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Florence, Mantua, and Venice

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1 Florence, Mantua, and Venice
CHAPTER 30 The Birth of Opera: Florence, Mantua, and Venice

2 Opera: the term, which literally means "work," was first employed in the Italian phrase opera drammatica in musica (a dramatic work, or play, set to music). In the West, opera first appeared in Florence, Italy, at the turn of the seventeenth century. The fundamental premise of opera is that sung music can heighten the emotional intensity of a dramatic text. Libretto: The text that conveys the story of the opera, written in poetic verse.

3 Early Opera in Florence
Florentine Camerata: A "club" or "circle" of prominent Florentines gathered to discuss literature, arts, and science in the home of Count Giovanni Bardi as early as the 1570s. The members of the Camerata sought to create a modern music that approximated the vocal declamation of ancient Greek tragedy. Vincenzo Galilei: musician, scientist, and member of the Florentine Camerata. He is important to history for several reasons: he was the father of the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei; he was one of the earliest advocate of equal temperament; he was one of the first to argue for a new style of solo singing in his important treatise Dialogo della musica antica, et della moderna (Dialogue on Ancient and Modern Music).

4 Funeste piagge Stile rappresentativo: a vocal expression somewhere between song and declaimed speech advocated by the members of the Camerata. The singer emphatically declaimed the text so that the pitches and rhythms of the voice matched exactly the rhythms, accents, and sentiments of the text. The bass moves more rapidly or slowly as the text requires.

5 Composer-singer Jacopo Peri portraying the mythological poet-singer Arion in Florence in 1589
Ottavio Rinuccini: Florentine court poet and author of the early opera libretti Dafne (1598) and Euridice (1600), the latter based on the story of Orpheus and Euridice. Jacopo Peri: Florentine composer and singer, he created the first true operas: the now mostly lost score to Rinuccini's Dafne (1598), a unified multi-scene drama entirely sung; and the first completely preserved score to Rinuccini's Euridice (1600). Giulio Caccini: Florentine composer, singer, and music teacher. Only months after the performance of Peri's Euridice, he rushed into print his own setting of Rinuccini's libretto, intent on making sure his own Euridice was seen to be as timely and novel as Peri's. In 1602 he published Le nuove musiche (The New Music), a collection of solo madrigals and strophic solo songs.

6 The Orpheus Legend is the mythological tale of the poet-singer Orpheus, the son Apollo, of the Greek god of the sun and of music. Orpheus (in Italian Orfeo) falls in love with the beautiful human Euridice, who dies shortly after their marriage as a result of a snake bite. Through the divine musical powers of his voice, Orpheus descends to the Underworld determined to restore Euridice to life. This he nearly accomplishes, overcoming the furies of Hades with the beauty of his expressive song. This mythological tale is important to the history of opera as numerous composers would set it to dramatic music over the next three centuries.

7 In the preface to Le nuove musiche, Caccini was first to describe early Baroque vocal ornaments, which he also wrote out directly in the score (see Anthology, No. 80). Esclamazioni: the inflections of longer notes by means of slight crescendos and diminuendos. Passaggio: the practice of filling in larger melodic intervals with running scales. Trillo: a repeating percussive effect placed on a single pitch. Gruppo: the counterpart of our modern neighbor-note trill.

8 Early opera in Mantua: Monteverdi's Orfeo.
Apparently inspired by Peri's Euridice, Claudio Monteverdi—in the early 1600s director of music at the northern court of Mantua—took up the legend of Orpheus and Euridice in his opera titled Orfeo (1607), based on a new libretto by Alessandro Striggio. Compared to earlier settings of the Orpheus legend, Monteverdi's is a richer, more opulent score. As well as a larger number and variety of instruments, Orfeo features diverse kinds of music: choral songs, choral dances, instrumental interludes, and various kinds of solo singing. Toccata: an instrumental piece for keyboard or other instruments, requiring the performer to touch the instru-ment with great technical dexterity. Literally meaning "a touched thing," a toccata is an in instrumental showpiece. Monteverdi's Orfeo opens with such a "toccata" (Anthology, No. 81a), a brief fanfare that also exemplifies the remarkable variety of instruments of the Baroque period.

9 Recitative: musically heightened speech that in opera usually tells the audience what has happened. As it attempts to mirror the natural stresses, the stile recitativo ("recited style") is often made up of rapidly repeating notes followed by one or two longer notes at the end of phrases, after which the reciter might rest to catch a breath (Ex. 30-3). Simple recitative: A recitative that is accompanied only by the basso continuo.

10 Arioso style: a manner of singing halfway between a recitative and a full-blown aria. It involves fewer repeating pitches and is rhythmically more elastic than a purely declamatory recitative, but it is not as song-like and expansive as an aria.

11 Aria: Italian for "song" or "ayre," is more florid, more expansive, and more melodious than recitative or arioso. Invariably, an aria sets a short poem made up of several stanzas. Indeed, a closed strophic poem in the libretto became a cue to the composer to create a lyrical aria. While the recitative maintains a narrative function, the expressive lyricism and affective rhetorical power of an aria provides the musical high points of most operas. When set for two or three singers, an aria is called a "duet" or "trio." Strophic variation aria: An aria in which the same melodic and harmonic plan appears, with slight variation, in each subsequent strophe. Possente spirto from Monteverdi's Orfeo (Anthology, No. 81b-d) is an example of a strophic variation aria.

12 Early opera in Venice When the first public theater opened in Venice in 1637, opera as we know it today was born. While in Florence, Rome, and Mantua opera was sponsored by aristocratic courts, in Venice it became the enterprise of wealthy merchant families who saw it as a way to make money. The audience was no longer a select group of two-hundred aristocratic guests, but a fee-paying crowd of as many as 1,500 drawn from many sections of society. The transition from courtly to commercial opera led to important changes: star singers acquired great importance and wealth as opera houses competed amongst themselves for audience; more and more, composers were forced to tailor the music to suit the voice of leading singers, while librettists wrote texts that would appeal to their audience; stage machinery and elaborate sets created an air of the spectacular (Ex. 30-3). Ships sail on the high seas as gods descend from heavens in Giacomo Torelli's stage set for the opera Bellerofonte (Venice, 1642).

13 In 1613 Monteverdi quit his job in Mantua and moved to Venice, where he had accepted the prestigious position of maestro di cappella (director of music) at St. Mark's Basilica. In 1640, three years after the first public theater was opened for business in Venice, Monteverdi returned to the operatic stage apparently for the first time since his Mantuan years. He did so with Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses), followed by Le nozze d'Enea (The Marriage of Aeneas, 1641) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea, 1642). The latter, based on a historical rather than mythological subject matter, is considered by many today as the greatest opera of the seventeenth century. Other important composers of Venetian opera are Monteverdi's pupil Francesco Cavalli and follower Antonio Cesti.

14 Point of Discussion The exquisite and memorable finale of Poppea, the duet "Pur ti miro" (Anthology No., 82), may have been added later to Monteverdi's opera, and perhaps was not composed by Monteverdi at all. Does it matter? Do questions of authenticity diminish or augment the aesthetic worth of a work of art? Should modern stage productions eliminate or include the final duet according to its authorship?

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