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Monteverdi's Last OperasA Venetian Trilogy$

Ellen Rosand

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780520249349

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520249349.001.0001

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A Master of Three Servants

A Master of Three Servants

(p.184) 6 A Master of Three Servants
Monteverdi's Last Operas

Ellen Rosand

University of California Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores Monteverdi's aesthetics, as adumbrated in his letters, and then considers the ways in which the three Venetian librettists attempted to satisfy him by providing the kinds of conventional dramatic situations and texts he sought in librettos. Monteverdi had a proven track record, a long stylistic history, an established reputation for his way with words. In writing for him, the Venetian authors had that history to contend with, and the model of their predecessors to learn from: Alessandro Striggio, Ottavio Rinuccini, and Giulio Strozzi.

Keywords:   Monteverdi's aesthetics, Venetian librettists, librettos, Alessandro Striggio, Ottavio Rinuccini, Giulio Strozzi

Monteverdi's Way with Words

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of all three of the Venetian librettos is that they were designed for a composer notoriously exigent about his texts. Unlike his younger contemporaries in Venice, those neophytes “who failed to understand the true nature of theatrical music,”1 Monteverdi had a proven track record, a long stylistic history, an established reputation for his way with words. In writing for him, the Venetian authors had that history to contend with, and the model of their predecessors to learn from: Alessandro Striggio, Ottavio Rinuccini, and Giulio Strozzi.

The composer's requirements were of various kinds. Some were explicit; Monteverdi discusses them forthrightly in his letters, as we will see, and his librettists were certainly as well apprised of them as we are today. Others, more implicit, they would surely have intuited from the works themselves, from his editorial intervention in the setting of famous texts as different from one another as the sonnets of Petrarch and the Vespers antiphons for the Blessed Virgin Mary. A prime example is “Hor che ʼl ciel e la terra” from the Madrigals of 1638, in which the poetic form of the sonnet virtually disappears under the weight of musico-rhetorical expression. The composer left almost no text untouched: repetitions, elisions, fragmentation, and emphases rendered some of them almost unrecognizable in their Monteverdian transformations.

(p.185) Monteverdi's concern with the quality of the librettos he set is clear from his brusque dismissal of various texts offered to him, on miscellaneous pretexts. Actions speak louder than words; we can discount his professions of obedience to his patrons and willingness to comply with their suggestions and his disingenuous disclaimers of all knowledge of poetry.2 He even declared, in a letter of 1627, that his very willingness to write an opera depended on the libretto being by an excellent poet. This was one of two prerequisites. The other was that there be adequate time available for the undertaking. Otherwise, he concluded, the task would be too difficult, would not appeal to him, and would undoubtedly cause him intense suffering, as he had learned from bitter experience. He was thinking of his masterpiece of 1608, LʼArianna, on a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini, which had obviously fulfilled the first of these criteria, but not the second.3

His intervention in the librettos evidently began well before he actually set them. We recall that Badoaro submitted a draft of the text of Ritorno to the composer and then revised it according to his criticisms.4 Even Rinuccini's Arianna, which Monteverdi found so congenial to his taste, most likely bears signs of the composer's influence; composer and librettist must have worked together on the project, particularly during the two periods of several months when Rinuccini was in Mantua, in late 1607 and then again in the following year.5 Certainly both were involved in revisions to the work in response to the complaint of the Grand Duchess on 26 February 1608 that it was “too dry” (troppo asciutto). Originally scheduled for January, the opera was not performed until 28 May, after having been revised by composer and poet.6

(p.186) Though he clearly esteemed the poet, and set a number of his texts in addition to Arianna—some of the most impressive late madrigals, such as “Ogni amante è guerrier” and the “Lament of the Nymph”—Monteverdi's approval was hardly unconditional. His disparaging comments on a later Rinuccini libretto, Narciso, which the author had hoped he would set, make it clear that he found it unsatisfactory: “[the work] does not have the force I would like, because of the many sopranos that would be needed for so many nymphs, and with many tenors for so many shepherds, and with no other variety, and then with such a tragic and sad ending.”7 The libretto lacked the requisite dramatic power, and in this case at least, that power involved the choice of vocal parts. The conventions of vocal scoring were clearly an issue for him: nymphs had to be sopranos, shepherds tenors. We can sense how he would have appreciated the variety of characters, of different ages and social classes, featured in all three of his Venetian librettos, and suspect also some possible dissonance with respect to the casting of Incoronazione, with its castrato heroes. The lead roles in Orfeo and Ritorno are tenors.8

Gary Tomlinson has argued that the libretto for Orfeo by Alessandro Striggio was less well suited to Monteverdi's style than Rinuccini's Arianna, and that a key number, Orfeo's “Tu sei morta,” reveals the incompatibility of text and music—and between poet and composer. But Monteverdi seems to have respected Striggio's skill as a librettist. Not only did he collaborate with him on several subsequent projects—all unfortunately lost, including the eclogue-ballet, Apollo—but numerous letters addressed to the poet in his capacity as secretary to the Duke of Mantua exude confidence in his abilities. Several (p.187) times he urges Striggio to consider writing a libretto for him,9 and he defers to his judgment on a number of operatic issues. (To judge from other instances, if some of Monteverdi's compliments can be ascribed to his natural deference toward a patron or social superior, he would have found it difficult to hide any qualms he might have had.) As early as 1620, for example, he reports on the positive reception of the Lament of Apollo, an excerpt of the above-mentioned eclogue by Striggio: “[Since] the Lament of Apollo pleased [the audience] in the manner of its invention, poetry, and music, they think … of having afterwards this fine idea of Your Lordship's put on a small stage.” And then he asks for additional verses: “If I have to compose the ballet for this, would Your Lordship send me the verses as soon as possible? But if not, I shall add something of my own invention so that such a fine work of Your Lordship's can be enjoyed.”10 He liked Striggio's text for Apollo— and he also felt free to ask for fairly specific revisions. Further lines are requested to accommodate a strophic aria for Amore. He then amplifies his request in a passage that demonstrates the workings of his sense of drama: though he wished Amore's aria to have two stanzas, he was concerned that its cheerful mood might end up contrasting too strongly in affect with the immediately preceding lament of Apollo.11

Two weeks later Monteverdi sends Striggio a song for another character in the ballet, Peneo, which he says he composed “alla bastarda,” knowing how effective such a style is when issuing forth from the mouth of the singer assigned to the role, a certain Signor Amigoni. Moreover, he adds, “it will also serve as contrast from the other songs [of the other characters] and will seem even more different if that god sings only once.”12 He is alert to the (p.188) strengths of a particular performer, and no less alert to the matter of affective contrast. Central to his conception of drama, this topic is one to which he returns repeatedly during the course of his correspondence.

Many other Monteverdi letters offer tantalizing insight into his concerns, both practical and aesthetic: with performers, venue, audience, text setting, and the conventions of operatic production. But two particular groups of letters, addressed to Striggio, and separated by a decade, reveal more consistently, completely, and forcefully his attitude toward opera, his aims as a musical dramatist. The first group concerns a libretto he did not like, Scipione Agnelli's Tetide, the second a work he did, Giulio Strozzi's La finta pazza Licori.

The six Tetide letters, written over a relatively brief period of six weeks from 9 December 1616 to 20 January 1617 (nos. 19–24), contain some of his most direct statements of artistic intent. From the very beginning, Monteverdi has difficulty disguising his positive disdain for the text—“il librettino contenente la favola maritima delle Nozze di Tetide.” The subject matter is unsuitable for musical setting. It requires too many sopranos and tenors (nos. 19, 20). It has too few sung ballets, which anyhow are not in appropriate meters; it is too long, containing too much recitative speech and not enough dialogue or arias.13 Suitable instruments, placed appropriately, will be too difficult to hear and will have to be tripled; likewise, the singers will have to shout rather than sing in a delicate voice. Still, he offers some tactful suggestions for improvement: “if all three Sirens have to sing their songs separately I'm afraid the work will be too long for the audience, and with too little contrast, since sinfonie will be required to separate them, runs to support the declamation, and trills, which will produce a certain similarity. So for this reason, and for overall variety, I would consider having the first two madrigals sung alternately, now by one voice, now by two together, and the third by all three voices.”14 Two further suggestions are directed toward enhancing the verisimilitude of the drama. He proposes that Venus's part, “which comes after Peleo's plaint and introduces the florid style of singing, that is with runs and trills,” be sung by “Signora Andriana in a loud voice, and then by her two sisters [softly?], so that she is answered by an echo, since the text (orazione) contains the following line: ‘And let the rocks and the waves tell of love.’” But before this the souls of the listeners should be prepared by an instrumental Sinfonia placed in mid-scene, which would likewise be a response to the text, since following his plaint Peleo says: “But what do I hear in the air? A most sweet celestial concert?” In both of these instances, Monteverdi's aim is to strengthen the link between text and music, to use music to imitate the action.15

(p.189) But the crucial shortcoming of the libretto of Le nozze di Tetide is one that no amount of tinkering can correct. It is a shortcoming that goes to the very heart of Monteverdi's dramatic aims: the absence of convincing characters. The oft-quoted passage expressing Monteverdi's incredulity, verging on outrage, comes from the very first of the Tetide letters:

I have noticed that the interlocutors are winds … And that the winds have to sing! … How, dear Sir, can I imitate the speech of winds, if they do not speak? And how can I, by such means, move the passions? Arianna was moving because she was a woman, and similarly Orfeo because he was a man, not a wind. Music can suggest, without any words, the noise of winds and the bleating of sheep, the neighing of horses and so on and so forth; but it cannot imitate the speech of winds because no such thing exists …. And as to the story as a whole … I do not feel that it moves me at all … nor do I feel that it carries me in a natural manner to an end that moves me. Arianna led me to a just lament, and Orfeo to a righteous prayer, but this fable leads me I don't know to what end.16

In this aesthetic credo, the composer states unequivocally that his aim is to move the passions, and that he cannot do so unless he himself is moved. When Monteverdi finally learned that Le nozze di Tetide was intended not as a full-length opera but as intermedi for a play (“commedia grande”), he was much relieved, and accepted the libretto with no further ado as worthy and most noble.17 But his misprision (or Striggio's) had forced him into a clear statement of his intent, clarifying for us—perhaps even for himself—his goals as a musical dramatist and, not so incidentally, his sensitivity to genre.

Whereas the Tetide letters emphasized the shortcomings of Agnelli's libretto, those concerning Giulio Strozzi's La finta pazza Licori emphasized its strengths. This was a text the composer could take seriously, something he could work with, rather than dismissing it out of hand. The dozen letters, written sometimes weekly over the course of an extended (p.190) period from 1 May to 18 September 1627, testify most eloquently to the kind of interaction Monteverdi sought with his poets, the kind of impact he wanted to have, and the values that governed his theatrical philosophy and imagination.18 Strozzi, with whom Monteverdi was to collaborate several times, must have represented an ideal partner for the demanding composer, for not only did he qualify as an excellent poet (“poeta eccellentissimo” [nos. 92, 96]) and worthy colleague (“degno sogetto” [no. 98]), but he was showing himself willing and able to carry out Monteverdi's ideas.19

From his first mention of “un operina … assai bella e curiosa, [qual puo tirare da quattrocento versi]” (a little work … very beautiful and unusual [which runs to some 400 lines]; [no. 92]), it is clear that the Licori project appealed to the composer. He was perhaps particularly attracted by the challenge of imagining the brief original text of some 400 verses, designed by Strozzi in dialogue form as entertainment for a musical evening hosted by Girolamo Mocenigo, as a full-fledged opera, and by the promise of being able to influence the shaping of the text to suit his own dramaturgical purposes, or, as he put it, to his way of thinking (“a mia contemplazione”) [no. 96].20 It was his custom, he explains (“come me”), to suggest alterations—in this case enrichments of the poetic text by the addition of some extra, distinctive scenes.21 Because Strozzi was so excellent in his profession, such a loyal friend, so anxious to please him, and on the spot, Monteverdi was confident of the results.22

Monteverdi wrote all of this not to Strozzi, of course, but to Striggio, himself an experienced librettist in his own right, and acquainted with the circumstances at court—the available singers, the other works being planned, the schedule of events. Striggio may even have been responsible for suggesting some of the alterations to Strozzi's libretto—for example, by making the composer aware that there were three major female singers to accommodate, rather than only one (cf. letter no. 96). But Monteverdi certainly played the major role here. His specific (and far-reaching) concerns with this work, taken together with those expressed (p.191) in connection with texts he found less congenial, adumbrate what we may recognize as the composer's “ars dramatica.” Likening opera, in its vastness, to an epic poem (“una comedia cantata … tanto vol dire come un poema” [no. 92], as opposed to intermedi), he is concerned with every imaginable aspect of its construction, from the choice of subject matter and development of the plot to the sequence of scenes, selection of characters, and distribution of the dialogue (“le convenienze”).23 His first step was to assimilate the libretto as a whole—he uses the verb “digerire” repeatedly for this process—which enabled him to make judgments about it and facilitated his eventual setting.24 La finta pazza Licori, he reports, is admirable for the beauty of its verse as well as the originality of its subject.25 Not only is the subject “not bad,” but so is the way it unfolds.26

This is in marked contrast to Rinuccini's ill-fated Narciso, the other libretto under consideration at the time. This Monteverdi also “digested,” but, as we have seen, it did not strike him as strong enough, because of the poor choice of characters and an unappealing ending.27 La finta pazza, with its thousand little comical situations and graceful plot that by means of a delightful stratagem culminates in a wedding, is infinitely to be preferred,28 and it will appear far newer, more varied, and more delightful on stage.29 Though he clearly preferred Strozzi's text to Rinuccini's Narciso for many reasons, one of them had to do with the characters: the fact that Narciso called for so many tenors bothered him, but the problem must have been the nature of the characters, their sameness. He was evidently not averse to having many tenors in another work—Ulisse—as we shall see.30 Novelty and variety: this combination, which seems to motivate most of Monteverdi's editorial suggestions, comes up in almost every one of the Licori letters. (We saw it in those pertaining to Tetide as well.) In one of his most far-reaching interventions, addressing the fundamental issues of overall dramatic structure and distribution of the action, he urges Strozzi to enrich his text by adding new, varied, and different scenes, as well as characters, so that Licori isn't on stage so often.31

(p.192) Novelty and variety are desirable not only among the scenes and characters, but especially within the role of the main character. Every time Licori appears on stage, he assures Striggio, he will make certain that she produces new moods and fresh changes of music as well as gestures.32 He says it again in the next two letters: his aim is that every time Licori is about to come on stage, she will bring new delight with new variety;33 Strozzi should restrict her appearances and distinguish each of them by means of new inventions and actions.34 The composer searches for greater novelty even within Licori's individual speeches, recommending that the poet rewrite some of them accordingly.35

Later Monteverdi indicates, not without some satisfaction, the extent to which the concepts of novelty and variety have permeated Strozzi's thinking, and, by implication, the extent to which the librettist has understood his desires. Not only will each of the five acts develop a new action,36 each will contain a ballet that is different and strange.37 He is pleased to report, finally, that the finished libretto is “full of many beautiful variations.”38 Monteverdi's incessant, even obsessive, quest for novelty and variety in Strozzi's libretto was not a matter of text alone, of course, but had strong musical implications. He tells us that Licori's successive appearances on stage were to be distinguished by different kinds of music (“nove differenze di armonie” [no. 94]), and his explanation of what he means offers an important key to the understanding of his style: In three of her appearances, he says, “I certainly think the effects will come off well: first, when the camp is being set up, hearing sounds and noises behind the scenes like imitations of her words should not (it seems to me) prove unsuccessful; secondly, when she pretends to be dead; and thirdly, when she pretends to be asleep, for here it will be necessary to use music suggesting sleep” (no. 95).39

Three different kinds of music; we can imagine what some of this might have sounded like by extrapolating from the composer's other works. The camp music, presumably in a fast tempo, might well have included military effects such as the rapid arpeggios and repeated notes of the stile concitato, similar to those featured in the war-like madrigals of Book 8. In the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, for instance, the orchestra echoes individual gestures of battle as described by the narrator. As for music suggesting sleep, (p.193) we need look no further than Arnalta's soporific, repetitive lullaby near the end of act 2 of Incoronazione, and Poppea's sleepy, halting response to it. In both instances, Monteverdi creates music that mimes—he would say imitates—the dramatic action, the movement of the body: In the first, music is both scenographic and narrative, simultaneously setting the stage and describing the action, the physical activity of a bustling military camp. In the second, music enacts the gradual relaxation of a body overcome by sleep.

The composer hopes to introduce still another novel musical style in connection with the same sleep scene, by having Licori's lover, Aminta, who evidently comes upon her asleep, speak in such a way as not to disturb her.40 Once again, the aim is dramatic verisimilitude, to compose distinctive music that is directly inspired by the dramatic situation, only here, rather than describing an external action (a noisy camp) or state of being (drowsiness), music is the action: the soft voice, the whisper.

Monteverdi leaves somewhat less to the imagination in his description of what probably would have been the most striking musical novelty of the score: the portrayal of Licori's feigned madness, to which he devotes lengthy, notoriously thorny—and much debated—passages in two of his letters to Striggio (nos. 93, 100). In describing what he expects from “la signora Margherita,” the performer assigned the role of Licori, Monteverdi manages to articulate the essential features of his theory of musical imitation, which lies at the core of his identity as a composer of opera. Variety, once again, is all-important, and it is in the portrayal of Licori's madness that variety plays its most crucial role. For although within a libretto as a whole it allows for contrasting affections, thereby engaging an audience, in the character of Licori the variety is both unusually constant and unusually intrinsic: it is the very embodiment of her madness. Here, in the unusual literalness of its imitations, music mimes madness.

Because there is so much variety in the role, he explains, implicitly distinguishing it from the other roles in the drama (perhaps any drama), it will require a special kind of singer, one capable of changing emotions (and character) with extreme rapidity, who will be able to portray first a man, then a woman with lively gestures and different (distinct) emotions (“separate passioni”)—that is, distinct enough to make her characterization of each credible. He then goes on to explain how this should be done: the portrayal should focus on the specific situation and textual imagery at hand, not that of the past or future, and this focus should extend to the specific word being sung at any one time, ignoring the sense of the phrase in which it is embedded. Monteverdi's locution here, his directive that the imitation specifically ignore the sense of the phrase (in contrast to normal imitation, we might add), emphasizes the abnormality of the situation. Thus, when she speaks of (p.194) war, she will have to imitate war, when of peace, peace, when of death, death, and so on. And because these transformations and imitations have to follow one another so rapidly, the singer of the role, who should move the audience to laughter and compassion (nearly simultaneously), should forswear all other imitation but that of the moment, suggested by the particular word she has to say.41 Licori's madness, then, is expressed not by the music itself but in the way that music is attached to the words—its blinkered, obsessive, literal connection to the text's individual images.

In amplifying his description later (10 July), he explains that “signora Margherita will have to play now a soldier, now a ruffian, timid and bold by turns, and master perfectly the appropriate gestures (for each mood), without self-consciousness,” because he is constantly aiming to have lively imitations of the music, gestures, and tempi take place behind the scenes (offstage? backstage? in the orchestra?); he believes such a performance will please Striggio because the changes from lively and raucous to gentle and sweet music will take place almost instantaneously so that the meaning of the text (“lʼorazione”) will really stand out.42 Here, finally, the purpose of Monteverdi's variety is made explicit: rapid changes of musical style—tempo, melody, harmony—that is, of affect, focus attention on the changing text, conveying its meaning.43

And yet with all this, Monteverdi still worries. The words Licori sings must lend themselves to imitation. They cannot be bland or neutral, words that fail to suggest gestures, noises, or other imitative ideas. “In some other places, however, because the words cannot mimic either gestures or noises or any other kind of imitative idea that might suggest itself, I am afraid the previous and following passages might seem weak” [no. 95].)44 The composer fears a letdown in Licori's role, and perhaps the drama as a whole. He seeks (p.195) continuously vivid dramatic situations that can be encapsulated in imitable words, thus allowing his music to do its affective work, to assert its expressive power.

A Master of Three Servants

The feigned madness of Licori haunted or inspired Giulio Strozzi in his subsequent career as one of the most influential librettists in the early years of Venetian public opera. Closely involved with the Ferrari—Manelli troupe, he provided texts for the inauguration of two opera houses, La Delia, with music by Manelli, for SS. Giovanni e Paolo in 1639, and La finta pazza, set by Sacrati, for the Novissimo in 1641. The latter, as we have seen, initiated a trilogy analogous to Monteverdi's, and it became a vehicle for a series of traveling companies headed by Sacrati. Performed throughout Italy during the course of the 1640s, La finta pazza played an important role in spreading the fame of Venetian opera.

