A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10

OPERA AND VOCAL MUSIC IN THE
LATE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

OPERA

Venice

As opera spread throughout Italy and outward to other countries, the principal Italian center remained Venice, whose opera houses were famous all over Europe. More than the drama or spectacle attracting a cosmopolitan public, it was the singers and arias. Impresarios competed for the most popular singers by paying high fees. The singers Signora Girolama and Giulia Masotti earned twice to six times as much for an opera's run as Cavalli, the best-paid composer, received for writing it. The librettist Giulio Strozzi published a book glorifying Anna Renzi (see illustration, page 312), who created the roles of Ottavia in Monteverdi's Poppea and Deidamia in Francesco Sacrati's La finta pazza (1640). She inaugurated the vogue of the operatic diva, and composers wrote parts expressly for her special talents.

Singers

Librettists responded to the demand for arias by writing more of their verses in meters and forms suitable for arias, and composers outdid them by indulging in aria-like lyrical expansions whenever a few lines of dialogue or a situation provided an opportunity. It was common in mid-century to have two dozen arias in an opera; by the 1670s, sixty arias were the norm. The favorite form was the strophic song, in which several stanzas were sung to the same music. Other favorites were short two-part arias in AB form, and three-part, ABB' and ABA or ABA' forms. Many arias had refrains, a few lines of text that recurred with the same music.

Librettists

Arias

Typical arias used characteristic rhythms from the march, gigue, sarabande, or minuet. Others relied on ostinato basses, sometimes in combination

Aria types

-309-

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