considered, which, forced to serve music, lost its purity, and became filled with idiocies. The careful deployment of figures that ennobles oratory was neglected, and language was restricted to terms of common speech, which is more appropriate for music; and finally the series of those short meters, commonly called ariette , which with a generous hand are sprinkled over the scenes, and the overwhelming impropriety of having characters speak in song completely removed from the compositions the power of the affections, and the means of moving them in the listeners. (Appendix II.7)[38]

Although Crescimbeni admits his ignorance of the period immediately preceding Cicognini's work and fails to appreciate Cicognini's connections to an already burgeoning operatic tradition, the focus of his attention on Giasone is symptomatic of its historical position. He was not wrong in ascribing special importance to the work: even from our vantage point it appears to stand at an important crossroads in the history of opera. It is, of course, unlikely that any single work (out of so many) could have had the impact Crescimbeni ascribes to Giasone . But the opera was clearly a symbol of the times; and its extraordinary popularity allowed it to represent those times quite legitimately.[39]

[38] Francesco Saverio Quadrio and Stefano Arteaga, among others, followed Crescimbeni's lead in blaming Cicognini for all these things, although some of them had access to more material than he did. Quadrio ascribed to Giasone "tutte le circostanze di drami, che poi furono seguitati." See William C. Holmes, "Giacinto Andrea Cicognini's and Antonio Cesti's Orontea (1649)," in New Looks at Italian Opera: Essays in Honor of Donald J. Grout , ed. William Austin (Ithaca, N.Y., 1968), 118-19.

[39] It was probably the most frequently performed opera of the entire seventeenth century. In addition to records of performances throughout Italy provided by librettos published between 1649 and 1690 (this last under the title Medea in Colco ), its popularity is attested by the survival of at least nine manuscriptscores dispersed in various European libraries—far more than for any other seventeenth-century opera. For a survey of these sources, see Bianconi, "Caletti," 692, and Thomas Walker, "Cavalli," New Grove , 4: 32. Crescimbeni may in fact have known the work in one of its later, more aria-filled incarnations.


In Giasone the definitive separation of aria and recitative was finally achieved. Cicognini's standard means of distinguishing them persisted until the end of the century: strophicism and/or versi misurati meant aria; versi sciolti , recitative. The distinction was reinforced by clarified dramatic functions for arias: to promote action (the incantation aria; the lullaby), to comment on action and philosophize on life (the comic arias), and to express intense feeling (Giasone's opening love song; Egeo's lament).

Despite these general features, however, Cicognini's arias do not seem predictable either in form or function because they arise so naturally out of the drama. Clear as his signals are, the only formal feature shared by most of his arias is their strophicism. Otherwise, each one of them is unique: in a different meter, with a different rhyme scheme, and an altogether different shape, conferred by highly irregular line lengths. And, clear as their dramatic function is, each emerges from its context in its individual way, for its own purpose, strictly in accordance with verisimilitude. No two characters are presented in the same way. Each scene, each action segment, each act unfolds musically in its own particular fashion.

The special strengths of Giasone , and its significance as a model, lie in the balance it embodies. The clear signals of the librettist are perfectly matched by the composer's response, achieved both without recourse to rigid formula and without excessive strain on verisimilitude. The musical drama is shaped by an appreciation, shared by the poet and composer, of the distinctions between speech and song. Giasone is an ideal dramma per musica , in which both elements of the now-historic compromise have equal weight—mutually justifying each other. Giasone also offered a model for operatic conventions of a more general kind, presenting traditional scene-types with a naturalness rarely matched in its successors. We shall have occasion to consider this aspect of the opera in detail in chapters 11 and 12. Literally, then, Giasone represented a brief moment of equilibrium in the history of opera: at once the endpoint of a process of generic maturation and the beginning of a new stage in which, now fully legitimized, and aided and abetted by the rising influence of the singer, musica would eventually subjugate dramma .

Paradoxically, perhaps, the very inventive freshness of Giasone was both the source of its popular success and the cause of its eventual indictment by the Arcadians. Although it was itself carefully constructed so as not to disrupt verisimilitude, either in the arias or in the mixing of comic and serious elements,


it spawned imitations that were less observant. The decadence deplored by Crescimbeni is in fact much better exemplified by one of those imitations, Alessandro vincitor di se stesso (Venice, 1651), which was specifically modeled on Giasone , by two operatic neophytes, Francesco Sbarra and Antonio Cesti.[40] Often cited by modern historians as marking the definitive breakdown of operatic verisimilitude by having initiated the invasion of the aria, Alessandro is far better known for the preface to its libretto than for anything else. In fact, its score was misattributed to Cavalli until relatively recently.[41] In confronting the crucial issue of verisimilitude in his preface, Sbarra acknowledged that arias are unsuitable for serious characters such as Alessandro and Aristotile, but he justified them on the basis of operatic necessity: "if recitative were not interrupted by such jokes, opera would cause more annoyance than delight" (Appendix I.29f).

But, as the libretto itself illustrates, abuse of verisimilitude runs much deeper than the mere misbehavior of Sbarra's heroes. Admittedly, the distribution of the arias is atypical. Not only does Alessandro sing five "ariette" and Aristotile two—out of a total of some thirty closed forms—but another principal, Efestione, sings seven, while Apelle, a character who could easily—and humorously—have sung more, has only one. By focusing on Aristotile's and Alessandro's few "ariette," however, Sbarra obscured the real abuses of verisimilitude in his work, abuses that reveal his lack of experience as a librettist and his misunderstanding of the model represented by Giasone . Sbarra's misconception has to do with the function of arias in the drama. For it is not so much that Alessandro and Aristotile sing arias, but when they do so, and why . Most of their arias, as well as some sung by other characters, are wholly unjustified dramatically.

Alessandro bears signs of inconsistency, both in the librettist's method of signaling closed forms and in the composer's response, an inconsistency born of confusion over the purpose of such forms. Indeed, it is that confusion, dressed as purposeful, that is described in Sbarra's preface. Although it has a somewhat greater number of arias than other operas of the same time (some thirty-odd), many more of their texts are formally ambiguous. Only eight—fewer than one-fourth—are strophic, a much smaller proportion than in Cicognini's librettos, and the others fall into surprisingly many patterns, hardly any two of them alike. They range from as few as four to as many as thirteen lines in a variety of meters and rhyme schemes, and only a few of them utilize

[40] The modeling is alluded to m Sbarra's preface (Appendix I.29a-b).

[41] The correct attribution was first proposed by Pirrotta in "Tre capitoli su Cesti." It was reasserted in 1960 by Osthoff, "Antonio Cestis 'Alessandro vincitor di se stesso,' " 13-43. The misattribution stemmed from the usual source, Ivanovich.


refrains. Particularly in the case of the shorter texts, it is often difficult to know whether to regard them as aria signals at all, although the composer obviously took them that way.

The dramatic function of these texts does little to reinforce their formal significance or clarify their message to the composer. Indeed, they often seem to contradict the implicit conventions of verisimilitude altogether. Invitations to lyrical expansion are reserved for neither commentary, contemplation, nor highly emotional expression, but occur almost indiscriminately, even in the midst of conversations.

For example, the dialogue between Efestione and Alessandro in act 1, scene 5, is cast in a succession of tightly rhymed, highly metrical passages; the text form suggests aria setting but the dramatic situation does not.



