ISSN: 1089-747X
Copyright © 1995–2012 by the Society for Seventeenth-Century Music

Volume 9, no. 1:

Kelley Harness*

Le tre Euridici: Characterization and Allegory in the Euridici of Peri and Caccini


Although Euridice delivers only twenty-seven lines in L’Euridice, her presence is crucial. She confirms Orfeo’s success at retrieving her from the underworld, and in her final speech she appropriates and neutralizes the forceful verb “togliere” (“to take away”) by which Poliziano’s Eurydice lamented her husband’s failure. After her liberation Euridice sings with a purposefulness that mirrors Orfeo’s musical style, reflecting her new status as his wife. Peri’s creation of a well-suited pair may have allegorized the relationship between Grand Duke Ferdinando and the city of Florence, celebrating the restoration of political equilibrium and proclaiming Ferdinando as the city’s legitimate ruler.

1.  Introduction: the Three Eurydices

2.  The Literary and Dramatic Precedents of Rinuccini’s Euridice

3.  Peri and Caccini’s Differing Treatments of Euridice in Scene 1

4.  Euridice’s Other Female Characters

5.  The Musical Characterization of Orfeo

6.  Euridice as Orfeo’s Wife

7.  L’Euridice and its Political Implications



Musical Examples


1. Introduction: the Three Eurydices

1.1 “For by the fiction he [Virgil] so concealed greater matters, that however much he did not depart from the pastoral persona, nevertheless he concealed beneath that vulgar surface another sense more excellent by far, so that the work was adorned with a double argument, and that which was obvious, he observed, and that which was hidden, he perfected.”1

1.2 The Florentine humanist Cristoforo Landino published this praise of Virgil’s Eclogues just over a century before the 6 October 1600 performance of a pastoral based in part on another of Virgil’s works. Like Landino’s edition of Virgil, the 1600 pastoral, L’Euridice, appeared within a Medici-dominated context, and both works were dedicated to members of the Medici family. So what did the small group of spectators who viewed the first performance of Euridice make of it? Within what interpretive frames might they have understood this novel work? Certainly the occasion of the performance—a Medici wedding—would have suggested to them that like previous celebratory works the opera might be interpreted allegorically.2 Yet scholars have tended to discount Euridice’s political meanings, especially by comparison with the more overt propaganda in the festivities’ other works. I propose that Euridice’s characters, through words and music, do articulate a political message, one resonant with Medici iconography of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

1.3 Both Ottavio Rinuccini and Jacopo Peri, that is, the opera’s librettist and principal composer, dedicated their publications to the new queen of France, leading some scholars to assume that Rinuccini intended Eurydice to signify Maria de’ Medici, so that the opera’s title represents nothing more than homage to the Medici family.3 But this interpretation would then, it seems, cast Henry IV in the allegorical role of Orpheus—an unfortunate comparison, since the king did not even bother to fetch his bride from Florence, much less the underworld. Since we know that later Medici rulers tended to be overly careful in their avoidance of plots whose messages might be construed in a less than favorable light, I suggest we reconsider the implications of the character of Euridice, who, although inconsequential to the plot’s resolution, may fulfill an essential role in clarifying its political allegory.4

1.4 But if not only words but music determine a character, we might well ask, “which Euridice?”5 As is well known, both Peri and Giulio Caccini contributed to the performance of 6 October.6 Peri claimed in his preface to have composed all of the music by that date, earning his effort the designation as the prima Euridice. The seconda Euridice refers to the actual performance of 6 October, in which, because his students sang his music rather than Peri’s, Caccini composed the role of the title character, among other contributions, while Peri composed and sang the role of Orfeo. Caccini published his own score in 1600, but since it apparently received no performance until 1602, I have designated his work as the Euridice terza.7

1.5 The phrase “tre Euridici” refers to more than just performances or musical scores, however, for I propose that these three permutations of two composers’ music result in three different characterizations of both Euridice and Orfeo. Character delineation in a dramatic work derives in part from the words and actions of a particular character, of course, but it also depends on the audience’s comparison of that character with others in the same work. For example, one character may appear more timid in the face of another’s bellicosity. Our understanding of Caccini’s Euridice varies depending on whether she shares the stage with Caccini’s Orfeo or Peri’s Orfeo. The resulting characterizations of both Euridice and Orfeo may, in turn, lead to divergent readings of the opera, creating a range of interpretation that may influence the work’s efficacy as political allegory. Reflecting what we know of the events leading to the first performance, the collaboration between Rinuccini and Peri appears to promote one message, weakened but not destroyed through the substitution of Caccini’s music for Euridice, while Caccini’s own opera presents a much weaker reflection of the libretto’s original implications.

2. The Literary and Dramatic Precedents of Rinuccini’s Euridice

2.1 Since the two composers set more or less the same libretto, any study of characterization must begin there. Rinuccini would have found himself faced with a significant challenge when creating Euridice, for although the classical and Renaissance humanist traditions provided him with ample sources for the construction of Orfeo, a Eurydice who speaks before her first death was without poetic precedent. Although even Rinuccini’s Euridice is markedly reticent, delivering only 27 of the opera’s nearly 800 lines, in the versions of Ovid, Virgil, and Poliziano, she is nearly mute. She utters a solitary “vale” in Ovid as Orpheus’s backward glance precipitates her return to the underworld.8 The Eurydice of Virgil’s Georgics expands Ovid’s matter-of-fact farewell into a full-blown lament:9

Illa quis et me inquit miseram et te perdidit, Orpheu,
quis tantus furor? En iterum crudelia retro
fata vocant conditque natantia lumina somnus.
Iamque vale: feror ingenti circumdata nocte
invalidasque tibi tendens, heu! non tua, palmas. (Georgics, 4.494–98)


She cried: “What madness, Orpheus, what dreadful madness has brought disaster alike upon you and me, poor soul? See, again the cruel Fates call me back, and sleep seals my swimming eyes. And now farewell! I am borne away, covered in night’s vast pall, and stretching towards you strengthless hands, regained, alas! No more.”


