MONTEVERDI: Ballo Delle Ingrate / Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

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Claudia Manteverdi (1567 - 1643)

Balla delle ingrate
Cambattimenta di Tancredi e Clarinda

Claudio Monteverdi was born in Cremona in 1567, the son of an apothecary and physician who had come to occupy a leading position in his profession in the city. Monteverdi was probably trained as a chorister at the cathedral and was certainly a pupil of the distinguished maestro di cappella Marcantonio Ingegneri, a composer of international reputation. Monteverdi' s first published compositions, sacred music in the spirit of the reforms of the Council of Trent, appeared in 1582, followed in succeeding years by other collections of madrigals and canzonets, sacred and secular. In 1590 or 1591 he entered the service of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga of Mantua as a string-player, continuing to work in the musical establishment of the Gonzaga court until Duke Vincenzo's death in 1612, from 1601 as maestro di cappella to the court.

Among Monteverdi's compositions in Mantua, which include further innovative collections of madrigals in the new style of the period, the dissonances of the modem style giving rise to controversy with more conservative musicians, is the court opera Orfeo, first staged in 1607. With a text by Alessandro Striggio based on the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice as recounted by Ovid and by Vergil, Orfeo was a remarkable and significantly successful achievement. It was followed in 1608 by Arianna, a work now lost, except for the very influential lament of Ariadne, abandoned by Theseus on the island of Naxos. This was reworked by Monteverdi as a five-part madrigal and subsequently published in its original form in a collection of music by various composers. Monteverdi himself, near the end of his life, matched the lament with a sacred text.

Duke Vincenzo was succeeded in 1612 by the older of his two sons, Prince Francesco, the initiator of Orfeo, but now, as the ruling Duke, determined to institute various reforms and economies at his court. There had been no reason to suppose that Duke Francesco harboured any ill-will towards Monteverdi but, for whatever reason, he and his brother Giulio Cesare were dismissed from the service of the Gonzagas during the summer of 1612. The two returned to Cremona, while seeking other employment, which Monteverdi found triumphantly in 1613 with his appointment as maestro di cappella at the basilica of San Marco in Venice, a position that brought opportunity and security of tenure. His setting of the Vespers in 1610, with its exploration of the new styles of composition favoured in Venice, would have served as strong support for his candidature. He remained there for the rest of his life, refusing attempts to recall him to Mantua and instituting various reforms at San Marco, particularly in the employment of instrumentalists.

It was in Venice in 1637 that the first public opera-house was opened and Monteverdi was able again to contribute to this repertoire. In 1640 his Arianna was revived at the Teatro San Moise, now converted from theatre to opera-house, and in the same year a new opera Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria (The Home-Coming of Ulysses) at the Teatro San Cassiano. For carnival in 1643 Monteverdi wrote another new opera, La coronatione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea), staged at the Teatro Grimani.

Monteverdi died in Venice on 29th November 1643, after returning from an extended journey through Lombardy, his death widely mourned. He was succeeded at San Marco by one of his pupils, Giovanni Rovetta, who had served as Monteverdi's assistant, while his contemporary fame is witnessed by a series of posthumous publications.

The Ballo delle ingrate was commissioned by the Duchess of Mantua in 1608 for the wedding of Francesco Gonzaga and Margherita of Savoy, daughter of Duke Carlo Emanuele I. The purpose of this dynastic marriage was to solve problems that had continued over Monferrato, ruled by the Gonzagas but claimed by Savoy. The libretto is by Ottavio Rinuccini, a member of the Florentine Accademia Fiorentina and of the Alterati, where he was known under the sobriquet of Il sonnacchioso. He was a figure of the greatest importance in the development of opera, author of Dafne, the first dramatic text to be set, in 1598, to music throughout, the latter by Corsi and Peri, a text used again with music by Marco da Gagliano at carnival 1608, after the postponement of the wedding until May. His Euridice was staged in 1600 and in 1608 he provided Monteverdi with the text for Arianna, of which only the famous lament survives. This latter was an important element in the celebration of the Gonzaga wedding and was performed in Mantua on 28th May. The festivities also included the comedy L'Idropica by Battista Guarini, with intermedi provided by Gabriello Chiabrera, three favolette da rappresentarsi cantando; Oritia, Il Poliferno geloso and Il pian to d'Orfeo. Monteverdi's music for the prologue of L'Idropica is lost.

The subject of Rinuccini's Ballo delle ingrate, the punishment of those ungrateful women who refuse the demands of love, echoes that of the fifth day of Boccaccio's Decamerone. The characters represented are Amor, Venus and Pluto, four shades from the inferno and eight ungrateful souls who dance. The orchestra demanded in the score published twenty years later consisted of five viole da braccio, clavicembalo and chitarrone, with a provision for doubling, as necessary. The scene at the first performance, on 4th June 1608, was described by Federico Follino in the official publication issued by the printers to the court. The curtain rose to reveal the great mouth of a cavern, surrounded within and roundabout by bumming fires. The cavern seemed very profound, stretching as far as the eye could see, and in its depths were fearful monsters. In front of the cavern appeared Venus and her son Amor. The latter has resolved to enter the infernal world, while his mother anxiously awaits his return. This he does, to the sound of a Sinfonia. Venus sings, deploring the ingratitude of those who reject love. Pluto, god of the Underworld, appears, dressed in a robe covered with gold and jewels, with Amor. The following passage between the three leads to Pluto's summoning of the infernal shades, who appear from the cavern and are ordered to bring forth the ungrateful women. Venus sings in praise of the magnificence of the Gonzagas and after this Amor leads out the ungrateful souls, the sight of whom excites the pity of Venus. They dance, dressed in robes that seemed to burn, with the gold, silver and jewels with which they were ornamented. Their actions, a mixture of tenderness and anger, asking each other's pardon or striking one another, form the substance of the ballet, with its instrumental variations. After this Pluto addresses the Princess and the ladies present, urging them not to turn away from Love. The condemned souls return to the Underworld, while one remains behind to lament her fate.

The Balla delle ingrate was published in the eighth volume of the Madrigali amarasi e guerrieri (Madrigals of Love and War) in 1638. There were topical changes in the published text of the collection, dedicated to the Emperor Ferdinand III instead of, as originally intended, to Ferdinand II, husband of Eleonora Gonzaga, who had died in 1636. It seems that Il balla may have been performed in Vienna in 1636 for the coronation of the new Emperor. The original text of Rinuccini's Balla delle ingrate, where this differs from the text of Monteverdi's Libra VIII of 1638, is indicated by (R.) in the text given here, with the Monteverdi variant
Disc: 1
Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
1 Ballo delle ingrate
2 Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
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