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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Myth of Venice

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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



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



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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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





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

Oh happy voyage, oh welcome news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Che città, che città

Che costumi, che gente

Sfacciata, ed insolente.[24]

What a city, what a city,

What customs, what people

Impudent and insolent!

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[28] Ermiona , description, 93.


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

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

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

[29] "che vuol dinotare, Venetia nata in una spiagia di mare, resa abbondevole non solo d'ogni bene terreno, mediante la celeste gratia, ma coronata con corona di libertà dalla divina mano, il cui dominio è registrato a caratteri eterni nel Cielo" (Carlo Ridolfi, Le maraviglie dell'arte [Venice, 1648], ed. Detlev Freiherrn von Hadeln [Berlin, 1914-24], 2: 43). See Charles de Tolnay, "Tintoretto's Salotto Dorato Cycle in the Doge's Palace," in Scritti di storia dell'arte in onore di Mario Salmi (Rome, 1961-63), 3: 117-31. Part of the same scene, featuring Ariadne and Bacchus, is also portrayed in Cremonini's Il nascimento di Venetia ; see n. 10 above.

[30] In a sonnet the Dalmatian poet had characterized his adopted home as "sole heir of Roman glory."


sures" (Appendix II.6d-e). In chapter 4 he compares Venetian theaters to those of Rome, finding many similarities—and incidentally providing important information about the structure of theaters and practice of theatergoing in his own day.

Present-day theaters can hold a small number of people compared with ancient ones; moreover, instead of stands several ranks of boxes are constructed, most of' them for the convenience of the nobility, for the ladies like to stay unmasked there and to feel at liberty. In the middle are benches, rented from night to night with no distinction as to rank, since the use of masks obviates the need for respect that was shown to the Roman senators and matrons, who made a grand appearance; for in this respect too, Venice, born free, wishes to preserve freedom for all. (Appendix II.6h)

Venetian spectacle, Ivanovich admits, cannot match in splendor that of ancient Rome, for the latter, instead of using artifice to portray violence, enacted it literally at whatever human sacrifice (Appendix II.6i). But, whereas the Roman theater, habituating the people to slaughter and horrors, was intended to serve an admonitory function, Venetian theater has a different purpose: "Today, however, musical theater has been introduced, for the lifting of the spirits and as a virtuous diversion, since one can observe the appearance of amusing machines suggested by the drama, which give great delight, along with the spectacle of sets and costumes that satisfy everyone's curiosity to the utmost" (Appendix II.6j).

Although Ivanovich was writing much later, when Venice was clearly at the height of her operatic (though no longer political) power, the importance he ascribes to the Rome-Venice comparison and his emphasis on the political component of opera are, as we have seen, borne out by the earlier sources themselves, from which he clearly derived much of his material.[31] In fact, Ivanovich's patrons, the Grimani family, were quite used to having their theater compared favorably with those of ancient Rome. In the preface to his Scipione affricano , performed at the Grimani theater in 1665, Nicolò Minato had invoked the familiar paragone : "You will see that the most-famous Grimani theater is capable of rivaling the Marcellus and Pompey theaters, and any other of the most famous ones that glorious antiquity might bring to mind."[32] So, too, had Aurelio Aureli in the dedication of his Eliogabalo of 1668 to the brothers Gian Carlo and Vincenzo Grimani, "who no less than the Pompeys and the Trajans

[31] The similarity between Ivanovich's description of Roman theatrical practices and those from the preface to Bellerofonte , quoted above, p. 134, is one of many indications that Ivanovich read the librettos he catalogued.

[32] "Lo vedrai nel Famosissimo Teatro Grimano, che sà nell'età nostra emulare i Teatri Marcelli, i Pompeiani, e qualunque altri più illustri sapesse la pomposa antichità nella memoria svegliarti" (Scipione affricano , preface, dedication dated 9 February 1664 [1665]).


make themselves known in the world as true Maecenases of the muses by the construction of sumptuous theaters and through the patronage of musicians."[33]

The Reality of Venice

During the late 1640s and 1650s, pressed by the success of opera to search for new sources for their plots, librettists moved away from the Trojan-Roman orbit in an eastward direction, and a number of librettos of this period are set in foreign locales like Susa, Assyria, Media, Tauris. These librettos, however, were no less closely connected to Venetian politics than their predecessors. If less concerned with the legendary origins of Venice, they seem to bear an even more specific relationship to current events. References to and personifications of Venice continue to cultivate or expand upon her image as a stronghold of freedom and haven against the barbarians, but the barbarians are now pointedly Turkish, as if in response to Venice's growing preoccupation with the Ottoman threat to her maritime power.[34] During the 1650s and 1660s, when legendary Roman heroes began to be featured with increasing frequency in opera librettos, their exploits invited comparison with those of Venetian military heroes in the War of Candia (the Rome-Venice equation once again).[35]

Venice's preoccupation with Ottoman power reached its first crisis in 1645 with the outbreak of the war, which drained Venetian manpower and resources for nearly a quarter of a century (1645-69). Its onset inspired an outpouring of patriotic zeal among the Venetian nobility, who were called upon for financial support as well as personal participation.[36] In part because this same nobility was among its chief patrons and enthusiasts, opera could not help but be affected by the crisis. Along with the prohibition of all other public spectacles, opera theaters were closed for the 1646 season, and it was not until several years

[33] "che non meno de' Pompei, e de' Traiani coll'erettione di sontuosi Teatri, e con la protettione de' Virtuosi si fanno conoscer nel Mondo per veri Mecenati delle Muse" (Eliogabalo , dedication, 10 January 1667 [1668], p. 2).