In Poliziano’s favola, even though Eurydice appears in an earlier scene, the confrontation with and flight from Aristeo which leads indirectly to her death, she remains silent until, like her literary predecessors, she laments her final separation from her husband:

Ohimè che’l troppo amore
n’ha disfatti ambedua.
Ecco ch’i’ ti son tolta a gran furore,
né sono ormai più tua;
ben tendo a te le braccia, ma non vale
che’ndrieto [sic] son tirata. Orfeo mio, vale.
(Fabula di Orfeo, lines 306–311).10


Alas, that too great a love
has undone both of us.
Behold that I am taken from you by a great fury;
I am nearly no longer yours.
Truly I stretch my arms to you, but to no avail,
for I am pulled backward. My Orpheus, farewell.


2.2 Rinuccini would have found more helpful precedents in contemporary dramatic works, not only pastorals but also learned comedies, many of whose character types and situations found their way into Arcadia in the shared “theatergrams” studied by Louise Clubb.11 Comedies were, of course, understood to reflect contemporary urban life more closely than were pastorals, which were concerned with the imitation of a higher truth, but in both genres, the Renaissance concept of decorum, by which a character’s speech was congruent with his station in life, determined by age, class, moral status, and occupation, governed playwrights’ choices. This both reflected and reinforced the experiences and values of the audience, particularly at the Medici court, at which strict etiquette based on hierarchy determined the nature of all social interactions.12 In dramatic works, decorum dictated that speech should separate the soldier from the scholar and the master from the servant. Girolamo Mei made a similar point in his “Trattato sopra la prosa toscana,” while Jacopo Soldani delivered the first part of an oration “sopra il Decoro della Commedia” to the Accademia degli Alterati in June of 1600.13

2.3 These principles also suggest that dramatic poets treated their male and female characters differently. According to Stefano Guazzo, whose La civil conversatione enjoyed continued popularity during the second half of the sixteenth century, a commonly heard aphorism enjoined women from speaking like men.14 Certainly notions of decorum influenced the dramatic treatment of the modest ingenue character type known as the giovane innamorata, which remained a staple of sixteenth-century Italian comedies.15 Such a character should be a model of chastity, manifested outwardly by modesty in dress and speech, and Italian comedies—Florentine comedies in particular, possibly stemming from their close reliance on their classical Roman models—often reflected this preoccupation by limiting the on-stage presence of young, high born female characters.16 Of course, the typical scenery for such a comedy would have depicted an outdoor location, just the sort of public venue from which young Florentine women were discouraged. In many cases throughout the sixteenth century, these nubile female characters—some of them title characters—did not appear on stage at all, but rather their words and activities were narrated by someone else. When she did appear on stage, such a character would more typically participate in dialogues than deliver expressive, self-revelatory soliloquies.17

2.4 Although in theory the pastoral drama represented a more utopian world than its urban counterpart, it did borrow many of erudite comedy’s topoi and character types, including the nubile maiden. She appears as Silvia in Tasso’s Aminta, a work which tops the list of Rinuccini’s pastoral models.18 Silvia is visible on stage only twice, and in both instances she speaks only to another female character.19 She never interacts directly with Aminta on stage, but rather, their conversations are always narrated after the fact. Silvia furthermore asserts her modesty on numerous occasions, and Aminta’s misinterpretation of reserve for hatred propels him to the plot’s catastrophe. In Rinuccini’s three most famous libretti, a direct correlation also emerges between a title character’s station, that is, age, birth, and temperament, and her presence on stage: the virginal Dafne appears in only one scene, while Arianna, the sexually experienced “fallen” woman, speaks in four. In between, Euridice, the inexperienced young wife (her snakebite occurred before the consummation of her marriage, as Orfeo’s first speech makes clear) appears twice on stage, in the opening scene as she celebrates with her friends, and at the opera’s conclusion as she attempts to convince these same companions that Orfeo has rescued her from the underworld. Like Tasso’s Silvia, she never addresses Orfeo directly.20

2.5 Euridice’s poetic structure reflects her simplicity of character; she delivers her first recitative, “Donne, ch’a miei diletti,”using only two rhyme endings for the speech’s seven lines, a paucity that occurs just this once in all of Rinuccini’s libretti:

a          Donne, ch’a’ miei diletti
B         Rasserenate sì lo sguardo, e’l volto,
a          Che dentr’a vostri petti
B         Tutto rassembra il mio gioir raccolto,
b          Deh come lieta ascolto
A         I dolci canti, e gli amorosi detti
A         D’amor, di cortesia graditi affetti.

(lines 54–60)


Ladies, who at my pleasures
[you] so brighten up your gaze and your face,
so that within your breasts
everything resembles my collected joy,
Oh, how happily I listen
to the sweet songs and the amorous sayings
of love, pleasant affections of kindness.


Euridice’s uncomplicated rhyme scheme distinguishes the nymph from her more eloquent husband, a point which Rinuccini confirms in the opera’s final scene, as Orpheus explains how his rhetorical virtuosity won over the god of the underworld ( “Modi or soavi hor mesti;”). He describes his methods in his first four lines, no two of which share a rhyme.

a          Modi or soavi hor mesti,
B         Fervidi preghi, e flebili sospiri
c          Temprai si dolci, ch’io
D         Nell’implacabil cor destai pietate;
d          Così l’alma beltate
C         Fù mercé, fù trofeo del canto mio.

(lines 725–30)


With modes now sweet, now sad,
I tempered fervid prayers and weak sighs
so sweetly, that I
aroused pity in the implacable heart.
Thus the beautiful spirit
was my reward, was [the] trophy of my song.


By contrast, Euridice’s avoidance of verbal complexity confirms her modesty.21 Neither Peri nor Caccini contradicts musically Euridice’s essential modesty, but their differing approaches to dramatic music yield two distinct shadings of the Euridice character as drawn by Rinuccini.

3. Peri and Caccini’s Differing Treatments of Euridice in Scene 1

3.1 Commentators since Pietro de’ Bardi—who contrasted Peri’s greater science to Caccini’s superior elegance—have observed significant differences in the two composers’ approach to recitative.22Caccini’s music for Euridice emerges as more tuneful, including more extensive melismas and a narrower harmonic range. He notates the declamatory rhythm with much less precision than Peri, and of the two composers, Caccini observes the poetic structure more faithfully, following the prescriptions of his mentor Giovanni de’ Bardi,23 and he often concludes line endings with the repeated-note articulations reminiscent of earlier aria formulas. Peri’s musical choices seem designed to render audible the dramatic aspects of the libretto; consequently, he delineates the characters with greater distinction than his rival.

