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

11—Le convenienze teatrali : The Conventions of Dramma Per Musica

Le convenienze teatrali :
The Conventions of Dramma Per Musica

In constructing their operas, librettists and composers drew upon a large and varied body of conventions, in part derived from the traditions of spoken theater and in part newly developed in response to the exigencies of the operatic genre itself. The availability of a stock of readily adaptable formulae was essential to the proliferation of opera in Venice; enabling supply to keep up with growing demand, it was prerequisite to institutionalization. Through such conventions the genre, in effect, identified itself to its audience. The knowing recognition and appreciation of conventions was a crucial aspect of the experience of opera. In every dimension of construction, in each of its constituent parts, large and small, opera was fabricated out of formulaic units—from the most general to the most specific level of structure, from its overall shape to the individual musical style for a particular text.

Once established, some of the most general structural conventions remained fairly constant throughout the century, while others, more specifically musico-dramatic, changed in response to the developing genre. On the largest scale, the three-act format, after some initial uncertainty, became standard for operatic plots. Although the material of those plots shifted from an emphasis on mythology to romance and increasingly fictionalized history, a conventional structure based on the Faustini formula emerged quite early in the 1640s: two pairs of lovers, surrounded by a variety of comic characters, whose adventures involved separation and eventual reunion. That formula provided subsequent librettists with the basis for variation and invention.

Within this standardized framework, other conventions served to articulate the larger structure. The first act was usually prefaced by a prologue declared by mythological or allegorical characters, providing the occasion for special scenic display. Operas commonly began with an instrumental movement, a sinfonia (sometimes such a movement opened each of the acts), and the first two acts normally concluded with a ballo of some kind. The individual acts could


vary in length and number of scenes, with first acts generally longest and third acts shortest.

The distribution of the action was also predictable. Act 1 presented the basic situation, including the subplots, and ended in confusion. Act 2 further complicated the confusion, which reached its apex at some point during the third act and resolved near the end, even as late as the final scene. These structural conventions quite naturally carried with them musical expectations as well. The emotional climax in the third act was usually marked by a lament, the reconciliation of lovers at the end by a duet.

Within each individual act, the audience expected a dramatic structure built up in groups of scenes: the number of actors on stage would increase to a certain point, when a break occurred, with a change of setting and characters, comic interludes often bridging the gaps between successive scene-groups or sets. All of these conventions could be manipulated and varied; resolution could be postponed, for example, or a further plot complication introduced unexpectedly. But the effect of such manipulation was predicated on the assumption of a normative structure and dramatic development familiar to the audience.

Beyond such general assumptions about operatic structure, the audience would also have expected the characters to relate to one another in established ways and to behave according to type. In addition to the usual confrontations, conflicts, and love scenes between members of the same class, there were obligatory scenes that involved mixed social classes: the nurse giving advice to her charge or the squire complaining to his master. Each of the principals was normally introduced by a presentation aria of some kind, and they could each also be counted on for a soliloquy at some major turning point later in the opera. Comic soliloquies, on the other hand, tended to occur between sets to allow for changes of scenery.

The audience's expectations also extended to visual aspects of the performance. It anticipated scenic variety, contrast between outdoor and indoor settings of different kinds: a courtyard, a landscape, an armed camp, a chamber, a forest, the Underworld. And, of course, it also expected elaborate costumes. Deviations from the norm were bound to produce a reaction—and to require comment and explanation.[1]

Among conventional scene-types, the lament, the mad scene, the ghost or Underworld scene, and the sleep scene were borrowed directly from the traditions of spoken theater, from comedy and the pastoral, two of opera's chief

[1] The conventional stage-sets are neatly categorized in Claude-François Ménestrier, Des Representations en musique anciennes et modernes (Paris, 1681), 168-74 (Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 86-87). They include the heavenly, the sacred, the military, the maritime, the royal, the historical, the magical, and the academic. On the last category in particular, see n. 23 below.


literary ancestors. Adapted to the new genre, these theatrical conventions in turn became associated with specifically musical ones: the lament with an aria based on the descending tetrachord, the Underworld with arias featuring versi sdruccioli , and the sleep scene, quite naturally, with the lullaby. Inherited character types, too, assumed conventional musical associations: the roles of the heroes were usually sung by soprano and alto castrati, the heroines by female sopranos; basses sang the parts of old men, whereas nurses were usually played by tenors travestiti . Further, the utterances of comic characters were distinguished from those of serious characters by special musical treatment of their texts, particularly in the arias. And the discourse of the gods was distinguished from human communication by its greater virtuosity, its vocal flights.

Convention also determined the composer's deployment of his musical resources. Certain kinds of texts or dramatic moments became associated with specific kinds of music: the reading of letters usually called for specially organized recitative;[2] aggressive, combative texts prompted imitations of trumpets (eventually real trumpets);[3] highly expressive aria texts and even an occasional recitative passage (usually one per opera) were often distinguished by string accompaniment rather than just the usual continuo.

Some conventions were restricted to the works of a single librettist and therefore might better be termed personal stylistic traits—the twenty-scene act, for instance, was a trademark of Minato. Others, such as the mad scene, were particularly strong within a limited timespan—the early 1640s, in this case— suggesting that they may have been inspired by one another. And still others, such as the closing love duet, might have been the result of practical considerations—economic or even physical limitations that rendered elaborate mythological endings unfeasible.[4] Finally, certain conventional character-types, such as the stutterer, or musical genres, like the lament, may have received their original impetus from the talents of a particular singer or composer.[5] Regardless of their origins, however, most of these conventions, more or less modified,

[2] Beth Glixon discussed the convention of the letter in "The Letter-Writing Scene," a paper delivered at the annual meeting of the American Musicological Society, Philadelphia, 1984.

[3] See Tarr and Walker, "'Bellici carmi,'" 143-203.

[4] The operas produced in S. Moist and S. Apollinare were undoubtedly affected by the small dimensions of those theaters—both stages and auditoriums—to which librettists often alluded in their prefaces. See, for example, Faustini's remarks in the preface to Oristeo (Appendix I.33b) and elsewhere. Also Melosio's remarks in the preface to Sidonio e Dorisbe (quoted in Pirrotta, "The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 326). But the general economic conditions under which all theaters operated would have tended to inspire cost-cutting adjustments in productions, particularly in view of increasing expenditures for singers.

[5] On the possible influence of performers on their roles, see ch. 8, pp. 233-35 above; also Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 249. The laments of Cavalli, present from his first to his final opera, are surely the musical highpoints of his scores, a claim that cannot be made for those few surviving scores of his contemporaries. Ziani's laments, for example, seem quite perfunctory.


were ultimately absorbed within the generalized style recognizable as that of "Venetian"—eventually Italian—opera, a single rubric that subsumed the efforts of particular librettists, composers, scenographers, and even singers. Individual stylistic distinctions between composers or librettists faded into the background as the shared conventions of the genre fell into place.

Particularly after the middle of the century, every opera was a patchwork of conventions stitched together more or less tightly and confidently. Some tend to show their seams, while others, because of the particular skills of librettist and composer, manage more successfully to present the appearance of a uniform fabric. Even these, however, unravel quite readily to reveal their constituent parts.

Surely no single Venetian opera lends itself more appropriately to scrutiny of this kind than that standard-bearer of midcentury style, Giasone . We have already noted (chapter 9) the extraordinary popular success of the work and recognized its place at the crossroads of operatic developments. Besides representing a moment of equilibrium, an ideal balance between dramma and musica, Giasone offers a model of operatic conventions. Its success, in fact, like that of La finta pazza before it, can be ascribed more to the effective exploitation of conventions than to any particular originality; that is, to the skill with which it utilized and highlighted a full range of operatic conventions that were already familiar to its audience.

The Comic Aria

Essentially based on the Faustini model, Giasone features a typical cast of characters, who perform the functions and express themselves in the language appropriate to their several classes. The comic characters in particular, considerably more numerous here than usual, illustrate one of the oldest and most stable of operatic conventions: the comic aria style. A distinctive style for comic arias, in fact, based on a combination of textual and musical features, had been established in the very first Venetian operas and persisted throughout the century. We have already explored and illustrated some aspects of this style in chapters 9 and 10.

Comic arias depended for their effect on being in some sense artificially formal statements, either songs that served within the drama as props, like drinking songs or lullabies, or else cliché complaints or advice, ostensibly addressed to fellow actors, but effectively directed to the audience. Their texts usually comprised two or more strophes of versi misurati , generally senari or ottonari , which often contained refrains of one or more lines, either within the strophes or enclosing them. The strophic form itself, of course, although an-


tithetical to dramatic progress and thus inappropriate for many dramatic situations, was essential to the song, distinguishing it from other more natural modes of communication and thereby underlining its nature.

Beyond reinforcing strophic texts with strophic music, composers emphasized the strongly metrical structure of individual comic strophes by marking grammatical articulations as well as formal patterns—rhymes, metric parallels and contrasts—and by setting the refrain lines clearly apart from the rest of the text. And, since much of the humor of comic texts lay in details of language— odd turns of phrase, puns, alliteration—as well as meaning, composers generally adopted a simple, almost speechlike style in which such verbal play would be clearly audible: speedily delivered syllabic text-setting within a narrow range involving many repeated notes, homophonic texture, short, often separated, repeated musical phrases based on text-phrases, and text-derived rhythmic patterns. In addition, comic arias were often marked by exaggeration of various kinds: excessively literal text-painting, sharp and frequent musical contrasts, and overly extended sequences or repetitions.

Such music—normally not requiring extraordinary breath control, particularly well-developed high and low registers, or vocal flexibility—allowed for an unusual freedom of stage movement. In fact, certain of these musical features—such as the short, separated phrases, which were often linked to one another by instrumental echoes—even actively encouraged comic stage business. It is worth emphasizing, once again, the suitability of such music for performance by skillful actors rather than trained singers.[6]

The comic arias in Giasone display typical characteristics of the type. One of them, sung by Medea's old nurse Della, "È follia" (illustrated above in chapter 9 [example 12]), is marked by a mincing, stepwise, highly repetitious melody, strictly syllabic text-setting, short, clipped phrases, and a strong contrast between strophe and refrain. Like most of the other comic arias in the opera, it is part of a lyric scene, the second of two arias separated by a recitative passage. Comic arias by other composers, as well as later ones by Cavalli himself, share many of the same features, particularly the sense of text-generated music, although one or another aspect may be emphasized, depending on the particular dramatic situation or text at hand. Exaggeration and contrast, always in the service of text clarity, remain constant features of the comic style. They are fundamental to an aria like Alceo's "Io pensavo innamorarmi" from Argia (Apolloni/Cesti, 1669) 2.5, where speechlike, syllabic text-setting in a small range alternates back and forth with wildly extended, sequentially struc-

[6] Some comic roles, however, were clearly played by extremely skilled singers: for example, that of the bass, Chirone, in Sartorio's Orfeo , which is filled with coloratura passages.


tured melismas (example 45). A similar contrast is found in Clitarco's "Fier tiranno" from Ercole in Tebe (Moniglia/Boretti, 1670) 1.13 combined with other typical comic features (example 46). Here short sequential phrases separated by instrumental echoes move in steady eighth notes, setting the text syllabically; suddenly, near the very end of the final refrain, that steady motion explodes in an enormous (four-measure) sixteenth-note melisma on tiranno , a word whose previous three settings, in syllabic eighth notes, leave the listener unprepared for the final expansion.

Finally, rapid text delivery is deliberately exaggerated in Erinda's "S'io potessi ritornar" from Orfeo (Aureli/Sartorio, 1673) 1.4, where the continuous eighth-note motion in the voice, hardly pausing for breath, is intensified by the relentless continuo accompaniment that matches the voice note for note, even urging it on at the ends of phrases (example 47).[7]

The examples are countless. There were comic arias like these in every opera from the 1640s until the end of the century, when comic characters were finally expunged from operatic plots—only to reappear, however, in the intermezzi of the early eighteenth century, with the same musical characteristics. But although they remained musically recognizable, such arias became somewhat less distinctive as the century progressed, owing largely to the proliferation of arias for serious characters. In their attempts to differentiate serious arias from one another and to strengthen the portrayal of affect in them, composers adopted some of the most characteristic features of comic arias.

Two arias from Sartorio's Orfeo illustrate the point. In Autonoe's "Qual spirto dannato" (1.5) exaggerated repetition and literal text interpretation portray the central image of the text, girando , which represents the character's hopeless wandering (example 51 below). In Euridice's "Non sò dir" (1.17) similarly literal text interpretation as well as abrupt contrast between syllabic and melismatic motion are directed more generally toward displaying that character's power—dramatic as well as vocal (example 48).