Although Strozzi may not have been a complete neophyte in 1627 when he began his first theatrical collaboration with Monteverdi (he had already written a couple of plays, including Ersilda in 1621), the composer's influence seems to have rubbed off on him. We gain some sense of this from a couple of remarks in his preface to the libretto of La Delia. He begins his note to the reader by declaring, in terms reminiscent of those used by Torcigliani in the preface to Le nozze dʼEnea, that he has stayed away from easy “concetti” and metaphors, “the fake coin of eloquence” that is so easily produced today by those [writers] who fail to recognize that many years and great effort are required to produce the pure gold of a truly natural style.45 Strozzi then moves to the topic of music, noting the importance of a close relationship to text:

Music is only the sister of that poetry that wishes to enjoy a sibling relationship with it, but when they don't understand one another well, they are neither relatives nor friends. Song that soothes the soul can become unappealing in two ways: when it is forced to follow the false visions of the poet or when the word or the last syllable of the word fades away in the spaciousness of a theater, causing the listener to lose the thread of accumulated ideas. More in the mind than in the ear, and more declaimed than sung must those verses be, which are seasoned by musical harmonies. And the repetition of delightful things does not cause boredom.46

Finally, in a postscript to the scenario, Strozzi speaks briefly of the music of Manelli, his collaborator in La Delia, praising two particular characteristics of his style: “unʼimitatione (p.196) di parole mirable,” and “unʼarmonia propria, varia, e dilettevole,” qualities that figured among those valued by Monteverdi. It is almost uncanny to hear the phrases themselves echoing specific passages from Monteverdi's letters to Striggio regarding Strozzi's text.47

A Master of Three Servants

The loss of so many of Monteverdi's dramatic works is lamentable, and has been deplored for more than a century. One thinks especially of Arianna, so highly praised in its day, and Le nozze dʼEnea, so proximate and integral to the two operatic masterpieces of the composer's last years. But in one sense, at least, one feels that the greatest loss of all is that of La finta pazza Licori. Not only are we deprived of an extraordinary work, the shaping of which sustained the composer's interest over a period of more than six months, but we must forgo the opportunity of fully appreciating Monteverdi's own analysis of the piece, as provided by his letters. To be sure, the correspondence offers some sketchy details about the work as a whole: we know that what began as a dialogue of some 400 verses (presumably for Licori and Aminta) had become, within six months, a five-act drama with ballets. We also know that it ended in a marriage, presumably between Licori and Aminta, that there were at least three striking scenes for Licori, a role played by the famous soprano Margherita Basile, and that there were parts for two other Mantuan prime donne (her sisters?) and possibly the “bassetto” Rapallino.48

We can tell something more from Strozzi's second libretto of madness—what we might call La finta pazza Deidamia, the libretto set by Sacrati in 1641, which probably incorporated material from the earlier work.49 Both Strozzi's text and Sacrati's musical setting of Deidamia's feigned madness reflect qualities that Monteverdi emphasized in his letters to Striggio—vivid, sharply juxtaposed images, literal musical imitations, of war, sleep—but this must be a pale substitute for Monteverdi's own lost setting.

It is likely, as Tomlinson has argued, that Monteverdi never actually set—or even saw—Strozzi's full text of La finta pazza Licori. The opera probably never came to fruition.50 But his epistolary critique offers at least some compensation. It serves not only (p.197) to elucidate that specific lost work, but also those works that have survived. By extrapolating from the letters, we learn much about the composer's impact on (and attitudes toward) his other librettos. More important for our purposes, they allow us to evaluate the extent to which he found what he wanted in the texts of his Venetian trilogy. More explicitly than any music, if not more eloquently, the Licori correspondence, along with several other choice letters, reveals Monteverdi's aims as a musical dramatist.

Speech and Song, Recitative and Aria

As we have seen, by the time Monteverdi finally began to compose for the public theaters in Venice, his idiosyncrasies were widely recognized—much as he had revealed them to Striggio, his faithful correspondent. It must have been something of a commonplace that his central objective as a composer was to move the passions of his listeners. Badoaro and Torcigliani tell us anew of the composer's taste for simplicity, his aversion to abstruse thoughts and concepts, and his focus on portraying the affections, particularly contrasting ones, which provided him with the opportunity of displaying the full pathos of his art. These remarks are amplified by the composer's first biographer Matteo Caberloti, writing after Monteverdi's death. Caberloti describes the great emotional range and contrast displayed in the operas, which change from moment to moment: “now they invite laughter, which all at once is forced to change into crying, and just when you are thinking of taking up arms in vengeance, a marvelous change of harmony disposes your heart to clemency; in one moment you feel yourself filled with fear and in the next you are possessed by complete confidence.”51 But because Monteverdi's Venetian librettists worked with him directly, in the same place at the same time on productions in their own city, their interaction was never documented in letters that might providentially be preserved for later centuries. We are nonetheless afforded some insight into their collaboration by the unique circumstances surrounding the sources of the operas—the survival, as we have seen, of material representing multiple layers of the compositional process.

Within the commercial atmosphere that encouraged the development of public opera in Venice, it must have been standard procedure for librettists to conceive their texts for particular composers. We know that the author of the very first Venetian librettos, Andromeda and La maga fulminata, Benedetto Ferrari, wrote his texts for the composer Francesco Manelli. But the two men were members of the same troupe and collaboration took place in private, within the confines of the troupe's regular activities that culminated in the performance, and we have no evidence that sheds light on the interaction (p.198) between librettist and composer. There is no score, only librettos printed well after the performances—presumably in a form already edited by the composer. With operas whose scores have been preserved, such as Cavalli's, we are almost equally at a loss, for the differences between scores and librettos are necessarily negligible. Again, the librettos were presumably printed after the text was set, in a form already modified in connection with the composer's requirements. Indeed, many librettos show evidence of having been printed at the very last minute, in order to accommodate the exigencies of a particular performance. They cannot be relied upon to reflect the original text.

But as should be well known by now, Monteverdi's Venetian librettos have survived primarily in manuscript, and some of these certainly represent an earlier text than those of the scores, even though they may have been copied later. In the case of Ritorno and Nozze, as we noted, nearly all the librettos preserve a literary version of the text, presumably a version close to the one first presented to the composer (though we should probably take Badoaro seriously when he claims to have submitted even earlier drafts of some scenes to the composer for editing).52 Only the three-act libretto of Nozze represents a later, edited text, equivalent to that in the Ritorno score. With Incoronazione the situation is more complicated. While Busenello's libretto as printed in the collected edition of 1656 probably transmits something close to the author's original text of 1643—analogous to the literary librettos of Ritorno and Nozze—most of the manuscript librettos are obviously later, though not necessarily later than 1651, the approximate date of the scores we have. The Udine libretto, as we have seen, was probably copied from the score for the original production version, and must therefore date from around 1643. Precisely because they are so varied, so unfixed, these sources provide a window into the composer's workshop. They allow us to observe Monteverdi's editing procedures at close range. The librettistsʼ understanding of the composer's requirements can be measured by the material they gave him.

IL Ritorno Dʼulisse

In his letters, Monteverdi criticizes a dramatic text more than once for its overabundance of dialogue at the expense of expressive singing—what we might translate as a potential disproportion between action and emotional expression, or between recitative and aria.53 This criticism is implicit in his setting of the Ritorno libretto, where he seems to have exploited every available opportunity for lyrical expansion, even rewriting recitative text to allow for lyrical setting.54 But the librettists had to balance the requirement for lyrical (p.199) expression with that of verisimilitude—a familiar Monteverdian desideratum, implied by his request for human characters that would be capable of moving him—and the audience—by their emotions, characters like Arianna and Orfeo. Underlying the requirement for verisimilitude was the knowledge, clearly articulated by Badoaro, among others, that human beings did not normally carry out their daily activities in song, particularly strophic song, in which the same music was repeated for changing text.55 To be sure, there were exceptions. Certain characters—gods and goddesses, servants—were not governed by the same standards of realistic behavior as historical figures. Even historical figures, though, might be forgiven for expressing themselves lyrically under duress—but not formally, where repetition implied some kind of control that was antithetical to their heightened emotional state.

Accordingly, although Badoaro provided various points of repose within his versi sciolti, brief passages set apart by closed rhyme scheme and meter, the libretto of Ritorno has relatively few closed forms that explicitly call for lyrical setting—only eight strophic texts in all. In addition to a brief strophic duet for Melanto and Eurimaco, and two arias for the Suitors, these include arias for Melanto (1.2 and 2.1), Minerva (1.8), Iro (2.3), and Nettuno (5.5): a servant, a god and goddess, and a beggar, all characters for whom formal singing was either natural or forgivable. (Strophic arias for the Suitors and Moors are omitted in the score.)56 But Monteverdi created a number of other occasions for lyricism, capitalizing on formal cues present in the libretto—a recurrent refrain, for instance, or a metrically coherent textual passage set off by its rhyme scheme, meter, or both. Such passages often coincide with the expression of charactersʼ feelings, thereby justifying lyrical expansion or expressive singing (“canto di garbo”). The score is filled with passages like these.57

Monteverdi even constructed strophic arias out of non-strophic (or imperfectly strophic) material. In each case, rather than compromising verisimilitude, repetition of the same music to different text heightens the dramatic effect. In act 1, scene 9, in a passage we have already considered in Chapter 5, Ulisse has finally recognized that the land to which he has been transported is indeed Ithaca, his homeland. Monteverdi converts an exceedingly amorphous text into what comes across as a strophic aria, utilizing two irregularly spaced refrain lines to mark the opening and closing of each “strophe” (underlined). (p.200) The composer expands the two refrain lines enormously through textual and musical repetition so that they end up comprising most of the aria; then, despite their unequal length, he treats the penultimate line of each “strophe” similarly, using the same extended melisma for the non-parallel words “lieto” and “guerra.” Inspired by Badoaro's refrain as well as by the expressive content of Ulisse's words, which literally invite song, Monteverdi's lyrical setting effectively changes not only the weight but the form of the text. (See Example 1 above, Chap. 5).

O fortunato Ulisse,

O fortunate Ulisse,

Fuggi del tuo dolor

flee the old pangs

Lʼantico error;

of your former woes;

Lascia il pianto.

cease your lament;

Dolce canto

let the sweet song

Dal tuo cor lieto disserra;

release itself from your glad heart.

Non si disperi più mortale in terra.

Despair no more, ye earthly mortals.

O fortunato Ulisse.

O fortunate Ulisse.

Dolce [Cara] vicenda si può soffrir,

Sweet vicissitudes one may suffer—

Hor diletto, hor martir, hor pace, hor guerra.

now delight, now martyrdom, now peace, now war.

Non si disperi più mortale in terra.58

Despair no more, ye earthly mortals.

In another instance, toward the end of the opera, Ericlea wrestles with herself about revealing Ulisse's identity to Penelope. Monteverdi turns an irregular twenty-four-line text into a refrain form comprising four unequal sections of nine, four, five, and six lines, each closing with a sententia of self-justification (underlined). By adding a ritornello after sections 1, 3, and 4, and setting each final sententia to the same highly expanded music, the composer intensifies the formal implications—and the affect—of Ericlea's monologue. The music concretely marks her progress from her initial vow of silence (sections 1 and 2) through ambivalence (section 3), to her decision to speak. We may recall Torcigliani's observation: Such changes of affection please our Signor Monteverdi very much because they allow him to display the marvels of his art (see Appendix 2 [i]). As in Ulisse's aria, but by different means, Monteverdi superimposes a kind of strophic structure on the text and, far from sacrificing affective intensity, he increases it. The absence of a confirming ritornello after the second “refrain” (line 13) and consequent telescoping of sections 2 and 3 creates a sense of urgency that matches Ericlea's ambivalence (Example 4):59 (p.201)

A Master of Three ServantsA Master of Three Servants

EXAMPLE 4. Ericlea, “Ericlea, Ericlea, che vuoi far?” (Il ritorno dʼUlisse, 5.8 [or 3.8]).

(p.202) (p.203)


Ericlea, che vuoi far?

Ericlea, what will you do?

Vuoi tacer o parlar?

Will you be silent, or speak?

Se parli tu consoli,

If you speak, you will console;

Obbedisci se tacci.

you obey if you are silent.

Sei tenuta a servìr,

You are compelled to serve,

Obbligata ad amar.

obliged to love.

Vuoi tacer, o parlar?

Will you be silent, or speak?

Ma ceda lʼobbedienza alla pietà.

But let obedience yield to pity.

[allʼobbedienza la pietà.]

Non si dee sempre dir ciò che si sa.

We must not always tell what we know.



Medicar chi languisce, o che diletto,

To minister to one who languishes, what delight!

Ma che ingiuria, e dispetto

But what injury, what spite,

Scoprir lʼaltrui pensier.

to disclose another's thoughts;

Bella cosa tal volta è un bel tacer.

at times silence is golden.


È ferità crudele

It is ferocious cruelty

Il poter con parole

to be able with words

Consolar chi si duole, e non lo far;

to comfort the grieving, and not do it;

Ma del pentirsi al fin

but repentance, in the end,

Assai lungʼè il taccer più che il parlar.

far longer from silence than from speaking lasts.



Del [Bel] secreto tacciuto

A fine secret wrapped in silence

Tosto scoprir si può,

can always be disclosed later;

Una sol volta detto

once said,

Celarlo non potrò.

hide it I can no more.

Ericlea, che farai, taccerai tu?

Ericlea, what will you do? Will you be silent?

[Che] in somma un bel tacer scritto non fu.

For, in sum, silence is not a law.


But while he tended to accept every possible invitation to song that he found in Badoaro's libretto, Monteverdi did not always support or exploit textual symmetries with lyrical setting. He could also withhold lyricism for dramatic purposes—he does so in a number of instances, not only in Ritorno but in Incoronazione as well (in connection with Penelope, but also with Melanto and Ottavia, as we will see).

Lʼincorqnazione Di Poppea

Busenello's libretto, in contrast to Badoaro's, is remarkably rich in explicit closed forms, including some sixteen strophic texts as well as many prominent sestets, quatrains, couplets, (p.204) and refrains.60 The strophic texts are not only more numerous, but are distributed more democratically. Busenello offers them to the main protagonists as well as to secondary characters. Ottone has three, while Poppea, Nerone, Arnalta, Nutrice, and Valletto each have two,61 and the familiari, Seneca, and Amore each have one.62 Only Ottavia, significantly, has none.63 A satisfying balance between dialogue and lyricism was thus more readily achieved in Incoronazione than in Ritorno. Even so, Monteverdi still tended to manipulate Busenello's forms, even his strophic ones, to wring greater dramatic veracity from them. (His revisions also combat Busenello's verbosity.)

Nutrice's aria in response to Ottavia's lament in act 1, scene 5 offers a striking example of the composer's flexible approach to strophic form (and his dramatic imagination). Following Ottavia's anguished speech, “Disprezzata regina,” Nutrice urges her to listen to her advice, thus preparing the way for the conventional advice-aria that follows. The aria comprises two bipartite stanzas of four ottonari (in rime alternate, abab) plus a hendeca-syllabic couplet (CC):

   Se Neron perso ha lʼingegno

If Nerone has lost his wits

Di Poppea neʼ godimenti,

in the enjoyment of Poppea,

Sciegli alcun, che di te degno

choose someone else worthy of you

Dʼabbracciarti si contenti.

who will enjoy your embraces.

Se lʼingiuria a Neron tanto diletta,

If injuring you so delights Nerone,

Habbi piacer tu ancor nel far vendetta.

take your pleasure in vengeance.

   E se pur aspro rimorso

And even if harsh remorse

Dellʼhonor tʼarrecca noia,

should trouble your honor,

Fa riflesso al mio discorso,

reflect on my words,

chʼogni duol ti sarà gioia.

that every woe may turn to joy.

Lʼinfamia sta glʼaffronti in sopportarsi,

Infamy lies in accepting insults,

E consiste lʼhonor nel vendicarsi.

honor in avenging them.

But Monteverdi does not adhere to the strophic form. Instead, he interrupts the second stanza after the ottonario quatrain, intercalating two of Ottavia's lines from later in the scene (in italics and brackets), and then repeats the last two lines of the quatrain (p.205) before continuing on to the nurse's closing hendecasyllabic couplet (word repetitions are in italics when text is in roman, and vice versa):

NUTRICE: E se pur aspro rimorso Dellʼhonor tʼarrecca noia, Fa riflesso al mio discorso, Chʼogni duol ti sarà gioia.

And even if harsh remorse should trouble your honor, reflect on my words, that every woe may turn to joy.

OTTAVIA: [Così sozzi argomenti Non intesi più mai da te, nutrice.]

[Such dishonorable counsel I have never heard from you, my nurse.]

NUTRICE: Fa, fa, fa, fa riflesso al mio discorso, chʼogni duol, ogni duol, ogni duol, ogni duol, ogni duol ti sarà gioia, ti sara gioia, ti sara gioia.

Lʼinfamia sta gl'affronti in sopportarsi, E consiste, consiste, lʼhonor nel vendicarsi, nel vendicarsi, nel vendicarsi.

The composerʼs intervention not only enhances the verisimilitude of the interaction—Ottavia doesn't stand around waiting for her nurse to finish her lengthy song, but responds naturalistically, and impatiently, and directly instead—but her interruption causes Nutrice to repeat (and emphasize) her message: “Fa riflesso al mio discorso,/ Chʼogni duol ti sara gioia” (which Monteverdi expands to more than double its original length, through text repetition and melodic sequence, thereby strengthening its impact; Example 5a and b). The music of the two stanzas is quite different in other respects as well. Having created a memorable refrain, here, the composer brings it back once more, in still another, shorter and more telescoped version, at the conclusion of Nutrice's final sardonic speech to her mistress, comprising eleven lines. Most interestingly, although as versi sciolti they are clearly intended as recitative, Monteverdi sets the first two lines of that speech lyrically, the first to the music that opened the previous aria strophes, as if they were initiating a third stanza, an impression reinforced by the return of the refrain at the end (Example 5c).

Figlia, figlia e Signora mia, signora mia, tu non intendi, no, no, non intendi, no, no, no, no, non intendi

My child and lady, you don't understand

Della vendetta il principale arcano.

the mysterious principle of vengeance.

Lʼoffesa sopra il volto

The insult on the face

Dʼuna sola guanciata

of a single slap

Si vendica col ferro, e con la morte.

is avenged with the sword and with death.

Chi ti punge nel senso,

He who wounds your feelings,

Pungilo nellʼhonore,

strike him in his honor.

Se bene a dirti il vero,

To tell you the truth

Né pur cosi sarai ben vendicata;

not even this will bring you revenge.

Nel senso vivo te punge Nerone,

Nerone has wounded your innermost feelings,

E in lui sol pungerai lʼopinione.

and you can only wound his reputation.

Fa, fa, fa, fa riflesso al mio discorso,

Chʼogni duol, chʼogni duol, ogni duol ti sarà gioia, ti sarà gioia, ti sarà gioia.

A Master of Three ServantsA Master of Three ServantsA Master of Three ServantsA Master of Three Servants

EXAMPLE 5. Nutrice, aria and recitative (Lʼincoronazione di Poppea, 1.5).

(p.207) (p.208) (p.209)

In this scene, then, Monteverdi has both undermined and developed Busenello's strophic structure for dramatic purposes. The form is a hybrid: the effect of the interruption depends on the fact that it occurs within the second stanza of an aria, after the first has been heard. Monteverdi then exploits that very effect to increase the formal coherence of the rest of the scene.

Although Busenello offered him many formal opportunities, Monteverdi did not always accept them fully. Indeed, his varied response constitutes a critique of Busenello's forms, often pointing up their failure to adhere to the composer's concept of verisimilitude. We might say that the composer read beyond the form of Busenello's texts, to their meaning, subjecting them to the test of verisimilitude.

This is evident in the very first scene of the opera, Ottone's opening monologue. Busenello structures the scene with great care. An initial hendecasyllabic abba quatrain, with built-in word and phrase repetition (A: a series of similes: “qual linea al centro,” “qual foco a sfera,” “qual ruscello al mare”) is followed by four three-line abb stanzas comprised of a settenario and an endecasillabo couplet (B), which breaks off into versi sciolti (C) as Ottone notices Nerone's soldiers guarding Poppea's door and imagines what lies behind it. After Ottone angrily and ironically turns on himself, criticizing the futility of his own previous actions, he addresses the absent Poppea once more (D), and Busenello inserts a group of four short, pathetic lines (quaternari), before concluding the scene in versi sciolti, with nine mostly hen-decasyllabic lines (E, below, p. 211) (sections A and D are illustrated in Examples 15 and 16 below, Chap. 7).


E pur io torno qui, qual linea a centro,

Thus do I return here, like a radius to its point,

Qual foco a sfera, e qual ruscello al mare,

like fire to the sun, and stream to the sea,

E se ben luce alcuna non m'appare,

and if I see no light,

Ah so ben io, che sta il mio sol qui dentro.

I know that my sun is within.

E pur io torno qui, qual linea a centro.


Caro tetto amoroso,

Beloved roof,

Albergo di mia vita, e del mio bene,

dwelling of my life, and my beloved,

Il passo, e ʼl core ad inchinarti viene. Apri un balcon, Poppea,

My feet and heart come to bow before you. Open your window, Poppea,

Col bel viso, in cui son le sorti mie,

with your beautiful face, in which my fate rests,

Previeni, anima mia, precorri il diè. Sorgi, e disgombra homai

anticipate, precede the day. Arise, and clear

Da questo Ciel caligini, e tenebre

the haze and shadows from the sky

Con il beato aprir di tue palpebre. Sogni, portate a volo,

With the blessed opening of your eyelids. Dreams, bear in flight,

Fatte sentir in dolce fantasia

in sweet fancy on your wings,

Questi sospiri alla diletta mia.

these sighs to my beloved


Ma che veggio infelice?

