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Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 16 (2010) No. 1

Francesco Rossi, Ludovico Busca, and Pietro Simone Agostini. Un’opera per Elisabetta d’Inghilterra, “Le regina Floridea” (Milano 1670). Edizione critica del libretto di Teodoro Barbò e della musica di Francesco Rossi, Ludovico Busca, Pietro Simone Agostini. Edited by Carlo Lanfossi. Il Filarete, 263. Milan: LED Edizioni Universitarie di Lettere Economia Diritto, 2009. [322 pp.; tables, plates, facsims., musical exx., score, bibliography, indices. ISBN 978-88-7916-444-3. €54; paper bound.]

Reviewed by Margaret Murata*

1. Introduction

2. The Libretto

3. The Music

4. After 1670

5. The Edition




1. Introduction

1.1 Howard Brown began a facsimile series of scores and librettos to Italian operas (1640–1770) in 1977, anticipating that access other than by microfilm would seed the ground for further studies more quickly than would waiting for publishers to issue modern editions.1 Seventeenth-century scores have since appeared in other facsimile series, such as those of S.P.E.S. in Florence and the truncated Drammaturgia Musicale Veneta, as well as in modern series, from A-R Editions, the Stradella national edition, and most recently, the Cavalli operas imminent from Bärenreiter. Despite these and various student theses, however, we are still far from having a representative set of landmarks across the entire Seicento for the central and northern Italian theaters of Florence, Rome, Venice, Naples, Milan, and Bologna. To be sure, the last thirty-five years have seen a great increase in our knowledge of operatic life and productions, not to mention modern stagings of a completely unforeseen number of scores, the more recent of which are now available (for better or worse) in video formats.

1.2 In 2006 in this journal, Christine Getz reviewed two major contributions to the history of music in Milan, Davide Daolmi’s Le origini dell’opera a Milano (1598–1649)2 and Robert Kendrick’s account of its musical soundscapes in The Sounds of Milan, 1585–1650.3 Just as comprehensive views of genres and locales often turn up unexpected convergences, corners, and offshoots, the thorough exploration of single works can sometimes reveal similar unexpected fibers and colors in what might at first seem to be familiar cloth. This is the case for the opera La regina Floridea, staged at the Regio Ducale Teatro in Milan during carnival of 1670. In a short preface, Davide Daolmi summarizes how, from the first cataloguing of the score in Como in 1980,4 a study of the opera became the tesi di laurea of his student, Carlo Lanfossi, whose systematic research has resulted in the volume under review. (It also started Lanfossi on his doctoral work—opera in Milan in the second half of the Seicento, completed in 2011.) The edition of the music—which itself presents some innovations—occupies the last third of the volume (98 pp.); an annotated and quasi variorum edition of the libretto forms the middle third (98 pp.). The opening third neatly presents an amazingly rich history of the work, its sources, its creators, and its ten known revivals or progeny from 1674 to 1722, one of which was an opera given in London in 1705.5

2. The Libretto

2.1 Floridea’s libretto derives from a 1638 Spanish play that fictionalized the affairs of state and the heart between Elizabeth I of England and the Count of Essex, Robert Devereux. In the opera, the historical attempted plot against the crown is translated into a personal vendetta to assassinate Floridea, queen of Cyprus, for familial revenge as well as romantic jealousy. Though the subject is not ostensibly in the capa y spada mold (the central stage prop is a pistol), in the opera, two women (two sopranos) and two men (in alto and bass clefs) play out a familiar choreography of love, disguises, misunderstandings, scenes of eavesdropping, perceptions of betrayal, imprisonment, and a socially correct double wedding.6 More in the Italian than in the Spanish manner, a male servant (tenor clef), a nurse (alto clef), and a page (soprano) provide intercutting humorous scenes and a third marriage. Among his most dexterous analyses, Lanfossi shows how, between 1638 and 1670, four extant treatments of the “Conde de Sex” from Italian commedia dell’arte scenarios may have influenced each other and the Milanese libretto by Count Theodoro Barbò, who was a military man, Spanish on his mother’s side, and a playwright amateur.7 Lanfossi’s detailed comparisons connect concrete commedia models to Barbò’s script. He also sees how Barbò transforms commedia devices into more sophisticated scenes, with simultaneous dramatic planes. Apart from dramaturgical considerations, however, the libretto’s comedic heritage is expressed in the music, which is not a point that Lanfossi develops.

