We’ve posted photos from our rehearsals of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso with the Dell’Arte Company on our Flickr Page. Please have a look!
It has been a pleasure exploring this fascinating piece with actors so deeply grounded in the historical commedia dell’arte tradition. One by one the familiar characters – Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain, and all the miscievous servants – have come to life through Vecchi’s entertaining and often deeply profound music.
Tickets are still available at http://magnificatbaroque.tix.com.
The musical entertainment that has become known as the madrigal comedy enjoyed a brief, but exceedingly popular life in the decades before and after the turn of the 17th century, delighting audiences at courts and within the cultural academies of Italy with a mix of high art and low comedy. The musicologist Alfred Einstein coined the term “madrigal comedy” in 1949 as a description for the two dozen or so surviving collections of related madrigals, which, when sung consecutively, tell a story, often with a continuous dramatic plot.
The two composers most closely identified with this sub-genre are Orazio Vecchi and the slightly younger Adriano Banchieri. It has been tempting to see the madrigal comedy as a precursor to opera, but it is perhaps better characterized as part of the final flowering of the Renaissance madrigal tradition, incorporating the humanist attention to the communication of dramatic narrative through the quintessential musical form of the late 16th century.
Easily the best known of these madrigal comedies to modern audiences, L’Amfiparnaso was first performed in Modena in 1594 and published in Venice in 1597 with a dedication to Cardinal Alessandro d’Este. Vecchi’s collection (which he calls a “commedia harmonica”) consists of fourteen five-part madrigals, arranged in three acts and preceded by a prologue. Except for the first two sentences of the first scene, the dialogue is not set for individual voices, as in opera, but rather for the entire ensemble or for sub-sets of two, three or four voices.
This approach is so different from opera that is perhaps not surprising that the first music historians to discuss madrigal comedies found them entirely puzzling and either struggled to find in them nascent elements of operatic style or dismissed them entirely. A modern edition of L’Amfiparnaso was published in 1902 with several others following over the next century and subsequent scholarship, together with performances and recordings by fine musicians have secured its place among the masterpieces of the late Renaissance.
Each of the madrigals sets a scenario drawn from the Italian theater, known then as now as commedia dell’arte, a genre in its golden age at the end of the 16th century. Consistent with the commedia tradition, there is only a passing attempt at a regular plot: the jealous quarrel between Lucio and Isabella, their reconciliation and wedding is of comparatively slight importance and seems to serve primarily as a foil for the antics of the comic masked characters of Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain and their quick-witted and mischievous servants.
The cast of L’Amfiparnaso includes Pantalone; an aging Venetian Magnifico who is by turns avaricious, suspicious, amorous and gullible. Pantalone is old and, though retired from active business, his long engagement with trade has made him acutely sensitive to the value of money. He is also a lecher, but entreaties for the favor of attractive young women, invariably involving catcalls and innuendoes, are invariably fruitless.
He is joined by his old friend Doctor Gratiano, a Bolognese lawyer, prone to malapropism and misunderstanding, described by Vecchi as a “blockhead who answers badly and hears still worse.” By tradition, when the Doctor was born, instead of crying like an ordinary infant, his first utterance was a fine Latin quotation, slightly mutilated.
Having grown up amid the rarified university atmosphere of Bologna, the Doctor is a member of every academy, known and unknown, the Doctor can discuss any topic with great erudition, though no one can understand, or even stay awake during his long-winded homilies.
No commedia would be complete with the Captain, a blustery Spanish-speaking braggart, always decked in ostentatious epaulets and menacing scabbard – a sort of Yosemite Sam character aptly described in a 17th century verse:
This Captain makes a splendid show,
And his valor is so great
That he is the last to join the combat
And the first to beat a retreat.
As much of Italy was under the control of the Spanish army at the time and the actors no doubt took great delight – and some risk – in satirizing the occupying army.
The satire though, like all the mockery on the commedia, is light-hearted and evenly distributed. The characterization of the Hebrews, serving in the familiar role of pawn-brokers, focuses primarily on their exotic and unfathomable language and the strangeness of their chanting – no doubt a source of consternation and bemusement for the goyim – and fun had at their expense is in the same spirit as that taken from the Captain’s blustery Spanish, the Doctor’s over-ripe Bolognese, Pantalone’s mincing Venetian, and the Bergamask dialect of the servants Francatrippa and Zanni.
