Oakeley, Sir Herbert (Stanley)




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III. Early opera, 1600–90


Opera in the 17th century developed in three phases. The first, humanist court opera (1600–35), closely linked to Italian Renaissance traditions of court entertainment, was played out in the aristocratic palaces of Florence, Mantua and Rome. The second, dramma per musica (1637–c1680), defined by the generic subtitle that became current in librettos at mid-century, was staged in the public theatres of Venice. In the third, European spectacle (1650–90), which overlapped the second and involved the dissemination of the new genre throughout Italy and across the Alps, dramma per musica adapted to local political and social conditions, in theatres both public and private.

Contemporary critical commentary effectively articulated the aesthetic principles of the art and helps to distinguish the various phases of its development. Writing at the end of the first phase, G.B. Doni (Trattato della musica scenica, B1630) and especially the anonymous author of Il corago (Bc1630) explored the basic issue of verisimilitude raised by the requirement of speaking in song (‘recitar cantando’) and offered guidelines for the choice of appropriate subject matter (pastoral), characters (gods, musicians) and poetic style (variety of metres, versi sciolti). The Jesuit priest G.D. Ottonelli (Cristiana moderazione del teatro, 1652) distinguished the different phases by their patronage and implied function: the aristocratic phase ‘performed in the palaces of great princes and other secular or ecclesiastical lords … or produced sometimes by certain gentlemen or talented citizens or learned academicians’ and the ‘commercial productions of a musical and dramatic nature put on by professional musicians’, who performed in public theatres. Finally, the Dalmatian canon Cristoforo Ivanovich, in Memorie teatrali di Venezia (1681), a treatise devoted exclusively to the development of public opera in Venice, epitomized its relation to court opera in socio-economic terms: ‘Venetian theatres are in no way inferior to those supported by princes, except that in those enjoyment depends on the prince's generosity, whereas in these it is a matter of business’.



1. Humanist court opera.

2. ‘Dramma per musica’.

3. European spectacle.

Opera, §IV: The 18th century

1. Humanist court opera.

(i) Florence.


Humanist opera emerged around 1600 in Florence as the culmination of a series of spectacular entertainments designed to celebrate the dynastic image of the Medici, most famously the wedding intermedi of 1589 (fig.1), in which almost all the figures associated with the first operas were involved: Giovanni de' Bardi as stage director, who organized the entertainment and composed one chorus, Emilio de' Cavalieri as musical director and choreographer, who wrote some of the music, Ottavio Rinuccini, author of most of the text, and the composers Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini, who sang in the production and contributed one number apiece. These were among the participants in the academic discussions establishing the aesthetic premises of the new art. Beginning in the 1560s in the Accademia degli Alterati and continuing for several decades, first in Bardi's so-called Camerata and then at the palace of Jacopo Corsi, their discussions investigated the nature of ancient tragedy and the contribution of music to its legendary effect. Their aim was to re-create a modern, wholly sung drama that was comparable in power and intensity.

The Euridice of Peri and Rinuccini, performed in the Pitti Palace in 1600 as part of the festivities celebrating the marriage of Maria de' Medici and Henri IV, stands as the first monument of operatic history (though Caccini's setting of the same libretto, part of which was incorporated in the performance, was in fact published first). Peri and Rinuccini had actually collaborated with Corsi some years earlier on a similar work, Dafne, which was designed, in Rinuccini's words, ‘to show what our new music could do’. Evidently begun as early as 1594, but not performed until 1598, this Dafne was never published, and as a result only a few excerpts have survived; but one of them exemplifies the recitative style that was Peri's major contribution to the developing genre. The publication of Caccini's and Peri's scores of Euridice within a couple of months in 1600, along with that of a musical drama by Cavalieri, Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo, the prefaces of all three claiming priority, indicates the intensity of the rivalry during these years.

