Volume 9 (2003) No. 1

Tim Carter

Rediscovering Il rapimento di Cefalo


Partial Reconstruction of Gabriello Chiabrera, Il rapimento di Cefalo (Uffizi Theatre, Florence, 9 October 1600; music by Giulio Caccini, Luca Bati, Piero Strozzi, and Stefano Venturi del Nibbio)

(Details are conflated from the libretto and from Michelangelo Buonarroti il giovane, Descrizione delle feste … [Florence: Giorgio Marescotti, 1600].)




Sets, machines, and other effects





The rich curtain opens to reveal clouds in the heavens with, in the distance, a coat of arms supported by two women (Magnanimity and Dignity), plus a fregio supported by amoretti. Other allegorical figures are also seen.


Mount Helicon. Pegasus, on the peak, strikes the ground three times, and water pours forth. Apollo sits with the nine Muses surrounding La Poesia, who descends down a winding path.

When the Muses are revealed each with their instrument “si ascoltava metterlo in uso per modo di grave ed insieme lietissima sinfonia.”


Poesia introduces herself and the story: she has sung the praises of Maria de’ Medici in the past, and in the future she will do the same both for her and for her offspring.


Poesia holds a lira with plectrum, “altamente incominciando con divina voce a cantare” (“Per serenar il duol ne gli altrui cori” (later sources have “cuor” for “duol”); 6 stanzas, AbbAcC).


Poesia resumes her place among the Muses and the mountain disappears to reveal the set for Act I.

As the mountain disappears, the Muses are “sinfoniando sempre.”

Act I

Aurora, Cefalo, Coro di cacciatori

Aurora says that she has no regrets leaving heaven to find love on earth.

Pastoral 1. The lighting is dark, representing night. Aurora, with golden wings, appears on a rose-tinted cloud (surrounded by other clouds). She scatters flowers, and perfumed waters are sprinkled on the stage and in the theatre.

Aurora “veniva giuso [sic] cantando,” i.e., she sings as she descends on the cloud.


One of the hunters wakes Cefalo, who speaks to Aurora. She complains of being “wounded” by a man; he promises reparation until she says that it is he. Cefalo refuses her advances and leaves to go hunting.

As Aurora speaks to Cefalo, her cloud closes and returns to heaven. The scene gets lighter, and mountains and tree-tops, fruits and flowers, and distant habitations are seen in all their splendour.

“…e’ rusigniuoli et altri uccelli allora dolcissimi versi cantar s’udirono, et aura muovere.”


The hunters “con l’ajuto di un gran conserto celato, il primo coro cantarono allegrissimo” (Venturi del Nibbio: “Io tra foreste e tra nevosi monti”; ABbADD [text incomplete]).

Act II

[i] Titone (“solo per aria”)

Titone laments the absence of his beloved Aurora.

Titone appears on a large cloud which causes amazement at its natural movement and changing shapes. As the cloud disappears, the scene changes.

Titone “con dolcissime voci in profondi accenti pianse in cordogliosi versi sdruccioli la perduta donna” (“Chi mi conforta ahimè! chi più consolami?” (in Caccini, Le nuove musiche [1602]); four stanzas of terza rima plus a concluding quatrain).


[ii] Oceano, Febo, Coro di deità marine, Amore, Coro di Amori


Seascape. From one side appears a whale bearing Oceano, surrounded by tritons and marine deities, and from the other, Febo’s chariot drawn by four horses. The chariot is richly decorated with scenes from Apollo’s life and is driven by a “giovane bello et giojoso.” The whale flaps its ears, rolls its eyes, and chews fish. Clouds are seen in the sky.

The tritons and marine deities “chiocciole e buccine sonavano.”


Oceano berates Febo for not rising from the sea. Febo says he cannot do so because he has not been preceded by Aurora.


Oceano addresses Febo “in voce severa e profonda.”


Amore appears on a cloud, followed by two clouds (later joined as one) containing the Coro di Amori.


Amore explains to Febo and Oceano that he has wounded Aurora as proof of his valour.


The sea-creatures disappear beneath the waves, as does Febo.


Amore invites the Coro di Amori to sing of Aurora’s love.


The chorus “allegrissimamente cantando, sovvenuti da altra sinfonia, spiegarono una melodia da tutte l’altre variata e dolce” (Strozzi: “Che ’l valor degli strali”; aBCaBCDD [text incomplete]).


The chorus disappears, and likewise the sea to reveal the next set.



[i] Cefalo, Aurora

Cefalo asks Aurora why she is pursuing him; she invokes examples of great female lovers. Cefalo proclaims his fidelity to (the unnamed) Procris. Aurora accuses Cefalo of putting the world in jeopardy through the absence of sunlight. Cefalo is unmoved.

Pastoral 2.


As Aurora and Cefalo leave, there is a remarkable transformation to…


[ii] Notte, Coro di segni celesti

Notte summarises the situation over Aurora and tells mortals that it shows how their good comes from the gods.

Dark forest (rocky landscape with ruins and caves). The stage- and houselights dim; Notte, with black wings, sits in a chariot, holding two babies, one white (Sleep) and one black (Death). The chariot, drawn by two owls, rises slowly into the sky, where clouds, stars, and the moon are seen.

Notte is heard “lagnarsi soavemente” as her chariot rises; i.e., she sings as she ascends. Left on earth, “uccelli notturni…con roco suono di lor voci…ne invitano al sonno ciascuno.”