[34] Two librettos of 1651 featured Alexander the Great, Alessandro vincitor di se stesso by Sbarra and Gli amori d'Alessandro magno e di Rossane by Cicognini, while two operas of 1654 featured Persian subjects, Ciro by Sorrentino and Xerse by Minato. On the significance of these themes, see Wolfgang Osthoff, "Antonio Cestis 'Alessandro vincitor di se stesso,' " Studien zur Musikwissenschaft 24 (1960): 13-43.

[35] See Bianconi, Seventeenth Century , 189. The implicit comparison is made explicit by Marco Rosetti in canto 34 of his long poem of 1684-93 commemorating the War of Candia, La sacra lega divisa in quaranta libri overo canti consacrata al Ser. Prencipe et Ecc. Senato della gloriosissima repubblica (Padua: Seminario, 1696). He praises the Venetian hero Francesco Morosini: "In paragone dell'opere sue sono un nulla quelle degli Scipioni e di Pompeo. . . . Questi pugnarono contro un solo re, e tu con poche forze e molto ingegno di man togliesti a tutta l'Asia un regno" (Antonio Medin, La storia della repubblica di Venezia nella poesia [Milan, 1904], 366).

[36] For the patriotic enthusiasm inspired by the War of Candia, and especially its literary expression, see Medin, La storia . . . nella poesia , 315-79. The events surrounding this costly and protracted war are chronicled in S. Romanin, Storia documentata di Venezia (Venice, 1853-61), 7: 343-526; for a modern review, see Roberto Cessi, Storia della repubblica di Venezia (Milan and Messina, 1968), 2: 193-204.


later, when the immediate crisis had passed, that Venice's operatic life returned to full strength—except, as we have seen, for the Teatro Novissimo, which never reopened.[37]

Other critical moments in the War of Candia occurred in 1651, with the Venetian victory at Paros, and again in 1656, with the successful battle of the Dardanelles. Although the outcome for the Venetians was positive—at least in the short run—these military efforts proved costly, drawing heavily upon resources and morale. They also appear to have affected operatic life: several theaters were closed for the 1651 season, and a few remained inoperative for several subsequent years as well.[38] Librettists were among those involved in the events of 1651. A volume commemorating the victory at Paros published in that year contained poetry by Busenello, Aureli, Minato, and Giacomo dall'Angelo, among others.[39]

During this period, references to Venice are usually both more explicit and extrinsic to the actual plots of librettos: they appear either in prefaces or else in prologues (or epilogues), those framing elements marginal to the drama that were traditionally reserved for occasional references to patrons or for other kinds of special communications from poet to audience. Because of their occasional nature, such prologues were rarely repeated when their accompanying operas were performed outside Venice.[40] But for Venetian purposes, practically every libretto prologue of the late 1640s and early 1650s refers to war, to the Turk, and to Venice as the bastion of peace, the most peace-loving nation on earth. In the prologue of Ersilla (1648) by Giovanni Faustini, for example, Venere (Ciprigna), goddess of Cyprus,[41] praises the "heroic guests" (presum-

[37] SS. Giovanni e Paolo may have opened during the spring of 1647 for a performance of Deidamia (see ch. 3, n. 101, above). S. Cassiano and S. Moisè seem to have opened for the 1647-48 season; they were joined by SS. Giovanni e Paolo and SS. Apostoli in 1649-50. The operas listed by Ivanovich for the intervening years—all of them with librettos by Busenello, namely La prosperità infelice di Giulio Cesare and L'incoronazione di Poppea in 1646 and Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne in 1647—were not performed then. In his efforts to cover all seasons, Ivanovich may have extrapolated performances from a misreading of the date on Busenello's publication of his collected librettos, Le hore ociose of 1656.

[38] S. Cassiano was closed from 1651 to 1657; S. Moisè closed from 1650 to 1653; SS. Apostoli closed in 1653.

[39] Le glorie dell'armi venete celebrate nell'accademia de' Signori Imperfetti per la vittoria ottenuta contro l'armi ottomane (Venice: Pinelli, 1651). Busenello was the protettore of the academy, Aureli the secretary, and Minato one of the consiglieri (see Rosand, "L'Ovidio trasformato," LIII n. 77).