Sometimes the adoption of comic features seems more explicit and deliberate. In Atamante's "Nascer grande, ohimè che giova" from Cesti's Argia (1.5), for example, the use of comic characteristics—in particular, strong and abrupt contrast between syllabic and melismatic text setting, short, motivic phrases, metric shifts, and literal text interpretation (especially of scherzo and gioco )—tends, effectively, to undermine the seriousness of the king's amorous dilemma: that he cannot bear to marry beneath his station (example 49).[8] And, in another instance, in Adelaide (Dolfin/Sartorio, 1672) 1.11, an aria in simple

[7] Example 30, "La bellezza è un don fugace," discussed in ch. 10 above, is another good instance of speed and patterning.

[8] The use of an inappropriate style of speech (or song) for dramatic purposes is an important resource in mad scenes. See pp. 359-60 below.


syllabic style, with many repeated notes and strictly motivic structure, is part of Duke Annone's disguise as a shepherd—he expresses himself very differently, in a much more elaborate style, when he is alone (example 50).

Comic arias, like the characters who sang them, did not undergo significant development over the course of the century. Clarity of text presentation remained their primary objective, and musical expansion, accordingly, was kept to a minimum—or else comically exaggerated beyond sense. But they nevertheless served an important and continuing function in the evolution of the operatic genre. Their negligible affective responsibilities encouraged composers to experiment with their form, and those experiments bore fruit in the context of serious arias.

Composers' experiments with comic style exceeded the boundaries of individual arias to affect entire scenes. Comic scenes, expanding upon the idea of contrast that formed such an important ingredient of individual comic arias, were the first to display a succession of two arias linked by recitative. We already noted that Delfa's aria "È follia" (chapter 9, example 12) belongs to such a scene; and the same is true of several of the other comic arias discussed in earlier chapters.[9] Such successions eventually found their fuller realization in the obligatory operatic scene for protagonists. But whereas successive arias in a comic context required no greater justification than any individual aria—they simply intensified the comic effect—serious characters, at least initially, needed a specific excuse for repeated or sustained lyrical expression.

The large-scale musical structure of early comic scenes, like their dramatic structure, is negligible. Delfa's little scene (3.10), for instance, displays only the most rudimentary coherence. The two arias, one a brief bipartite stanza (almost too short even to be called an aria), the other (illustrated in example 12) a more extended strophic bipartite form, in different meters and keys, D minor and G major respectively, are linked by a recitative passage that begins immediately in the key of the second aria, where it cadences twelve measures later. But aside from distinctions of key, meter, and formal structure, the two arias are quite similar. They share the same sort of text treatment, the same restricted range of melodic motion, the same patter rhythm; in short, the same affect. There is no dramatic progress from one to the next, and no need for it. This was true even in more elaborate contexts, where arias were longer and where there were more elements in the scene than just the basic pair of arias and connecting recitative—sinfonie , arioso passages, independent refrains.

Serious scenes of the composite type, however, were structurally more complex and more strictly integrated, dramatically as well as musically. Au-

[9] Delfa's scene is not as elaborately lyrical as some earlier composite comic scenes, such as those of Dema in Egisto (example 21) or Melloe in Doriclea (example 29).


tonoe's scena (Orfeo 1.5) (example 51), for instance, the second aria of which I have already mentioned, opens with a brief aria expressing her generally sad state. The aria is cast in expanded bipartite form by Sartorio, who divides the six-line text in half and expands the second half through a combination of irregular repetition and affective melismatic extension on tormento . Autonoe explains the reasons for her sadness in the ensuing recitative, which culminates in an angry outburst against her fate. The recitative also accomplishes the rather radical harmonic transition from A minor, the key of the first aria, to B minor, the key of the second. The second aria, half the length of the first, is no less effective. Autonoe now announces the specific means whereby she hopes to overcome her dejection—her intention to pursue her faithless lover, "traveling, searching" (girando, cercando ), until she finds him again. The generalized sadness expressed in the first aria is particularized in the following recitative and channeled in the much more energetic second aria. The musical contrasts between the arias, not only of key but of meter and text treatment as well, animate the dramatic structure. Autonoe's scene is a clear albeit distant ancestor of the cavatina-cabaletta.[10]

The Trumpet Aria

Other arias in Giasone are conventional in a different sense; rather than portraying character, they exploit conventional topics or textual imagery. Act 2, scene 12, between Alinda and Besso (who happen also to be comic characters), illustrates several important and long-lasting conventions of this kind. One of them, the so-called trumpet aria, is invoked twice in the same scene, first in Alinda's aria "Quanti soldati" and later in her duet with Besso, "Non più guerra."[11] Both aria and duet exploit the literal imitation of text characteristic of comic arias, but the imitation is more specific and it leads to an aria type that transcends social class (examples 52 and 53).

Although the trumpet aria established itself as an operatic type sometime during the 1640s, its roots go back much further. It derived from a madrigalistic attitude toward poetry inherited from the sixteenth century and dramatically developed by Monteverdi; in particular, it grew directly out of Monteverdi's stile concitato , his legendary excited or warlike style.[12] Clearly demonstrated in

[10] The second aria, labeled "cavata" in the Viennese score (A-Wn 17940), is actually followed by a brief recitative, linking it to the following scene (see Rosand, "L'Ovidio trasformato," XLVII). There were other large scenes for protagonists with many elements, including accompanied recitative; see Doriclea's lament in ch. 12 below.

[11] "So-called" because trumpets themselves were not actually used in them until the 1670s. See Tarr and Walker, "'Bellici carmi,'" 159-73.

[12] The stile concitato , described by Monteverdi in the preface to his Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi (Book 8) and exemplified most explicitly in works such as the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and "Hor che '1 ciel e la terra," was an important demonstration of the composer's conception of imitation as it evolvedin his late works. On the relationship of Monteverdi's warlike style to the poetry of Marino, see Gary Tomlinson, "Music and the Claims of Text," Critical Inquiry 8 (1982): 585-88, and id., Monteverdi , 202-14.


operas of the 1640s by Sacrati and Cavalli as well as those by Monteverdi himself, the madrigalistic origins of the trumpet aria found their fullest realization in the eighteenth century, in such arias as that opening Handel's Orlando , Zoroastro's stirring "Lascia Amore segui Matte."

In the earliest Venetian operas, even the most fleeting references to war within recitative dialogue were usually marked by brief, but obvious, trumpet imitations. Trumpets themselves were occasionally mentioned, as in a passage from La finta pazza , "Suona d'intorno la fiera tromba," a reference to the Trojan War that is central to the plot—although any word alluding to armed conflict would have done as well, such as battaglia or guerra (example 54). But the war was just as likely to be metaphorical as actual, amorous as military, especially in Monteverdi's operas. In L'incoronazione di Poppea , for example, the stile concitato is inspired in one instance by a figurative reference to the war of love[13] and in another by an actual conflict, but one of wills rather than armies.[14]

In Il ritorno d'Ulisse the references to war are more literal. One of them, in the mock-serious duel between Iro and Ulisse (3.10), culminates in a battle symphony (called "La Lotta") based on a much more extended, and literal, trumpet imitation that accompanies the duel itself.[15] Imitative battle music like this was quite common in Cavalli's operas too, often written in the trumpet key of D.[16] Other operas included literal alarums (all'armi ). At the end of act 1 of Doriclea (Faustini/Cavalli, 1645), for example, Venus calls her Cupids to arms in an extended refrain aria based on a trumpet theme, a theme echoed by them in their subsequent four-part chorus (example 55).[17]

Without much apparent fanfare, the brief, transient trumpet imitations soon developed into full-fledged arias. By the time of Giasone , at least one such aria was de rigueur in every opera. But although actual battles became increasingly thematic in opera plots, especially those based on history, Monteverdian ambiguity continued to affect later trumpet arias as well: war was interpreted in its broadest sense. In Giasone , a war of love provoked Alinda's and Besso's military

[13] In Poppea's aria "Speranza tu mi vai" (1.5) a vivid trumpet figure is heard several times in association with the refrain "Per me guerreggia Amor" and thus becomes thematic of the aria. Tutte le opere di Claudio Monteverdi , ed. Malipiero, 13: 40-41.

[14] At the end of the pivotal confrontation between Seneca and Netone (1.9); Malipiero ed., 13: 80-83.

[15] See Malipiero ed., 12: 145-46.

[16] Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo has a "chiamata" in 1.5; Didone a "passata dell'armata" at the end of act 1 as well as a "caccia" in act 3. A declaration of enemy surrender in Erismena (1.14) is heralded by a trumpet imitation, and there are two such movements in Elena : a "lotta" accompanying a fight—like the one in Il ritorno d'Ulisse —and a "tocco" (1.16). There are numerous others as well, in Pompeo, Scipione, Argia , and elsewhere. See Glover, Cavalli , 110, and Tart and Walker," 'Bellici Carmi.' "Cavalli's La virtù de' strali d'Amore contains an entire battle scene in accompanied recitative utilizing the stile concitato (3.14). 17. Doriclea exhibits several other instances of the stile concitato —including one in a lament, illustrated in example 80 and discussed in ch. 12 below.


duet, although Alinda's initial trumpet aria was inspired by Besso's appearance as a member of Giasone's army.

During the second half of the century, in fact, trumpet style was adopted for the expression of an even greater variety of emotions, from joy, where the pomp of trumpet figuration would add to the celebratory effect, to revenge, which often evoked images of combat. Rodope's vengeance aria in Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (Aureli/Ziani, 1657) 2.15, for example, an expression of her aggressive feelings toward Creonte, makes extensive use of the trumpet style (example 56). Some operas, especially those featuring repeated battles, contained numerous trumpet imitations, in recitatives as well as arias and instrumental movements. In Medoro (Aureli/Lucio, 1658), which revolves around the theme of military conquest, there are trumpet imitations in several sinfonie , one aria, and throughout the recitative, setting every military allusion. And there are four different trumpet arias in addition to recitative trumpet imitations in Totila (Noris/Legrenzi, 1677), a military drama of a different, more conventional, kind.[18]

As with comic arias, the stylistic distinctions between composers' settings of trumpet arias were overshadowed by their similarities. But developments within the trumpet aria tended to reflect developments within operatic style in general. Thus, in contrast to the somewhat shapeless refrain-aria from Doriclea already mentioned (example 55), a trumpet aria of the 1660s or 1670s was likely to be accompanied by strings and cast in highly expanded da capo form, with a contrasting B section. The contrast usually involved silence of the accompanying instruments and a change from triadic to stepwise motion in the voice part. The opening aria of Adelaide is a typical instance (example 57).

The presence of trumpet-style arias in so many early operas might seem difficult to reconcile with the historical fact that the trumpet itself did not appear regularly in opera orchestras until the early 1670s. However, the imitation of trumpets by strings was very much in keeping with the aesthetic of Venetian opera. Such imitation was an illusion that would have been appreciated as such by an audience, like any other illusion.[19] Indeed, the introduction of the trumpet

[18] Concitato trumpet imitations in Medoro are unusually numerous (see Morelli and Walker, "Migliori plettri," CLIII). Cf. for example, Medoro , ed. Morelli and Walker, 19-20 ("Alla pugna, alla battaglia") and 108 ("Di strage di guerra"). For Totila , see arias in 1.3 ("Arda Roma," Garland facs., ff. 5 -7 ); 2.8 ("Pugnando, atterando," ff. 47 -48 ); 3.3 ("Snodate i fremiti," ff. 68 -70 ); and 3-5 ("Il mondo festeggi," ff. 97-98, an aria with trumpet obbligato).

[19] The audience apparently appreciated one particular singer's imitation of the trumpet, according to Pierre d'Ortigue de Vaumorière (Lettres , 5th ed. [Brussels, 1709], 2: 214): "Il y a une celebre Chanteuse que l'on appelle la Margarita [Salicola], qui jouë un Rô1e d'une force et d'une beauté inconcevable; c'est dans un tems qu'elle paroît furieuse, et qu'elle entre dans une espece de délire. Elle croit voir que la Terre abîme sous ses pieds, que l'Enfer s'ouvre pour l'engloutir, et toute la Ville de Rome paroît en armes pour la punir de ses crimes. Les Démons l'épouvan-tent par leurs cris, elle entend des Trompettes, des Tymballes et des Tambours dans les airs; et non seulement elle exprime par son chant les differentesmanieres dont son esprit est agité, mais elle imite même si parfaitement le son des Trompettes, que l'on s'imagine entendre ces instrumens de guerre, lors même que l'on n'entend que sa voix" (quoted in Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 100; also Helmut Christian Wolff, Die venezianische Oper in der zweiten Hälfte des 17. Jahrhunderts [Berlin, 1937], 163 n. 91). It is worth noting that Salicola's trumpet imitation occurs in the context of a mad scene (cf. n. 62 below). Practically the same words are used by Chassebras de Cramailles to describe Salicola's performance in Pallavicino's Il re infante in the Mercure de France of February 1683; the passage is quoted in Tarr and Walker, " 'Bellici carmi,' " 166.


itself seems to have had little substantial effect on either the frequency or structure of the arias. Nor did it affect the choice of key, since most trumpet arias were in D major in any case. This suggests that-the tonal association may have been important, whether or not a trumpet was actually involved. In some later arias, however, composers exploited the trumpet more fully by pitting it against the voice in concertato style.[20]

The trumpet aria embodies a particular kind of relationship between music and text that had broad implications for the future development of opera. It exemplifies the transformation of a pictorial approach to words developed in the sixteenth-century madrigal into the baroque aria of the affections. Although more easily identified as a type than other arias, because it exploited a well-established equation of an external image and internal feeling, the trumpet aria was only one of an increasing number of arias on various topics, expressing distinct affects that were prompted by specific textual images.