Godo che la fortuna
Emula di me stesso a' merti tuoi
Voti gli Erarii suoi.
Mà dove, dov'è
La gemma si bella,
Che provida stella
In dono ti diè?
Mà dove, dov'è?

I am happy that Fortune,
Emulating me, has to your merits
Devoted her treasures.
But where, where is
The lovely gem
That a provident star
Gifted you with?
But where, where is it?



Sù presti
Conducasi quà.
Sua rara beltà.

Come, quick,
Let it be readied,
Let it be led here.
Let the rare beauty
Of this work
Be revealed.

And then later in the same scene:



Di Gemma così grande,
Di cui maggior non è
Da l'Occaso agli Eoi.
Solo degni ne son gli Erarij tuoi.
Deh mi conceda la tua bontà,
Ch'io depositi là
Questa mia ricca preda.

Of so great a gem
That none greater exists
From West to East.
Only your treasures are worthy.
Pray let your kindness grant
That I deposit there
My rich booty.



Tua virtù
Non hà più,
Che bramare
Tutto può,
Quanto chiede Efestion negar non sò.

Your virtue
Needs only
To desire,
To beseech.
It is all-powerful,
What Efestion requests I cannot deny.

Cesti set the first dialogue and the last passage in aria style in response to clear signals from the poet. But such treatment renders the interaction between the


characters extremely unnatural and stilted. Sbarra's lack of discrimination here is exacerbated by Cesti's faithful setting (example 15). The libretto contains a number of other instances of one character addressing another in aria. They include Cina's midscene strophic address to Alessandro in 1.3; Aristotile's, also strophic, to Alessandro in 1.4; and his non-strophic closing address at the end of the same scene, which, although it might have served to mark his exit, fails to do so because he remains on stage.

Sbarra's blurring of textual-formal distinctions between action and contemplation licensed Cesti to exploit the slightest formal cue to justify lyrical expansion, regardless of the dramatic situation. In act 1, scene 6, for example, the inappropriateness of Alessandro's aria is more the fault of the composer than the librettist. The text is a quatrain addressed to Campaspe:

Tua bellezza è celeste,
Caduca esser non può, non può morire;
Che della morte il gelo
Trionfa della Terra, e non del Cielo.

Your beauty is celestial,
It cannot be ephemeral, cannot die.
For the ice of death
Prevails on Earth, not in Heaven.

Although this is not as unequivocally formal as the previously quoted text—its only regularity is a rhyming final couplet—Cesti confirms closure by setting it as an elaborate, florid, and highly expanded aria (example 16).

Cesti set most of Sbarra's metrical texts lyrically, no matter how short, but he weighted some more heavily than others through the use of string accompaniment, instrumental ritornellos, and repetition of music and text, thereby emphasizing their separation from the recitative context, their "aria" character. In other instances, however, the lyricism is more fleeting—and more acceptable from the point of view of verisimilitude. Emerging suddenly from the recitative context, it disappears back into it with minimum impact; the composer runs straight through the text, only once, as if it were recitative, with no musical elaboration at all.

Even when separation from the dramatic context is specifically legitimized, both by the particular situation and the text form, as in most of the strophic arias, Cesti adhered closely to the structure of the poetry. Such adherence often yields an effective mixing and juxtaposition of styles, "alla Cavalli." In Fidalpa's aria in act 2, scene 7, for instance, the composer breaks the nine-line text into three sections—aria-recitative-aria—thereby retaining flexibility of text portrayal, even within an aria. The variety of Cesti's responses to Sbarra's signals for closure would seem to require a richer descriptive terminology; aria alone does not suffice. Such terms as arioso, mezz'aria , and arietta are useful here to distinguish between lyrical passages that are integrated within recitative, short


arias that are musically undeveloped, and light "singsong" arias that are based on strongly metrical texts.[42]

Sbarra's numerous metrically distinct texts, almost all of which Cesti set lyrically, may have assured sufficient relief from musical tedium, but at great cost to the drama. By depriving arias of their traditional—and purposely limited—functions as songs or as vehicles of emotional release, and thus flattening the distinctions between them and recitative, Sbarra and Cesti actually deprived dramma per musica of one of the chief sources of its strength. Aristotile and Alessandro indeed did not act like heroes. They could not behave properly in public because they did not know the difference between speech and song, knowledge that any comic servant or Venetian audience was fully privy to.

In marked contrast to Giasone, Alessandro seems to have failed at its first performance.[43] It would be reassuring to be able to ascribe that failure to its shortcomings as a music drama, to the tastes of a discriminating audience; but unfortunately evidence for such discrimination is lacking. Indeed, despite its problematic character, the work was revived at least six times during the 1650s.[44] But it remained an anomaly. The librettists and composers of the second half of the century—including Cesti, and even Sbarra—eventually found more effective ways of incorporating additional arias into their operas: they did so not by abusing verisimilitude but by expanding the opportunities for justified song. Rather than depriving arias of their dramatic function, Cicognini's heirs altered the dramaturgy of their librettos to accommodate more of them, developing structural as well as dramatic conventions to shield them—in monologues and dreams, at entrances and exits. It was the crystallization of these conventions, originally inspired by the requirements of verisimilitude, and the attempts to circumvent or vary them, that eventually led to the decline lamented by Crescimbeni.

[42] The term mezz'aria was used by Domenico Mazzocchi to refer to measured or songlike sections within or at the ends of recitative passages in his La catena d'Adone (Rome, 1626); see Nino Pirrotta, "Falsirena and the Earliest Cavatina," Essays , 340 and n. 11. The similarity of Marazzoli's conception of "mezz'Arie . . . che rompono il tedio del recitativo" and Sbarra's ariette , which provide the same service, is striking. In general, writers of this period seem to use arietta as a synonym for our aria . For a modern attempt at an analytically useful definition of arietta , see Beth Glixon's review of Drammaturgia musicale veneta, vols. 4, 6, 12, 18, 24, 26, CM 39 (1985): 82 n. 15. Glixon proposes the term to distinguish "librettist-generated" periods of lyrical recitative, marked by odd groups of versi misurati , from those initiated by the composer himself without a formal signal from the libretto.

[43] It is to Benedetto Ferrari that we owe the information that Alessandro was unsuccessful—if we can believe him. He wrote to Ottavio Orsucci, a nobleman in Lucca, on 3 April 1651, that he had received "bad reports" of the music of"Allessandro" (letter in I-La); see Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 431: "La rilatione poi, ch'ella mi scrive, essersi havuta da Venetia dell'Allessandro qui s'è havuta ad un'altra maniera cioè, che non ha ricevuto applauso nissuno, che la musica non ha valuto niente, se non che della poesia non ne dicono male."

[44] For a complete list of revivals, which occurred in various Italian cities as well as Munich, see Sartori, "Primo tentativo."


