ⓘ Lost operas by Claudio Monteverdi


ⓘ Lost operas by Claudio Monteverdi

The Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi, in addition to a large output of church music and madrigals, wrote prolifically for the stage. His theatrical works were written between 1604 and 1643 and included ten operas, of which three - LOrfeo, Il ritorno dUlisse in patria and Lincoronazione di Poppea - have survived with their music and librettos intact. In the case of the other seven operas, the music has disappeared almost entirely, although some of the librettos exist. The loss of these works, written during a critical period of early opera history, has been much regretted by commentators and musicologists.

Opera, as a musical and theatrical genre, began to emerge during the early part of Monteverdis career, initially as a form of courtly entertainment. With other composers, he played a leading part in its development into the main form of public musical theatre. His first opera, LOrfeo, written in 1607 for the Mantuan court, which employed him, was a major success. In the years that followed, at Mantua and in his later capacity as maestro di cappella director of music at St Marks Basilica in Venice, Monteverdi continued to write theatrical music in various genres, including operas, dances, and intermedi short musical interludes inserted into straight plays. Because in Monteverdis times stage music was rarely thought to have much utility after its initial performance, much of this music vanished shortly after its creation.

Most of the available information relating to the seven lost operas has been deduced from contemporary documents, including the many letters that Monteverdi wrote. These papers provide irrefutable evidence that four of these works - LArianna, Andromeda, Proserpina rapita and Le nozze dEnea con Lavinia - were completed and performed in Monteverdis lifetime, but of their music, only the famous lament from LArianna and a trio from Proserpina are known to have survived. The other three lost operas - Le nozze di Tetide, La finta pazza Licori and Armida abbandonata - were abandoned by Monteverdi before completion; how much of their music was actually written is unknown.


1. Background

Monteverdis creative life covered more than 50 years. Between 1590 and 1612 he served as a musician in the Gonzaga court in Mantua, followed by 30 years 1613–43 as maestro di capella at St Marks Basilica in Venice. This timespan saw opera develop, from its beginnings as a limited form of court entertainment, to become part of the mainstream of public musical theatre. Before the Italian word "opera" - short for opera in musica "musical work" - came into general use around 1634, musical stage works were typically termed favola in musica musical fable, dramma in musica musical drama, or tragedia in musica "musical tragedy"; Monteverdi used these and similar descriptions for many of his early operatic projects.

The first work now generally considered as an opera is Jacopo Peris Dafne of 1597, closely followed by Euridice 1600, for which Peri and Giulio Caccini wrote separate musical settings. Ottavio Rinuccini was the librettist for both Dafne and Euridice. In the new genre a complete story was told through characters, and in addition to choruses and ensembles, the vocal parts included recitative, aria and arioso. This was a development from various older forms of musical theatre that had existed since the earliest years of the Italian Renaissance; such forms included the maschera "masque", the ballo a dance entertainment, often with sung passages, and particularly the intermedio or intermezzo, a short dramatic musical episode inserted as a prologue or entracte between the acts of straight plays. Another format in the later renaissance period was the torneo, or "tournament", a stylised dramatic spectacle in which the main singing was performed by a narrator. Sub-operatic forms of dramatic music continued to thrive as opera itself developed; the blurred boundaries that existed for many years between these forms and "opera" has led to debate about how to categorise some works. For example, the precise genre of Monteverdis Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda 1624 has proved particularly difficult to define.

Monteverdis first acknowledged opera is LOrfeo 1607. He composed, in all, 24 works for the stage. Of these, ten are usually classified as operas, of which the music for seven has been lost apart from a few fragments. Most of what is known about the missing works comes from surviving librettos and other documentation, including Monteverdis own extensive correspondence. Tim Carter, a leading Monteverdi scholar, suggests that the high rate of loss is explicable because, in Monteverdis times, "memories were short and large-scale musical works often had limited currency beyond their immediate circumstances".


2. For Mantua

Monteverdi wrote six acknowledged operas for the Mantua court, of which only LOrfeo survives with libretto and music intact. Four of the five lost Mantuan works were written after the composer had left the service of the Gonzagas in 1612 and was ensconced in Venice, but still retained contacts with Mantua. LArianna and Andromeda were completed and performed; the others were all abandoned incomplete.