Those images, which emerge from even a cursory look at any single opera of the 1650s, 1660s, or 1670s, were the same ones that had attracted the attention of the madrigalists and that had inspired earlier opera composers to flights of arioso fancy when they occurred in recitative dialogue. They included highly charged words that invite some kind of literal interpretation (or representation) in music, either by means of sound itself or by some sort of visual equivalent: verbs describing physical action or emotional expression, like fermare, fuggire, rubare, sospirare, piangere, volare, vibrate, cantare, ballare ; nouns like gelosia, vendetta, speranza, catene, lacci, aurette, zeffiretti ; and adjectives like costante, variabile, miserabile —all of them with strong affective resonance. These words called forth conventional or predictable musical images or representations, rhythmic, melodic, and textural, which were developed to infuse entire arias with their affect. This eventually produced arias expressing such varied emotions as jealousy, fear, anger, happiness, uncertainty, constancy, confusion, and despair—in short, arias of the affections.[21]

Few of the arias in any single affective category were quite as similar to one another as trumpet arias. Other kinds of arias left greater leeway for individual

[20] See, for instance, Flora (Bonis/M. A. Ziani, Sartorio, 1681) and Giustino (Beregan/Legrenzi, 1683); examples in Tarr and Walker, "'Bellici carmi,'" 168-71.

[21] Some of these images are discussed in Olga Termini, "The Transformation of Madrigalisms in Venetian Operas of the Later Seventeenth Century," MR 39 (1973): 4-21. On literal representation in Monteverdi, see Rosand, "Monteverdi's Mimetic Art."


composers to assert their own personal styles. Some composers, too, were more skilled than others at capturing the affect of a particular text or developing a single motive into a full aria; and some made more forceful distinctions between aria types than others. By the 1670s, however, most arias in any one affective category bore a sufficient family resemblance to be easily identified by an audience; and affective counterparts for most arias in any one opera could be found in any other. A particularly striking illustration is provided by two jealousy arias, one from Sartorio's Orfeo , the other from Legrenzi's Totila (examples 35 and 58). In both arias gelosia is the operative concept; that emotion, or, rather, the undermining and pervasive effect of that emotion on the peace of mind of the character, is embodied in a running bass against a slower-moving vocal line; it is a bass whose steady progress in short, harmonically articulated but uninterrupted phrases never falters; which never confirms the phrase structure of the voice part, but consistently overlaps it, persisting steadily from the beginning to the end of the aria. Jealousy is ever present; it is permanent.[22]

The Music Scene

Alinda's and Besso's scene is the locus of yet another of the operatic conventions in Giasone , what we might call a topical convention: the topic is music. One of the most humorous exchanges in the scene consists of a series of allusions to music and to singing. They are completely gratuitous, without the slightest relevance to the plot (example 59). Although it is treated with dispatch here, in just a few lines of recitative and appropriate musical expansion, culminating in the duet "Non più guerra" (example 53 above), the topic of music—and song as song—is exploited extensively in many operas of this period.

Songs, as we know, although frequently interpolated in spoken drama, acquired a special significance within the context of opera as a kind of test of the basic premise of the genre: the distinction between speech and song. Whereas the earliest librettists and composers tended to introduce songs quite self-consciously in their operas, often specifically as excuses for formal music, their successors continued to enjoy the song as a special convention well into the second half of the century, when the standards of operatic verisimilitude had long since yielded to accommodate the formal aria as a normal means of communication. Song may have justified musical organization and expansion in

[22] The fact that the two arias share the same tonality, F major, may be coincidental; on the other hand, it may suggest a connection between tonality and affect. Also coincidentally, perhaps, the bass of Legrenzi's ritornello exactly replicates the melodic line of Sartorio's aria.


early opera, but it became an excuse later for other kinds of liberties: for more elaborate arias or for scenic extravagances involving several arias in succession. Many operas featured singers as characters and found opportunities for elaborate scenes involving musical performance in the plot itself.[23]

Seleuco (Minato/Sartorio, 1666) contains a particularly effective music scene in which the court singer attempts to find the proper song to suit the mood of the love-sick hero Antioco. He begins two unsuitable ones, finally succeeding on the third try. The composer, of course, capitalizes on the conceit of beginnings and interruptions. And the scene reaches an appropriately self-conscious climax when Antioco literally repeats all three strophes of the song that pleases him as a sign of his approbation (example 60).[24] Another effective exploitation of the music scene is one in Aureli's and Sartorio's Orfeo that takes place in Orfeo's music room (2.13). Here Achille explains that he is studying music and, when asked to sing, sits down at the harpsichord to accompany himself in an aria, "Cupido, fra le piante." The conceit is carried even further as Achille's audience, noticing a peculiar intensity in his song, begins to suspect that his aria is not merely a ditty about love but an expression of his actual feelings.[25]

Songs, sung by "singers," were often different from normal arias: they could be more elaborate and more expansive, such as those sung by Chirone, Acchille's music teacher; or more repetitive, such as the one in example 60; or else they could be longer, like Miralba's song in Medoro (Aureli/Lucio, 1658) 2.5, which comprises three rather than the normal two strophes—the third, however, being quite realistically interrupted as the string on Miralba's lute breaks.[26] Songs also tend to call for special accompanying instruments played by the singers themselves, like Miralba's lute and Acchille's harpsichord, or like the theorbo used by the nurse Nisbe to accompany her lullaby in Eliogabalo (Aureli/Boretti, 1668) 1.11. Formal irregularities, such as breaking off in the middle, often emphasize the artificiality of these songs, helping to distinguish them from "normal" arias. Indeed, most songs are conceived with a special awareness of the conventions of aria, and they are specifically constructed to extend or counteract those conventions.

[23] This topos had scenographic implications as well. It falls in Ménestrier's category of "academic" scene: "Les [Decorations] Academiques sont les Bibliotheques, les cabinets des Sçavans avec des Livres et des Instrumens de Mathematique, un cabinet d'antiques, une Ecole de peinture, etc" (Representations en musique anciennes et modernes , 173-74 [Quellentexte , ed. Becker, 87]).

[24] This scene bears a striking resemblance to those cantatas by Cesti and Barbara Strozzi that concern themselves with the appropriateness of various songs to different moods. See Rosand, "Barbara Strozzi," 271 and n. 97; Bianconi, "Il cinquecento e il seicento," 355-56; and Murata, "Singing about Singing," 374-82.

[25] See Orfeo , ed. Rosand, 95-96.

[26] The composer inexplicably fails to do justice to Aureli's text here; he sets the third strophe to new music, thereby missing the opportunity of interrupting an already established tune. See Medoro , ed. Morelli and Walker, 91-94.


The Love Duet

One final operatic convention illustrated in Alinda's and Besso's fertile scene is the love duet. "Non più guerra" (example 53), literally embodying its text, provides a harmonious resolution to the preceding flirtatious repartee, the guerra of the scene. The duet, or aria for two, was a natural musical impulse, a readily available resource for composers of vocal chamber music, but one whose viability in opera was open to question. Indeed, as Badoaro had been quick to point out in his apology for opera in 1644, not only was it thoroughly unrealistic for "men to conduct their most important business in song," but it was equally absurd that, "speaking together they should spontaneously find themselves saying the same things" (Appendix 1.8j).

The only reasonable occasion for a duet under these circumstances was one in which the characters were somehow united in their sentiments; and there was no more natural or powerful bonding agent than the spell of love. Indeed, love not only sanctioned characters singing together but in turn was confirmed by their harmony. The duet, then, as an expression of amorous accord, had a particular dramatic function. In the context of the shape of librettos of the 1640s, it assumed a structural function as well: to mark closure. For the reconciliation of Faustini's lovers was usually postponed until the final scene, and the cementing love duets were usually saved to emphasize that moment. Unanimity was usually further enhanced by the practice of casting the protagonists, both male and female, as sopranos, so that their duets could involve literal intertwining, even occasional unison encounters.

Duets, of course, could occur earlier in a drama, and they could also involve characters who were not lovers, but in such cases they usually served some other, more specific, dramatic purpose. Even then, however, they often exploited the appropriateness of the duet as a symbol of amorous agreement.[27] One such duet in L'incoronazione di Poppea , between Nerone and Lucano in the middle of act 2, serves to underscore an important theme of the opera. Monteverdi adopts the conventional form of lovers' communication to establish an erotic effect in this scene. By celebrating Seneca's death with the texture, procedures, and affect of a love duet devoted to an appreciation of Poppea's beauty, the composer underlines the opera's libertine message.[28]

Whether or not duets occurred earlier in the drama, for lovers or other characters, it was only the exceptional seventeenth-century Venetian opera that failed to close with at least one duet—or two, one for each pair of lovers;

[27] One of the atypical (and old-fashioned) features of Il ritorno d'Ulisse is that it contains a number of duets that are not strictly love duets: the one between Ulisse and Telemaco, for instance.

[28] Although its effect is quite lascivious, the duet does not legitimate the interpretation of this scene perpetrated by at least one notorious stage director as a debauched homosexual orgy.


sometimes the four would join forces for a closing quartet. This particular convention seems to have become established quite early in the 1640s. It coincided with the movement away from mythological plots, which concluded with elaborate supernatural scenes, toward more exclusively human dramas. The intimate duet ending is appropriate to the more personal opera plots of the 1640s. On the other hand, like those plots themselves, it also may have been encouraged by practical limitations that made choruses—and supernatural scenes—too expensive or difficult to produce.

The transition is illustrated by several operas of the early 1640s that seem to combine both traditions. Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (Busenello/Cavalli, 1640) ends with a mythological duet—between Apollo and Pan—while the libretto of Le nozze d'Enea (Anon./Monteverdi, 1641) has a love duet in the penultimate scene but actually closes with the typical supernatural chorus. In this respect it is similar to Il ritorno d'Ulisse , whose libretto also closes with a mythological finale, but whose score ends sooner, with the preceding love duet. (Perhaps the same was true of the score of Le nozze d'Enea , which is lost.)

L'incoronazione di Poppea , too, originally concluded with a mythological scene with final chorus. It is now generally agreed that the present, notorious final love duet, "Pur ti miro," with text by Ferrari, was introduced into the original finale sometime after its first performance, possibly during a revival; certainly the music is not by Monteverdi. It may have been specifically motivated by the limited stage equipment (and cast) available for such a revival. But it seems more likely that it was added because by the time the opera was revived, whether in 1651 or earlier, a final love duet had become de rigueur, a necessary sign of closure.[29]

The duet may even have been added during the initial run of the opera, as happened in a work of the previous season, La virtù de' strali d'Amore , the first collaboration of Faustini and Cavalli. That opera, too, had originally ended with a mythological finale preceded by a scene of reconciliation for the protagonists. But although in the libretto the penultimate scene closes with an aria,

[29] The revival in question is the only documented one, in Naples (1651). But the work may also have been revived earlier, perhaps in Bologna under the auspices of Ferrari or Sacrati or both. In the Naples score of Poppea , the complete mythological finale precedes "Pur ti miro." Most of that finale was never copied in the Venice score, however, and the part that was, namely a recitative for Amore and an aria for Venere, is crossed out (see L'incoronazione di Poppea , facs., ff. 104-105 ). On Ferrari's authorship of the text of the duet, see Chiarelli," 'L'incoronazione di Poppea,' " 150-51. Magini ("Le monodie di Benedetto Ferrari," 281-90, and "Indagini," 478-511) suggests, on stylistic grounds, that Ferrari may also have written the music. Most recently, and on the basis of the newly discovered score of La finta pazza , Curtis (preface to L'incoronazione di Poppea ) has proposed Francesco Sacrati as the composer of the problematic duet. Probably the most judicious evaluation of the situation, however, is Bianconi's (Seventeenth Century , 194-96), who, adding Laurenzi to the list of possible composers, along with Cavalli, as well as Ferrari and Sacrati, concludes that the question cannot be answered with certainty given the present state of research. For my views on the subject, see ch. 9, n. 18 above.


it is followed in the score by a love duet that was evidently inserted after the libretto was printed. If the mythological finale of Virtù was cut, as was that of Poppea in at least one performance, both operas would have concluded with love duets that, besides being late additions, were quite similar in style and message (example 61).[30]

The conventionality of the love duet was naturally not limited to its dramatic placement; it extended to its text and musical setting as well. Texts were usually quite short—sometimes only a line or two—and used essentially the same images. The endings of Aureli's two Eliogabalo librettos of 1668, one set by Cavalli, the other by Boretti, illustrate the range of duet texts. Cavalli's text, set as a quartet, reads as follows:


Put ti stringo,
Pur t'annodo
Meco il fato
Idol caro
Crudo avaro non è più.
Tant'è la gioia quant'il duolo fù.

