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‘Figura poetica molto vaga’: structure and meaning in Rinuccini's Euridice

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 December 2008

Bojan Bujić
Magdalen College, Oxford


Early Italian opera with its diverse roots, streching into the history of music, Classical and Renaissance literature, and the culture of the late Cinquecento, continues to attract historians of culture and musicologists. If one only glances over the work done in this area during the last twenty-five or so years one cannot fail to be impressed by the important writings on early opera by Nino Pirrotta, on the Florentine Camerata by Claude Palisca, on the Classical literary tradition in the early librettos by F. W. Sternfeld and on early Mantuan opera by Iain Fenlon. We also owe a detailed account of the first performance of Peri's and Caccini's Euridice to Claude Palisca, and a study of Peri's Euridice to Tim Carter. In the latter two studies the stress was on the final result of the collaboration between Ottavio Rinuccini, Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini. It seems, however, that a detailed look at one of the components, Rinuccini's dramatic poem Euridice, may offer some valuable insights into the very foundation of Peri's and Caccini's completed artistic effort and also throw new light on some aspects of Striggio's Orfeo.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1991

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1 Pirrotta, N., ‘Early Opera and Aria’, New Looks at Italian Opera, ed. Austin, W. W. (Ithaca, NY, 1968), pp. 39107Google Scholar; Italian version in Pirrotta, N. and Povoledo, E., Li due Orfei (Turin, 1969; 2nd edn, 1975), pp. 276333Google Scholar; Eng. trans., revised, as Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi (Cambridge, 1982), pp. 237–80Google Scholar. Other relevant papers are collected in Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque (Cambridge, MA, and London, 1984)Google Scholar.

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Fenlon, I., ‘The Mantuan Stage Works’, The New Monteverdi Companion, ed. Arnold, D. and Fortune, N. (London, 1985), pp. 251–87Google Scholar. ‘The Mantuan Orfeo’, WhenO, pp. 1–19.

2 Palisca, C., ‘The First Performance of “Euridice”’, Queens College Department of Music Twenty-Fifth Anniversary Festschrift, ed. Mell, A. (New York, 1964), pp. 123Google Scholar. Carter, T., ‘Jacopo Peri's Euridice (1600): A Contextual Study’, The Music Review, 43 (1982), pp. 83103Google Scholar.

3 Hanning, B. Russano, ‘Apologia pro Ottavio Rinuccini’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 26 (1973), pp. 240–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar. The paper is a reworked chapter from Hanning's doctoral dissertation. The dissertation was published as Of Poetry and Music's Power: Humanism and the Creation of Opera (Ann Arbor, MI, 1980)Google Scholar.

4 Tomlinson, G., ‘Ancora su Ottavio Rinuccini’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 28 (1975), pp. 351–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 Pirrotta, , Li due Orfei, p. 329Google Scholar, Eng. trans., p. 264.

6 Ibid., p. 282, Eng. trans., p. 243. Throughout the present study the forms ‘Orpheus’, ‘Venus’ etc. refer to the characters from Greek mythology, whereas ‘Orfeo’, ‘Venere’ etc. refer to Rinuccini's characters.

7 Shearman, J., Mannerism (Harmondsworth, 1967), pp. 21 and 41Google Scholar.

8 Ibid., pp. 91–6.

9 Guarini, Battista, Il pastor fido, ed. Bonora, E. (Milan, 1977)Google Scholar, Act 3, scene 3, line 503, and Guarini's commentary on the line. Discussing the poetry of the same period, though using for it the term ‘Baroque’, Gérard Genette points out the importance of verbal contrasts: ‘Diviser (partager) pour unir, c'est la formule de l'ordre baroque.’ Genette, G., ‘“L'or tombe sous le fer”’, Figures I (Paris, 1966), p. 38Google Scholar.