Six signs of the zodiac appear in the heavens, forming an arc above Notte.

The signs are played by six “giovani”: “Onde essi, ch’erano stati eletti delle più squisite voci e de’ miglior musici che mai s’udissero, con arte diverse di canto, ciascuno di per sè con lei [Notte] ragionarono, e seco della innamorata Aurora si dolsero, con tanta dolcezza che l’anime degli uditori per lo piacere, anch’esse al cielo fra quelli allora parver rapite.”


The signs of the zodiac ask Notte why she is still in the sky. Notte says that she will seek Giove’s counsel.


The signs bid Notte farewell.


“…facendo il coro in grave concento” (Bati: “Non è questo che splende il primier giorno”; ABCABCcDD [text incomplete]).


Notte’s chariot disappears in the clouds. Light returns to the scene.


Act IV

Berecintia, Amore, Mercurio, Coro degli dei


Pastoral 3, opening as if in an earthquake to reveal a large cavern full of treasures, with underground rivers, and wind which cools the theatre. Berecintia emerges from a rock and mounts a throne.


Berecintia laments the non-appearance of the sun and complains about Amore and Aurora.


Berecintia “per gravi maniere innanzi al teatro mostrandosi, dolsesi, come altri avean fatto, cantando, del miserabil danno, che senza sole veniva sopra di lei” (“Nella magion stellante e luminosa”; 5 stanzas, ABBA).


Amore enters on a cloud different from the one he was on before.


Amore mocks her for being an old woman but then assures her that all will be well.


As Berecintia leaves the cavern closes, restoring the scene. The heavens open to reveal Mercurio.


Mercurio summons Amore before Giove; Amore refuses, reminding Mercurio of his past triumphs, but is eventually persuaded. They ascend together.

The two cloud machines (for Amore and Mercurio) vie with each other but eventually join together and rise to the heavens…


…with a throng of deities on many clouds. A very large cloud reaches centre-stage and opens to reveal 25 men, bringing the total number of deities to around 100. The scene is brilliantly lit.

The Coro degli dei, “cantanti e sonanti di coro in coro” fill the heavens with “armonia grandissima e risonante” (Bati: “In questo d’almi e di stellanti lumi”; 4 stanzas, ABbA).

Act V

Giove, Coro degli dei, Amore, Aurora, Cefalo, Coro di cacciatori


Pastoral 3 (closed). The gods are still in the heavens. Giove sits on an eagle that moves its wings and carries him forward without apparent support.


Giove explains the situation to a council of the gods. He and the gods urge Amore to set matters to rights, which he promises to do.


Giove speaks “secondo raro decoro di voce sonora.” Then “Mormorano et esultarono allora quelli alti Iddei.. e prima quelli dall’una, e poscia quelli dall’altra banda a vicenda alzarono il canto, confermando la irrevocabil sentenza del maggior loro. Al che mostrando pure assentire Amore, ricantarono tutti insieme...” (Venturi del Nibbio: “O bellissimo Dio”/“Dunque perch’ei non torni” [2 stanzas, abBcc/deEaa), then tutti “S’alla stagion primiera” (abAbB]).


The gods return to heaven. Amore descends on a cloud seen flying over mountain tops in the distance.


Amore predicts that Aurora’s tale will be sung in theatres to come.


Aurora declares her fear of public opprobrium but expects that royal ears will understand her plight.


Amore advises Aurora to kidnap Cefalo, whom he will make love her.


Amore ascends on a different cloud.


Cefalo arrives with his hunters. Aurora addresses him; he again swears his love for his bride. Aurora asks for his handshake as a sign that he is telling the truth and then draws him to heaven.


Aurora and Cefalo ascend on a cloud that emerges from underground. The cloud is first closed (to restrain Cefalo) but then opens as it gets higher, to reveal Aurora and Cefalo looking down and scorning earthly things.


The hunters watch them and praise divine love.


The chorus is set (“come la seguente e l’ultima”—i.e., the ballo?) “per arie diverse e tutte allegrissime, ora di una, ed ora di più e di meno voci, che più di sessanta vi furono, si rese allettevolissima, nel replicare massimamente alcuni de’ versi più sentenziosi siccome intraposti et intercalati” (“Ineffabile ardore” [in Caccini, Le nuove musiche (1602)]; 4 stanzas, ABBAC, with two-line refrain).




An oval theatre mirroring the auditorium. Many individuals enter representing heroes and great men and sit on the risers (i.e., mirroring the audience). Fama enters on a pyramid-shaped carro on which there are also sixteen women representing the sixteen cities of Tuscany.


Fama praises Grand Duke Ferdinando I de’ Medici, who will usher in a new era of peace.


Fama “cantò…altamente” (“Poichè gli Esperei regni e i regni Eoi”; 5 stanzas, ABBA).


Fama ascends into heaven on a cloud, and the carro descends, leaving behind a lily (the symbol of Florence).


The sixteen cities of Tuscany declare their joy at the wedding.

As the carro descends, the women step off, forming two groups for the ballo.

The women “lodi novelle ricominciaron cantando, et accompagnando il canto contrastante, et alternato per varie voci e diverse arie, tutte mirabili e dolci, con un ballo che, essendo mosso con dignità ragguardevole, s’intrecciava leggiadramente parte per parte” (no text survives).

Return to: Paragraph 1.3.