Yet I hold you,
Yet I clasp you.
Fate no more,
My darling idol,
Is a cruel miser with me.
Joy is as great as sorrow was.

Boretti's text, set as a duet, is shorter:


Al ferir
Occhi veraci
Sia campo il letto e dolci strali i baci.

In wounding
True eyes
Let bed the field, and kisses the sweet arrows be.

The first of these bears a strong resemblance to, among other closing-duet texts, that of Poppea .[31] The similarity, although notable, merely illustrates the conventionality of the poetry, the dependence of librettists on formulas. Indeed, unlike that of the rest of an opera, the text of the final duet had little importance. The opera was essentially over. The musical message of duet texture itself was sufficient to convey the resolution of the dramatic situation.

Even more than in the conventional aria types, and with even rarer exceptions, stylistic similarities among composers' settings of these duets predominate over any individual differences. In fact, it is difficult to point to any significant differences at all.[32] Duets suffered built-in musical limitations imposed by their similar affect. But although stylistic choices may have been restricted,

[30] Both the aria and duet at the end of Virtù make use of ostinato-like bass patterns not unlike that of "Pur ti miro."

[31] "Pur ti miro, pur ti godo, / Pur ti stringo, pur t'annodo, / Più non peno, più non moro, / O mia vita, o mio tesoro. / Io son tua, tuo son io, / Speme mia, dillo dì, / Tu sei pur l'idol mio, / Sì mio ben, sì mio cor, mia vita sì." The text is almost exactly the same as that in the final scene of Ferrari's Il pastor regio (Bologna, 1641).

[32] Although the love duet from Poppea is practically the only one that I know of to be based on a strict ostinato pattern (another is that of Melanto and Eurimaco in Il ritorno d'Ulisse 1.2 [Malipiero ed., 12: 31-33]), it would perhaps not be so unique if some of Ferrari's operatic duets were to be found. It closely resembles a trio in La finta pazza (see Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 195).


expression was not. Frequently accompanied by strings, and in triple meter, love duets often involved considerable expansion of text through repetition and melismatic extension. The repetition was usually threefold, one statement for each voice followed by one for both together. In addition to repetition of individual words and lines in successive musical phrases, opening lines were sometimes repeated at the end to create a da capo form. Duets usually began with brief motivic exchanges or longer imitative passages that culminated in parallel movement in thirds and sixths enriched by suspensions and resolving into unisons. Interdependence of lines, perfect consonance, and ultimate union: these were all qualities that represented quite literally the relationship between reconciled lovers. The most eloquent confirmation of the conventionality of the closing duet is provided by a series of examples, chosen almost at random, from operas spanning several decades and representing the work of a variety of composers. Despite their different authors and disparate dates, they are virtually interchangeable (example 62 a-d).

Seen against the convention of the closing love duet, which was well established by the middle of the century, the ending of Giasone gains special impact as a kind of ironic transformation. It, too, presents the coming together of formerly opposing forces in two duets, each for two high voices. The first, for Isifile and Giasone, is followed by a second, not, as expected, for Medea and Egeo but for Medea and Isifile, two erstwhile rivals in love. This permutation of the convention, playing on expectations both dramatic and vocal, surely delighted an audience of 1650.


One of the most pervasive conventions in Giasone is a dramatic device borrowed from spoken drama: the sleep scene. Isifile and Giasone each fall asleep twice and Medea once, for different purposes, not always crucial to the plot. Like all such dramatic conventions, sleep was an abnormal state of consciousness that facilitated the suspension of disbelief and thereby encouraged musical expression. It did so triply: for the singer of the provoking lullaby, for the sleeper, who could dream out loud, and for the on-stage observer, who could express himself as if alone.

Beyond its general loosening effect on verisimilitude, sleep functioned in a variety of specific ways as a plot device, in comedy as well as in opera. A sleeping character is vulnerable—to assassination, to rape, to penetration of disguise, and to involuntary disclosures via dreams. (In act 1, scene 14, Isifile, dreaming, describes Giasone's departure from Corinth, a scene that took place before the opera began; in act 2, scene 2, her sleeping encourages her servant


Oreste to attempt a rape—titillating the audience, no doubt, with the threat of class crossing;[33] in act 3, scene 17, Egeo attempts to murder the sleeping Giasone, but is prevented from doing so by Isifile.) Furthermore, a sleeping character (or one feigning sleep) can stimulate a companion (lover) to disclose his innermost feelings, thinking he is unheard. (Believing Medea to be asleep, Giasone declares his love to Isifile, which declaration, although only feigned at the time, persuades Medea to demand her rival's death.) Sleep was used in a variety of dramatic situations, but its musical associations were fairly limited. These were chiefly the prefatory lullaby (sung either by the eventual sleeper or by a companion), the dream (which could involve some special musical, in addition to dramatic, extravagance), and the miming of the action of falling asleep itself.

By 1650 the sleep convention already sported a lengthy operatic pedigree. It had been used in La finta pazza , that prodigious repository of conventions, to trigger the resolution by encouraging Acchille to express his love for Deidamia; and again in Il ritorno d'Ulisse , where Ulisse is transported to Ithaca while asleep so that he will be unaware of the divine intervention on his behalf. A more striking example is that in L'incoronazione di Poppea , where Poppea's sleep facilitates the precipitating action of the denouement, Ottone's attempt on her life. This scene is especially interesting and significant from the musical point of view because it provides a concrete example of what Monteverdi called "music suggesting sleep," thereby demonstrating his conception of musical imitation.[34] Music imitates sleep in two different ways here. First, it depicts Poppea's drowsiness: her words and musical line become halting, interrupted by rests, and she then acknowledges her sleepiness in a descending line that sinks gradually to the bottom of her range, whereupon she falls asleep (example 63). Her nurse Arnalta's soporific lullaby then imitates sleep itself, or actually assures it, by different musical means: repetitive, circular melody within a restricted range, abnormally long-held notes at cadences, and harmonic oscillations would provoke a yawn from anyone, whether on-stage or in the audience.[35]

As with so many of the conventions, Monteverdi's musical realization was prophetic for the future development of opera. Lullabies continued to display the circular, repetitive motion appropriate to them, and the act of falling asleep (or fainting) continued to be treated mimetically, even by later composers who did not share Monteverdi's conception of imitation. In fact, some even ex-

[33] Orestes, the prince of Mycenae, is cast in a comic role here, a typically Venetian inventione .

[34] Monteverdi's expression "armonie imitanti il sonno" occurs in a letter to Alessandro Striggio of 24 May 1627, concerning La finta pazza Licori (Lettere , ed. de' Paoli, 251).

[35] Malipiero ed., 13: 184-87.


tended their treatment of sleep to the moment of awakening as well. These scenes are not always essential to the plot. Isifile's second one, for example, merely provides the occasion for the diverting attempted rape by Oreste. But they all share features with Monteverdi's scene. Isifile falls asleep very much as Poppea did, although her fatigue seems to come on more suddenly, during a short monologue at the end of act 2, scene 1 (example 64):


Alinda troppo vana,
Seconda il genio, e la sua voglia insana;
Oimé non posso più,
Perche manchin li spiriti,
Manca l'anima al seno,
Vacilla il piede, e a forza di stanchezza
Trabocco sul terreno.

Too heedlessly Alinda
Follows her mindless moods and fancies.
Alas, I cannot bear it any longer;
My senses are failing,
My heart weakens in my breast,
My footsteps falter, and with sheer weariness
I fall upon the ground.

After an abrupt harmonic shift, the last five lines of text are set to a gradually descending chromatic melody interspersed with some long rests and articulated by a final upward leap before resolving down to a cadence. Medea's and Giasone's joint lullaby "Dormi, dormi" (example 14), on the other hand, although it is somewhat repetitive in rhythm, and perhaps exaggeratedly sequential, does not quite match the intensely soporific quality of Arnalta's.

The range of possibilities and functions (and the persistence of mimetic devices) offered by the sleep convention is illustrated by two sleep scenes separated by more than a decade: one from Orontea (Cicognini/Cesti, 1656), the other from Ercole in Tebe (Moniglia/Boretti, 1671) (examples 65 and 66). In Orontea 2.4, Alidoro, overcome by his confusion and his apparently unrequited love for Silandra, faints. Cesti's setting realistically disintegrates into short phrases, interrupted, chromatically descending, though leaping up for a brief final gasp before sinking with Alidoro into unconsciousness—the voice leaving the bass to cadence alone. In his unconscious state, which lasts for three scenes, Alidoro is first prey to having his pocket picked by Gelone, then oblivious audience to Orontea's declaration of love and to her (redundant) lullaby, and finally the unknowing recipient of a letter, which she leaves in his possession. He then awakens gradually, with ever longer, and rhythmically and melodically more active, phrases, to find Orontea's letter, which provides enough material to propel the rest of the plot. Like Monteverdi, Cesti responded mimetically to the action of falling asleep and even awakening, but his setting of Orontea's lullaby lacks the hypnotic effect of Arnalta's. Cesti's natural inclination toward bel canto, his talent for writing fluid, well-shaped melodies, overcomes his sensitivity to the dramatic situation.[36] Despite the greater dra-

[36] See Antonio Cesti, Orontea , ed. William Holmes, Wellesley Edition 11 (Wellesley, Mass., 1973), 164-66.


matic complexity and greater number of elements in this scene, the items of musical interest are essentially the same as those in Poppea's sleep scene.

Boretti's scene, on the other hand, contains several new elements. When the despondent Megera falls asleep near the end of act 2, she dreams of Ercole's victory in the Underworld. Upon awakening, she realizes it was a dream, but vows to be hopeful anyway. Boretti's depiction of drowsiness is considerably less convincing than Cesti's. It comes on suddenly, after Megera has sung an extended, virtuosic (exhausting?) arioso with trumpet imitations. In recitative she acknowledges the growing effects of a sweet lethargy, but she resists long enough to sing what amounts to a lullaby to herself (accompanied by strings), more elaborate than Arnalta's, but sharing some of the same repetitive features, including the prominent imperfect cadences. She sleeps during a ballo and then awakens rather abruptly to sing an optimistic aria about the outcome of Ercole's trip to the Underworld, "Festeggia, o core."[37] Here, aside from changing Megera's mood, the sleep scene serves primarily as an excuse for several arias. The mimetic aspect, with respect to Poppea and Orontea , is reduced in favor of musical elaboration.

The convention of sleep challenged the librettist more than the composer: it was up to him to find new ways of incorporating such scenes into his drama, a challenge he met with varying success. But the particular dramatic function of the sleep scene had a limited effect on the music. In some librettos, sleep seems to serve no significant dramatic purpose whatsoever (the librettist was unsuccessful in integrating it into the drama), though it may have inspired more than one kind of musical elaboration, as in the Boretti example. At the other extreme, the scene may have been pivotal to the drama, but was completely passed over by the composer.[38]

In later operas, the emphasis seems to have shifted from concentration on the act of falling asleep and on sleep as an occasion for special, unwitnessed action to emphasis on its more imaginative and inspiring results, dreams. Portrayed in special ways by composers, dreams precipitate important actions in a number of operas of the 1670s. An ingenious and effective use of the dream provides one of the musical and dramatic highpoints of Aureli's and Sartorio's Orfeo . Orfeo, having exhausted himself in lamenting Euridice's death, falls asleep (3.4), whereupon Euridice's ghost appears, as in a dream, urging him to seek her in Hades. Sartorio forgoes the opportunity to mime musically Orfeo's falling asleep, but he does exploit Euridice's spectral appearance for special musical effects. These include some extremely elaborate coloratura passages, a

[37] Garland facs., 6: f. 78 .

[38] In Annibale in Capua , for example, Ziani ignored the possibilities of imitation offered by the hero's sleep aria m 1.13.


lengthy (if misplaced) lament accompanied by strings, and an evanescent ending on an imperfect cadence that marks Euridice's disappearance just before Orfeo awakens.[39]


Of all the conventions in Giasone , the most celebrated is Medea's incantation scene, in which she invokes the powers of darkness to aid Giasone in his quest for the Golden Fleece. We discussed the special poetry of this scene and illustrated its setting in chapter 9 (example 11). Since Medea's magical powers are intrinsic to her persona, any treatment of the Medea legend would have whetted an audience's appetite for a scene in which those powers were exhibited. Giasone did not disappoint. Medea's incantation scene, closing the first act, is one of the most powerful in the opera.