[40] They would have been changed for subsequent performances in Venice too. On the impact of new prologues affixed to Venetian operas exported to Naples during the 1660s and 1670s, see Bianconi, "Scena, musica e pubblico," 21-22; also id., Seventeenth Century , 190, and id., "Funktionen des Operntheaters in Neapel bis 1700 und die Rolle Alessandro Scarlattis," in Colloquium Alessandro Scarlatti: Würz-burg 1975 , ed. Wolfgang Osthoff and J. Ruile-Dronke (Tutzing, 1979), 112-13. The new prologues served to transform Venetian belligerence toward the Turk into Neapolitan allegiance to the sovereign.

[41] Since Cyprus was a Venetian possession, seaborne Venus was an especially appropriate mythological symbol of Venetian empire. For Venezia/Venere, see David Rosand, " 'Venetia Figurata,' " 188-90.


ably the Venetians anchored near Candia) for taking a stand as sole defenders of the world against the Turkish barbarians:

Heroic guests, who sit on my Cythera laden down with steel, warriors witnessing the errors of Ersilla, may Glory crown your locks with laurels, and with a golden trumpet sing your fame in resonant sound. You alone restrain the unleashed fury of the barbarian world. . . . I will terrify the tyrant on the throne of Byzantium with great-hearted pride, invincible and holy, from a floating and shining city. At the Lion's roars, the grave of Leander conquered by Xerxes [i.e., the waters of the Hellespont] turned back, frightened, toward the Black Sea. It feared, it trembled, that the magnanimous beast might drink Ottoman treachery at the spring of the Tartarean lair.[42]

And the prologue of Fusconi's Argiope (1649), written later than the rest of the libretto (which dates from 1645), represents an allegorical conflict between Guerra and Pace that concludes with Pace hailing Venice as her ideal resting place:

On my flying chariot, I made my Halcyons swiftly direct their steps here, only to rest until the Kingdom of the Waters was born. Clear city, chosen by the wisdom of Jove as a second heaven, and built for noble souls! O Fates, ignore your custom and spin fast the years, so that others need not have to suffer, waiting, and with a propitious star let fair Venice be born in the bosom of Neptune, she who with wisdom and valor will be the Lady of the Sea, the glory of the world.[43]

Several prologues by Giacomo Castoreo written during the 1650s find ways of praising Venice's peacekeeping efforts through the mouths of a variety of

[42] "Hospiti Heroi, che sù la mia Citera / Carchi d'acciar sedete / De gl'errori d'Ersilla / Guerrieri spettatori, / V'incoroni la gloria il crin d'allori, / E con la tromba d'oro / Di voi canti la lama in suon sonoro: / D'un barbarico mondo / Voi soli raffrenate / Le furie scatenate / . . . . Sbigottirò nel soglio / Di Bizantio il Tiranno, /Con glorioso orgoglio / De petti invitti, e santi, / La Città natatrici, e folgoranti. / Del Leone a ruggiti / Il domato da Zerse / Sepolcro di Leandro / Pavido al negro mare il piè, converse; / Temè, tremò, ch'andasse / La magnanima fera / A' bever ne le fonti / De la Tartara Tana / La perfidia Ottomana" (Ersilla , prologue). The apostrophe to the "Venetian heroes" is fairly common. The prologue to Faustini's Doriclea (1645) concludes with it too, delivered by Gloria: "Di voi Veneti Heroi, / Le cui virtù sublimi / Volan dal freddo Borea à caldi Eoi, / Di voi nido e il tempio, in lui vivrete, / Ad onta di Saturnio, immortalati, / A secoli venturi, ò fortunati." It is worth remembering that 1645 was the time when political tensions with the Turk were such that the theaters were about to close for several years.

[43] "Su'l mio carro volante / Qui fei velocemente / A gli Alcioni miei drizzar le piante. / Solo per riposarmi infino a tanto, / Che nel Regno de l'Acque habbia il natale. / Chiara Città dal sen di Glove eletta, / Per Ciel secondo, e a nobil alme eretta, / Fuori del fatal'uso / De i volumi de gli anni, / Rapide o Parche homai rotate il fuso, / Perch'altri in aspettar più non s'affanni, / E con propitia stella / Nasca a Nettuno in sen Venetia bella / Che con saver, e con valor profondo / Sarà Donna del Mar, gloria del Mondo" (Argiope , prologue). Like Amore innamorato in 1642, Argiope is an arrangement by Fusconi of subject matter by another author (see ch. 6, n. 26, below, and Bianconi and Walker, "Dalla 'Finta pazza,' " 417 n. 156). The postponement of the production of Argiope —from 1645, when it was written, to 1649—may well have been owing to the politically inspired closing of the theaters, which would also account for the heavy emphasis in the later prologue on Venice's role as keeper of the peace.