2.1. For Mantua LArianna 1607–08

English: "Ariadne"

LArianna was composed as a festive piece for the wedding of the heir to the duchy, Francesco Gonzaga, to Margherita of Savoy, in May 1608. Monteverdi received the commission following LOrfeo s successful premiere at the court in February 1607. The libretto for LArianna was by Rinuccini, whose literary skills had earlier impressed Duke Vincenzo I of Mantua after a performance of Euridice. The composition of LArianna became a fraught affair for Monteverdi, being only one of three works that the duke required from him for the wedding - he had also to compose a musical prologue for Giovanni Battista Guarinis play Lidropica, and write the music for a dramatic dance, Il ballo delle ingrate. His life had been disrupted by the fatal illness of his wife Claudia; she died on 10 September 1607, but Monteverdi was given no respite by the duke. LArianna was largely composed in the last two months of 1607, an exertion that Monteverdis biographer Hans Redlich describes as "superhuman". Monteverdi felt slighted by the lack of acknowledgement from the duke for his efforts; nearly 20 years later, in a letter to the Mantua court secretary Alessandro Striggio the Younger, he wrote that he had almost killed himself when writing LArianna in such a hurry.

Rinuccini used numerous classical sources as the basis for his libretto, in particular works of Ovid - the Heroides and the Metamorphoses - and poems from Catullus. After a prologue, the main action begins as Venus tells Cupid that Ariadne and her lover Theseus, fleeing from Crete after his slaying of the Minotaur, will shortly arrive in Naxos. Theseus, she reports, will then abandon Ariadne, as he believes her to be unacceptable to the people of Athens as their queen. Venus plans to match her instead with the god Bacchus, and asks Cupid to arrange this. Theseus and Arianna arrive; Theseus agonises over his decision to abandon her, but is advised by his counsellor that he is wise in his resolve, and departs. In the morning Ariadne, finding herself abandoned, searches vainly for Theseus on the shore, where she sings her lament. A fanfare indicates an imminent arrival; Ariadne hopes this is Theseus returning, but it is Bacchus and his entourage. Jupiter speaks from the heavens, and amid festive scenes Bacchus promises Ariadne immortality with the gods in return for her love.

Rinuccini extended the libretto during the rehearsals, after complaints from the duchess that the piece was "too dry"; as a result the early scene between Venus and Cupid, and Jupiters blessing from heaven, were added. Preparations for the operas performance were disrupted when, in March 1608, the leading soprano Caterina Martinelli died of smallpox. A replacement had to be found rapidly, and the title role fell to Virginia Andreidi, a renowned actress-singer who used the stage name "La Florinda"; she reportedly learned the part in only six days. In his analysis of Monteverdis theatrical works, Carter suggests that the lament may have been added to the work to make the most of Andreinis acting and vocal abilities. The premiere, on 28 May 1608, was staged in a specially erected temporary theatre, which according to contemporary reports could hold an audience of several thousands. The production was lavish; apparently 300 men were required to manipulate the stage machinery. Federico Follino, who prepared the Mantuan courts official report on the occasion, praised the beauty of the work, the magnificence of costumes and machinery, and the sweetness of the music. Monteverdis fellow-composer Marco da Gagliano was equally complimentary, writing that the opera had "visibly moved the entire audience to tears." It is possible that LArianna was performed in Florence in 1614; a projected performance in Mantua in May 1620 to celebrate Duchess Caterinas birthday was cancelled for unknown reasons. Otherwise, there are no records of the operas performance before its revival in 1640 at the Teatro San Moise, Venice. In his study of late Renaissance opera, Gary Tomlinson surmises that the works enthusiastic reception in Venice was a significant factor in Monteverdis decision to resume opera composition during his final years.

Of the music, only the lament survives. It was published independently from the opera in various forms; an adaptation for five voices was included in Monteverdis Sixth Book of Madrigals in 1614, and two versions of the original solo were published in 1623. Other composers emulated the laments format; Redlich asserts that it initiated a musical subgenre that lasted to the end of the 17th century and beyond. The libretto has been preserved; versions were published in Mantua in 1608, and in Venice in 1622 and 1639.


2.2. For Mantua Le nozze di Tetide 1616–17

English: "The Marriage of Thetis"

After Duke Vincenzos death in February 1612, Monteverdi found himself out of favour at the Mantuan court. Vincenzos successor Francesco had no high regard for Monteverdi, and dismissed him from his post. Upon Francescos sudden death in December 1612, the dukedom passed to his brother Ferdinando, but Monteverdi was not recalled to the court and was appointed maestro di capella in August 1613 at St Marks, Venice. However, he remained in contact with Striggio and other highly placed Gonzaga courtiers, through whom he was able to secure occasional commissions to compose theatrical works for the Gonzaga court. Thus, late in 1616, Striggio asked him to set to music Scipione Agnellis libretto Le nozze di Tetide, as part of the celebrations for Duke Ferdinandos forthcoming marriage to Catherine de Medici. This story, based on the wedding of the mythical Greek hero Peleus to the sea-goddess Thetis, had previously been offered to the Mantuan court by Peri, whose setting of a libretto by Francesco Cini had been rejected in 1608 in favour of LArianna.