Besides Pantalone, Gratiano and the Captain, the characterizations in Vecchi’s libretto are somewhat compressed. The cast is filled out with a variety of servants, prostitutes and, of course the two pairs of lovers or innamorati. The unusually amorous Doctor Gratiano and Pantalone’s un-named daughter form a comic third pair of lovers. The composer explains in his preface that as a result of the prolixity of words united with music, his composition is like that of “a painter who, desiring to include a great many figures in a small canvas, forms the principal or most noteworthy ones with the entire bodies, and the less important as far as the chest, others barely visible by the top of the head, and finally mixes together the remainder of the multitude as if distant from the eye.”
There is no indication of an author for the text of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso, and some historians have speculated that the composer wrote the libretto himself. However, as early as 1912, the British musicologist Edward Dent suggested that the author may have been the popular Bolognese poet Giulio Cesare Croce.
Born in 1550 at San Giovanni in Persiceto, about 15 miles to the north-west of Bologna, the son of a blacksmith. After his father’s death when Croce was just seven he was adopted by an uncle who followed the same trade who sent him to school at Castelfranco.
Dent relates that the uncle finally realized that Giulio was learning nothing, and he brought him back to the smithy and the boy was adopted up by the noble family of Fantuzzi and was soon noted for his talents as cantastorie, singer and jester. This sort of life suited his tastes better than the trade of a blacksmith, and he finally ran away from his uncle altogether, and came to Bologna, sometime about the year 1586. Here he joined another smith, who shared his preference for good wine and merry living over hard work with hammer and anvil. In some way or other he seems to have learnt to read, for it was at this time that he began to study the works of Ovid.
There were several translations of Ovid then current, the most popular being that of Anguillara. Ovid, Croce tells us, was his first and only teacher. He took to playing the viol, and got the name of Croce della Lira; soon after his first marriage in 1575 he gave up the blacksmith’s trade altogether and devoted himself to poetry alone. His most generous patron seems to have been Cardinal Radziwill, who commissioned Lavinia Fon-tana to paint his portrait.
His fame reached to Mantua, Ferrara and Florence: after his death his works received high praise from various Italian historians of literature. The romantic enthusiasts of the nineteenth century devoted endless labour to the collection of the folk-songs that in various countries have sprung from the soil and have been handed down by generation after generation of the rural population. The poetry of humble life in the towns had no interest for them. It is to this latter class of literature that Croce’s works belong, a class that is represented at its best in the Canti carnascialeschi of Lorenzo de’ Medici and at its lowest in the vulgar riddles and ballads of criminal life that still delight the poorer inhabitants of Italian cities.
Croce wrote more than 400 works in both Italian and the Bolognese dialect. Despite his popularity and the relative success of his works, Croce dies in poverty in 1609.
“I bringe you mine owne master Horatio Vecchi of Modena, beside goodness of aire, most pleasing of all other for his conceipt and variety, wherewith all his works are singularly beautified.” Henry Peacham, The Compleat Gentleman, 1622
Orazio Vecchi would no doubt be puzzled to learn that four centuries after his death he would be best remembered (to the extent that he was remembered at all) for a light-hearted piece of entertainment, L’Amfiparnaso, and not for his considerable accomplishments as a composer of sacred music and highly sophisticated madrigals. Not that he would have any difficulty in defending his less serious compositions.
In the dedication of the collection Selva di varia ricreatione from 1590 Vecchi wrote “I am well aware that on first hearing some may perhaps think these my caprices base and trivial. Let them learn that it takes just as much skill, art, and knowledge…to make a silly comic character as it does to create a prudent and sagely old man…and if some smart ass says that it is easy to come up with such things, let him try; he’ll see that it is easy to want ideas, hard to have them, harder still to arrange them, and even more difficult to put them all together well.”