3. The Music

3.1 Although certainly not the earliest extant score with more than one composer, in Floridea Lanfossi has given us a practical edition of an opera with a different composer assigned to each act. He notes that the same trio of Rossi, Busca, and Agostini had collaborated in a setting of Argia for Milan in the previous year.8 The first act of Floridea fell to the Francesco Rossi (d. 1697) who began to compose for the Milanese stage in 1658, wrote for the Teatro Ducale in 1663, and collaborated with the comedian Carlo Righenzi in the mid-sixties.9 Rossi’s act, indeed, is the most reminiscent of Cesti in its rhythmic styles, its use of violins in thirds in the short arias, and the general flow from arioso styles to recitative to ritornelli (to use “Cesti” here as a general representative, not a specific model).10 None of Rossi’s “serious” characters has heroic music, in any seventeenth-century sense. In fact, from the canzonetta style of bass Ormondo’s opening air (he corresponds to Devereux), and the typically insouciant airs and ariosos for his servant Sbiocco, the tone of the music is engagingly light and humorous, if not arch. In the first “action” of the opera, Ormondo scares off hired gunmen who tried to shoot the queen, asleep in the garden. Commotion and gunfire wake his servant (who like Leporello was supposed to be standing sentinel); the assassins shoot at him as they flee from their offstage attempt on the queen’s life (Example 1). Sbiocco’s reaction is more severe than the queen’s. The mocking tone of this incident dominates much of Act I. The queen lives, but she is now suddenly and secretly wounded by love for the general who came to her rescue, which she reveals by a series of asides in the ensuing scene 7. But queen Floridea is by no means the musically principal character in this act. The general, Sbiocco, and Moralba—the woman seeking revenge and already in love with the general—each have three arias. The first lyric tripla aria (in 6/2) of the act is Sbiocco’s, in parody: the servant puts himself to sleep singing “Voglio dormire” in E minor (Act I, scene 2). The next tripla aria is not heard until scene 11, as Moralba contemplates her love for Ormondo (in 6/2 in A major) and is answered by him in kind, though not as a second strophe. She wraps up a four-scene group, in which she fails to persuade Ormondo to kill the queen for her, with a classic 6/2 lament in E minor. Floridea’s first aria, in contrast, does not occur until scene 18, a 42-measure solo in three sections made up of seven contrasting passages.11 This frames a three-scene group that closes with a quick triple-meter aria that constitutes scene 20. Happy, she orders her page to call a joust. He sings a typical insouciant patter song that presumably led into a danced or mimed first intermedio.12 Lanfossi calls the lady Moralba the “deuteragonista” of the story (p. 65), but in fact this character is the prime mover of the plot, the most aggrieved, and the most active. Indeed, dressed as Feraspe (a captain who loves her), it is Moralba who runs to kill the general with a sword in Act III, scene 24. Her prominence in the opera strengthens Lanfossi’s findings that the woman who created the role, Silvia Gailarti Manni, was a factor in some later revivals of Floridea.

3.2  The composer of Act II, Ludovico Busca, was a Benedictine monk in Milan in the 1670s.13 His first theatrical collaboration seems to have been in 1665 for a private work on Isola Bella in Lago Maggiore. Lanfossi credits him with one complete opera score in 1673 and a volume of chamber Ariette published in 1688. Not by any means radically different from Rossi’s act, Busca’s nevertheless moves more swiftly, uses more imitation (between violins, or between singer and continuo), and has a wider variety of rhythmic styles in its arias. The vastly increased number of figures in the continuo line in part speaks to the greater number of sevenths (in 6/5 chords) and suspensions in Busca’s harmonic language. The chatter and silliness of the servant Sbiocco runs through scenes 1–6, and scenes 7–8 are purely comic, given to the nurse and the page. Once again Moralba carries the musical weight of the act in scenes 11 through 13, which are nearly all in aria. She has a solo lament over a bass walking in quarter notes (“Piangete, o mie pupille”), a brief arioso in a mendacious love duet, and a revenge scene in the manner of a cantata (strophic aria, recitative, and melismatic finale). A duet between the page and nurse separates Moralba’s central scenes from another cantata-like solo scene for Floridea—a veritable trumpet aria in D major without trumpet (“Pensieri, a battaglia”); it is followed by a doubting recitative and a tripla aria adagio that trails off into sleep. The concluding scenes 16–20 are nearly all in recitative, as Moralba’s attempt to shoot the queen is stopped by Ormondo, who, having wrested the pistol away, is led to prison as the supposed assassin. Feraspe, his rival for Moralba, is overjoyed and invites the soldiers to rejoice in the intermedio that must have ensued.14