Initially, Monteverdi had little enthusiasm for Le nozze di Tetide, and sought ways of avoiding or delaying work on it. He would accept the commission, he informed Striggio on 9 December 1616, because it was the wish of the duke, his feudal lord. However, the verses he was given were not, he felt, conducive to beautiful music. He found the tale difficult to understand, and did not think he could be inspired by it. In any event he was occupied for most of December in writing a Christmas Eve mass for St Marks. On 29 December, perhaps hoping that the commission would be withdrawn, Monteverdi told Striggio that he was ready to begin work on Le Nozze di Tetide "if you tell me to do so". In January 1617, however, he became more enthusiastic on learning that the project had been scaled down and was now being projected as a series of intermedi. He informed Striggio that what he had first considered a rather monotonous piece he now thought fully appropriate to the occasion. He began work on the recitative sections, but before he could start setting the more expressive numbers, the duke had a change of heart and cancelled Monteverdis commission. Le nozze di Tetide was abandoned; its libretto and whatever music existed have disappeared.


2.3. For Mantua Andromeda 1618–20

Monteverdis next commission from Mantua came early in 1618, when he was asked to provide the music for Andromeda, an opera based on the ancient Greek myth of the princess chained to a rock. The libretto was written by Duke Ferdinandos chancellor, Ercole Marigliani, and the project was sponsored by the dukes younger brother, Don Vincenzo Gonzaga. It is probable that the work was intended for performance at the Mantua Carnival of March 1618, but as Carter records, Monteverdis approach to his Mantua commissions was often dilatory and half-hearted; his inability or unwillingness to work on Andromeda delayed its performance, first to 1619 and then to 1620.

Monteverdis letters during the 1618–20 period, mainly to Striggio but occasionally to Don Vincenzo or Marigliani, offer various excuses for his lack of progress on Andromeda, including his duties at St Marks, his health, and his obligations to provide ceremonial music for the Doge ruler of Venice. In February 1619, Monteverdi had started work on another Mantuan project, a ballo dance with sung parts to Striggios libretto entitled Apollo. On 9 January 1620, still with 400 lines of the Andromeda libretto to set to music, Monteverdi proposed to Striggio that the entire opera project be abandoned and the ballo substituted. This idea was rapidly quashed; Don Vincenzo ordered that the remaining Andromeda music be sent to him forthwith. The final segment of Andromeda, an eight-part song, was delivered to Marigliani on 15 February 1620.

None of Monteverdis music for Andromeda has survived. The libretto was also thought to have been lost, until its rediscovery in 1984. was customary in Monteverdis time, the manuscript makes no mention of the composers name - librettos were often the subject of numerous settings by different composers. The librettos frontispiece confirms that Andromeda was performed during Mantuas Carnival, 1–3 March 1620. An analysis of its contents reveals some influence from Rinuccinis libretto for Arianna, such as use of identical metre and length in the prologues of each work, and several common characters in the respective cast lists. The document remains in private hands and has not been published.

Monteverdi recorded no apparent interest in the performance of Andromeda after the 1620 Carnival; the long letter that he wrote to Striggio on 13 March 1620 makes no reference to the event and is chiefly concerned with financial matters. The letter implies that the Gonzaga court was trying to persuade Monteverdi to return to Mantua; in courtly language Monteverdi evades the issue, while comparing the relative generosity of his Venetian employers with the parsimony of the Gonzaga court.


2.4. For Mantua Two abortive projects 1627–28

After Andromeda there followed a period of several years in which Mantua made little use of Monteverdis services. Duke Ferdinando died on 26 October 1626 and was succeeded by Don Vincenzo, who became Duke Vincenzo II. Early in 1627 Striggio approached Monteverdi with a request for theatrical music, possibly for the festivities that would celebrate Vincenzos accession. Monteverdi replied offering three options: first, Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda "The Battle of Tancred and Clorinda", a setting from Torquato Tassos epic poem Gerusalemme liberata "Jerusalem Delivered", which had been performed at the 1624 Venice Carnival; secondly, a setting from another part of Tassos poem, covering the story of the sorceress Armida and her abandonment by the Christian hero Rinaldo; finally, he offered to set the words of a new play by Giulio Strozzi, Licori finta pazza inamorata dAminta, about a woman who feigns madness for the sake of love. Monteverdi sent Striggio a copy of Strozzis play on 7 May 1627; Striggio liked it and instructed Monteverdi to begin the music.