3.2 The musical language of early seventeenth-century Florentine opera allows for a number of techniques by which a composer might represent traits such as self-control, resolve, and agency, as well as immoderation, vacillation, and passivity. Composers created characters musically through the presence or absence of conventions such as florid or otherwise tuneful singing or expressive recitative. For example, the sudden harmonic juxtapositions, chromaticism, dissonance, affective use of rhythm, and rhetorical figures that characterize the most expressive recitatives typically coincide with those moments during which a character possesses the least self-control, not only mirroring immoderation but helping to construct it.24

3.3 The degree to which a character’s vocal line participates in the underlying harmonic scheme can also influence the audience’s perception of that character as either possessing or lacking control and agency. Tonally directed vocal lines which reinforce a clear harmonic plan, formally articulated by means of V–I cadences with ^2-^1 motion in the voice, termed “attention-getting” by Margaret Murata, create an aural sense of purpose, and when used to deliver a forceful text they can impart assertiveness to the character singing.25 By extension, other means of harmonic articulation may highlight a character’s helplessness, for example thwarted cadences, in which a suspension inflects the underlying harmonic direction toward a cadence only to be derailed when the vocal line does not or cannot participate. Cadences can thereby function as barometers of musical control, and in combination with other musical parameters such as melodic range, singing style, and harmonic vocabulary might have provided composers with a means of delineating a character’s status, age, and sometimes, gender.

3.4 An examination of the two scores of Euridice reveals that both composers tended to treat nymphs and shepherds, both the generic and named ones, such as Dafne, Tirsi, Aminta, and Arcetro, as members of a single category without further distinction by gender (table 1).26 The chorus nymphs and Dafne make strong cadences with the same frequency as their male counterparts. All of these pastoral characters tend to deliver their speeches within the melodic range of a sixth to an octave, and with the exception of Dafne, whose expressive narrative of the events surrounding Euridice’s death requires a wider vocabulary, the harmonic range of these recitatives is typically limited to a single hexachord.27

3.5 Aside from these general similarities, however, Caccini employs a narrower musical, and by extension, dramatic range in nearly every parameter. His characters rarely exceed the melodic range of an octave, he composes only three speeches with a harmonic range greater than two hexachords, and he limits to a relatively narrow band the frequency with which his characters make strong cadences during their speeches. By contrast, Peri’s more dramatic score features five instances in which a character exceeds the two hexachord harmonic boundary, including one instance of a four-hexachord speech, and the degree to which his characters display their harmonic control through cadences varies from 11 to 41 percent.

3.6 Surprisingly, Euridice emerges in Peri’s score as the character with the highest percentage of strong cadences: 41 percent of her lines end with the type of V–I cadence described above. But this percentage reflects the average for the entire opera. In her first scene cadences conclude only 31 percent of her lines, rendering her closer to the scene’s other characters. The much higher frequency of cadential closure in her final scene accounts for the high overall percentage, a topic to which I will return.

3.7 Caccini’s musical characterization of Euridice in his opera’s opening scene confirms her position as one of the Thracian nymphs. He confines her recitatives in this scene to a single hexachord, and her vocal line never exceeds the range of a sixth. Affective dissonance is understandably absent.28 In her second speech (example 1a), she confirms her involvement in the musical celebration of her friends by matching the isorhythmic pattern which begins line 1 and both halves of line 2, to a similar songlike melodic patterning which culminates in the half cadence to C. With her extensive melodic ornamentation in the final line Euridice truly participates in the happy carols and dances.

3.8 Peri’s setting of this text creates a more distinctive Euridice (example 1b). Forceful dotted rhythms and an arch-shaped melodic line replace the patterned tunefulness of Caccini’s Euridice. Her final melisma is very much shorter. Peri’s Euridice also stands slightly apart musically from the surrounding nymphs and shepherds in this scene, at once more expressive and more controlled than her friends, as demonstrated in her opening recitative, the speech mentioned earlier which contains only two rhymes (example 2a). Peri divides the recitative into two sections, the first of which functions as an anticipatory relative clause to the actual subject of the sentence. In her vocative opening Euridice separates the “donne” from her description of them, and she traverses an identical harmonic path for each of the relative clauses which follow, building forward momentum by means of circle-of-fifths motion (D–G–C). The first relative clause concludes on D approached by a C-sharp diminished triad, while the D conclusion of the second clause then resolves to G, punctuated by decisive ^2-^1 motion in the melodic line. Euridice matches this clarity of harmonic progression with a decisive scalar descent, which propels her to the first cadence (mm. 9–10).

3.9 But this Euridice can be moved by emotion, demonstrated by the sudden syncopation at “Deh,” as well as by the unexpected turn to B-flat, the flattest chord in her hexachord. Once again her harmonic underpinning moves by fifth (B-flat–F–C–G–D), interrupted only briefly by the expressive dissonance at “lieta” (m. 11). The second half of Euridice’s speech privileges syntax over poetic structure. Peri links by enjambment line 5 and the first half of line 6, that is, the first component of a compound direct object, while the second half of that line and its prepositional phrase “d’amor” also form a single musical phrase. Euridice delivers her entire last line in a melodic descent directed toward the D final, and the underlying harmonies provide additional momentum to the final cadence. By contrast, the static harmonies and triadic melodic writing of Caccini’s setting (example 2b) offer a much less purposeful character.

4. Euridice’s Other Female Characters

4.1 Although Peri does separate Euridice musically from her pastoral companions, neither of her scene 1 recitatives portrays her as extraordinarily eloquent or commanding—qualities of speech that would have been considered inappropriate for a young woman inexperienced in worldly matters. But female characters of noble birth might act and speak with greater freedom than a lowly nymph. This view resonates with an argument under debate in the contemporaneous querelle des femmes, for example Torquato Tasso’s assurances to the duchess of Mantua that, unlike urban housewives or sheltered gentlewomen, her imperial and heroic blood made her heir to a virtù equal to the “virili virtù” of her male ancestors.29 Once again respecting the conventions of decorum, Rinuccini reserved the type of language that would characterize either a commanding or seductive woman to female characters who ranked higher than Euridice in the work’s socially-stratified world: Proserpina, whose presence but not influence Rinuccini borrowed from Poliziano, and Venus, the goddess whose intervention in the drama represents an accretion to the classical sources. The two goddesses appear only in scene 4, and the same singer probably sang both roles.30 In Rinuccini’s version of the myth the two actively promote Orfeo’s cause: Venus delivers him to the underworld and suggests a course of action, while Proserpina helps persuade Pluto by means of seductive rhetoric. Their actions make these two goddesses the only female characters who influence the course of the drama.