divinities.[44] In that to Eurimene (1643), an allegory of war between Venere in a flying chariot and Matte on the ground, Venere tells Matte of Giove's decision that the Turk should be made to suffer defeat at the hands of the Venetians and urges him to stop the fighting.[45] Apollo sings a hymn of praise to Venice, haven of peace, in the prologue to Arsinoe (1655-56).[46] And the prologue to Oronte (1656) concludes with the goddess Iride exhorting members of the audience, in their capacity as defenders against the Orient, to attend to the drama.[47]

Toward the end of the 1650s, these references become even more pointed; they mention not only Venice's general attributes as bastion of peace and defender against the Turk, but specific geographical locations related to the battle for Crete and particular events. The prologue of Tolomeo , an anonymous text for a play with musical intermedi (1658-59), features a large number of deities associated with war: Vittoria, Vulcano, Venere, Pallade, and Matte. After a succession of specific references to Mongibello and Crete, Vittoria ends the prologue with her promise to serve the Venetian forces.[48]

The prologue of a libretto of the same year (1659), Elena , performed at S. Cassiano, concludes with a dialogue between Verità and Pace, which alludes to the extraordinary length of the war that has occupied Venice. (Byron referred to the War of Candia as the Iliad of Venice.)


Let the glorious Adriatic heroes hear. The time will come when the afflicted and weary Thracian, repentant in the end for his foolish pride, will beg for peace from the Great Lion.


By now, in spite of Discord, my peaceful hand is dispensing olives in Adria. Indeed, it seems to me that the great Lion has arrived with his roars to frighten the moon [i.e., the crescent moon of the Turkish flag].[49]

[44] Many of the texts Castoreo wrote during the 1650s were for the Teatro ai Saloni, a private theater founded by 1650 "senza alcun giro di Palchi, ma con alcuni pochi in faccia alla Scena" (Ivanovich, Minerva , 400). At the Saloni, performances were normally spoken, with only the prologue and intermedi set to music. Several theaters, including the Saloni, S. Salvatore, and SS. Giovanni e Paolo, seem to have specialized in politically allusive prologues.

[45] "Segua ciò che destina / Il Tonante superno, / Che dell'eccelsa Monarchia d'Oriente, / Cada l'ingiusto Orgoglio / Del Hadria invitta à far scabello al soglio. /Non più guerra" (Eurimene , prologue).

[46] "O dell'Adria ch'accoglie / Di sue glorie motrice, in sen la Pace, / Illustri Lidi, e fortunate Arene. / Dalle dorate Soglie / Dell'Oriente guerriero à voi sen viene / Il Monarca del lume, / Alle vostre vittorie, Amico Nume: / Frenate Alme sublimi / Que' bellici rigori, ond'atterite / Nella Barbara Reggia, il fiero Trace, / E pacifici udite / D'un Arsinoe vagante i strani casi: / Ne prohibite al core, / Che frà sdegni di Marte, in reggia Scena, / Possa tall'hor, udir l'ire d'Amore" (Arsinoe , prologue).

[47] "Veneti Eroi, che 'l frenator d'Oriente / Entro il Bosforo suo tenete à freno: / Arridi à vostre glorie il mio sereno, / Iride vi Coroni il Crin vincente.
"Quando però co i Veli, onde circonda / Il Tiranno Pangèo, l'empia Cervice / Prima v'asciugherà la Dea vittrice / Quel bel sudor, che i vostri Lauri innonda.
"Ma i Lumi avvezzi a vagheggiar sul Mare/ Fra i Cipressi di Traccia i proprii Allori, / Non sdegnino mirar fra dolci amori / Le Fortune d'Oronte ancor ch'amare" (Oronte , prologue).

[48] "A la Veneta Armata, à l'onde Egee, / In Asia, in Creta, al venerabil stuolo / Ratta mi porta obbediente volo" (Tolomeo , prologue).

[49] VERITÀ : "Odan de l'Adria i gloriosi Eroi. / Tempo verrà ch'afflitto e stanco il Trace / Pentito al fin de folli orgogli suoi / Implorerà dal Gran Leon laPace." PACE : "In onta di Discordia omai gli ulivi / Mia Pacifica mano à l'Adria aduna. / Già, già mi par, ch'il gran Leon arrivi / Co' suoi Ruggiti à spaventar la Luna" (Elena , prologue). Elena was left unfinished by Faustini at his death and completed by Nicolò Minato for performance in 1659. See ch. 6, n. 184, below.