But what do I see, unhappy one?

Non già fantasmi, o pur notturne larve,

these are not ghosts or nocturnal phantoms.

Son questi i servì di Nerone; ahi dunque

but Nerone's servants, ah thus

Aglʼinsensati venti

to unfeeling winds

Io difondo i lamenti.

do I divulge my laments.

Necessito le pietre a deplorarmi,

I urge the stones to weep for me,

Adoro questi marmi,

I adore these marble columns,

Amoreggio con lagrime un balcone,

I woo a balcony with tears,

E in grembo di Poppea dorme Nerone.

And Nerone sleeps in Poppea's arms.

Ha condotti costoro,

He brought these guards

Per custodir se stesso dalle frodi.

to protect himself against traitors.

O salvezza de Prencipi infelice,

Oh, unhappy safeguard of princes,

Dormon profondamente i suoi custodi.

His guards are fast asleep.


Ahi perfida Poppea,

Ah, faithless Poppea,

Son queste le promesse, e i giuramenti,

Are these the promises and vows

Chʼaccesero il cor mio?

that inflamed my heart?

Questa è la fede, o Dio;

this the faith, oh God?

Io son[o] quellʼOttone,

I am that Ottone

Che ti seguì,

who followed you,

Che ti bramò,

who desired you,

Che ti servì,

who served you,

Che tʼadorò.

who adored you.


Monteverdi accepts Busenello's invitation to set the opening quatrain lyrically, repeating the first line at the end to confer closure. But he does not begin the strophic aria with Busenello's first stanza, preferring instead to mark the distinction between that stanza and the remaining three, each of which begins with an invocation (italicized). In the opening quatrain, Ottone apostrophizes generally on his pleasure at returning to Poppea. Closing in then, in the first strophe, he directs his attention to Poppea's house. In the next two, he addresses Poppea herself: “Apri,” “Sorgi”; and in the last, he asks his own dreams to fly to his beloved: “Sogni, portate a volo.” By declining to set Busenello's strophic text completely strophically, Monteverdi has chosen meaning, that is, dramatic sense, over form.64

Constantly aiming to convey dramatic naturalism and psychological realism, both within individual characters and in interactions between them, the composer edited (p.211) Busenello's libretto in many other ways, and not only in connection with arias. One of his most characteristic means of enhancing character interaction and maintaining dramatic pace, particularly in Incoronazione, was through textual intercalations, such as those between Nutrice and Ottavia just discussed. A similar procedure links Ottone's opening scene with the following one, as the composer anticipates several lines for the first soldier (indicated in italics and bracketed in the extract, left column); the two soldiers' lines are also intercalated, as indicated (original text in the right column):


Che per piegarti, e intenerirti il core

Di lagrime imperlò preghi devoti,

Gli spirti a te sacrificando in voti.

Mʼassicurasti al fine,

Chʼabbracciate haverei nel tuo bel seno

Le mie beatudini amorose,

Io di credula speme il seme sparsi,

Ma lʼaria, e ʼl Cielo a danni miei rivolto,

[Tempestò di ruine il mio raccolto.]

Scene 2

Scene 2

SOLDATO 1: [Chi parla, chi parla]

SOLDATO 1: Chi parla, chi va li?

OTTONE: Tempestò di ruine [SI: chi parla], il mio raccolto

   Ohimè ancora non è dì?

SOLDATO 1: Chi va li, chi va li?

   Sorgono pur dallʼAlba i primi rai.

SOLDATO 2: Camerata, camerata?

   Non ho dormito in tutta notte mai.

SOLDATO 1: Ohimè, ancor non è dì?

SOLDATO 2: Camerata, che fai?

SOLDATO 2: Camerata, che fai?

   Par che parli sognando.

   Par che parli sognando.

   Su, risvegliati tosto,

SOLDATO 1: Sorgonopur dellʼalma i primi rai.

   Guardiamo il nostro posto

SOLDATO 2: Su, risvegliati tosto.

SOLDATO 1: Non ho dormito in tutta notte mai.

SOLDATO 2: Su, su, su, risvegliati tosto.

   Guardiamo il nostro posto.

As with Badoaro's libretto, the composer also exploited Busenello's refrains, expanding and repeating them to create larger formal units. In sum, while Incoronazione contains many more unequivocal arias than Ritorno, including twice as many strophic texts, the difference is obscured by Monteverdi's sensitivity in both settings to the nuances of feeling in his characters. He does not hesitate either to ignore his librettists' formal cues or to create his own forms when it suits his dramatic purpose.

Le Nozze Dʼenea E Lavinia

With respect to the proportion of recitative to aria poetry, our middle opera, Nozze, stands somewhere in between its companions. It includes seven strophic texts, all of them (p.212) justified from the point of view of verisimilitude—and none of them for protagonists. These comprise two for chorus (Nereids and Tritons in 1.2 and Trojans in 4.4), two for supernatural characters (Aletto in 1.7, and Venere in 3.7), one for the boy Ascanio (1.3), and two involving the shepherdess Silvia (a dance-duet with her beloved Elminio in 2.2 and an aria, three scenes later):65

  1. 1.2 Coro di Nereidi e di Tritoni: two irregular stanzas, “Vieni pur, vieni Enea” (irregular refrain form), a[]bCcdEE (internal rhymes for b in C and d in E), aAbCcdEE (same internal rhymes) aA (possible missing A line in first stanza).

  2. 1.3 Ascanio: two settenario stanzas, “Già lʼamorosa stella,” abab (each followed by sounds of a storm qui tuona, qui folgora)

  3. 1.7 Aletto: three ternari stanzas, “Chʼio porti,” aaab, plus irregular single stanza (missing in three-act libretto): abcdEe (6 6 6 6 10 5)

  4. 2.2 Silvia-Elmino: two stanzas embedded in four-line irregular refrain, “Elmino, cantiamo,” aabB ccd eed Baab (6 6 2 10, 6 6 5 6 6 5 10 6 6 2)

  5. 2.5 Silvia: four six-line stanzas, “Piante, gittate le frondi al suol,” aabbcc (9 10 6 6 10 10)

  6. 3.7 Venere: two six-line stanzas: “Sia pure un cuor ferrigno,” aabBcC

  7. 4.4 Coro di Troiani: two four-line senario stanzas, “Enea pur lʼha colto,” plus third stanza in a different meter, ending the act: abba, cdcd; eefF (5 5 6 11)

In addition to the seven strophic pieces, there are more than twice that many single stanzas of specially organized poetry, some of which would have encouraged lyrical setting by virtue of their dramatic function:66

  1. 1.1 Oracolo di Fauno: “Già non pensare, o mia diletta prole” (four endecasillabi, ABBA)

  2. 1.3 Acate: “Su compagne, in lieti accenti” (four ottonari, abab)

  3. 1.4 Turno: “Ora non più m'alletta” (abbaCC, embedded in recitative passage)

  4. 2.2 Latino: “Così, così mia pace” (abaccDD)

  5. 3.2 Numano: “Or sì contento io sto” (abAcBdeEFgfG)

  6. 3.3 Lavinia: “Misera, qual io sento” (aabcbC); “Fiero destin fatale” (abaBcdDef or efe); “O placido riposo” (abBccDedeff); “Forse su l'alte mura” (abbccDD)

  7. 3.4 Enea: “Vieni sonno” (AbBAcddCeeFGgHh)

  8. 3.5 Tebro: “Enea, tu dormi? Ah chʼè dover chʼomai” (ottava rima: ABABABCC)

  9. 3.8 Numano: “O Troiani, o Troiani” (aAbBCCdDEE)

  10. 4.1 Numano: “Fien dunque senza me guerre e perigli” (AbbccdD)

  11. (p.213) 4.3 Lavinia—Damigella a 2: “Sì che de casti ardori (aabb)”; Lavinia: “Non posso altro, nè voʼ” (aabb); Damigella: “De la dea che innamora” (ababC); a 2: “Dunque se 'l vento freme” (cddeff); Lavinia: “Il paterno voler spira ad un segno” (EGG)

  12. 4.4 Enea: “Deh quanto è ʼl mio contento” (ababcdcdEE)

  13. 4.4 Turno: “Te non imploro Amor” (aabbCC)

  14. 5.5 Enea: “O sol che già brevʼora” (aBbcA); Lavinia: “Aria, che dianzi piena” (deE); Enea: “Tu mar turbato” (fgG); Lavinia: “Tu terra aspersa” (hiI); Enea: “Voi mormorate” (jk); Lavinia: “Augei snodate” (jkk); a 2: “Cosa non sia” (lmmlN)

Acate's rhymed quatrain of ottonari in 1.3, for instance, is certainly an invitation to song:

Su compagne, in lieti accenti

Come, companions, in happy accents

Voi le lingue disciogliete,

loosen your tongues,

E agli auguri a noi ridenti

and for our happy omens

Acclamate ed applaudate.

cheer and applaud.

Fauno's hendecasyllabic abba quatrain in 1.1, on the other hand, as a speech addressed to his son, Latino, is clearly intended as recitative:

Già non pensare, o mia diletta prole

Do not think, o my precious offspring,

Genero destinarti a noi vicino.

to designate yourself father-in-law to one who is near.

Altri verrà lontano e peregrino,

Another will come from far, a pilgrim,

Che illustrerà tua stirpe al par del sole.

who will render your progeny equal to the sun.

Other single stanzas could have invoked lyricism because of their emotional content. Latino's seven-line speech in 2.2, for instance, which closes with a hendecasyllabic couplet, is a kind of prayer, or invocation:

Così, così mia pace

Thus, thus, my peace

Apparsa anco sparisci

appeared and disappeared

In un balen fugace.

in a lightning flash.

O speranze mortali,

Oh, mortal hopes,

Infide, vane e frali!

treacherous, vain, and frail!

Ma voi che a lʼaltrui fé, numi, assistete,

But you who others believe in, aid me,

Voi, lʼinnocenza mia, voi difendete.

you, defend my innocence.

Similarly, Enea's longer and even more regular speech in 4.4 (“Deh quanto è ʼl mio contento”), a pair of rhymed settenario quatrains followed by a hendecasyllabic couplet, (p.214) culminates in a prayer to Venere and Vulcano that would have been appropriate for lyrical expression:

Deh, quanto è ʼl mio contento

Oh, how happy I am

Che sia dal sangue solo

that by blood only

Di Turno il foco spento,

Turno's fire was extinguished,

Acceso il commun duolo.

which caused communal suffering.

Bella madre dʼAmore

Beautiful mother of love,

Onde questʼaure io godo,

because of whom I delight in these breezes,

Tu dio dʼaspro furore,

and you, god of bitter anger,

Uniti in dolce nodo

united in a sweet knot

Ove dʼarmi e dʼamor litigi han loco,

where arms and love entwined have a place,

Propizi aʼ voti miei, supplice invoco.

be propitious to my prayers, I beseech you.

Still other such passages, embedded in recitative speeches, suggest lyrical setting as a means of distinguishing them rhetorically from their surroundings. Turno's “Ora non più mʼalletta” (1.4), a rhymed quatrain of settenari followed by a hendecasyllabic couplet, part of a much longer sequence of versi sciolti, expresses his surprise that his thoughts have turned from war to love:

Ora non più mʼalletta

No longer am I enticed

Di tromba il suon feroce,

by the fierce sound of the trumpet,

Armi o battaglia attroce.

by terrible weapons or battle.

Un guardo mi diletta

Rather, a mere look delights me,

Di due begli occhi, e dʼuna bocca vaga

of two beautiful eyes, and from a lovely mouth

La dolce melodia viepiù mʼappaga.

the sweet melody appeases me.

Ma lasso, che pur guerra ancor è questa,

But alas, this is still war,

In cui ferita ho lʼalma

in which I have a wounded soul,

Che, se pugnar non resta,

which, if it cannot land a blow,

Più teme morte omai che speri palma.

fears death more than it hopes for victory.

Here the musical references—to the sound of trumpets and the sweet melody—contribute to the likelihood that this passage would have been set lyrically. Finally, a speech for Turno in 4.4 (“Te non imploro Amor”) suggests lyricism, or anyhow distinctive, closed setting, primarily on account of its sharp metric profile: an emphatic sestet comprising four settenari tronchi rounded out with the usual hendecasyllabic couplet:

Te non imploro amor,

I do not implore you, Love,

Cagion del mio dolor,

cause of my pain,

Né men Lavinia te,

nor even you, Lavinia,

Ingrata a la mia fé

ungrateful for my faith.

Te chiamo genio mio funesto e cieco

I call upon you, my fatal and blind spirit,

Ove vuole il destin mi adduci teco.

to lead me wherever destiny wishes.

(p.215) Other single stanzas are longer and metrically more varied, but still imply lyrical setting, because of their content or position in the scene. Numano's twelve lines of versi sciolti, “Or si contento io sto,” at the end of 3.2, suggest a comic exit aria (cf. below, p. 244).

Tight metric organization also characterizes a number of shared passages of text, clearly marking them for setting as lyrical duets, or, in one case, quartet. One such passage, a pair of rhymed settenario tercets for Lavinia and her Damigella, occurs in 4.3:

Dunque se ʼl vento freme,

Thus though the wind shivers,

Sʼavvien che ʼl mar sʼadiri,

and the sea becomes angry,

Ardito il cor respiri.

boldly will the heart breathe.

Amor governa il legno

Love governs the boat,

Qual tramontana stella,

as the north star

Splende ciprigna bella.

beautiful Venus shines.

Another, the obligatory final love duet for Enea and Lavinia (5.4), comprises a rhymed quatrain alternating settenari and endecasillabi enclosed by a two-line refrain (underlined).

O fortunati affanni,

O fortunate suffering,

Avventurosi danni,

eventful damage,

Noie, pianti, sospiri,

troubles, cries, sighs,

Sʼindi nascer dovean sì dolci effetti.

from which such sweet effects were born.

Pene, doglie, martiri

Pain, suffering, martyrdom,

Se tai produr dovean gioie e diletti,

if you produce such joy and delight,

O fortunati affanni,

O fortunate suffering …

Avventurosi danni.

The brief but equally obligatory final quartet for Himeneo, Venere, Amore, and Giunone, with the unusual metric structure of four quinari culminating in an endecasillabo, occurs in the last scene:

Dovʼè bellezza

Wherever beauty,

Dovʼè richezza,

wherever wealth,

Dovʼè amor,

wherever Love,

Dovʼè fede,

wherever faith is,

Ivi ogni gioia, ivi ogni ben risiede.

there all joy, there all happiness dwells.

One further textual element that attracts attention to itself and calls for special musical emphasis is the refrain. Although much more characteristic of both Ritorno and Incoronazione, exact or varied refrains recur in a few instances in Nozze to suggest some kind of (p.216) musical structure. We have just seen an example in the love duet: the single stanza is enclosed by a two-line refrain of rhymed settenari. The whole text was undoubtedly intended to be set lyrically. In other cases, only the refrain calls for lyricism. A closed tercet for the Trojan chorus celebrating Enea's victory opens act 5, scene 1 and recurs after a long recitative dialogue between Enea and Ascanio:

O glorioso Enea,

O glorious Enea,

Del gran Dardano tuo germe ben degno,

worthy descendant of great Dardanus,

Mercé di cui godiam riposo e regno.

thanks to whom we enjoy peace and reign.

It recurs once again at the end of the next scene, following an even longer dialogue between Acate, Enea, and Drante that seals Enea's victory and his union with the Latins. Clearly intended to be set lyrically, as distinct from the intervening dialogue, the refrain provides appropriate formal and presumably musical punctuation at the climax of the opera.

Despite the relative infrequency of refrains, the large number of distinct and varied invitations to song in Nozze, including strophic structures as well as single closed poetic stanzas, suggests that Monteverdi may have found the libretto more naturally musicable than that of Ritorno, that is, clearer in its signals for “canto di garbo.” We are sensitized to this fact, of course, by knowing how Monteverdi set the earlier libretto, the ways he had to expand and alter the text to infuse it with formal lyricism.

The Role of Meter

In addition to his more effective distribution of recitative and aria text, Torcigliani displays extraordinary metric variety and subtlety. We noted earlier how he emphasized his effort to introduce metric contrast for the purpose of characterization, as Monteverdi surely would have liked, specifically choosing versi sdruccioli for low persons (Vulcano, Numano) and short lines and versi tronchi for angry ones (see Appendix 2 [m]).67 Aletto's vengeful aria in 1.7, for instance, comprises three stanzas of ternari culminating in a longer stanza of quaternari sdruccioli. And the final confrontation between Enea and Turno at the end of act 4 concludes with short bursts of quinari tronchi:

TURNO: Or che farò?

Now what will I do?

   Solo la fuga

Flight alone

   Salvar mi può.

can save me.

ENEA: Non val fuggir,

It's not worth fleeing;

   convien morir.

it's better to die.

(p.217) In the final scene of the opera, several exchanges in versi sciolti terminate in symmetrical groups of quinari, as if short meter were servisng a culminating effect. (Indeed, the last twenty lines of the libretto—arranged as a series of stanzas—are virtually all rhymed quinari.)

Beyond deploying distinctive meters and metric arrangements for particular characters and dramatic situations, Torcigliani takes great care in his distribution of rhymes and verse sequences, sometimes opting for long series of tight rhyming lines in the same meter (ten or twelve couplets), at other times avoiding rhyme and continuous meter altogether (as in Latino's huge opening narrative). (The prologue, with its mixture of versi sciolti, stanzas of rhymed endecasillabi, and quinario refrains, gives a good idea of the variety that characterizes this text.)

Perhaps the most striking example of the librettist's use of metric contrast for dramatic purposes occurs in the dialogue between Venere and Vulcano in act 3, scene 1, a remarkable tour de force, with its participants wonderfully characterized by their contrasting use of piano and sdrucciolo verse endings. Trading on Vulcano's sexual frustration, Venere manipulates her blacksmith husband so that he agrees to forge arms for Enea. Her seductive versi piani, punctuated by some well-placed tronchi, engage and parry his versi sdruccioli:

VULCANO: Così mʼastringe lʼobbligo

Di fabricare al sommo Giove i fulmini.

Ma tu le voci hai placide,

Poi meco hai fatti rigidi.

Thus does obligation press me

to make thunderbolts for great Giove.

But you have calm tones,

though you have rigid business with me.

VENERE: È vero, anima mia,

Ma tu sei dio del foco,

E temo, se ti appressi,

Nova incauta Semele,

Arder aʼ cari amplessi.

Basta, basta lʼardor

Che lungi gli occhi tuoi fan nel mio cor.

Più non mʼaccender tu,

Deh, vita mia, non più.

It's true, my soul,

but you are the god of fire,

and I fear that if I approach you,

like a new, incautious Semele,

I will burn with your dear caresses.

The ardor is enough

that from afar inspires my heart.

Do not ignite me further,

alas, my life, no more.

VULCANO: Serba queste blandizie

A quel tuo Marte armigero,

A quellʼAdon tuo florido,

Che di Vulcan mi cangiano,

Ben spesso, in semicaprio.

Keep this flattery

for your squire Mars,

for your blooming Adonis,

who from Vulcan

often transform me into a half-goat.

VENERE: O bocca vezzosetta,

Che sì, che se non taci,

Io prenderò vendetta

De lʼonte deʼ tuoi baci.

O charming mouth,

if you are not silent

I will take vengeance

on the shame of your kisses.

VULCANO: Sei su le tresche, Venere,

Grazie vuoi tu richiedermi.

You are trying to deceive me, Venere.

You want to ask me for my favors.

VENERE: Sì, ma quel che desio

Nol mi negar, ben mio.

Yes, but what I desire,

do not deny me, my beloved.

(p.218) There is nothing like this in Il ritorno dʼUlisse. As far as subtleties of meter are concerned, Badoaro is clearly less resourceful than Torcigliani. But his libretto does introduce a certain amount of metric variety as a means of characterization (and to stimulate varied musical setting). For instance, he reserves his use of short meters—lines of five or fewer syllables—for the secondary characters: especially Melanto, Eurimaco, and Iro, while restricting his hero and heroine to versi sciolti. But on a number of occasions his poetry seems disturbingly irregular, his choices of meter and rhyme almost random, requiring special intervention on the part of the composer to render it dramatically viable.

Such would seem to be the case in act 1, scene 2. In this long dialogue between Melanto and Eurimaco (which comes as welcome relief from the somber mood established by Penelope's lament in the previous scene), each of the lovers' speeches is differently structured. Although only Melanto's first speech is a strophic aria, the composer sets the rest of the text lyrically as well, taking advantage of various cues provided by Badoaro: irregular refrains and distinct groups of short lines are suggestive for the musical shape of the scene—indeed, the composer simply omitted many lines having to do with plot development, which would have required recitative setting and interrupted the flow of his lyricism.68

Melanto's opening aria comprises two stanzas of six quinari rounded out by an hendecasyllabic couplet (abbaCC):

   Duri e penosi

Hard and painful

Son glʼamorosi

are the cruel desires

Fieri desir[i];

of lovers.