Il diletto :
Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions

By the middle of the century the basic outlines of dramma per musica had been firmly established. Librettists and composers could now exuberantly explore and extend its implications. The era of the academic librettists had virtually ended, and with the death of Faustini and Cicognini by 1651, most of the old guard had disappeared, leaving a new generation in charge, a generation inspired perhaps even more by the promise of financial or commercial success than by any special aesthetic aims. The leading poets of these years were Minato and Aureli, both of whom made their operatic debuts around 1650. The old composers, too, were gone. Ferrari, Manelli, Sacrati, and Monteverdi belonged to the past. Soon they would be replaced by younger composers less closely associated with the values of the seconda prattica : Cesti, Ziani, Pallavicino, Sartorio. Only Cavalli bridged the eras; a conservative, he continued to adhere to his original principles in the face of change all around him. Nevertheless, his renown as an opera composer increased well into the 1660s, exceeding that of any other in his lifetime. Only at the very end of his career, in the 1670S, did his style come to be regarded as hopelessly old-fashioned.

By midcentury, too, the main musical elements of opera—aria and recitative—had been clearly defined in both form and function. They had achieved a large measure of musical independence from each other: closure had become definitively associated with lyricism; librettists' signals and composers' responses had become clear and predictable, if not yet thoroughly conventionalized. The common indication for an aria in a libretto was a group of strophes (eventually two) in versi misurati ; some kinds of non-strophic texts, often involving refrains, had also emerged as aria signals. By 1650, not all arias were strophic, but virtually all strophic texts were set as arias.[1]

[1] There were, of course, exceptions. One of the old-fashioned aspects of Cavalli's Eliogabalo (1668) was the number of times he chose recitative or strophic variation rather than straightforward aria style for the strophic texts.


Closed forms had also become more numerous, their average number per opera more than doubling, from about a dozen in 1640 to around twenty-five a decade later.[2] And they continued to increase: most operas of the 1670s contained sixty arias or more. Obviously, as more and more of an opera became devoted to closed forms, these assumed increasing weight—musical, dramatic, and expressive. Their dramatic function gradually expanded to include more frequent affective outbursts and even, on occasion, conversation. The arias themselves changed accordingly: their dimensions expanded; they assumed new formal configurations and greater musical complexity. But they remained closely linked to the drama. Formal conventions emerged in response to— almost as a by-product of—specific dramatic needs.

This makes arias difficult to categorize formally. It is almost as if composers and librettists, reacting anew to each dramatic situation within the most general of guidelines, invented as they went along. Every solution was a fresh one, every formal configuration a response to dramatic necessity. Yet some categorization does seem possible. Critics have attempted it, but they have usually come up with categories insufficiently useful, either because they are incommensurable (Worsthorne's strophic and da capo ) or too minutely descriptive (Hjelmborg's rondo-refrain and rondo-da capo , etc.).[3] The challenge is to find a taxonomy that is not too restrictive, one that reveals persistent or emerging formal patterns while allowing for the central place of dramatic function as the original inspiration for them. The subheadings in this chapter suggest the dimensions of the difficulty: "The Bipartite Aria," "The Exit Convention and the Bipartite Aria," "Tripartite Forms," "Refrain in Recitative," "Da Capo Refrain Arias," "Coherence in Da Capo and Da Capo Refrain Arias," "Contrast in Da Capo Forms," and "Static Da Capo Arias." The distinctions are further clouded by the fact that most of the subsections consider the same issues: the effect of textual form and meaning on musical setting, the musical relationship of refrain to its context, whether recitative or aria. One basic theme, however, serves both to link and to clarify these subdivisions: the fundamental relationship of all of this music to the needs of the drama. Beyond that, a general chronological trend is evident. After a period of formal experimentation involving a variety of refrain forms, composers came increasingly to confirm expectation, resulting in the emergence of the bipartite and, eventually, the da capo aria.

[2] Some early operas had considerably fewer than a dozen: there were only three closed forms in the libretto of Il ritorno d'Ulisse and only five in Andromeda .

[3] Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 58. Bjørn Hjelmborg, "Aspects of the Aria in the Early Operas of Francesco Cavalli," in Natalicia musicologica Knud Jeppesen septuagenario collegis oblata , ed. Bjørn Hjelmborg and Søren Sørensen (Copenhagen, 1962), 174-80. In the past I myself have used a typology based on dramatic mode, dividing arias into comic, serious, and lament. See Ellen Rosand, "Aria in the Early Operas of Francesco Cavalli" (Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1971); also id., "Comic Contrast," 92-105.


Strophic form was the umbrella for most midcentury arias. Composers no longer exercised the option of setting individual strophes to different music; on the contrary, exact musical repetition became so commonplace that only a single strophe of music was necessary. Many scores do not even provide the texts for subsequent strophes, let alone the music, leaving it to the performers to extract them from the libretto.[4] (Presumably, an aria could be lengthened or shortened at will simply by adding or subtracting strophes.) These single strophes were themselves variously organized, depending on the dramatic function of the individual aria. Often they ended with a sententious summary line or couplet in a distinctive meter (example 17, text p. 285 below) which could either be varied in subsequent strophes, repeated as a refrain, exactly (example 18, text, p. 286 below), or slightly modified (examples 19, 20, texts, p. 287 below). Such texts suggested a bipartite, or AB, musical setting, reflecting the poet's distinction between the refrain or sententia and the preceding lines. Sometimes, rather than just closing each stanza, the refrain appeared at the beginning as well (examples 29-44, text pp. 300-318 below). In such cases a tripartite, or ABA, setting was suggested.

Of course, the effect of both AB and ABA arrangements changed with the addition of subsequent strophes. Librettists assumed that all of their strophes would be set. This was not a problem with bipartite organization, which simply replicated itself, retaining its original proportions, AB CB DB, and so on. But a tripartite strophic aria risked becoming unwieldy by placing undue emphasis on the refrain material: ABA ACA ADA. For this reason, librettists modified the form in one of three ways: (1) by changing the refrain from stanza to stanza (ABA, CDC, EFE, example 29, text, p. 300 below); (2) by replacing the opening refrain in all stanzas after the first (ABA CDA EFA, examples 28 and 30, pp. 299 and 301 below); or (3) by omitting the opening refrain in all stanzas after the first (ABA CA DA, example 31, p. 302 below).[5] The first two types ended up being essentially the same musically, despite their poetic distinctions, since composers followed the normal rules of strophic structure in setting them: ignoring the fact that the first lines of all strophes were different, they set them

[4] Sometimes last-minute addenda to librettos contained extra strophes for arias. See, for example, the one published in connection with Medoro (1658) in Medoro , ed. Morelli and Walker, CXCIV-V. Evidence from a number of the Contarini manuscripts indicates that strophes subsequent to the first were regularly cut during rehearsals. On the other hand, as we know, strophes were often added in rehearsals as well. Directions such as "si fa la seconda stroffa" or "questa stroffa non si fa" are common. Also, second strophes are sometimes crossed out.

[5] The form resulting from the first of these practices might be called strophic da capo ; Hjelmborg ("Aspects of the Aria," 179) has termed the other two da capo refrain and rondo refrain respectively. He does not mention the first option, perhaps because musically it would be treated in the same way as the second; composers regularly set a changing refrain as if it were a repeated one. There is another permutation of the rondo-refrain form, practiced exclusively by Minato, in which the lines of the initial refrain (A) are reversed when they return (C), so that the musical form suggested is more like ABC DC EC (for an example of this arrangement, see n. 35 below).


to the same music. The third type invited greater variety, with greater contrast between refrain and strophe. Reduced to a single stanza, these were the arias that most closely resembled the later da capo aria. However their musical realizations may have differed, all three variants belong to the formal category of da capo refrain, as distinct from the plain da capo aria (or single stanza enclosed by a refrain).

