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

6—La nausea di chi ascolta : The Consequences of Success

Faustini's Heirs

Faustini's premature death in 1651, just at the threshold of an important new phase in the development of Venetian opera, left a vacuum, not least for Cavalli, who had relied almost exclusively on him to supply operatic texts during the previous ten years. Fortunately, however, Faustini did not die intestate. He left heirs, both literal and figurative, in whose hands his estate prospered. His brother Marco, a lawyer, assumed Giovanni's role as impresario at S. Apollinare and became one of the most important operatic powers of the next two decades; and two new poets, Minato and Aureli, together took over his artistic role as the dominant librettists in Venice, a position they shared until Minato's departure for Vienna in 1669. Even more important than his position, however, they inherited his poetic style, which through them was to become the lingua franca of the seicento libretto.

Significantly, the careers of these two librettists and Marco Faustini were linked. Aureli's first libretto was written under contract with Marco for a performance at S. Apollinare in 1652, and all but one of his next eleven texts

[45] The meaning of "the company of the virtuoso Bonifatio" ("la compagnia del virtuoso Bonifatio") is ambiguous. It may refer to a theatrical company or perhaps to a single performer.

[46] The idea of premature death from overwork evidently exercised a certain fascination; it was also cited in the case of Boretti (see Appendix IIIB.11c).


(through 1668) were commissioned by Marco as well. Minato, a close friend of Aureli's, with whom he subsequently shared the duties of impresario at S. Salvatore, also wrote for Marco Faustini, though only sporadically, in 1658 and 1659 at S. Cassiano, and in 1664 at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

The first two librettos of Aureli, Erginda (1652), a failure, and Erismena (1655), an enormous success, reveal the influence of Giovanni Faustini most clearly. Both were based on invented plots in the Faustini mold, the latter even being modeled on a Faustini original.[47] This is particularly understandable since they were both written for Faustini's old collaborator, Cavalli. With his third libretto, Le fortune di Rodope e Damira (1657), however, Aureli began to develop a style of his own, finding explicit inspiration in history and mythology, and adding extra characters to the Faustini formula that helped to mask its symmetries. Although he cited several sources for the story and characters of Ro-dope , including Polidorus, Virgil, Herodotus, Strabo, "& altri Autori," Aureli firmly rejected them, indicating that the relationships between his characters would follow an independent course. History provided the antefatti ; the poet himself devised their working out.

Aureli's subsequent librettos were all similarly structured: a historical or mythological core and ambience—provided by the Greek dramatists, Virgil, Ovid, Tacitus, even Ariosto—was elaborated and developed in accordance with operatic conventions inherited from comedy and pastoral by way of Faustini. This procedure, the embroidery of preexistent sources, seems to have been more congenial to Aureli than the freely invented Faustini model. Aureli's intellectual background was evidently quite different from that of Faustini. He was more of an academic librettist in the tradition of Busehello or Strozzi than a man of the theater like Faustini, and the rather ostentatious flaunting of history and mythology was part of his academic pose.

The separation—illustrated in the preface to Rodope , and in those of practically all of Aureli's subsequent librettos—between received history and invention found a more precise formulation, and possibly inspiration, in the librettos of Minato. In every one of his librettos beginning with the second, Xerse (1654), Minato separated historical elements ("quello che si hà dall'historia") from fictional ones ("quello che si tinge"). His reliance on Faustini, like Aureli's, was strongest at the outset of his career; his first libretto, Orimonte (1650), was a freely composed romance in the Faustini mold. Like Aureli's Erismena , it was written to be set by Cavalli, and the Faustini mold may even have been the cornposer's idea. Like Erginda , though perhaps for somewhat

[47] The evident failure of Erginda may be judged by its lack of subsequent performances. On the Erisrnena situation, see n. 13 above.


different reasons, Minato's Orimonte was a failure.[48] For his second opera, Xerse (1654), however, Minato adopted a different strategy, combining history with invention somewhat along the lines of Aureli's slightly later effort. Xerse was based on material taken from Herodotus that was embroidered upon by the librettist, a procedure that proved successful for the remainder of Minato's career, as well as for Aureli's. In the argomento to his next libretto, Artemisia (1656), Minato called his inventions "verisimili" and justified them in true academic fashion by paying tribute to Aristotle. After having outlined "quello che si ha dall'istoria," he initiated "quello che si tinge" as follows: "Now, following the precepts of the master of all, Aristotle, and wishing, as he teaches, to invent on the basis of history to compose this drama, I have undertaken to imagine that. . . ."[49] Not only did a preexisting classical source underlie his drama but the very technique of elaborating that source found classical justification as well.