The scene of infernal invocation (the "ombra" scene) differs from other music-theatrical conventions in several important ways. For one, it was associated with a special verse form, the short line—either quaternario, quinario , or senario —with a sdrucciolo ending, an association, like the scene-type itself, inherited from spoken drama. Fundamental to its identity as a convention, this distinctive meter not only affected the musical setting of invocations but distinguished them from the rest of an operatic text. In addition to its meter, the invocation also involved a distinctive scenic dimension, requiring an infernal or magical setting of its own. In fact, the convention may have originated in part as an excuse for scenic contrast in the early operas. Finally, such scenes often included choruses, either alone or interacting with the soloist.

Although it did not initiate the convention,[40] Medea's incantation probably did more than any other to assure the persistence of such scenes throughout the century. A real tour de force for the prima donna, it was also the centerpiece of the drama: Medea's invocation of the infernal spirits enables Giasone to capture the Golden Fleece and frees him to return to his homeland with her, thereby exacerbating the crisis with his abandoned wife, Isifile, which forms the substance of the opera.

Related scenes appeared with some consistency in the operas that followed Giasone . But as an action the invocation was not as pervasive as other dramatic conventions, primarily because it resisted variation. While the affect of invocation was occasionally employed metaphorically, literal invocation scenes

[39] See ch. 13 below. This scene is discussed in Rosand, "L'Ovidio trasformato," XXXVII and XLI-XLII.

[40] Such scenes occur at least as early as La virtù de' strali d'Amore (Faustini/Cavalli, 1642).


were difficult to integrate into most dramas. Unless they were built into the libretto via its source—as in Giasone or the operas based on the Hercules legend—they tended to be extraneous, serving merely as a pretext for scenic display.[41] Both the difficulty of integration and the importance of the scenic dimension are reflected in the placement of invocation scenes within these operas. Whether for solo voice, chorus, or both, like Medea's scene they often appear, intermedio-like, at the ends of acts, where they lead directly into the entr'acte balli ; or else they occur in prologues.[42] Significantly, too, these scenes were often omitted in revivals, a commentary on their peripheral dramatic function as well as, presumably, the extravagance of their scenic demands.[43]

Nonetheless, the invocation scene seems to have outlasted all of the other musico-dramatic conventions of this period, persisting well beyond the seventeenth into the eighteenth and even nineteenth centuries. But it hardly developed at all; it remained insensitive to stylistic change. Because of its strong metric associations, the invocation imposed greater strictures on composers than any of the other dramatic conventions. While this rigidity may have limited its usefulness, it also contributed something to its effect: unchanging and thus increasingly primitive in its power, its very stylistic anomaly evoked a sense of dark antiquity. That chthonic power is particularly evident in the two best-known invocation scenes of later centuries, those in Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice and Verdi's Un ballo in maschera .[44]

Although primarily associated with the actual invocation of the Underworld, versi sdruccioli were also used when Hell or the world of darkness was invoked figuratively, out of jealousy, fury, or some other strong emotion. In Giasone , Medea employs them not only in her incantation but later as well, in the aria "L'armi apprestatemi" (3.9), in which she calls upon the Furies to lend her their arms so that she can punish the faithless Giasone.[45]Versi sdruccioli also appear in Ecuba's aria from Didone (1.7), in which she invokes the spectre of Hell as she seeks to purge herself of her weak, lamenting emotions (example 67):

[41] As well as in La virtù and Giasone , actual invocations involving scenic transformations—so-called ombra scenes—may be found, among other places, in Rosinda (Faustini/Cavalli, 1651, a chorus) and Ercole in Tebe (Aureli/Boretti, 1670, 3.6 in Pluto's realm).

[42] Like that of Giasone , the (more extraneous) incantation in Tito occurs at the end of act 1. In Rosinda , both the prologue and the final scene of act I are infernal.

[43] Xerse 1.2 , an Underworld scene, is omitted in the Paris score of the opera, written in conjunction with the Paris production of 1662.

[44] On Un ballo in maschera , in particular, see Frits Noske, The Signifier and the Signified: Studies in the Operas of Mozart and Verdi (The Hague, 1977), ch. 8, esp. 197-99.

[45] This text is not set in any of the surviving scores of the opera.


Tremulo spirito
Flebile, e languido
Escimi subito.
Vadasi l'anima,
Ch'Erebo torbido
Cupido aspettala.
Povero Priamo
Scordati d'Ecuba
Vedova misera.
Causano l'ultimo
Horrido essitio
Paride, & Elena.

Tremulous spirit,
Plaintive and languid,
Leave me forthwith.
Let my soul depart
For gloomy Erebus
That hungrily awaits it.
Unhappy Priam,
Forget Hecuba,
Pitiful widow.
Cause of the ultimate
Horrid calamity
Are Paris and Helen.

And they are used in Sesto's aria "Ciecche tenebre" from Pompeo magno (Minato/Cavalli, 1666) 2.16, in which he calls upon darkness to hide him as he attempts to enter his beloved Issicratea's room unseen:


Ciecche tenebre
Denso vel
Anco al Ciel.
D'ombre tacite
Pur mi celino
Foschi horror;
Ne mai svellino

Blind shades
Lend me
A thick veil,
Hide me
Even from Heaven.
Let murky darkness
Hide me
With its silent shadows,
And never eradicate
This love.

Along the same lines, sdrucciolo passages, carrying with them their symbolic connection to irrational or demonic force, also form an important ingredient of mad scenes and laments.

The conventional effect of such scenes, as we have noted, depended primarily on their use of verses with the sdrucciolo ending. Distinguished from the other verse endings, the abrupt tronco and the gentler piano , which call for accents on the final and penultimate syllables respectively, the sdrucciolo , exemplified by the word itself, is more awkward, receiving an accent on the antepenultimate syllable. Considered ugly and boorish by sixteenth-century poetic theorists, versi sdruccioli coincide in these operas not only with invocation but generally with texts associated with the darker elements of life: with the uncivilized, the demonic, magic, and also, on occasion, the comically rustic. Inherited (with its associations) from the pastoral, in particular the eclogue, the sdrucciolo apparently appealed to something quite fundamental in human experience. It persisted for a long time and in several languages, not only in Italian


but in German as well. Its basis was evidently in the affective impact of the accent itself.[46]

One of the most extended uses of versi sdruccioli in an opera of the period occurs in Calisto (Faustini/Cavalli, 1651), where it conjures the rustic or satyric world of Arcadia. The pattern pervades all of the dialogue (including an aria) of two characters, Satirino and Pane, both members of a lower, less rational order, half man, half beast.[47] The meter lends to their utterances a rhythmic awkwardness that is exacerbated by erratic melody, monotonous harmonic motion, and irregular phrase structure. But the effect of their distinctive metric language is particularly striking in the scenes they share with other, more evolved characters, as in this one between Satirino and the nymph Linfea (1.13) (example 68):


SATIRINO : Io son, io son d'origine

I am, I am of origin


Quasi divina, e nobile,

Ben tù villana, e rustica

Nata esser dei trà gl'Asini,

O da parenti simili.

Sò perche mi repudia

L'ingorda tua libidine,

Perche Garzone semplice

Mal buono à gl'essercitij

Di Cupido, e di Venere,

Ancor crescente, e picciola

Porto la coda tenera.

Almost divine and noble;

But boorish and rustic your birth

Surely was, amongst the asses,

Or some like parents.

I know why your

Greedy libido rejects me,

Because I'm a simple fellow

With little skill in the ways

Of Cupid and Venus.

Still growing and dainty

Is the tender tail I bear.

LINFEA : Ne le mandre ad amar và

Go take your love to the flocks ,


Aspetto ferino.

Fanciullo caprino

Che Narciso,

Che bel viso,

Vuol goder la mia beltà,

Ne le mandre ad'arnar và .

Fierce-looking one,


What a Narcissus!

What a pretty face!

He would enjoy my beauty.

Go take your love to the flocks .

Clearly, not every opera could support a full incantation scene, but most had a sdrucciolo aria of some kind.[48] Like the texts themselves, the musical

[46] The persistence of the association between the sdrucciolo and the Underworld is considered in Wolfgang Osthoff, "Musica e versificazione: Funzioni del verso poetico nell'opera italiana," in La drammaturgia musicale , ed. Lorenzo Bianconi (Bologna, 1986), 126-32, esp. 126-27. See also id., "Händels 'Largo' als Musik des goldenen Zeitalters," AMw 30 (1973): 177-81; and Noske, Signifier . It is worth noting that while in demonic contexts the versi sdruccioli are inevitably short, in rustic contexts they are longer: sometimes ottonari , more often endecasillabi . For the origins and use of the endecasillabo sdrucciolo , see Elwert, Versificazione italiana , esp. paragraphs 10, 119, and 120. On the pastoral associations in particular, see Leopold," 'Quelle bazzicature poetiche,'" 113-19; and id., "Madrigali sulle egloghe sdrucciole di Iacopo Sannazaro," RIM 14 (1979): 75-127, esp. 75-80. On the use of versi sdruccioli for low characters, see the remarks of the author of Le nozze d'Enea (Appendix 1.9f).

[47] The characters appear, alone and together, in a large number of scenes, including the three closing scenes of act 1 (13-15) and the four closing scenes of act 2 (11-14), both scene groups culminating in balli .

[48] Most operas have more than one text in versi sdruccioli . See, for example, Adelaide 1-14: "Numi tartarei / Stiggia Proserpina" (Garland facs., 8: f. 36 ), a bipartite aria prompted by love; and Totila3.17: "Apri, omai le tue voragini" (Garland facs., 9: ff. 84 -85 ), also a bipartite aria, inspired by despair. Versi sdruccioli are also used briefly but effectively in Publicola's first mad scene (1.11) (Garland facs., 9: f. 15).


settings were virtually interchangeable. More than in the case of any other aria type, the librettist controlled the composer's response. The musical settings of these texts are dominated by a characteristic dactylic rhythm, to which all other stylistic elements are subservient. The aria "O voi dell'Erebo" from Annibale in Capua (Beregan/Ziani, 1661) is typical (example 69). Melodic and harmonic subservience is evident in the large number of repeated notes, the triadic and sequential leaps, the rigidly regular, emphatic cadences, and the often widely separated phrases. Occasionally some melodic or harmonic expression intensifies the affect projected by the dominant rhythm. Ecuba's aria mixes chromaticism with its chordal melody (example 67 above) and Medea's invocation gains momentum by powerful harmonic motion (example 11 in chapter 9). But in general, the domination of the rhythm gives the sense that the character is being ruled by an urgent force over which he or she has no control. The impact of the sdrucciolo is equivalent to that of trumpet figuration in "trumpet" arias. Both originally represented a specific dramatic situation or emotion, and the significance of both broadened to accommodate an affective component: the concrete representation of the irrational in one case, of emotional conflict in the other. Such equation of inner feeling and outward sign is characteristic of the mechanism through which music conveyed emotion during this period.


With Medea's incantation as its centerpiece, Giasone set a memorable standard for scenes of invocation; without actually establishing the convention, it articulated it for the future. Giasone honored other conventions by indirection, satisfying expectation through parody. The mad scene, for example, which had received its definitive operatic shape nearly a decade earlier, in La finta pazza , seems absent from Giasone , but as we shall see, that absence is only apparent.

Temporary madness, feigned or real, had a long literary heritage. Undoubtedly owing its inspiration to Canto 24 of Ariosto's Orlando furioso , perhaps the most celebrated portrayal of madness in Italian literature, the topos became a favorite tour de force for some of the most famous actors (or, more often, actresses) in the cornmedia dell'arte troupes;[49] but it held special, if fairly

[49] The earliest known example was La pazzia d'Isabella , performed by (and named for) Isabella Andreini with the Gelosi troupe in Florence in 1589. The tradition of mad scenes in the commedia dell'arte and its relationship to early opera are treated at length in Maria Paola Borsetta, "Teatro dell'arte e teatro d'opera nella prima metà del seicento" (Tesi di laurea, Bologna University, 1986). For a thorough treatment of the influence of both written and improvised comedy on the development of the operatic mad scene, see Fabbri, "Alle origini." See also id., Monteverdi , 263, in which Andreini's La pazzia d'Isabella (1589) and La pazzia di Scappino by FrancescoGabrielli (1618) are cited in connection with Monteverdi's La finta pazza Licori .


obvious, implications for dramma per musica , justifying the use of music in a very specific sense. Madness freed characters from the decorum of normal behavior, allowing them to do whatever they pleased—even to sing.