To use the expression da capo in connection with any aria written before 1650 is to risk the charge of using anachronistic terminology. The term refers more accurately to a form that, though it developed in the second half of the seventeenth century, did not reach its peak until the early years of the eighteenth. Pirrotta has warned against applying the term to ternary forms that "lack an exact repetition of opening music, a full and stereotyped repetition of words, and a clear division into sections."[6] Indeed, at least until the 1680s, tripartite or ABA structure was more commonly found as a subcategory of strophic form than as an independent structure. Still, the fact remains: these tripartite strophes, though they may have lacked one or more of the defining characteristics of "classic" da capo form, did share at least one of those characteristics, and the most prominent one: the return to opening material, the "da capo." The dramatic function of such return and composers' methods of dealing with it may differ for the miniature forms and the fully developed ones, but they are equally significant for both. These shared concerns, which transcend specific musical differences in dimensions or proportions, are emphasized by— and, indeed, justify—the use of the term da capo avant la lettre, particularly in connection with strophic refrain forms. We must bear in mind, however, that the "classic" da capo form acquired its defining features gradually, and from a number of diverse sources, not simply from refrain-enclosed strophes but from particular kinds of refrains with a particular dramatic function.

[6] Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 459, n. 26. Hjelmborg, too, recommends reserving da capo for arias "in which the dimensions and internal organization of the da capo section are sufficiently developed to make the part appear as a self-contained unit, almost as an aria strophe in itself, further accompanied by orchestra and followed by a ritornello, whereas the cases when the repeated section only appears precisely as a section within the strophe relying on the other sections for support could be called simply ternary aba forms" ("Aspects of the Aria," 180). But, as we shall see, there are many degrees of independence between refrains and the rest of a setting for which the designation da capo seems appropriate, particularly since the da capo rubric is actually used. Powers, "Erismena," 307-9, accepts neither Pirrotta's nor Hjelmborg's definition, refusing to grant da capo status to any aria that is not an exit aria, even if it displays generous proportions, an elaborate instrumental accompaniment, and an exact return of a distinct refrain. Rather than attempt a restrictive definition, Saunders has distinguished usefully between da capo design and form, the latter associated with a particular, standardized tonal plan that developed in the final decade of the seventeenth century (see id., "Repertoire," 185-97). A good example of an early da capo aria complete with identifying rubric that meets Pirrotta's and Hjelmborg's criteria (but not those of Powers) is Corinta's "Udite amanti" from Oristeo (Faustini/Cavalli, 1651), 1.6 [= 1.7] (see facsimile in Italian Opera, 1640-1770, ed. Howard Mayer Brown [New York, 1982] [henceforth cited as Garland facs.] 62: ff. 22-22 ).


Both the bipartite and tripartite forms eventually flowered into showcases for the composer's and singer's art, but their earliest manifestations were hardly distinguishable, musically, from recitative. Like recitative, they initially responded to particular dramatic needs, developing into fully standardized formal types only after the middle of the century. Furthermore, as we shall see, both types of aria can be linked to a particular convention of recitative poetry, the one-line aphorism, which was introduced by Busenello, exploited and popularized by Faustini, and institutionalized in the librettos of Aureli and Minato.

The Bipartite Aria

First to emerge as a form in its own right, the bipartite aria developed from attentive, recitative-like setting of text that followed the poetry line by line, precisely mirroring its metrical and rhyme structure without developing or emphasizing any single idea. This procedure is evident in Acchille's short speech at the beginning of 1.3 of La finta pazza (Strozzi/Sacrati, 1641) (example 17):

Ombra di timore,
Non mi turba il petto;
Nembo di sospetto
Non mi scuote il core.
Non può vero valor perder sue tempre.
In ogni habito Acchille, Acchille é sempre.

No shadow of fear
Disturbs my bosom.
No cloud of suspicion
Shakes my heart.
True valor cannot its temper lose.
Under any guise Achilles is ever Achilles.

Sacrati's setting, completely straightforward and syllabic, in duple meter, is only marginally more highly organized than normal recitative. Each of its first two parallel phrases (setting lines 1-2 and 3-4) is followed by an instrumental echo, for two violins and continuo; and a slight flourish at the end, involving repetition of part of the final line of text, promotes closure (even though the passage ends in the relative minor). Sacrati's music responds to the text on three different levels: it matches its form, a sequence of four senari culminating in two endecasillabi , rhyming abbacc , a kind of organization that was typically (though not here) duplicated in a succession of strophes; it underlines the self-affirmation of its closing line; finally, it heightens its dramatic function as Acchille's first utterance in the opera.[7] While it would be difficult to consider Acchille's brief speech an aria, particularly in the absence of subsequent strophes, it does illustrate the kind of austerity of text-setting that characterizes the earliest Venetian arias.

[7] This is an early presentation aria; see p. 314 below.


Most composers, however, propelled by their own natural impulse toward closure, would have taken greater advantage of the metric distinction of Acchille's closing couplet, emphasizing it by a change of meter, key, and/or melodic style, and capping it with a ritornello based on the same musical material—a kind of non-verbal reiteration of the text. Such treatment was encouraged when the final line or couplet carried a distinctive meaning, in the form of an epigram or aphorism. When such a line or couplet recurs as a refrain in successive strophes, the emphasis takes on even greater formal weight. But the effect is not merely formal; reiteration serves a rhetorical purpose by calling repeated attention to the already emphatic message of the refrain.

In responding to the combination of formal and rhetorical distinctions in such texts, composers wrote arias that were essentially bipartite; that is, they differentiated clearly between the refrain or epitomizing moral (the B section) and the rest of the text (A). To reinforce general distinctions of meter and melodic style, they often changed the accompanimental forces, from bare continuo to string tutti. And they sometimes called further attention to the change of style in mid aria, heightening the effect of the refrain or moral by setting the line immediately preceding it as recitative (as in example 20 below).

In Cavalli's earliest arias, the distinction between the A and B sections is often quite sharp. Sometimes, as in Jarba's "O benefico Dio" from Didone (Busenello/Cavalli, 1641) 3.10, the refrain is the only part of a closed form he set lyrically (example 18):

O' benefico Dio,
O' dator delle gratie, e de favori,
Felicità mi doni,
Che soprafà
Chi più lieto di me nel mondo fia ,
Se Didon finalmente sarà mia .

O' secreti profondi,
Non arrivati dal pensiero humano;
Per contemplarli
Forza non hà
Chi più lieto di me . . .[8]

O beneficent God,
O giver of mercy and of favors,
You grant me happiness
That overwhelms
Who shall be happier in this world than I ,
If Dido at last is to be mine .

Oh deepest secrets,
Unapproachable by the human mind;
To contemplate them
Humanity lacks
The power;
Who shall be happier . . .

Here the lyrical setting, seconded by a related five-measure ritornello, emphasizes Jarba's incredulous happiness at the possibility that Didone will be his, despite his fears to the contrary. Conversely, and more remarkably, Cavalli occasionally distinguished a refrain from the body of a strophe by setting it alone in recitative style. The refrain in another of Jarba's arias, "Rivolgo altrove

[8] All refrains are henceforth italicized.


il piede" (2.2), is a cry of distress whose affect is more powerfully projected by irregular recitative than it would have been by metrical lyricism (example 19):

Rivolgo altrove il piede,
E'l cot mio resta qui.
D'aita, e di mercede
Veder non spero il di.
Insanabile mal m'opprime il core ,
Son disperato, e pur nutrisco amore .

