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

10—Il diletto : Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions

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]

The five lines that separate the two appearances of the refrain are treated as straight recitative, but do not stand apart musically from the refrain. On the contrary, as Cavalli set them, they lead powerfully to its return, their close on the dominant awaiting the refrain to reassert the tonic. The effect of the whole is cumulative; the second cry of despair, "Who, who will deliver me from this existence!" is the culmination of the entire passage. Forward motion rather than retrospection is promoted by the recurrence; the second statement of the refrain seems more powerful than the first for having been anticipated by it.

What is more, each of these individual refrains might almost be thought of as a miniature ABA aria. In fact, the structure of this "refrain within a refrain" exemplifies the affective inspiration of refrains in general. It also illustrates an important distinction between two refrain types: the passionate exclamatory line and the more expansive multiple-line statement, a distinction to which we shall return. It seems quite natural, given the emotional temperature of the refrain text to begin with, that it should inspire its own single-line refrain, which itself is required to resolve a half-cadence. Sicle's four-line refrain does not seem artificially structured or dramatically stagnant. It forms a single, emotionally inspired lyrical gesture.

It was a small step from the lyrical refrain in recitative to the da capo aria. All that was still missing was the formal integration of the intervening text and music. But composers had to work harder in arias to match the intensity that

[25] See ch. 9, pp. 263-64, example 8; translation there.


could be achieved by refrains in a recitative context. They had to infuse the aria form with progressive energy to counteract the static effect of return.

Da Capo Refrain Arias

The earliest ABA arias, most of them comic, were not unlike their bipartite counterparts in their proximity to the recitative style. Their texts were generally set syllabically, straight through from beginning to end; their refrains, usually of the single-line exclamatory variety, rarely received special musical treatment. Any musical distinctions between A and B were usually inspired by textual distinctions, such as a shift in meter. In fact, librettists often assured musical continuity by linking the refrain to either or both ends of the intervening text by rhyme as well as meter. Frequently only the presence of a ritornello based on the refrain material served to emphasize the refrain above the rest of the text. Occasionally, though, the return of the refrain was amplified through repetition, resulting in an ABA' rather than ABA form.

A characteristic early example is Mercurio's aria from act 3, scene 9 of La virtù de' strali d'Amore (example 28):

Donne, s'amar volete
Venite quì, correte,
Con gli strali d'amor v'impiagherò;
Ma da chi più vezzosa
Hà la bocca amorosa
In premio del mio colpo un bacio io vuò.
Donne s'amar volete
Venite quì, correte.

Da colei, che più belle
Le luci ha de le stelle
Un lascivetto sguardo io chiedo sol;
Ma s'alcuna donare
Mi vuol cose più rare
Acceterò ciò, che donar me vuol;
Donne, s'amar volete
Venite quì, correte .
[+ one more strophe]

Ladies, if love is your desire ,
Come hither, run :
I will wound you with Love's darts;
But she who has the fairest,
Most loving lips
Must reward my deed with a kiss.
Ladies, if love is your desire ,
Come hither, run .

From her, whose eyes
Are lovelier than the stars,
I only demand a lascivious glance;
But if any of you will give
Something more rare,
I shall accept whatever you wish to give me;
Ladies, if love is your desire . . .

In this ditty, addressed directly to the ladies in the audience, and distinctly outside the dramatic action, the text is set straight through like recitative, syllabic and unheightened. The refrain is continuous with the rest, lacking any thematic, harmonic, or metric distinction. Although an abrupt harmonic juxtaposition signals its return, only a single extra word repetition, a slight bow in the direction of closure, differentiates the second statement from the first. The stanza is followed by a ritornello loosely based on a motive taken from the refrain, specifically that setting the words Venite quì , the climax of the text; but


even this relationship serves no particularly emphatic function, since the refrain itself is so little distinguished from the rest of the music.

The breezy, recitative-like rapidity with which Cavalli dispatched this text, refrain and all, is appropriate because it contributes to the comic effect of the aria. The musical setting promotes verbal intelligibility and makes only limited vocal demands on the singer, who was probably chosen as much for his histrionic as for his vocal abilities.[26] Further, it responds directly to the poetry, which makes no metric distinction between the refrain and the rest of the text. The composer did little more than transcribe the poetic structure into musical notation. The text virtually sings (= speaks) itself.

Other early da capo refrain arias are more complicated (and more interesting). Some display greater contrast between sections and greater emphasis on the refrain. In Melloe's aria "Voglio provar anch'io, che cosa é Amor" from Doriclea (Faustini/Cavalli, 1645) 3.4, a distinction between the refrain and the B section is suggested by the meter of the text (example 29):

Voglio provat anch'io, che cosa è Amor
Ogni donzella
Sciocca m'appella,
Perch'à un sembiante
Di vago amante
Mai diedi il cot.
Voglio provar anch'io, che cosa è Amor .

Ciascuna ama mi dice, arnare io vò ,
Voglio, che sia
L'anima mia,
Il mio diletto
Un giovanetto,
Che scieglierò.
Ciascuna ama mi dice, amare io vò .
[+ one more strophe][27]

I, too, wish to experience what love is .
Every damsel
Says I'm silly
Because I never gave my heart
To the countenance
Of a fair lover.
I, too, wish to experience what love is .

Everyone loves, the), tell me, and I wish to too .
I wish that
My soul,
My delight
Be a youth
Whom I will choose.
Everyone loves, they tell me . . .

The composer marked the librettist's distinction through a change of meter and by the imposition in the B section of sequential patterning in response to the repeated accents of the five short lines; B is further developed in the ritornello, a relationship that, although it inverts the standard da capo connection between ritornello and refrain, is at least musically appropriate for this particular aria, the B material being more distinctive than that of the refrain. As in Mercurio's aria, undifferentiated syllabic treatment is appropriate here because of the nature of

[26] Cf. Il corago (Appendix II. Id). The simplicity of the comic style is undoubtedly also intended to suggest popular music; see Pirrotta, Music and Theatre , 279.

[27] This scene ends with a recitative that closes with an arioso punchline summarizing the affect of the aria, a reversal of the escalating lyricism from arioso to aria link described above; it is a good example of one solution to the problem of large-scale scene-structure, discussed further in ch. 11.


the text—the humorous musings of the amorous servant girl Melloe shared with the audience.

Given the importance of the words and the possibility that they were sung by actors rather than singers, it is perhaps not surprising that comic da capo arias, like comic arias in general, continued to be musically modest well into the second half of the century. Often, however, composers' attention to the words yielded more distinctive musical material as they attempted more actively to translate the text into musical imagery. In Eumene's "La bellezza è un don fugace" from Xerse (Minato/Cavalli, 1654) 2.8, the "fleetingness of beauty" is portrayed by a sixteenth-note refrain motive that seems to spirit the words away (example 30):

La bellezza è un don fugace ,
Che si perde in pochi dì
Il suo sereno,
Come baleno
Tosto fuggì.
Chi s'accese, e ne languì
Speri pur nel tempo edace.
La bellezza è un don fugace .