Aureli indulged in a similar kind of scholarly apologetics in his preface to Medoro (1658). After acknowledging Ariosto as the source for his subject, he further invoked the poet—and not without reason—to justify his own invenzioni : "Angelica, after having healed Medoro's wounds, and having secretly made him her husband, goes back with him to Cathay, her kingdom in India; but what variety of adventures she experienced in love before raising him to the throne, Ariosto left it up to another pen to write; and this affords the material for the composition of this drama, in which, with the help of realistic adventures, it is imagined that. . . ."[50]

Whether it was the result of their similar education or a more general sign of the times, the adoption of similar formulas by both Aureli and Minato signaled a new stage in the development of the Venetian libretto; the texts of the next half-century were characterized by a mixture of history and invention. The balance between the two, however, so clearly marked in their early works, became increasingly weighted in favor of invention until, by the late 1670s and 1680s, although still evoked by the titles of librettos and the names of a few characters, "l'historia" had become a mere pretense, to be ignored as much as

[48] The libretto of Orimonte was admittedly weak, but there were apparently more practical reasons for its lack of success; see Morelli and Walker, "Tre controversie," 97-120.

[49] "Hora seguendo i documenti del Maestro del tutto Aristotile, volendo, come egli insegna, fingere sopra l'Istoria, per comporre il presente Dramma, si è preso assunto di figurare. . . ." In the preface to Artemisia , however, Minato gave greater emphasis to the "invented" component: "In quel drama [Xerse ] ti reccai qualche accidente tratto da famosissimo Autore, ch'in altro Idioma lo scrisse: In questo tutto ciò, ch'io t'apporto e di mia pura inventione."

[50] "Angelica dopo haver risanate le ferite a Me-doro, e fattolo privatamente suo sposo, se ne ritornò con esso al Cataio suo Regno nell'India; ma qual varietà d'accidenti passasse in Amore prima d'ergerlo al Trono, fu dall'Ariosto lasciato in libertà di scriverlo ad altra penna; il che dà materia alla tessitura di questo Dramma, mentre con supposti d'accidenti verisimili si finge. . . . "


possible. Aureli himself, in fact, became one of the chief abusers of history, as well as mythology, in his later works.[51]

The use of "historical" sources initially had little effect on the Faustini formula; indeed, the librettos of Aureli and Minato continued to exploit the same dramatic structure and theatrical situations that had been conventionalized by Faustini. Their plots still centered on two pairs of lovers (attended by the requisite servants), whose separation, misunderstandings, and eventual reconciliation provided the substance of the drama. But the historical sources supplied the basis for that essential commodity, variety, as well as providing a challenge to the skill of the librettists.

Faustini's texts were rather indistinguishable from one another insofar as his invented characters tended to be generalized and interchangeable types; their names carried no particular association or expectation. Characters drawn from historical sources, on the other hand, had clear, individual identities; they brought with them well-known names, personalities, and backgrounds. The combination of these characters with the recently established conventions of operatic plots offered new theatrical possibilities, new ways for librettists to demonstrate ingenuity. By the mid 1650s audiences had come to appreciate and expect such conventions—a mad scene, a lament, a comic romp between an old nurse and a young squire—and the further complication of historical personages in those stock situations undoubtedly added a new and special appeal.

The contribution of Aureli and Minato to the Venetian libretto extended beyond dramatic structure, however, to the poetry itself. They essentially followed the style of Faustini (and his predecessors) in casting large portions of their texts in free, recitative meter, interspersed with more structured passages of poetry intended for arias, but they gradually altered the proportions, increasing the number of arias in direct response to new demands on the part of the audience and singers.

Progress in the developing genre had created a broad range of new difficulties for the makers of operas during the late 1650s and 1660s. The problems Minato and Aureli confronted were consequently somewhat different from those faced by their prolific predecessor Faustini. In addition to the familiar demand for novelty, there were two main issues: the pressure of deadlines and the increasing dominance of singers. Whereas Faustini had not lived quite long enough to complain, like Bissari, about jaded audiences, they were one of Aureli's most frequent targets. Understandably so: if Venetian audiences were jaded by 1650, they must have been absolutely surfeited by the end of that decade. Continuing at the pace of approximately four per year, the number of

[51] Two excellent examples of Aureli's special brand of distortion are Orfeo (1673) and Olimpia vendicata (1681); see Ellen Rosand, "Orlando in Seicento Venice: The Road Not Taken," in Opera seria as a Social Phenomenon , ed. Michael Collins and Elise Kirk (Austin, 1984), 87-104.


