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From Madrigal to Opera

From Madrigal to Opera: Monteverdi's Staging of the Self

Mauro Calcagno
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 334
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  • Book Info
    From Madrigal to Opera
    Book Description:

    This pathbreaking study links two traditionally separate genres as their stars crossed to explore the emergence of multiple selves in early modern Italian culture and society. Mauro Calcagno focuses on the works of Claudio Monteverdi, a master of both genres, to investigate how they reflect changing ideas about performance and role-playing by singers. Calcagno traces the roots of dialogic subjectivity to Petrarch’s love poetry arguing that Petrarchism exerted a powerful influence not only on late Renaissance literature and art, but also on music. Covering more than a century of music and cultural history, the book demonstrates that the birth of opera relied on an important feature of the madrigalian tradition: the role of the composer as a narrative agent enabling performers to become characters and hold a specific point of view.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95152-5
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    From Madrigal to Operaexamines how “selves” emerge and are perceived in two musical genres mastered by Claudio Monteverdi. In the early seventeenth century, the madrigal, which began flourishing in the 1520s in Florence, was in its final stage of development. Meanwhile, in the same Tuscan city ruled by the Medici family, the new genre of opera was dawning. Around that time, in the north Italian court of Mantua, a still-young Monteverdi was serving at the court of Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, before eventually moving to Venice, where he remained employed by the local government for the rest of his life....


    • [PART ONE. Introduction]
      (pp. 9-14)

      GIORGIO DE CHIRICO’S 1973ORFEO SOLITARIOdates from the last years of the artist’s life, evoking his long-standing connection with opera.² Twenty-four years earlier de Chirico had created the settings for a production of Claudio Monteverdi’sOrfeostaged at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, one of the most prestigious European music festivals. For such a self-conscious artist—the champion of “metaphysical” painting and the painter of many enigmatic self-portraits—drawing on mythology allowed him to weave an intriguing network of references to art, reality, and the self. During the rehearsals ofOrfeode Chirico was photographed alone on the stage set...

    • 1 Text, Context, Performance
      (pp. 15-31)

      Within early seventeenth-century courtly entertainments and festivities, theatrical vocal music was no longer restricted to a mere framing device for a spoken play, as in sixteenth-centuryintermedi.In the new genre,la musicatook center stage. But as a genre entering the crowded and competitive artistic arena of late Renaissance Italy, opera was, from the beginning, in need of articulating a discourse regarding its aesthetic and moral dignity, in order to fully sustain the comparison(paragone)with literature, theater, and visual arts. In the earliest operas, created and performed in the Italian courts of Florence and Mantua around 1600, the...

    • 2 Liminality, Deixis, Subjectivity
      (pp. 32-56)

      Between May 24 and June 8, 1608, Mantua was the site of an extraordinary series of daily performative events that placed the city on the European map as a major capital of spectacle, in what was perhaps the climax of the larger festivity cycle involving northern italian courts at the turn of the century, briefly described in the previous chapter. The occasion was provided by the celebrations following the wedding of Prince Francesco Gonzaga, the dedicatee ofOrfeo,to Margherita of savoy, which had taken place in Turin in conjunction with that of the other daughter of the Duke of...

    • 3 Performing the Dialogic Self
      (pp. 57-70)

      As seen in the previous chapter, the self-reflexive and the presence effects are generated by the body and voice of the singer-as-subject. Generally speaking, a subject, as a body, is characterized by feelings: in the first place, the feeling of being situated in space and time, then the feelings generated by senses (such as touch), and finally the emotional ones, such as love. At the beginning of the prologue ofOrfeoLa Musica sings the words “From my beloved Permessus”(Dal mio Permesso amato),situating herself on stage, pointing to herself as a body in the present time, and expressing...


    • 4 From Petrarch to Petrarchism: A Rhetoric of Voice and Address
      (pp. 73-100)

      In part I, using the example of Monteverdi’sOrfeo,I argued that singing the word “I” is the foundational act of musical enunciation of the singer-as-subject. In the rest of the book I investigate some conditions of possibility for the historical manifestation of this type of language- and body-based subjectivity at the end of the Renaissance. In particular, I explore one condition that I deem necessary, although not sufficient, for the existence of opera as a hybrid genre: the musicians’ trust in the narrative function of music in conjunction with words, especially their communicative or pragmatic meanings—said otherwise, the...

    • 5 In Search of Voice: Musical Petrarchism in the Sixteenth-Century Madrigal
      (pp. 101-188)

      The aspects of narrativity discussed in chapter 4 as pertaining to voice and address—including their location on the theoretical spectrum ranging from a maximum of diegesis to a maximum of mimesis—can be observed in sixteenthcentury madrigal settings of two kinds of texts, the poems by Petrarch and the Petrarchists on the one hand, and dialogic and theatrical texts on the other. Both provided an opportunity for composers to find and develop their own voice not only as authors but also as narrators. Composers adopted different musical techniques according not only to the affects and images displayed in the...


    • 6 Monteverdi, Narrator
      (pp. 191-237)

      We have seen in chapter 5 that inDa le belle contrade d’OrienteRore only gradually accomplishes the shift from narration to quotation, the two narrative levels being instead clearly marked by indirect and direct speech in the poetic text (as it could not otherwise be in verbal language). Music temporarily suspends its rigid mirroring of the text, to resume it after overcoming the threshold between indirect and direct speech, or vice versa (see the gray area in figure 8). This mitigation of what would regularly be a sharper transition between levels shows that the composer, more than the poet,...

    • 7 The Possibility of Opera
      (pp. 238-262)

      In the performances of the Prologue ofOrfeo,as staged by Luca Ronconi (see chapter 3), and ofCombattimento,as staged by Pierre Audi (chapter 6), a character at first represents the narrator—La Musica in the former case, Testo in the latter one. Both characters assert their presences through musical, verbal, and scenic effects. At a later phase—respectively, in the third and seventh strophes of their settings—La Musica and Testo also emerge as focalizing agents, their function as narrators gradually receding into the background in order to “give life” to focalized characters—respectively, Orpheus and Tancredi/Clorinda. Clorinda...

  9. Epilogue: Subjectivity, Theatricality, Multimediality
    (pp. 263-266)

    The madrigal was the genre through which Monteverdi was able to experiment with narrative solutions that served him in the new genre of opera. The possibility of creating characters who are either focalizers or focalized—which he consistently used, as we have seen, from Book VI of his madrigals onward—served him in creating characters such as Otho inPoppea,whose point of view conditions that of the audience. The use ofbasso continuoas an autonomous narrating voice, explored from Book V onward, provided operatic characters with a powerful alter ego throughout the work—as in the indecisive stepwise...

  10. APPENDIX 1: Tables of Contents of the Madrigal Books
    (pp. 267-270)
  11. APPENDIX 2: Monteverdi, Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda: Text and Translation
    (pp. 271-276)
  12. NOTES
    (pp. 277-318)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 319-329)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 330-330)