CAVALLI: Arias and Duets from Didone, Egisto, Ormindo, Giasone and Calisto (Gianluca Belfiori Doro/ Gloria Banditelli/ Mario Cecchetti/ Mediterraneo Concento/ Roberto Abbondanza/ Rosita Frisani/ Sergio Vartolo) (Naxos: 8.557746)
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Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676)
Arias and Duets
Although this overview of Cavalli's music is necessarilycondensed, it nonetheless succeeds in painting a meaningfulpicture of both the nature of opera as it was developing inVenice at the time, and the composer's own artistic andcompositional talent. Cavalli was of course influenced byMonteverdi, yet he imbued his music with his ownindividual style, in effect setting the artistic seal on the restof the seventeenth century.
One particularly distinctive element of Cavalli's musicis its singability (cantabilit?á
), especially evident in his duetsand in his expression of the sensuality omnipresent in post-Renaissance Venetian art and literature. Opera grew out ofthe Accademie, forums for artistic and literary debate andperformance, whose members were inspired by the tales ofthe Roman world (as viewed with considerable moral --and historical -- licence), and by Greek mythology (alsorevisited in such a way as to draw in and even titillateVenetian audiences).
The tales told by these early operas had a lot incommon with our soap story-lines. Heroes undergo theunlikeliest of hardships, become involved in unrestrainedlove affairs, get caught out in embarrassing situations, andso on, only for everything to be rapidly unravelled for anunambiguously happy ending, removing all concerns fromthe minds of a rapt audience (the operatic star system hadnot yet established itself at this point). There was a sense ofliberation from the purely aural allusiveness of the madrigalform, as well as from the compositional and performancedifficulties also associated with it, and an increasing interestin the visual impact of the sets and costumes that were soonto become the norm. Madrigal quartets, quintets and sextetswere on their way out, seen as music for an aesthetic elite,to be replaced by the more approachable duets.
There is perhaps an analogy to be drawn with our owntimes, in which the spoken and written word are beingreplaced by a TV videocracy, whose power is taking hold inthe same way as opera did in the seventeenth century. Byhappy coincidence, however, Cavalli was born at preciselythe right time and place, and his genius was translated intointricate, convoluted love stories and impetuous passionsand rages expressed with perfect aesthetic and expressivemusical symbiosis in masterly passacaglias. The Lamentcan be seen as a kind of condensed version of this artisticsensibility, an opera in miniature, and is therefore essentialto the history of opera (cf. the three Lamenti Barocchi
CDsI have recorded with Naxos). This kind of love lyric, inwhich languor alternates with fury, and invective isfollowed by immediate repentence (\What have I said?What unhappy ravings are these?") drew inspiration fromboth historical and contemporary episodes (Lament of theQueen of Sweden, Lament of Cinq-Mars
), and then movedon to self-mockery in semi-serious laments (such as theLament of the Castrato
- whose details are indelicate in theextreme but fascinating in historical terms - or that of theImpotent Man).
All this is to be found in Cavalli's operas. Self-mockeryis often given an outlet in his more humorous characters:stammering servants, elderly besotted old maids, lustfulservant girls, satyrs ever ready for love, and so on. TheCalisto libretto in particular is extremely liberal in religiousand sexual terms, with its explicit scenes of lesbian lovebetween Calisto and Jupiter (who has taken on Diana'sform, becoming in the process a soprano rather than a bass)and the reflections of Mercury who, having openlyprocured Calisto for his master, then reproaches Jupiter forhaving created free will.
The synopses which follow include all of the above. Itis also worth mentioning that the plot summaries of theoriginal librettos make particular reference to eventsprefiguring the action covered by the opera, as will be seenin the synopsis Faustini himself wrote for Egisto
, which Ihave transcribed for this edition.I would like to thank Mr Roccatagliati of the University ofFerrara and Mr Macchioni of the library of the sameuniversity, who kindly gave me the opportunity to consultthe Cavalli microfilms of the late professor ThomasWalker's collection.Sergio VartoloThe extracts featured on this CD are given in bold,with track numbers in parentheses.
Manuscript score and libretto held at the BibliotecaMarciana, Venice
score press-mark: It. IV 355 (=9879), libretto pressmark:Dramm. 908.4. Two copies of the libretto exist:one only contains the synopsis (1641, Pietro Miloco),the other is complete (1656, Andrea Giuliani)Opera in musica
, by Giovanni Francesco Busenello,first performed at the Teatro San Cassiano, Venice,1641.CharactersIris (Prologue)Dido, queen of Carthage / Aeneas, a Trojanleader / Anchises, Aeneas's father / Ascanius, Aeneas'sson / Creusa, Aeneas's wife / Iarbas, king ofGaetulia / Anna, Dido's sister / Cassandra, princess ofTroy / Sychaeus, Dido's husband (a shade) / Pyrrhus, aGreek leader / Chorebus / Sinon, a Greek / Illionius,Aeneas's ambassador and companion / Achates,Aeneas's faithful companion / Hecuba, elderly wife ofKing Priam / Jupiter / Juno / Mercury / Venus /Cupid / Neptune / Aeolus / Fortune / TheGraces / Chorus of Carthaginian maidens / Chorus ofhunters / Chorus of Trojans / Chorus of sea nymphsSynopsis
Following the Prologue, in which Juno's maidservantIris declares the fall of Troy to be fit vengeance forParis's insulting behaviour towards her mistress, ActOne describes the burning of Troy and Aeneas's flightwith his father Anchises and his young son Ascanius.Act One ends as the Trojan army sets sail .
Act Two opens in the city of Carthage where Iarbashas come to propose marriage to Queen Dido, whom heloves passionately. She rejects him, however, as thememory of her first husband, Sychaeus, still burnswithin her. Meanwhile, Juno asks Aeolus to raise atempest to destroy the Trojan fleet. Neptune intervenesthough, rebuking the winds and calming theelements .
Aeneas's ships dock on the Carthaginianshore in order to repair the damage caused by the storm.
Dido receives his ambassador and his son, Ascanius,although in fact this is Cupid who, with the help of hismother Venus, has assumed the child's appearance. Hisdarts strike the queen, causing her to fall in love withAeneas as soon as she sees him. As Act Two comes toan end, Iarbas flees, crazed with jealousy.
At the beginning of Act Three, Dido confides in hersister Anna, telling her of her love for Aeneas. Annaadvises her to forget Sychaeus and to allow 'a new andprecious bud/into [her] secret garden' ('novo inestoperegrino/nel segreto tuo giardino'
). To this end, shesuggests that Dido organize a hunt during which shewill be able 'to transform herself with joy anddelight/deep within a cavern/with the Trojan hero' ('nelsen d'un cavo speco/con l'Heroe troianoteco/trasformar in gioie i guai'
). In the meantime, twomaidens who have perceived Dido's passion and hopethemselves to enjoy Cupid's pleasures, invite Iarbas tofrolic with them in a grotto. A storm breaks during thehunt and Dido and Aeneas take refuge in a cave. Jupitersends Mercury to Aeneas, by now Dido's lover, to spurhim on to his higher destiny. Aeneas calls together hisfollowers and departs, but not before singing a farewelllament to the sleeping Dido .
When Dido awakes,the shade of Sychaeus appears before her. Iarbas hasmeanwhile been returned to sanity by Mercury. In apowerful lament, Dido prepares to stab herself .