Felice Romani revolutionized the Italian opera libretto, creating a clearly contoured melodramma romantico that was suitable for a through-composed setting.
Romani’s libretto for Donizetti’s Anna Bolena produced a virtually through-composed opera, making the meter conform to the dramatic situation and mood. In Act I, all the characters enter immediately after the prima donna, so that in place of the usual introductory aria there is now an ensemble. The entry of the seconda donna now leads as a rule to a concerted piece, the stretta of the pezzo concertato unleashing all the passions of the protagonists.
Act II proceeds similarly, except that its final scene is treated as a composition in its own right: Out of a stretta the concertato emerges, structured as a concert piece.
This according to Felice Romani–Gaetano Donizetti–Anna Bolena. Zur Asthetik politischer Oper in Italien zwischen 1826 und 1831 by Richard Hauser, a dissertation accepted by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in 1980.
Today is Romani’s 230th birthday! Below, Sondra Radvanovsky sings Anna Bolena’s finale.
The catalogue arias of late eighteenth-century Italian opere buffe focus on lists; subjects may include enjoyable activities, foods, things for sale, or types of people (by nationality, social rank, occupation, personal qualities, and so on).
Their progress often involves shorter and shorter syntactic units: Sentences give way to phrases, then to one- or two-word groups, accelerating the rate of accumulated information—the comic frenzy is actually built into the text itself. This textual compression often involves two rhetorical devices: asyndeton (omitting conjunctions) and anaphora (beginning successive lines or phrases with the same word).
This according to “Catalogue arias and the ‘catalogue aria’” by John Platoff, an essay included in Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: Essays on his life and his music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 296–311).
Above, Lorenzo da Ponte, author of the celebrated catalogue aria Madamina, il catalogo è questo, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; below, Luca Pisaroni does the honors.
Nineteenth-century Italian operas portraying an emphatically virginal heroine—a woman defined by her virginity—were often set in the mountains, most frequently the Alps.
This convention presents an unusual point of view—a theme rather than a composer, a librettist, a singer or a genre—from which to observe Italian opera over a century. The clarity of the sky, the whiteness of the snow and the purity of the air were associated with the innocence of the female protagonist.
This according to Landscape and gender in Italian opera: The Alpine virgin from Bellini to Puccini by Emanuele Senici (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
Above, Uliana Alexyuk in Bellini’s La sonnambula, one of the operas discussed by Senici; below, an excerpt from another of the book’s case studies, Verdi’s Luisa Miller.
Italian opera has played an important role in Russian musical life since the early 17th century, but by the 19th century it was being promoted there more than Russian opera. In retaliation, Russian composers used their operas to make fun of Italian opera’s stock situations and styles, and brought Russian opera back into prominence.
For example, in his early comic farce Богатыри (Bogatyri, Heroic warriors), Borodin used familiar music and arias from Italian and French operas (by Rossini, Verdi, Offenbach, Meyerbeer, and others) to set up situations where the original intention of the music and its new setting were at humorous extremes.
This according to “Italians in a Russian manner: One step from serious to funny” by Svetlana Sergeevna Martynova (Fontes artis musicae LVI/1 [January–March 2009] pp. 1–6).
Today is Borodin’s 180th birthday! Below, the opening of his B-minor symphony, which Massine used for his ballet Bogatyri, illustrated with images of the heroic warriors of Russian folklore.
An anonymous pamphlet from around 1733 titled Do you know what you are about? or, A Protestant alarm to Great Britain rails against the egregious inroads that Roman Catholic degeneracy, not least in the form of Italian opera, were making in England.
Händel and Senesino are particularly singled out for “playing at the dog and bear, exactly like the two kings of Poland contending for the Empire of Doremifa” in contrast to the humble, hardworking John Gay, whose praiseworthy Beggar’s opera reached the stage only through his own admirable toil and steadfastness.
This according to William Charles Smith’s “Do you know what you are about?: A rare Handelian pamphlet”, an article in The music review no. 98 (2 April 1964, pp. 114–19); the issue, which honors the 70th birthday of the English librarian, bibliographer, and honorary curator of the Royal Music Library Cecil Bernard Oldman (1894–1969), is covered in our recently published Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.
Above, a satirical depiction by John Vanderbank from around 1723 of Senesino, Francesca Cuzzoni, and Gaetano Berenstadt performing in a Händel opera (probably Flavio, re di Longobardi).