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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 9 (2003) No. 1

The Ending of L’Orfeo: Father, Son, and Rinuccini

Barbara Russano Hanning*


Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo has two endings—one that appears only in Striggio’s 1607 libretto (adhering to the original myth) and another (with a different text in which Apollo descends as deus ex machina) only in Monteverdi’s 1609 score. After examining the stylistic and circumstantial evidence, this paper proposes Ottavio Rinuccini as the author of the altered fifth act, suggesting that Monteverdi turned to him after their successful collaboration on L’Arianna in 1608. It also concludes that the happy ending is not the original one, as some have thought, but constitutes a later revision of the opera.

1.  Introduction: Who Wrote the Libretto of the 1609 Ending of L’Orfeo?

2.  Difference in Content between the Two Endings

3.  Chronological Issues

4.  Stylistic Comparison Proposed

5. Texts Compared

6. Observations Grouped into Five Categories

7. Category One: Sustained Conversation between Characters

8. Category Two: Verse Structure (Frequency and Disposition of Unrhymed Lines)

9. Category Two: Verse Structure (Irregular Use of Rhyme)

10. Internal Rhyme in Striggio’s “Tu se’ morta”

11. Categories Three and Four: Verbal Repetition and Reminiscence, and Characteristic Rhyming Pairs

12. Category Five: Form and Meter of the Choruses

13. Summary of Stylistic Observations

14. A New “Working Hypothesis”?

15. Comparison with the Ending of L’Arianna

16. Rinuccini in Mantua in 1607–08

17. The Fate of L’Orfeo



1. Introduction: Who Wrote the Libretto of the 1609 Ending of L’Orfeo?

1.1 On a Sunday in August of 1998, the New York Times printed a letter from a disgruntled librettist, one James Skofield from Walpole, New Hampshire, in which the writer took offense at an earlier piece by Anthony Tommasini.1 The critic, Tommasini, had objected to the fact that Glimmerglass Opera was advertising its new production that season of Central Park (a collection of three one-act operas on texts by renowned playwrights) by giving prominent exposure to the librettists. “What’s wrong with that?” complained the injured letter-writer. “The librettist is the whipping boy of the opera world, given little or no credit if an opera is a success, made to shoulder a disproportionate share of the blame should it fail.” My sympathies lie with the librettist, who is, if not the “whipping boy,” then at least the silent partner of the operatic stage. Another case in point: in the 400 years of opera history, and with all the attention recently devoted to Monteverdi, the librettist of L’Orfeo is still said to be Alessandro Striggio the Younger,2 despite the acknowledgment by a few scholars that the final, fifth act was probably written by someone other than Striggio.3

1.2 Indeed, the literature on L’Orfeo usually records the fact that the opera has two endings—one which appears in Striggio’s libretto, printed in 1607,4 presumably for the February 24 premiere in Mantua, and for which there is no extant music—and another which closes Monteverdi’s score, published in Venice in 1609,5 which is the only version we know today. The two endings differ in content and style, and this essay will concentrate on matters of style, with a view toward identifying Monteverdi’s “silent partner” for the 1609 version.

2.  Difference in Content between the Two Endings

2.1 The 1607 ending from Striggio’s libretto adheres to the original myth: having retrieved Euridice from the Underworld, Orfeo succumbs to panic and self-doubt as he leads her back into the sun in Act IV; in order to reassure himself that she is following, he disobeys the gods by turning to look at her and by this action causes her to disappear from view forever. Act V finds him alone with his echo, bitter and disconsolate, vowing to shun the company of women, whereupon the chorus of orgiastic female Baccanti appears, presumably to mete out their punishment, although the libretto delicately leaves their violent action to be inferred by the audience. As Ovid recounts it, and then Anguillara in the sixteenth century,6 the maddened Thracian women murdered Orpheus, tearing him limb from limb; and

… The poet’s limbs lay scattered
Where they were flung in cruelty or madness,
But Hebrus River took the head and lyre
And as they floated down the gentle current
The lyre made mournful sounds, and the tongue murmured
In mournful harmony, and the banks echoed
The strains of mourning. …7

2.2 In the other ending, from Monteverdi’s 1609 score, a deus ex machina arrives instead of the Baccanti to effect a lieto fine. As convention dictated, the deus ex machina is completely new to the scene and turns out in this case to be none other than Orfeo’s father, Apollo, who descends literally out of the blue (that is, on a cloud machine) to admonish and console his son. Apollo tells him, “[Just as] you rejoiced too much in your happy fortune [earlier], now you are whining too much over your hard luck. Don’t you know yet”—in effect, “Haven’t you learned?”—“that pleasure doesn’t last here on earth? So, if you wish immortal life, come with me to heaven, where you can behold Euridice’s loveliness in the sun and in the stars.” 8 And as they ascend, a chorus of Orfeo’s companions rejoices in his “celeste onore” and moralizes about the spiritual rewards of suffering.

3.  Chronological Issues

3.1 The chronology of these two versions is not as straightforward as it would appear to be: the obvious interpretation is that the 1607 ending (the Bacchic one) was the opera’s original finale and that it was revised sometime later into a new ending, which supplanted the original one in Monteverdi’s published score. Yet some scholars, Nino Pirrotta among them, believe that the 1609 ending (with the deus ex machina) might have been the one originally intended by Monteverdi for the earliest Mantuan production, but that it had to be abandoned for technical reasons, specifically because the narrow stage and general space limitations of the private rooms in the ducal palace could not accommodate the machinery needed to accomplish the twin miracles of Apollo’s descent and Orfeo’s apotheosis.9 According to this hypothesis, Monteverdi had Striggio substitute the Bacchic finale at the last minute for the first performance but revived his original intentions either for the repeat performance the following week (March 1) at the more capacious ducal theater10 or when preparing his score for the press in 1609.11 Paolo Fabbri, who maintains (as I do) that the Apollonian ending is also chronologically the later one, and dates from closer to 1609, offers the suggestion that the happy ending, which presents a more explicit conclusion to the action than the dance of the Baccanti, was added to please a wider public. In other words, in publishing his score, Monteverdi realized that he could no longer count on the refined sensibilities and literary acumen of the original audience—the Invaghiti academicians—who, when they viewed the bacchic finale of the original production, would have had to finish the story in their minds.12