Both Dafne and Euridice, called favole, are Ovidian pastorals, ideally suited to demonstrating the power of the new music. Beyond portraying a world and an age in which ‘music was natural and speech almost poetic’ (Doni), each features a mythic musician as hero: for both Apollo and his son, Orpheus, singing is a natural means of expression.

The most important stylistic innovation of Euridice was recitative: a ‘harmony surpassing that of ordinary speech but falling so far below the melody of song as to take an intermediate form’, in Peri's famous description. Flexible enough to follow the form of the text as well as its expression, the stile recitativo allowed the characters to seem as if they were speaking naturally. Rinuccini's poetry inspired the stile recitativo, with its almost prosaic versi sciolti, interrupted on occasion by more highly structured passages, sometimes strophic, in a variety of poetic metres. Such passages, mostly for chorus but also in the allegorical prologue for Tragedy, became the poetic basis of the opera aria.

Within the remarkable expressive range of Peri's recitative – from Daphne's chilling narrative account of Eurydice's death to Orpheus's poignant lament and solemn formal prayer – dramatic verisimilitude is enhanced by the close adherence of the music to the emotional contours of Rinuccini's text. All three instances became emblematic for the operas that followed.

(ii) Mantua.


Operas continued to be presented in Florence over the course of the next several decades, interspersed with intermedi, ballets and tournaments. But the real centre of operatic activity shifted, albeit briefly, to Mantua, long a musical rival of Medici Florence. Sponsored by the reigning Gonzaga duke, Vincenzo, another operatic rendition of the Orpheus myth was performed in his palace in 1607 before the Accademia degli Invaghiti. This Orfeo, by the court composer Claudio Monteverdi, on a libretto by the court secretary Alessandro Striggio, was clearly inspired by its Florentine predecessor. It emphasizes the same dramatic moments – including the narration of Eurydice's death and Orpheus's subsequent lament and prayer – but Monteverdi's music embraces a far wider affective vocabulary than Peri's. Recitative is interspersed much more liberally with song and dance. Orfeo also places much greater emphasis on formal elements: strophes, refrains and larger symmetrical structures, extending to entire acts and even the opera as a whole, create a sense of musical coherence and shape missing in the earlier score. And the famously elaborate orchestra, with its paired violins, harps and other instruments and rich continuo – more akin to that of the Florentine intermedi than Peri's opera – plays a crucial role in creating musical variety.

Two further operatic landmarks appeared in Mantua in 1608, in conjunction with the wedding of Francesco Gonzaga and Marguerite of Savoy: Marco da Gagliano's setting of a revision of Rinuccini's Dafne (published 1608) and Monteverdi's Arianna on a new Rinuccini libretto – the first musical ‘tragedia’, so called because its principal characters are of royal birth and their actions are politically motivated (PirrottaDO). The only surviving music is Ariadne's long recitative lament on the departure of Theseus, reported to have moved the audience to tears; Monteverdi's own publication of this music in various forms, the many contemporary manuscript copies and numerous imitations in subsequent operas attest its power and significance. In its ideal meshing of textual and musical rhetoric, it represents the acme of the recitative style.


(iii) Rome.


Although operas, along with other kinds of musical entertainment, continued to be performed in Mantua during the next decades, the centre of operatic activity shifted once again, this time to Rome. Drawing on more varied sources of patronage – aristocratic families and religious organizations as well as the papacy – opera developed very differently here. These differences are already evident in Cavalieri's Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo (1600), credited with being the first wholly sung drama in Rome. A moralizing allegory performed during Lent at the oratory of S Maria in Vallicella, it is more relevant to the history of the oratorio than to that of opera.

Sung dramas of various kinds, sharing little with one another aside from a moralizing ethos and a solo style of minimal expressive power, continued to appear sporadically during the next two decades in a variety of venues, secular and religious. Of greatest historical significance was the ‘favola boschereccia’ La catena d'Adone (1626), Domenico Mazzocchi's setting of a libretto by Ottavio Tronsarelli based on Marino's sensational epic of 1923, Adone. Purporting to illustrate the sufferings of the human soul when it wanders from God, Mazzocchi's only opera was published with a preface in which, addressing the problems raised by the stylistic dichotomy inherent in early opera, the composer acknowledges the tediousness of recitative and introduces the concept of ‘mezz'arie’ as an antidote. Accordingly, the score is filled with brief lyrical passages, neither aria nor recitative, that were later called arioso.