2.5. For Mantua La finta pazza Licori

English: "The feigned madwoman Licori"

Strozzi was a Venetian, born in 1583, whose literary works included plays and poetry as well as opera libretti; Monteverdi had first met him in 1621. Strozzi knew Monteverdis music, and had developed a strong appreciation of the composers innovative style. On 20 June 1627, Monteverdi informed Striggio that Strozzi had expanded and arranged the text into five acts, under the new title La finta pazza Licori. Feigned madness was a standard theme in the commedia dellarte tradition that had established itself in Italian theatre in the 16th century. In Strozzis plot, the first known attempt at comic opera, the woman Licori disguises herself initially as a man, then as a woman, and then pretends to be mad, all as part of a strategy to win the heart of her lover, Aminta.

Monteverdi was, at least initially, much taken with the potential of the plot, and the opportunities the libretto provided for a variety of musical effects. Monteverdi stressed to Striggio the importance of finding a singer with real acting ability to play the role of Licori, someone capable of playing a man and a woman with appropriate emotions and gestures. Later he enthused about the chance to write a ballet for each of the five acts, all in different styles. Monteverdis letters continued throughout the summer, but his attitude slowly changed, from one of evident commitment to frustration at the delays in getting the libretto copied. The musicologist Gary Tomlinson, in his analysis of the operas genesis, suggests that Monteverdi may have been stalling. In September Striggio, having received, read and presumably not liked the expanded libretto, abruptly cancelled the commission and the work is heard of no more. Monteverdi was told instead to work on the Armida setting.

For many years it was assumed that Monteverdi had written much of the music for Licori before its sudden cancellation; Redlich says the music was finished by 10 September 1627. The works rejection and subsequent disappearance have been blamed on Striggios disregard for Monteverdis efforts. However, Tomlinsons reading of the correspondence suggests a different conclusion: Monteverdi, in his view, "did not even come close to completing the score" and may have written very little of the music. It is likely that he stopped composing at the end of July, having become suspicious of Striggios true commitment to the work. Tomlinson suggests that, mindful of Mantuas earlier cancellation of Le nozze di Tetide, Monteverdi avoided extending himself on the new project, while maintaining a diplomatic impression of activity. Tomlinson writes: if, at the first such signs in 1627, he decided to move cautiously in the composition of Licori." Strozzis libretto has vanished along with whatever music Monteverdi managed to write, but Strozzi wrote a second libretto under the same name, which was set by Francesco Sacrati and produced in Venice in 1641.


2.6. For Mantua Armida abbandonata

English: "Armida abandoned"

After the rejection of Licori, Monteverdi did not immediately turn his attention to Armida. Instead, he went to Parma, having been commissioned to provide musical entertainments for the marriage celebrations of the youthful Duke Odoardo Farnese of Parma and Margherita de Medici. He spent several weeks in Parma working on these; nevertheless, on 18 December 1627 he was able to tell Striggio that the music for Armida had been completed and was being copied. In the relevant section of Tassos poem, the enchantress Armida lures the noble Rinaldo to her enchanted island. Two knights arrive to persuade Rinaldo to return to his duty, while Armida pleads with him to stay, or if he must depart, to allow her to be at his side in battle. When he refuses and abandons her, Armida curses him before falling insensible.

Carter indicates several structural similarities to Il combattimento ; both works require three voices, one of which acts as the narrator. Despite these similarities, Armida abbandonata, unlike the earlier work, is generally considered by scholars of Monteverdi to be an opera, although Denis Stevens, translator of Monteverdis letters, has termed it a "parergon" subsidiary work to Il Combattimento.

Plans for Armida s performance were, however, cancelled when Duke Vincenzo died at the end of December 1627. On 4 February 1628, Striggio was still asking for a copy of Armida, perhaps to use in connection with the next dukes coronation. Monteverdi promised to send him one, but there is no confirmation that he did so. No trace of the music has been found, though Tomlinson has deduced some of its likely characteristics from Monteverdis correspondence, including extensive use of the stile concitato effect. Although there is no record that Armida was ever performed in Mantua, Stevens has mooted the possibility that it may have been staged in Venice in 1628, since Monteverdis reply to Striggios February letter indicates that the work was in the hands of Girolamo Mocenigo, a wealthy patron of the arts at whose Venetian palace Il combattimento had been performed in 1624.