Ma alfin son cari,

But in the end they become dear,

Se prima amari

though at first bitter,

Gli aspri martir[i].

these harsh torments.

[Che] sʼarde un cor, è dʼallegrezza un foco

If a heart burns, it is a fire of happiness;

Né mai perde in amor chi compie il gioco.

he who plays the game of love never loses.

   Chi pria sʼaccende …

Eurimaco responds with a single stanza of six lines, four settenari likewise rounded out by a hendecasyllabic couplet: abbaCC. (Monteverdi adds a refrain, italicized.)

Bella Melanto mia,

My beautiful Melanto,

Graziosa Melanto,

lovely Melanto,

Il tuo canto è un incanto,

your song is an enchantment,

Il tuo volto è magia,

your face is bewitching

Bella Melanto mia.

My beautiful Melanto.

E tutto laccio in te ciò chʼaltri ammaga:

Everything in you is a snare that beguiles others,

Ciò che laccio non è, fa tutto piaga.

and whatever is not a snare, wounds everything.

(p.219) This provokes another six-line stanza from Melanto that is more irregular in structure—rhyme scheme and meter fail to confirm one another—but still closed, abcBDd:

Vezzoso garruletto,

Loquacious flatterer,

Oh, come ben tu sai

oh, how well you know how

Ingemmar le bellezze,

to adorn beauty,

Illustrar a tuo pro dʼun volto i rai.

to show the radiance of a face to your own advantage.

Lieto vezzeggia pur con glorie mie

Caress happily with my glories

Le tue dolci bugie.

your sweet lies.

Eurimaco's next speech comprises five lines that are only partly rhymed and metrically irregular: abc(3)c(3)dd, to which Melanto responds with five more shapely lines of her own, abBcC:

EURIMACO: Bugia sarebbe sʼio

Lodando non tʼamassi:

Che il negar


Confessata deità

È bugia dʼempietà.

A lie would it be if

praising, I did not love you.

For to deny


of an acknowledged goddess

would be an impious lie.

MELANTO: De' nostri amor concordi

Sia pur la fiamma accesa.

Chʼamato il non amar arreca offesa

Né con ragion sʼoffende

Colui che per offese amor ti rende.

Of our mutual love

let the flame be ignited.

For a love not returned causes offense,

nor is it right for him to offend

the one who renders love for offense.

(Although these five lines were assigned to Melanto in the libretto, Monteverdi sets the first three as a duet and gives the last two to Eurimaco.) The lovers then divide a hendecasyllabic quatrain: abba, which culminates in a full duet. (The duet is not especially required by the form of the text but primarily by its meaning and position in the scene.)

MELANTO [Eurimaco]:

   Sʼio non tʼamo, cor mio, che sia di gelo

If I do not love you, my heart,

   Lʼalma chʼho in seno aʼ tuoi begli occhi avante

let the soul in my breast freeze before your eyes.

EURIMACO [Melanto]:

   Se in adorarti il cor non ho costante

If in adoring you my heart is not constant,

   Non mi sia stanza il mondo o tetto il cielo.

let me have no room on earth, no roof in heaven.

A DUE: Dolce mia vita sei,

You are my sweet life;

   Lieto, mio ben sarai;

happily, you will be my beloved.

   Nodo sì bel non si disciolga mai.

Such a beautiful knot will never be dissolved.

(p.220) Though the remainder of the scene is drastically cut by the composer, reduced from twenty-nine lines to six, the final duet is repeated at the end.

One has the distinct impression in this scene that meter does not matter; that whatever Badoaro had intended, Monteverdi would have introduced lyricism because it suited a perceived need to contrast Penelope's melodic restraint and to portray the sexual relationship of the “second couple” of his drama. (In a sense, this is analogous to his construction of strophic arias discussed above. He transformed the text as he saw fit.)

Badoaro may have been less sensitive—and less inclined—to metric variety and contrast than Torcigliani. Yet, of our three librettos, Incoronazione is by far the least varied as far as meter is concerned, and no doubt intentionally so.69 It is overwhelmingly comprised of settenari and endecasillabi, and not only for recitative. Most of the closed aria forms use those meters as well, alone and in combination. Only a few arias utilize another meter (predictably those of secondary characters), and then only at the beginning, all of them closing with a hendecasyllabic couplet. Nutrice's aria “Se Neron perso ha l'ingegno” (1.5) comprises four ottonari plus the couplet, Amore's “O sciocchi, o frali” (2.13) two quinari plus couplet, and his “Forsennato, scelerato” (2.14) eight ottonari plus couplet.70 (Seneca's scene with the Virtues, cut by Monteverdi, is in quinari, and his followers' chorus is in ottonari.) A particularly effective use of ottonari enhances the flirtation between Valletto and Damigella in act 2, scene 5. Valletto opens a ten-line stanza in rime alternate by mixing ottonari tronchi and piani, which Damigella effectively reverses in her response.

VALLETTO: Sento un certo non so che,

I feel a certain I don't know what

   Che mi pizzica e diletta.

that tickles and delights me.

   Dimmi tu che cosa egli è,

Tell me what it is,

   Damigella amorosetta.

you amorous maiden.

… … … … . .

… … … …

DAMIGELLA: Astutello, garzoncello,

You cunning little boy,

   Bamboleggia Amor in te.

Love is playing games with you.

   Se divieni amante a fè

If you really become a lover

   Perderai tosto il cervello.

You will soon lose your mind.

(p.221) Such manipulation of verse endings is typical of Busenello's aria texts, even those in the characteristic settenario and endecasillabo meters. In act 2, scene 10, for example, settenari and endecasillabi tronchi, mixed with versi piani, enhance the humor of Nutrice's disquisition on old age (the variety adds a kind of spice):

Il giorno femminil

The day of a woman

Trova la sera sua nel mezo dì.

finds its evening at midday.

Dal mezo giorno in là

After noon

Sfiorisce la beltà;

beauty begins to disappear.

Sol tempo si fa dolce

Only time can sweeten

Il frutto accerbo e duro,

bitter and hard fruit.

Ma in hore guasto vien quel chʼè maturo.

But within hours mature fruit becomes rotten.

Credetel pure a me,

Believe me,

O giovanette fresche in su ʼl mattin.

you fresh maidens in the morning of life.

Predictably, Busenello's recitative hardly ever departs from versi sciolti. But when it does, the effect is striking—and purposeful. And, thanks to Monteverdi, memorable. (He obviously responded to this kind of variety too.) Two instances in the prologue stand out, one near the beginning of Fortuna's speech (“dissipata/disusata/mal gradita”), the other near the end of Amore's (“riveritemi/adoratemi”). In both instances, the interruption of versi sciolti with quaternary—piani in one case, sdruccioli in the other—inspired measured, sequential treatment by the composer. Such interruptions are used to particular dramatic effect early in the opera. In 1.1, the already-mentioned opening scene for Ottone, a sequence of four quaternari in the midst of an extended passage of versi sciolti (thirty-one lines) adds an element of passion to Ottone's appeal to Poppea: “che ti seguì/ che ti bramò/che ti servì/che tʼadorerò,” a sequence that inspired exact, obsessive repetition in the music.

Ahi, perfida Poppea,

Son queste le promesse e i giuramenti

Chʼaccesero il cor mio?

Questa lè la fede, o Dio!

Io son quellʼOttone

Che ti seguì,

Che ti bramò,

Che ti servì,

Che tʼadorò.71

Che per piegarti e intenerirti il core

who to bend and soften your heart

Di lagrime imperlò preghi devoti,

with tears I adorned my devoted prayers,

Gli spirti a te sacrificando in voti.

sacrificing my spirits to you in vows.

(p.222) Similarly, in 1.3, their first love scene, a pair of rhymed ternari inserted within a long passage of versi sciolti increases the intensity of Poppea's urging Nerone not to leave her: “deh non dir/di partir,” an intensity that is magnified when the passage is repeated six lines later as part of a refrain. (This happens later in the scene, too: “Se ben io vò/ Pur teco stò.”)72

Busenello's text is metrically distinctive in other ways as well. Although nearly all speeches end in rhymed couplets, many consist of long sequences of unrhymed lines until then: of Fortuna's twenty-four opening lines, fifteen are unrhymed, as are eight of Virtù's eleven. In Arnalta's recitative in 1.4 six of eight are unrhymed. Nutrice's eleven-line recitative in 1.5 has only one rhyme, at the end. This pattern is particularly noticeable in Ottavia's lament (the first rhyme in her thirty-seven-line text does not occur until lines 12–13, an endecasillabo couplet) and in Seneca's speeches. (His speech in 1.6 continues for fifteen lines before being articulated by a rhyme.)73 Lengthy unrhymed passages like these, especially sequences of endecasillabi, lend a sense of prose-like naturalness to the dialogue. When more strictly rhymed, like some of Seneca's other speeches, the dialogue can convey excessive formality.74

In some of the most passionate exchanges, poetic lines are divided between characters, so that only together do they complete the full line. The effect is one of urgent interruption, as if one character is unable, for some reason, to wait until the other has finished. Such exchanges are particularly memorable near the end of the first scene between Poppea and Nerone, where they effectively propel the encounter to conclusion. The first four elements together make up an endecasillabo: “Tornerai/Tornerò/Quando?/Ben tosto,” followed immediately by two more, “Me ʼl prometti?/Te ʼl giuro,” comprising a settenario, though Monteverdi's setting of this passage actually counteracts Busenello's dramatic rhythm by (p.223) slowing it down through extensive repetition. A similar exchange enhances the shock in Ottone's response to Ottavia's suggestion that he kill Poppea, first a settenario, then an endecasillabo: “Che uccida chi?/ Poppea;/ Quel che già prometesti/ io ciò promisi?” And this too the composer slows down through repetition, thereby intensifying the psychological effect. Busenello suggests still another psychological effect when he uses the technique in a scene between Drusilla and Ottone. Here she is attempting to reassure herself that his sudden change of attitude means that he loves her, and he is all too anxious to reassure her: “Mʼami adunque?/Ti bramo,” an exchange that is emphasized by being repeated within the space of five brief lines:

DRUSILLA: Mʼami, adunque?

You love me, then?

OTTONE:       Ti bramo.

      I desire you.

DRUSILLA: E come in un momento?

But how, all in a moment?

OTTONE: Amor è foco e subito sʼaccende.

Love is a fire, and ignites in an instant.

DRUSILLA: Sì subite dolcezze

      Hora gode il mio cor, ma non le intende.

      Mʼami adunque?

Such sudden sweetness

      My heart now enjoys, but does not understand.

      You love me, then?

OTTONE:       Ti bramo.

      I desire you.

Natural (or naturalistic) exchanges between characters are perhaps the most distinctive aspect of Busenello's dramatic language. This is particularly striking in the scenes of passionate confrontation, such as the one between Nerone and Seneca. Here the librettist famously adopts the Senecan technique of stichomythia to portray the escalating tension between the two men as they move from exchanges of four lines to two, and finally to a long series of single lines, which culminate in Nerone's declaration that Poppea will be his wife.

The prose-like immediacy of Busenello's dialogue, especially such rapid-fire interchanges as these that he built into the text, surely inspired one of the most characteristic features of Monteverdi's setting, the intercalations, most memorably in the scene between Seneca and Nerone just mentioned, but also between Nerone and Poppea. (Those between Nutrice and Ottavia in 1.5 and between Ottone and the Soldiers linking act 1 scenes 1–2 were mentioned above.) Although the other two librettos show evidence of having inspired some intercalation, particularly in the construction of duets, where block speeches naturally lent themselves to segmentation in order to reflect intimate communication, only in Incoronazione does the technique become critical to the unfolding of the drama.75

(p.224) Fashioning the “Just Lament”: Arianna's Venetian Progeny

A just lament, a righteous prayer: we remember Monteverdi's phrase from his famous letter to Striggio. Moved by the human plight of Ariadne and Orpheus, the composer was able to tell their stories. And the telling revolved around two central moments: Arianna's lament and Orfeo's prayer. Monteverdi isolates the big scenes for the central characters as emblematic, marking them as crucial to the operas, as exemplifying or embodying their conviction, their verisimilitude.

We know from many sources that Arianna's lament was one of Monteverdi's favorite pieces—and not only his. We recall that it was regarded as “the most important part” of the opera by the original audience,76 that every household with a keyboard instrument was said to have had a copy, that it inspired a host of imitations, and that Monteverdi himself extracted it from the opera and published it in three different forms—as a monody, a sacred contrafactum, and a five-voice madrigal cycle. We also know that he remembered it with special fondness years later, when he reported to the theorist Giovanni Battista Doni that it had enabled him to understand the art of imitating the affections.77 It is to the reputation of Arianna's lament, of course, that we owe its survival; what was the most important part of the opera to its original audience—and its composer—is even more important to us: it is all we have.78

At least some of the credit for Monteverdi's extraordinary lament must be—and has been—ascribed to the poet, Ottavio Rinuccini, who created a text that so effectively matched the composer's rhetorical language. The long lament, in five unequal sections punctuated by brief choral responses,79 is constructed essentially of versi sciolti that are articulated and shaped by a variety of rhetorical emphases: irregularly recurring refrains (particularly the poignant opening line, “Lasciatemi morire”), repeated locutions, questions, (p.225) and inversions inspire a setting characterized by huge emotional contrasts and accumulating tension. Arianna moves us by the intensity of her pain and by her efforts to deal with it, as she progresses from despair (“Lasciatemi morire,” “O Teseo, O Teseo mio”) to disbelief (“Dove, dove è la fede”), to fury (“O nembi, o turbi, o venti”), to shame (“Non son, non son quellʼio”), and, finally, to resignation (“Mirate, ove mʼha scorto empia fortuna”). Monteverdi casts the lament entirely in recitative style, but he exploits Rinuccini's refrains, phrase and word repetitions, and patterns of rhyme and meter to create a strong sense of overall melodic and rhythmic shape. Although Arianna shares the scene with a responsive chorus and companion, she is not affected by them: her lament is completely self-motivated, generated by the ebb and flow of her own internal passions.

If Monteverdi sought other Ariannas, convincing human beings who could inspire him to the natural expression of suffering, he certainly found them in his Venetian texts. The Venetian librettists knew Arianna's lament not from its dead traces on the page, but from live performance on the stage, when the opera was revived at the Teatro S. Moisè in 1640. All three librettists offered him the opportunity of focusing their protagonists' suffering in a central, pivotal scene that was molded to the pattern of Rinuccini's great lament. Penelope, Enea, Lavinia, and Ottavia are all Arianna's heirs.80

Badoaro's imitation comes immediately, in the extraordinary opening scene of Ritorno, in which Penelope vents her suffering to her old nurse Ericlea. Resignation, anger, and hope succeed one another as she laments her twenty-year abandonment by Ulisse. The text itself is rather shapeless, a somewhat crude imitation of Rinuccini's strongly articulated text for Arianna, but it is adequate to Monteverdi's purpose; it provides him with raw material that he could transform into a lament of overwhelming power and conviction fully worthy of its model.81 Monteverdi's editing of this scene, as we shall see in the next chapter, was essential to its final effect. It represents what is arguably his most substantial and successful intervention in all of his works.

Lacking the music for Monteverdi's second Venetian opera, Nozze, we are of course at a disadvantage in identifying analogies to Arianna's lament. But in fact the libretto contains several rather promising candidates in two lengthy monologues for Lavinia and one for Enea. The librettist himself calls our attention to the most prominent of these passages, Enea's soliloquy in act 3 (scenes 4–5), which he describes at considerable length in his “Lettera.” His description emphasizes his keen awareness of Monteverdi's tastes and requirements (see Appendix 2 [h, i]).82

(p.226) He has portrayed Enea first as happy about the prospect of peace with the Latins—we recall that he has stretched his Virgilian model by keeping his hero temporarily ignorant of their battle plans—but also tired from his past exertions, so that, lulled by the amenities of the landscape, he lies down to rest on the banks of the Tiber; the river, which will eventually owe its fame to him, then offers a friendly warning of the approaching dangers from the Rutu-lians, and exhorts him to combat.83 At this unexpected news Enea awakens disturbed (turbato), and, lamenting the persistence of his bad luck (malvagia), recalls the details of his past misfortunes, which in part at least must have been known to the spectators.84 Whereupon, as a strong man reinvigorates himself, so he, having passed from calm to suffering, now rejoices at the sight of his mother, Venus. “These changes of affection,” the author emphasizes, “which are always effective in poems like these, happen also to please our Sig. Monteverdi very much, because they give him the opportunity of displaying, with varied pathos, the marvels of his art.”85

To be sure, the scene sequence requires the intervention of two other characters to inspire some of Enea's emotional shifts: in contrast to Arianna, whose emotions developed internally, Enea responds first to Tebro and then to Venere.86 Still, his mood changes are forcefully projected in the poetry of his speeches. Like Arianna's, Enea's text is primarily in versi sciolti; and though it lacks the repetitive rhetorical structures that Monteverdi found so congenial in the earlier work—alliteration, assonance, anaphora, isocolon—it is replete with expressive imagery and strong metric patterns. Beginning with a textual passage that is somewhat more tightly rhymed than the norm, a pair of tercets: abB, cDD (but 7 7 11, 7 11 11), Enea tries to calm himself, urging his heart to banish all unhappy thoughts—to submerge them in the waters of Lethe. (Presumably the absence of metric confirmation of the rhyme scheme would have discouraged the composer from setting these lines as two parallel stanzas, though the repeated invocation in lines 3, 4, and 5—italicized here—might have suggested lyrical expression.)

Alle liete novella

To the happy news

Da Illioneo recate,

brought from Ilium

Itene lungi omai [ormai] cure mal nate,

be banished, ill-born worries,

Serenatevi o lumi,

calm yourselves, o eyes,

Tranquillati mio Cor; con dolce quiete

be tranquil, my heart; in sweet quiet

Ogni tristo pensier somergi in Lete.

let every sad thought be submerged in Lethe.

(p.227) Enea then invokes sleep, beginning with a rhetorically heightened line, “Vieni o sonno, deh vieni oblio dei mali,” which initiates a new closed group of lines, this time four, with the rhyme scheme abba. The apostrophic nature of this invocation, as well as the recurrence of a varied form of the opening line to round out the quatrain, lend a somewhat formal tone to this speech, suggesting the possibility of lyrical setting.

Vieni o sonno, deh vieni oblio de mali

Come, o sleep, do come, oblivion of evils,

Del nostro dì fuggace

of our days fleeting

Porto, chʼai solo in te sicura Pace.

port, which alone offers secure peace.

Vieni, e sopra di me riposa lʼali.

Come, and over me rest your wings.

In the concluding twelve lines, Enea employs a panoply of standard natural images to affirm his peaceful mood, declaring his affinity with the beauties of nature: the rustling of the wind, the song of birds, the murmuring of the waves; finally, he succumbs to sleep (the expressive alliterations that mark this passage are underlined and significant textual variants are given in brackets):

Spiran tra fronde, e fronde

Between leaves and leaves breathe

I freschi venticelli,

fresh breezes,

Cantano i vaghi augelli

lovely birds sing,

Concordi ai suon del [Concorde il suono al] mormorar dellʼonde,

in concord with the murmuring of the waves,

Cari dolci, e graditi,

dear, sweet, and pleasing

Al tuo venir inviti

invite your coming.

Ma le preghiere mie non porta il vento,

But the wind does not carry my prayers,

Di già vacilla il piè, sʼaggrava il lume,

already my foot slips, the light dims,

Qui dove dʼErbe, e fiori, [e ʼl fiume]

here, where grass, flowers,

[3331 only: E il margine del fiume]

and the riverbank

Mʼappresterà morbido letto, e adorno,

make ready for me a soft and ornate bed,

   [letto morbido, odoroso]

Glʼocchi racchiudo, e poso.

I close my eyes and rest.

   [Chiudi glʼocchi al riposo]

Here it is the musical imagery and the predominantly short, mostly rhymed lines that might suggest a lyrical setting of the first part of this text. As for the end of it—“Di già vacilla il piè”—recalling Monteverdi's remarks on sleep in the Finta pazza letters and the sleep scene in Incoronazione, we almost hear the composer portraying Enea's increasing drowsiness with hesitant rhythm, interspersed with rests, and descending melody.87 This (p.228) brief moment of repose is abruptly shattered by Tebro's warning of imminent war, to which Enea, rudely awakened, responds with agitation. Following his initial shock of disbelief, he cries out bitterly against heaven. Has he not suffered enough? Will his trials never end?

Luci mie, che vedeste?

Eyes of mine, what do you see?

Verace oggetto, o pur larva mendace?

A true object, or else a false shadow?

Fosti tu, di questʼonde [ … humido dio]

Were you, of these waters a damp god,

Pietoso Nuncio a me del rischio mio?

pitying messenger of my risk?

O ciel dunque non basta

Oh heaven, it is not enough, then,

A raddolcir tuo sdegno

to sweeten your disdain

Ciò che soffersi ohimè dʼempio, e dʼindegno?

my cruel and undeserved suffering?

[3331 only: Spargesti, cara Patria

You shed, dear country,

Tantʼanni il sangue a fiumi

rivers of blood for so many years,

Cadendo in fin tradita

falling in the end, betrayed,

Distrutta, incenerita.

destroyed, incinerated.