Sometimes these allusions are embedded in cleverly operatic contexts. The prologue of dall'Angelo's Cleopatra (1662), performed at the Teatro S. Salvatore, mixes specific political references with self-conscious comments about opera.[50] Except for Glove, all the characters are personifications of operatic elements: Poesia, Inventione, Pittura, and Musica. Glove remarks on the fact that war seems to be a constant state of affairs (it has, after all, been raging for more than a decade):

What's this? Will the furor of haughty, tempestuous Mars always triumph? And will the happy torch of peace never shine in the bosom of fair Adria? But what peace? What peace? To arms, rage on, Venetian heroes, against the wicked Ottoman. See, I unfold my wings to join you, and bring my indignation to check this audacity. Crete is mine, let that be enough. I have come down only to lend you my thunderbolts, and just as I struck the wicked giants with them, so do I mean to reduce the Thracians to ashes.[51]

Poesia attempts to dissuade Glove from his warlike designs:

Supreme mover, check your fury. Do not, no, do not disturb the serenity of the tranquil Venetian breast. Pray, no, do not, even for a few moments, infuse those proud hearts with bellicose spirits. . . . Behold the Venetian heroes collected in the fair circle of this new theater, who await from our music [plettro sonoro ] sweet solace for their heavy thoughts.[52]

Poesia apparently convinces Glove to desist, at least temporarily, and to awaken Fortune in support of Cleopatra , opera and heroine.

A similar mixture characterizes another prologue from this same general period, that to Aureli's Antigona (1660). Set in the Kingdom of Music, it features

[50] The theater had only opened in 1661. But the volume published by the Accademia degli Imperfetti in 1651 (see p. 144 and n. 39 above) was certainly connected to the group that was later active at S. Salvatore. Except for Busenello, all of the librettists represented in the book, including dall'Angelo, wrote texts for S. Salvatore.

[51] "E che? sempre di Marte / Orgoglioso / Procelloso / Il furor trionferà? / Ne di pace / Lieta face / D'Adria bella nel sen risplenderà? / Ma che pace? che pace? à l'armi, / À l'ire / Contro l'empio Ottoman Veneti Eroi / Ecco dispiego il volo, / Anch'io trà voi / Porto miei sdegni à rintuzzar l'ardire. / (s'avanza con un volo dell'Aquila verso l'audienza ) Creta è mia, Tanto basti, A vol discendo / Sol per prestarvi i folgori Tonanti / E se già fulminai gl'empi Giganti / D'incenerir il Trace anco pretendo" (Cleopatra , prologue).

[52] "Supremo motore / Raffrena il furore. / Del Veneto seno / Tranquillo il sereno / Non no non turbar. / Que' gl'animi alteri / Con spirti guerrieri / Per brevi momenti, / Deh no, non destar. / . . . Mira i Veneti Eroi / Raccolti in vago giro / Di Teatro novello; / Ch'attendono da noi / Con plettro sonoro, / A lot gravi pensier dolce ristoro" (Cleopatra , prologue). S. Salvatore may have been known as a "Teatro Novello" because it had recently been converted to opera. This may be analogous to "Teatro Nuovo," for which, see ch. 3, n. 100 above. The libretto of the inaugural opera of S. Salvatore, Giuseppe Artale's Pasife , also contains elaborate Venice imagery, in both prologue and epilogue.


Pace, Poesia, Musica, Furore Tacito, and Allegrezza. Pace explains her presence in this realm. The war having abated, she can turn to other duties and is bringing singers to the Kingdom of Music:

Now that fury, drunk with human blood lies buried in the lap of sweet oblivion, I bring to your soil singing goddesses. With the audacious one chained at my feet, I passed triumphant under the Gallic sky from the Spanish kingdom, and here have folded my wings. And while I distribute olive branches, prepare immortal garlands for my tresses.[53]

In the 1670 revival the prologue had a different text, reflecting the changed political situation. The War of Candia had ended with the signing of a treaty in 1669; hence the final lines of the text were altered to read as follows:

Janus has closed the doors, and the lethal rage of Mars rests weary in his breast. Now that Adria enjoys my longed-for olives, prepare immortal garlands for my hair.[54]

Then Musica, Poesia, and Apollo sing the praises of Pace, who responds to them.


This lyre, which sweetly lends its harmonious sound to the song, will expound your glories on golden strings; Pindus will bring forth laurels for your hair.


Bind, then, the violent angry right hand of the god of arms, and I shall compose eternal hymns in your praise, and add new ornaments to your virtues.


I shall sing with harmonious breaths as many hymns as Poesia weaves to your fair name; and I shall spread your glories through the air.


With the major tumults of Italy calmed, and the Hispanic laurels grafted onto the fleur-de-lis through the royal wedding, you will see me cast lightning flashes of peace on the Venetian sands, to make fruitful that green and fertile soil.[55]

[53] "Hor, che di sangue humano ebro il furore / In grembo à dolce oblio sepolto giace / Porto sul vostro suol Dive canore. / Incatenato à piedi miei l'audace. / Sotto il Gallico Ciel dal Regno Hispano / passai fastosa, hot qui raccolte hò l'ali, / E mentre porto a vol gl'Ulivi in mano, / Preparatemi al crin fregi immortali" (Antigona , prologue). The appearance of allegorical personifications of operatic elements was quite common during this period. A number of aesthetic points made by them, regarding such issues as their mutual relationship, are helpful in opera criticism. This statement, that peace brings singers, suggests that the war may have had something to do with the problems of the season, to which Aureli abundantly referred in his preface; see ch. 7 below.