The election of Maffeo Barberini to the papacy in 1623 as Urban VIII brought new regularity to operatic activities, promoted by the papal nephews, Francesco, Taddeo and later Antonio Barberini, and their colleague Giulio Rospigliosi, the future Pope Clement IX. They fostered a series of operatic productions for Carnival at their palaces, eventually in the huge (4000-seats, it is claimed) theatre within the Palazzo alle Quattro Fontane. All the librettos were by Rospigliosi, drawing either from lives of the saints, such as Sant'Alessio by Stefano Landi (1631 or 1632, published 1634), or from Renaissance literary sources: Erminia sul Giordano, by Michelangelo Rossi, from Tasso, (1633, published 1637); Virgilio Mazzocchi and Marco Marazzoli's Chi soffre speri, from Boccaccio (1637); and Luigi Rossi's Il palazzo incantato, from Ariosto (1642). The Barberini-Rospigliosi operas were lavish spectacles with political and dynastic intent, glorifying Rome and their patrons.

Opera, §IV: The 18th century

2. ‘Dramma per musica’.


The death of Urban VIII in 1644 brought the spectacular Barberini era to a close, and with it the effective end of humanist court opera. Nearly a decade earlier, a new kind of opera had begun to emerge in Venice.

Venetian opera reflected the distinctive traditions and oligarchical structure of the Most Serene Republic. Performed during Carnival in theatres owned by patrician families competing for prestige – the Tron, Grimani, Vendramin and Giustinian – before a ticket-buying public, opera in Venice was a business, as Ivanovich noted: a big business. Theatre owners contracted with impresarios or production companies that supplied operas or commissioned them; they also provided or hired musicians and other workers. Initially librettists and/or composers themselves acted as impresarios (Ferrari, Cavalli, Giovanni Faustini), but eventually the role was filled by entrepreneurs who devoted their full time to the increasingly complex negotiations involved in opera production (Marco Faustini, Francesco Santurini). The continuity and frequency of performance promoted by regular demand and dependable financial backing ensured the institutionalization that characterizes opera today.

What started as an experiment in 1637 with a performance of Andromeda at the Teatro S Cassiano by a Rome-based itinerant troupe, directed by Benedetto Ferrari, blossomed within a few short years into a full-blown industry. Both foreign and local talent were exploited to satisfy increasing demand for librettists, composers, stage designers and performers. Monteverdi, lured out of operatic retirement, produced his three last masterpieces, Il ritorno d'Ulisse (1640), Le nozze d'Enea e Lavinia (1641, lost) and L'incoronazione di Poppea (1643, with the collaboration of several other composers), for Venetian theatres. His S Marco colleague Francesco Cavalli became the most prolific composer of the period, producing 28 operas over a 30-year career. By 1641, audiences could see multiple performances of as many as eight different operas during a season that lasted approximately six weeks in four different theatres. (There were nine by the end of the century, although the number of open theatres varied from two or three during the 1650s and 60s to five or six later.)

One important theatre not under patrician family control, the Novissimo, was specially built for a group of noble academicians, the Incogniti (who included the important early librettists G.F. Busenello and Giulio Strozzi), whose public-relations efforts in pamphlets and libretto prefaces were fundamental to the establishment of the new genre. Their inaugural effort, La finta pazza (Strozzi and Francesco Sacrati), designed by the architect-turned-scenographer Giacomo Torelli, and featuring the Roman diva Anna Renzi, became the most famous opera of the period (fig.2). As the most frequent Venetian export, it epitomized dramma per musica throughout Italy.

