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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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.

Excerpt

From Madrigal to Opera examines 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. As we listen today to a vocal quintet performing Monteverdi’s madrigal Cruda Amarilli, as we watch a soprano impersonating La Musica and entering stage in his opera Orfeo, or experience the celebrated love duets of Nero and Poppaea in L’incoronazione di Poppea, our senses and intellect are powerfully drawn to the performers, to the music they sing, the characters they enact, and their stories. If this experience is in part like that of watching someone reading a Shakespeare sonnet, or a theater company staging one of his plays, it is also radically different. Why is the compound of words, music, and gesture characterizing Monteverdi’s madrigals and operas still so effective for today’s audiences? How do the agents involved in the creation and performance of texted music interact with one another? How does texted music tell stories (of gods, demigods, mortals) and what is the specific role of music and of the performer in this process? Finally, what did the shift from writing for the chamber to writing for the stage mean for musicians active at the beginning of the seventeenth century? What were the new issues that Monteverdi, for example, had to confront as a composer?

In order to approach these questions, I explore in this book a cultural paradigm . . .

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