4.  Stylistic Comparison Proposed

4.1 There is nothing in the correspondence to confirm or deny any of these theories, so we are left with the fact that two very different endings exist for L’Orfeo and with the possibility that a stylistic comparison might yield some clues to their authorship and therefore to their chronology.13 In order not to prejudice the outcome of my investigation, I will refer to them in the following discussion not as the first and second endings, nor as the original and altered endings, but rather simply as the libretto’s ending (meaning Striggio’s Bacchic finale printed in the libretto of 1607, for which no music is extant) and the score’s ending (meaning the Apollonian version printed only in Monteverdi’s score of 1609, as well as in the reprint issued in 1615, but for which no corresponding libretto is extant. This necessitates my comparing Striggio’s libretto with a text transcribed from Monteverdi’s score.)14

5. Texts Compared

5.1 The score’s ending departs from the 1607 version by Striggio at line 613, at the end of Orfeo’s long monologue of despair, sometimes called a lament15 (see figure 1). The final four verses of that monologue (613–16), beginning “Ma, ecco stuol nemico/Di Donne amiche a l’ubbriaco Nume,” introduce the Chorus of Baccanti and, as these creatures never appear in the 1609 version with its lieto fine, the author logically eliminated those four verses, as well as the chorus, from this ending. In Monteverdi’s score, therefore, Orfeo’s monologue ends in the series of versi sdruccioli, which are in themselves highly unusual in this early period of libretto versification. Monteverdi marks the break with a nine-measure Sinfonia, presumably to accompany Apollo’s descent, as the score tells us, “in una nuvola.”16

5.2 The text of the rest of Monteverdi’s fifth act—that is, the score’s ending—is a mere 44 lines that have been substituted for the Bacchantes’ approach and final chorus (see figure 2). It consists mainly of a dialogue between Apollo and Orfeo and concludes with a strophic chorus and moresca. (The moresca is bracketed in the text because, as an element that also appeared at the end of Striggio’s printed libretto, it does not represent a departure from the 1607 version, whereas the rest is new.)17

6. Observations Grouped into Five Categories

6.1 After studying these verses and comparing them with passages from other libretti of the period, I believe—based on stylistic grounds alone—that Ottavio Rinuccini was the author of the 1609 version.18 For the sake of clarity, I have grouped my observations into five different categories, which are admittedly somewhat artificial and certainly not completely separable from one another; but I think they will facilitate my argument. These five categories, which will be taken up in order, are: first, sustained conversation between two characters; second, the style and structure of the verse; third, proximate word or sound repetition; fourth, characteristic rhyming pairs and verbal reminiscences occurring between libretti; and finally, the form and meter of the choruses that serve to articulate the scenes or acts.

7. Category One: Sustained Conversation between Characters

7.1 The dialogue between Apollo and Orfeo that constitutes the score’s ending (shown in figure 2) is unlike anything that occurred earlier in Striggio’s libretto, where interaction between Orfeo and Euridice or between either of the principals and any of their companions is minimal. Orfeo addresses his bride in the encomium “Rosa del ciel” in Act I, and she responds, using the familiar form of speech, in a mere 6 verses (see figure 3, left column). That is the last time they converse in the opera until the fateful fourth act when, again, each speaks to the other only once and then all too briefly before Euridice disappears from Orfeo’s sight forever (see figure 3, right column). Initially, the beginning of Act II (not shown) seems to present a dialogue between Orfeo and his companions, but on closer inspection this turns out to be a series of static, songful speeches in which Orfeo reminisces about the past and, rather than addressing him in conversation, his friends speak of him in the third person.

7.2 Even in the climactic third act, when Speranza accompanies Orfeo to the gates of Hell, where he confronts Caronte, their conversation is less like dialogue than a series of static monologues; each character speaks to another in increasingly long and formal passages, beginning in versi sciolti (not included in the figure) and culminating in Orfeo’s terza rima tour de force, “Possente spirto” (see figure 4). The dialogue between Pluto and Proserpina in Act IV approaches genuine interaction, but here again the couple exchange words only twice and are interrupted by a chorus of Infernal Spirits (see figure 5).

7.3 By contrast, after Orfeo’s soliloquy of complaint at the beginning of Striggio’s Act V (the last lines of which are shown in figure 1), Apollo and Orfeo initiate the 1609 ending by engaging in a more sustained, more interactive dialogue than any seen so far in the libretto. It is structured in increasingly short speeches: Apollo’s nine verses answered by Orfeo’s six, Apollo’s next seven lines giving way to the more rapid exchange between them of couplets and tercets, the last one being delivered jointly as father and son “ascendono al cielo cantando” (see figure 6). The increasing rapidity of their exchanges is typical of Rinuccini’s libretti: it also happens in La Dafne, during the conversation between Venus and Cupid in scene 4; see figure 7, which is taken from the earliest printed libretto (1598)19 but which reveals the same structural principle as in the slightly expanded 1608 version; and again during the very long dialogue also between Venus and Cupid that opens L’Arianna (1608), of which only the final pages are provided in figure 8.20 There are also similar passages in L’Euridice—the conversation between Orfeo and Plutone in Scene 4 is quite lengthy and interactive—and in L’Arianna, Scene 2, between Teseo and Arianna, part of which is shown for a different reason in figure 9, below.