Derelitto, ramingo
Didone, ahi dove andrò,
Lagrimoso, e solingo
Le selci ammolirò;
Dirà pur sempre agonizando il core
Son disperato, e put nutrisco amore .

I turn my steps elsewhere,
And my heart remains here.
The day of succor and mercy
I do not hope to see.
Incurable malady oppresses my heart ;
I am despairing, yet I nourish love .

Derelict, wandering,
O Dido, where alas shall I go?
Tearful and solitary
I shall soften the very stones,
And my agonizing heart will ever say ,
I am despairing, yet I nourish love .

The mere change of style is enough to call attention to the refrain.

Typically, however, the contrast was more subtle and did not involve a change in style. Among numerous early examples of the standard, straightforward bipartite aria, a characteristic one is Erino's "Stolto chi fà d'un crine" from La virtù de' strali d'Amore (Faustini/Cavalli, 1642) 1.9 (example 20):

Stolto chi fà d'un crine
A la sua libertà laccio, e catena;
D'una infida Sirena
Amando l'empio bello, ed homicida,
Che mentre l'alma affida
Gl'appresta eterne, e misere ruine:
Amor è un precipitio, e morte alfine .

Sfortunato quel piede,
Che errando và per l'amoroso impero,
In cui scacciato il vero
Sol la bugia s'annida, e il tradimento,
La perfidia, il tormento,
Il lungo affaticar senza mercede:
Amor é fele al core, e non ha fede .
[+ two more strophes]

Foolish the man who of a tress
Makes a noose, a chain to his freedom:
Loving the impious, killing beauty
Of a faithless siren,
Who, while he entrusts to her his soul,
Prepares for him eternal, pitiful ruin:
Love is a precipice, and death in the end .

Unfortunate the foot
That wanders over love's empire,
Wherein, truth having been banished,
Only lies and treachery make their nest,
Perfidiousness, and torment,
And long, thankless labor:
Love is bile to the heart, and it is faithless .

Consisting of four seven-line strophes that conclude with a sententious inexact refrain, its text form is somewhat irregular in that meter and rhyme fail to confirm one another completely. This may be why Cavalli chose to treat the first six lines in a speechlike manner. He set the refrain apart from the rest, however, by a shift to triple meter and disjunct musical material suggested by its imagery. The line stands out by virtue of its distinctive "precipitio" motive, which provides the subject for the following ritornello. The refrain music is


unequivocally text-inspired, but by the first strophe only; it fits the subsequent refrains much less well.

The balance between the two sections of this aria is more equal than the distribution of its text would suggest. The distinctive music of the B section, particularly as reinforced by its echoing ritornello, compensates for its comparative brevity. The tendency to alter the proportions of a textual form for dramatic purposes increased markedly during the course of the century. Indeed, rather than merely balancing the longer texts of A sections, B sections eventually outweighed them (as in example 22 below). Usually, the emphasis on B involved repetition of its music and text. The two statements generally occurred on different tonal levels, the second returning the piece to the tonic. In such cases the resultant form might more properly be identified as ABB' rather than AB. This extended bipartite aria was the predominant type.[9]

The repetition of B material was occasionally only partial. More frequently, however, repetition involved the complete B section, particularly when that section comprised a complete refrain. In an aria for Dema from Egisto (Faustini/Cavalli, 1643), "Piacque à me sempre più" (2.8), the B section is repeated not only as a whole but in parts as well, thereby emphasizing the message of the refrain quite thoroughly (example 21):

Piacque à me sempre più
La vaga gioventù d'ogn'altra etade;
Sempre quella beltade
Mi porse più contento,
Che non havea ruvido pelo al mento.
Chi hà provato il mio amor mi dice errai?
Non credo un sì, non credo udir giamai .

Labro lanoso à me
Un sol bacio non diè, che mi ricordi,
Ben con desiri ingordi
Io volsi ambrosie care
Da guancie tenerelle ogn'or succhiare.
Chi hà provato . . .
[+ one more strophe]

I always loved lovely youth
More than any other age;
Ever that beauty
Gave me more pleasure
Than any rough-bearded chin.
She who has felt my love, will she say I erred?
I scarcely think I'll ever hear a "yes. "

A woolly lip has never
Given me a single kiss, that I remember.
Instead, with ravenous desire,
I have preferred ever to sip
Precious ambrosia from tender cheeks.
She who has felt . . .

Extensive and irregular repetition of B material here gives a greater sense of harmonic closure than usual; B' actually contracts the material of B, but the two sections are harmonically almost identical: they both move from relative major to tonic, though only B' remains there. Repetition in this case performs a formal as well as expressive function. Not only does it emphasize the message

[9] Alfred Lorenz christened this form the "Seicento Aria" (Alessandro Scarlattis Jugendoper [Augsburg, 1927], 1: 213-18).


of the refrain, but it serves to ground the piece strongly in the tonic. In the most elaborate ABB' arias, particularly after the middle of the century, expansion was inspired as much by musical considerations—the desire to establish harmonic closure—as by rhetorical ones.

Despite their differing proportions, dimensions, and musical style, all five of the foregoing examples illustrate the development of the bipartite aria out of the recitative aesthetic. They show how the composer's attempt to enhance the shape and meaning of certain kinds of texts led to the bipartite form. But the direct relationship between recitative procedures and this form is demonstrated even more vividly by considering a characteristic practice within recitative poetry itself: the use of the epigrammatic arioso. The impetus behind the form and the procedure is the same: a desire to focus attention toward climax at the end.

Aphoristic tag lines were not exclusively associated with formal poetry. In librettos of the 1640s they often occurred at the end of recitative speeches, sometimes coinciding with the end of a scene and the departure of the speaker. Composers (occasionally Monteverdi, primarily Cavalli) tended to set such lines lyrically, in arioso style, repeating them and thereby emphasizing their punctuating function—and their meaning.[10] Both function and meaning were often further enhanced, like equivalent mottos in arias, by a ritornello or sinfonia based on the same material.[11]

Recitatives culminating in epigrams continued to be used well past the middle of the century, not merely for punctuation but more consistently for exits. Both Minato and Aureli favored them. Erismena (Aureli/Cavalli, 1655) contains many, of widely varying lengths. Act 1, scene 10, for example, ends

[10] There are several such passages in La finta pazza , usually comprising more than one line of text, which perform a punctuating function without necessarily ending a scene. Faustini's librettos are a particularly rich source of examples. The locus classicus for this procedure was identified by Pirrotta in a Roman opera, Mazzocchi's and Tronsarelli's La catena d'Adone (1626). Pirrotta regards passages like these as ancestors of the cavata, and, eventually, the cavatina. Such passages were extracted (i.e., cavate ) from recitative poetry for lyrical setting. See Pirrotta, "Falsirena," Essays , 340 and n. 15; also Powers, "Erismena," 280; and, more recently and conclusively, Fabbri, "Istituti metrici e formali," 180-85, and Colin Timms, "The Cavata at the Time of Vivaldi," in Nuovi studi vivaldiani (Florence, 1988), 451-77. In using the term in his letter to Pagliardi (Appendix II. 5b), Ivanovich gives a clear idea of the purpose of such excavations: to underline a particular passage of text ("Se poi ritrovasse qualche affetto nel recitativo, che si possa ridurre in una cavata, non tralasci di farlo, che vien gradito qualche risalto improviso"). The term "cavata" is actually found in some opera scores of this period, where it seems to refer to arias based on very short, metrically closed texts lacking refrains or any other kind of formal indication (see the Vienna score of Sartorio's Orfeo [1673], discussed in Rosand, "L'Ovidio trasformato," XXXIII). One such piece is illustrated in ch. 11 below (example 51).