L'alterezza d'un bel volto
Si castiga con l'età,
Il fresco, il verde
Tosto disperde
Flor di beltà.
E struggendo ogn'hor si và
Come al vento esposta face
La bellezza è un don fugace .

Beauty is a fleeting gift ,
Which is lost in a few days.
Its clear sky
As in a flash
Has come and gone.
Whoever was ignited by it, and languished of it
May as well place his hopes in ravenous time.
Beauty is a fleeting gift .

The haughtiness of a lovely face
Is punished by age;
All that's fresh and green
Soon loses
The bloom of beauty
And is ever consuming itself,
Like a torch exposed to the wind.
Beauty is a fleeting gift .

Beginning with two sixteenth notes to a syllable, increasing to four and finally to twelve, the refrain material spills over into the B section for four of its six lines, following the sentence structure. The two final lines of B are set separately, to new, more appropriate, slower-moving material geared to the word languì , finally coming to a stop on a half-note. The return of the refrain reasserts the message of the text all the more forcefully after the slowdown. The refrain material, which is the message of the text translated into music, permeates the entire aria: strophe, accompaniment, and, of course, ritornello. Despite the greater musical interest of Eumene's aria, it shares with Mercurio's and Melloe's the straight-through setting and the small dimensions that help to project the words clearly and are appropriate to the economical, matter-of-fact expression of a comic character.

In serious contexts, however, it was often more appropriate for the composer to linger over the whole text, particularly the refrain, and to distinguish


it even more strongly from the rest of the text. Such treatment was especially suitable when the message was more affective than literal, when the purpose of the aria was to communicate feeling rather than information or opinion, and when the text was an integral part of the drama rather than external to it, sung by a protagonist rather than a stock figure. In such situations, the music remains closely tied to the words, but asserts its own momentum. The composer used the text more expressively; rather than transcribing the poetic structure or translating the words, he now interpreted the feelings behind them. In these cases, the dimensions of the music far exceed those suggested by the text. Words are repeated, emphasized, dwelled upon, and heightened to convey the emotion that generated them.

Eurinda's "Udite amanti, udite" from Doriclea 1.5 is one of the most fully developed, musically satisfying da capo refrain arias of the period.[28] Eurinda is not a comic character, but one of the noble protagonists, a member of the standard amorous quartet. Although she directs her song to the audience (or to those of it who are lovers), she does not preach to them, but, rather, describes her own feelings. Overcome by her love, she bursts into formal lyricism, an unusual mode of expression for a protagonist in 1645; but her passion justifies the arioso-style expansion of the text (example 31):

Udite amanti, udite,
Trà le schiere d'amor
Non si trova del mio più lieto cor?
Dolce fiamma il sen m'accende,
É diletto il mio martoro,
Cieco Dio co' strali d'oro
Mi saetta, e non m'offende.
Che dite voi, che dite
Trà le schiere d'amor
Si può trovar del mio più lieto cor?
Del mio foco io son l'ardore,
Chi m'avvinse avvinto giace,
Non mi rode il duol vorace,
Tutto manna assaggio amore.
Che dite voi . . .

Hear, lovers, hear:
In Love's ranks
No heart is happier than mine.
A sweet flame kindles my bosom,
My martyrdom is sheer delight;
The blind god with his golden darts
Pierces me, yet hurts me not.
What say you, what do you say,
In love's ranks
Can there be a happier heart than mine?
I am the love of my lover,
My captor captured lies,
Devouring pain gnaws not at me,
Love is manna to my taste.
What say you . . .

This text is actually somewhat irregular for a da capo refrain aria; it fails to conform to any of the standard modifications of da capo refrain form. The opening tercet does not return, but is replaced by a variant, which concludes both stanzas. The composer confirmed the poetic structure, the contrast between the seven- and eleven-syllable refrain and the ottonario B sections, with his own metric contrast, a shift from triple to duple meter. Beyond that, how-

[28] The aria occurs in 1.6 of the score. It is a rondo-refrain aria (according to Hjelmborg's categories) similar in form to "Ombra mai fù" from Xerse (example 42 below).


ever, refrain and B sections are closely linked, by harmonic structure and thematic material. Both are generated by the same opening interval, the descending fifth, E to A, and both are expanded musically. In addition to elaborate, lengthy melismas, on cor in the refrain and strali and saetta in the first B section— none of them particularly expressive of the words—expansion is achieved through repetition of varying textual units: words, phrases, whole lines.

The unusual musical expansion is a function of the composer's long-range dramatic plan, an aspect of characterization. In contrast to Doriclea, the other female lead, Eurinda, is easily carried away by her emotions. She frequently expresses herself in aria style, whereas Doriclea hardly ever does.[29] This particular aria acts as a kind of presentation piece for Eurinda; its elaboration exemplifies her flighty, fickle character. It is, furthermore, ironically appropriate. The unrestrained passion for Farnace expressed here sets into ironic relief her behavior in the very next scene, when, with no preparation whatsoever, she becomes enamored of another man. The musical abundance seems to serve multiple dramatic functions in addition to providing satisfaction for its own sake.

Da capo refrain arias for comic characters did not undergo much development during the century. The features that characterized their earliest manifestations—economical, syllabic setting to ensure text clarity, and minimal musical expansion—remained as appropriate after 1650 as before. Whatever musical expansion such arias displayed, as a result of exaggeration of musical gestures or excessively literal representation of text, tended to enhance their comic effect. The conditions under which comic characters sang their arias did not change either, since they persisted in performing their conventional functions of commentary on and parody of the action.

Da capo refrain arias for serious characters, on the other hand, developed considerably. They became more frequent as librettists found new excuses for them, and they became more-standardized in form. In creating additional aria situations, serious or dramatic, librettists nevertheless continued to ensure minimal disruption of dramatic flow. Formal structures continued to support dramatic function. And composers developed new techniques to enhance drama within the increasingly conventionalized formal schemes. In some instances, greater musical coherence between refrain and enclosed text helped to minimize

[29] The propensity toward formal lyricism may have been a standard means of characterization for Faustini. A similar contrast marks the heroines of Ormindo (Erisbe and Sicle) and of Rosinda (Nerea and Rosinda); but it is also true of Ottavia and Poppea in L'incoronazione di Poppea and Medea and Isifile in Giasone . Perhaps it was always thought of as a way to differentiate between the two leading ladies.


the artificiality of return. In others, return itself assumed a specific dramatic function, which an increased contrast between sections helped to emphasize.

Coherence in Da Capo and Da Capo Refrain Arias

In the librettos of both Minato and Aureli, da capo arias for serious characters were of two distinct types, largely determined by their dramatic function.[30] The more common type initially featured single-line refrains associated with multiple stanzas (modified in one of the standard ways), with which they were often linked by meter or rhyme. Less frequently, until later in the century, the refrains were longer and enclosed single stanzas, from which they were usually poetically more distinct, creating a form that resembled the prototypical baroque da capo aria in most important respects.[31] The two types occasionally overlapped; that is, some arias with short refrains were not strophic, and some strophic arias had long refrains.