3.3 The music for the closing act is closer in texture to Busca’s than to Rossi’s. Its recitative is more active and emphatic, as are its continuo lines (Example 2). Lanfossi makes a convincing suggestion that the appearance of composer Agostini in Milan was connected to the appointment of the Genoese Paolo Spinola Doria as governor of Milan, as well as to Agostini’s collaboration with Pietro Manni’s group in Genoa. In 1669, furthermore, Barbò had run the competition for maestro di cappella of Milan cathedral, a position for which Agostini had applied.15 Act III, at any rate, adds one more false piece of evidence of the general’s treachery (allowing Floridea more lamenting) and then swiftly moves along from resolution to resolution. The nurse hides Sbiocco from the police, and he decides that he loves her. Moralba feigns love for Feraspe but plans to dress as a man and take Ormondo’s place in prison, sacrificing herself. Ormondo reveals his princely blood line and his faithfulness as the queen’s subject. Feraspe plans to free Moralba and, disguised as a woman, replace her in prison. This is not complexity but comedy, and all is cleared up in eighty-seven rapid bars of recitative (Act III, scenes 24–5).

3.4 Also contributing to the pacing of comedy are quick dialogue exchanges, which break up the standard metric lines of Italian dramatic verse among different speakers. Figure 1 and Figure 2 come from Lanfossi’s edition of the libretto.

Figure 1: One 11-syllable line (Act I, scene 13, line 42)


senti …


Listen ...



Che brami?


What do you want?



L’amor tuo.


Your love.



Non posso.

I cannot.

Figure 2: Three poetic lines: 11+7+11 syllables (Act III, scene 25, lines 31–3)


Gli perdono.


I pardon him.





I can breathe.



Io son contento.

I’m satisfied.


Parta, fugga il tormento:

sposi sarete.


Let all torment leave and flee:

You two will wed.



Io son beato.


I am blessed.



Io, lieta.

I, happy.

4. After 1670

4.1 The librettos to Floridea and its later versions, nonetheless, do not mark it as any kind of comedy, but rather consistently label it a drama musicale or dramma per musica. Four re-stagings or re-settings took place in north-central Italy within a decade of the Milan performance (Novara, also in Spanish hands; then Reggio Emilia, Florence, and Livorno). Lanfossi’s discussion of the 1677 staging in Reggio Emilia deftly shows the connection with earlier performances by Silvia Manni and her husband-impresario Pietro, even with regard to the substitution of six arias for Floridea (not Manni’s original role). Lanfossi is careful throughout his discussion of the libretti (since there are no later Italian scores); he offers possible hypothetical connections but keeps the inevitable lacunae in mind. It is with the Bolognese Arsinoe of the same year that Lanfossi adeptly confronts a case of true piracy—a plagiarized plot and recitatives in a libretto filled with new arias for re-named characters, set to music by Pietro Franceschini.16 It was this Arsinoe that Thomas Clayton had translated into English, adapted, and set for London in 1705, “after the Italian manner,” though with none of its old music and without reference to the Tudor queen. This is not the place to recount the stories of all the librettos based on the original Floridea; suffice it to mention that Lanfossi begins his thesis with the Venetians’ loss of Crete to the Turks in 1669 and convincingly relates this to an adaptation of the Milanese opera for the Venetian stage in 1688 and a series of Venetian victories in the Ottoman Peloponnese.

