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

12—Il lamento : The Fusion of Music and Drama

The Strophic Lament

Not all lament texts were constructed of irregular versi sciolti , however. From 1640 on an increasing number were strophic, calling for musical treatment that was more highly organized. Although they did not yet necessarily imply lyrical setting, neither did strophic texts lend themselves to the kind of unrestrained passionate freedom that characterizes Arianna's lament; they made more specific formal demands. On the surface, at least, they seem an inappropriate vehicle for the kind of expressive intensity generated by a lament.

Nevertheless, Cavalli's second opera, Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (1640), contains one such text—comprising nine four-line strophes—for Apollo's lament, which occurs in the expected place, just before the denouement (3.3), after Dafne's transformation. It is one of more than thirty strophic texts in Busenello's libretto, but its setting is unique.[13] Like Procri's recitative lament earlier in the opera, it—or part of it (strophes 3-5)—bears a generic designation in the score.

If strophic structure itself seems a limitation on expression, this is compounded in the poetry of Apollo's lament by the absence of the kind of rhetorical intensity that characterized lament monologues like Arianna's and Teti's—the patterns, enumerations, alliterations. Nevertheless, Cavalli managed to create an extremely effective lament from this text. Rather than restricting him, the strophic structure seems actually to have inspired him to discover a style that would serve him well, and his followers also, for the remainder of his career. Instead of treating the entire text strophically or ignoring the structure altogether, two obvious options, Cavalli chose to vary his treatment of the individual strophes. He set the first two in recitative style, the next three as a strophic aria based on the descending tetrachord ostinato (to be discussed presently), strophes 6-8 in recitative again, and strophe 9 as a new aria, the stylistic distinctions reflecting distinctions in expressive content among the strophes (example 78):


Ohimè, che miro? ohimè dunque in alloro
Ti cangi, ò Dafne, e mentre in rami,
    e in frondi
Le belle membra oltredivine ascondi,
Povero tronco chiude il mio thesoro.

Qual senso humano, ò qual Celeste ingegno
A' sì profondo arcano arrivì mai?
Veggo d'un viso arboreggiare i rai,
Trovo il mio foco trasformato in legno.

Alas, what do I see? Alas, into a laurel
You are transformed, O Daphne, and as in
    branches and leaves
You hide your more than divine limbs,
A poor trunk encloses my treasure.

What human sense, or what celestial mind
Ever imagined so deep a mystery?
I see the rays of a face arbored,
I find my beloved transformed into wood.

[13] Magini discusses this lament at considerable length in "Indagini," 318-28.


Misero Apollo i tuoi trionfi hor vanta
Di crear giorno, ove le luci girl,
Puoi sol cangiato in vento de' sospiri
Bacciar le foglie all'odorata pianta.

Sgorghino homai con dolorosi uffici
Dai languid'occhi miei lagrime amare,
Vadino in doppio fonte ad irrigate
D'un Lauro le dolcissime radici.

Era meglio per me, che fuggitiva,
Ma bella oltre le belle io ti vedessi,
Che con sciapiti, e non giocondi amplessi
Un'arbore abbracciar sù questa riva.

Glove, crea novo lume, io più non voglio
Esser chiamato il Sole, e dentro all'onde
Delle lagrime mie calde, e profonde
Immergo il cato, e de miei rai mi spoglio.

Spezza tu la mia sfera, ò tu l'aggira,
Al Zodiaco per me puoi dir à Dio;
De pianti in Mar novo Nettun son'io,
Suona agonie la mia lugubre lira.

A' te ricorro omnipotente Amore,
Al mio gran mal le medicine appresta;
Di questo alloro un ramoscello inesta
Con incalmo divin sopra il mio core.

Così, lauro mio bello, e peregrino,
Horto sarà il mio petto ai rami tuoi,
Sara con union dolce tra noi,
La mia divinitade il tuo giardino.

Miserable Apollo, now vaunt your triumphs
Of creating day by turning the lights.
Only changed into the breeze of sighs
Can you kiss the leaves of the perfumed plant.

Let bitter tears gush forth with doleful office
From my languid eyes,
Let them in a double stream irrigate
The sweet roots of a laurel.

It was better for me that fleeing,
But surpassingly beautiful, I had seen you,
Than with numb and unjoyous arms
To embrace a tree on this shore.

Jove, you create new light. I no longer wish
To be called the Sun, and in the waves
Of my warm, deep tears
I immerse my chariot and abandon my rays.

Break my sphere, or you turn it.
To the Zodiac you can say farewell for me.
Of laments in the sea am I the new Neptune.
My lugubrious lyre sounds my agonies.

To you I turn, omnipotent Cupid,
Lend medicine for my great illness;
Attach a branch of this laurel
With divine graft to my heart.

Thus, my beautiful and rare laurel,
My heart will be orchard to your branches.
With sweet union between us
My divinity will be your garden.

Strophes 1 and 2 present Apollo's initial startled reaction to Dafne's transformation. By strophe 3 the original shock has worn off. He becomes more introspective and self-pitying, concerned with his own feelings and fate; and the abrupt change from highly emotional recitative to the lyrical aria underscores the change in focus of his concern. His mood then remains constant through strophe 4, self-involved and pitying. In the fifth strophe he finally reaches an awareness of his own responsibility: his unrelenting advances drove Dafne to her fate. He would be better off had he not pursued her but rather admired her from afar. At least she would still be alive. The change in direction of Apollo's address, from outward railing against fate to introspective self-pity, is typical of laments—we noted a similar change in Teti's. But the association of that change with a change in musical style, from recitative to aria, is new here. And


it will persist in subsequent laments. The lyricism provides a kind of parenthesis, a cushion or shelter for Apollo's externalization of his inner emotions or thoughts; it allows him to speak to himself. Significantly, the designation la-mento is reserved for this most introspective portion of the text.

After the fifth strophe, Apollo becomes more excited again, his thoughts more desperate, less rational; he looks toward the future, passionately vowing to renounce his identity as sun god; and Cavalli once again turned to the more erratic, excited recitative language of strophes 1 and 2. But Apollo's excitement is spent by the end of the eighth strophe; in strophe 9 he expresses his final acceptance of his fate, resolving to place his relationship with Dafne on a spiritual level. Cavalli set this last strophe apart from the rest of the text in a lively, measured style. Moreover, he increased its weight in proportion to that of the other strophes by repeating its entire text and music, thereby providing a suitably stable conclusion for the changing, unstable aria-recitative.

Cavalli's treatment of this text is remarkable for a number of things, in particular for the abandonment of strophicism for dramatic purposes: of the nine strophes, only the third through fifth—the ostinato-aria strophes—are treated strophically; nor did he even mark a division between the recitative strophes. But the composer's most significant decision was to use the descending tetrachord as the organizing principle of the aria setting strophes 3-5, the section identified as the lamento in the score.

12—Il lamento : The Fusion of Music and Drama

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