8. Category Two: Verse Structure (Frequency and Disposition of Unrhymed Lines)

8.1 With respect to verse structure, I suggest that the incidence and disposition of unrhymed lines is another telling characteristic, for their deployment is very typical of Rinuccini’s libretti. Compare the score’s ending of L’Orfeo—the conversation between Apollo and Orfeo—with one between the protagonists in L’Arianna (see figure 9). In this passage, for purposes of comparison, the rhyme scheme of each speech is treated as an isolated unit, and its verses are “analyzed” according to the convention of lower- and upper-case letters representing settenari and endecasillabi, respectively; unrhymed lines are further denoted by dashes. In the score’s ending, each of the first three speeches begins with an unrhymed line (indicated in red); in L’Arianna each of the first two does the same. In the passage on the left from L’Orfeo, consisting of twenty-two verses of mixed settenari and endecasillabi, seven of them are unattached to any of the rhymed verses; in the passage from L’Arianna, seven of the total of twenty-four verses of mixed length are unrhymed. This was a typical strategy on Rinuccini’s part to introduce speech-like elements into verses that were destined for recitative, whereas Striggio preferred to use entirely blank verse in similar situations.

8.2 At the conclusion of the dialogue between Apollo and Orfeo in the score’s fifth act are two tercets, rhyming a b B—two short lines followed by a long one—again showing the author’s predilection for beginning a statement with an unrhymed line. Compare this with a passage from La Dafne, scene 2, where all of the tercets interspersed in the dialogue among Venus, Cupid, and Apollo have one unrhymed line (see figure 10). While one tercet has the very same pattern as in the Orfeo ending (marked in yellow), two others (marked in orange) also open with unrhymed lines, and another two (colored red) have their unrhymed lines in the middle. Incidentally, notice that one of Venere’s speeches in this passage from La Dafne also begins with that characteristic unrhymed line that we have remarked in connection with figure 9.

8.3 In figure 11, we compare the tercets from the score’s ending with those found in the opening conversation between Venus and Cupid in L’Arianna and discover that most of the latter follow some form of aba (marked in red), having their unrhymed line in the middle. Only one tercet begins with an unrhymed line, although it is composed entirely of settenari and is therefore not an exact match with those in the score’s ending. However, as varied as these tercets are among themselves, they are still much more typical of Rinuccini’s than of Striggio’s verse style.

9. Category Two: Verse Structure (Irregular Use of Rhyme)

9.1 Another telltale feature of Rinuccini’s verse is the way in which rhyme sounds are often distanced from one another, again I believe in order to effect a compromise between the patterned cadencing of verse and the looser structure of ordinary speech or prose. An example may be seen in the score’s ending, where Apollo’s apparently unrhymed and enjambed verse concluding with the phrase “Ancor non sai” is echoed in Orfeo’s couplet immediately following (see figure 12). So too in L’Euridice, scene 2 (also shown in figure 12), Tirsi’s apparently unrhymed verse ending with “suole” is rhymed with one of the verses of Orfeo’s couplet.21 A few lines later in the same scene from L’Euridice, a similar relationship is sounded out between Dafne and a member of the chorus in the words “già mai,” “saprai,” and “assai.”

9.2 Into this category, having to do with verse structure, falls another distinguishing characteristic of Rinuccini: the use of internal rhyme, as seen in one of Apollo’s speeches in the score’s ending (figure 13). Typically, this involves the end of a short line rhyming with the middle of a long one that most often follows two lines later (as with “ventura” and “e dura”). Incidents of this device occur in Teseo’s opening address to Arianna (“omai” and “vedrai”), in Arianna’s Lament (“io” and “mio”), and in L’Euridice, Scene 5 (“sorte” and “morte”), to cite a few examples (all given in figure 13); and sometimes the rhyming pair is further obscured or heightened (depending upon how you look at it) by repetitions in its immediate surroundings of the same words or syllables: in Apollo’s verses, “dura” is sounded again at the close of the very next line; and in Arianna’s lament, “mio” and “io” each recur once in close proximity to the rhyming pair.

10. Internal Rhyme in Striggio’s “Tu se’ morta”

10.1 An exceptional use of internal rhyme by Striggio occurs at the opening of “Tu se’ morta” in the second act of L’Orfeo (see figure 14). But interestingly enough, in this case the long line, which sets up the internal rhyme with its caesura on “vita,” comes first; and the short one, which completes the rhyming pair, follows immediately. Accordingly, Monteverdi’s response (in addition to changing the words) was to elongate the second verse through repetition and then attach it rhythmically to the third.22 The melodic gesture of “Tu se’ da me partita” associates it with the opening phrase (“Tu se’ morta”) rather than with its rhyming phrase (“se morta mia vita”), whereas his setting of Apollo’s lines in the fifth act uses the rhyming words “ventura” and “dura” as melodic and harmonic goals of the first two phrases, thereby accentuating rather than minimizing their relationship. His treatment, then, serves to underscore the difference between the two examples, which I contend are by different poets.

11. Categories Three and Four: Verbal Repetition and Reminiscence, and Characteristic Rhyming Pairs

11.1 These categories deal with word and sound repetition, verbal reminiscences, and characteristic rhyming pairs. Because they overlap somewhat, I discuss them together so as not to reduplicate my examples unnecessarily. The devices noted range from anaphora within and between verses to more distant echoes, like Orfeo’s addressing Apollo as “Padre cortese” (highlighted in blue) both in the score’s ending as well as in L’Euridice (see figure 15). In the first instance (which is, admittedly, chronologically later) he acknowledges Apollo’s gentle admonishment for having yielded to self-pity; in the second, at the beginning of Euridice’s Scene 2, he urges the sun-god to whip the backs of the flying steeds of his chariot to hasten nightfall, when he may unite with his “bella sposa.” Another verbal reminiscence (marked in green) occurs in the next period of Orfeo’s speech, when he assures his father that he will follow his counsel: “Eccomi dunque attento a tue ragioni”; this smacks of Amore playing the dutiful son to Venere in the opening scene from L’Arianna, where he says: “Ecco pronto al tuo dir l’arco e l’arciero.” And the parents in question—Apollo and Venere—use the same rhyming pair of words (“figlio” and “consiglio,” outlined in yellow) in speaking to their wayward children, words which are charmingly echoed by Orfeo just before the scene ends, thus creating a frame for the dialogue that takes place between padre and figlio in the 1609 version of L’Orfeo.