Born in Modena in 1550, Vecchi received his first musical training from a Servite monk named Salvatore Essenga. He took orders at a Benedictine monastery at some point before 1577 and by the end of the 1579 his reputation as a musician was such that he was engaged, along with Claudio Merulo and Giovanni Gabrieli, to provide music for the wedding of Bianca Capello and Grand Duke Francesco de’ Medici. In that same year his first publication, a collection of eight voice motets, appeared in Venice. He served as maestro di capella first at the cathedral in Salò from 1581-4 and then at Modena from 1584-86. After a brief tenure at the cathedral of Reggio nell’Emilia, he accepted an appointment as canon at Correggio Cathedral. In a humorous autobiographical document that Vecchi wrote in 1587, he makes reference to the financial hardships and family responsibilities, which would burden him throughout his life.
In 1591, Vecchi was selected, together with Gabrieli and Lodovico Balbi, to revise and correct the Roman Gradual and in the same year he was elevated to the title of archdeacon. From Corregio he moved to the ducal court in Modena in 1593, the year before the first performances of L’Amfiparnaso. He was also admitted into the brotherhood of the Annunciation in the churches of S Maria and S Pietro, where he directed the music on various special occasions.
Vecchi was denied the of post of Maestro di Cappella at the Duomo of Modena by the appointment of the organist Fabio Richetti, which apparently caused considerable resentment. Apparently, simmering hostilities erupted during Mass at the Church of St. Augustine on April 21, 1596. Spaccini, a writer at the time, reported that the two organists obstenately played two different works simultaneously – an anecdote that, while disputed by other contemporaries, has led some historians to characterize Vecchi as a defiant and difficult personality. His involvement in the sordid affairs of his brother, accused of a triple murder, no doubt contributed to this undeserved picture picture of Vecchi’s character.
In 1603 the general council of Modena granted Vecchi a generous stipendium in recognition of his “rare abilities” and later the same year the imperial ambassador came to Modena to offer Vecchi the position of maestro at the court of Emperor Rudolph II, in succession to Monte. Unfortunately, Vecchi’s health was already failing him and he was unable to accept the position. He continued composing and directing in Modena until his death in 1605.
One of the story lines that give Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso unity is Pantalone’s promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Doctor Gratiano in the opening scene of Act II. Almost every commedia dell’arte scenario involves some such arrangement between the miserly Pantalone and his blustery companion from Bologna, though most often the contract is between their offspring.
In Vecchi’s setting, Pantalone is, as usual, primarily concerned with the dowry (which he dutifully deposits in the third act) and he openly mocks the Doctor’s enthusiasm for the match. While the unfortunate daughter never appears vocally in the course of L’Amfiparnaso, she is understood to be in the balcony while the Doctor serenades her with one of his “favorites”, which turns out to be a parody, a travesty really, of Cipriano de Rore’s madrigal Ancor che col partire. This most famous of madrigal, for which there were more than 50 – far more serious – parodies in the 16th century, would have been very familiar to Vecchi’s audience, who would no doubt have found the altered text quite amusing indeed.
Vecchi takes the upper part of Cipriano’s four part madrigal and gives it three new supporting parts. The text is in Bolognese dialect of course – a constant source of humor for the commedia actors of the time along with Venetian, Bergamask, Neapolitan and any other dialect. (The refined Tuscan of Petrarch is reserved for the lovers.) There is no way of capturing the original humor in translation, but Cecil Adkins has done a commendable job in his edition of L’Amfiparnaso.
Ancor che col partire
Although on my leaving
I feel myself grieving,
Departure I treasure,
It gives me such pleasure
To come back to stay.
A thousand times each day,
To leave you I yearn,
So sweet is my return.
Ancor ch’al parturire (from L’Amfiparnaso)
Even in life’s midst so dear
One feels the shades of death too near.
I would like without the pain
To have, Vicenze, the joys again.
But spirits give me awful sorrow,
And yet I drink in such great haste,
Forgetting the torments of the morrow,
So sweet is the eructed taste.
The original Italian verse was written by Alfonso d’Avalos, the parody, like the rest of L’Amfiparnaso, was written by Giovanni Cesare Croce. (The identity of ‘Vicenze’ is not entirely clear from the context.) In spite of the less than serious text, Vecchi’s setting is exquisite and demonstrates, as do the lovers’ madrigals throughout L’Amfiparnaso, Vecchi’s considerable stature as a composer. On Magnificat’s program, Nigel North will also perform a solo lute setting of Cipriano’s madrigal by G. P. Paladino.