The length of the refrain, however, was directly related to the dramatic function of the aria. By and large, those with short refrains were more immediately responsive to, and more deeply imbedded in, the ongoing action. The refrains themselves were usually highly impassioned, indignant or angry outbursts, or rhetorical questions, whether addressed outward to other characters or inward by the characters to themselves. They resembled Faustini's recitative (arioso) refrains in their affective intensity and apparent spontaneity, but were associated with more formalized texts.[32] Such arias usually began abruptly in response to a specific action or event; they often concluded a scene or action-segment and were followed by the character's exit. Or else they opened solo scenes that presented a character responding to an action that had recently taken place. Xerse has a number of such arias with opening lines like "Che barbara pietà" (immediate response to an action), "Và, speranza" (self-exhortation), "Morirò volete più," "Lasciatemi morire" (more considered response), or "Dammi, Amor, la libertà." Arias with longer refrains were usually associated with more static situations, where emotions were more controlled or had not yet been ignited. Declarative rather than participatory, they were more likely to initiate or set the stage for an action than to respond to one, and they often marked entrances rather than exits.[33]

In both types of aria the return of the refrain might strain verisimilitude. The risk, however, was attenuated in the longer refrain arias by their more

[30] Comic da capos shared the same forms, but not the accompanying dramatic distinctions.

[31] One of the most crucial defining characteristics of the mature da capo form is a dramatic one, and depends on the acceptance of exact return as dramatically appropriate. There was a distinction in dramatic function almost from the outset between short refrain forms, which were usually integrated within the action, and more fully developed da capo arias, which were in some sense external (see below).

[32] Cf. Sicle's "Chi mi toglie al die" from Ormindo (example 8 above).

[33] The opposite became true later, of course.


external function, while the shorter refrains were often dramatically justified by their affect, which could well be intensified by return, as long as it did not seem programmed or artificial. Composers and librettists could intensify the affective impact of return by making it seem natural. One way of achieving this was to integrate the returning refrain with the B section so that it seemed necessary, even inevitable, rather than redundant.

Integration is achieved quite effectively in most of the abovementioned arias from Xerse . In Amastre's "Morirò: volete più" (2.13). she reacts to the accumulated frustration of being repeatedly ignored by her beloved Xerse. Integration is encouraged by the meter and rhyme scheme of the text (example 32):


Morirò: volete più?
Stelle crude al mio martir
S'il mio duolo a raddolcir
Vostri rai non han virtù.
Morirò: volere più?
Se tradita è la mia fè
Se non posso hayer mercè
Di costante servitù
Morirò: volete più?

I will die: do you want more?
Cruel stars, if your rays
Don't have the power
To soothe my torment's pain,
I will die: do you want more?
If my faith is betrayed,
If I can't have mercy
From loyal servitude,
I will die: do you want more?

Cavalli set it straight through, linking the refrain to the B section through phrase structure (the first phrase spans lines 1-2), harmony (the refrain lands on the dominant, which is resolved to the tonic only at the end of the first phrase), and motivic material (the rhythm of the refrain, with its initial upbeat, persists throughout the strophe). The link between the end of the B section and the returning refrain is, if anything, even tighter. An expanded and transposed variant of the refrain completes a rising sequence of upbeat phrases that began in the strophe with line 3 on G#, proceeded to line 4 on B, and finally to the refrain on high G, which provides the climax of the aria, ending strongly on the relative major. The refrain in fact does not return at its original pitch until a phrase later, where, acting as the fourth and final member of the sequence begun with line 3, it resolves the aria to the tonic. Cavalli followed the librettist's lead by treating the entire text of five strictly rhymed ottonari tronchi as a unit. The refrain provides both the generative idea and the climax of the aria.[34]

Meter and rhyme scheme were not the only inducements to musical continuity. Sometimes the meaning of a text actually depended on the incorporation of the refrain at the end as well as the beginning, so that its recurrence did not seem like a repeat at all, but rather the culmination of the aria. Such is the effect of Romilda's self-exhorting "Amante non è," which she sings at her exit

[34] This was originally one of those strophic rondo-refrain arias, ABA CA. The composer evidently chose to cut the librettist's second strophe, which could not have followed from his setting of the refrain.


in 2.15. Minato integrated the refrain line into the strophe by inverting the syntax at the end: "He is not a [true] lover, / Who yields to the fury. . . . He who fears pain / Is not a [true] lover" (example 33):


Amante non è
Chi cede al furor
D'irata Fortuna,
Tutto quel, che Pluto aduna
Più perfido rigor
Non vince il mio core,
Non turba mia fè,
Chi teme il dolore,
Amante non è.[35]

He is not a lover
Who yields to the fury
Of irate Fortune:
The most perfidious punishment
That Pluto assembles
Cannot conquer my heart,
Nor disturb my faith.
He who fears pain
Is not a lover .

The composer brilliantly paralleled this integration with his own musical anastrophe. Prefaced by an independent ritornello, as befits its rather considered, philosophical tone, the brief refrain presents a motive (strictly derived from the text rhythm) that, although repeated sequentially at the outset of line 2, quickly disintegrates into more varied rhythmic and melodic patterns inspired by individual words. The text and music of the two final lines, the refrain and its predecessor—which form a paired couplet with the two preceding lines—are heard twice, as in a typical ABB' expansion, first beginning and ending on the dominant, then beginning on the dominant and reaching the tonic with a slight flourish that restores the music of the original refrain as the inevitable, sequential climax of the line. The musical development of the aria is linear; it moves naturally and inexorably from refrain to refrain without doubling back.

The integration of refrain and B section illustrated in these two examples from Xerse helps to counteract the natural regressiveness of the da capo. In both instances, musical integration was encouraged by the librettist, although the particular means of achieving it was up to the composer. There are numerous examples, however, in which the composer's contribution stands out because it seems to go beyond the librettist's indications, using them merely as a starting point for much greater integration and expansion.

[35] The form of this text resembles Minato's characteristic inversion of the returning refrain of tripartite arias, mentioned in n. 5 above. The inversion of the refrain in the following text suggests new music, producing a form that is more rondolike than either strophic or da capo.

[*] S'Amor vuol così ,
Che far ti poss' io ,
Dolente cor mio?
Non ti giovano i sospiri,
Senza frutto è' l lagrimar
Non osserva i tuol martiri,
Non sí piega al tuo penar
La beltà che ti ferì.
Dolente cor mio ,
Che far ti poss' io ,
S'Amor vuol così?

[*] Hal nemica la fortuna
Getta al vento la tua fè,
Non aver speranza alcuna
D'ottener pietà, mercè,
Fin che durano i tuoi dì,
Dolente cor mio . . .
(Artemisia , 2.1)


In Miralba's aria "Non dovevi innamorarti" from Medoro (Aureli/Lucio, 1658) 2.14, the musical coherence far exceeds that of the text, whose sole suggestion of integration is the (conventional) rhyme between the final line of the strophe and the returning refrain (example 34):


Non dovevi innamorarti ,
Infelice mio cor, se non volevi
Sentir d'Amor le pene:
Stolto sei, se le catene
Credi sciorti e liberarti:
Non dovevi innamorarti!