10 Florentine interest in Guarini and in Il pastor fido goes back to the mid-1580s. Responding to a request from Guarini, Lionardo Salviati undertook to ‘improve’ the language of his pastoral play and then upheld the example of Guarini's language as an argument in his attack on Tasso. On Salviati's recommendation Guarini was admitted to the Accademia Fiorentina in 1587 and to the Accademia della Crusca in 1588. On the latter occasion Guarini went to Florence with the manuscript of II pastor fido knowing of the Grand Duke Ferdinando's interest in having the play performed; the performance did not in fact take place. Guarini was in Florence again in 1599–1601 and contributed a dialogue of Juno and Minerva to the wedding celebrations for which Rinuccini wrote his Euridice. For details of Guarini's literary links with Florence see Rossi, V., Battista Guarini ed ‘Il pastor fido’ (Turin, 1886)Google Scholar, and Brown, P.M., Lionardo Salviati (Oxford, 1974)Google Scholar.

11 Hanning, ‘Apologia’, pp. 244–6.

12 ‘Royal roof’, in the original ‘regi tetti’: Luigi Fassò (see below, note 14) interprets this to mean ‘la reggia di Francia’ (p. 24), but there is no reason not to see in ‘regi tetti’ a reference to the premises of the performance. The two words are, after all, of respectable Ovidian lineage: ‘cum facibus regalia tecta cremaro’ (Metamorphoses, vi, 614, the story of Philomela, Procne and Tereus), although the context is, of course, different.

13 The numbering of lines is after Solerti and Della Corte (see note 14).

14 Solerti, A., Gli albori del melodramma (Milan, etc., 19041905Google Scholar; repr. Hildesheim, 1969), ii, pp. 107–42; Corte, A. Della, ed., Drammi per musica, Collezione di Classici Italiani 50 (Turin, 1926), pp. 289326Google Scholar; Corte, Della, ed., Drammi per musica dal Rinuccini allo Zeno (Turin, 1958), i, pp. 69106Google Scholar; Fassò, L., ed., Teatro del Seicento, La Letteratura Italiana: Storia e Testi 39 (Milan and Naples, 1956), pp. 2349Google Scholar. Neither Solerti nor Della Corte provided any commentaries and therefore Fassò's edition, containing ample annotations and textual commentaries, is superior to those of his predecessors. Fassò's numbering of lines also distinguishes his edition from the two preceding ones. They number 790 lines, whereas Fassò's edition numbers 814 lines. The difference of twenty four lines arose from the fact that Fassò wrote out in full the repetitions of the ritornello ‘Al canto, al ballo’ in the finale of scene 1. In spite of the logical preference for Fassò's text I have followed Solerti's and Della Corte's numbering not only because most music historians are familiar with these editions, but also because their layout of the passage in question corresponds closely to the layout of the first printed edition (L'Euridice, Florence: Giunti, 1600)Google Scholar. The two methods of numbering do not alter significantly the balance between the sections discussed later.

15 Peri, Jacopo,Euridice, ed. Brown, H. M., Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era 36–7 (Madison, WI, 1981)Google Scholar. The edition does not number the lines, but it provides a parallel English translation. Brown's notes list discrepancies in wording between the printed libretto and Peri's published score. Brown's decision to divide the opera into five scenes rather than six rests on a conviction that this would conform to the theatrical practice of the time. This is borne out by the fact that Paskoj Primović, the author of the near-contemporary Croat translation (Euridice, Venice: Salis, 1617)Google Scholar divided his translation into five acts at identical points. I have discussed this translation in ‘An Early Croat Translation of Rinuccini's “Euridice”’, Muzikološki Zbornik (University of Ljubljana), 12 (1976), pp. 1629Google Scholar.

16 No. 245 in the Canzoniere. All quotations in the main text are from Contini, G., ed., Francesco Petrarca: Canzoniere (Turin, 1964)Google Scholar. For the sake of historical consistency the text of a late sixteenth-century edition is reproduced in Appendix 1.

17 The treatment of this portion of Rinuccini's text in Peri's setting and a comparison of it with the relevant section of Monteverdi's Orfeo is discussed by Tomlinson, G., ‘Madrigal, Monody, and Monteverdi's “via naturale alla imitatione”’, Journal of the American Musicological Society, 34 (1981), pp. 62–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

18 I discussed the importance of these additions in ‘An Early Croat Translation’.

19 In Peri's score the words are changed to ‘In così lieto dì’. See Peri, , Euridice, ed. Brown, , p. xxiGoogle Scholar.

20 This and all subsequent quotations of Virgil in the original Latin follow the ‘old’ Oxford text: P. Vergili Maronis opera, ed. Hirtzel, F. A. (Oxford, 1900 and subsequent reprints)Google Scholar.