Joseph Sargent has written an excellent preview of our upcoming performances of L’Amfiparnaso, March 18-20 for the San Francisco Classical Voice.
No one can accuse the Baroque ensemble Magnificat of lacking a sense of drama. Back in 2009, the ensemble made an unlikely pairing with the Carter Family Marionettes in Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ Isola d’Alcina. In its upcoming March 18-20 concert set, a staging of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (The Twin Peaks of Parnassus), Magnificat continues the theatrics by collaborating with three theater artists from the Dell’Arte Company for what’s sure to be a high-spirited affair.
Madrigal comedies — collections of madrigals strung together by a common narrative — enjoyed a brief vogue in late 16th-century Italy, and L’Amfiparnaso ranks among the genre’s masterworks. This collection of 14 five-voice madrigals tells a conventional love story in the commedia dell’arte tradition, with plenty of good humor thrown in. As Joe Dieffenbacher, one of the three Dell’Arte players, observes, “The commedia style is known for its bawdy, rough-and-tumble humor. The madrigals are quite lovely, the voices sweet and playful. Together, Magnificat and Dell’Arte will present a show that marries the best of both.”
Staging was not part of Vecchi’s original plan; to the contrary, the prologue to L’Amfiparnaso calls the collection “a spectacle which is witnessed through the imagination, that penetrates the ear and not the eye.” But contemporary composers like Banchieri did stage their madrigal comedies, and for modern audiences a dose of theatrics makes the puns and other cultural references of Vecchi’s time easier to understand. “At the time when L’Amfiparnaso was written, commedia was one of the most popular theater forms in Italy, so combining the madrigals with this very physical style of theater was inevitable,” says Dieffenbacher. “The audience is given a treat for the ears and eyes: fine music and the visual play of masked and colorfully costumed characters, with a few acrobatic tricks thrown in.” Read the Full Preview at San Francisco Classical Voice
Like several of the works in the small but fascinating sub-genre of the madrigal comedy, L’Amfiparnaso draws on characters and plots the Italian Comedy, or commedia dell’arte. The origins of commedia are found in the use of itinerant actors to supply comic entertainment between the acts of the refined and aristocratic commedia erudita of the early 16th century.
Stimulated by the success of these entertainments, actors developed a quick, satirical and typically off-color style – typically in dialect and always improvised. The commedia style was very physical – with clowning, acrobatics, dance and stunts interwoven into a repertoire of stock scenarios invariably centered around a tale of young lovers.
The economic success of the commedia dell’arte led by the second half of the 16th century to establishment of numerous professional troupes that would tour the various courts of Italy, often enjoying the protection and patronage of noble families. By the time Orazio Vecchi wrote his madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso, the stock characters and plots were already generations old.
The characters, or “masks”, that appear in L’Amfiparnaso include Pantalone, an aging Venetian Magnifico who is by turns avaricious, suspicious, amorous and gullible. He is joined by Doctor Gratiano, a Bolognese lawyer, prone to malapropism and misunderstanding, described by Vecchi as a “blockhead who answers badly and hears still worse.” Captain Cardon, a Spanish-speaking braggart has an important role in the comedy as well. Most of Italy was under the control of the Spanish army at the time and the actors no doubt took great delight – and some risk – in satirizing the occupying army. The cast is filled out with a variety of servants, prostitutes and, of course the two pairs of lovers.
Besides Pantalone, Gratiano and the Captain he characterizations in Vecchi’s libretto are somewhat compressed, which the composer explains in his preface resulted from the prolixity of words united with music. Vecchi notes that his composition is like “a painter who, desiring to include a great many figures in a small canvas, forms the principal or most noteworthy ones with the entire bodies, and the less important as far as the chest, others barely visible by the top of the head, and finally mixes together the remainder of the multitude as if distant from the eye.” In any case the audience of the time would have filled in the details of the familiar characters – a task to be fulfilled by the three actors from the Dell’Arte Company in Magnificat’s performance.