Soffri in pace i tuoi martiri ,
Che sei nato al penar, e di Cupido
Fatto sei scherzo, e gioco:
Tormentati in mezo al foco
Saran sempre i tuoi respiri.
Soffri in pace i tuoi martiri .

You should not have fallen in love ,
O my unhappy heart, if you were unwilling
To feel the pangs of Love:
Foolish are you, if you think
You can loosen your bonds and free yourself:
You should not have fallen in love .

Suffer in peace your martyrdom ,
For you were born to suffer, and to Cupid
You are but a whim, a toy.
Your breath shall ever be
Tormented amidst the flames.
Suffer in peace your martyrdom .

Musical integration is achieved initially by the persistence into the B section of the refrain's initial, steady eighth-note motion and upbeat phrase beginnings. This general connection is reinforced by a specific one, a kind of musical rhyme emphasizing the textual rhyme between the end of B and the refrain. The composer set the two rhyming syllables (the rar in innamorarti and liberarti ) to elaborate, highly rhythmic, and very similar melismas. The relationship is highlighted in several ways. To begin with, the last two lines of the strophe are repeated in a second key (E-A, A-D), which entails repetition of the melisma on liberarti . Then the refrain is also repeated, first in the dominant, then in the tonic. Not only is the melisma thus also heard twice in the refrain, but each time it is expanded to double its original length. By returning first on the dominant and then on the tonic, and by expanding the original melisma, the refrain sounds less like a repetition than a new development of earlier material: its own and that of the B section. It is worth noting that a second statement of the refrain was not required by the tonal structure of the B section, which ended firmly in the tonic. But a preliminary statement in the dominant sets up the final statement in the tonic as a bigger climax; the refrain acts like a large authentic cadence. In Miralba's aria, Lucio went beyond the normal means of integrating refrain and B section to establish a strong thematic relationship between the sections. Although that relationship may have been suggested by the closing rhyme of Aureli's text, it was the composer's choice to exploit it as the source of forward momentum in the aria.

There are some da capo arias in which integration is so complete that the distinction between refrain and B section is virtually obliterated, the refrain supplying all of the musical material for the aria (we observed something like


this in example 31 above). The technique is particularly appropriate when the refrain line actually provides the subject matter for the whole text.

Orfeo's "Cerco pace e mi fà guerra" from Orfeo (Aureli/Sartorio, 1673) 1.13 is an effective example of what might be called the monothematic da capo. It literally demonstrates the permeation of a whole aria by the affect of its refrain (example 35):


Cerco pace e mira guerra
Gelosia co 'l Dio d'Amor .
Cinto l'un d'acceso telo
Porta il foco, e l'altra il gelo,
Per far breccia in questo cor.
Cerco pace . . .

La bellezza à far rapine
Si à Giove anco insegnò .
Non han freno accese voglie,
E più bella, ch'è la moglie
Il sospetto anco è maggior.
Cerco pace . . .

I seek peace but am warred against
By jealousy and the god of Love .
The one, armed with a burning dart,
Carries fire, the other frost,
To make a breach in my heart.
I seek peace . . .

Beauty taught even
Jove to be a ravisher .
Once enflamed, cupidity is unbridled,
And the lovelier the wife,
The greater the suspicion.
I seek peace . . .

Orfeo's unremitting jealousy generates an incessant running sixteenth-note continuo accompaniment, which, pitted against a smoother, slower-moving vocal line, gives concrete expression to jealousy's power to undermine Orfeo's peace. It is the meaning of the two-line refrain ("I seek peace but am warred against by jealousy") that is embodied throughout the aria by the bass motion, which never stops. The refrain and B section are separated by half-note pauses at either end, but the return of the refrain is nonetheless heard rather as a continuation of the B section than a reprise of earlier material.

Although the methods and results differed, integration of refrain and B section in all of the preceding examples entailed some recomposition and expansion at the recurrence of the refrain. Sometimes it was minimal, just an extra cadential repetition, either to provide closing punctuation or to restore the tonic if the refrain had originally ended elsewhere (as in examples 28 and 32, respectively). Sometimes it involved more extensive repetition of the whole refrain, rendered necessary by its own initial instability (examples 30 and 33). The refrain itself might return in a new key and then be repeated in its original key, sometimes additionally extended to produce a more satisfactory cadence (example 34). In the most effective examples, the final repetition of the refrain gained expressive power—and finality—for having been anticipated by such a transposed statement of itself: that is, by seeming to resolve or stabilize its preceding statement or acting as the culminating member of a sequence (examples 32 and 33).


Sometimes, however, as we have seen, recomposition was much more extensive—and more gratuitous. In Miralba's aria, Lucio's expansion of the refrain went well beyond harmonic or structural necessity into the realm of expression. A number of refrains in other arias from Medoro are similarly expanded. In Miralba's final aria in the opera, "Respira mio core" (3.16), the extensive elaboration of A' is clearly justified by affective considerations. Expansion in both of Miralba's arias, like that in an increasing number of others, smacks as well of deference to the singer. Virtuosic display is not the least of its justifications.[36]

While recomposition through expansion was one effective means of overcoming the static effects of da capo return, composers explored a number of other paths to the same end. Sometimes they ignored the presence of the textual refrain altogether, as in Amastre's "Speranze fermate" from Xerse 2.1 (example 36):


Speranze fermate ;
Sì tosto fuggite?
Ancora non sete
Speranze tradite.
Voi dunque m'havete
Si poca pietate?
Speranze fermate .

Pensieri sperate ;
Sì presto temete?
Ancora ingannati
Pensieri non sete.
Già d'esser sprezzati
A torto giurate.
Pensieri sperate .

Ye hopes, remain!
So soon do you flee?
You are not yet
Hopes betrayed.
Do you then harbor
So little pity toward me?
Ye hopes, remain!

Ye thoughts, have hope!
So quickly you fear?
You are not yet
Thoughts deceived.
You are wrong to swear
You are disdained,
Ye thoughts, have hope!

Here Cavalli altered the form of Minato's text by bringing back the refrain, not with its original music, but attached to the preceding line and set to entirely new music, which he repeated, thereby actually transforming a da capo text into a bipartite aria. The hopes have indeed fled![37]

In Seleuco's "Tardanza noiosa" from Seleuco (Minato/Sartorio, 1666) 1.7, the musical return of the refrain is postponed by transposed reiteration of interior lines of the strophe involving some new musical material (example 37):

[36] The aria may be found in Medoro , ed. Morelli and Walker, ff. 89 -90 .

[37] In ignoring or bypassing the librettist's directives, Cavalli's setting of this text resembles Ziani's treatment of the two bipartite texts from Rodope e Damira illustrated above in examples 25 and 26.