5. The Edition

5.1 As a sort of musicological exercise, such a project calls upon more than the abilities of a historian. Lanfossi’s judgment and care in editing the librettos reveal philological skills one doesn’t learn in literature or music history courses.17 After a richly annotated presentation of the Milan libretto, he transcribes the front matter of closely related librettos as well as substitute or added scenes and arias, prologues, etc. from the Novara 1674, Reggio Emilia 1677, Florence 1678, Livorno 1679, Venice 1688, Siena 1698, and Ancona 1722 prints. He treats the text within the score as yet another version of the text, giving largely what is preserved with the music, with the normal modernizations.18 He includes the descriptive set locations from the libretto in angled brackets (e.g, <Night. Gardens with groves and fountains>), but not, for whatever reasons, the great number of stage directions in the Milanese libretto. These often tell what the comic characters are doing—a legacy of the commedia connections. For example,

Act II, scene 2: While [Ormondo and Feraspe] are dueling, Sbiocco makes silly gestures (atti ridicoli) behind Feraspe’s back with the pistol.

Act II, scene 6: Sbiocco keeps trying to hide the pistol and the sash (banda).

In one group of humorous scenes (libretto Act II, scenes 6–8), Sbiocco has instructions to weep, to dance, to exit, and two lines later (after only 4 ½ recitative measures), to re-enter and exit again. The nurse and page sing a duet while dancing. Other rubrics are less about action: “Ormondo/Moralba remains thoughtful” (Act II, scene 9; Act III, scene 7). Lanfossi also made certain decisions about text underlay. In the interests of fluency (at least for Italian readers), poetic lines do not each begin with capital letters. Furthermore, editorial discretion governs which words have their syllables separated by hyphens. Thus in rapid recitative, the verse is underlaid nearly like a prose text, but with vowel elisions indicated.19 (The unstated assumption is that for listeners, rhymes and musical rhythms convey the musical qualities of the verse.)    

5.2  Because each act represents a different composer, Lanfossi did not want to erase notational differences between them, such as differences in barring, continuo figures, application of accidentals, metric signs or other representations of rhythm, or slurring. In this sense, the edition serves as a study score. My copy is now littered with sharp thirds [♯] under dominant chords. In places, however, editorial interventions can clarify harmonic connections. In Example 3, which has no figures in the Como score, the A naturals and B in the bass at the end of scene 18 make sense only if a B-major chord leads on to the next scene (which will cadence to B minor in mm. 8–9).

5.3 Another conscious editorial decision was to lay out the pages in order to show the formal structure of the scenes. Thus, as in seventeenth-century scores, subsequent speeches are all on one vocal line (avoiding empty bars in parts), and scenes are visually compact. They are more compact in fact than is the edition of the libretto, since many musical pages have eight two-staff systems in nine vertical inches (23 cm), whereas an equivalent amount of text in the libretto edition occupies nearly twelve inches. In the score, this renders the note heads just about large enough for sight-reading. Words to be sung, however, border on squint-size at the keyboard (the volume is too heavy to hold up and sing from). The formal intent, however, of the planned page layouts is aesthetically sound. Coming three years after Cavalli’s last Venetian opera, Eliogabalo (1667), Floridea echoes its fluid movement of short arias and musical dialogue with frequent metric ariosos. Its stage action is more distinct and obvious, as one expects with comedy, but its liveliness is also well-balanced by soulful monologues of conventional, but entirely effective, pathos, reminiscent of an earlier queen of Cyprus, Cesti’s Orontea.


* Margaret Murata (mkmurata@uci.edu), Professor of Music, University of California, Irvine, has served as President of the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music and Vice-President of the American Musicological Society and currently serves on the boards of the Journal of the American Musicological Society, Recercare, the Web Library of Seventeenth-Century Music, and Opera Musicologica. Her research centers on Baroque operas and cantatas in Rome and their revivals in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She edited “The Baroque Era” volume of Strunk’s Source Readings in Music History (1998) and, with Dinko Fabris, co-edited Passaggio in Italia: Music on the Grand Tour in the Seventeenth Century (Brepols, forthcoming). A thematic catalogue of chamber cantatas by Roman singer Marc’Antonio Pasqualini (1614–91) will appear in the Instrumenta series of the Journal of Seventeenth-Century Music.