But mere singing was not enough to project madness, particularly in an operatic context where everyone sang. In spoken drama, mad characters gained credibility by what they said as well as how they said it: by speaking irrationally, disconnectedly, and inappropriately, by voicing delusions—as well as by behaving unreasonably, dressing peculiarly, moving abnormally.[50] The musical setting of such texts would not automatically have produced convincing operatic madmen, however. Such characters had to break the accepted rules of their own language, music; they had to sing abnormally, erratically. Unlike the rules and norms of speech, which might depend on genre or theme, those of musical expression changed with changes in style. A mad scene of the 1640s might not share specific musical features with one of the 1720s or 1840s.[51]

As with so many other operatic conventions, we owe the critical as well as musical articulation of the issue of madness to Monteverdi, who was the first composer to attempt self-consciously—his characteristic mode of operation— to portray it in opera. He recorded his ideas on the subject in a famous series of letters of 1627 concerning an opera on which he was working with Giulio Strozzi, La finta pazza Licori , their first collaboration and Strozzi's first opera libretto.[52]

In advising Strozzi about the kind of text he wanted, Monteverdi was particularly concerned with the character of Licori, the "finta pazza" herself, and especially with her madness. His suggestions involved matters ranging from the disposition of the action and when and how often Licori appeared, to the actual poetry and topics of her discourse.

[50] Molinari, La commedia dell'arte , 121, describes the madness of the comici dell'arte as a "sonno della ragione, [che] si manifesta come discorso assurdo, un discorso cioè in cui, salva restando la struttura grammaticale e sintattica, saltano invece quei nessi e quelle norme di ordine logico che presiedono alla generazione del discorso verbale." A description of Isabella Andreini's interpretation of "la pazzia d'Isabella" by the Medici court chronicler Giuseppe Pavoni (Diario . . . delle feste nelle solennissime nozze delli serenissimi sposi il sig. duca Ferdinando Medici e la sig. donna Christina di Lorena [Bologna: Rossi, 1589]) is more precise in isolating the "mad" qualities of the performance, in particular her speaking in foreign languages, singing, and imitating the accents of other members of the company, which he characterizes as "tutti fuor di proposito." He describes her as "scorrendo per la Cittade, fermando hor questo, & hora quello, e parlando hora in Spagnuolo, hora in Greco, hora in Italiano, & molti altri linguaggi . . . & tra le altre cose si mise à parlar Francese, & à cantar certe canzonette pure alla francese. . . . Si mise poi ad imitare li linguaggi di tutti li suoi comici" (quoted in Flaminio Scala, Il teatro delle favole rappresentative [Venice: Pulciani, 1611], Marotti ed., LXXV).

[51] It was only when musical rules were firm enough or clear enough that breaking them could have an effect. On this subject, see Rosand, "Operatic Madness." On madness in later opera, see Giovanni Morelli, "La scena di follia nella 'Lucia di Lammermoor': Sintomi, fra mitologia della paura e mitologia della libertà," in La drammaturgia musicale , ed. Lorenzo Bianconi (Bologna, 1986), 411-32.

[52] This correspondence is discussed in Tomlinson, "Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy," 303-11, as well as in Fabbri, "Alle origini."


I have no intention of failing . . . to confer with him [Strozzi] and (as is my habit) to see that this gentleman enriches it [the libretto] . . . with varied, novel and diverse scenes. . . . This I shall explain according to my judgment, in order to see whether he can improve it with other novelties [besides madness], such as additional characters, so that the crazy girl is not seen so frequently in action. . . .

In my opinion she has very good speeches in two or three places, but in two others it seems to me that she could have better material—not so much on account of the poetry, as of the originality. I must also insist on his rearranging Aminto's lines, when the girl is fast asleep, for I would like him to speak as if he had not enough voice to be able to wake her up. This consideration—the need to speak in a low voice—will give me a chance to introduce to the senses a new kind of music, different from what has gone before. (22 May 11627)[53]

Strozzi was evidently quick to make the specific changes requested: "He . . . admits that as far as the part of Licori is concerned, he will make her come in later, and not in almost every scene, yet he will see to it that she always expresses new ideas and actions" (5 June 1627).

For the portrayal of Licori's madness, Monteverdi placed special emphasis on the clarity of the text presentation, the variety of the emotional expression, and the rapidity with which different emotions succeeded one another, as well as on the gestures:

Each time she comes on stage, she can always produce new moods and fresh changes of music, as indeed of gestures. (22 May)

Whenever she is about to come on stage, she has to introduce fresh delights and new inventions. (24 May)

It will now be up to Signora Margherita [Basile] to become a brave soldier, timid and bold by turns, mastering perfectly the appropriate gestures herself . . . because I am constantly aiming to have lively imitations in the music, gestures, and tempi take place behind the scene. . . . The changes between the vigorous, noisy harmonies and the gentle suave ones will take place suddenly so that the words will really come through well. (10 July)

He had earlier expressed his concern about the casting of the main role, urging that

because of its variety of moods . . . [it] not fall into the hands of a woman who cannot play first a man and then a woman, with lively gestures and distinct emotions. (7 May)

[53] All of these letters were written to Alessandro Striggio, the Younger, during a three-month period in 1627, from May through July. Texts may be found in Lettere , ed. de' Paoli. Unless otherwise indicated, the translations are from The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi , ed. Stevens.


His most striking formulation, however, regards the special setting of Licori's text, for which he advocated a distinctive treatment of individual words as disembodied, disconnected entities rather than parts of sentences:

Since the imitation of such reigned madness must take into account only the present and not the past or future, it must therefore be based on the single word and not on the sense of the phrase; when, therefore, war is mentioned, it will be necessary to imitate war, when peace, peace, when death, death, and so on. And because the transformations and their imitation happen in the shortest space of time, the person who takes the principal part, which should arouse both laughter and compassion, must be a woman who can lay aside every sort of imitation except that dictated by the word she is uttering. (7 May)[54]

In addition to affording a view of the general style of the work, Monteverdi occasionally describes the action in considerable detail:

In three places I certainly think the effects will come off well; first when the camp is being set up, the sounds and noises heard behind the scenes and exactly echoing her words should . . . prove quite successful; secondly, when she pretends to be dead; and thirdly, when she pretends to be asleep, for here it is necessary to bring in music suggesting sleep. In some other places, however, because the words cannot mimic either gestures or noises or any other kind of imitative idea that might suggest itself, I am afraid the previous and following passages might seem weak. (24 May)

For unknown reasons, La finta pazza Licori was never performed. It was probably never even completed.[55] But Monteverdi's ideas left deep traces in other

[54] "perchè la immitatione di tal finta pazzia dovendo aver la consideratione solo che nel presente e non nel passato e nel futuro, per conseguenza la imitatione dovendo aver il suo appoggiamento sopra alla parola et non sopra al senso della clausula, quando dunque parlerà di guerra bisognerà inmitar di guerra, quando di pace pace, quando di morte di morte, et va seguitando, et perchè le transformationi si faranno in brevissimo spatio, et le immitationi; chi dunque averà da dire tal principalissima parte che move al riso et alla compassione, sarà necessario che tal Donna lassi da parte ogni altra Immitatione che la presentanea che gli somministrerà la parola che haverà da dire" (Lettere , ed. de' Paoli, p. 244; my translation). The meaning of this passage has caused considerable discussion. Whereas most writers, including myself, have interpreted it specifically with regard to Monteverdi's portrayal of madness (see Rosand, "Monteverdi's Mimetic Art," 135 and n. 25, and Bianconi, "Il cinquecento e il seicento," 353-54), Tomlinson has seen in it confirmation of his view of Monteverdi's late style as excessively focused on individual words at the expense of whole lines or sentences ("Madrigal," 101-2-a view Tomlinson revised somewhat in Monteverdi , 205-6).

[55] An early version of Strozzi's text, in dialogue form, may have been performed in the Palazzo Mocenigo sometime before June 1627, as suggested by Monteverdi's letter to Striggio of 5 June 1627: "Giulio Strozzi . . . having been urged by me very insistently to do me the honor of adapting La finta pazza Licori to my way of thinking . . . willingly offered his services, confessing that in writing this play he did not achieve the degree of perfection he had in mind, but wrote it in dialogue to provide entertainment at a musical evening which a certain Most Illustrious Signor Mocenigo, my Lord, had arranged to give. I, visualizing its presentation with some by no means straightforward rearrangement, did not want to set it to music." This information seems to conflict with that in an earlier letter, of 7 May 1627, in which Monteverdi claimed that La finta pazza had been "so far neither set to music, nor printed, nor ever acted on the stage." Perhaps the performance in the Palazzo Mocenigo was a spoken one. In any case, Strozzi's three-act libretto, which he revised for Monteverdi, was never performed. The tortured history of this project is unraveled in Tomlinson, "Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy."


works: in Sacrati's La finta pazza and the mad scenes it inspired,[56] and in his own Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria .

Clearly, a number of the most important features of the Licori libretto found their way into Strozzi's second La finta pazza , the libretto set by Sacrati in 1641. Although Deidamia has only one real mad scene, at the end of act 2 (scene 10), it is central to the plot and carefully prepared well beforehand. Also it is quite long. The idea of feigning madness begins to take shape in Deidamia's poignant monologue of act 2, scene 6; it is carried further in the discussion between Giove and Vittoria (2.7); is previewed by the defeated cavalier's call to the gods of the Underworld, which seems as if it will become a mad scene (2.8); is described by Diomede in a conversation with the Eunuch (2.9); and finally culminates in Deidamia's appearance at the very end of the second act (2.10)[57] In the mad scene proper, Deidamia speaks repeatedly of war and also of death (cf. Monteverdi's letter of 7 May); she shifts rapidly from topic to topic as she pretends to rave (ibid.); and she feigns sleep, which encourages Acchille (= Aminto) to speak softly to her (cf. letter of 22 May). She also gestures wildly, as she herself says at the end of one speech, when she decides to stop talking: "What the tongue would say, let gesture do."[58] Finally, though her ultimate aim is a serious one, Deidamia's madness has a healthy admixture of the comic in it. Her disconnected, erratic discourse ranges freely over many topics and includes under the mask of madness, as we saw in chapter 4, a number of apposite allusions to her surroundings, the theater, the production itself.

All subsequent mad scenes reveal a kinship with Deidamia's, even if they were not directly modeled on it. Their common elements include rapidly shifting subject matter, tone, rhythms, and rhyme patterns; frequent exclamations; expressions of violence, often in the context of repeated references to war (bellicosa pazzia ), associated with trumpet imitations, and to Hell, usually marked by the conventional versi sdruccioli ; identification with mythological characters; delusions regarding the perversity of nature; reference to imaginary physical ailments or danger; incursions of abnormal speech—screaming, crying, laughing, singing; allusions to dance; and sudden, unexpected requests for songs.[59]

[56] These included Didone (Cavalli/Busenello) and La ninfa avara (Ferrari) in 1641, and Egisto (Cavalli/ Faustini) in 1643.

[57] The postponement of Deidamia's mad scene to the end of act 2 may reflect Monteverdi's suggestion to Strozzi about limiting Licori's appearances as a madwoman (letter of 22 May, quoted above).

[58] "Quel che diria la lingua esprime il gesto." Anna Renzi's gestures in the role were remarked upon several times; see the poetry in her honor and the Cannocchiale , cited above in ch. 8. For another interpretation of gesto , see n. 65 below. Note also the reference to gesture in the description of madness in the preface to Strozzi's La finta savia (1643): "a questo furore soprafatte le sibille facevano varie mutanze di voce, e diversi strani movimenti della persona come le descrive Virgilio nel sesto della divina Eneide."

[59] Deidamia's request for a song from the Eunuch—who is present in the scene—is the occasion for a host of comic puns and double entendres (see ch. 4 above). The similar phrases in which a song is requested in both Jarba's (Didone ) and Lilla's (La ninfa avara ) mad scenes: "Cantami un poco in tuono d'effaut / S'è più bella l'Arcadia oil Calicut," and "Meritevole sei / Ch'in tuon d'F, fa ut, / Ti canti in un l'Arcadia, e il Calicut," suggested to Pirrotta thatboth were derived from the same specific source, possibly from Licori ("The Lame Horse and the Coachman," Essays , 328 and n. 11). The imagery is shared, as well, by the second strophe of a song in La finta pazza : "Fare il basso. . . . "which mentions "gamma-ut." Musical references, while particularly apposite in the operatic context, were a common ingredient in spoken mad scenes as well (see, for example, the description of Giuseppe Pavoni quoted in n. 50 above).


Occasionally, the madness terminates after a deep (or pretended) sleep (see below), a resolution that, like the topos itself, was probably inspired by Orlando furioso .

In several instances, the effect of the mad behavior is heightened by being described beforehand. In La finta pazza , Diomede's description leads directly to Deidamia's entrance:


Da tante amare doglie
Soprafatta la giovine dolente
Languí, tremó, sudò)
Inferocì, girò
Gl'occhi insieme, e la mente,
E con diluvio di querele atroci
Versò l'affanno, e vomitò l'ingegno.
Uscita fuor da le paterne stanze,
Per le piazze di Sciro
Del suo furor insano
Fa scena lagrimevole, e funesta.