Tardanza noiosa
Molesta dimora.
A un alma ch'adora
Sei sempre penosa.
Tardanza noiosa .

Non gode non posa
Chi aspetta il suo bene,
Rinforzi le pene
Con sferza dogliosa
Tardanza noiosa .

Troublesome lateness ,
Annoying delay:
To a soul in love
You are always painful,
Troublesome lateness .

Unable to enjoy or to rest
Is he who awaits his beloved;
You aggravate his pain
With your hurtful rebuke,
Troublesome lateness .

When the "tardy" refrain text finally does return, it is set to new music that elaborates material introduced in the expanded B section, only with its final cadence, an open descending fifth, recapitulating the opening refrain.

The return of a refrain could also be disguised by beginning it differently or recapitulating it only in part, starting from within the refrain rather than at the beginning.[38] Most often, however, returning refrains were embellished or re-composed at the end, for the reasons outlined above: to fulfill large-dimension harmonic requirements and for purely expressive or formal ones. The expansion of A' in da capo arias is of course analogous to that of B' in bipartite arias, and, despite the difference in form, the results were similar. In both, the expansion lent the aria as a whole a sense of forward propulsion, often culminating in the character's exit from the stage.

Contrast in Da Capo Forms

We have emphasized composers' and librettists' efforts to integrate the da capo refrain into an ongoing, overarching structure. On the other hand, as we have already observed, the da capo form was often chosen expressly for its naturally static effect, for dramatic situations that required backtracking. Such situations benefited from emphasis on the refrain's independence rather than integration, and from its exact repetition rather than its progressive, climactic expansion. The large, static da capo arias almost never involved elaboration of the refrain, but merely called for its repetition by means of the rubric da capo . In such cases, musical contrast was more appropriate than integration because it focused greater attention on the returning refrain. We are coming closer to the textbook da capo form.

In Aldimira's aria from Erismena 3.12, musical contrast, inspired by the meaning of the poetry, intensifies the impact of the refrain's return. Aldimira is responding to an order to leave. She refuses emphatically and directly: "Ch'io

[38] As in Rodope's aria, "Si vedrà," from Rodope e Damira 3-1 (I-Vnm, It. IV, 450 [9974], ff. 82-82 ) and Antioco's lament, "Per pietà," from Seleuco 3-7 (I-Vnm, It. IV, 454 [9978], ff. 91-93. Minato's refrain reversals (see n. 35 above) encourage disguises like these.


parta? non posso," a line that initiates and then concludes a non-strophic aria consisting of eight senari (example 38):


Ch'io parta? non posso .
In prima conviene
Il nodo spezzar
Di quelle catene,
Che mi fan restar
In vano à l'andar
Il piede vien mosso,
Ch'io parta? non posso .

That I depart? I cannot .
First it would be necessary
To break the knot
Of those chains
That make me stay.
The foot is moved
In vain to leave.
That I depart? I cannot .

In response to its emphatic suddenness, Cavalli set the refrain line as recitative, changing to triple meter for the six lines that follow, during which Aldimira explains why it is she cannot leave. The contrast between the refrain and the rest of the text—and the naturalness of the aria style here—is heightened by their harmonic relationship. The refrain is in harmonic limbo; it stops suddenly on a C triad, which becomes, only in retrospect, the dominant of the aria's key. The middle section is itself rather unstable, moving from F to C minor and finally to Bb, where the refrain comes in, again concluding on the dominant, leaving the continuo to effect a quick resolution to the tonic. Not only is the relationship of refrain to B section exceedingly natural and appropriate to the text, but the central section itself, with its breathlessly repeated sequences, overlapped cadences, and intensifying momentum, communicates Aldimira's overwrought emotional state admirably, creating momentum that strengthens her resolution not to leave. Here the contrast of the refrain clearly functions as a dramatic element.[39]

Aldimira's affirmation of her unwillingness to depart is essential to the action; her refrain gains conviction from the emphasis conferred by a distinctive, contrasting setting. But the decision was largely the composer's. Nothing in the text requires contrast. On the contrary, it is structurally continuous. Often, however, the text of a da capo aria insists upon musical contrast between refrain and B section. One of the most obvious instances involves the portrayal of a character's indecision or internal conflict.

In Rodope's "Rendetemi il mio ben stelle fatali" (Le fortune di Rodope e Damira 3.8), another non-strophic text, musical contrast effectively portrays her ambivalence toward her lover, Nigrane. That ambivalence is built into the text. Rodope's love for Nigrane conflicts with her desire for vengeance. She wishes to harden her heart against him, but, as the return of the refrain tells us, she cannot (example 39):

[39] Except for its regularity, this text is quite like some of the recitative-refrain texts of Faustini and even Minato. There are several in Xerse , including Romilda's "L'amerò, non fia vero," in 2.5.


Rendetemi il mio ben stelle fatali :
Fate che l'impietà
D'un Rè barbaro e amante,
Alimenti in un istante
Nelle viscere mie la crudeltà,
Sin che morte gli tronchi i dì vitali.
Rendetemi il mio ben stelle fatali .[40]

Return to me my love, O fateful stars!
Cause the impiousness
Of a barbarous and loving king
To nourish instantly,
Cruelty within my viscera
Until death cut short his living days.
Return to me my love . . .

In the refrain, triple meter, minor tonality, heavily accented appoggiaturas, string echoes, melismatic extensions, and affective text repetition all help to portray the intensity of Rodope's longing for Nigrane, while in the B section a shift to duple meter, D major, steady eighth-note motion, syllabic text-setting, and short, symmetrical phrases attempt to communicate her anger. Although the effect of B is perhaps a little too bright and jaunty to portray anger, it nevertheless communicates a different mood from that of A.[41]

Sectional contrast is inspired in other instances more by the imagery of a da capo text than by its dramatic function. In Elisa's strophic aria from Mutio Scevola (Minato/Cavalli, 1664) 1.13, poetic structure and imagery dictated the distinctive musical setting of the refrain. In this statement of principle, inspired by repeated attempts on her honor, Elisa asserts her steadfastness in metaphoric terms that suggested a series of pictorial images to the composer (example 40):


Fermo scoglio è la mia fede ,
Dal furor d'onda spurnante
Più costante nulla cede:
Fermo scoglio è la mia fede .

Vivo alloro è la mia fede ,
Ch'il suo verde
Mai non perde
D'Aquilon al fiato acuto,
Nè canuto
Mai si vede.
Vivo alloro è la mia fede .

A firm rock is my faith ,
By the fury of frothy wave,
Yet more constant, nothing yields:
A firm rock is my faith .

A living laurel is my faith ,
Whose green
Never fades
In the face of northern blast,
Nor is seen
Ever hoary.
A living laurel is my faith .