Voi de congiunti estinti Ombre dolenti

You sad shades of my dead relatives

Ridite i miei tormenti.

will rehearse my torments.

Voi dellʼatroce esilio men dogliosi

You, less pained by atrocious exile,

Ahi, che i miei guai penosi

alas, than my painful misery.

Non tollerò lʼInferno

I will not bear Hell

Benché sia con il suo mio straccio eterno.]

though to it be tied my eternal sufferin

Initially unrhymed and irregular, his poetry becomes increasingly measured and passionate, and filled with hard sounds (underlined); couplet follows upon rhymed couplet as shock becomes self-pity and then anger, culminating finally in a furious outburst. The rapidly shifting pronouns of his address, voi/miei/voi/miei/suo/mio (italicized), reflect his heightened emotion: he refuses to accept Hell's torments. But then, recognizing that he has overstepped the bounds of decorum, he abruptly takes hold of himself. Arianna-like, Enea regrets the intensity of his anger: pain was the cause of his excessive passion, his words came from his tongue, not his heart.88 Pulling himself together, then, he is able to objectify his grief and in the final three lines of the scene he summons up his former courage: however contrary heaven and fate may be, his brave heart will be victorious:

Ma del usato ardir, quai novi accenti [voci indegne].

But in my customary boldness, what new accents are these.

Lʼimpeto del dolore

The outburst of pain

Tragge dalla mia lingua, e non dal core.

came from my tongue, and not my heart.

Enea dunque si duole,

Enea now laments,

Che nel più fier sembiante

who in his proudest aspect

Rimirò morte, e si serbò costante?

stared at death, and remained constant?

No, no, pur imperversi il Cielo, il Fatto

No, no, no matter how contrary Heaven and Fate,

Sarà non mai languente

no longer will the victorious heart

Nelle perdite ancor il Cor vincente.

languish in its losses.

(p.229) When Venere arrives in the following scene to bestow upon him the arms made for him by Vulcano, Enea rejoices. Reassured now that he will vanquish his enemies, he closes the scene with a quatrain expressing his newfound confidence. Although formally rather neutral, surely this final exuberant quatrain would have been set lyrically, as some kind of joyful aria.

Qual più lieto di me, qual più felice?

Who more joyous than I, who happier?

Cinto di sì bellʼarmi

Clothed in such beautiful armor

Pugnerò, vincerò palme, et allori,

I will fight, I will win palms and laurels;

Preparate al mio Crin fregi, et onori.

prepare adornments and honors for my hair

One is reminded here of Ulisse's rejoicing at his good fortune in Ritorno, act 1: “O fortunato Ulisse,” which the composer set as a formal strophic aria, even though the form of the text did not call for it.

Thus has Enea passed, to reiterate the librettist's words, from “quiete” to “travaglio” to “allegrezza”—from quiet, to suffering, to happiness—all within the space of a single (if admittedly lengthy) monologue: such changes of affection please our Signor Monteverdi very much because they allow him to display the marvels of his art.

A Master of Three Servants

Not content with a single imitation of Arianna's lament, Torcigliani constructed two other scenes, for Lavinia, with similar attention to sharp affective contrasts and accumulating tension. One is a fifty-four-line soliloquy (3.3), the other a dialogue with her maid (3.8) in the manner of Penelope's (or Arianna's) lament. While it may not be as self-consciously constructed as Enea's, in Lavinia's soliloquy successions of expressive images and sudden changes of mood reveal her struggle to control her feelings, her anguish at having been the cause of so much bloodshed, and her fear for Enea's safety during his long anticipated confrontation with Turno (textual variants bracketed, expressive alliteration underlined).

1 Freme lʼaria e rimbomba

The air trembles and thunders

2 Allʼorrido fragore

from the horrible roar

3 Della guerriera Tromba.

of the trumpet of war.

4 Rintuona il Cielo a glʼululati, a i stride

The sky resounds with howls and screams,

5 Onde al sangue, alle morti

while to blood, to death

6 Sciolto daʼ ferrei lacci, Italia sfida

dissolved by iron bonds Italy confronts

7 Il terrore [furor] omicida.

murderous terror.

8 Onde [Or di] sì fiere sorti

Now of such proud destiny,

9 Del suscitato ardor, chʼItalia sface,

of renewed passion that destroys Italy,

10 Qual è, se non sol io,89

what, if not I alone,

11 La fatal, dolorosa infausta face?

is the fatal, suffering, unlucky torch?

12 Infelici bellezze,

Unhappy beauties,

13 Che nate esser sembrate

who seem to have been born

14 Per dar altrui dolcezze

to give delight to others,

15 E sete di martir cagion spietate,

and have become the despised cause of martyrdom,

16 O frigio duce, o Enea, O Phrygian duke, O Enea,

O Phrygian duke, O Enea,

17 Daʼ desolati lidi

from the desolate shores

18 Della caduta patria, a chi [che] vogliesti,

of your fallen country, why did you turn,

19 Ver le sponde latine i lini arditi,

toward Latin shores your brave sails,

20 Sʼesser dovean per me così funesti?

if because of me they were to become so deadly?

21 Misera, qual io penso [sento]

Miserable one, how I think

22 Orror, tema, spavento?

horror, fear, fright?

23 Palpita il cor frequente,

My heart beats too fast,

24 Si turba il guardo fioco,

my feeble eyes are troubled,

25 Vacilla il piè cadente,

my falling step wavers

26 E ne le vene alterna or gelo or fuoco.

and my blood turns now to ice, now to fire.

27 Fiero destin fatale,

O proud and fatal destiny,

28 A che temer mʼinsegni

why do you teach me to fear

29 Tempesta più mortale

a more mortal storm

30 Di quellʼancor [amor] di cui rimiro i segni?

than that love, whose signs I recognize?

31 Ah che non è, non è

Ah, let not, let not

32 La bella Italia offesa:

beautiful Italy be offended:

33 Contro Lavinia, ohimè, volta è lʼimpresa,

Against Lavinia, alas, the effort is directed

34 Sì che altri senta esterna90

so that others feel externally,

35 Ed io nel sen doglioso

what I in my unhappy bosom

36 Più cruda guerra interna.

feel as a crueler internal war.

37 O placido riposo,

O peaceful rest,

38 Lassa, dove venisti? [ne gisti]

alas, where have you gone?

39 Dolce seren, o dio, come sparisti?

Sweet serenity, oh God, how did you disappear?

40 Or, agitata, parmi

Now agitated you seem

41 Esser rapita a lʼarmi.

to have been abducted to war.

42 Esser vorrei ne la crudel tenzone

I would like to be in the cruel combat

43 Per rimirar dʼappresso

to see from nearby

44 Chi è del mio mal cagione.

the one who is the cause of my pain.

45 Ma ciò non è concesso

But that is not allowed

46 A pudor verginale,

by virginal modesty,

47 A maestà regale.

by royal majesty.

48 Forse su lʼalte mura,

Perhaps on the high wall,

49 Infra le schiere sparte

within the spartan ranks

50 Del sanguignoso Marte,

of bloody Mars,

51 Vedrò chi più vorrei [vedo]

I will see the one I most wish to see,

52 Benchʼesser io potrei

though I could be

53 Vie più che spettatrice,

more than spectator,

54 Spettacolo infelice.

the unhappy spectacle itself.


(p.231) Lavinia's emotions undergo abrupt and frequent oscillation. Her powerful evocation of the images of war (ll. 1–11, note emphasis on hissing fs) is followed suddenly by the expression of her awareness of her personal stake in it (ll. 12–15), and then her description of her fear (ll. 21–26), and her longing for peace (ll. 37–39). Rapidly shifting address from Enea, to herself, to Destiny, and back to herself again, in the third and then the first person, she is at once subject and object, both spectator and spectacle of her own destruction. Such kaleidoscopic emotions and points of view, once again, are precisely what Monteverdi sought in a libretto; they gave him the opportunity of displaying the marvels of his art. Perhaps above all, Lavinia's vivid description of the physical manifestations of her emotional distress (ll. 21–26)—rapid heartbeat, blurred vision, unsteady gait, fever and chills, an unsteadiness conveyed by the alternating accents (sdrucciolo/piano beginnings) of successive lines (sdrucciolos italicized)—is made to order for a composer who strove so intently to imitate feelings.

It is worth pointing out that Lavinia's emotional shifts—from description to objectified thought (“Infelici bellezze”), to expression of feeling (“Misera qualʼio sento”), to the questioning of destiny (“Fiero destin fatale”), to lamenting her lost peace, and culminating in hope (“Forse su lʼalte mura”)—are enhanced by the form of her poetry: various sections of her text are distinguished from one another not only by their expressive focus but by individually closed rhyme schemes—a rhymed sestet (ll. 21–26, “Misera, qual io sento,” aabcbC) and septet (ll. 48–54: “Forse su lʼalte mura,” abbccdd)—or rhythmic structures that invite lyricism.91 Versi sciolti finally yield to a succession of twelve settenari, mostly in rhymed couplets, which contribute to the accumulation of tension at the conclusion of her scene. More highly structured than either Enea's lament or Penelope's, Lavinia's monologue shows the extent to which Torcigliani was aware of Monteverdi's style: the premium (p.232) he placed on variety and contrast. Such changes of affection please our Signor Monteverdi very much because they offer him the opportunity to display the marvels of his art.

Though the impending war is still very much on her mind in her second (shorter) monologue, five scenes later, the source of Lavinia's distress is more specific and more internal: in the interim she has fallen desperately in love with Enea and is ashamed of her feelings. Here, her passionate outpouring, a lament, is mediated by a series of brief interjections from her lady-in-waiting, objective, descriptive remarks that are directed outward, to the audience: “this is not Lavinia. She has gone mad. What has changed her?” And then, “Alas, such gestures, such an appearance, what unsteady glances, never seen before; what will become of her?”92 Finally, having understood that love is the source of her mistress's pain, Melanto-like, she encourages her not to fight but to accept it.

Lavinia's feelings of love may be exacerbated by her fear of Enea's death at the hands of Turno, but it is the feelings themselves that she is attempting to exorcize during the course of her monologue. Her speech, in three large sections, begins as a narrative, as she recalls how she was overcome with love for “il famoso Troiano” when he appeared on the city walls in battle dress (fourteen lines), and how her passion increased as she observed his confrontation with Turno (twenty lines). Now, she says, she cannot bear the thought of her beloved's death (“Ed hor”), ending her speech with a brief prayer to Venere. Finally, in the third and last segment of the speech she laments her situation:

Ma misera, infelice,

But miserable, unhappy me,

Per mal noto straniero

for an unknown foreigner

Prego, bramo, pavento;

I pray, burn, fear;

Di più piango, sospiro e mi lamento.

and more, I cry, sigh, and lament.

E quai son questi segni

And what are these signs

Che tentano lʼentrata

that seek entrance

Del mio ritroso petto, affetti indegni?

within my shy breast, unworthy affections?

Che dico? Ah, troppo già lʼhan superata!

What am I saying? Ah, they have already overcome me.

Sento, sento ben io

I feel, well do I feel

Qual forza omnipotente

that an omnipotent force

Prese il mio cor repente,

suddenly took hold of my heart

De la passion rubelle

and with rebellious passion

Fa dura strage e se le rende ancelle.

slaughtered it and made it a servant.

Io amo, ohimè, che dissi? Ah, chi mi udì?

I am in love, alas, what did I say? Ah, who heard me?

Deh, disperdete voi, veloci venti,

Alas, scatter, you swift winds,

I mal proferti accenti.

my ill-uttered words.

(p.233) It is particularly in this final section that the librettist engages typical lament rhetoric: Lavinia expresses and analyzes her feelings almost simultaneously, in sequences of highly expressive verbs (“prego, bramo, pavento: di più piango, sospiro e mi lamento”) followed by repeated retractions: (“Ma che dico?”, and later, “Io amo, ohimè, che dissi?”), finally, regretfully, begging the winds to dissipate her unwisely uttered words.

Like the two earlier soliloquies, Lavinia's speech is comprised almost exclusively of versi sciolti, which Monteverdi would probably have set in expressive recitative style. This is in contrast to Damigella's responses, all of which are more highly organized: the first a quatrain of settenari tronchi, the second an abb tercet of ottonari. Though her third response begins in versi sciolti, it culminates in a rhymed quatrain of settenari, cast as a duet with Lavinia. To judge from similar closed passages in the text of Ritorno, each of these more structured passages would probably have inspired lyricism from the composer.

A Master of Three Servants

All three of these monologues for Enea and Lavinia are striking not only for their general affective mobility, but for their pointed exploitation of contrasting images of love and war, a fundamental aspect of Monteverdi's late aesthetics. The composer's interest in the dichotomy of these two feelings—and their intersection—could hardly have been a secret to any librettist collaborating with Monteverdi in the early 1640s. It had formed the rhetorical skeleton (and raison dʼêtre) of his most recent publication, the Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi of 1638. The war-like style, or stile concitato, was featured repeatedly in both parts of that collection as a means of conveying feelings associated with intense passions or of depicting descriptions of battle, either real or symbolic. Monteverdi, whose exploration of the style occupied him for much of his career, found many opportunities of deploying it in his Venetian operas; Ritorno and Nozze feature literal battles. The violent confrontation between Ulisse and the Suitors is matched by the battle between Enea's and Turno's forces at the end of act 3, initiated by the same battle cry: “Alle straggi, su, su” (though the battle is not actually finished until the end of the following act, when Turno is reported killed by Enea while attempting to flee). Surely Monteverdi would have used a similar battle sinfonia in both instances.

In laments, too, Monteverdi uses the stile concitato at a climactic moment to portray excessive anger that will soon boil over into contrition. The style is anticipated by Arianna when she reaches for percussive, rapid repeated notes at the height of her anger, close to the end of her lament (ll. 836–42):93

Ahi, che non pur risponde!

Ah, he still does not answer!

Ahi che più dʼaspe è sordo aʼ miei lamenti!

Ah, more deaf than a viper is he to my lament!

O nembi, o turbi, o venti,

O storms, o tempests, o winds,

Sommergetelo voi dentrʼa quellʼonde!

drown him beneath your waves!

Correte, orche e balene,

Hasten, whales and sea monsters,

E de le membra immonde

and with his foul limbs

Empiete le voragini profonde.

fill your deep abysses.

Che parlo, ahi! che vaneggio …

Ah, what am I saying? Am I delirious?

(p.234) Ottavia invokes the full panoply of concitato elements at the climax of her lament (1.5) as she curses the Gods for failing to punish Nerone for betraying her, and then apologizes:

Se per punir Nerone

If to punish Nerone

Fulmini tu non hai,

you have no thunderbolts,

Dʼimpotenza tʼaccuso,

I will accuse you of impotence,

Dʼingiustizia tʼincolpo;

I will charge you with injustice.

Ahi, trapasso troppʼoltre e me ne pento ….

Ah, I have gone too far and I repent ….

In what would seem like a similar call for the stile concitato in his great scena, already discussed, Enea's emotions reach excessive heights during the recital of his past woes, triggering the Arianna-like reversal (see p. 228 and n. 88 above).

Lavinia's war-like imagery is different, however. The first nine lines of her monologue (pp. 229–30) describe an external battle, the one she witnesses, rather than a symbolic, internal one that she feels. Monteverdi might have used the stile concitato here as well, but in a different, more objective manner: perhaps resembling his setting of the battle cries in Ritorno. Although later on she refers to suffering internal war—in fact, explicitly to the contrast between what she sees and what she feels (ll. 31–36)—in this scene at least, Lavinia never reaches the extreme passion that would either cause her to regret her words, or require the stile concitato to convey her feelings, even in our speculations. The same may be said of her scene with her Damigella. Perhaps the cause of her passion—her love for Enea is not even unrequited—is not serious enough to inspire real suffering. Though she does regret her words here, more than once, they never approach the excess of those of her sisters. Her suffering lacks the historical resonance—and conviction—of Arianna's, Penelope's, and Ottavia's. And this is no accident. We recall that Lavinia's monologues, like Enea's, involved departures from the Aeneid that the librettist justified as a means of enhancing the verisimilitude of his plot. Explicitly in the case of Enea, and implicitly for Lavinia, emotions were pumped up to provide the composer with suitable situations for “just lament and righteous prayer.”

Note, finally, that while all three of the Nozze “lament” texts feature rapid changes of emotion, repeated locutions, and rhetorical emphases that would have suited Monteverdi's taste, they lack one of the most conspicuous expressive features of Arianna's lament, a refrain: “Lasciatemi morire,” echoing throughout the long lament, in exact and inexact repetitions, is one of its chief structural/affective elements. The importance of refrains for the (p.235) composer is underlined by his editing of Penelope's lament (as we shall see, his heightening of Badoaro's refrains is one of the main features of his revision), as well as his settings of other lament texts.

Alas, aside from guessing that he might have treated this or that passage lyrically, or used the stile concitato or imitated an action in another, without the score of Nozze we obviously have no way of knowing how Monteverdi actually set the texts we have been discussing. We cannot even know whether he set them as given in the libretto or altered them (by adding refrains, for instance). It is evident, though, from comparative analysis of the poetry, that despite their lack of refrains, the texts of all the big scenes in Nozze are more tightly structured—and more concise—than Penelope's lament from Ritorno. At least in this respect, his own disclaimers to the contrary, Torcigliani reveals himself to have been innately more skillful than his predecessor. Monteverdi may well have been more satisfied with these texts and felt no need to alter them. Or they may have been introduced or improved following his preliminary critique of the libretto. (We have noted above [n. 88] that the effect of the most Arianna-like passage of Enea's scena, the reversal, was strengthened by a textual passage found only in the performance libretto.) It could even be that Torcigliani had learned from Badoaro's mistakes.

The same may be said for Busenello, whose lament texts in Incoronazione Monteverdi surely must have found more congenial than Penelope's, since he apparently did not feel the need to alter them. Among the most striking monologues in this opera are those sung by Ottavia, in 1.5 and 3.6.94 The first of them, much the longer and more varied of the two (thirty-seven lines as opposed to sixteen), displays greater affinity with those of both Arianna and Enea. In it, Ottavia reveals her ambivalence: self-pity, anger, and hurt alternate in rapid succession within her, reason and passion vying for primacy. Her text is replete with those changes of affection that please Signor Monteverde very much because they allow him to display the marvels of his art. Initially in the depths of depression, “dis-prezzata” and “afflitta,” she soon becomes furious at Nerone and curses him, inciting herself to frenzy as she invokes Giove to strike her husband dead with his thunderbolts. But suddenly, as already noted, like Enea, Lavinia, and Arianna before her, she is surprised by the vehemence of her own anger and steps back from it, vowing to suffer in silence: “Ahi trapasso troppʼoltre, e me ne pento, supprimo e sepelisco in taciturne an-goscie il mio tormento.” The intervention of her nurse, with her encouragement to forget about Nerone and find a lover (reminiscent of Melanto's advice to Penelope in the scene following her lament), provokes a final sacrilegious outburst: If god did not exist she herself would claim god-like powers to right the wrongs she has suffered (“Se non ci fosse né l'honor né Dio, sarei Nume a me stessa, e i falli miei con la mia stessa man castigherei”). But instead she sinks back into herself, defeated, resigned to silent suffering. In (p.236) its lack of psychological progress, her soliloquy more closely resembles those of Arianna and Penelope than Enea's.

Although Monteverdi does not appear to have substantially rewritten Busenello's text for Ottavia—all of the versions in librettos and scores are essentially the same—his setting sharpens its contours, projecting its emotional shifts much more powerfully, heightening in various ways the contrasts already present. In contrast to his complete reworking of Penelope's lament, here he makes only two significant editorial changes, both for the purpose of intensification: one such change involves bringing a line back unexpectedly as an exclamatory refrain (l. 4, “O delle donne miserabil sesso,” returns following l. 8—an affective insertion set to a rhythmically and melodically heightened version of the original passage, covering a diminished octave); in the other change, mentioned above, he intercalates Ottavia's final despondent lines of resignation with her nurse's attempt to comfort her. Otherwise, his chief method of rhetorical intensification is by means of repetition of individual affective words, and not once but three, four, and in one case five times. A list of the repeated words reads like an emotional précis of the monologue: “Disprezzata regina,” “afflitta,” and “Nerone,” three times each; “il matrimonio,” and “siam costrette” twice each, and “fulmini” five times in succession.95


OTTAVIA: Disprezzata regina, regina, regina disprezzata, disprezzata regina

Humiliated queen,


Del monarca romano afflitta, afflitta, afflitta moglie,

martyred wife of the Roman monarch,


Che fo, ove son, che penso, che penso?

What am I doing, where am I, what am I thinking?


O delle donne miserabile sesso;

Oh, miserable sex of woman:


Se la natura e ʼl cielo

though nature and heaven


Libere ci produce,

created us free,


Il matrimonio, il matrimonio cʼincatena serve.

marriage enchains us like slaves.


Se concepiamo lʼuomo,

In conceiving boys

O delle donne miserabil sesso,


Al nostrʼempio tiran formiam le membra,

we form the limbs of our wicked tyrants,


Allattiamo il carnefice crudele

we nurse a cruel executioner


Che ci scarna e ci svena,

who tears at our flesh and tortures us,


E siam forzate, siam forzate per indegna sorte,

and we are forced by unworthy fate


A noi medesme partorir la morte.

to give birth to our own death.