Licori and Armida were Monteverdis final theatrical works for the Mantuan court. Vincenzo IIs death ended the main Gonzaga line; the dukedom was inherited by a distant relative, Charles of Nevers, and Mantua was subsequently engulfed in a series of conflicts, which by 1630 had reduced much of the city to ruins. Monteverdis last known letter to Striggio is dated 8 July 1628; Striggio died in Venice on 8 June 1630, while heading a mission requesting aid against the armies that were encircling Mantua.


3. For Venice

Between 1630 and 1643 Monteverdi wrote four operas for performance in Venice. All were staged in Monteverdis lifetime, but only Il ritorno dUlisse in patria and Lincoronazione di Poppea survive.


3.1. For Venice Proserpina rapita 1630

English: "The Rape of Proserpine"

Proserpina rapita was the first of the theatrical works that Monteverdi wrote specifically for Venice, under a commission from Mocenigo for his daughter Giustinianas wedding celebrations. The libretto, by Strozzi, is based on the ancient Greek myth of Pluto and Proserpine. Symbolic rape was a common theme in wedding entertainments designed for Italian courts, intended in Carters words "both to proclaim the power of love and to set proper bounds on female behaviour".

In Strozzis version of the story, an amorous shepherd Pachino invokes the aid of Pluto, ruler of the underworld, to cure his unrequited obsession with Proserpine. Pluto obliges by turning Pachino into a mountain, though promising his soul a place in Elysium. After being struck by a love-dart fired by Cupid, Pluto falls for Proserpine and claims her as his queen. Initially she resists him, but when Ciane her protector is turned by Pluto into a spring of water, she is overcome. Submissively, she vows obedience; the strength of her beauty is such that Pluto softens, and pledges that in future he will treat lovers less harshly.

The libretto was published in 1630, in Venice, by Evangelista Deuchino. Surviving copies indicate that the original scenery was created by Giuseppe Albardi, and that dances were arranged by Girolamo Scolari. The opera was staged on 16 April 1630, in a salon of the Mocenigo palace. Carter is sceptical that, in such a restricted venue, the performance could have incorporated all the special effects stipulated by the libretto. Nevertheless, an account by one of those present shows that the occasion provided considerable spectacle: "he words are all that remain of this Virgilian opera, offering faint hints of lost melodies".


4. Consequences

Many of Monteverdis lost works date from the 1610s and 1620s, and the manuscripts may have disappeared in the wars that overcame Mantua in 1630. Carter cites as a significant aspect of their loss the degree to which they might have provided musical links between the composers early Mantuan court operas and the public operas he wrote in Venice towards the end of his life: "Without these links. it is hard to a produce a coherent account of his development as a composer for the stage". In an essay on the opera orchestras of Montverdis day, Janet Beat regrets that the 30-year gap between LOrfeo and the next Monteverdi opera to have survived, Il ritorno dUlisse in patria, hampers the study of how opera orchestration developed during those critical years.

Carter also reflects on the intriguing possibility, however remote, that a discovery in an unexplored library might one day bring some of this missing music to light. As of 2015 this has not occurred; however, a setting of Rinuccinis libretto by the British composer Alexander Goehr was performed at Londons Royal Opera House on 15 September 1995, under the title Arianna. Goehr worked from Rinuccinis original script and, as a tribute to the historic opera, incorporated sections of Monteverdis setting of the lament into his score.


5. Notes and references




  • Stevens, Denis 1980. The Letters of Claudio Monteverdi. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-23591-4.
  • Redlich, Hans 1952. Claudio Monteverdi: Life and Works. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Tomlinson, Gary 1987. Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06980-0.
  • Grout, Donald Jay 1971. A Short History of Opera. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-08978-4.
  • Ringer, Mark 2006. Operas First Master: The Musical Dramas of Claudio Monteverdi. Newark, New Jersey: Amadeus Press. ISBN 978-1-57467-110-0.
  • Carter, Tim 2002. Monteverdis Musical Theatre. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-09676-7.
  • Beat, Janet E. 1968. "Monteverdi and the Opera Orchestra of his Time". In Arnold, Denis; Fortune, Nigel eds. The Monteverdi Companion. London: Faber and Faber.
  • Whenham, John; Wistreich, Richard, eds. 2007. The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-87525-7.
  • Rosand, Ellen 2007. "An Incognito debate: questions of meaning". In Whenham, John; Wistreich, Richard eds. The Cambridge Companion to Monteverdi. Cambridge Companions to Music. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-87525-7.
  • Fabbri, Paolo 1994. Monteverdi. Carter, Tim tr. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-35133-1.
  • Rosand, Ellen 2007. Monteverdis Last Operas: A Venetian trilogy. Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24934-9.

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