[11] In Ormindo 3.9, for example, an extended recitative by Mirinda ends with an arioso line followed by a related sinfonia but no exit (f. 157"). Cavalli even transformed one such final line from Ormindo (3.11) into an arioso duet (ff. 163 -164). The terms sinfonia and ritornello are not quite used synonymously in opera scores of this period. The former is usually reserved for independent introductory movements (overtures) or single instrumental movements within the drama that accompany some action, while the latter refers to an instrumental refrain separating the strophes of an aria.


with a seven-line exit recitative for Idraspe, which culminates in a sexually allusive aphoristic couplet, set lyrically by the composer:

Amor Nume bendato
Che di foco novel nutre mia speme
I perigli non vede, e non li teme.
De passati successi
La memoria hò perduta, e sappi amico,
Che à l'amorose brame
Un cibo sol non trasse mai la fame.[12]

The blindfold god of love
That has renewed my flame for this fair stranger,
He does not see, and therefore fears no danger.
Those forgotten affections,
I bequeath to Armenia, too well finding,
That amorous desire
Does for its thirst more than one draught require.

Occasionally, the exit function rather than the meaning seems to have inspired the lyrical setting of a recitative line or couplet, as in the case of Argippo's scene-closing arioso from Erismena 1.3:

Lodato il Cielo? anch'io piagato un dì
Torno in Corte a mirar chi mi ferì.

Praised be to Heaven! I, too, once wounded,
Return to court to see the one who wounded me.

Such punctuating ariosos eventually became functionally and literally linked to the exit aria.[13]

The link is nicely illustrated in two examples from Erismena . They involve comparison between two versions of the score, the original of 1655 [1656] and a revision dating from sometime before 1670.[14] In one instance an exit aria by one comic character (Alcesta) replaces an exit arioso by another (Flerida) who has been eliminated from the revised scene. The text of aria and arioso are equivalent; both comment on the preceding action, but the aria is, naturally, more emphatic (and gives the character more opportunity for humor). In the other instance (from 1.10), an exit arioso in the earlier version is followed in the later one by an exit aria for the same character, expostulating or expanding upon the sentiment of the arioso. Here the culminating effect is intensified and reinforced, rather than replaced.[15]

[12] See Powers, "Erismena," 286, for discussion of the revision of this passage in 1670. The translations from Erismena are taken from the text of the seventeenth-century English score, which may have come from the library of Samuel Pepys, and may have been the "Italian opera in musicque, the first that had been in England of this kind" that John Evelyn saw on 5 January 1674. See Winton Dean, "Review of Erismena," MT 108 (1967): 636. Since it was a singing translation, the English is not always exactly equivalent to the Italian, as in line 5 here. But it makes perfect sense in the context of the opera as a whole.

[13] See, for example, Aceste's closing speech in Argia , 3.3 (Garland facs., 3: ff. 115 -116). There are numerous instances in Scipione affricano : for Scipione in 2.11 (Garland facs., 5: f. 78); for Ericlea in 3.4 (Garland facs., 5: f. 102); and for Sofonisba in 3.10 (Garland facs., 5: f. 112 ). See also Adelaide 1.1 and 1.2 (Garland facs., 8: ff. 8 and 12 respectively). The procedure of arioso punctuation was still in use as late as Giustino (Beregan/Legrenzi, 1683); see Glixon, "Recitative," 379-85.

[14] On the dating of the scores of Erismena , see Powers, "Erismena," 271-72.

[15] The exit aria is in ABA rather than the more characteristic ABB form, a distinction discussed below (see Powers, "Erismena," 277-93). There are numerous examples among other operas that were revised over a period of years of the replacement of an exit recitative or arioso sententia by an aria. Compare, for example, the Venice and Modena scores of Le fortune di Rodope e Damira , 1.13. In Scipione affricano 3.11, an exit recitative for Scipione in the li-bretto has been transformed in the score into a strophic aria through the addition of several lines of text (Garland facs., 5: ff. 113 -114 )


In fact, the intensification of a sententious arioso by following it with an exit aria was quite common, even much earlier than the Erismena revision. Such sequences of lyrical events were particularly characteristic of comic soliloquies in Cavalli's Faustini settings. In these scenes, the music matched the drama: the buildup of momentum toward exit was confirmed by increased musical intensity and structure.[16]

The Exit Convention and the Bipartite Aria

Although ABB' arias did not always coincide with a character's departure, at least not until well after 1650, the two levels of action, musical and dramatic, meshed well. When associated with exits, the arias enhanced them even further. In addition, the echoing ritornellos commonly generated by both aria and epigrammatic arioso facilitated the business of exiting; perhaps arioso expansions and arias were even inserted in some cases to justify the interpolation of such instrumental passages.[17]

During the 1650s and 1660s, bipartite arias gravitated increasingly to the ends of scenes. The growing interest of Venetian audiences in the singers and their self-exhibition in arias must have been partially responsible for this tendency to save the best for last. Once a conventional function and position had been found for them, however, such arias were freed from the austerity of recitative-style setting. Accordingly, the close correspondence of music and text that characterized the earliest examples yielded to more expansive musical treatment. Although musical expansion affected entire arias, it was still the B section—the refrain or aphorism—that displayed the greatest freedom; compositional inventiveness further enhanced its exit function. But expansion could still serve a dramatic purpose beyond that: within an aria it could contribute to characterization or to the shaping of a conflict.

In Erismena , the text of the heroine's "Comincia à respirar" (1.12) comprises two unequal sections, of four and two lines. The aria is a soliloquy in which Erismena tries to feel hopeful over her quest to recover her faithless lover; she exhorts herself to optimism in the refrain, which summarizes the import of the text: "Courage, courage, my heart. Shake off all your griefs, bid sorrow adieu" (example 22):

[16] There are many examples of such increasing musical momentum in Egisto, Orrnindo , and Doriclea . See p. 297 below.

[17] This may not have been strictly necessary, since unattached instrumental music is not completely unknown in these scores. See, for example, the unattached exit Sinfonia at the end of Scipione affricano 1, 4 (Garland facs., 5: f. 13 ).


Comincia à respirar
Più giocondo ò mio cot l'aure vitali,
Satie di fulminar
Spera veder un dì l'ire fatali:
Vivi lieto sù sù ,
Ridi in mezo del duol, non pensar più .
[+ one more strophe]

Be cheerful, O my heart,
And let your joys trample your suffering under.
Fortune will sheathe her dart
And angry Jove will one day cease his thunder.
Courage, courage, my heart .
Shake off all your grief, bid sorrow adieu .