The refrain is set to a syncopated, falling fourth motive, depicting the fermo scoglio by its rocklike reiterated rhythm and gravitational motion. The second and third lines inspire agitated, ascending eighth-note patterns, furor in the

[40] This aria, from the Modena score (MS I-Mo Mus. F. 1301), appears in neither the Venice score nor the libretto. It is one of seven added arias in that score, nearly all of them tripartite exit arias. A similar example, Damira's "Vendicar spero" (3.10), is less effective. It is much shorter and its contrast much weaker, perhaps because the text form is so continuous. Although this aria does not appear in the Venice libretto, it is inserted in the Venice score. It is not strophic in either score but that does not mean that a second strophe was not sung or at least initially intended. As we know, the scores often fail to indicate second strophes that are provided by the libretto.

[41] This is actually a rather unsuccessful aria, one of a number by Ziani. He understood that a contrast was warranted but chose the wrong affect. Perhaps it was one of those arias he wrote while traveling.


fourth line a descending sixteenth-note figure, onda spurnante a syncopation, and costante the conventional long notes in the voice part accompanied by a running bass. The return of the refrain with its pictorial motive reinforces the message of the aria; the refrain is self-referential, embodying its own meaning. It both states and represents the imperviousness of Elisa's faith to the furious assaults of her enemies.

A madrigalistic response to text yielded an even greater distinction between the poetically continuous refrain and B section of Angelica's much more elaborate non-strophic aria "La mia mente è un vasto Egeo" from Medoro (3.11). As in Elisa's aria, the text is a metaphoric distillation of intense emotion delivered while the character is alone on stage, but the refrain and B section stand in sharper opposition: the refrain depicts an untroubled, peaceful seascape that is threatened in the B section by the pirate, Fortune (example 41):


La mia mente è un vasto Egeo
Dove ondeggiano i pensieri;
E, Pirata, la Fortuna
Contro me sventure aduna
Acciò resti vil troffeo
De' suoi colpi crudi, e fieri.
La mia mente è un vasto Egeo . . .

My mind is a vast Aegean
Wherein my thoughts toss about like waves;
And the pirate Fortune
Rallies misfortunes against me,
That I may be the vile trophy
Of her rude, fierce blows.
My mind is a vast Aegean . . .

Sixteenth-note melismas repeated at the same pitch level initially portray the vast calm of the Aegean of Angelica's mind; the melismas are then literally transformed into the waves of that sea, dissipating into a more concrete, sequential three-note figure (eighth plus two sixteenths) in a two-beat pattern that breaks irregularly against the prevailing three-beat meter before culminating in a final sixteenth-note flourish at the cadence. The B section, marked by a shift to duple meter, is equally pictorial, its contrasting material beginning with an angular, syncopated, broken-chord figure representing piratical Fortune, whose cruel blows have destroyed Angelica's innocent, floating thoughts. The entire B section is repeated and varied before closing in the relative minor, which leads to a literal reprise of the refrain, indicated by the rubric da capo . Unlike Elisa's refrain, however, whose return emphasized its own meaning, Angelica's seems gratuitous, unmotivated except by the contrasting mood and imagery of the text.

Musical contrast in these last two arias was generated not by the dramatic function of their texts but by their imagery. The metaphoric nature of both texts removes them from the realm of action to that of contemplation—or self-contemplation. Unlike Aldimira and Rodope, Elisa and Angelica are not even expressing their emotion directly, but describing their feelings, commenting on them with a certain aesthetic detachment. This kind of distillation of emotion becomes commonplace in later da capo arias. Indeed, both Elisa's and


Angelica's texts, refined somewhat, might easily have come from a libretto by Metastasio.

These two arias affirm the connection between the single-line refrain aria and the more fully developed da capo. The form of Elisa's aria is like many of the refrain forms discussed earlier: it is strophic, it has a single-line refrain, its dimensions are small, and the A material is not repeated exactly—there is an extra cadential flourish at the end.[42] But like Angelica's aria, a full da capo with identifying rubric, Elisa's contrasting textual imagery inspired musical contrast rather than continuity between refrain and B section, and as a result the sections are clearly distinguished from one another. What links Elisa's and Angelica's arias is their sense of standing outside the action, whereas, as we have seen, so many da capo refrain arias are fully integrated within it.

In none of the four arias with contrasting refrains that we have considered, from Erismena, Rodope, Mutio , and Medoro , does the poetic form alone determine the contrast. Rather, their imagery and dramatic function, far more compelling than their structure, dictate the musical setting. Composers' choices, prompted by the librettists, were, as always, motivated by the need to integrate the arias within the dramatic fabric, to make the music serve the drama.

Static Da Capo Arias

Poetic form had a more exclusive and abstract impact on musical form in da capo arias with longer refrains. For one thing, the longer refrains were always metrically distinct from their surrounding text and thus did not lend themselves to musical integration. For another, these arias did not usually require integration within a dramatic fabric because they were designed to function outside it. Arias with longer refrains were reserved for situations in which formality was appropriate. The refrains merely emphasized their formality. The form of these arias matched their function. Statuesque, objective, they offered the composer greater freedom of expression than was available to him in the more dramatically relevant arias with short refrains, freedom to indulge in musical expansion and development of various kinds. Not incidentally, nearly all of these arias were non-strophic. Rare before 1650, they increased in number during the second half of the century, as librettists developed more occasions for them. Eventually, every protagonist was introduced by one, a presentation aria. And others found their way into librettos disguised as songs of one kind or another.

Possibly the most memorable of all presentation arias from this period is Xerse's "Ombra mai fù," which opens Xerse .[43] The text, made famous by

[42] Might we call it an "arietta"? It certainly lacks what Pirrotta would term a "full and stereotyped" repetition of words (cf. above, p. 284 and n. 6).

[43] It is preceded by an introductory recitative in the Paris version of the score (F-Pn MS 42, 2.312, p. 7), a bow to the growing convention of recitative-aria pairing.


Handel's subsequent setting, comprises a four-line refrain in quinari , which encloses two six-line strophes of settenari and endecasillabi .[44] The refrain extols the plane tree, whose special qualities are appreciated more specifically in the two strophes (example 42):

Ombra mai fù
Di vegetabile
Cara, & areabile,
Soave più.

Bei smeraldi crescenti,
Frondi tenere, e belle,
Di turbini, ò procelle,
Importuni tormenti.
Non v'affligano mai la cara pace,
Ne giunga a profanarvi Austro rapace.

Mai con rustica scure
Bifolco ingiurioso
Tronchi ramo frondoso,
E se reciso pure
Fia, che ne resti alcuno, in stral cangiato,
O lo scocchi Diana, ò 'l Dio bendato.

Ombra mai fù . . .

Never was shade
Of vegetable
More dear & amiable,
More sweet.

Lovely growing emeralds,
Tender, beautiful branches,
May the importunate torments
Of whirlwinds or storms
Never afflict your precious peace,
Nor rapacious southern gale profane you.

May injurious peasant
Never cut a leafy branch
With his crude axe;
And if one should be severed,
May it remain, changed into a dart,
To be hurled by Diana, or by the
   blindfolded god.
Never was shade . . .