21 Virgil, , The Aeneid, trans. Knight, W. F. Jackson (Harmondsworth, 1958), p. 153Google Scholar.

22 Ibid., p. 155.

23 For the full text see Appendix 2.

24 Virgil's line was widely known and achieved the status of a proverb after having been used by Pope Innocent viii and King Ferdinand of Aragon. See Tansillo, L., Poesie liriche, ed. Fiorentino, F. (Naples, 1882), p. 228Google Scholar. In modern times it was given a new lease of life by Sigmund Freud, who took it as the motto of his The Interpretation of Dreams.

It should be pointed out that in addition to the reference to Tansillo, there is some considerable affinity between Venere's words in Euridice, lines 416–17, and two lines in Poliziano's La favola di Orfeo, spoken by Orfeo before his descent into the underworld: ‘Forse che diverrà pietosa morte / Chè già cantando abbiam mosso una pietra’. See Poliziano, A., Tutte le poesie italiane, ed. Ceriello, G. R. (Milan, 1952), p. 66Google Scholar.

25 Virgil, , Georgics, trans. Wilkinson, L. P. (Harmondsworth, 1982), p. 140Google Scholar.

26 Anderson, W. S., ed., P. Ovidii Nasonis Metamorphoses (Leipzig, 1985)Google Scholar; Ovid, , Metamorphoses, trans. Melville, A. D. (Oxford, 1986), p. 225Google Scholar.

27 Virgil, , The Aeneid, trans. Knight, Jackson, p. 151Google Scholar.

28 I owe this point to Dr Z. G. Barański.

29 Dante, De vulgari eloquentia, book ii, chapter iv, §10. The quotation follows the edition by Mengaldo, P. V. as reproduced in Dante, De vulgari eloquentia, ed. Cecchin, S. (Milan, 1988), p. 108Google Scholar.

30 During the best part of the sixteenth century the treatise was known only in an Italian translation by Giovanni Giorgio Trissino. It became available in its original Latin in 1577 when Jacopo Corbinelli, a Florentine exile living in Paris, obtained from Florence a manuscript in Latin and published it. See ‘De vulgari eloquentia’, Enciclopedia Dantesca, 4 vols. (Rome, 19701973, suppl. 1978Google Scholar; 2nd, revised edn, 1984), ii, pp. 406–7. In the phrase quoted here the manuscripts of Dante's Latin version transmit both ‘posita’ and ‘poita’. ‘Poita’ is a latinisation of the Greek verb poiein which suggests ‘making’ or ‘inventing’, whereas ‘posita’ suggests ‘set to’. Trissino translated it from the original which had the latter version, as ‘fizione rettorica, e posta in musica’. See Dante, , De la volgare eloquenzia … di M. Giovanni Giorgio Trissino (Ferrara, 1583)Google Scholar, fol. 26. The phrase ‘posta in musica’ would have particularly endeared this passage of Dante's to the members of the Bardi and Corsi circles.

31 Pirrotta, , ‘Rinuccini’, Enciclopedia dello spettacolo, 9 vols. (Rome, 19541962), viii, cols. 1003−4Google Scholar; Carter, , ‘Jacopo Peri's Euridice’, p. 85Google Scholar. See also Palisca, C., The Florentine Camerata: Documentary Studies and Translations (New Haven, CT, and London, 1989), p. 8Google Scholar.