Cavalli's setting more than compensates for the unequal length of the two sections through the usual means of expansion of B: a change of meter, the addition of strings to the continuo accompaniment, new motivic material, extension by means of instrumental echoes between phrases, repetition of the text as a whole, and a concluding ritornello based on its distinctive material. All serve to emphasize the epitomizing function of the refrain, thereby imparting the affective essence of Aureli's text. The A section consists of two subsections, the first moving from the tonic, D minor, to the dominant, A, the second remaining in the relative major, F. With slightly unusual symmetry, the two B sections mirror one another, the first moving from tonic to subdominant, the second in the opposite direction. All the standard related keys are touched in this aria, but their sequence produces a somewhat atypical harmonic structure. The composer's emphasis on the refrain lends depth to the characterization, suggesting energy and self-control, qualities that will help Erismena achieve her objective of regaining Idraspe's affections.

The flourishing of the hipartite aria was essentially a musical phenomenon. The librettist could call for musical repetition by writing a refrain, or he could suggest musical contrast by juxtaposing strongly contrasting meters; but the repetition and expansion of the 13 section in AB arias were up to the composer.

Despite its conventionality, the ABB' aria never became completely divorced from its origins as a dramatic procedure for emphasizing a tag line. That is, if a text lacked an epigrammatic close worthy of emphasis, the composer did not feel compelled to write an ABB' aria. This is illustrated in an unusual aria from Argia (Apolloni/Cesti, 1669). Feraspe's "Aurette vezzose" (1.2) contains a four-line refrain of which Cesti repeats only the first two lines—those most essential to the meaning of the text—to different music (example 23):

Aurette vezzose,
Foriere del giorno
Ch'errate d'intorno
Con all di rose,
Volgetevi ,à mè ;
E dite dov'è
Coleì, che desia
Il mio Regno, il mio cor, l'anima mia .

Delightful breezes,
Harbingers of dawn,
That flit about
On rose-scented wings,
Turn to me
And say where is
She, who covets
My kingdom, my heart, my soul .


Stellanti zaffiri,
Ch'i mali influite,
Se mai compatite
D'un'alma i sospiri,
Volgetevi à mè . . .[18]

Starry sapphires
That influence wrongs,
If ever you pity
A sighing soul,
Turn to me . . .

Furthermore, the ritornello is not based upon the B section, as we would expect, but upon A. The musical form of this aria interestingly overlaps that of the poetry. The first two phrases of the A section encompass the whole first sentence of text (lines 1-5), including the first line of the refrain, and move from the tonic, A minor, through the relative major to the dominant; the third phrase of A treats the second line of the refrain, line 6, twice, and closes on the relative major. The B section sets the last two lines of the text, 7-8, expanding them somewhat by means of sequential repetition, and also ends on the relative major. The final section of the aria (C) repeats lines 5-6, running them together for the first time, to completely new music. In fact, then, although the text form clearly suggested a normal bipartite aria, Cesti wrote a tripartite one, choosing to emphasize the indirect question ("say where is she") in the middle of the stanza rather than the hendecasyllable at the end. That is, he emphasized the sense of the text over its form, ignoring the conventional refrain structure.

In some late bipartite arias the composer's liberty took a more aggressive turn. Reaching beyond extreme elaboration and variation, it extended to the writing of new music for the second B section. While such expansion often tended to increase the forward momentum of these arias, and was thus an extension of the ABB impetus, it also ran roughshod over the librettist's text by creating ABC forms out of AB material. In Flavia's "Cieca Dea la tua possanza" from Eliogabalo (Aureli/Boretti, 1668) 1.19, for example, Boretti repeated the text of B (lines 3 and 4) to music that is different—and not only harmonically, which would be expected, but also rhythmically and melodically (example 24):

Cieca Dea la tua possanza
Non m'afflige, e non m'atterra;
Con usbergo di costanza
Armo il sen per farti guerra.
[+ one more strophe]

Blind goddess, your power
Does not afflict me, does not prostrate me;
Shielded by constancy,
I arm my breast to wage war against you.

B' begins to resemble B only at the final melisma on guerra , but the melisma is expanded sequentially the second time over a harmonic structure drawn from the end of A, of which it sounds like an embellished variant. Despite its text,

[18] This aria comes from the Venice 1669 score but was probably also part of the original setting for Innsbruck (1655).


then, B' actually shares as much with A as it does with B, and the ritornello strengthens the unified effect: a composite of A (mm. 1-5) and B' (mm. 16-19). Boretti created a rounded aria whose form was not suggested by Aureli's text.[19]

Ziani treated a number of aria texts in Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (Aureli/Ziani, 1657) with similar freedom. Lerino's "Voglio un giorno innamorarmi" (2.7) is built on a six-line stanza, the last two lines of which form a refrain (example 25):

Voglio un giorno innamorarmi
Donne belle, mà però
Con tal patto, che lasciarmi
Lusingar da voi non vò.
Sò, che amando tradite, e scaltre ogn'hora

Voi la fate sù gli occhi à chi v'adora .

Far le morte, o spasimate
Con me nulla gioverà,
Perche l'arti vostre usate
Mi son note un tempo fà.
Sò, che amando . . .

Some day I should like to fall in love,
Beauteous ladies, but only
On one condition, that I won't let you
Flatter me.
I know that, as you love, you betray, and, ever wily ,

You play your game in full view of him who adores you .

To play dead , or yearning,
Will gain you nothing with me,
For your much-used artifices
Were known to me long ago.
I know that, as you love . . .

The composer did not emphasize the refrain in the conventional way. Instead, he first repeated the music of lines 3-4, which had closed in the relative minor, this time ending it on the tonic; then he proceeded with the refrain, repeating only its last line extensively in the normal way and carrying forward its motive to the following ritornello. Rather than bipartite, the form might be described as a miniature ABB'CC'. It seems as if Ziani's musical conception needed two additional lines of text before the refrain.

Rodope's aria "Luci belle, se bramate" (1.8), another six-line strophic form with a distinct refrain, is also expanded in the middle (the music of lines 3-4 transposed and extended), and again only the final line of the refrain is repeated, after which its material is taken up in the ritornello; the form, once more, is ABB'CC', or even ABB'CDD' (example 26):

Luci belle, se bramate
Di saper quant'io v'adori,
Osservatelo a gl'ardori,
Che nel sen voi mi vibrate.
E direte, che in amarvi
Posso struggermi ben, mà non lasciarvi .

Beauteous eyes, if you desire
To know how much I love you,
Read it in the ardor
Which you have kindled in my breast.
And you shall say that, loving you ,
I may well consume myself, but never leave you .

[19] Boretti had no obvious dramatic reason for modifying the librettist's form. There are several examples of this same kind of modification in Sartorio's Orfeo .


Lumi cari se volete
Penetrar i miei martiri,
Dicerneteli à i sospiri,
Che dal cor uscir vedete,
E direte . . .[20]

Beloved eyes, if you wish
To penetrate my martyrdom,
Discern it in the sighs
You see issuing from my heart.
And you shall say . . .

Both arias represent a departure from the ABB' form, with its heavy emphasis on B; they allow the illusion of through-composition despite the text. The illusion is enhanced in the second aria by the motivic relationship between A and B, which disappears with the varied repetition of B.