By so many bitter woes
Overcome, the sorrowing girl
Languished, trembled, perspired,
Grew wild, turned
Her eyes about, and her thoughts,
And with a deluge of hideous laments
Poured out her grief and vomited her wits.
Issuing forth from the paternal chambers,
She makes of Skyros's public places
The woeful, dolorous scene
Of her insane fury.

Not only do such descriptions whet the appetite of the audience, but they alert the audience (and the critic) to the things they should notice; they call attention to the skill of the poet—and anticipate that of the actress. In Egisto (Faustini/ Cavalli, 1643), Cinea's description of the hero's madness, which occurs between his two mad scenes, provides a particularly detailed and accurate forecast of the second one, emphasizing its most important elements: Egisto's fury, his uneven ranting and raving, his irregular, improper language, his sighs and sudden laughter, and his scandalous song ("Io son Cupido").


Signor l'hospite Egisto
L'intelletto hà travolto,
E' divenuto stolto,
Hor di furor ripieno
La Campagna trascorre,
Hor s'arresta, e discorre
A sterpi, à tronchi, à venti
Con vari, e impropri accenti,
Hor tace, e bieco mira,
Nè conosce mirando,
Hor geme, & hor sospira
Hor ride, e và cantando
Sciocche, e immodeste rime,
E talvolta di Clori il nome esprime.[60]

My lord, our host Aegistus's
Intellect is overturned.
He has become a dolt.
Now filled with fury
lie runs about the countryside;
Now he stops and addresses
Bushes, tree trunks, the winds
With various inappropriate exclamations;
Now he falls silent and looks grim,
Nor, looking, recognizes;
Now he moans, and now he sighs;
Now he laughs and goes about singing
Foolish and immodest rhymes,
And on occasion utters Clori's name.

[60] This passage identifies many of the same elements as Ariosto's description of Orlando's actions. It also resembles those of the various "pazzie d'Isabella." See Borsetta, "Teatro dell'arte," 140-49.


Monteverdi's descriptions as well as those of Diomede and Cinea promise striking musical effects in the portrayal of madness. And indeed, each of these early mad scenes fulfills expectation by exaggerating or perverting what might be regarded as a normal narrative sequence or language of communication. Strikingly, all of them embody Monteverdi's program, at least to some degree.[61]

Sacrati's music for Deidamia is dominated by obsessive arpeggios and martial rhythms, clear allusions to trumpet fanfares that qualify as literal imitations of the predominating battle and hunt imagery in the text.[62] Although the arpeggios are primarily on G, A, and C, the imitation of trumpets is finally carried to a literal extreme when they occur in the trumpet tonality of D major.[63] The association is established even before Deidamia's entrance in the canonic fanfare duet between Diomede and the Eunuch announcing her appearance, which she then echoes (examples 70a and b). These aggressive arpeggios, which also occur independently of hunt imagery in this mad scene as well as others, would seem to represent the soul at war with itself. They occasionally yield to music that is more characteristic of Deidamia's former (sane) mode of address: lengthy successions of repeated notes or softer melodic lines that rise or fall gradually, in stepwise motion. These are usually inspired by some particularly poignant phrase of text, such as that leading into an aria near the end of the scene: "Ah so ben io / Qual di racchiuso pianto al mesto core / Fa lago il mio dolore" ("Ah, well I know how holding my tears back will make a lake of my suffering") (example 70j). The prevailing duple meter of her recitation is interrupted twice, first for a short arioso passage calling special attention to three particularly scurrilous lines of text: "Giacer io volea teco, / E lasciar il mio Giove, ch'ogni notte stà meco" ("I wanted to lie with you and leave my Jove, who stays with me every night") (example 70g), the change back to duple meter likewise emphasizing the conclusion of this passage: "Ma stanco dal lunghissimo camino, / Ch'ei fa dal Cielo in terra, / Mi riesce sovente il gran tonante /Un sonnacchioso Amante" ("But tired out from the long journey that

[61] These mad scenes, with special emphasis on that of Egisto, are discussed by Giovanni Morelli, Scompiglio e lamento (simmetrie dell'incostanza e incostanza delle simmetrie): "L'Egisto" di Faustini e Cavalli , Gran Teatro La Fenice, Opere-Concerti-Balletti, 1981-82 (Venice, 1982), 605-12, 618.

[62] Wolfgang Osthoff, "La musica della pazzia nella 'Finta pazza' di Francesco Sacrati," in L'opera fra Venezia e Parigi (papers read at a conference held at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, September 1985) (in press), 3, points to a traditional association between the hunt ("la caccia"), or hunting cries and fanfares, and madness.

[63] The tonality of this scene, in general, emphasizing sharp keys, contrasts with a predominance of fiat keys in the other scenes in which Deidamia appears. Osthoff, "La musica della pazzia," 17-18, finds a correlation between tonal spheres and Deidamia's various moods, and he relates those spheres, such as C minor for Deidamia's sleep scene, to the use of tonality in other operas. In Poppea , for example, Arnalta's lullaby is in C minor; and in Il ritorno d'Ulisse , Ulisse awakens in the same key. Osthoff suggests that this may be what Monteverdi meant by "armonie imitanti il sonno" (see n. 34 above).


he makes from heaven to earth, the great thunderer often turns out to be a sluggish lover"). The second interruption occurs near the end of the scene, in a short aria accompanied by strings, a kind of parody of a lament that invokes the powers of the Underworld in the conventional versi sdruccioli (example 70k).

Extremes of Deidamia's range—at either end of the staff—are exploited, sometimes within a very short span. This usually can be understood as literal, even simplistic, text imitation of the kind Monteverdi advocated for madness.[64] For example, a sudden dip to the low tessitura accompanies the phrases "soldato dormiglione" ("sleepy soldier") and "tacete, homai, tacete" ("be still, now, be still") and an octave descent interprets the distance—or lack of it—expressed in the line "destati ch'il nemico di qui poco è lontano" ("Wake up, for the enemy is near") (example 70f). For the phrase "Ma stanco dal lunghissimo camino / ch'ei fa dal cielo in terra," Sacrati moves to a melodic high point on F for cielo , from which he descends rapidly a ninth, by means of an extended, rhythmicized melisma, to low E on terra (example 70g). Later in the scene, in an amusing and academically allusive passage, Deidamia literally silences herself in response to the line "A stride quiete, dunque" with an octave leap from C down to middle C, where she remains, appropriately, through "Alla muta, alla muta" (example 70h):

Non si può più parlare,
Ogn'un, a quel ch'io sento,
Hoggi mi vuol glosare,
Mi vuol far' il comento,
A stride quiete, dunque
Ad intendersi a cenni,
Alla muta, alla muta
Pronta man', occhio presto,
Quel che diria la lingua, esprima il gesto.[65]

One can no longer speak.
Everyone, I gather,
Wants to gloss me today,
Wants to comment on me.
To silent shouts, therefore,
And gestured understandings.
Mum! Mum!
Nimble the hand, quick the eye!
What the tongue would say, let gesture do!

Deidamia's concluding aria, the lament-parody (example 70k), inspired by two quatrains of rhymed settenari sdruccioli , displays several concrete imitations. Contrast of high and low tessituras literally portrays the contrast between "alti papaveri" ("high poppies") and "sozzi cadaveri" ("loathsome corpses"). And the phrase "resto immobile" ("I remain immobile") is communicated by an unchanging harmony for two measures in contrast to the half- and quarter-measure changes before and after it. Sacrati imposed an interesting and unexpected musical contrast on the two similar quatrains of this text. For the first one, in duple meter, a rhythmically sequential, diatonic melodic line moves

[64] Going a bit further, Osthoff ("La musica della pazzia," 9) interprets these leaps as evidence that Deidamia is "playing now a woman, now a man," in response to Monteverdi's directive for Licori.

[65] Gesto here may refer to the octave leap itself. See Osthoff, "La musica della pazzia," 8. Cf. n. 59 above.


repeatedly to a high point on F before leaping to the low point, D, on cadaveri . It contrasts strongly with the more affective setting of the second quatrain, in triple meter, in which the melody ascends chromatically and sequentially to its own highpoint (which is actually lower than that of the first strophe) before gently descending to the tonic. In one final literal imitation at the end of the scene, Deidamia screams as she is forcibly removed from the stage in chains. The kind of literal imitation counseled by Monteverdi, then, illuminates the most outstanding features of Deidamia's mad music: the evocation of war (or hunt) by means of arpeggios and martial rhythms and the use of schizophrenic tessituras an octave apart in response to individual words or phrases implying distance, direction, or dynamics.

In comparison to La finta pazza , Cavalli's first attempt to portray operatic madness, in Didone , is somewhat pallid, perhaps because it was accomplished in such a hurry.[66] But in his second essay, in Egisto , he carried Monteverdi's ideas abut literal imitation and contrast considerably further than had Sacrati. Egisto's madness is more extensive than Deidamia's, occupying two lengthy scenes, the first (3-5) a monologue, the second (3.9) performed, like Diadamia's mad scene, in public. Egisto's texts are also more highly structured than Deidamia's. In addition to frequent incursions of versi sdruccioli , they contain several refrains and a large number of rhyming couplets. Furthermore, perhaps because Egisto's madness is real rather than feigned, Faustini's poetry itself exhibits greater affective contrast; in particular it places greater emphasis on the emotion of love, which is repeatedly juxtaposed against war and anger. Having called such explicit attention to these scenes in his preface, as we have noted several times, it is apparent that Faustini lavished special care on them.

Largely in response to the richer text, Cavalli's musical realization is more varied; it makes use of a larger vocabulary of musical gestures involving rhythm and harmony as well as melody. And Cavalli worked with his text more actively than Sacrati, repeating many more words and phrases to increase affective intensity. In general, Cavalli's music is more mobile than Sacrati's; it contains more sequential repetition, more rhythmic patterning, and more dissonance. As a result, Egisto projects a more authentic confusion than Deidamia does— but, we must recall, hers was only feigned. (See example 71 a and b.)

Martial fanfares play an important role here too, but they usually respond more exclusively to Underworld references in versi sdruccioli and are juxtaposed more forcibly with other kinds of melody and rhythm; these include lengthy single-note reiterations that tend to culminate in furious stile concitato climaxes,

[66] On the last-minute addition of these mad scenes, see Rosand, "Opera Scenario," 341-42, and ch. 5. PP. 122-23, above.


and conjunct lines that ascend or descend gradually, often creating strong dissonances against the bass.

Wide melodic leaps between phrases emphasize the discontinuity of discourse and frequent exclamations, whereas those within phrases are more directly inspired by individual words, such as the leap of a ninth on aspri in "Udite, prego, udite aspri, e maggiori" ("Listen [you leaves] to my bitter and great [pains]) (mm. 37-41). Rhythmic contrasts, such as juxtapositions of disparate note values, also respond to specific text cues: the phrase "Non mi nega l'inferno / La sospirata moglie, / Più caro seno accoglie / La mia donna incostante" ("Hell does not deny me my hoped-for wife, but welcomes my unfaithful lady more warmly"), for example, is set to a sequence of almost uninterrupted eighth notes that brakes abruptly for an extended whole-note cadence on [inco ]-stante , a literal rendering, in rhythmic terms, of inconstancy (mm. 42-48). In another passage, comprising two parallel phrases of text, rhythmic discontinuity between affective long-note syncopations and stile concitato sixteenth notes stresses the conflict between the expansive, emotional first line and the angry tension of the second two (mm. 68-80).


Ah cor malvagio, ah core
Fuori di questo petto,
Che non vò dar ricetto à un traditore;

Ah cot malvagio, ah core
Esci via, via, che tardi,
Over spegni quel foco onde ancor ardi.

Ah, wicked heart, ah, heart!
Leave this breast!
For I will not give shelter to a traitor.

Ah, wicked heart, ah, heart!
Go, leave, leave, why do you tarry?
Or else extinguish the flame that still consumes you.

Beyond these contrasts, Egisto's recitative is interrupted more than once by arialike sections characterized by faster, more regular bass motion and more self-contained melody; while a few of them are based on textually distinct passages, such as a lengthy sequence of quinari (at "Io son Cupido" in 3.9, example 71b[3]), others are inspired by a change of direction or tone in the text (at "Amor sospendi i vanni" and "Aprite il varco, aprite," example 71a, mm. 81-93 and 107-34). This kind of musical contrast gives the impression of the mad Egisto speaking temporarily in another voice, an effect that communicates the sense—or non-sense—of the text.

In addition to rather obvious and brief imitations of actions—such as laughter, sighs, and so on—Cavalli's setting includes some more subtle, intellectualized imitative effects. One of the most striking is a triple-meter arioso passage near the opening of Egisto's second scene, setting a three-line passage of text:


Hor ch'il mondo è in scompiglio
O popoli di Dite
Di guerreggiar con Giove io vi consiglio.