[54] "Chiuse hà Giano le porte, e al tier Gradivo / Stanche posano in sen l'ire letali. / Hor ch'Adria gode il mio bramato ulivo / Preparatemi al crin fregi immortali."

[55] APOLLO : "Questa Cetra, che soave / Rende al canto il suon concorde, / Le tue glorie in auree corde / Spiegherà / Pindo lauri al tuo crin germoglierà." POESIA : "Lega pur la furibonda / Destra irata al Dio dell'armi / Che in tua lode eterni carmi/ Formerò / Novi fregi à tuoi merti aggiungerò." MUSICA : "Quanti carmi al tuo bel nome / Tesserà la Poesia, / Io con fiati d'armonia / Canterò / Le tue glorie per l'Etra spargerò." PACE : "Dell'Italia placati / I tumulti maggiori, / E tai Gigli innestati / Col Reale Himeneo gli Hispani allori, / Sù le Venete arene / A fecondar quel verde suol ferace / Mivedrete vibrar lampi di pace" (Antigona , preface). This is a reference to the marriage of Infanta Maria Theresa of Spain and the French king, Louis XIV, which, although it did not take place until June 1660, was planned as early as 1658 as part of the negotiations between the two nations that culminated in the Peace of the Pyrenees of late 1659. Venice hoped that once peace was concluded, France (and even Spain) might make some contribution to the Venetian campaign against the Turk. Apparently Mazarin had promised additional troops in 1659, and some French troops, under Almerigo d'Este, did fight in Candia in 1660. See Romanin, Storia documentata , 7: 443-44, and Cessi, Storia delia repubblica di Venezia , 2: 202. For a more detailed chronicle of these events, see Romanin, Storia documentata , 7: 343-526. It was for the celebration of this same marriage in Paris that Cavalli was commissioned to compose Ercole amante (1662).


Several years earlier, Ivanovich made his debut as a librettist with Amor guerriero , performed at SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1663. The prologue, although filled with allusion, is not concerned with the details of war but, like so many earlier ones, rehearses the typical Venetian litany, as if a general reminder of Venetian superiority were needed in the face of hard times. Ivanovich's prologue is also somewhat old-fashioned in that, like some earlier ones, it takes place in a Venetian—or pre-Venetian—setting: "The scene represents a sea beach near the Adriatic lagoons, with an island in the middle, at the edge of which is seen a shell driven by two sea horses."[56] Questioned by a very skeptical Aurora, Amore foretells the story of the founding of Venice on the lagoon (an old topic, not aired in opera since the 1640s, but given a new, theatrical twist here). Ivanovich, the enthusiastic immigrant, makes use of the standard iconography.


But tell me, why today did you exchange the shores of Amanthus for such deserted sands?


In this marshy seaweed you will see a city that with regal foot will tame the haughty sea and extend her dominion to where you rise; and these Adriatic shores you now perceive as so forlorn will be the nest of mercy, the seat of Astraea, who will balance kingdoms on her scales; and for her wise genius [this city] will be always feared in war, and peace.


Amore, what are you saying?


The miracle will be worthy of eternal wonder.


Who told you this?


So Proteus foretold one day, singing on the sandy shores.


I am amazed: and I foresee the Aeolian kingdoms as tributaries of the heroes to come. Let Fate, fortunate and happy indeed, write this day the victories of Adria.[57]

[56] "La scena rappresenta spiaggia di Mare intorno alle lagune Adriatiche con un'isoletta in mezzo, à piè della quale si vedrà una Conca guidata da due Cavalli marini" (Amor guerriero , prologue).

[57] AURORA : "Mà dimmi, da che viene, / Che d'Amatunta i lidi / Hoggi cangiasti in sì deserte arene?" AMOR : "In quest'Alghe palustri / Vedrai Città che con regal suo piede / Premendo il mar altero, / Sin 1à dove tu sorgi / Dilaterà l'impero, / E quest'Adriache piaggie / Ch'hor solitarie scorgi / Havrà pietà per Nido, Astrea per sede / Ch'adeguerà su la bilancia i Regni; / E per genio sagace / Sarà sempre temuta in guerra, e in Pace." AURORA : "Che parli Amor?" AMOR : "Di meraviglie eterne / Sarà degno il portento." AURORA : "A te chi '1 disse?" AMOR : "Così Protheo cantando / Sù l'arenose sponde, un dì predisse." AURORA : "Stupita io resto: & à venturi Eroi / Presagisco in tributo i Regni Eoi. / . . . Scriva il Fato / Fortunato, e lieto sì / Dell'Adria le Vittorie in questo dì" (Amor guerriero , prologue).


Generation after generation, Venetians never seem to have tired of hearing the mythology of their origins repeated on stage.