11.2 Other rhyming pairs which are perhaps worthy of note are Apollo’s “petto” and “affetto” (marked in blue) from his opening speech, and his “aita” and “e vita,” or “in vita,” (in pink) from the same place (see figure 16). The first pair matches one from Pluto’s verses in L’Euridice; the second occurs in L’Euridice as well—not just once but twice. Another pair, “mai” and “rai” (in red), also appears in L’Euridice and L’Arianna. I think it is significant that only two of these pairs are used in the first four acts of Striggio’s Orfeo (these are shown in the shaded column), and the “aita/in vita” pair is not only reversed, but occurs in successive strophes of terze rime in “Possente spirto,” whereas almost all of Rinuccini’s occurrences are rime baciate. By themselves, these similarities might not be important, but taken together with other attributes, they suggest that the verses of the score’s ending resemble Rinuccini’s style more than they do Striggio’s.

11.3 As Gary Tomlinson has shown, another pronounced characteristic of Rinuccini’s verse that differentiates it from Striggio’s is the use of anaphora or affective repetition of words and phrases.23 Striggio’s restraint in this regard prompted Monteverdi to depart from the Orfeo libretto in moments of heightened expression, as in the famous second-act lament, “Tu se’ morta,” where he changed or protracted with musical repetition every one of the first four lines of Orfeo’s speech to represent the protagonist’s quasi-catatonic state—one that the librettist had not quite succeeded in portraying (see figure 17). The parallel moment in Rinuccini’s Euridice, “Non piango, e non sospiro” (reproduced in the middle of figure 17), includes more word repetition from the start, and continues in that vein throughout, with the result that Euridice’s composer, Jacopo Peri, made no adjustments to Orfeo’s delivery of the text. And of course the most famous example of such effective use of anaphora is Arianna’s lament (the opening of which is also seen in figure 17), for which Monteverdi and others duly praised Rinuccini’s superb craftsmanship.24

11.4 Interestingly enough, within the relatively few verses that constitute the score’s ending of L’Orfeo are several that bear this Rinuccinian fingerprint. These are shown in figure 18 side by side with isolated verses from other Rinuccini libretti, verses that use the same structure and, in some cases, even the same word. Lines 615' and 628' both have their parallels in La Dafne, L’Euridice, and L’Arianna, only some of which are given here in horizontal juxtaposition. Moreover, in Orfeo’s first speech addressed to Apollo, other types of word and sound repetition suggest Rinuccini’s hand: the way in which the speech is framed by the phrases “padre cortese” and “celeste padre”; and the use of assonance in the central pair of verses, “estremo dolore” and “già sdegno et amore.” In Apollo’s lines that follow, we hear repetitions of the words “troppo” and “tua” in alternate verses, as well as assonance between “tua lieta ventura” and “giù diletta e dura.”

12. Category Five: Form and Meter of the Choruses

12.1 Finally we approach my last category, concerning the form and meter of the choruses. In this case one can see at a glance how differently shaped is the score’s final chorus (“Vanne Orfeo”) from all the other choruses in Striggio’s libretto (including the dance chorus of the Baccanti, for which the music is lacking), and how much it resembles all the choruses that punctuate the scenes or acts of Rinuccini’s operas. “Vanne Orfeo” (seen in the upper left section of figure 19a) is strophic, with a uniform rhyme scheme and regular meter; it consists of two stanzas, each having six verses of eight syllables. None of the choruses in Striggio’s 1607 libretto resembles this structure. The first act closes with a long statement mostly in versi sciolti of mixed settenari and endecasillabi. The second-act chorus appears at first to be strophic, but in fact consists of irregular stanzas entirely in blank verse, unified by the recurring pair of endecasillabi exclaiming “Ahi caso acerbo.” Only the Chorus of Infernal Spirits that ends the third act has a truly strophic structure: three stanzas of matching seven- and eleven-syllable lines, with a ten-line scheme of rime incrociate and baciate. Although the penultimate chorus, “E la virtute un raggio,” is entirely in rhyming verse, it is neither strophic nor metrically regular (see figure 19b). Finally there’s the Coro di Baccanti, which is closest in style to the Rinuccinian dance-choruses of the early operas. Except for Orfeo’s “Vi ricorda o boschi ombrosi” in Act II, this is the only time Striggio uses ottonari in the libretto; and unlike Orfeo’s patterned meter, here the ritornello chorus, “Evohe padre Lieo,” has an asymmetrical shape of seven lines (one of which has only four syllables), and alternates with a completely unpredictable series of statements from individual Baccanti—statements that vary so greatly in length and meter that it is hard to imagine them supporting any kind of sustained dancing.

12.2 When we examine the analogous choruses from Rinuccini’s libretti, we realize that they are, without exception, in strophic form. Furthermore, many move in the bouncy meter of the ottonari, usually in stanzas consisting of an even number of verses—such as six, like “Vanne Orfeo”—and they are always rhyming, without exception. Three of the four choruses that separate the scenes of La Dafne (figure 20) conform to this description (except Choro Terzo, which has stanzas that are seven lines long).The fourth (Quarto Choro) also has seven-line stanzas, but these consist of intermingled settenari and endecasillabi rather than of isometric verses. In L’Euridice as well, three of the five closing choruses employ ottonari (at the end of scenes 2, 3, and 6), and while two of these also have six-line strophes, like “Vanne Orfeo,” their rhyme schemes all differ slightly (see figure 21). L’Arianna has six choruses of this nature that function to delineate its scene structure. Of these, three are isometric, and two of the three are in ottonari, while the last has six lines of settenari (see figure 22). Again, none of the rhyme schemes is exactly like “Vanne Orfeo,” but then the variety that occurs among all the choruses by Rinuccini makes this fact not surprising.