4.2 Although Caccini’s characters are drawn with less clarity than those of Peri, nevertheless both composers use musical means to characterize the strength and agency of these high-ranking female personages. Their speeches avoid melodic excess: in Caccini’s setting Venus never exceeds the range of a minor sixth (f'-sharp–d''), while Peri similarly restricts her to a major sixth (d'–b' and f'–d''). The more expansive nature of Proserpina’s speech requires a slight extension of range, to a seventh by Peri and an octave in the Caccini setting. Their moderation in melodic range is matched by a narrow harmonic vocabulary: each of the composers’ three scenes for these two characters occurs within a single hexachord. This restraint gains in intensity when compared to Orfeo’s speeches in the same scene: in Peri’s setting of “Funeste piagge,” for example, Orfeo’s harmonic vocabulary is the most extreme of the opera, ranging from C minor to B major.

4.3 Rinuccini’s decision to cast the mythological personage of Venus as Orfeo’s escort to the underworld may stem from a subtype of pastoral drama in which deities, often Venus or Diana, intervene in human affairs and resolve disputes involving love.31 Rinuccini might also have been influenced by the Florentine Neoplatonist Marsilio Ficino, who claimed to have derived his definition of love partly from Orpheus. According to Ficino, love

is a voluntary death, bitter because it is death, sweet because it is voluntary. The lover dies by forgetting and abandoning himself, and lives again in the beloved. … In reciprocal love there is a death when the lover dies to himself, but there are two resurrections—the first when his love is returned and the second when he finds himself again in the object of his love. …32

As the goddess of love, Rinuccini’s Venus leads Orfeo to a similar love-death, which in turn precipitates a second resurrection. She is similarly Ficino’s authoritative goddess, capable of dominating even Mars.33 In her first speech she commands her young charge to arm his soul with strength and hope (“arma di speme, e di fortezza l’alma”), while in her second and final recitative she uses the imperative no fewer than five times in twelve lines, first ordering Orfeo to look around him, then to release his noble song. She even recommends a strategy: “prega, sospira, e plora”—a suggestion Orfeo obeys with success. In Peri’s setting Venus punctuates these assertions of her will by frequent strong cadences.

4.4 While Venus demonstrates agency through commanding speech, Proserpina exerts her will using seductive rhetoric. Her nine-line speech constitutes but a single, complex sentence, as she weaves an elaborate grammatical construction that first flatters Pluto, then reminds him of the joys of sexual love, playing on his own status as a lover in order that he might yield to Orfeo’s request.34 Once again Peri’s setting has priority, both chronologically and dramatically (example 3). Proserpina begins her appeal on the A harmony that concluded Orfeo’s previous recitative, and she reiterates his argument. She leaps up to the root of the chord in an appropriately solemn rhythm, and she continues to appeal to Pluto’s majesty by echoing his own musical thumbprint, an ascending triad in stately rhythm, duplicating the musical means by which Orfeo, in his role as astute courtier, first addressed the god of the underworld (example 4). She affirms her love for Pluto and pauses expectantly on an E-major chord (example3, mm. 14–15) before beginning the conditional clauses by which she attempts to establish a logical relationship between her love for Pluto and Orfeo’s love for Euridice. In her first supposition she draws out the E-major chord before concluding with circle-of-fifths motion to D. Her second assumption also proceeds to D but from the flatter direction. Proserpina then makes the link between these two situations by using this shared D to initiate an extended cadence to G at the implied “then” statement, “di si gentil’amante acqueta l’pianto.” The melodic climax of her recitative coincides with her description of Orfeo (m. 28), after which her melodic line reverses course in a carefully directed descent toward the final cadence.

4.5 Caccini’s setting is certainly indebted to Peri’s (example 5). He also separates the opening vocative from the rest of the line, here given added emphasis by its harmonization as a V–I cadence. By contrast to his typical method, Caccini continues to break the poetic lines for expressive purposes, for example, connecting the remainder of line 1 to the first half of line 2 through enjambment, allowing Proserpina to make the causal association between her husband’s face and her own satisfaction, which she punctuates seductively by the pause on “si.” Proserpina’s deliberate stepwise motion to b'-flat in line 2 expands joyfully to c'' in line 3 before the melodic line drops down to participate in the recitative’s first strong cadence.

4.6 Caccini’s Proserpina becomes even more expressive in the second half of her recitative. Leaving Orfeo to appeal to Pluto’s sense of hearing, Proserpina concentrates instead on taste and touch, reminding her husband of their shared erotic pleasures. She deliberately draws out her seduction, ascending slowly first from d' to a', then from f'-sharp to b'-flat, finally reaching c'' as she sings of her breast’s sweet nectar, which quenches Pluto’s amorous thirst. Her second “if” statement also reaches its climax on c'' as the goddess reminds Pluto of her hair’s sweet bonds. Like Peri, Caccini ends each of these “if” statements with a half cadence to D, but he does not then use the D to make a logical progression to a G final. He does, however, link the two “if” statements to the “then” conclusion by at first appearing to reiterate the ascent from f'-sharp then surpassing the c'' boundary to reach the d'' which is the melodic highpoint of the recitative, a climax which also coincides with Proserpina’s description of Orfeo as a “gentile amante.”

5. The Musical Characterization of Orfeo

5.1 But, of course, Orfeo is much more than merely a polite lover: he is the opera’s principal character, who not only delivers the highest percentage of the work’s poetic lines but also effects the plot’s resolution. As he did with Euridice, Rinuccini invests Orfeo’s opening statement with numerous clues to his character. “Antri ch’a miei lamenti,” his first recitative, is, at 22 lines, one of the demigod’s longest speeches in the libretto, second only to “Funeste piaggi” and nearly as long as Euridice’s entire part. Rinuccini divides the speech into three sections, the first addressed to anthropomorphized objects of nature, the second to gods and goddesses, namely Apollo and Venus, and the third to Euridice herself. The confident Orfeo, thus, appears godlike when delineating the domains over which he exerts influence, that is, the natural, celestial, and human realms. The speech also bears a metonymic relationship to the larger plot, which moves from nature to the realm of gods and goddesses and concludes with an emphasis on the human. In other words, Orfeo is central to both the plot’s details and its construction.