Despite all the allegorical representations in prologues and the selection of relevant historical or pseudo-historical themes for plot material, the connection between opera and politics may still strike us as somewhat oblique. Exotic and historically remote plots, after all, responded most immediately to a standard need for variety and spectacle in the theater; and prologues and epilogues stand by definition outside the drama proper.[58] Parallels between current events and staged action, between the exploits of actual and of operatic heroes, are not always so clear or precise.[59] Generally, Venetian opera conveyed its political message by suggestion, by implicating the knowing audience in its world of allusion as well as illusion. Its political message, the shared celebration of Venice, was imparted with the willing collusion of the spectators.

In several publications of the 1660s and later, however, the message was asserted more openly. Perhaps the most unequivocal statement of the political significance of opera occurs in the preface to a libretto by Francesco Sbarra, L'amor della patria superiore ad ogn'altro (1668), a bluntly didactic title reminiscent of Viennese oratorios of this period, but highly unusual for a Venetian opera.[60] The preface, signed by the Venetian printer Nicolò Pezzana and offered in praise of the author, describes Sbarra's librettistic activities and the plot of this drama in unabashedly patriotic terms. The work's aim is to instruct the audience (readers?) in the proper service of their country:

In order to recognize the extraordinary talent and most fertile intellect of Sig. Francesco Sbarra, it is enough to glance at his works, among which the subject that he examines with the most heartfelt intensity is the greater good of the Most Serene Republic. As a most loyal subject, he has chosen the work called L'amor della patria . . . because he knows how to adapt himself to contemporary public concerns, con-

[58] They were considered interchangeable, as revealed by the many instances in which the same prologue was used in several different operas. A particularly intriguing example is the one from Ciro (1654), used again for a number of operas, including Giasone and Erismena (Bologna, 1661 and 1668, Forlì, 1673; it probably also introduced the original Venetian production in 1655, since it is described in the scenario). For more on some of these interchangeable prologues, see Owen Jander, "The Prologues and Intermezzos of Alessandro Stradella," Analecta musicologica 7 (1969): 87-111.

[59] A well-known, though non-Venetian, exception, preserved by accident, is the Lanterna di Diogene from Vienna; see Bianconi and Walker, "Production," 261-62. But cf. Penelope la casta (Venice, 1685), whose dramatis personae include, besides the main protagonists, a number of abstract figures such as "necessità del governo" and "politica di Stato." And the moral purpose of the plot is articulated in a prologue featuring "il possibile," "l'impossibile," "il Dubbio," and "la Temerità amorosa." The overt moral message here may be associated with the particular character and aims of the theater in which the opera was performed, S. Giovanni Grisostomo; see Worsthorne, Venetian Opera , 44 and ch. 13, below.

[60] The work was first performed in Munich in 1665, in a setting by J. K. Kerll (see Renate Brockpähler, Handbuch zur Geschichte der Barockoper in Deutschland [Emsdetten, 1964], 277). Listed by neither Ivanovich nor Bonlini, it was probably never performed in Venice, since it mentions neither a theater nor composer (by now these were significant omissions). We first met Sbarra as the author of a poem in honor of Benedetto Ferrari in the latter's La rnaga fulminata of 1638.


cerns already so treacherously upset by the Ottoman ferocity. He has deemed it appropriate that I (as I had already done for the Erudite tirannide dell'interesse of the same author) should, by means of my press, publish this one also, expanded by Signor Sbarra himself, so that, just as the most fervent zeal is passionately applied to public relief, so to the same degree everyone might understand, if they respond properly, what his own responsibilities are, and the obligation of each person to contribute with his love and actions to the breath and prosperity of his beloved homeland.

Responding to that noble stimulus propounded by this work, of the most memorable example of a complete Republic, with deeds so glorious that they are worthy of being carved in adamant in the hearts of true lovers of the revered and beloved homeland, to preserve the most precious treasure, the priceless jewel of secure liberty. The sole purpose of expressing this most devoted homage is the burning desire that it become universally impressed, sustained, and with work confirmed in all hearts, that, indeed, THE LOVE OF ONE'S COUNTRY IS SUPERIOR TO ANY OTHER . (Appendix I.30)

This rousing salute to the Serenissima only makes explicit what had been implicit in its predecessors. For all its delights, opera still had a responsibility to instruct its audience; and, being Venetian, that audience was to be made to recognize its privileged status and its obligations to the prosperous and beloved Republic.

Topical allusions and references to Venice, including such overt calls to patriotism, tended to occur within prologues during the 1660s. In the following decade, however, this was no longer the case. By 1670 the prologue had been virtually abandoned, and with it the Venetian topicality it had once contained.[61] Confirmation of this trend is provided by Camillo Contarini in his preface to Arbace (1667), where he criticizes the elimination of the prologue by other librettists: "They do not know how to resolve their plots except through the marriage of the characters they present, and they give birth to monstrous creatures without a head (which is the prologue, a principal part of dramas) like those Indian monsters, abridgements of nature."[62] The abandonment of the prologue signaled opera's transcendence of its earlier Venetian parochialism; it was one sure sign of the Europeanization of the genre by 1670, which was manifested, as we shall see, in other ways as well.