Opera achieved commercial viability through a combination of popular appeal and efficiency of production. Subject matter drawn from topics relevant to Venetian audiences ranged from the legends of Troy (regarded as part of the mythic history of the republic) to the exploits of imperial Roman heroes that could serve as exemplars for modern Venetians at war with the Turk. Librettos included pointed references to Venetian social customs – courtesans, gondoliers, even public opera itself – and, asides addressed directly to the audience that bridged the gap between fictional and real worlds. And the city itself was explicitly praised in prologues and depicted in scenic backdrops.

Orchestras were small (normally just strings and continuo), roles were doubled, the chorus was eschewed and a broad range of variable conventions facilitated the mass production of operas. Operatic structure was standardized at a prologue and three acts. Plots, whether drawn from myth, epic or history or newly invented, focussed on two pairs of noble lovers, attended by various comic servants, who are separated and then reunited. Recitative in versi sciolti was interspersed with closed-form arias in a single metre and/or with a regular rhyme scheme. Musico-dramatic scene types included the sleep scene with lullaby, the mad scene, the incantation (in versi sdruccioli) and the lament (on a descending tetrachord bass); vocal types included castrato heroes, bass fathers and travesti nurses.

Essentially established through the collaboration of Cavalli and his first regular librettist, Giovanni Faustini, which produced ten operas in as many years (1642–52), these conventions were easily adapted by other composers and librettists and remained in place to the end of the century. Certain individuals stand out for their accomplished treatment or extension of the conventions: the librettists G.A. Cicognini, Nicolò Minato, Aurelio Aureli and Matteo Noris; the composers Antonio Cesti, Giovanni Boretti, Antonio Sartorio and Giovanni Legrenzi. Nevertheless, the conventions ensured a continuity of style that minimized differences between particular composers and librettists.

Changes, as the century progressed, reflected developing audience expectations. Singers assumed increasing prominence (reflected by the rise in their salaries in comparison with those of composers). Distinctions between recitative and aria, blurred for expressive reasons in Monteverdi's and Cavalli's works, became clearer. Arias increased in length as well as number from around a dozen in the 1640s to more than 60 in the 1670s, with the musical form ABA (eventually developing into the da capo aria) gradually superseding ABB. Increasingly, plots became filled with improbable occurrences as sources were stretched to the point where nothing but the original title survived. More and more, serious and comic elements became intermingled. These developments were condemned by contemporary critics as pandering to the lower elements in the audience, a trend hastened in 1674 by a radical reduction in ticket prices introduced at one of the theatres (the S Moisè), which increased business but reduced the funds available for productions.

Besides forcing competing theatres to follow suit, this move inspired the opening of two new theatres, one of which, S Giovanni Grisostomo, surpassed all the others in magnificence. Since its owners, the Grimani family, were firmly opposed to the newly popular style, it alone maintained higher prices – and spectacular scenography – and it became a symbol of the restoration of decorum. Towards the end of the century it became a Venetian outpost of the Roman Accademia degli Arcadi, a forum for operatic reform.

Opera, §IV: The 18th century

3. European spectacle.

(i) Beyond Venice: the Italian peninsula.


Once established in Venice, opera began to be exported beyond the lagoon – first by Ferrari's itinerant troupe, then by others (Febiarmonici, Accademici Discordati). Dramma per musica became the dominant form of theatrical entertainment throughout Italy and even north of the Alps, though delayed or modified, in some cities, by particular local traditions. La finta pazza was heard in nearly a dozen cities, including Paris, during the period 1644–52 (see fig.2). After the middle of the century Giasone (Cicognini, Cavalli) saw 20 or more different productions, the latest in 1690.

