Music History is Thrilling!

Italian Opera and Claudio Monteverdi

Terms

Florentine Camerata
A group of writers, artists, and musicians gathered together to form the Camerata, derived from the Italian word for “salon”. Their objective was to recreate ancient Greek drama. An innovation of theirs was monody, a new musical texture. The Camerata led music and drama towards one of the greatest achievements of the Baroque era: opera.

  • Giulio Caccini A member of the Florentine Camerata. His treatise “Le Nuove Musiche” provided examples of monody.
  • Jacopo Peri A member of the Florentine Camerata.
  • Giovanni Pierluigi A member of the Florentine Camerata.
  • Vincenzo Galilei Father of Galilio Galilei, and a member of the Camerata.
Le Nuove Musiche
A treatise written by Guilio Caccini which provides examples of monody, a new musical texture
Monody
A new musical texture which was developed by the Florentine Camerata in which a solo voice is accompanied
Stile Rappresentativo
Stile Rappresentative is Italian for “Representative Style” which refers to a style in which a free flowing melody is expressed over a foundation of simple chords. This style opened the door toward recitative in opera
Libretto
The libretto is the text or the script for an opera, oratorio, or a cantata
Aria
An aria is a vocal piece which releases emotional tension through song
Da capo aria
An aria which has an indication for the soloist to return to the first part of the aria to conclude the piece
Recitative secco
A type of vocal singing which follows the contours of speech which is accompanied by continuo only or performed dry, without accompanimen
Recitative accompagnato
A type of vocal singing which follows the contours of speech which is accompanied
Chorus
A large group of singers within an opera and performing together
Ground bass
A pattern presented in the bass which contiually repeats itself throughout the piece while the voices carry on their independent lines
Stile conciato
“Agitated style” developed by Claudio Monteverdi in which he expressed emotion such as hidden tremors of the soul by use of the novel string tremolo and pizzicato
Sinfonia
To facilitate a scene change, a musical interlude called a sinfonia was used

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)

Monteverdi’s opera boasts of creative word painting and his stile conciato contributed the new and never heard before string tremolo and pizzicato to express emotions. He wrote the operas, “Orfeo”, “Arianna”, and “The Coronation of Poppea”. His music contains great depths of emotion; he believed that the text should be the master of the music. He is also known for writing Italian madrigals, including works performed by a group of professional female singers known as the Concerto delle donne, as well as sacred vocal works including the Vespers.

“The Coronation of Poppea” (act 3, scene 7: coronation scene)

Although many of the early operas were based on mythology, Monteverdi chose history as the basis for this opera. His librettist, Giovanni Busenllo, wrote the Italian text and composer and writer completed the opera in 1642.  The principal characters of the opera:

  • Nero, the Emperor, castrato
  • Poppea, Nero’s mistress, soprano
  • Ottavia, Nero’s wife, soprano
  • Seneca, Nero’s sage and advisor, bass
  • Ottone, Poppea’s husband, baritone
  • Drusilla, in love with Ottone, soprano

This three act opera is opened with a Prologue introducing three characters: Love, Virtue, and Fortune who are arguing about which of them has the most influential power. Love declares himself the winner due to his fickle nature to control the destiny of mankind. This sets the mood for the opera to come. The plot unfolds with Emperor Nero plotting to depose of his wife, Ottavia, in order to marry his mistress, Poppea. Seneca, the Emperor’s advisor, encourages him not to carry out his plans. Nero condemns Seneca to death and has Poppea crowned victorious as Empress. Act III, scene 7: Coronation Scene Duet: Consuls and Tribunes The peice opens with the consuls and tribunes paying the respsect to their new Empress, Poppea. A fanfare-like rhythm is used to illustrate the scene. The tenors and basses move in an imitative texture. A vocal tremolo is applied on the word “Imperial” to illustrate the pompous scene and a melisma is applied on the word “corona”, translated to mean “crown” to illustrate the splendour of the situation. Sinfonia A breif musical interlude facilitates for a scene change as all the characters depart from the stage leaving Nero and Poppea behind for their love duet. A moving bass and a jubliant character is heard. Duet: Nero and Poppea Form: A-B-B-A (This forshadows the coming of the da capo aria which was primarily used in later Baroque opera) A four note ground bass opens the duet and remains in section A only. Part A. Poppea opens with Nero answering her in imitative texture, which illustrates their dependency on each other, just as imitative texture requires the other voice the two lovers depend on each other. A melisma is applied on the phrase “I enchain you” to illustrate the words. The common Baroque practise of applying disonance to illustrate negative text is applied on the words “grieving” and “death”. Part B. The ground bass has been removed for this section. The tempo is quickened here. Part B. The second time is more decorated by the performers. Part A. The ground bass returns and the vocal lines are decorated by the performers.

All information on this article is derived from: Joseph Machlis and Kristine Forney. The Enjoyment of Music, Eight Edition, Standard Version, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1999. Janet Lopinski, Joe Ringhofer, and Peteris Zarins. Exploring Music History, A Guided Approach, Mississauga, Ontario: Frederick Harris Music Co., Limited
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