13. Summary of Stylistic Observations

13.1 To summarize this review of the stylistic characteristics of the (1609) score’s version of the libretto that constitutes the ending of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, we find five categories in which similarities with Rinuccini’s works are manifest and which do not match the style of Striggio’s printed libretto of 1607: sustained conversation between two characters; the use of unrhymed lines, internal rhyme, and other structural devices; actual verbal reminiscences and characteristic rhyming pairs that link the score’s ending to other libretti by Rinuccini; proximate word or sound repetition, especially in the use of anaphora; and the form and meter of the choruses, which are consistently in rhyming strophes and often in ottonari.

14. A New “Working Hypothesis”?

14.1 What are the implications of accepting the hypothesis, based on the foregoing adumbration of stylistic similarities, that Rinuccini was the author of Monteverdi’s fin lieto, the Apollonian ending published in the 1609 score? For one, it allows us to say with greater certainty that this fin lieto is not the original ending—one which (as some have suggested) Monteverdi intended all along but which could not be produced on the too-narrow stage in 1607.25 Rather, it supports the belief that this is indeed the revised ending, with which the opera was refitted for a subsequent performance or which at least replaced Striggio’s 1607 ending in the score at some point after the libretto was printed. It also suggests that whether or not he ever composed music for the libretto’s original ending, Monteverdi was dissatisfied with Striggio’s fifth act and turned to the poet with whom he had collaborated so successfully on L’Arianna in 1608, perhaps in an effort to appeal to a wider audience.

15. Comparison with the Ending of L’Arianna

15.1 It’s interesting, though perhaps not significant, that Rinuccini’s prologue to L’Arianna is sung by Apollo.26 I believe it is significant that L’Arianna, too, has an altered finale culminating in an apotheosis.27 Furthermore, I would like to think that its final scene may have been staged in a fashion that recalled Titian’s famous rendering of Bacchus and Ariadne from the preceding century: Arianna is prevented from walking into the sea by her deus ex machina, namely the god Bacchus, who sweeps her up into the heavens, where she is transformed into a queenly constellation of shining stars.28 And the “new” ending of L’Orfeo, if we can now call it that, is certainly truer than Striggio’s to the emerging conventions of the favola pastorale, which had been established largely by Rinuccini in the first decade of opera.

16. Rinuccini in Mantua in 1607–08

16.1 A brief review of the events leading up to the production of L’Arianna allows us to see that Rinuccini was very much a presence in Mantua toward the latter part of 1607 and early in 1608.29 He was there at least briefly at the end of October, when it was decided that he would provide the play to be staged in music for Prince Francesco’s wedding to Margherita of Savoy. Monteverdi’s letters suggest that he composed L’Arianna during the last two months of 1607.30 The wedding, as it turned out, was postponed until May of 1608; but during carnival 1608, Rinuccini’s revised Dafne was performed in its new setting by Marco da Gagliano; and this meant that Apollo too made an appearance on the Mantuan stage, his role interpreted by the tenor Francesco Rasi, who was by now a seasoned veteran of the new stile rappresentativo.31 Rinuccini was in Mantua again in April, presumably to supervise the printing of L’Arianna’s libretto and make any last-minute changes requested by the composer. And it was probably at this point that his Ballo delle ingrate was added to the roster of works to be set by the overworked Monteverdi and produced for the wedding celebrations.32 So there would have been ample opportunity for Monteverdi to have consulted with the librettist about his plans for publishing the score of L’Orfeo with a new and different ending.

17. The Fate of L’Orfeo

17.1 Iain Fenlon has suggested that the projected visit of Prince Francesco’s prospective father-in-law toward the end of 1607 might have been the occasion for which Vincenzo Gonzaga ordered a third performance of L’Orfeo—albeit one that never took place.33 But this might have given Monteverdi a practical reason to reconsider the ending, which in turn engendered the publication less than two years later of the opera we know today. All speculation aside, however, L’Arianna was the work that made the greater impact. There were no fewer than four different editions of the libretto in 1608, with three more (all Venetian) appearing between 1621 (the year of Rinuccini’s death) and 1640, just before the fame of L’Arianna was eclipsed by Monteverdi’s last great operas.34 By comparison, L’Orfeo seems to have attracted little interest outside the Mantuan court, despite a second printing of the work in 1615.35 How fortunate for us, then, that with the survival of the 1609 and 1615 scores published by Amadino in Venice, the Favola d’Orfeo, originally presented on a “narrow stage” in Mantua, made its appearance, as Monteverdi himself said in the dedicatory preface of the 1609 edition, in the “great theater of the universe.”36


* Barbara Russano Hanning (bhanning@ccny.cuny.edu) is Professor of Music, The City College and Graduate Center, CUNY. She is the author of a book on early opera and various articles and reviews on 17th-century Italian music, musical iconography, and 18th-century French subjects. She co-edited the Palisca Festschrift containing more than 20 essays on Musical Humanism and Its Legacy (1992) and is the author of the Norton textbook Concise History of Western Music (based on the classic work by Grout and Palisca). She has served as president of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music (1993–97) and was Music Department chairperson at The City College of New York for 15 of the 33 years of her teaching career.

1. “Of Central Park They Sing,” The New York Times, Arts and Leisure section, July 18, 1998.

2. Born in Mantua in 1573, (Alessandrino) Striggio was the son of the madrigalist Alessandro Striggio the elder and, as a career diplomat in the service of the Gonzaga family, a longtime correspondent of Monteverdi. He probably also wrote the libretto of Tirsi e Clori (1615) as well as the lost Lamento d’Apollo. Alessandrino died of the plague in Venice in 1630.