32 A careful scrutiny of Euridice which reveals the extent of Rinuccini's knowledge of various literary sources seems to undermine the validity of Gabriello Chiabrera's often cited comment that Rinuccini ‘non studiò scienza nessuna, ed anco della lingua latina poco fu esperto’, quoted in Raccamadoro-Ramelli, F., Ottavio Rinuccini: Studio biografico-critico (Fabriano, 1900), p. 35Google Scholar. The habit of slighting one's colleagues and rivals was, as much as the inclination towards excessive praise, a persistent manner in the writings of the time. Even if Chiabrera's invective was partly true and Rinuccini did have difficulties in following Virgil's original Latin, the Aeneid would have been accessible to him in Annibale Caro's Italian translation.

33 It is interesting that in Peri's as well as Caccini's setting the wording of this line is altered to ‘Mover gli dei del ciel, placar l'Inferno’ (see H. M. Brown's edition, p. xxxvi). I am prepared to conjecture that the change was introduced by Peri on his own initiative or even at Caccini's instigation to increase the variety of vowel colours in the line: in Rinuccini's version there is a single a in this line, and the altered version softens the effect of an overwhelming presence of the vowel e.

34 The elaborate structure of contrasts and parallels may be extended beyond the elements in Table 2, but I did not do this, for fear of overburdening it with graphic signs. The parallelisms may be taken as supporting evidence for Roman Jakobson's theory that all poetry relies strongly on an elaborate structure of ‘striking symmetries and antisymmetries, balanced structure, efficient accumulation of equivalent forms and salient contrasts’. See Jakobson, R., ‘Poetry of Grammar and Grammar of Poetry’, Lingua, 21 (1968), p. 603CrossRefGoogle Scholar. I am grateful to Professor Giulio Lepschy for drawing my attention to the affinity between my analysis and Jakobson's theory.

35 Teicher, A., ‘The Spectacle of Politics’, The Florentine Intermedi, pp. 1721Google Scholar. Hanning, B. Russano, ‘Glorious Apollo: Poetic and Political Themes in the First Opera’, The Renaissance Quarterly, 32 (1979), pp. 485513CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Fenlon, I., ‘Preparations for a Princess: Florence 1588–89’, In cantu et in sermone: for Nino Pirrotta on his 80th Birthday, ed. Seta, F. Delia and Piperno, F. (Florence and Perth, 1989), pp. 259–81Google Scholar.

36 I have relied mainly on Galluzzi, R., Istoria del granducato di Toscana (Florence, 1781)Google Scholar, revised edn, Storia del granducato di Toscana, 10 vols. (Florence, 1822) [henceforth GS; all references are to the 1822 edition]; and Diaz, F., Il granducato di Toscana, Storia d'Italia, ed. Galasso, G., xiii/1 (Turin, 1976)Google Scholar.

37 The possibility of Cosimo being given the status of a king by the pope arose in 1560 in conjunction with the attempt to secure the hand of Princess Maria of Portugal for his son and heir Francesco. See GS, ii, p. 276Google Scholar, and Diaz, , Il granducato, p. 187Google Scholar.

38 See GS, iii, pp. 55–6Google Scholar. On Zasius see Allgemeine deutsche Biographic, 55 vols. (Leipzig, 18751910), xliv, pp. 706–8Google Scholar.

39 In the long run the French connection remained of little value, and the close relations with Austria in the seventeenth century proved to be of greater importance for the development of Florentine politics. See GS, vi and vii, passim, and Teicher, ‘The Spectacle’, p. 21.

40 Sec GS, v, pp. 63 and 218Google Scholar.

41 Ibid., pp. 125–7 and 223–6.

42 Ibid., p. 222.

43 Ibid., p. 223, and Evans, R. J. W., Rudolf 11 and his World: A Study in Intellectual History 1576–1612 (Oxford, 1973), p. 57Google Scholar.

44 GS, v, p. 227Google Scholar.

45 Ibid., p. 228.

46 Garrisson, J., Henry IV (Paris, 1984), p. 247Google Scholar.

47 GS, vi, p. 5Google Scholar. The date of the proclamation makes the Petrarch sonnet from which Rinuccini quotes in Euridice particularly appropriate, as it begins with the lines ‘Due rose fresche, e colte in paradiso / l'altrier nascendo il dì primo di maggio.’ Pietro Bembo's often reprinted commentary suggests that the ‘amante antiquo, e saggio’ stands for King Robert of Naples, and the image of a monarch extending his benevolence to young lovers would not have been lost on cultured Florentines in 1600. See Appendix 1.