The conventionalized but open structure of the model offered ample scope for modification to suit different audiences and performing conditions. In Medici Florence, the influential librettist G.A. Moniglia adapted the Venetian model to traditional courtly functions: Cavalli's Hipermestra celebrated a royal birth in 1658 (fig.3), Jacopo Melani's Ercole in Tebe a wedding in 1661. Both were performed at the Teatro della Pergola under the auspices of the Medici-sponsored Accademia degli Immobili, which concurrently presented a series of indigenous comic operas (also setting Moniglia librettos) that exploited local customs and dialect. Meanwhile another, more bourgeois academy, the Sorgenti, hosted a series of Venetian imports at its own commercial theatre, the Cocomero.

In Naples, beginning in 1651, Venetian imports were adapted to celebrate the Spanish viceroy, both at the palace theatre, S Carlo, and at S Bartolomeo, a public theatre opened in 1654. In Rome, dramma per musica never really took hold. Except for the brief period 1671–4, when a series of modified Venetian imports were staged at the Tordinona, a public opera house licensed under Pope Clement IX (Rospigliosi) and patronized by Queen Christina, operas continued to be produced privately, and intermittently, under the sponsorship of various noble families. They fall into two distinct categories. The first, derived from contemporary Spanish cloak-and-sword comedy, included two in the 1650s by A.M. Abbatini and Marco Marazzoli on Rospigliosi librettos, and several in the 1670s and 80s by Bernardo Pasquini and the young Alessandro Scarlatti. The second, in a simplified style, was based on pastoral subjects, representing the nascent Arcadian movement (including various works by Scarlatti, on librettos by Antonio Capece, G.D. de Totis, Silvio Stampiglia and Cardinal Ottoboni): this genre soon made itself felt in Venice as well.

The impact of dramma per musica north of the Alps, whether imported, imitated, adapted or rejected and replaced, depended on the social structures of the receiving country. Developments in France can be regarded as a reaction against it: a brief period of imports was followed by strenuous efforts to replace it with a national style which, however, borrowed elements from it. German-speaking countries hosted it longest, developing an indigenous tradition quite late. In contrast, England and Spain remained virtually untouched by dramma per musica, insulated from its influence by their own distinctive traditions of theatrical music.


(ii) France.


As part of the italianization of the French court promoted by Cardinal Mazarin, the first operas in Paris were Italian imports (six in the years 1645–62), either designed or modified to suit French taste. Thus Paris was depicted in the scenic backdrop of La finta pazza, and in Cavalli's Xerse (1660) the ‘unnatural’ castrato hero was recast as a baritone and the three acts were turned into five, interspersed with the elaborate ballets – by the young Lully – traditionally beloved by the French. Two Italian operas written expressly for the French court, Luigi Rossi's Orfeo (1647) and Cavalli's Ercole amante (1662), featured, in addition to the obligatory ballets, elaborate political prologues and epilogues in praise of the monarch. In the latter, commissioned for the wedding of Louis XIV and the Infanta of Spain, the king himself appeared in several of the ballets, as Pluto, Mars and, of course, the Sun: a vivid instance of patronage made visible.

Following the death of Mazarin, dramma per musica was rejected in favour of a national style that represented a synthesis of French traditions and tastes. Nonetheless, the Italian genre left some significant traces, not only the concept of wholly sung drama itself but in conventions such as the sommeil (based on the ubiquitous sleep scene; see fig.5) and the magnificent large-scale chaconne movements that united singers, players and dancers (based on the musical idea that underpinned the Italian lament).

The development and persistence of a national style of French opera are owed to the specific programme established by royal patronage and the vision and talents of the figure eventually charged with carrying it out. Through the establishment of the Académie Royale de Musique (or Opéra), in 1672 the king granted a monopoly for the production of opera in French to his Florentine-born surintendant de la musique, Jean-Baptiste Lully. Lully succeeded in creating a distinctive national opera, following a similar but abortive attempt by Pierre Perrin and Robert Cambert, and drawing on his experience as a composer in other theatrical genres, especially comédies- and tragédies-ballets.