3. I first suggested this in “The Influence of Humanist Thought and Italian Renaissance Poetry on the Formation of Opera” (Ph.D. diss., Yale Univ., 1968). Iain Fenlon acknowledges my authorship of the idea, published in Barbara Russano Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power: Humanism and the Creation of Opera (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1980), 129–30, but rejects my nomination of Ottavio Rinuccini as the new author, adding “… [although] the verse which Monteverdi sets in the 1609 version of the ending is not sufficiently accomplished to be Striggio’s work [it does suggest], perhaps, the hand of an amateur such as Ferdinando Gonzaga himself.” See Fenlon, “The Mantuan ‘Orfeo’,” in John Whenham, ed., Orfeo (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), 1–19; cf. p. 16. In a footnote (p. 188, no. 29), Fenlon credits Gary Tomlinson with proposing Ferdinando as the author. This paper is an attempt to substantiate my original hypothesis.

4. La Favola d’Orfeo Rappresentata in Musica il Carnevale dell’Anno M.D.CVII. nell’Accademia de gli Invaghiti di Mantova, by the duke’s publisher Francesco Osanna; reprinted in Angelo Solerti, Gli albori del melodramma, 3 vols. (Milan: Sandron, 1904; reprint, Hildesheim: Olms, 1969), 3:241–74; and in Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power, Appendix E, 305–29.

5. L’Orfeo Favola in musica da Claudio Monteverdi rappresentata in Mantova l’anno 1607, et novamente data in luce (Venice: Ricciardo Amadino, 1609). Monteverdi’s dedication to Francesco Gonzaga is dated 22 August.

6. Giovanni Andrea dell’Anguillara’s very influential and extensive reworking in ottava rima of the Metamorphoses, first published in Venice in 1561 as Le metamorfosi di Ovidio and frequently reprinted during the second half of the century, was probably the source of the Orpheus myth best known by Striggio and other early librettists. See Lorenzo Bianconi, Music in the Seventeenth Century, trans. David Bryant (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 218. I quote one of the relevant ottave (no. 16) from the Libro undecimo (in the three-volume edition printed by the Società tipografica de’classici italiani, Milan, 1805):

Gittar nell’Ebro il capo con la Lira,
Che tanto esser solean d’accordo insieme;
Or mentre il mesto fiume al mar gli tira,
Ogni corda pian pian mormora e geme:
La lingua ancor senz’anima respira,
Ed accoppia col suon le voci estreme;
Col flebil della lingua e della corda
Il pianger delle ripe ancor s’accorda.

7. Ovid, Metamorphoses, trans. Rolfe Humphries (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1955; reprint, 1983), Book XI, ll. 48–54.

8. Cf. Hanning, Of Poetry, Appendix E (p. 328, ll. 628'–634' and 637'–638'):

Troppo, troppo gioisti
Di tua lieta ventura,
Or troppo piagni
Tua sorte acerba e dura. Ancor non sai
Come nulla qua giù diletta e dura?
Dunque se goder brami immortal vita
Vientene meco al ciel ch’a sè t’invita.

Nel sole e ne le stelle
Vagheggerai le sue sembianze belle.

9. Pirrotta admitted to having changed his mind on this issue, for he originally believed that “the bacchic finale … belonged to the original plan and was rejected in favor of the apparition of Apollo as a concession to the taste for stage miracles. The opposite now appears more likely to me: that the deus ex machina and the apotheosis of Orpheus were part of the original plan, later modified … [because of space limitations].” See “Theater, Sets, and Music in Monteverdi’s Operas,” in his Music and Culture in Italy from the Middle Ages to the Baroque (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1984), 258. Claudio Gallico also argues for the possibility that the 1609 ending was used in 1607, suggesting that “l’apoteosi dell’eroe, immaginabile personificazione del principe, risponde a intenzioni di complimento e d’encomio cortese.” See his Monteverdi (Turin: Einaudi, 1979), 64. An interesting postscript to these speculations is Paola Besutti’s article, “The ‘Sala degli Specchi’ Uncovered: Monteverdi, the Gonzagas and the Palazzo Ducale, Mantua,” Early Music 27/3 (August 1999): 451–65, in which she attempts to locate the “private rooms” where the first performance of L’Orfeo took place.

10. Cf. Gallico, Monteverdi, 64. Apparently, Gallico believes that both versions date from the 1607 performances: “Ma i due allestimenti possono essere stati concepiti proporzionati ad ambienti di capacità differente, la sala del palazzo, il teatro” (Monteverdi, 64).

11. Cf. Pirrotta, “Theater, Sets, and Music in Monteverdi’s Operas,” 259: “The Apollo finale was restored by Monteverdi when, with the printing of the score, his opera was no longer presented ‘on a narrow stage’ but ‘in the great theater of the universe.’” (The phrases are Monteverdi’s own, from his preface to the score; see below, note 36.)

12. Cf. Paolo Fabbri, Monteverdi (Torino: EDT/Musica, 1985), trans. Tim Carter (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 66–67. F. W. Sternfeld (“The Orpheus Myth and the Libretto of Orfeo,” in Whenham, ed. Orfeo) holds with the opinion that “Monteverdi changed Striggio’s sad finale some time before 1609,” although he feels that the result was “a curiously shaped opera with an undersized fifth act and an even more severely condensed final chorus” (33).

13. The inspiration for this approach came from an article by Bojan Bujic, “Rinuccini the Craftsman: A View of His L’Arianna,” Early Music History 18 (Cambridge University Press, 1999): 75–117, in which he examines the poet’s interpretation and reworking of the legend of Ariadne in light of his many references and allusions to other poetic sources as well as his own self-borrowings.

14. See reference 5 above. In reproducing the libretto, Solerti relegated Monteverdi’s 1609 ending to smaller print at the bottom of pp. 270–72; I give the 1607 libretto in its entirety first, followed by the 1609 ending from the score. There is a discrepancy between my numeration of the verses and that of Solerti, which differs by one line. John Whenham (Orfeo) gives an extensive synopsis of the opera, with some commentary about the music, but incorporates only excerpts from the libretto (48–77); however, he prints Striggio’s original ending in a fine, facing-page translation (36–41).