This kind of textually unjustified expansion and variation, inspired as it may have been in certain instances by dramatic considerations, was a general sign of the loosening of the bonds between music and text. There were other signs as well, including the inappropriate application of melismatic decorations and the emancipation of ritornellos from their arias.[21] But it was also a function of the flexibility of the bipartite form itself, of the essential compatibility of that form with dramatic progress, its ability to disappear or become subsumed in a natural action. Even when reiterated strophically, the ABB' form was decisive, active, progressive; an action could be taken during its course. And even if it did not mark a character's exit, it could still maintain forward momentum, allowing the stage action to continue after just a brief punctuation.

Tripartite Forms

But progress toward resolution was not always dramatically appropriate or necessary. Situations characterized by obsession or indecision, where conflict remained unresolved, were often more effectively portrayed by formal backtracking than by movement toward a goal. Accordingly, some non-strophic forms, as well as the individual stanzas of strophic ones, were enclosed by refrains. In non-strophic contexts, such refrains, whether long or short, epigrammatic quatrains or single-line exclamations, tended to promote closure merely by marking off the segments of text between them.

Far from automatically signaling arias, though, such refrains in operas of the 1640s and early 1650s were utilized primarily and most effectively as intensification of recitative, interrupting passages of free dialogue unpredictably with emotional outbursts. It was only after the middle of the century that they became regularly associated with more tightly structured poetry, and that lyrical setting of the whole became standard procedure. The refrain per se, like the

[20] Rodope's strophes are interlaced with strophes for Nigrane.

[21] Ziani is frequently guilty of inappropriate melismas, including one on meno in Damira's aria from Rodope , 2.1. The emancipation of ritornellos from their arias is particularly striking in Lucio's Medoro (see Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri," CLII-III).


aphoristic tag line, was essentially an affective device inspired by the drama. Stimulated by an excess of feeling—why else would a character say the same thing more than once?—its very recurrence invited musical emphasis, and, in the context of recitative, this emphasis involved a change or contrast in musical style, usually a lyrical expansion—or else, if the context was already lyrical, a recitative outburst. Such refrains gained special power from their unpredictability; usually unprepared by the intervening recitative, they gave the impression of arising naturally out of a character's emotional overflow. Composers were free to expand upon refrains in a recitative context precisely because the refrains seemed to spring directly from feelings rather than reason. In arias, however, refrains could have a stultifying effect. Predictability compromised or diluted their dramatic immediacy, artifice weakened their direct link to the emotions of the character. The difficulty was compounded, of course, by strophic form. Accordingly, until the middle of the century the ABA form was less common for arias than the ABB'. Afterwards, particularly in their non-strophic guise, ABA forms increased in frequency and size, eventually supplanting bipartite structure as well as strophicism itself to become the dominant form for opera for the next hundred years: the da capo aria.[22]

Like the bipartite aria, then, the da capo aria had its roots in the recitative style, specifically in the use of the enclosing refrain.[23] The kinship as well as the contrast between the two procedures—refrain in recitative and refrain-enclosed arias—is clearly illustrated in the early collaborations between Faustini and Cavalli. More than any other works of the period, theirs exploited the refrain as an affective-structural device in aria and recitative alike.

Refrain in Recitative

Faustini's lengthy recitative passages were periodically marked by refrains of one or more lines that stood apart from the rest because of their meter or rhyme, and also, usually, because of their affective intensity. Their impact, however, depended primarily on their recurrence, sometimes as many as three or four times in a scene, which Cavalli enhanced through the usual means: shift of meter, repetition of text, musical expansion, change of musical style, addition of string accompaniment, and often the attachment of a ritornello based on the same material.

A number of speeches in Ormindo (1644) are articulated by refrains. In Nerillo's monologue in act 1, scene 3, a symmetrical, three-line moralizing

[22] The proportion of tripartite strophic arias in a few randomly chosen operas is as follows: Xerse (1654) 16/37; Erismena (1655) 5/29; Eliogabalo (1668) 24/52; Orfeo (1673) 33/50. Some tripartite strophes replaced bipartite ones in the revision of Argia . The forms of most of the added arias in operas that were revised were tripartite rather than bipartite.

[23] On this point, see Powers, "Erismena," 309.


refrain encloses a lengthy passage of recitative in versi sciolti that develops the moral of the refrain: "Oh, wise is he who knows how to flee woman's beauty" (example 27):

O sagace chi sà
Fuggir, come il suo peggio
La donnesca beltà.
Beltà mentita, e vana,
Che per far lacci à cori
Và rubando i capelli
A teschi infraciditi entro gl'avelli:
Ma che parlo de' morti,
Se con vezzi lascivi
Pela spietatamente insino i vivi?
O sagace chi sà . . .

Oh, wise is he who knows how

To flee, as his bane,

Woman's beauty.

A beauty false and vain

That to tie hearts

Goes around stealing hair

From moldering skulls in their tombs.

But why am I speaking of dead men,

When, with lascivious simpering,

It robs without pity even the living?

Oh, wise is he . . .

Cavalli distinguished the refrain by setting it in a highly elaborate aria style, expanding and reworking the text by repeating individual words and lines and finally going through the whole text a second time with varied music. Melismatic sixteenth-note scale passages interpret fuggir each time it occurs; strings briefly echo various vocal phrases, concluding the refrain with a more substantial echolike ritornello based on the fuggir motive. The second refrain statement, exactly like the first, ushers in the first of two arias in the scene in a sequence of escalating lyricism of the kind we have already remarked upon in connection with the sententious arioso. This increasingly lyrical organization was characteristic first of comic monologues and later of serious ones.[24]

It was a function of comic characters to make moralistic generalizations on behalf of their masters, directed as much to the audience as to the characters on stage. The very artificiality of repetition helped to distance the remarks from the immediacy of the drama and focused them more directly toward the audience. It was different for serious characters, who needed special license to repeat themselves or express themselves formally. Excessive passion was virtually their only justification. For them, refrains within recitative offered an opportunity for lyrical expression without the limitations of formal aria. Indeed, Cavalli and Faustini seem to have been particularly interested in the refrain as an affective device in serious contexts, in the power of refrains to project passion.

In Ormindo they exploited that power in conjunction with one character in particular: the abandoned princess Sicle, whose feigned death stimulates the reawakening of her lover's affection and the symmetrical resolution of the plot.

[24] Example 21 above is part of such a scene. It is the second of two arias separated by a recitative passage. A particularly effective example for a serious character is Sofonisba's soliloquy from Cavalli's Scipione affricano 2.9, illustrated below in example 91.


Unlike the other main characters, Sicle sings no arias (she is the most serious of all the lovers, the most steadfast in her faith); but her passionate recitatives are frequently punctuated by refrains, some of them quite lengthy. Her extended speeches in 1.5 are interrupted at various junctures by three successive refrains of differing length and intensity. In the previous chapter we saw how Cavalli specially emphasized the last of them, a quatrain itself enclosed by a refrain, by means of a lyrical setting that involved word repetition, dissonance, syncopation, sequence, and other standard affective techniques (cf. example 8):

Chi, chi mi toglie al die
Carnefice pietoso
De le sciagure mie?
Chi, chi mi toglie al die .
Angoscie aspre, ed acerbe,
Se tanto fiere siete,
Perche non m'uccidete?
De la sua vita priva
Non viva più la misera, non viva.
Chi, chi mi toglie al die  . . .[25]