Together with his librettist Philippe Quinault, Lully managed to incorporate the most characteristic elements of earlier genres – elaborate ballets, marvellous scenic transformations (‘le merveilleux’), luxuriant divertissements of songs and dances – within a context responsive to the strong traditions of spoken theatre and the French requirement for verisimilitude: the tragédie lyrique or, as it was initially called, tragédie en musique. Based either on mythology (Cadmus, Atys; fig.5, and see fig.34 below) or on chivalric legend (Roland, Armide; see fig.35 below), all 13 of Lully's tragédies feature an amorous aristocratic couple disturbed by one or more rivals (which often include a deity), with a parallel plot involving characters of lower rank. They reflect contemporary spoken tragedy in their five-act structure, adherence to the Aristotelian unities (pace Boileau and other critics), the preservation of liaisons de scènes, the delegation of tragic events to messengers' reports and the use of the chorus for commentary and as participant in the action as well as for decoration. Verisimilitude is maintained through reliance on récitatif ordinaire and brief, syllabic continuo airs for dialogue, permitting a natural, speech-like declamation of text. More substantial airs with orchestral accompaniment expressive of feelings are reserved for soliloquies. Musical contrast and opulence are provided by instrumental movements, various conventional scene types, ballets and, of course, the divertissements – all of this enhanced by Lully’s renowned orchestra and the visual marvels provided by the scenographer Carlo Vigaran.

The lengthy season (49 weeks), the frequent performances (at least three a week), the steady supply of new works and repeated revivals of old ones over a period of 15 years assured the continuity of the tragédie lyrique well beyond Lully's death in 1687. The publication of Lully's oeuvre, beginning in 1679, essentially established a national repertory and a permanent tradition. His successors, among them Pascal Collasse, Henry Desmarets, André Campra, André-Cardinal Destouches and Marin Marais, relied upon revivals of his works to attract audiences to the opera.

Comparisons between French and Italian opera agitated critics in both countries from the late 17th century onwards. After taking its lead from Italy in the 1640s, France reciprocated by influencing the Arcadian reform of Italian opera in the 1690s.


(iii) The German-speaking lands: Vienna and Hamburg.


The dramma per musica enjoyed greater longevity and influence in German-speaking lands than anywhere else; in essence, the taste for it inhibited the development of a native tradition. Vienna and Innsbruck were rather like Venetian outposts, where newly created works were literally interchangeable with those produced in Venice itself. In Vienna, under the guidance of Leopold I (1657–1705), the genre was adapted to courtly service, becoming more decorative, elaborate and visibly expensive, with plots designed to allude to the heroic exploits of the ruling dynasty. Under long-term contracts, a stable of Italian composers (including Antonio Cesti, M.A. Ziani, G.F. Sances and Antonio Bertali) and poets (Francesco Sbarra, Nicolò Minato) and the scenographer Ludovico Burnacini supplied between six and ten theatrical entertainments annually, including operas, to celebrate imperial birthdays and namedays and special occasions such as court visits. One of the most elaborate of them was Cesti's festa teatrale, Il pomo d'oro, on a Sbarra libretto; planned to cap the two-year-long celebration of the emperor's marriage to Margherita, Infanta of Spain, it was finally performed in 1668, over two days (fig.6; see also Vienna, fig.1). Antonio Draghi, librettist (from 1658), composer (from 1662) and superintendent (after 1674), was responsible for more than 170 of these works between 1662 and 1699.

The genre flourished for a briefer period (1654–65) at Innsbruck, under the auspices of the archduke, where an Italian company directed by his maestro di cappella, Cesti, produced operas in the specially constructed Venetian-style theatre. This was the first independent opera house in German-speaking lands. Several operas originating in Innsbruck and Vienna were subsequently revived in Venice and became widely known throughout Italy.

Vernacular operas by native composers were few, and most of the scores are lost, famous among them Heinrich Schütz's Dafne, setting a translation of the Rinuccini libretto by Martin Opitz (1627). S.T. Staden's Seelewig (1644; see Staden, Sigmund Theophil, fig.2), the first ‘German’ opera of which the music is extant, is actually more of a moral allegory. J.C. Kerll's Oronte (1657) inaugurated the Munich opera house, which, like most German opera houses, was built to perform Italian opera (Munich and Hanover under Agostino Steffani, Dresden under G.A. Bontempi and Carlo Pallavicino).