15. See, for example, Sternfeld, in commenting on Monteverdi’s fifth act: “Orpheus’s happiness at being able to view Eurydice’s lovely ‘semblance’ in the stars instead of beholding her personally is a faithful reflection of Neoplatonist views, but Orpheus’s expression of contentment at accepting Apollo’s counsel is too short to balance his magnificent lament, which dominates the fifth act in its only extant musical version” (p. 33).

16. Facsimiles of the 1609 and 1615 editions were published in 1927 and 1972 respectively. Most scholars agree that Gian Francesco Malipiero’s 1930 edition (Tutte le opere, 16 vols. [Vienna: Universal, 1926–1942], vol. 11) “gives a clear impression of the original form of the score” (cf. Nigel Fortune and John Whenham, in Orfeo, Appendix 2: “Modern Editions and Performances,” 173).

17. Various scholars have remarked on the suitability of the moresca to the Bacchantes’orgiastic dance, and have suggested that it remained in the 1609 version as a vestige of the 1607 performances and a reminder of the action of the Bacchantes. See, for example, Fabbri, 66, and Whenham, 72.

18. The poet-librettist Ottavio Rinuccini (1562–1621) was, of course, the author of an earlier treatment of the Orpheus legend, L’Euridice, set by both Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini for the wedding festivities of Maria de’ Medici in Florence in 1600. That version differs radically from Striggio’s more traditional treatment of the ending of the story: Orfeo does not lose Euridice a second time and their happy reunion is celebrated by a festive final chorus. Not only did Rinuccini, in the dedication to his printed libretto, defend his fin lieto on political grounds (“… it seemed fitting to me at a time of such great rejoicing …”), but he also aligned his work with the innovative pastoral tragicomedy by having La Tragedia sing a prologue in which she promises to awaken “più dolci affetti,” more in keeping with the goal of the new literary genre—to banish melancholy. See my “Apologia pro Ottavio Rinuccini,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 26 (1973): 240–62. Rinuccini’s important collaboration with Monteverdi as the librettist of L’Arianna will be discussed below.

19. An exemplar was “discovered” by F. W. Sternfeld in the New York Public Library (“The First Printed Opera Libretto,” Music and Letters 59 (1978): 121–38) and reprinted as Appendix A in Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power, 245–67. Solerti reproduces the 1600 edition and presents the variants from Rinuccini’s expanded version, set by Marco da Gagliano in 1608, in footnotes (Gli albori, 2:77–104).

20. Excerpts from L’Arianna are taken from Solerti’s edition, found in Gli albori, 2:143–87.

21. The passages from L’Euridice are taken from the 1600 edition of the libretto, as reproduced in Hanning, Of Poetry, Appendix B, 269–96.

22. See also Malipiero’s edition of the Opere, 11:62–63, 147.

23. See Tomlinson, “Madrigal, Monody, and Monteverdi’s via naturale alla immitatione,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 34 (1981): 60–108; see especially pp. 80–86. Tomlinson’s reading of Arianna’s lament may also be found in his Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 119–31. In fact, what I call “restraint” in this paragraph with regard to the use of affective text repetition and other devices by Striggio Tomlinson labels “inadequacy” and “rhetorical deficiency” on Striggio’s part.

24. Severo Bonini, Discorsi e regole sovra la musica, ca. 1620?, and Giovan Battista Doni, Trattato della musica scenica, ca. 1637, among others, are cited by Suzanne G. Cusick, “‘There was not one lady who failed to shed a tear’: Arianna’s Lament and the Construction of Modern Womanhood,” Early Music 22/1 (February 1994): 21–41; see especially p. 37, note 2. Further commentary about the structure of Rinuccini’s libretto as a whole is offered by Tim Carter, “Lamenting Ariadne?” Early Music 27/3 (August 1999): 395–405; for an interpretation of its meaning as a marriage rite in the context of the 1608 festivities, see Anne MacNeil, “Weeping at the Water’s Edge,” ibid., 407–17. About Monteverdi’s oft-quoted letter (of 9 December 1621), in which he claimed inspiration from his ability to identify with Arianna’s humanity, Bojan Bujic speculates, “… in this we may have not only Monteverdi’s personal opinion but also a reflection of an attitude originally imparted to him by Rinuccini” (“Rinuccini the Craftsman,” 108). Another lionized librettist in the first decades of opera, Gabriello Chiabrera, eulogized Rinuccini, praising in a more general way his innovations in lyric and dramatic poetry: “Ebbe una vena di verseggiare sonoramente, e versaggiava con agevolezza non picciola, e con saldo giudizio scorgeva il migliore, ed il fiore coglieva di celebrati componimenti; ed in ciò fare fu da tenace memoria sostenuto; ed anco appigliossi a novelle maniere, e fu il primiero che in sulle scene conducesse a rappresentarsi favole cantate, della quale impresa raccolse gloria, e trasse altri a seguire i suoi trovamenti.” See Chiabrera’s “Elogi degli uomini illustri,” published in Dialoghi dell’arte poetica di Gabriello Chiabrera, con altre sue prose e lettere, ed. Partolommeo Gamba (Venice: Tipografia di Alvisopoli, 1830), 159–60.

25. See above, section 3 of this essay (about chronological issues) and references 9, 10, and 12.

26. I am alluding here to the fact that Apollo, the deus ex machina in the revised ending of L’Orfeo, appears in many other Rinuccini libretti and mascherate (the third intermedio of 1589, La Dafne of 1598 and 1608, as well as L’Arianna’s prologue) and may therefore be another clue pointing to Rinuccini’s authorship. In fact, Apollo is so closely associated with Rinuccini’s earliest musico-dramatic efforts that one is tempted to think of him as Rinuccini’s signature, introduced at the end of Striggio’s original libretto possibly as a way of calling attention to himself as Monteverdi’s unnamed collaborator. Concerning Apollo’s particular symbolism and significance for the new genre, guided into existence by Rinuccini, see my “Glorious Apollo: Poetic and Political Themes in the First Opera,” The Renaissance Quarterly 32 (1979): 485–513.