Nerone, Nerone, empio Nerone,

Nerone, wicked Nerone,


Marito, O Dio, o Dio, marito

husband, oh God, husband


Bestemmiato per sempre

blasphemed forever


E maledetto dai cordogli miei,

and cursed by my miseries,


Dove, dove, ohimè, dove sei?

where, alas, where are you?


In braccio di Poppea, in braccio di Poppea, di Poppea

In Poppea's arms


Tu dimori felice e godi, felice e godi, e intanto

you rest and take your pleasure, while


Il frequente cader deʼ pianti miei,

my endless tears


Pur va quasi formando

seem almost to form


Un diluvio di specchi in cui tu miri,

a flood of mirrors in which you see


Dentro alle tue delizie i miei, i miei, i miei martiri.

within your happiness my torments.


Destin, destin, se stai lassù

Providence, if you are up there,


Giove ascoltami tu,

Jove, listen to me,


Se per punir Nerone

if to punish Nerone


Fulmini, fulmini, fulmini, fulmini, fulmini tu non hai,

you have no thunderbolts,


Dʼimpotenza tʼaccuso,

I accuse you of impotence,


Dʼingiustizia tʼincolpo.

I charge you with injustice.


Ahi, trappasso troppʼoltre e me ne pento.

Ah, I go too far and I repent.


Sopprimo e seppelisco

I repress and bury


In taciturne angoscie il mio tormento.

in silent anguish my torment.

NUTRICE: Ottavia, Ottavia



OTTAVIA: O ciel, o ciel, deh, lʼira tua sʼestingua,

O heaven, o heaven, quell your rage.


Non provi i tuoi rigori il fallo mio.

Do not let your severity punish my offense.

NUTRICE: Ottavia, Ottavia, o tu dellʼuniverse genti

Ottavia, o you of the world

Unica imperatrice

sole empress


OTTAVIA: Errò la superficie, il fondo è pio,

The surface erred, the foundation is pure.


Innocente fu il cor, peccò, peccò la lingua.

The heart was innocent, only the tongue sinned.

NUTRICE: … odi, odi

Hear, hear


[Ottavia, o tu dellʼuniverse genti

Ottavia, you of the world


Unica imperatrice]

sole empress


Di tua fida nutrice, odi glʼaccenti.

Of your faithful nurse, hear the words.

(p.237) As far as the musical setting of Ottavia's lament is concerned, the emotional contrasts in the text are underlined by the alternation of strongly consonant passages and lengthy sections of unresolved dissonance; abrupt metric shifts and the interruption of rapid successions of repeated notes with slower-moving passages interspersed with rests signal temporary changes of mood. As already noted, Monteverdi unleashes the full power of his stile concitato at the climax of Ottavia's building fury, as she repeatedly invokes (p.238) Giove's thunderbolts to strike Nerone down, starting at the top of her range and descending in sequence to the bottom. Rising back up again to accuse Giove of impotence, she becomes exhausted, and sinks gradually back down to the bottom of her range, ashamed at her outburst. In contrast to Penelope, whose overwhelming emotion is depression, Ottavia's is anger. As a result, her voice is harsher, the extremes of her range repeatedly exploited in brief paroxysms of octave-spanning phrases. Although his textual changes are few, through repetition, melodic structure, and rhythmic contrast Monteverdi brings this soliloquy to dramatic life, imbuing the listener with sympathy for Ottavia's plight.96

A Master of Three Servants

Of the legendary Arianna, we know that “not one lady [in the audience] failed to shed a tear at her plaint.”97 This must have been in large part due to the efficacy of Virginia An-dreini Ramponi, who stepped in to perform the role after the sudden death of Caterina Martinelli, for whom Monteverdi had conceived it. That Arianna's Venetian successors were worthy of their model can be gleaned from contemporary reports of their performances. For instance, we know of several admiring poems and letters addressed to Giulia Saus Paolelli, the Roman singer who created the role of Penelope.98 Although much of the information they provide is fairly generic, a few telling details emerge regarding her special vocal qualities. She, too, we learn from a sonnet in praise of her performance as Penelope, inspired tears in her audience: (p.239)

Per la Sig. Giulia Paolelli, Mentre rappresentava Penelope nellʼUlisse

Di Casta Moglie il maritale affetto

The marital affection of a chaste wife,

Giulia ci mostri, e con lʼessempio approvi,

Giulia, you show us, and with your example you approve;

Mosse ella i lumi, e tu lo sguardo movi

she moved her eyes, and you move your gaze

Lʼanime entrambe a scarcerar dal petto.

to release both souls from their breast.

E di te, fu di lei regio lʼaspetto,

And through you, did she appear regal,

Arse ella i Re, tu Regii cor commovi,

she enflamed kings, you moved royal hearts,

Ella fu di Virtù lʼIdea, rinovi

she was the idea of Virtue, you renew

Tu di virtù lʼepilogo perfetto.

the perfect epilogue of virtue.

Pianse a sospir di lei Itaca terra

She cried in sighs the true torments

Veri i tormenti, e aʼ tuoi finti dolori

of her Ithacan land, and to your feigned pain

Le luci al pianto Felsina disserra.

Felsina opened her eyes to tears.

Ma vinci lei, che cari hebbe i Tesori,

But you won over her, who held treasures dear,

Tu, a non macchiar lʼonor, chʼin te si serra

you, not to stain the honor that in you is contained,

Sai fastosa sprezzar preghiere, ed ori.

know how splendidly to disdain entreaties and gold.

(Del Confuso Accad. Fedele)99

(p.240) A fulsome letter of admiration by the Incognito author Ferrante Pallavicino also reports on the audience's enthusiastic response to her performance, providing a few more specific details:

And what affections (my thoughts said to themselves) would not be moved to pity in seeing the souls of those who hear you, already rapt by your harmony, now drawn out by a rapid fugue, now suspended in a sigh, now contained in a groppo of well-articulated runs, now assailed by the ordinance of musical voices; now finally tormented in various guises, while unexpectedly they stop, and impetuously push forward, gravely free themselves, and precipitously let go; they commit themselves, finally, to pursue one who with varied artifice has by rule to be always inconstant and restless? I would call these torments of Hell, if from your eyes, and in hearing your sweet accents, it were possible to feel anything but the delights of paradise.100

Although clearly an object of admiration, as a performer Paolelli remains a shadowy figure, particularly in comparison with her compatriot Anna Renzi, who created the role of Ottavia, among many others.101 Found among a group of poems in her honor, published in Venice in 1644, the descriptions of Renzi as Ottavia are remarkably vivid. One of them actually traces the temporal effect of Renzi's performance of the lament. It begins by describing her appearance—her languid face, her sighs; and then moves to the effects of her singing—which caused Love itself to dissolve in tears from pain; and finally the verisimilitude of the performance—“were your suffering and tragic story real, and had your sad voice, sweet words, and loving sayings affected Nero as they did us, he would have become humble and pious.”

E mentre fuori uscivi

And while you came out

Col tuo languido volto,

with your languid face,

Pria, che snodassi il canto,

before you unleashed your song

Con dolci ricercate

with sweet refinement

Deʼ sommessi sospiri,

of subdued sighs

Palesavi adʼognʼuno i tuoi martiri.

you revealed to everyone your torments.

Poi cominciasti afflitta

Then, afflicted, you intoned

Tue querele Canore

your melodious complaints

Con tua voce divina,

with your voice divine,

Disprezzata Regina,

“Disprezzata Regina,”

E seguendo il lamento

and continuing your lament

Facevi di dolore

you forced Love

Stillar in pianto, e sospirar Amore.

to burst into tears and sigh.

So benʼio, che se vero

Well do I know that,

Fosse stattu [sic] il cordoglio,

had the grief been true,

E lʼhistoria funesta,

and the dolorous tale,

Alla tua voce mesta,

hearing your mournful voice,

Alle dolci parole, ai cari detti,

your sweet words, your endearing expressions,

Sì come i nostri petti

just as they filled our breasts

Colmaro di pietade, ah so benʼio,

with pity, ah, well do I know that

Neron sʼhaverebbe fato humile, e pio.102

Nero would have been rendered humble and compassionate.

(p.241) Another poem focuses on specific musical aspects of Renzi's performance (in italic):

O di celeste spirto aspetto, e voce,

O appearance and voice of celestial spirit,

Del paradiso sol vaga Sirena,

only siren of paradise

Che repudiato da Neron in scena,

who repudiated by Nero on stage

Formi armonico misto, e dolce, e attroce.

form a mixed harmony, sweet and terrible,

Hor con tremula, hor lenta, hor con veloce

now tremulous, now slow, now with rapid

Fugga, e pausa si turba, e rasserena

flights and pauses your soul becomes agitated, and calm,

Lʼalma tua dʼarmonia tutta ripiena,

all filled with harmony,

Che se ben punge i cor, già pur non noce.

which if it strikes the heart, it does not harm it.

Mentre in esilio al mar tu doni il pianto,

When, exiled on the sea, you deliver your lament

Si ferma lʼonda, e si raffrena il vento,

the waves are stilled and the wind is checked

Per coglier le tue perle, e ʼl dolce canto.

to collect your tears, and your sweet song.

Anna lo stesso ciel io miro attento

Anna, the same heaven I see Aminte, attentive

A tuoi dogliosi accenti Aminte, e in tanto

to your mournful tones, and

In ruggiada stillarsi al tuo lamento.103

Drip with tears at your lament.

Ottavia's “just lament,” in Renzi's voice, did not fail to stimulate tears of sympathy in her listeners.

(p.242) The most complete and revealing description of Renzi's extraordinary qualities as a performer is found in the introduction to the volume, by Giulio Strozzi, Elogio di Giulio Strozzi, tratto dal libro secondo deʼsuoi Elogii delle Donne virtuose del nostro secolo. According to Strozzi, who had many occasions to observe and work with her, Renzi was noted even more for her acting abilities, stage presence, and dramatic intelligence than for her voice:

The action that gives soul, spirit, and existence to things must be governed by the movements of the body, by gestures, by the face, and by the voice, now raising it, now lowering it, becoming enraged and immediately becoming calm again; at times speaking hurriedly, at others slowly, moving the body now in one, now in another direction, drawing in the arms, and extending them, laughing and crying, now with little, now with much agitation of the hands. Our Signora Anna is endowed with such lifelike expression that her responses and speeches seem not memorized but born at the very moment. In sum, she transforms herself completely into the person she represents …. She takes control of the stage, understands what she delivers, and delivers it as clearly as any ear could desire. She has a fluent tongue, smooth pronunciation, not affected, not too rapid, a full, sonorous voice, not harsh, not hoarse, nor one that offends you with excessive subtlety; which arises from the temperament of the chest and throat …. She has felicitous passages, a lively trill, both double and rinforzato …. She silently observes the actions of others, and when she is called upon to represent them, helped by her sanguine temperament and bile, which fires her … shows the spirit and valor learned by studying and observìng.104

Surely, a singing actress with such great natural sensitivity, range, subtlety, intelligence, and dramatic skill would have excelled in conveying the human emotions that Monteverdi sought to communicate in his works. Some of these same qualities must have distinguished the performance of Ramponi as Arianna. As a leading member of the commedia dell'arte troupe I Fedeli, directed by her husband, Giovanni Battista Andreini, she was officially a singing actress, but evidently one very much in the Renzi mold. In another role, a few years later, Ramponi was once again specifically praised for being “così efficace spiegatrice degli affetti dellʼanimo che col pietoso canto mosse altri al pianto.”105 If, as (p.243) some have suggested, Ramponi inspired Arianna's lament, Renzi could well have inspired Ottavia's.106


Monteverdi evidently found sufficient opportunity for pathos in his Venetian texts. But his three librettists conceived other ways of enabling the composer to move his listeners, and not only to tears, but to laughter as well. Indeed, some of the most striking effects in all three of these operas are created by comic characters. Once again, we are indebted to Torcigliani for focusing our attention on an issue of importance in all three works. We recall how he emphasized the delighted reception accorded Iro at the performance of Ritorno, and how he had been inspired to introduce his own comic character, Numano, in the hopes of encouraging the composer to match his previous success. Because he was loath to depart from his source, he said, which he was forced to do when introducing Enea's and Lavinia's monologues, and because he could not find a more suitable candidate in the Aeneid, he chose to focus on one aspect of Virgil's Numano: not his strength, but his swagger:

It only seems that I have altered Numano, called strong by Virgil, but also treated as a great braggart, whereby, in attaching myself to this quality of his, which doesn't usually coincide with true bravery, I am using him as a comic character, not finding any more appropriate in Virgil, and knowing the mood of many spectators, who are more pleased by such jokes than by serious things, as we see my friend's Iro to have delighted marvelously, which genre of character I truly would not have introduced in another [kind of] tragedy. (Appendix 2 [l])

(p.244) Iro is indeed a remarkable figure, one that stimulated the composer's most acute powers of characterization. But he is far more than a comic character. Although he surely inspired laughter and ridicule for his boorishness and false bravado, his stuttering and whining, he also evokes compassion, even horror: his actions and his fate (as we will see) underline some of the most important themes of the opera.

In attempting to replicate Iro in Numano, Turno's swaggering squire, Torcigliani had set himself an almost impossible task. That he succeeded at all is testimony to his skill as a poet. Like Iro, Numano is a descendant of the miles gloriosus of spoken theater. A braggart and a coward, he ridicules his master for being distracted from his martial impulses by his love for Lavinia: he himself would never be distracted by Cupid, he boasts, but would remain true to Mars:

Che frenetichi Turno,

Why are you raving, Turno,

Tu dunque innamorato?

are you in love, then?

Può far, che non diss'io, Giove scornato?

Can Giove, let me not say this, be cuckolded?

E che vuoi far dʼAmore?

And what will you do with Love?

In vece dʼapportar ruine, e morti

Instead of bring ruin and death

Pianger come un Bamboccio? o bellʼhumore.

you'll cry like a big baby? That's a laugh!

SʼAmor trescasse meco

If Love messed with me,

Credi, che vorei farlo, altro che cieco.

believe me, I'd want to make him more than blind.

Amor vada in mallʼhora

Let Love go to to the devil

E viva morte [Marte] ognʼhora.

and let Mars live forever.

The librettist takes great care in his choice of imagery and verse structure for Numano's speeches, each of them a kind of exaggerated “riff” on a comic subject. These may not all have been intended as arias, but are nonetheless substantial, prominently placed at the ends of scenes.107 One attack of his churlish boasting begins with an effective mixture of versi tronchi and piani that is interrupted by a pair of well-placed sdruccioli, and culminates in a rhymed quatrain of piani:

Or sì contento io sto

Yes, now I am content,

Nuotando in mar di latte,

swimming in a sea of milk,

Poiché nuotar ben presto anco dovrò108

since soon I will also have to swim

In ampio mar di sangue

in an ample sea of blood

De le genti da me vinte e disfatte.

of the people conquered and undone by me.

Quanto, quanto era meglio

Oh how much better it would have been

Per voi, Teucri mal pratici,

for you, inept Teucri,

Restar preda deʼ fochi argivi ed attici.

had you been killed by the Argives or Attici,

O tra lʼonde affogati;

or drowned in the sea!

Se solo chʼio vi tocchi,

If I but touch you,

Sotto aʼ miei piè schiacciati

crushed under my feet,

Dovete rimaner come ranocchi.

you'll remain like frogs.


(p.245) Another speech, in which he encourages the Trojans, men and women alike, to fight, and then runs away, is constructed entirely of rhymed couplets in versi piani, once again spiced with a pair of well-placed versi sdruccioli in the middle:

O Troiani, o Troiani,

O Trojans, Trojans,

Or che tenete a cintola la mani?

Why are you holding your hands up?

Forse, chiusi nel vallo,

Perhaps, imprisoned on the ramparts,

Traete lʼore in lieto canto e ballo?

you're spending your hours in happy songs and dance.

Venite fuori pur pecore e buffoli,

Come out, sheep and buffalo,

Chʼio vo danzar al suon dʼaltro che zuffoli!

I want to dance to something besides bagpipes.

A che cingete lʼarmi,

Why are you girding your arms

Se credete morir solo a mirarmi?

if you think you'll die by only looking at me?

Itene a trar da le conocchie i fili,

Go spin the threads of the distaff,

Troiani no, ma Troianesse villi.

you're not Trojan men, but low Trojan girls.


Finally, fearing he will be left out of the action, Numano sheds his cowardice in a brief speech—still another series of mostly rhymed couplets—and rushes off heedlessly to join the hopeless battle of his compatriots, enunciating the standard heroic battle cry to close the scene:

Fien dunque senza me guerre e perigli?

Can there be wars and danger without me?

No, no prima nel campo,

No, no, first to the field

Io volerò qual lampo,

I will fly like lightning,

E con Enea distrutti

and with Enea, destroyed,

Saranno i Teucri tutti

will all the Teucri be

Ben presto, e chi mʼaspetta.

soon, and what am I waiting for.

A le straggi, a le morti, a la vendetta.

To war, to death, to vengeance.


(p.246) Humorous and effective as he must have been in the theater—we can imagine him brandishing his sword, mocking his master, gesturing to an imaginary army or troupe of dancers, and rapidly disappearing from the stage—Numano remains tangential to the drama. In contrast to Iro, everything he does fits well within the bounds of the traditional behavior of his character type (the miles gloriosus). It is difficult to imagine that any musical setting of any of his text, however skillfully structured by the librettist, could have elevated him to the status of his great predecessor. There is simply no textual equivalent for him—or for any other character in Venetian opera of the period—of the almost Shakespearean soliloquy with which Iro opens the final act of Ritorno.109

If Iro was as successful as Torcigliani reported, we can imagine that Busenello too would have sought to provide Monteverdi with a similar stimulus for his comic style. The libretto of Incoronazione does indeed contain several comic characters: the two nurses Arnalta and Nutrice, and the pair of servant-lovers, Valletto and Damigella. These all fall within the general category of stock comic characters, but they are treated individually, Arnalta in particular with special skill. Though none of them can be compared to Iro—or to Numano, for that matter—they share certain personality traits and dramatic functions with other characters from both Ritorno and Nozze: Arnalta and Nutrice combine elements of Ericlea and Melanto as well as Lavinia's Damigella; and Busenello's servant couple suggests a parallel with the Eurimaco/Melanto pair in Ritorno, though without being as integral to the plot—in fact, they are not integral at all.110

One of the chief functions of Busenello's comic characters is to provide contrast and relief at important junctures in the plot. Valletto crucially punctures Seneca's pedantry in his scene with Ottavia (1.6), and his love scene with Damigella brilliantly dissipates, as it cruelly contradicts, the somber mood of Seneca's suicide (2.4). This might seem analogous to the positioning of Iro's monologue immediately after the death of the Suitors, but of course his monologue is a response to their death, not a relief from it. Arnalta's running commentary on the mores of the court help to maintain the ironic tensions of the drama. But none of Busenello's characters comes any closer to resembling Iro than Numano. Nevertheless, the comic texts in all three librettos share certain striking features, some of which stand out because of the composer's response to them. Although Iro's stuttering is all Monteverdi's, he and Valletto both trade on a repertoire of physical gestures, those “words suggesting gestures, noises, or other imitative ideas,” which Monteverdi (p.247) treats mimetically.111 Iro eats, fights, drinks, whines, exhorts to battle (“Su, su dunque alia lotta, su, su”), and threatens to pull the hairs from Ulisse's beard, one by one, while Val-letto laughs, sneezes, and yawns, and threatens to set Seneca on fire. He is also pinched and bitten, and his heart beats. Numano, too, is a vivid verbal actor: he swims, dismantles, touches, tramples, flies like lightning, and, like Iro, exhorts to battle: “A le straggi, a le morti, a la vendetta.” We can imagine that the composer would have set his gestures similarly, with musical imitations, or exaggeratedly literal word-painting.

Monteverdi takes the same approach in his treatment of Busenello's two nurses, though not Badoaro's, a distinction owing to the librettists' very different characterizations of these ostensibly stock igures. Arnalta's comedy, like that of Valletto and Iro, is sometimes gestural: she rocks Poppea to sleep and then trips over her own feet as she chases after Ottone, who has just attempted to kill her sleeping mistress.112 Both Arnalta and Nutrice are given multiple opportunities to express their piquant, and opposing, socio-political philosophies, to their charges as well as to the audience. That function in Ritorno, much less emphasized, is divided between two characters whose ultimate derivation from the Odyssey restricts their activities: Ericlea is sympathetic audience to Penelope's grief and facilitator of her reunion with Ulisse, while the soubrette Melanto, by actions as well as words, supplies scurrilous advice and sexual innuendo.

Monteverdi's response to his comic characters may reinforce their common elements, but he also rises to the speciic challenges of his librettists' material. Iro remains unique. Arnalta, on the other hand, though likewise one of the composer's most memorable creations, inds a place within countless subsequent generations of comic nurses, in opera and spoken drama.