5.2 Orfeo is also the most fully developed of the characters.35 His speeches employ the widest emotional range, from the stunned disbelief of “Non piango e non sospiro” to the rejoicing of “Gioite al canto mio,” and from the regained momentum of “Tosto vedrai” to the wrenching lament of “Funeste piaggi.” From his first appearance, Orfeo demonstrates his abilities as an orator, and Rinuccini’s use of the word “rimbombare” in three of his principal speeches confirms that Orfeo’s self-identity resides in sound. He explicitly credits his eloquence with his success, acknowledging to his friends at the opera’s conclusion that what appeared to be a complete loss of control was actually a calculated attempt to achieve his goal.

5.3 Rinuccini’s emphasis on Orfeo as a forceful and persuasive orator has its clearest demonstration in scene 4, in many ways the highpoint of the drama.36 In this scene the demigod persuades Pluto to relinquish Euridice to the world of the living. Within the demands of verisimilitude this scene is crucial, for the audience must see, or better, hear, that Orfeo actually triumphs over Pluto, the opera’s central message. To achieve this end, Rinuccini’s libretto depicts a resourceful rhetorician, who is able to muster at least three separate arguments in favor of his position. Expanding Poliziano’s version of this scene, Rinuccini’s Orfeo first reminds Pluto of his own love pangs for Proserpina, then argues that his request for Euridice’s return only amounts to a stay in the inevitability of death, and in an argument that introduces a debate on the nature of absolute power, he proposes that a just ruler may break his own laws in service to a higher good. Rinuccini distributes these arguments over five speeches, the first three of which gradually expand in length, culminating in the 20-line “Ahi! Che pur d’ogni legge,” Orfeo’s third longest passage in the opera. The length of Orfeo’s speeches places him in direct contrast with the overly terse Pluto, and in his final speech in this scene, Orfeo confirms that this was, in fact, his intent: “Oh how fortunate [were] my sweet sighs, oh well-shed tears.” Orfeo’s speeches contain the rhetorical devices that demonstrate his skillful wielding of orator’s techniques: in his first speech he draws out the vocative in acknowledgment of his opponent’s stature (example 4); in speech two he attempts to strengthen his argument and wear down his adversary by repetition, exclaiming the imperative “rendi” three times in four lines; in speech three he combines exclamation with large-scale organization by means of a textual refrain; in speech four he employs both anaphora and antistrophe; and in speech five he appropriates Pluto’s rhymes and inverts them for his own purposes.37

5.4 A comparison of the scene as set by both composers demonstrates that Peri appears to have been more inclined than Caccini to use musical indexes of emotion and forcefulness. One of the clearest distinctions between Peri and Caccini’s handling of this scene involves its tonal plan. Both composers establish G as the opera’s central final, using it to conclude each scene and the majority of individual sections of recitative. In scene 4 of Peri’s version of the opera, the differences between Orfeo and Pluto are made audible by an equivalent contrast of final cadence. Each of Pluto’s first five speeches ends on C, as the god firmly demonstrates his inability or unwillingness to grant Orfeo’s request. Orfeo is equally tenacious, however, asserting the preeminence of the G final with which he concludes four of his five speeches.38 Peri mirrors Pluto’s ultimate concession by concluding his final speech in F, and Orfeo’s celebratory “O fortunati miei” appropriates Pluto’s F and carries it to his own tonal realm of G. By contrast, Caccini sets this confrontation using the same methods he employed in previous scenes, that is, with an emphasis on tonal continuity achieved by beginning each recitative on the concluding harmony of the previous speech. As a result, Caccini’s Orfeo seems reactive, as opposed to the more forceful characterization suggested by Peri.

5.5 Similar differences of musical characterization occur throughout the opera. Caccini confines his Orfeo to the d–d' octave, often limiting his melodic range to a mere fifth or sixth, while Peri’s Orfeo extends from d–f', with speeches typically outlining a seventh or octave. All but one of Orfeo’s speeches in Caccini’s musical depiction of the supposedly eloquent hero remain within a narrow harmonic range, never exceeding a single hexachord. Over the course of Caccini’s opera, Orfeo never moves flatter than B-flat or sharper than D. Peri’s Orfeo exceeds Caccini’s in both directions, with speeches composed of two, and as many as four hexachords, and harmonic extremes of E-flat and B major. His Orfeo thus emerges as both powerful and eloquent, using tonal planning to assert his will yet able to harness musical expressivity in his efforts to persuade his opponent. A brief comparison of the two versions of Orfeo’s final recitative reveals how the two composers’ musical choices create two very different characters. In this final scene Orfeo assumes the role of teacher; he answers his friends’ questions and reiterates the details of his heroic adventure. In Peri’s setting, that is, the version of October 6, questions are posed to Orfeo punctuated by inconclusive half-cadences, which contrast with the strong cadential conclusions of Orfeo’s answers. His final reply is his longest, an important response to Arcetro’s query as to his methods (example 6a). Orfeo confirms explicitly that his ability to persuade Pluto stemmed directly from his skill as an orator, and he reveals to his friends the same type of musical control he used to convince the powerful god: line 1 and the first half of line 2 follow a single-minded harmonic trajectory, moving from C, that is, appropriating the concluding harmony of the previous question, through F then to B-flat. He repeats the forceful opening dactyl at “fervidi preghi” then halfway through the line he demonstrates his ability to reverse strategy without warning, as a sudden chromatic bass ascent replaces its earlier motion by fifth. Melodically the dactyls give way to syncopation on “flebili,” followed by a monotone, colorless g. Orfeo resumes his more assertive vocal line at “temprai,” reinforced by the bass’s reiteration of its earlier motion from C to B-flat. The strong cadence on the grammatically incomplete “ch’io” allows Orfeo to heighten anticipation for his answer, while in line 4 the two melodic descents of a fifth (d'–g then c'–f) clothe an extended cadence to F, marked by faster bass motion. The flatter F, possibly an allusion to the underworld, acts now as part of an extended cadence to G, as the harmonies ascend through the circle-of-fifths from F to D before reversing direction for the strong concluding cadence. Orfeo melodically and harmonically affirms the trophy he has won through eloquence.

5.6 By contrast, Caccini’s version of this final speech does not provide evidence of Orfeo’s skill as an orator (example 6b). Like Peri’s setting, the recitative begins with forceful dactyls, and harmonic motion by fifths does create forward momentum, but without reproducing the eloquence that led to Orfeo’s success. Whereas Peri’s Orfeo makes a dramatic pause before his peroration (m. 10) and reserves the final iteration of d' to highlight his trophy, the overly repetitious anapests that dominate Caccini’s setting of these final lines minimize the heroic impact of Rinuccini’s verse.