Cavalli's music is appropriately formal and expansive. He set the refrain (A) twice, basically straight through, first moving to the dominant, then back to the tonic, D major, with string accompaniment throughout; and he followed it with an instrumental ritornello. Although their scoring is different—continuo instead of strings—and they are generally more elaborate, with more expressive text interpretation involving word repetitions and melismatic extensions, the strophes (B) resemble the refrain in a number of ways: in their tonality (D major), meter (triple), and general melodic motion. Likewise harmonically self-sufficient, they do not require the refrain for closure. Indeed, the independence of the two sections seems to be confirmed by the rubric aria at the head of the first strophe in the Venice score, suggesting that Cavalli (or his copyist) thought of the refrain and strophes as two separate pieces. On the other hand, their relationship is also stressed by a linking ritornello, based on the refrain, which appears at the end of A and after the first strophe of B, though perhaps not after the second.[45] The refrain then returns, exactly as it was, followed by its ritornello.[46]

[44] On the influence of Cavalli's and Bononcini's settings of the opera on Handel, see Harold S. Powers, "Il Serse trasformato," MQ 47 (1961): 481-92; 48 (1962): 73-92.

[45] The ritornello was crossed out in the Venice score (ff. 2 -3) which is almost entirely autograph.

[46] Surprisingly, Cavalli did not use the da capo rubric to indicate the return of the refrain.


Many presentation arias are cast in similarly expansive da capo form, with lengthy refrains, but "Ombra mai fù" is atypical in several respects. The formal boundaries between its refrain and strophe(s) are more clearly articulated than most, by a ritornello and by the harmonic self-sufficiency of each of them. Yet the two sections are quite similar in character, so much so that the same ritornello can be used after each. Usually composers tended to emphasize the formal distinction between refrain and strophe more strongly by contrasting their musical material, but they made them harmonically interdependent so that the return of the refrain is at least tonally necessary for the completion of the aria. The special qualities of Xerse's aria are undoubtedly the result of its special dramatic function. It not only presents him as the hero of this opera, but by associating him indelibly with one of his best-known attributes—the plane tree—it identifies him as the historical Xerxes. The stiltedness of the expanded da capo form perfectly matches the iconic situation.

Medoro's non-strophic aria "O luce serena" in Medoro (1.8) is more typical of the formal da capos used for the presentation of protagonists.[47] Angelica has been anxiously awaiting Medoro's return from battle; in this aria, he presents himself to his beloved. The four-line refrain is distinguished by meter and closed rhyme scheme from the rest of the text, although it does share its rhyme (not its meter) with the line preceding its return. And there is also a distinction in tone. The refrain is more abstract, an apostrophe, whereas the middle section is more urgent, an active engagement of the beloved (a contrast that parallels the one in "Ombra mai fù") (example 43):

O luce serena
Del cielo d'amor,
O dolce mia pena,
O luminoso ardor.

Fuor di mè,
Tutto in tè,
Trasformato in un respiro,
Volo, ò bella in un sospiro
A bearmi nel tuo cor.

O luce serena . . .

O serene light
Of the heaven of love,
O my sweet sorrow,
O luminous ardor.

Beside myself,
Wholly in you,
Transformed into a breath,
I fly, O beauty, in a sigh
To bless myself in your heart.

O serene light . . .

Lucio emphasized the contrast in structure and tone between the sections with highly contrasting music. The refrain unfolds slowly, line by line, in a stately manner, hovering over the D-major tonic chord for the first twenty measures; leisurely repetition of words, phrases, and lines of text and the string echoes of each vocal phrase help to prolong the ethereal effect of harmonic stasis. A single

[47] Although we have already met Medoro in passing in scene 2, this is his first aria in the opera.


move to the dominant, as the final line concludes, provides the harmonic climax; the refrain resolves to the tonic during the repetition of its final phrase, which links the two formerly separated phrases setting lines 3 and 4, the whole falling into characteristic ABB' form.

A shift to duple meter and an implied modulation to the dominant mark the onset of the B section, which is, characteristically, accompanied only by continuo.[48] In contrast to the harmonic stasis of the refrain, the B section avoids asserting any key at all until its final cadence in G (IV), although its steady eighth-note motion does let up briefly to cadence on E minor before resuming its sequential propulsion toward the end. (It immediately transforms the refrain tonic, D, into the dominant of G, though postponing confirmation of G as its tonic until the end.) Like the refrain, the B section is also a miniature ABB' form; its final phrase, which sets the last three lines of text, undergoes the usual transposed repetition. The return of the refrain is necessary from a harmonic point of view, and it restores the placidity of the scene as well as the tonic, grounding the emotional intensity expressed in the middle section. This aria is a presentation of Medoro and an extravagant declaration of his love for Angelica—to which she responds in kind. It stands as an appropriately static portal to the ensuing action, during which their love will undergo severe testing before its final reaffirmation at the happy end.[49]

Aside from presentation, there were numerous individual situations in which the static, elaborate da capo aria functioned with particular efficacy. Usually, the preparation of an action rather than a response is involved. Aldimira's "Vaghe stelle" in Erismena (2.7) has a specific purpose, which its elaborate da capo structure helps to fulfill. Like Xerse's "Ombra mai fù" and Medoro's "O luce serena," it serves as a prelude to a dramatic action and thus stands apart. But it goes farther than either of those arias in being designed to initiate that action: to rouse the sleeping Erismena, disguised as Erineo, with whom Aldimira has fallen in love. As such it benefits from musical elaboration, which can only increase its impact on the sleeper. The composer, evidently relishing the opportunity for expansion encouraged by its dramatic purpose, filled the aria with some of the most expressive music in the opera. As in "Ombra mai fù," the refrain is metrically distinct from the B section. In sense, too, the two sections parallel those of "Ombra mai fù." The refrain is an apostrophe, an abstract, metaphoric invocation, while the central section is more

[48] The contrast also apparently involved a tempo change, to judge from the adagio rubric. Perhaps the tempo marking is supposed to counteract a natural tendency to speed things up in response to the smaller note values of B.

[49] It may in turn (or also) be a musical response to Angelica's aria in the previous scene. See Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri," CLI.


direct, more urgent and more mundane, abandoning metaphor for literalism: Erismena's "stars" become mere "eyes" (example 44):


Vaghe stelle,
Luci belle
Non dormite.
Aprite il sereno
De vostri begli occhi,
Lasciate, che scocchi
In questo mio seno
Amore i suoi dardi,

Bei lucidi sguardi
I lumi deh aprite.
Vaghe stelle . . .

Stars transcendent,
Lights resplendent,
Why thus sleep ye?
Display the serene
Of your beauteous eyes,
Let love play his part
On this stage of my heart,
Shoot hither his shafts
   and fix here his dart.
Ye splendors so clear,
Unveil and appear.
Stars transcendent . . .