27.Originally the work was to have ended with a triumphal chorus after the arrival of Bacchus and Arianna on stage. Instead, after criticism from “a committee headed by the Dowager Duchess of Mantua,” Rinuccini contrived to have the gods reassemble, with Venus rising from the sea, Jupiter descending from the heavens, and Bacchus proclaiming Arianna’s immortality—all of which was “introduced as an afterthought” and “clearly represented a compromise with the genre of the intermedio.” See Nino Pirrotta, “Early Opera and Aria,” in Music and Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi, trans. Karen Eales (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982): 237–80; cf. pp. 270–71, note 5; and the excerpt from a letter by Carlo Rossi to Duke Vincenzo quoted in Solerti, Gli albori, 1:92. Bojan Bujic also comments on the irregularities of the finale; see “Rinuccini the Craftsman,” 111–12.

28. Bacchus and Ariadne was painted in 1522–23 for Duke Alfonso I d’Este as one of a series of bacchanalian subjects commissioned of various painters and intended to adorn a small room, the Duke’s “studio,” in the castle of Ferrara. See Cecil Gould, The Studio of Alfonso d’Este and Titian’s “Bacchus and Ariadne” (London: Publications Department, National Gallery, n.d.), 3. The painting is part of the National Gallery’s collection in London, England.

29. See Paolo Fabbri, Monteverdi, Chapter 18: “The 1608 Festivities: Arianna, the Prologue for L’Idropica, the Ballo delle ingrate,” 77 ff.

30. Fabbri, Monteverdi, 81.

31. Gagliano names all the singers in his preface to La Dafne … rappresentata in Mantova (Florence: Cristofano Marescotti, 1608). About Francesco Rasi, see Fabbri, Monteverdi, 64. A nobleman from Arezzo, Rasi was active at the Mantuan court as singer and composer of monodies from 1598. A pupil of Giulio Caccini, he had been trained in Florence in the 1590s and was sent back to Florence in 1600 to take part in the productions staged for the wedding festivities of Maria de’ Medici: he sang in Il rapimento di Cefalo by Caccini and Chiabrera, and performed the role of Aminta in the Peri/Caccini/Rinuccini premiere of L’Euridice. The fact that Rasi also sang the title role of Orfeo in 1607, as well as the role of Apollo in the Rinuccini/Gagliano Dafne in 1608, it seems to me, further strengthens the probability of a connection between Monteverdi’s revised ending of L’Orfeo and Rinuccini.

32. Fabbri, Monteverdi, 82.

33. See Fenlon, “The Mantuan Orfeo” in Whenham, ed. Orfeo, 1–19: 18.

34. Bujic rehearses the reception history of L’Arianna in “Rinuccini the Craftsman,” 77.

35.Although Monteverdi was a towering figure in his day, the work experienced no known performance history between its initial productions in 1607 and the twentieth century. Cf. Herbert Lindenberger, Opera in History (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1998): “Within a generation after his death an understanding of Monteverdi’s achievement [in the development of opera] was lost to history” (p. 16). A list of published editions, performances, and unpublished editions/arrangements, compiled by Nigel Fortune and John Whenham, appears as Appendix 2 in Whenham, ed. Orfeo, 173 ff.

36. A facsimile of the preface is printed at the beginning of Malipiero’s edition: “Serenissimo signore mio signore et patrone colendissimo, La favola d’Orfeo che già nell’Accademia de gl’Invaghiti sotto gl’auspitij di V. A. fù sopra angusta Scena musicalmente rappresentata, dovendo hora comparire nel gran Teatro dell’universo à far mostra di se à tutti gl’huomini, …”


Figure 1: L’Orfeo, Act V: Point of departure (l. 613) between 1607 and 1609 versions

Figure 2: L’Orfeo, Act V, Text extracted from score’s ending (1609)

Figure 3: Striggio’s libretto (1607): Passages of interaction between Orfeo and Euridice

Figure 4: Striggio’s libretto, Act III: Ponfrontation between Orfeo and Caronte

Figure 5: Striggio’s libretto, Act IV: Dialogue between Plutone and Proserpine

Figure 6: Score’s ending (1609): Dialogue between Apollo and Orfeo

Figure 7: Rinuccini, La Dafne (1598), Scene 4, excerpt: Dialogue between Venus and Cupid

Figure 8: Rinuccini, L’Arianna (1608), Scene 1, excerpt: Dialogue between Venus and Cupid

Figure 9: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and L’Arianna, Scene 2: Verse structure compared

Figure 10: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and La Dafne, Scene 2: Tercets compared

Figure 11: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and L’Arianna, Scene 1: Tercets compared

Figure 12: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and Rinuccini, L’Euridice, Scene 2: Verse structure compared

Figure 13: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and Rinuccini excerpts: Verse structure compared

Figure 14: L’Orfeo, Act II excerpt (“Tu se’ morta”): Striggio’s verse and Monteverdi’s setting compared with passage from Act V, score’s ending

Figure 15: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and Rinuccini excerpts: Verbal repetitions and reminiscences

Figure 16: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and Rinuccini/Striggio excerpts: Characteristic rhyming pairs

Figure 17: Monteverdi’s “rewrite” of Striggio’s text, “Tu se’ morta,” compared with Rinuccini excerpts: Affective repetition

Figure 18: L’Orfeo, score’s ending, and Rinuccini excerpts: Anaphora and assonance

Figure 19a: L’Orfeo, final chorus in score’s ending compared with Striggio’s Act-choruses I, II, and III

Figure 19b: L’Orfeo, final chorus in score’s ending compared with Striggio’s Act-choruses IV and V

Figure 20: Choruses from Rinuccini, La Dafne

Figure 21: Choruses from Rinuccini, L’Euridice compared with L’Orfeo, score’s ending

Figure 22: Choruses from Rinuccini, L’Arianna

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