The significant exception was the Theater am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg, established in 1678 by a group of citizens who invested their capital for the purpose of producing opera in German. As profits depended on income from box rental and ticket sales, operas were staged not seasonally but throughout the year. The house opened with Johann Theile's Adam und Eva, based, like many subsequent works, on a biblical story. While most of the librettos were by local poets, some were translations of Venetian texts, set to new music. Like Venice, Hamburg was a prosperous, cosmopolitan and independent commercial centre. It was to become especially important for the development of German opera, with the works of Mattheson, Keiser and Handel.


(iv) England.


Both dramma per musica and tragédie lyrique were known in England. Cavalli's Erismena, which survives in a contemporary English translation, may have been performed in London in 1674, and Lully's Cadmus was performed in 1686. But wholly sung drama never established a foothold. Factors militating against it include a strong dramatic tradition in which music played no more than an incidental role, and a competing tradition of celebrating royal events with elaborate masques that combined music, dance and scenic spectacle. Both genres provided satisfying musical and dramatic entertainment without raising questions of the propriety of sung dialogue.

Nevertheless, the recitative style made an early appearance in Ben Jonson's masque Lovers Made Men, set to music (lost) by Nicholas Lanier (1617), and in William Davenant's The Siege of Rhodes (1656; see London, fig.12), said to be the first English opera, which was set completely to music by a team comprising Henry Lawes, Henry Cooke and Matthew Locke (vocal music), and Charles Coleman and George Hudson (instrumental music). French influence, encouraged by Charles II, eager to re-create the court opera he had experienced during his recent exile in Paris, is evident in the so-called semi-operas of Locke (Macbeth, 1664, The Tempest, 1674, and Psyche, 1675). As in Lully's comédies-ballets, music is reserved for magic, ceremonial and spectacle. There is even in one full-scale English tragédie lyrique, Albion and Albanius, a Dryden libretto set by the French-trained composer Louis Grabu in 1685.

The French style permeates the two most exceptional all-sung works of the period, John Blow's Venus and Adonis (c1683) and Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689), his only opera. Though the knowledge of French and Italian opera did not increase the incidence of continuously sung drama, both styles influenced Purcell. Dryden called Purcell's late semi-operas ‘our English operas’; his own King Arthur (1691) was among them. They contain numerous recitatives, lament arias and ostinatos. Purcell achieved full characterization through music, however, only in Dido and Aeneas.

(v) Spain.


Despite strong cultural ties with Italy and the presence of a large contingent of Italian theatre men – including Rospigliosi as papal nuncio for 11 years, as well as several Florentine theatrical architects – Italian opera made little headway in Spain. Like England, Spain already had strong indigenous traditions of theatrical music and a vital heritage of spoken theatre which with Calderón and Lope de Vega reached its golden age in this period. Spectacle plays, zarzuelas, semi-operas and comédias featuring songs, dances and even some recitative dialogue in a distinctively native style served the same political and social functions as opera in other European courts: the glorification of the monarchy.

Three full-sung operas are known; they were motivated by particular political considerations and performed in the royal palace at Madrid under the patronage of Philip IV. The first, Lope de Vega's La selva sin amor (1627), composed by the Italians Filippo Piccinini and Bernardo Monanni, was promoted by a group of Florentine residents at court, as part of a plot to exert Italian influence on Philip IV. The other two, Calderón's La púrpura de la rosa and Celos aun del aire matan (both probably composed in 1660), reflected a desire to compete with Mazarin in celebrating the peace treaty with France and the coming marriage of the infanta and Louis XIV. But these were anomalies, and of the three works only the music of Celos aun del aire matan by Juan Hidalgo has survived. Hidalgo probably also composed La púrpura de la rosa.



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