6. Euridice as Orfeo’s Wife

6.1 Peri’s Orfeo emerges not only as the superior orator but as the most fully realized of the opera’s characters. His wide range of musical styles demonstrates not only his capacity for grief and joy, but more importantly, his ability to control both his dramatic and musical surroundings. In Peri’s score the Euridice who returns in the opera’s final scene confirms her husband’s superhuman achievement, and she does so using his musical language. The naive nymph has returned as a wife, and her speech recalls the prescriptions of sixteenth-century marriage treatises, whose authors typically exhort wives to reflect their husbands’ images, often using unambiguous terms such a “mirror” or “chameleon.”39 Even Sperone Speroni, often cited as an advocate of women, advised wives that their husbands ought to guide their voices.40 Juan Luis Vives’s recommendation that a wife should be “one person with her husband,” directing both her thoughts and words to the goal of demonstrating that the two are of one flesh, seems to finds its aural counterpart in Euridice’s music of this final scene.41 In her first two speeches of this scene she uses imperative commands five times, three of them in successive lines. Her final commands, “riconoscete omai gl’usati accenti,” and “udite il suon di queste voci amiche” explicitly call attention to her own speech.

6.2 Peri’s music for these two speeches clearly demonstrates Euridice’s newfound assertiveness. In example 7a, Euridice concludes each of the first two lines with a strong cadence, first to G, then to A. The rhythmic squareness of her declamation, unusual for Peri, underscores the forceful assertion created by her immediate repetition of “quella,” the rhetorical figure of epizeuxis, in line 1.42 Although Peri locates the entire recitative within the durus system, he regularly introduces B-flat accidentals during the first line, clearing them away at line 2 as if in obedience to Euridice’s “sgombrate” command. This line’s concluding cadence to A major, preceded by its dominant, indicates a shift in hexachord, making this short recitative Euridice’s only speech to extend over two hexachords, a widened harmonic vocabulary more often associated with her husband. Its harmonic extremes, G minor and E major, are also the two chords whose sudden juxtaposition in scene 2 mirrored the harshness of her misfortune. She appropriates the musical symbols of her death and enlists them in service to the strong cadences that punctuate her commands. Similar cadences also distinguish her second recitative in this scene, as she persuades her companions that she lives (example 7b). She accentuates the “mirate” command which begins lines 3 and 5 through the rhetorical device of gradatio, emphasizing first the pitch d'' then e''-flat for its repetition, concluding the section with a strong cadence to B-flat.43 In lines 6–7 she commands her friends to take notice of her voice, but their bewilderment is understandable, since her more forceful style of declamation, achieved principally through strong accents and dotted note figures, bears little resemblance to her speech patterns of scene 1. In support of this assertive declamation, the underlying harmonies move insistently by fifth to propel Euridice to her final cadence.

6.3 But of course the audience on October 6 would have heard something different, since Giulio Caccini supplied Euridice’s music for that performance. Like Peri’s setting of her first speech in this scene, Caccini’s Euridice calls attention to the repetition of “quella” through spondaic rhythms (example 8a). She also punctuates her command “sgombrate” with a leap up to the highest pitch in the recitative. But her speech lacks the harmonic clarity of the Peri Euridice: her recitative is without a single strong cadence, and while the “sgombrate” command is colored by a move to the sharp end of the hexachord, it lacks the pungent effect of the shift in hexachord which characterizes Peri’s setting of the text. Similarly, the squareness of rhythm in Caccini’s setting of the speech is so typical of his declamatory style in general that it loses its effectiveness as a depiction of Euridice’s changed identity.

6.4 Caccini seems to have given Euridice a clearer sense of purpose in her second speech of this scene (example 8b). He mirrors the forcefulness of Rinuccini’s short, direct sentences by concluding nearly every poetic line with a cadence, although in only the final line does the voice move purposefully with ^2-^1 melodic motion. Caccini does give Euridice’s speech a forward moving momentum, which he achieves by both harmonic and melodic means. The harmonic progression that supports line 2 through the beginning of line 5 consists of a series of chords built on descending fifths from A to B-flat, creating a teleological progression to the B-flat major chord that signals a shift to a new hexachord and strengthens the second of Euridice’s “mirate” commands. Euridice’s melodic line exhibits similar control and direction. After a monotone beginning, a dotted-note pattern confirms that she lives and breathes, while the rhythmically elongated “io” creates the first point of arrival. This b' gives way immediately to c'' at the important command “mirate,” and this c'' remains the melodic high point of the next two lines. Caccini treats Euridice’s repeat of the “mirate” command as a gradatio, so that she reaches the recitative’s melodic climax on d'', then links her command to its intended audience, “donne,” by pitch repetition. Euridice underscores her “riconoscete” and “udite” commands by means of descending circle-of-fifths harmonies, calling attention to her powers of speech through rhythmic emphasis on the words “udite” and “voci,” while the slightly tuneful shape of her final melodic line allows her to present evidence of her “voci amiche.”

6.5 Although the two composers differ in degree and approach, both of these speeches confirm Orfeo’s success, not merely by Euridice’s presence, but by her words. Thus Rinuccini exorcizes the effect of Eurydice’s laments in the traditional sources, all of which call attention to Orpheus’s failure. Rinuccini makes this point even more explicit in Euridice’s final recitative of the opera, when, in answer to a nymph’s question of how she could be alive, she delivers the matter-of-fact declaration “Tolsemi Orfeo del tenebroso regno” (“Orpheus took me away from the gloomy realm”). Rinuccini’s choice of the word “togliere,” a verb suggesting forceful action, recalls Poliziano’s use of the same verb in Eurydice’s lament (“Ecco ch’i’ ti son tolta a gran furore”), verified by Orpheus (“Ohime, se’ mi tu tolta”). By appropriating and neutralizing this verb, Rinuccini confirms that Florence’s new Orpheus has indeed surpassed his humanistic ancestor.44

6.6 Both Caccini and Peri realized the importance of Euridice’s single-line affirmation of Orfeo’s valor. In Caccini’s setting Euridice begins her answer on the C harmony which had concluded the half-cadence of the preceding question, then takes it to its proper resolution to the F final whose strong cadence lends emphasis to her statement (example 8c). The directional nature of this passage’s harmonic progression is somewhat diluted, however, by the arch-shaped melodic contour which then necessitates a leap of a fifth at “tenebroso” in order to reach the proper pitch for the concluding cadence.