old operas had swelled from something under the fifty counted by Bissari in 1650—he had exaggerated slightly—to close to ninety by 1660 (there were thirty-eight new ones introduced between 1650 and 1659). Aureli lamented this state of affairs in the preface to almost every one of his librettos, beginning with Le fatiche d'Ercole per Deianira in 1662: "Nowadays the people of the city of Venice have become so indifferent in their tastes for dramas that they no longer know what they want to see, nor does the intellect of the author know anymore what to invent in order to win the applause of the spectators, or to satisfy the majority (since to satisfy everyone is impossible)" (Appendix I.46b). He struck the same tone in Gli amori d'Apollo e di Leucotoe the following year: "I declare that the talents of our age are so capricious, and the people of Venice so difficult to satisfy, because by now they have been satiated by the performance of so many dramas, that I would not consider it a blunder to commit some blunders, as long as I were sure that these would amuse the listeners, and please those who spend [i. e., the patrons]" (Appendix I.47). And once again, in Perseo , two years later: "I know that the taste of the people of Venice has reached such a point that it no longer knows what it wants to see, nor do the writers know any longer what to invent to satisfy the bizarre caprice of this city" (Appendix I.48).

Similar complaints even found their way into operatic dialogue, as in the following passage from Gli avvenimenti d'Orinda (1659) by one of Aureli's contemporaries, Antonio Zaguri. The prologue includes a debate on aesthetics among Capriccio, Momo, Fortuna, and Inventlone; in response to the idea that Capriccio might possibly invent something new, Momo replies:

Ch'egli faccia novità,

That he should create a novelty,

Ch'io lo creda, ò questo no,

That I should believe it, oh, no, indeed.

Troppo il mondo ritrovò.

Everything has been too much repeated,

Nè inventar altro si sa.

Nor does one know how to invent anything else.

Et hot suole anco la Gente

Some have even reached the point

Chiamar vecchio il Sol nascente.

Of calling old the rising sun.

As librettists struggled to alleviate the audience's boredom through new twists of plot and dramatic devices, they had also to contend with the unprecedented attention now being lavished on the singers. This difficulty was perhaps easier to resolve, although not without compromising aesthetic ideals. They could simply supply additional arias, which allowed singers to display their sheer vocal powers more obviously than recitative dialogue. Faustini himself had not been immune to pressures from singers, as we know from the preface to his Egisto (Appendix I.31a). But Aureli was obsessed by his audience's demand for arias, which he mentions in a number of different prefaces.[52]

[52] See especially those of Le fatiche d'Ercole per Deianira and Claudio Cesare (see Appendix I.46 and 50).


If the steady demands of past theatrical seasons were responsible for a stultifying accumulation of old works that increasingly tested the possibilities for novelty, the unrelenting demands of present and future seasons created a problem of another kind, pressures on the resources of Venice itself for personnel. The compact, stable troupes of the early impresarios, Ferrari, Sacrati, and Cavalli, had become insufficient. The days were gone, too, when both librettist and composer lived in Venice and singers could be borrowed from San Marco. As more and more librettists, composers, and singers were required for the operatic industry, they had to be drawn from a widening geographical area. The readying of productions involving such disparate elements, which relied heavily on communication by post, became increasingly difficult, often resulting in last-minute compromises, cancellations, or replacements.

Geographical separation, difficulties with last-minute arrangements—the hiring of singers, the completion of the score—placed a severe strain on everyone concerned. Librettists, composers, and singers all operated under great constraints of time. Although Faustini had referred to his hurried creation of Rosinda and Oristeo , we know that he composed his other librettos at greater leisure, managing to complete a number of them well before they were needed. Aureli, however, seems almost always to have been working under pressure. In one instance he complained that lack of time had made him turn out an inferior work, "not a child but an abortion of the imagination,"[53] and he attributed the higher quality of a subsequent work (Le fatiche d'Ercole ) to the unusual absence of such a deadline:

If now and then I did not succeed in hitting the mark, know that I also did not always have the time that is required for such compositions. That this is true you will see from the consequences, since I hope that in these labors of mine dedicated to Ercole you will recognize the difference there is between writing in a hurry and composing with a tranquil mind, and at one's leisure. I confess that I have toiled harder in this than in my other dramas to answer to your liking. (Appendix I.46c)

Minato voiced similar complaints, explaining in one instance that he had worked so quickly and so close to the last minute that he had had no time to correct his libretto.[54]

The difficulties faced by this generation constituted the main challenge of Marco Faustini's career as an impresario. Although Aureli in particular is an articulate witness to the difficulties, they take on a special immediacy when viewed through the eyes of Faustini, whose job it was to overcome them.

[53] "non dirò un parto, ma un'abhorto d'ingegno" (Antigona , preface). Lack of time also necessitated a shortcut, forcing him to utilize preexistent material; see p. 186 below.

[54] "io involto in molt'altre occupationi ho fatica ad haver tempo di scrivere, non che di emendare" (Mutio Scevola , preface [1665]).


6—La nausea di chi ascolta : The Consequences of Success

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