Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice

By Wendy Heller | Go to book overview

Chapter 5
The Nymph Calisto and
the Myth of Female Pleasure

The Arcadians are said to have possessed their land before the birth of Jove, and that folk is older than the moon. Their life was like that of beasts, unprofitably spent; artless as yet and raw was the common herd. Leaves did they use for houses, herbs for corn: water scooped up in two hollows of the hands to them was nectar. No bull panted under the weight of the bent ploughshare: no land was under the dominion of the husbandman: there was as yet no use for horses, every man carried his own weight: the sheep went clothed in its own wool. Under the open sky they lived and went about naked, inured to heavy showers and rainy winds. Even to this day the unclad ministers recall the memory of the olden custom and attest what comforts the ancients knew.

ovid, Fasti, 2.289–302 1


ARCADIAN MUSINGS

La Calisto (1651) takes place in two essentially inaccessible and uncivilized realms: first, the cosmos, wherein the nymph Callisto will achieve immortality as a constellation; and second, the land of Arcadia, inhabited by the half-goat deity Pan, Diana and her nymphs, the shepherd Endymion, and a host of satyrs in the service of an absent Dionysus. 2 Even in the ancient world Arcadia had always been understood as a place that belonged to the time before time, a land whose inhabitants witnessed the first rising of the moon and placement of the stars. The Arcadian myths intertwined in the opera by Francesco Cavalli and libretto by Giovanni Faustini remind us of the Arcadian origins of the cosmos: the opera not only begins and ends with Callisto's ascension to the heavens as the Great Bear constellation, but also presents the love between the goddess Diana and the shepherd Endymion, whose admiration for the moon goddess earned him fame as the first astronomer. Arcadia is an integral part of Greek mythology that stands outside of Greek civilization. As Philippe Borgeaud observes, Arcadia “is the rest of a dialectic where the role of one party is incomprehensible without that of the others. ” 3 Arcadia is defined by archaic rituals, language, and fantastic beasts—and a primitive economy in a wild, untamed topography. It is both bucolic and primitive, idyllic and barren: hunting and herding form the basis of an economy that is the antithesis of the agrarian and urban so-

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Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women's Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Illustr Ations ix
  • Tables xi
  • Preface and Acknowledgments xiii
  • Editorial Principles xvii
  • Abbreviations xix
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - The Emblematic Woman 27
  • Chapter 2 - Opera and the Accademia Degli Incogniti 48
  • Chapter 3 - Didone and the Voice of Chastity 82
  • Chapter 4 - Woman and Empire 136
  • Chapter 5 - The Nymph Calisto and the Myth of Female Pleasure 178
  • Chapter 6 - Semiramide and Musical Transvestism 220
  • Chapter 7 - Envoicing the Courtesan 263
  • Conclusions 295
  • Notes 301
  • Bibliography 353
  • Index 371
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