Now that the world's in disarray,
O ye subjects of Pluto,
I advise you to wage war on Jove.

Here the characteristic D-major fanfare inspired specifically by the image of conflict between Heaven and Hell becomes literally (rhythmically, metrically) out of joint, at war with itself, through a powerful hemiola on the word guerreggiar (example 71b[2]).[67]

As with Deidamia's mad music, behind the mad scenes in Egisto clearly lies Monteverdi's prescription for the projection of madness: literal imitation and abrupt contrast are both fundamental to Cavalli's treatment. Because of his own special musical and dramatic gifts, however, in particular the mobility of his word-sensitive style, and possibly because of the structural variety of Faustini's text, the impact of literal imitation is diluted by a greater reliance on contrasts and discontinuities—on communication of text rather than strict imitation. The effect of irrationality is projected not so much by a succession of unrelated imitations (or images) as by an accumulation of contrasts.

Despite the effectiveness of these mad scenes and the resonance in them of Monteverdi's ideas, the fullest realization of those ideas is found, not surprisingly, in a work by Monteverdi himself. The opening scene of the third act of Il ritorno d'Ulisse is a monologue for the parasite Iro, who laments his hunger. Although this is not strictly speaking a mad scene, Iro's fear of starvation, comic at first, becomes increasingly exaggerated and irrational until, in a radical reversal of mode, it leads him abruptly to take his own life. A strange comic character who suddenly shifts modes to achieve a kind of heroic status at the end, Iro evokes a disturbing mixture of laughter and compassion, precisely the combination of affects Monteverdi sought from Licori. Monteverdi evidently used Iro's scene to test this combination, since it was he and Badoaro who added its tragic conclusion; in Homer the parasite has nothing more to say after he has been defeated by Ulysses (example 72).[68]

Monteverdi's music for this monologue shares many features with the mad music of Sacrati and Cavalli, including wide leaps, stile concitato trumpet imitations, and dance elements. What is especially striking about this scene, however, is the extent to which Monteverdi breaks up and stretches out the text, attaching musical images almost at random to individual words. Cavalli fre-

[67] See Cesti's Tito (I-Vnm, It. IV, 459 [9983], f. 11 ), for another mimetic setting of "scompiglio"; see also Isifile's reference to thoughts that "scompiglian la mente" (Giasone 1.14). Osthoff, "La finta pazza," 6-7, 14, makes a great deal of this idea, likening it to Hamlet's "time out of joint."

[68] Like the Licori of Monteverdi's letters, Iro, too, talks of war and death, and each topic is symbolized by a single image: "m'abbatte," and "estinti." The full example is given in Malipiero ed., 12: 170-76. Iro is discussed more fully in Rosand, "Iro," 141-64; see also id., "Operatic Madness."


quently repeated words and lines, but he always did so to enhance textual meaning; Monteverdi's repetitions are so extensive that they tend almost to obliterate the text, replacing it with musical images.[69]

His isolation of and fixation on individual words goes far beyond anything we have seen in either Sacrati or Cavalli. Monteverdi thought nothing of repeating a single word or phrase as many as eleven times (l'ho distrutta , example 72a—in this case admittedly to an appropriate musical figure). While the choice of words to repeat is usually justified rhetorically—ah (six times), rida and m'abbatte (four times each), mai (seven times)—the appropriateness of the particular musical association is not always immediately evident. Even as it decontextualizes the word itself, however, the musical image increases its psychological effect. Monteverdi repeats Iro's desperate textual refrain "chi lo consola" ("who will console [the starving man]") numerous times, setting it to an extended, outwardly incongruous triple-meter arioso over a ciaccona bass (example 72b, c). But the musical image itself, a protracted, regular dance, actually offers temporary consolation: the reassurance of a calm, patterned oasis within the frenetic, sputtering context of the monologue as a whole. Iro asks for comfort and he literally gets it, however briefly, from the composer. Monteverdi's fragmented treatment may fracture the sense of Iro's discourse, but it thereby heightens its instability—and poignancy.

Monteverdi's literal imitations, too, are far more exaggerated than Cavalli's. Iro's opening whine on a single pitch seems extended almost infinitely, its exaggerated length measured out and intensified by an eighth-note ostinato figure in the bass (example 72d). The word estinti , repeated three times to a strangely disjunct sequence of descending thirds separated by several interruptive rests, finally extinguishes itself (example 72e). M'abbatte pits two overlapping five-beat melodic figures in the voice and bass against a six-beat measure— the three patterns literally beat against one another, causing considerable conflict (example 72f). And Monteverdi's laugh (example 72g), unlike Cavalli's, is so extreme, so exaggerated and stylized that it turns itself from musical imitation to singer's trill to actual laugh: Monteverdi enacts the transformation of music into mimetic gesture.

Whether because the developing musical style suited them less well or because of the dramatic limitations of the convention itself, mad scenes receded somewhat in prominence during the second half of the century.[70] The flash fire

[69] Repetition here deprives Iro's text of its sense. This is particularly evident from a comparison of Monteverdi's text treatment elsewhere, where he clearly repeats words to increase meaning. Cf., for example, Seneca's suicide monologue or Poppea's "Per me guerreggia" aria in L'incoronazione di Poppea .

[70] Later librettos in which madness plays a central role are not too numerous. They include, among others, Il pazzo politico (Castoreo, 1659); Coriolano oLa pazzia in trono (Ivanovich, 1669); and Caligola delirante (Gisberti, 1672.), none of whose scores has survived. See also Aureli's Gli amori d'Apollo e di Leucotoe (1663), and Moniglia's Il pazzo per forza (1682) and L'Incoronazione di Dario (1685). The convention plays a subsidiary, even purely comic, role in many other works, however. In Minato's Pompeo magno (2.12), madness provides a screen for an aside from the librettist to the audience (or to the later historian). The "mad" old lady Atrea, pretending to be a gypsy, reads the palm of Delfo the page, from which the audience learns (or is reminded) that the singer of Delfo's role had been a star singer in his youth (more than twenty years earlier) when he had played leading roles in Poppea, Narciso ed Ecco immortalati , and Ciro : "Ne gl'Anni più fioriti / Con gloria tua gl'Adriaci Eroi t'udirò / Rappresentar Narciso, / Finger Nerone, e Ciro. / Hor ch'il tempo ti sparge il crin d'argenti, / Qui fai rider le Genti." This would have been particularly amusing since Delfo was supposedly an adolescent page. Minato, however, may have had his facts wrong: the line mentioning Narciso is omitted in Cavalli's setting. This is reminiscent of Deidamia's "real" talk about the Teatro Novissimo in the guise of madness.


of the early 1640s, when every new opera had its mad scene, rapidly died down, to be refueled only occasionally. One such occasion was the final appearance on the Venetian stage of the original "finta pazza," Anna Renzi, as Damira in Aureli's and Ziani's Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (1657). In that opera Damira feigns madness in order to reclaim her husband from the clutches of the courtesan Rodope. Surely the audience must have recalled the triumph of Renzi's now legendary debut and recognized in Damira's shrewd gesture the recreation of that earlier success. In convention was the memory of theatrical history. And Renzi's own reenactment of the convention reemphasizes the importance of the connection between mad scenes and the prima donnas who created them, a connection that was fundamental also to the persistence of the convention in commedia dell'arte .

Madness may have relinquished its prominence on the operatic stage after the early 1640s, but it remained potently dormant, retaining a strong hold on the imaginations of librettists and composers—and presumably on those of audiences as well. Indeed, the (apparent) absence of a mad scene in the plot of Giasone is corrected by the characters themselves: they deliberately create one. Giasone seizes on the topos to protect himself, using it as a screen for Isifile's behavior. Her madness, he explains, has caused her to appropriate the events of Medea's life as her own. (The audience is aware, of course, that the lives of the two women are in fact remarkably parallel: each is a queen, each is the mother of twins sired by Giasone.) It is an explanation that Medea readily believes because such delusions are the common coin of operatic madness. In this case, the character herself does not feign madness; it is reigned for her. Making further use of the convention, Giasone prepares the audience for Isifile's appearance by a vivid, Monteverdian description of her mad behavior, a familiar preparatory procedure:


Or s'allegra, or si duole,
Or ride, or piange,
Or s'umilia, or s'adira,
Conforme alla cagion per cui delira.

Now she rejoices, now she sorrows,
Now she laughs, now cries,
Now she humbles herself, now takes offense,
According to the occasions of her ravings.


When Isifile finally appears, only Medea believes she is mad. The other characters on stage, and the audience, know otherwise. But she fools them. After playing the scene out, Isifile unexpectedly fulfills Giasone's characterization of her: she becomes mad with anger. Affirming the implicit connection between emotional excess and madness, she erupts in a furious assault on Medea and Giasone, to the obvious delight of both of her audiences—on stage and in the theater. Cavalli could hardly resist the opportunity provided by the libretto. He seconded Cicognini's impulse by extremely literal treatment of Giasone's description of Isifile's state, and by the use of the stile concitato to project the violence of her climactic explosion (example 73).

Monteverdi's influence can still be felt in this brief passage—Cavalli carried the standard to the end of his career—though its power is considerably diminished. But operatic style was changing, and with it the concept of normalcy against which Monteverdi had measured his interpretation of madness. The effects of the literal, isolating imitation and abrupt contrast he developed could only portray madness within a context that was highly word-oriented, where text interpretation was fundamental to the style itself. Focusing on individual words was, of course, normal in this music, but they were regarded as parts of phrases or sentences and emphasized for their contextual meaning. The sense of a word normally affected an entire musical phrase rather than just the setting of itself. Decontextualizing or objectifying the single word, a process carried to an extreme in Iro's monologue, was thus abnormal: it upset the reason and structure of conventional discourse. But it had enormous expressive impact: musical obsession assumed psychological dimensions.

The portrayal of madness was achieved, then, by straining the boundaries of the normal. It provided an excuse for the composer (and the singer) to exhibit his (her) prowess, to display his (her) raw technique unencumbered by large-scale dramatic or structural concerns. In so doing, the composer called attention to crucial elements of his style. The mad music of the 1640s worked because it exploited the extreme text-orientation of the period. But as operatic style evolved, other features began to take priority. As I have repeatedly emphasized, the intimate, word-oriented rapport between text and music that characterized early dramma per musica gradually yielded to a more generalized, formal relationship, one determined by more exclusively musical considerations. The development can be measured in the treatment of mad scenes.

The mad scenes of the later seventeenth century are musically quite different from their predecessors, despite common elements in their texts, their exploitation of a similar framework of references—mythology, the Underworld, versi sdruccioli , battle imagery. Rather than by obsessive adherence to individual words and to word-painting techniques, the rapid emotional changes charac-


teristic of madness are portrayed by the unexpected and the inappropriate on a larger scale—by formal or affective improprieties: by unpredictable juxtapositions of recitative and aria or of arias of wildly contrasting moods or irregular form; by the totally inappropriate setting of a particular text; or by recourse to music and text that are unsuitable to the dramatic situation at hand.

Thus, in her first mad scene in Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (1657, 2.10), Damira sings an ironically extravagant aria to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of her husband and her rival. But after they have shared her enthusiasm in a brief duet, she abruptly calls a halt to their celebration with a suddenly contrasting arioso setting of a single word, fermate , which is followed by a bitterly accusatory recitative. By these contrasts, appropriate for a mad character, she manages to keep her would-be betrayers off balance and increasingly to undermine their resolve (example 74). And later in the same act, Damira bursts unexpectedly into a jubilant aria in response to the news of her own death. The aria should inform her husband and servant that she is not dead at all but, since they do not recognize her, its inappropriately celebratory tone merely reinforces their conviction that she is mad.

In Helena rapita (Aureli/Freschi, 1677), the arias of the feigned madwoman Euristene are inappropriate in another way. The mood of their music directly counteracts the sense of their words. The trivial, sing-song settings of both "Sù le rive d'Acheronte," an evocation of Hell and a lover's desperation, and "Se non fuggi amante insano," an angry, violent attack on her betrayer, Paride, madly belie their texts (examples 75a, b).

Finally, in Totila (Noris/Legrenzi, 1677), the mad Publicola not only lapses into a succession of contrasting arioso passages that emerge too suddenly out of recitative, but he sings two mad love songs that are strikingly inappropriate to his tragic situation (examples 76a, b).

In all these cases, the portrayal of madness exploits and subverts the assumptions of stylistic decorum on which it builds. If the appropriate match of style and situation, of setting and affect, represents a normarive aesthetic of mid-seicento opera, inappropriateness becomes, de facto, the proper expression of the abnormal. Mismatch is right for madness. The convention of the mad scene, in other words, depends upon a set of prior accepted stylistic conventions against which it can, in its perverseness, be gauged.


11—Le convenienze teatrali : The Conventions of Dramma Per Musica

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