6.7 Once again Peri offers a much more purposeful Euridice (example 7c). In this version the previous question had moved to the sharp end of the natural hexachord, concluding with a cadence to A. With great deliberation Peri’s Euridice guides this sharp extreme back to the neutral realm of happy endings, treating A as the dominant of D, then moving by fifth motion through G, then C, and finally cadencing on F. Her vocal line clarifies her statement’s meaning, first through the stress on the initial syllable of the dactylic “tolsemi” created by leaping down a fourth on the weak syllables, then by the rhythmic emphasis which proclaims her liberator, “Orfeo.” The deliberate descent from c'' to f' preceding the final cadence underscores Euridice’s clarity of purpose in this, her final utterance.

6.8 Peri and Caccini’s differing approaches to characterization lead to three different operas. Caccini’s more homogenous approach to musical characterization creates an idealized pastoral world whose occupants sing in the same musical style, characterized by relatively narrow melodic ranges and extraordinarily limited harmonic vocabularies. When this Euridice is paired with Peri’s Orfeo, as happened on October 6, the more passive Euridice blends in musically with the opera’s other secondary characters but stands in stark relief against the emotional and harmonic extremes of Peri’s Orfeo. By contrast, Peri’s creation of a musically distinct Euridice, one whose musical style ultimately mirrors that of her husband, allows the character to emerge as the true and legitimate spouse of Arcadia’s foremost orator.

7. L’Euridice and its Political Implications

7.1 Peri’s creation of a well-suited pair may shed light on the opera’s political allegory. L’Euridice did not follow the traditional path of encomiastic spectacle, in contrast to other works performed as part of the wedding festivities. Guarini’s Dialogo di Giunone e Minerva and Chiabrera’s Il rapimento di Cefalo both not only made direct references to the bridal couple but also offered explicit praise to Grand Duke Ferdinando, the recognized architect of the event.45 The lack of overt praise in Euridice may have contributed to the reasons why the 1608 festivities saw no repeat of the experiment.46 But the opera’s subtler approach to allegory did have important repercussions, as later Florentine operas demonstrate. Explicit praise and symbolism ultimately gave way to multivalent messages in which an opera’s plot could symbolize responses to historical events and assert a ruler’s legitimacy by constructing personifications of the attributes with which he wanted to identify publicly. Barbara Hanning has suggested that a long-standing connection between the Medici family and Orpheus influenced Rinuccini’s choice of subject, while Bojan Bujic has argued convincingly that Orfeo may have been intended as a symbolic representation of Ferdinando.47 Central to both arguments is the existence of Agnolo Bronzino’s portrait of Ferdinando’s father Cosimo I as Orpheus, a painting probably executed for Cosimo’s own wedding of 1539 (figure 1).48 The painting represents a significant deviation from Cosimo’s usual preference for militaristic images in his self fashioning, most commonly Augustus and Hercules, but its derivation from the Belvedere Torso, a statue which in the Renaissance was believed to represent Hercules, renders even this unusual portrait consistent with Cosimo’s desire to present himself in heroic guise.49

7.2 Bronzino’s muscular subject may emphasize Orpheus the virile lover, but the true strength of the Orpheus symbol was its multivalence. Orpheus had often been viewed as analogous to the Old Testament David, a figure with strong Florentine associations as a symbol of good government.50 Orpheus was also a peacemaker and a symbol of balance, and as such his presence in 1600 could not have been more appropriate.51 Among the most important of Grand Duke Ferdinando’s political acts during the first years of his rule was the restoration of Florence’s equilibrium between the European super powers of France and Spain.52 His own marriage to Christine of Lorraine in 1589 was a step in this direction, and the wedding of 1600 marked the culmination of thirteen years’ work, whose notable achievements included conspicuous involvement in Henri IV’s conversion to Catholicism, Henri’s assumption of the French crown, and the negotiation of the Treaty of Vervins between France and Spain in 1598.53

7.3 The frequency with which Rinuccini’s Orfeo reminds us of his powers over nature also reiterates another of the grand duke’s central concerns. Affirmation of his control over nature remained a prevailing theme of Ferdinando’s self-presentation, evident in improvement projects ranging from draining marshes and fortifying the port at Livorno to assisting the city’s silk industry by arranging for the planting of mulberry trees between Florence and the cities of Pisa and Pistoia.54 Two such projects—Ferdinando’s inspection of the fortification of Livorno’s harbor and the restoration of Pisa’s aqueduct—appear among the predominantly militaristic images in the “Life of Ferdinando I” engravings which Ferdinando’s widow commissioned from Jacques Callot in 1611 (figure 2 and figure 3).55

7.4 But whom does Euridice represent? I would argue that she stands not so much for Marie de’ Medici as for Florence itself, following a long-established tradition—strongly influenced by the fifth-century accounts of Boethius and Fulgentius—of treating Eurydice as an allegorical object, whose acquisition and subsequent loss reflect the abilities and character of Orpheus.56 Poliziano praised Ficino’s lyre for surpassing Orpheus’s instrument, based on the philosopher’s success at rescuing the true Eurydice, Platonic wisdom, from the underworld.57 Rinuccini’s Orpheus enjoys a similar triumph, so that while Euridice mirrors Orfeo’s character, instead of confirming his failure she demonstrates his virtù. The audience certainly would have noticed the opera’s deviation from its classical sources and might therefore have invested the alteration with particular meaning.58 One such interpretation might be summarized as follows: Ferdinando I, determined to reverse the close alliance with the Habsburgs that had dominated Medici foreign policy, single-handedly restores equilibrium to Florence by means of two French marriages, the second of which also carries the hope of restoring peace in France by means of Henri’s conversion. Florence expresses her joy at Ferdinando’s success and proclaims him the city’s true and legitimate ruler.

7.5 Like other Medici spectacles, Euridice celebrates not only a wedding but the political acumen of the reigning grand duke. Just as contemporaneous marriage manuals described the proper relationship between husband and wife using political metaphors, in Euridice Rinuccini allegorizes Florence’s political health by means of marital images. Orfeo demonstrates his control over the celestial, terrestrial, and subterranean worlds, but the independent confirmation of these powers comes from Euridice. And through his close attention to musical characterization, Jacopo Peri confirms his city’s close and pre-ordained relationship with the most popular of its grand dukes.