In his chronicle Ivanovich gave ample weight to the political function of opera. In his view, both the Bacchanalia of ancient Rome and the "trattenimenti carnovaleschi di Venezia" (i.e., opera)

[61] Occasionally, as in Aurli's Artaxerse (1669), prologue material was incorporated as the first scene of the opera.

[62] "Non sanno terminare i loro discioglimenti, che con le nozze de' personaggi da loro rappresentati, e partoriscono mostruosi Aborti senza capo (ch'è il Prologo, membro principale de' Drami) à guisa di quei Mostri Indiani, abbreviature di natura" (Arbace , preface).


are objects of extremely subtle politics, on which depend the success and abundance of the government, and through these amusements, used according to the standards of decency, the Prince gains the love of his people, who can never more easily forget their yoke than when sated or diverted by pleasures.

When the people have nothing to gnaw on, they gnaw on the reputation of the Prince, and when they have no entertainments, they can easily degenerate through idleness into schemes with very bad consequences. (Appendix II.6e)

Like the circuses of ancient Rome and the entertainments of modern courts, opera in Venice provided a diversion for the masses, a safety valve.[63] In this it was an extension of traditional Venetian social organization; like the scuole and the guilds, through which large segments of the disenfranchised plebeian population of Venice participated in the social and political as well as economic life of the city, the public spectacle of opera provided the disparate populace with a certain common bond. In the experience of the theater, the citizens of the Republic affirmed their allegiance to the idea of Venice.

On the more quotidian level of political fortune, opera could offer respite in times of crisis.[64] Aside from the official closing of the theaters during 1646, owing to the outbreak of the War of Candia, opera generally retained its seasonal rhythm in Venice.[65] For the duration of that lengthy conflict and during the other costly conflicts with the Ottomans that succeeded it, opera continued to offer an escape from thoughts of war. By its very existence, it represented Venice at her best. In the face of external threat, it maintained the peaceful spectacle of the Serenissima. In the face of the waning international fortunes of the Republic, opera affirmed the vitality of Venice, an ironic contrast that had been noted earlier by Francesco Pannocchieschi (nephew and coadjutor of the papal nuncio) in a "relazione sulle cose della Repubblica" (1647-52):

What astonished me was to see how people were living at that time in Venice; how that city, always full of riches and luxuries, kept itself absorbed in continual festivities, both public and private, which not only seemed inappropriate for a country

[63] For an exhaustive consideration of the issue in Roman antiquity, see Paul Vayne, Le Pain et le cirque: Sociologie historique d'un pluralisme politique (Paris, 1976).

[64] An anonymous libretto published in Venice in 1664, Achille in Sciro (on the very same subject as La finta pazza ), confirms the notion of opera as an art of peace. The dedication to Filippo Giuliano Mazarini Mancini, duke of Nevers, signed by the printer Stefano Curti, reads, in part, as follows: "Or mentre che V. E. fà qualche pausa per la Pace, che regna in Francia dagl'Impieghi di Guerra, non dovrà disdegnare, che io venga ad offerirle un pacifico trattenimento di canto, e di poesia, quando anche il grande Achille soleva mitigare col canto, e col suono gli ardori del suo spirito Guerriero nella ritiratezza di Sciro." The original libretto of this opera was first performed in Ferrara (1663). It names Giovanni Legrenzi as composer. Bonlini ascribes the poetry to the Marchese Ippolito Bentivoglio.

[65] With the possible exception of 1651 and some years during the 1680s. In 1684 the Council of Ten prohibited all sorts of performances in Advent for the duration of the new war with the Turks. In 1699 it closed theaters "in every future year" for the novena of Christmas. See Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 31.


that was at war at the time, but that would have seemed excessive even in another country that was calmer and more peaceful.[66]

All of the manifestations of venezianità —the evocations of the Serenissima, the actual appearance of images of Venice on the stage, the personifications of her virtues, the references to her grandeur and history in prologues and epilogues, and even the quick local allusions in the dialogue—rendered opera a very Venetian art indeed. Like the public arts of the previous century—painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and theater—opera, too, sang the litany of the myth of Venice. And like them, it in turn contributed to that myth. However crude Ivanovich's account may be, however filled with hyperbole, it is nonetheless clear that opera in Venice existed, in a fundamental way, in the service of the state. Indeed, the establishment and development of opera on the lagoon provide yet another chapter in the myth of Venice, one more manifestation of Venetian liberty and superiority—not to mention Venetian hospitality.

[66] "Quello che più mi faceva restare attonito era il vedere come si vivesse in quel tempo in Venetia; come piena sempre di richezze e di lussi se ne stesse quella Città involta per lo più in continue feste sì pubbliche come private, che non solamente pareva disconvenissero ad un paese che haveva all'hora la guerra, ma che ad ogn'altro più quieto etiandio e più pacifico sembrato superflue" (quoted in Mangini, I teatri di Venezia , 29-30).


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

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