Cavalli's setting is unusually free and expressive, contributing to the passionate tone of Aldimira's address. The piece is proclaimed a formal aria by an opening ritornello, which also announces (typically) the main thematic material of the refrain, and which later returns to separate the refrain from the middle section of the aria. The three-line refrain is expanded considerably, both musically and textually, not only by means of the opening and closing ritornello (which, though textless, has the rhetorical function of emphasizing the words of the refrain), but by repetition of the text as a whole, which introduces a new motive before cadencing with the original one; the extra repetition also serves to solidify a return to the tonic, temporarily left for the dominant at the end of the first statement. (Text is repeated to increase the dimensions and weight of this aria, possibly because Aldimira was the prima donna.) The three-line refrain is thus actually heard four times, twice with and twice without words; three times with the same music, once with new music. The refrain returns verbatim, though without the introductory ritornello, at the end of the aria.

Emphasis on the refrain is predictable, but the composer's expansion of the central section of the aria is perhaps less so. Textually already twice as long as the refrain, it becomes even longer and heavier through repetition of individual lines, melismatic extension, interruption by ritornello (after the first two lines), and, finally, through threefold reiteration of its final line, each time on a different scale-degree (C, A, G), which lends urgency to Aldimira's plea. In Cavalli's setting, the text reads:

Deh, deh aprite, aprite
Deh, deh aprite, aprite
bei lucidi sguardi
i lumi deh aprite
deh lucidi sguardi
i lumi deh aprite


—the momentum increasing through modulation and through the addition of string accompaniment.

Although, as in "Ombra mai fù," the refrain and middle section are not particularly contrasting musically—they share meter, melodic style, overall harmonic structure, and even the string accompaniment—each is harmonically complete and thus independent of the other. Here, however, the composer provides an added expressive touch by unexpectedly eliding the end of the strophe with the returning refrain, thereby emphasizing the naturalness of the recurrence.

These expanded da capo arias seem to share very little with the recitative-like refrain forms with which our discussion began. From the retrospect of subsequent operatic history, the larger forms seem more "progressive": non-strophic, with longer, tonally closed refrains that were not recomposed but repeated (as indicated by rubric), and with clear formal boundaries, their distinguishing characteristics became the conventions of the mature da capo form of the early eighteenth century.

It is important to recognize, however, that the differences between the two types represented more than a chronological development from the early 1640s to the mid 1650s. This is made clear by a comparison of the expanded da capo arias with other pieces contemporary with them, even those within the same operas—for example Xerse, Medoro , and Erismena . These arias stand out as exceptionally large and fully developed even within their own specific contexts. Nor did da capo arias increase in size all at once. Musical expansion remained exceptional well into the final decades of the century, in bipartite as well as da capo arias.

As I have suggested, the elaborate da capo arias, no less than their more austere counterparts, developed in response to specific dramatic situations. The shorter refrain forms were invariably integrated within the dramatic fabric; musical continuity between sections and recomposition of the refrain often contributed to that integration. The more statuesque forms served their function by being external, outside the drama; that function was enhanced by expansive musical treatment and strong formal articulations between sections.

Elaborate arias, during which the increasingly powerful singers could command the stage for extended periods, obviously pleased them and their adoring public more than shorter, more modest ones and might have proliferated for that reason alone. But the ultimate ascendancy of the larger forms was a function as well of modifications in the dramaturgy of librettos. In addition to all of the standard justifications for arias, librettists developed clear dramaturgical conventions for their use, at entrances and, increasingly, at exits. These con-


ventions in turn absolved librettists and composers of the necessity of fitting each aria into a specific dramatic context—the general supplanted the specific— and eventually freed composers to indulge their musical inclinations.

As the total number of arias increased during the 1650s and 1660s, so did the proportion of da capo to bipartite arias, but more gradually. In operas of the 1650s, da capo arias constituted less than one-third of the total; by the 1660s the proportion was about equal; and by the late 1670s the bipartite aria was virtually obsolete.[50] The gradual disappearance of the bipartite aria and of the shorter, more spontaneous da capo refrain forms at once reflected and affected changing concepts of dramatic structure. The accumulating energy of both the bipartite and the continuous, affective da capo refrain arias, which suited them so well to integration within ongoing action, became less necessary as the dramaturgy of librettos accommodated arias through a conventionalized scene structure built expressly to contain them.

From the early recitative-like closeness of music and text, which tended to keep them functioning within a fluid dramatic framework and restricted their musical elaboration to brief, text-inspired moments, arias expanded to take up increasing amounts of operatic space and time; they eventually absorbed much of the expressive responsibility formerly exercised by recitative and arioso. Musical expansion, originally text-inspired and quite irregular, gradually settled into more conventional schemes of repetition involving whole sections of text, particularly the refrain, though not always to the same music. The conventions of formal structure as well as dramaturgy increasingly outweighed the requirements of any individual dramatic situation.

The conventional occasions for arias developed by earlier librettists and composers—the public situations that called for formal songs and comic commentary and the private ones that lent conviction to the formal expression of intense passion as thought rather than speech—remained in use throughout the century. But these were increasingly supplemented by others, most notably that of direct address between characters on stage, a mode of communication that required a real stretch of imagination to be believed; that dilemma was only partly eased by the conventions of entrance and exit that were superimposed on all of these situations.[51]

The greater number and more conventionalized placement of arias had a significant effect on their dramatic responsibility and musical treatment. In

[50] In the inaugural opera for the Teatro S. Giovanni Grisostomo in 1678, Vespasiano (Corradi/ Pallavicino), only five of the fifty-two arias were not da capos. See Saunders, "Repertoire," 186.

[51] One of the first operas in which characters conversed in aria was Alessandro vincitor di se stesso (1651); see ch. 9 above. The practice became increasingly common. Sometimes this was achieved rather cleverly. For instance, on two occasions in Seleuco (3.1 and 2.14) one character supplies the refrain to another's strophes.


order to fulfill the expanded role of the aria in characterization, and for purposes of musical variety, librettists and composers began to focus on a single, specific affect or emotion in each aria, portraying the multiple facets of a character seriatim, one at a time, over the course of several arias. Such distribution and concentration of affect provided substance enough for the increased number of arias sung by each character, often more than ten in a single opera.[52] Inspired by a particular word or phrase, the affect was usually embodied in the refrain, which increasingly supplied the central musical idea of the aria that was then developed in some way in the B section and emphatically reiterated in an elaborate da capo. These, of course, were the arias of the affections of late baroque opera satirized so effectively by Marcello and others.

The da capo aria not only gradually supplanted the bipartite aria. In its most fully developed and expanded form it eventually replaced the convention of strophicism, which, though often problematic from the point of view of verisimilitude, had been fundamental to the definition of aria from the very beginning of operatic history. With the da capo aria, librettists still maintained some measure of control over composers' settings. At the same time, however, the form provided the singers with an official, sanctioned opportunity to exercise their own freedom by ornamenting the returning refrain. The abandonment of the strophic structure in favor of the da capo is a final sign of the singer's arrival to claim center stage.

[52] The highest number of arias for a single character in Medoro (1658) is five for Angelica; in Eliogabalo (1668) the title hero has nine; in Orfeo (1673) Euridice sings ten.


10—Il diletto : Aria, Drama, and the Emergence of Formal Conventions

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