A Master of Three Servants

However much they differed in literary background and experience, in poetic style and skill, Monteverdi's three Venetian librettists seem to have understood his most basic requirements. From the range of their characters to the structure of their poetry, they reveal their efforts to provide him with the opportunity for variety: characters young and old, serious and comic, poetry for song as well as speech, for soliloquy and conversation, invoking love and war-like feelings. In sum, they supplied the real men and women, entangled in believable dramatic situations, who could inspire him to enlist the full potential of his art of imitating the affections, enabling him thereby to move the affections of his audience. Characters and situations like these pleased Monteverdi very much because they allowed him to display the marvels of his art. That in turning them into staged musical dramas, (p.248) the composer had to modify and edit these offerings—some more, some less—hardly comes as a surprise, not only because Torcigliani told us as much, but especially because of the notable differences between the librettos and scores (and in the case of Nozze, between performance and literary versions of the text). As we shall see, the enormous stylistic differences among the librettos strongly affected the nature of Monteverdi's interventions.


(1) The phrase, cited in Chap. 1, n. 1, comes from Badoaro's letter to the composer given in Appendix 1.

(2) As in the often-quoted letter no. 19 of 9 December 1616 dismissing “il librettino contenente la favola maritima delle Nozze di Tetide” by some nameless poet (“che non so il nome, e tanto più quanto che questa professione della poesia non è mia”). Unless otherwise indicated, the texts of the letters, and the numbers, are taken from Claudio Monteverdi, Lettere, ed. Lax. See also The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi, trans. and ed. Denis Stevens (London: Faber, 1980; rev. ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1995).

(3) “Vorei però pregar e supplicar Vostra Signoria Illustrissima che, dignandosi Sua Altezza Serenissima che mettessi in musica la comedia che Ella mi acenna, che si degnasse d'aver considerazione a duoi capi: l'uno che potessi aver tempo comodo per conporla, e l'altro che [the libretto] fosse fatta di mano eccellente, ché non men riceverei non poca fatica e poco gusto d'animo, anzi afflicione grandissima, in ponere versi in musica fatti alla bonissima, di quello farei nel breve tempo—ché la brevità del tempo fu cagione ch'io mi riducessi quasi alla morte nel scrivere l'Arianna” (1 May 1627; letter no. 92). On the excellence of the libretto of Arianna, see Gary Tomlinson, “Madrigal, Monody, and Monteverdi's Via naturale alla immitatione,” JAMS 34 (1981): 60–108.

(4) Chap. 1, p. 6 and n. 15. Torcigliani implies that he did the same thing (Chap. 1, pp. 9–10): “ho io schifati li pensieri e concetti tolti di lontano, e più tosto atteso a gli affetti, come vuole il Signor Monteverde, al quale per compiacere ho anco mutate, e lasciate molte cose di quelle, chʼio havea poste prima” (Appendix 2 [n]). See also below, p. 216.

(5) See Angelo Solerti, Gli albori del melodramma, 3 vols. (Milan, Palermo, and Naples: Sandron, 1904–1905; repr. Hildesheim: Olms, 1969), 1: 80, 86, 92, 95–96. Tomlinson argues that Rinuccini's text inspired the development of Monteverdi's style, a point of view confirmed by Doni; see Tomlinson (“Madrigal,” 86). Most recently on the circumstances surrounding the composition of Arianna, see Bojan Bujić, “Rinuccini the Craftsman: A View of his LʼArianna,” EMH 18 (1999): 75–117.

(6) Solerti, Albori, 1: 92, and Tomlinson, “Madrigal,” n. 57. Bujić:, “Rinuccini,” 77, n. 9, suggests that the duchess, Leonora deʼ Medici, who probably remembered the elaborate Florentine intermedi of 1589 and the productions surrounding her sister Maria's wedding in 1600, would have found Arianna “dry” in comparison. On Rinuccini's likely changes to the libretto, see Bujić:, p. 95: “Rinuccini probably extended the opening conversation between Venere and Amore and added more material at the very end of the drama.” Bujić, however, is skeptical of interaction between poet and composer, even in response to the dutchess's dissatisfaction (p. 107). See Tim Carter, “Lamenting Ariadne?” EM 27 (1999): 395–405, and id., Musical Theatre, 202–11, on the possibility that the lament was one of the additions intended to relieve the “dryness” of the first version.

(7) “Esso signore, quando era in vita … me ne fece grazia dela copia non tanto, ma di pregarmi che la pigliassi, amando egli molto tal sua opera, sperando chʼio lʼavessi a porre in musica. Holle datto più volte assalti, e lʼho alquanto digesta nella mia mente, ma a confessar il vero a Vostra Signoria Illustrissima, mi riuscisse, al parer mio, non di quella forza chʼio vorei, per gli molti soprani che gli bisognerebbero per le tante ninfe inpiegate, e con molti tenori per gli tanti pastori e non altro di variazione, e poi con fine tragico e mesto” (letter no. 93).

(8) Nino Pirrotta (“Forse Nerone cantò da tenore,” in Musica senza oggettivi: Studiper Fedele DʼAmico, ed. Agostino Ziino [Florence: Olschki, 1991], 1:47–60; repr. in Nino Pirrotta, Poesia e musica e altri saggi [Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1994], 179–94), finds it difficult to accept the fact that Nerone and Ottone were originally played by castrati, as the two scores indicate. Finding support in the late date of the scores, he prefers to think that the role of Nerone, at least, was changed in one of the posthumous performances (1646, 1651). See also Roger Freitas, “The Eroticism of Emasculation: Confronting the Baroque Body of the Castrato,” JM 20 (2000): 196–249, esp. 234–39. In support of Pirrotta's suspicions, it is worth noting that castratos indeed rarely portrayed heroes in the earliest years of Venetian opera, though they were known to play female characters, including goddesses and nurses. In operas beginning in 1643, however, which often featured two male heroes, one was generally played by a castrato, the other by a tenor or bass. Pirrotta's hypothesis might help to explain some of the problems with the transpositions in Vp, particularly in connection with Ottone and Nerone, though it is likely, as we have seen, that Stefano Costa, a castrato, played Nerone at the Venetian premiere.

(9) “Non mancherò alla giornata di far qualche cosa in tal genere di canto rappresentativo, e più voluntieri se Ella maggiormente con Suoi bellissimi versi me ne farà degno” (letter no. 53); “Se dunque ci fosse tempo e poi che avessi l'opera o parto del nobillissimo ingegno Suo, sia sicurissima che ne sentirei giubilo infinito, perché so quanta facilità e proprieta Vostra Signoria Illustrissima mi aportarebbe” (letter no. 92).

(10) “Qui da certi signori è statto udito il Lamento di Apollo e piaciuto in maniera nella invenzione, neʼ versi e nella musica, che pensano, dopo unʼora di concerto che si suol fare da questi tenpi in casa dʼun certo signore de casa Benbi, alʼaudienza del quale vengono principalissimi signori e dame, pensano, dicco, sopra una senetta far conparir questo bel pensiero di Vostra Signoria Illustrissima …. Se io doverò fare il ballò, m'invia Vostra Signoria Illustrissima quanto prima li versi; quando che no, gliene attacherò uno a mio caprizzio aciò si goda così belʼopera di Vostra Signoria Illustrissima” (letter no. 41, 1 February 1620). Does Monteverdi's readiness to supply some text himself here remind us of Verdi? With letter no. 45 (22 February 1620), he sends two further sections for the eclogue (“Ecco la sinfonia per Amore e lʼaltra per la entrata”).

(11) “Qui dove Amore incomincia a cantare, mi parrebbe bene che Vostra Signoria Illustrissima li agiongesse tre altri versetti di simile piede e simile senso aciò potessesi ripetere unʼaltra volta la medesima aria, sperando che questo coloretto di questa poca allegrezza non fosse per far mal effetto, seguìtando per contrario il passato affetto dolente dʼApollo, e poi andar seguìtando, come sta mutando modo di parlare, lʼarmonia, come parimente fa lʼorazione” (letter no. 38, 9 January 1620).

(12) “Il canto presente di Peneo è statto fatto da me così in tal genere come alla bastarda, perché so quanto vale tal modo in bocca del signor Amigoni; servirâ anco per diversare dali altri canti, e parerà più la differenza in tal deità, cantando che una sol volta” (letter no. 43, 15 February 1620). “Alla bastarda” refers to a singing style that pushes the voice to exceed normal limits of range and capacity for diminutions. The term comes from the viola bastarda, an instrument Monteverdi played. See Richard Wistreich, Warrior, Courtier, Singer: Giulio Cesare Brancaccio and the Performance of Identity in the Late Renaissance (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), chap. 6.

(13) Monteverdi's concern with the number of arias is highly relevant to his Venetian librettos; see below.

(14) “Se averanno a cantar tutte tre separatamente, che troppo lunga riuscirà l'opera ali ascoltanti, e con poca differenza, poiché tra lʼuna e lʼaltra farà de bisogno sinfonia che tramezzi, tirate che sostentino il parlare, e trilli, e in genere riuscirà una certa similitudine, che perciò giudicherei, anco per variazione del tutto, che, interzatamente, li duoi primi madrigaletti or da una e or da due voci insieme fossero cantati e il terzo da tutte tre insieme” (letter no. 22, 6 January 1617). This sounds very much like a description of the prologues of both Ritorno and Incoronazione.

(15) “La parte di Venere, parte prima che viene dopo il pianto di Peleo e prima ad essere udita nel cantar di garbo, cioè in tirate e trilli, averei giudicato per bene che dovesse essere cantata forsi anco dalla signora Andriana come voce forte, e dale due altre sue signore sorelle servìta per risposte di eco, stando che lʼorazione ha dentro questo verso: ‘E sfavillino d'amor li scogli e lʼonde’, ma prima preparando li animi de li ascoltanti con una sinfonia di ustrimenti contenenti, se fosse possibile, mezza la sena, perché pervengono avanti questi duoi versi di Peleo, dopo fatto il pianto: ‘Ma qual per lʼaria sento/ Celeste, soavissimo concento?’” (letter no. 22). The echo and the heavenly concert are phenomenal or literal music. On the musical imitation of action, see below, on Licori and also Incoronazione.

(16) “Ho visto li interlocutori essere Venti, Amoretti, Zeffiretti e Sirene, e per consequenza molti soprani faranno de bisogno; e sʼaggionge di più che li Venti hanno a cantare, cioè li Zeffiri e li Boreali! Come, caro signore, potrò io imitare il parlar deʼ venti, se non parlano? E come potrò io con il mezzo loro movere li affetti? Mosse lʼArianna per essere donna, e mosse parimente Orfeo per essere omo, e non vento. Le armonie imittano loro medesime, e non con lʼorazione, e li streppiti deʼ venti, e il bellar dele pecore, il nitrire deʼ cavalli e va discorendo, ma non imitano il parlar deʼ venti che non si trova! … La favola tutta, poi … non sento che ponto mi mova, e con difficoltà anco la intendo, né sento che lei me porta con ordine naturale ad un fine che mi mova: lʼArianna mi porta ad un giusto lamento e lʼOrfeo ad una giusta preghiera; ma questa—non so a qual fine” (letter no. 19, 9 December 1616).

(17) “Confesso … che ella fosse cosa da essere cantata e rapresentata in musica come fu lʼArianna, ma dopo inteso dalla passata [lettera] di Vostra Signoria Illustrissima che ha da servìre per intermedii de la comedia grande, sì come in quel senso primo io me la credevo di poco rilievo, così, per lo contrario, in questo secondo la creddo degna cosa e nobillissima” (letter no. 22, 6 January 1617).

(18) The letters are numbered 92–104 in Lax and Stevens. The final mention of La finta pazza occurs in letter no. 108 of 18 September. Monteverdi had been in contact with Strozzi at least since 1621, when he was commissioned by the “Florentine nation” to write a mass commemorating the death of Cosimo deʼ Medici. Strozzi, a Florentine, was the official chronicler of the ceremony, which was held at SS. Giovanni e Paolo on 21 May; for Strozzi's chronicle, see Paolo Fabbri, Monteverdi (Turin: EDT, 1985), 240; trans. Tim Carter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 179.

(19) “voluntieri conseguita con la sua gentillezza gli pensieri miei; la qual comodità mi rende assai più facile il porla in canto” (letter no. 98, 20 June 1627).

(20) Other works commissioned by Mocenigo included Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (1624) and Proserpina rapita (1630). On the latter, see Luca Zoppelli, “Il rapto perfettissimo: Unʼinedita testimonianza sulla Proserpina di Monteverdi,” Rassegna veneta di studi musicali 3 (1987): 343–45; and Carter, Musical Theatre, 226–36.

(21) “non voglio mancare … di seco [Strozzi] abocarmi e, come me, vedere che esso signore la inrichischi anco di altre variate e diverse sene, come ben gli dirò secondo il mio gusto” (letter no. 94, 22 May 1627).

(22) “spero che con la comodità del poeta eccellentissimo che qui mi sarà vicino con desiderio di consolarmi, per essere molto mio signore e amico, di far qualche cosa che non dispiacerà né a Sua Altezza Serenissima, né a Vostra Signoria Illustrissima …” (letter no. 96, 5 June 1627). Friendship, as well as proximity, may have been an important ingredient in these relationships. Badoaro, as we have seen, makes much of his friendship with the composer.

(23) We should note his attention to these same categories in his editing of the Ritorno libretto: sequence of scenes, selection of characters, distribution of dialogue (see below). His conception of opera as epic (“poema”)—in contrast to the simpler, less demanding genre of “intermedi per comedia grande”—suggests a further reason why the librettos of Ritorno and Nozze would have appealed to him.

(24) For instance, “Già da me è digesta nel modo che tutta sta in maniera tale che so che in brevissimo tempo da me sarebbe posta in musica” (letter no. 95, 24 May 1627).

(25) “e nella bellezza del verso e nella invenzione, io lʼho provato in atto dignissimo sogetto e prontissimo” (letter no. 93, 7 May 1627). He could be speaking of Strozzi rather than the text here.

(26) “La invenzione non mi par male, né men la spiegatura” (also no. 93).

(27) Passage from no. 93 quoted above, n. 7.

(28) “doppo fatto mille invenzioncine ridiculose, si riduce al sposalizio con belʼarte dʼinganno” (letter no. 92, 1 May 1627).

(29) “riuscirà in sena e più nova e più varia e più dilettevole” (letter no. 94, 22 May 1627).

(30) As already noted (p. 188), Monteverdi also criticized the libretto of Tetide for requiring too many tenors (and sopranos); see letter no. 20.

(31) “Non voglio mancare … vedere che esso signore la inrichischi anco di altre variate e diverse sene, come ben gli dirò secondo il mio gusto; e vedere se la può inrichire dʼaltre novitate con aggionta de personaggi aciò la finta pazza non si vedda cotanto ad operare con frequenza” (letter no. 94).

(32) “ogni volta che uscisse in scena, aporti sempre novi gusti e nove differenze di armonie come parimente de gesti” (also no. 94).

(33) “ogni volta che sia per uscire in scena, sempre abbi ad aportare diletto novo con le variazioni nove” (letter no. 95, 25 May 1627).

(34) “la parte di Licori la farà uscire più tardamente e non così quasi ad ogni scena, e la farà uscire sempre con nove invenzioni e azioni” (letter no. 96).

(35) “Al mio gusto dice benissimo in duoi o tre lochi, in due altri mi pare potrebbe dire meglio—non già per il verso, ma per la novitade” (letter no. 94).

(36) “ogni atto averà azione nova da spiegare” (letter no. 100, 10 July 1627).

(37) “Ci sarà un ballo per ogni atto e tutti diversi l'un dalʼaltro e bizzarri” (also no. 100).

(38) “piena di molte belle variazioni” (letter no. 101, 24 July 1627).

(39) “In tre lochi ben sì penso sortirassi lʼeffetto; lʼuno di quando forma il campo, che, sentendosi dentro la scena gli soni e gli strepiti simili alle immitazioni dele sue parole … lʼaltro di quando finge essere morta; e terzo di quando ella finge dormire, dovendosi in tal loco adoperare armonie imitanti il sonno” (letter no. 95).

(40) “E vorò che mi acomodi anco il ragionamento dʼAminta allʼora quando ella dorme, ché vorei che parlasse con fine che non avesse voce di poterla destare; che tal risguardo di dover parlar sotto voce mi darà occasione di portar nova armonia, e differente da le passate, al senso” (letter no. 94). This is reminiscent of the direction in the Ritorno score indicating that a sinfonia is to be played softly so as not to disturb the sleeping Ulisse. Cf. Facsimile 2.

(41) “È vero che la parte di Licori, per essere molto varia, non doverà cadere in mano di donna che or non si facci omo e or donna con vivi gesti e separate passioni, perché, la immitazione di tal finta pazzia dovendo aver la considerazione solo che nel presente e non nel passato e nel futuro (per consequenza la immitazione dovendo aver il suo appoggiamento sopra alla parola e non sopra al senso dela clausola), quando dunque parlerà di guerra, bisognerà imitar di guerra, quando di pace, pace, quando di morte, di morte, e va seguitando, e perché le transformazioni si faranno in brevissimo spazio, e le immitazioni. Chi dunque averà da dire tal principalissima parte che move al riso e alla compassione, sarà necessario che tal donna lassi da parte ogni altra immitazione che la presentanea, che gli somministrerà la parola che avera da dire” (letter no. 93).

(42) “Resterà solo che la signora Margheritta or divenghi soldato, bravo, or temi, or ardischi, inpadronendosi bene deli proprii gesti, senza tema e rispetto, perché vado tendendo che le immitazioni galiarde e de armonie e gesti e tempi, si rapresentino dietra la sena; e creddo che non dispiacerà a Vostra Signoria Illustrissima, perché si faranno passaggi in un subbito tra le galiarde e streppitose armonie e le deboli e soavi aciò ben bene salti fuori lʼorazione” (letter no. 100).

(43) This passage has been interpreted differently over the past several decades. Minimizing the composer's explicit reference to the musical depiction of madness, Tomlinson finds the description characteristic of what he regards as the marinesque treatment of text that marks Monteverdi's late works in general (Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance [Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1987], 205). Most other commentators have recognized it as exceptional rather than characteristic (e.g., Bianconi, Music in the Seventeenth Century, 40).

(44) “Ma in certi altri che le parole non ponno aver imitazione deʼ gesti o deʼ strepiti od altro modo dʼimmitazione che salti fuori, dubito che languiderebbe o il passato od il futuro” (letter no. 95).

(45) “Io non infilzo concetti, né sono Alchimista di Metafore. Se sapessero alcuni con quanta poca fatica si fa la moneta falsa dellʼeloquenza, che corre hoggidì, si arrossirebbono in darle cotanto spaccio e sʼintendessero similmente quanto sta malagevole il formar lʼoro puro dʼuno stile facile insieme, e sostenuto, non si riderebbono di coloro, che doppo lʼesercitio di molti anni arrivano quasi a saperlo fare” (Giulio Strozzi, Delia, preface, p. 5).

(46) “La Musica è sorella di quella Poesia, che vuole assorellarsi seco, ma, quando non sʼintendono bene tra di loro, non sono né attenenti, né amiche. Il canto, che raddolcisce gli animi riesce in due maniere unʼabborrita cantilena, o quando sʼha da gir dietro alle chimere del Poeta, o quando dileguandosi la parola, o la finale dʼalcuna voce nellʼampiezza deʼTeatri, smarriscono gli uditori il filo de gli ammassati concetti. Prima nella memoria, che ne gli orrecchi; e più decantati, che cantati devonʼesser queʼ versi, che si rivolgono nel condimento delle musicali armonie; e delle cose dilettevoli la repetitione non reca tedio” (Strozzi, Delia, preface, pp. 5–6).

(47) “Mʼera scordato di dirle, come il Signor Francesco Mannelli Romani, che vestì di Musica … con molto applauso lʼAndromeda, e la Maga Fulminata del Signor Benedetto Ferrari, ha questa volta mostrato un eccesso del suo affetto, & un sommo del suo valore in honorar la mia Delia: io so quel, che mi dico: stupirà Venetia in sentir a qual segno arrivi lo studio fatto in questʼOpera dal Signor Manelli: Ha unʼimitatione di parole mirabile, unʼarmonia propria, varia, e dilettevole. In somma, come esca alle stampe questa fatica, si conoscerà, se ho parlato per interesse, o più tosto defraudato al vero” (Giulio Strozzi, Argomento e scenario della Delia, 26–27).

(48) For Rapallino, mentioned in letters nos. 93–96, 98, and 118, see Richard Wistreich, “‘La voce è grata assai, ma …’: Monteverdi on Singing,” EM 22 (1994): 7–19.

(49) This argument is pursued in OSV, 349–50.

(50) Gary Tomlinson, “Twice Bitten, Thrice Shy: Monteverdi's ‘finta’ Finta pazza,” JAMS 36 (1983): 303–11.

(51) “hora tʼinvitano al riso, il quale in un tratto sforzato dei cangiare in pianto, e quando pensi di pigliar lʼarmi alla Vendetta, allʼhora appunto con miracolosa metamorfosi cangiandosi lʼharmonia si dispone il tuo cuore alla Clemenza: in un subito ti senti riempire di timore, quando con altrettanta fretta tʼassiste ogni confidenza.” Matteo Caberloti, “Laconismo delle alte qualità di Claudio Monteverdi,” in Fiori poetici raccolti nel funerale delsignor Claudio Monteverde …, ed. Giovanni Battista Marinoni (Venice: Miloco, 1644), 8.