Cozzolani included a setting of each of the four Marian Antiphons in her 1642 collection, Concerti sacri. Alma redemptoris Mater is published for soprano and bass and for Magnificat’s performance the bass part has been transposed up an octave. Magnificat’s recording features soprano Catherine Webster and mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore with David Tayler, theorbo and Hanneke van Proosidj, organ.
The antiphon Alma Redemptoris Mater is attributed to Herman Contractus (1013-1054), a monk who lived in Reichenau near Lake Constance. Its mention in The Prioress’ Tale in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, testifies to its popularity in England before Henry VIII. Contractus used phrases taken from the writings of St. Fulgentius, St. Epiphanius, and St. Irenaeus. At one time Alma Redemptoris Mater was briefly used as an antiphon for the hour of Sext for the feast of the Assumption, but in 1350 Pope Clement established the seasonal order of singing the four Marian antiphons at Compline and it has been sung since then during the period from the first Sunday in Advent until the Feast of the Purification.
For our upcoming production of L’Amfiparnaso on March 18-20, Magnificat will be joined by Joseph Dieffenbacher, Emilia Sumelius-Beuscher and Stephen Buescher from the Dell’Arte Company based in Blue Lake in Humboldt County California. Dell’Arte International was founded by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill in Berkeley in 1971 to bring the commedia tradition to the United States and to develop actor-creators through training in mime, mask, movement and ensemble creation.
A native of Padua, Mazzone was a childhood friend of sculptor Amleto Sartori, and Marcel Marceau’s first Italian partner. As Jacques Lecoq’s assistant for eight years during Lecoq’s Italian sojourn. Carlo was part of the nucleus of artists who reinvented the Italian theatre, commedia, and mask work after World War II in Italy. He came to the US in 1959 and introduced Sartori’s masks to America.
Commedia is the root form for the western actor and influenced actors, directors, playwrights and composers in Europe, Russia, Scandinavia and beyond. Through this form we investigate the human comedy. The hallmarks of commedia—articulate physicality combined with verbal wit; the art of improviso; the play of appetites in stock characters; the skill of ensemble playing—this is the great legacy to be investigated by every contemporary actor.
Over forty years, Dell’Arte International has been a center for the exploration, development, training and performance of the actor-creator. Its mission is to employ and revitalize the traditional physical theatre forms to explore contemporary concerns. Dell’Arte is made up of a professional touring company; a fulltime professional training school offering MFA and certificate programs; the annual summer Mad River Festival; a youth academy; and study abroad programs.
As one of a handful of rural professional ensemble theatres in the United States, Dell’Arte is internationally recognized for its unique contribution to American theatre via its non-urban point of view, its 40 year history of ensemble practice, its work to push the boundaries of physical theatre forms in professional productions, and its actor-training programs. Read More at the Dell’Arte website.
Magnificat is delighted to welcome Nigel North for our upcoming performances of Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso on the weekend of March 18-20. One of the most respected lutenists in the world, Nigel has enjoyed a remarkable performing career in early operas, baroque orchestras, chamber groups, as a soloist and accompanist.
Nigel has made well over a hundred recordings and appeared with the Early Music Consort, the Deller Consort, the English Concert, Academy Of Ancient Music, the Taverner Choir and Players, the Schütz Choir and Consort, Red Byrd, Brandenburg Consort, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Fretwork, The Purcell Quartet, Concordia, Trio and Ensemble Sonnerie, London Baroque, Ensemble Sans Souci, the Berlin Barocke Compagney and many other ensembles.
In 1988, together with Andrew Manze and John Toll, Nigel formed Romanesca, an ensemble specializing in 17th Century music that has appeared in major festivals and concert series in Austria, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Israel, USA, Canada, England, Hungary and Slovenia. An exclusive recording contract from with Harmonia Mundi (USA) has resulted in 7 releases bringing several awards (including “Gramophone” and “Edison” awards for their recordings of Biber’s Sonatas).
For over 20 years Nigel was Professor of Lute at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, in London; from 1993-1999 he was Professor at the Hochschule der Künste Berlin; 2005-2207 he was Lute Professor at the Royal Conservatory in Den Haag Netherlands. Since 1999, he has been Professor of Lute at the Early Music Institute at Indiana University in Bloomington.
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