48 ‘Io stimava di por fine a questa istoria con la vita del gran Duca Francesco; ma essendo stato confortato da molti a tirarla avanti infino a quest'anno fortunato del 1600. per esser anno di remissione & di perdono, sono anche indotto a farlo, se così a Dio piacerà, per haver in esso l'Altezza vostra congiunto in matrimonio la sua nipote col Cristianissimo Re di Francia: dal qual congiungimento se seguiranno que beni, che tutta la Cristianità va augurando, & vostra Altezza havrà con una magnanima azione illustrato grandemente tutte 1'altre opere sue’; Ammirato, Scipione, Dell'istorie forentine … libri venti (Florence, 1600)Google Scholar, preface, unpaginated.

49 Horace, , On the Art of Poetry, 391401Google Scholar, in Aristotle, , Horace, , Longinus, , Classical Literary Criticism, trans. Dorsch, T. S. (Harmondsworth, 1965), pp. 92–3Google Scholar.

50 Now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On Cosimo as Orpheus see Langedijk, K., ‘Baccio Bandinelli's Orpheus: A Political Message’, Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz, 20 (1976), p. 48Google Scholar, and The Portraits of the Medici, 15th–18th Centuries, i (Florence, 1981), p. 117Google Scholar. Hanning in Of Poetry and Music's Power draws attention to Langedijk's 1976 paper and to ‘the possible influence of the weight of Medici tradition upon Rinuccini’ (pp. 52 and 218, n. 43) without attempting to link this tradition with any particular features of Euridice.

1 The existence of two versions of text for Act 5 of Monteverdi's Orfeo, to be discussed below, makes it difficult to refer to an authoritative edition of the whole libretto. In Gli albori del melodramma, iii, pp. 270–2Google Scholar, Solerti placed the text set by Monteverdi in a footnote and did not number the lines. Corte's, Delia edition in Drammi per musica, i, pp. 187–93Google Scholar, presents a curiously conflated version of both texts that corresponds neither to the printed libretto nor to Monteverdi's score. The two texts are presented separately by Hanning, , Of Poetry and Music's Power, pp. 322–9Google Scholar, and I shall here adopt her numeration which assigns numbers with prime to the lines of the Monteverdi version. Whenham prints the original Striggio version with a parallel English translation in WhenO, pp. 35–41.

2 Pirrotta, N., ‘Monteverdi and the Problems of Opera’, Music and Culture in Italy, pp. 236–45Google Scholar, and Sternfeld, F. W., ‘The Orpheus Myth and the Libretto of “Orfeo”’, WhenO, pp. 27–8Google Scholar. See also G. Tomlinson, ‘Madrigal, Monody’, p. 60.

3 See Hanning, , Of Poetry and Music's Power, p. 52Google Scholar see also Pirrotta in his discussion appended to Vachelli, A. M. Monterosso, ‘Elementi stilistici nell' Euridice di Jacopo Peri in rapporto all'Orfeo di Monteverdi’, Congresso internazionale sul tema Claudio Monteverdi e il suo tempo, ed. Monterosso, R. (Verona, 1969), p. 127Google Scholar.

4 See main text, p. 42.

5 Whenham, , ‘Five Acts: One Action’, WhenO, pp. 75–6Google Scholar.

6 Kerman, J., Opera as Drama (New York, 1956), p. 37Google Scholar. The portion concerning Orfeo is reprinted in WhenO, pp. 126–37.

7 Fenlon, ‘The Mantuan Orfeo’, WhenO.

8 WhenO, p. 4.

9 Ibid., pp. 16 and 188, n. 29.

10 I. Fenlon, ‘The Mantuan Stage Works’, pp. 272–3 (see note 1). Fenlon adapts the scheme first outlined by Grout, D. J., A Short History of Opera (2nd edn, New York, 1965), p. 52Google Scholar. See also Leopold, S., Claudia Monteverdi und seine Zeit (Laaber, 1982), p. 115Google Scholar.

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