(52) In his prefatory letter to Monteverdi (see Appendix 1).

(53) The opposed terms in letter no. 19 are “parlare” and “cantar di garbo.” In letter no. 20, the composer complains of too few dialogues between characters in a particular libretto, and the few there are, he continues, are spoken rather than sung (“e que' pochi parlano e non cantano di vaghezze”).

(54) I discuss this in OSV, 250–56. See also Carter, “‘In Love's Harmonious Consort,’” and id., Musical Theatre, chap. 3.

(55) In opera, “non possiamo fuggire unʼinverosimile, che gli huomini trattino i loro più importanti negotii cantando.” Giacomo Badoaro, Ulisse errante (Venice: Pinelli, 1644), preface, p. 12 (quoted in OSV, appendix I: 8.j). See also Appendix 3 [c].

(56) With the exception of the two for the Suitors, which naturally include a stanza for each of them, all of the arias have two strophes. They are Minerva's “Cara e lieta gioventù” (1.8); Melanto's “Duri penosi” (1.2) and “Ama dunque” (2.1) (though the second strophe is replaced in the score by repeat of the first as a refrain); Iro's “Pastor d'Armenti puo” (2.3); and Nettuno's “So ben questʼonde” (5.7).

(57) See Carter, Musical Theatre, table 3–1 and p. 254 for a list of lyrical “numbers” in Ritorno. Carter, “‘In Love's Harmonious Consort,’” 7, also points out that Eumete's lyrically expansive “O gran figlio” sets a recitative text, the composer overriding the poetic form for dramatic reasons; but Eumete sings naturally, in any case, because he's a shepherd.

(58) See above, Chap. 5, pp. 151–53. Monteverdi's strophic setting is in some sense a correction of Badoaro's text. Indeed, the irregularities of rhyme and meter, failing as they do to reinforce the formal implications of the refrain, bespeak Badoaro's ineptitude as a poet; the text requires the composer's clarification. Eumete's “O gran figlio,” in contrast, has no formal implications. Monteverdi's choice of lyrical setting is based on purely dramatic considerations.

(59) The omission of the ritornello between sections 2 and 3 might have been a mistake; see Chap. 4, p. 84 and n. 27.

(60) Two of the strophic texts—one for Poppea in 1.10, the other for Seneca in 2.4—fail to appear in either score or in the Udine libretto; Monteverdi may never have set them to music. Carter, Musical Theatre, lists Busenello's closed forms (what he calls structured verse) in his Table 3–1, though unlike those for Ritorno listed in the same table, he fails to include texts not set by the composer.

(61) The arias include Ottone: 1.1, 2.8, plus 1.11 with Poppea; Poppea: 1.4 and 1.10 (cut), plus 1.11 with Ottone and 2.7 with Nerone (cut); Nerone: 2.6 and 3.5, plus 2.7 with Poppea (cut); Arnalta: 1.4 and 2.12; Nutrice: 1.5 and 2.10; Valletto: 1.6 and 2.5 (not set strophically).

(62) Famigliari: 2.3; Seneca: 2.4 (cut); Amore: 2.13.

(63) For Heller (Emblems, 152–68), Ottavia's failure to engage in lyrical expression is connected to her sexuality and fundamental to her characterization. See also Carter, Musical Theatre, 290–96.

(64) This aria is discussed further in Chap. 7, pp. 304–8

(65) An eighth strophic text occurs in the second prologue, for the Ombra di Virgilio. In four hendecasyl-labic stanzas of four lines, it is typical of prologues and would probably have been set—if at all—as strophic variations, like the prologue of Orfeo.

(66) Some of these, namely, those for Lavinia in 3.3 and 4.3 and Enea in 3.4, will be discussed below in connection with laments. The sequence of stanzas for Lavinia and her Damigella in 4.3 is structured with particular skill.

(67) See above, Chap. 5, p. 132. Short lines also characterize youth: Elmino and Silvia, for instance, exchange groups of senari in their duet in act 2, scene 2.

(68) He may not have intended to omit those lines that explain that their love depends on Penelope accepting one of the Suitors (“Se Penelope bella/ Non si piega alle voglie/ De rivali Amatori/ Mal sicuri saranno/I nostri occulti amori”). The omission is among those criticized by René Jacobs as casualties of sloppy editing (see Chap. 7, n. 1). For another possible explanation, see Chap. 7, n. 3.

(69) Bruno Brizzi, “Teoria e prassi melodrammatica di G. F. Busenello e LʼIncoronazione di Poppea,” in Venezia e il melodrama nel Seicento, ed. Maria Teresa Muraro (Florence: Olschki, 1976), 51–74, at 62–63, examines the various verse forms in Busenello's text, distinguishing, for instance, descending (11, 7) from ascending (7, 11) final couplets.

(70) Amore also inserts a couple of urgent quaternari in the recitative at the beginning of his descent to protect Poppea (2.13): “Ella non sa/ Chʼhor hor verrà.” And he uses quinari in the final scene, in his exchange with the chorus of Amorini. “Pur ti miro,” too, is in quaternari.

(71) Probably for reasons of phrase structure, the composer repeats text here, extending the line to a settenario: “QuellʼOttone che tʼadorerò.” This passage is discussed, quoted, and translated above, pp. 209–10.

(72) Another effective interruption occurs, again as they prepare to separate, near the end of one of their subsequent scenes (2.7), “Tu di là,/Io di quà,” a scene that appears in neither score. Drusilla's insertion of three ternari, “Se le mie veste/Havran servito/Per ben coprirlo,” within her act 3 monologue indicates her impatience for the news that Ottone's murder of Poppea has been successful.

(73) This point is explored further in Chap. 8.

(74) See Brizzi, “Teoria e prassi,” 62.

(75) Although intercalations occur occasionally in Ritorno—Ulisse's “O fortunato” and Penelope's “Non voglio amar,” for example, discussed in Chap. 4—and probably also in Nozze (see Chap. 5), they are especially characteristic of Incoronazione. This point is discussed more fully in Chap. 7, in connection with Poppea/Nerone, Seneca/Nerone, and Ottone/Drusilla.

(76) Monteverdi identified it as such in his letter of 21 March 1620 to Striggio: “Mando anco il principio del Lamento, qual di già lʼavevo in casa ricopiato sopra altra carta, aciò anco intorno a questo si avantaggia tenpo, essendo la più essenzial parte del'opera” (letter no. 51), one of a number of letters dealing with a planned revival of Arianna for Mantua in the spring of 1620. (This series of letters begins with no. 50, 17 March, and ends with no. 55, 18 April.) This was one of several planned revivals. The only one that seems to have taken place occurred in Venice in 1640 (see Chap. 1). Finding it dramatically redundant, Carter, Musical Theatre, 206–8, argues convincingly that the lament may have been added as a result of the opera having been judged “trop-pʼasciutta.” See above, n. 6.

(77) On the nature of the collaboration between poet and composer, see Fabbri, Monteverdi, 142 and n. 193 (trans. Carter, 96 and n. 157). On “la via naturale alla immitazione,” see the letter of 22 October 1633 to Doni (no. 124). Tomlinson, “Madrigal,” 86–87, gives particular credit to the poet for providing a text so well suited to Monteverdi's taste, a claim supported by a letter from Doni to Mersenne quoted in James Moore's review of The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi, ed. Denis Stevens (London, 1980), in JAMS 35 [1982]: 562–64.

(78) There have been tantalizing rumors of the work resurfacing over the years, but nothing has yet come of them.

(79) Eighty-four lines in Solerti's edition (Albori, 2: 782–862, including choral response of twelve lines, in four tercets). For corrections to Solerti's text, see Bujić, “Arianna,” appendix 1. For a probable five-scene organization of Arianna, see Carter, Musical Theatre, table 8–1, p. 208.

(80) Tomlinson (Monteverdi) has already discussed the parallels between Arianna and her successors, Penelope and Ottavia, to the detriment, however, of the later heroines. See also id., “Music and the Claims of Text: Monteverdi, Rinuccini, and Marino,” Critical Inquiry 8 (1982): 565–89.

(81) This extensive transformation and its importance for the whole structure of the drama are discussed in Chap. 7. (Arianna resonates as well in Ulisse's first soliloquy, also discussed in Chap. 7.)

(82) As already mentioned (Chap. 5, n. 35), the shaping of this scene—or rather these two scenes—entails some distortion or alteration of the Virgilian plot, which clearly disturbs our academic librettist, and the same is true of the other Ariadne-like scenes.

(83) See Appendix 2 [g]. The intervention of the Tiber is not listed in the scenario, where a single scene number (3.4) covers all of this action—it comprises two scenes in the three-act libretto and three in the others (see Table 14 above, Chap. 5). A sleep scene like this was in the process of becoming something of a convention in contemporary Venetian opera; there is, of course, a very prominent one in Incoronazione (see below, n. 87).

(84) The fact that the ten lines that rehearse Enea's past suffering appear only in the three-act libretto is further evidence of its proximity to the scenario, and thus the performance. (See Chap. 5, p. 159 and n. 70.)

(85) “le quali mutationi dʼaffetti, come in sì fatti poemi, paiono sempre bene, piacciono poi molto al nostro Signor Monteverde per haver egli campo con una varia patetica di mostrar li stupori dellʼarte sua” (see Appendix 2 [i]).

(86) Enea's monologue actually ends before Venere's entrance, though their conversation inspires his final change of mood to happiness.

(87) As we have seen, Monteverdi had already assayed the imitation of sleep in La finta pazza Licori. Could he have requested such a scene from Torcigliani, or could the librettist have included it specifically to please him? The same question might be asked of the continuation of Enea's monologue, particularly given its resemblance to the lament of Arianna.

(88) This, of course, is precisely what happens in Arianna's lament; it happens as well in Lavinia's scene with her Damigella, and Ottavia's with her nurse (see below), but not in Penelope's lament. Enea's about-face depends for its effect especially on the ten previous lines, unique to the performance libretto, which convey the escalation of his tension to the breaking point.

(89) “Qual è, se non solʼio, lʼinfausta face,” a combination of lines 10–11.

(90) “Sì chʼaltri senta, ed io nel sen doglioso,” two settenari (34–35) joined to form an endecasillabo.

(91) Sevieri, Le nozze, 138, nn. 69, 75 characterizes these as “canzonette meliche.”

(92) Rather than Arianna's, the arrangement and content of this text call to mind another of Monteverdi's most memorable laments, the Lament of the Nymph.

(93) On the (questionable) use of the term “concitato” to describe a panoply of percussive effects, see Massimo Ossi, Divining the Oracle: Monteverdi's ‘Seconda Prattica’ (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 227, n. 21.

(94) Ottone's opening soliloquy, discussed above, pp. 209–10, and in Chap. 7, also shares significant elements with Arianna's lament. Soliloquies were so intrinsic to Ottavia's character that a third one was added in the Naples production (see Chap. 4).

(95) The setting contrasts strongly in this respect with Arianna's lament, where repetition, whenever it occurs, is built into the text. Tomlinson emphasizes this point in contrasting Rinuccini's text with Striggio's for Orfeo's “Tu sei morta.” For an analysis of the expressive possibilities inherent in word repetition, see Ivan Fónagy, La repetizione creativa: Ridondanze espressive nellʼopera poetica (Bari: Dedalo, 1982), esp. 18–19. The composer utilizes exaggerated text repetition as an expressive device in Penelope's lament as well as Iro's. See Chap. 7. The nature of the words chosen for repetition here may be suggestive, in retrospect, for the texts in Nozze.

(96) Heller has raised the question whether the listener actually feels sympathy for Ottavia (Emblems, 152–77). By restricting her musical utterances to recitative, she argues, the composer limited her ability to express emotion. One small hint of this may perhaps be found in the description of Ottavia's first scene in the scenario of Incoronazione, where she is characterized as “exaggerating” her sufferings: “Ottavia imperatrice esagera glʼaffanni suoi con la Nutrice, detestando i mancamenti di Nerone suo consorte.” On the other hand, according to contemporary descriptions of the original Ottavia as performed by Anna Renzi, the despised queen clearly moved her audience, even to tears. (See below.) Beth L. Glixon (review of Heller, Journal of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music 12, no. 1 [2006], www.sscm-jscm.org/jscm/) questions Heller's characterization of recitative as lacking in emotional effect, especially with respect to Ottavia.

(97) The lament “fu rappresentato con tanto affetto e con sì pietosi modi, che non si trovò ascoltante alcuno che non sʼintenerisse, né fu pur una Dama che non versasse qualche lagrimetta al suo pianto” (Compendio dalle sontuose feste fatte lʼanno MDCVIII nella città di Mantova di Federico Follino), in Solerti, Gli albori, 2: 145. See Suzanne Cusick, “There Was not One Lady who Failed to Shed a Tear: Arianna's Lament and the Construction of Modern Womanhood,” EM 22 (1994): 21–41; Carter, “Lamenting Ariadne,” 395–405; and id., Musical Theatre, 202–11; also Bonnie Gordon, Monteverdi's Unruly Women (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 164–70.

(98) See I vezzi dʼErato, poesie liriche di Leonardo Quirini (Venice: Hertz, 1649), 88–89. Querini addresses three rather generic poems to Giulia Saus Paolelli: “Per la Signora Giulia Saus Paolelli Cantatrice Divina,” “Per la medesima. mentre canta lʼEneide di Virgilio,” and “Per la medesima. Cantando il lamento di Didone descritto in quel divino poema.” Though they tell us little about her voice, they do reveal that, in addition to Penelope, she sang the role of Didone, probably in Cavalli's opera in 1641. But if she also sang Penelope in Venice in 1641—as she certainly did in 1640—this means she would have been employed at both S. Cassiano and SS. Giovanni e Paolo during the same season; this would have been extremely unlikely. Perhaps Querini was confused and the Virgilian opera was Nozze rather than Didone; perhaps Paolelli did not sing Penelope in 1641; or, finally, perhaps Ritorno was indeed revived at S. Cassiano, as some of the librettos indicate but I have dismissed (see Table 4 above, Chap. 3). Querini was also the author of poems on the deaths of Monteverdi (“O tu, che in nere spoglie” [p. 137]), Isabella Andreini, and Cesare Cremonini. Further on Saus Paolelli, see Fulvio Testi, Lettere, ed. Maria Luisa Doglio (Bari: Laterza, 1967), 1: 495–6, letter addressed to Francesco dʼEste from Rome, 3 December 1633, one of six written on the same day, which also mentions Maddalena Manelli (see Appendix 8, B.1). According to the description of the performances of Il Beiierofonte by Francesco Sacrati, on a libretto by Vincenzo Nolfi, produced at the Teatro Novissimo in 1641–42, in which she sang the role of Queen Anthia, Giulia had been charming Venetian audiences for three years (Descrittione de gli apparati del Bellerofonte di Giulio del Colle, 1642) (text in Appendix 8, B.2). The only document that provides any concrete information about Paolelli's voice is Testi's letter, written from the point of view of the spectator.

(99) Le glorie delia musica, 19 (other texts in Appendix 8, B.4). Five of the remaining fifteen sonnets in the same volume (far more than for any other figure) refer to Paolelli in the title role of Manelli and Strozzi's La Delia, which shared the Bologna stage with Ritorno in 1640. Others are addressed to Guastavillani, the owner of the theater, Monteverdi, Badoaro, Ferrari (as theorbo player), Maddalena Manelli as Venere in Delia and Minerva in Ritorno, and there are two brief poems (the only non-sonnets) for Costantino Manelli (the Manellis' son) as Amore in Delia. Other poems relevant to the performance of Ritorno in Bologna include the following sonnets: “Per lʼUlisse, Opera Musicale del Sig. Claudio Monteverdi” (p. 6, partly quoted in Chap. 1) and “Per lʼUlisse, Dramma dellʼIllustrissimo Sig. Giacomo Badoero, e Musica del Sig. Claudio Monteverdi” (p. 7), the document that clinches the attribution of the libretto to Badoaro.

(100) Panegirici, epitaiami, discorsi accademici, novella, et lettere amorose di Ferrante Pallavicino (Venice: Gio. Battista Cester, 1652), 184–88; another edition (Venice: Turrini, 1652), 162–65. Letter no. 9: “Alla sig. Giulia Paulelli Romana. Per vaga cantatrice” (text in Appendix 8, B.3). This letter provides new information on some of Paolelli's other roles (relevant passages italicized in Appendix): the clearest reference is to Armida (presumably the title role of Ferrari's opera, Venice, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, 1639); Scilla is not a character familiar from any Venetian opera of around this time. Nor is it clear which opera Pallavicino's “straggi di Roma” refers to.

(101) On Anna Renzi, in addition to Heller, Emblems, 174–77, see Glixon, “Private Lives,” 512–19.

(102) “Abozzo di veraci lodi. Alla Signora Anna Renzi Cantatrice singolare Idilio dʼincerto Autore,” in Giulio Strozzi, Le glorie della signora Anna Renzi romana (Venice: Surian, 1644), 37–38. Translation from OSV, 385. Complete text in Appendix 8, C.2. See also Heller, Emblems, 174–77.

(103) Strozzi, Le glorie, 30: “Per la Signora Anna Renzi Romana unica cantatrice nel teatro dellʼIllustrissimo Signor Giovanni Grimani,” signed by G. B. V. (=Giacomo Badoaro Veneto?).

(104) Translation from OSV, 232; text in Appendix 8, C.1. Renzi was indeed a special case. In addition to her obvious abilities, she was a pet of the opera publicists who wrote about her. Other references to her in the role of Ottavia are found in Le glorie, 28, 31, and 47 (given in Appendix 8, C.2).

(105) Judith Cohen, “Giovan-Battista Andreini's Dramas and the Beginnings of Opera,” in La musique et le rite sacré et profane: Actes du XLLLe Congrès de la Société Internationale de Musicologie, ed. Marc Honegger and Paul Prevost (Strasbourg: Universitè de Strasbourg, 1986), 2: 423–32, at 424, quoting La Breve descrittione of Il rapimento di Proserpina (Marigliani/Giulio Cesare Monteverdi, 1611): “Venne la famosa Sig. Florinda, Idea del bel dire, Gloria deʼ Comici, Pompa deʼ Teatri et così efficace spiegatrice degli affetti dellʼanimo che col pietoso canto mosse altri al pianto.” Cohen is quoted in Paola Besutti, “Da LʼArianna a La Ferinda: Giovan Battista Andreini e la ‘Comedia musicale allʼimproviso,’” MD 49 (1995): 227–76, at 236, n. 30.

(106) Carter (Musical Theatre, 93–94) makes the same suggestion, but seems to contradict himself on p. 290 when he says that Ottavia does not seem to fulfill the expectations of her role for the star singer, Renzi. On Ramponi and Arianna, see ibid., p. 210; also Besutti, “Da LʼArianna” 227–76. Ramponi was also praised for being a remarkably quick study: she apparently learned the role of Arianna by heart in six days “and she sings it with such grace and with such manner and affect that she has amazed Madama [Grand Duchess], Signor Rinuccini, and all those lords who heard her” (Paola Bessuti, “The Sala dei specchi Uncovered: Monteverdi, the Gonzagas, and the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua,” EM 27 [1999]: 451–65, at 460). Intelligence was another quality she apparently shared with Renzi. Giambattista Marino describes how she evoked sighs from her audience: “And in such a way you heard Florinda, O Manto … unfold the harsh torments of Arianna and draw from a thousand hearts a thousand sighs” (Carter, “Arianna,” n. 30, and Fabbri, Monteverdi, 131; trans. Carter, 83). (If, as Besutti argues, Arianna's lament is so closely related to those sung by Ramponi in the commedie in which she participated, we might even give her some indirect credit for all of Arianna's operatic successors as well.) See also Besutti, “Da LʼArianna,” 267, for Learco's lament from La Florinda, a kind of mixture of Arianna's and Orfeo's laments. Besutti raises issues of gesture and improvisation in connection with the performance of Arianna's lament (performative aspects), reflections of which might be seen in the formulaic nature of the imitations, especially the moment of self-consciousness just after the climax.

(107) Sevieri, Le nozze, nn. 24, 66, 83, identifies these as “tirate comiche.” Some of them can be characterized as arias.

(108) “poiche nuotar dovrò” (a settenario in the three-act libretto).

(109) See Chap. 8, pp. 366–73. In this connection, it may be worth noting that, in contrast to Penelope's monologue, to which it bears a kind of inverted relationship, Iro's text (thirty-six lines) appears to have been virtually untouched by the composer, though of course he alters the poet's emphases with his musical setting. Badoaro obviously managed to get things magnificently right in this scene.

(110) It is possible that the Elminio/Silvia duet in Nozze was inspired by the Melanto/Eurimaco relationship in Ritorno. But, as noted in Chap. 1, n. 30, these characters have little in common.

(111) See letter no. 95, as discussed above.

(112) Arnalta's lullaby and Poppea's response are mentioned above (p. 193). I discuss and illustrate Arnalta's pursuit of Ottone in “Monteverdi's Mimetic Art,” 131–32.