1 Howard Mayer Brown, ed., Italian Opera, 1640–1770, series I: vols. 1–50 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1977–9); H. M. Brown and Eric Weimer, eds., series II: vols. 61–91 (1980–4); with Italian Opera Librettos, 1640–1770, vols. 51–60; 92–7 issued in 16 vols. (New York: Garland Publishing, 1978, 1984).

2 In the series Studi sulla storia della musica in Lombardia, vol. 2 (Turnhout: Brepols, 1998).

3 Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. For Getz’s review, see http://www.sscm-jscm.org/v12/no1/getz.html.

4 I-COc ms. 3.4.24, “una copia coeva ad uso conservativo” (p. 201), in other words, not a score apparently ever used to perform from.

5 Some readers will have heard Lanfossi’s succinct presentation of its transformations at the 2010 SSCM conference in Houston, Texas. (For the abstract go to “Conference Archives” at http://sscm-sscm.org/conferences/SSCM_Abs2010.pdf.)

6 The Cypriot queen and her general (by birth, an Athenian prince) are the only royals, unusually scored as a soprano and bass. Moralba, her “prima dama” in love with the same general, ends the opera marrying the captain of the guard. The captain’s scoring as an alto allows them an arioso duet in tenths in Act II. This Feraspe is the “weakest” character of the four principals; whether he was sung by a falsettist or by an alto castrato, his scoring may also have been intended to be humorous.

7 Lanfossi (28–33) offers a detailed, tabular comparison.

8 Lanfossi, 97.

9 There are several composers named Francesco Rossi in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Lanfossi, 94–95, with reference especially to Luigi Chiavarone, “Francesco Rossi I-II-III … quanti?” in Sergio Martinotti, ed., La musica a Milano, in Lombardia e oltre (Milan: Vita e Pensiero, 1996), 45–75. Lanfossi also tracked down a later libretto Barbò created for Naples, Mitilene, regina delle Amazoni (Lanfossi, 50).

10 Lanfossi carefully, however, discusses the erroneous attribution of the opening aria (by Francesco Rossi) to Cesti, as an aria staccata in I-Fc ms. B.2560 and I-MOe ms. Mus. F. 252  (Lanfossi, 106–10). The author also provides technical comparisons of the scores of the three acts, for example, in terms, of figuring the bass, use of color notation, passages in ensemble, imitation, etc.

11 In 3 [6/2] + rit. || Aria with a walking bass–arioso in [6/2] + rit. || Recit.arioso in [6/2].

12 Noted simply as a “Ballo de’ paggi” in the Milan libretto. Texts for the two intermezzos for the 1674 Novara performance survive; they do not follow the Milanese lead-ins (see Lanfossi,  68–70). They both feature more comic business between the servants, as probably suits the less public spectacle that the Novara staging appears to have been.

13 Lanfossi, 95–6.

14 The Milan libretto simply notes a “Ballo de’ giardinieri.” This implies no scene change for the intermedio, since the last six scenes of Act II take place in the royal gardens.

15 Lanfossi, 48, citing Luigi Collarile, “Giovanni Legrenzi e il concorso di maestro di cappella del Duomo di Milano,” Rivista Italiana di Musicologia 40, nos. 1–2 (2005): 19–83.

16 Staged in Venice the following year; two Contarini scores are extant (Lanfossi, 75–6).

17 For the editorial principles pertaining to the librettos, see Lanfossi, 123–4.

18 Lanfossi scrupulously provides a half page of “Language Notes” (204), which indicates original spellings (e.g., “spechio” for the modern “specchio”).

19 The software or software acrobatics that permitted this is not described.


Example 1: La regina Floridea, Act I, scenes 5, 6, and the beginning of 7 (music by Francesco Rossi)

Example 2: La regina Floridea, from Act III, scene 8 (music by P. S. Agostini)

Example 3: La regina Floridea, Act III, end of scene 18 to 19 (music by P. S. Agostini)


Figure 1: One 11-syllable line (Act I, scene 13, line 42)

Figure 2: Three poetic lines: 11+7+11 syllables (Act III, scene 25, lines 31–3)

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