* Kelley Harness ( is Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Minnesota School of Music. She has recently completed the manuscript for a book entitled “Echoes of Women’s Voices: Female Patrons in Early Modern Florence.” In 1994, she won the American Musicological Society’s Paul A. Pisk Prize, and in 1991, she received a Fulbright Dissertation Grant for research in Italy.

1. Cristoforo Landino, preface to his commentary on Virgil’s Eclogues, in P. Vergilii opera cum commentario Christophori Landini (Florence, 1487), translation by Annabel Patterson, in her Pastoral and Ideology: Virgil to Valéry (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 75.

2. See Janet Cox-Rearick, Dynasty and Destiny in Medici Art: Pontormo, Leo X, and the Two Cosimos (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984); Anthony M. Cummings, The Politicized Muse: Music for Medici Festivals, 1512–1537 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992), esp. 15–92; Andrew C. Minor and Bonner Mitchell, A Renaissance Entertainment: Festivities for the Marriage of Cosimo I, Duke of Florence, in 1539 (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1968), 166–76; John Walter Hill, “Florence: Musical Spectacle and Drama, 1570–1650,” in The Early Baroque Era: From the Late Sixteenth Century to the 1660s, ed. Curtis Price (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1993), 121–45; James M. Saslow, The Medici Wedding of 1589: Florentine Festival as “Theatrum Mundi” (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); and Roy Strong, Art and Power: Renaissance Festivals, 1450–1650 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1984), 126–52.

3. Timothy J. McGee, “Orfeo and Euridice, the First Two Operas,” in Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 163–81: 163–64; and Warren Kirkendale, The Court Musicians in Florence during the Principate of the Medici, “Historiae Musicae Cultores” Biblioteca 61 (Florence: Leo S. Olschki, 1993), 202. While Tim Carter also asserts the political importance of early opera, he views Euridice as political primarily by analogy; that is, its claims of innovation reflected Ferdinando’s new foreign policy. Lacking the encomia typical of Medici court entertainments, Euridice’s subtler message was, Carter claims, unsuccessful as political allegory. See Carter, Music in Late Renaissance and Early Baroque Italy (London: B.T. Batsford, 1992), 204, 211–12.

4. The possibility for misinterpretation might have led Giovanni Bardi to object to Euridice’s plot, as reported by Cavalieri in the often quoted postscript, which Claude Palisca dates to 24 November 1600; see “Musical Asides in Cavalieri’s Correspondence,” The Musical Quarterly 49 (1963): 351–52; revised in Palisca, Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 403–404. Palisca (403, n. 56) also raises the possibility that Bardi here referred to both L’Euridice and Il rapimento, deeming Aurora’s seduction of “the unwilling mortal Cefalo” objectionable and Euridice’s tragic text unsuitable.

5. Throughout this article, I will use the Italian “Euridice” to refer to both the opera and its title character, reserving “Eurydice” for descriptions of the mythological character.

6. On the events surrounding the first performances, see Claude V. Palisca, “The First Performance of Euridice,” Twenty-fifth Anniversary Festschrift (1937–62), ed. Albert Mell (New York: Queens College of the City University of New York, 1964), 1–23; reprinted with introduction and revised footnotes in Palisca, Studies in the History of Italian Music and Music Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), 432–51. Additional information on casting has been uncovered by Timothy J. McGee, “Pompeo Caccini and Euridice: New Biographical Notes,” Renaissance and Reformation/Renaissance et Réform 26 (1990): 81–99. See also Tim Carter, “Non occorre nominare tanti musici: Private Patronage and Public Ceremony in Late Sixteenth-Century Florence,” I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance 4 (1991): 89–104; Kirkendale, Court Musicians, 202–10, 293–97; A[lois] M. Nagler, Theatre Festivals of the Medici, 1539–1637, trans. George Hickenlooper (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964), 93–100 (although some cast members are identified incorrectly); and Angelo Solerti, Musica, ballo e drammatica alla Corte Medicea dal 1600 al 1637: Notizie tratte da un diario, con appendice di testi inediti e rari (Florence: Bemporad & Figlio, 1905; reprint, New York: Benjamin Blom, 1968), 23–26. The court diarist, whose descriptions form the basis of Solerti’s work, incorrectly credits Emilio de’ Cavalieri with the composition of L’Euridice.

7. Performed on 5 December 1602, according to Mario Fabbri, in Fabbri, Elvira Garbeto Zorzi, and Anna Maria Petrioli Tofani, eds., Il luogo teatrale a Firenze (Milan: Electa Editrice, 1975), 144.

8. Ovid, Metamorphoses 10.62. I have used the Loeb Classical Library edition, trans. Frank Justus Miller, rev. by G. P. Goold, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1984). The story of Orpheus and Eurydice occurs in book 10.1–85.

9. Text and translation from Virgil, Eclogues, Georgics, Aeneid I–VI, trans. H. Rushton Fairclough, revised G. P. Goold, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999), 254–55.

10. Angelo Poliziano, Stanze, Orfeo, Rime, ed. Sergio Marconi (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1981), 149; this and all subsequent translations are mine. Eurydice’s speeches remain unchanged in the expanded version of ca. 1486 entitled Orphei tragoedia. On this work, which remained unpublished until 1776, see Nino Pirrotta, Music and the Theatre from Poliziano to Monteverdi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), 42–44. For an English translation of the 1776 version, see Louis E. Lord, trans., A Translation of the Orpheus of Angelo Politan and the Aminta of Torquato Tasso (London: Oxford University Press, 1931), 69–103.

11. Louise George Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), esp. 1–26, 121, 165.

12. Most histories of the Medici court mention this strict etiquette, usually attributed to the influence of Grand Duchess Eleonora of Toledo; see, for example, Saslow, The Medici Wedding of 1589, 13–14.

13. On the Mei quote see Barbara Russano Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power: Humanism and the Creation of Opera, Studies in Musicology 13 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1980), 35–40. The Soldani lecture is listed in the Alterati’s Diario (I-Fl Ashburnham 558, vol. 2, fol. 106v), cited in Bernard Weinberg, “Argomenti di discussione letteraria nell’Accademia degli Alterati (1570–1600),” Giornale storico della letteratura italiana 131 (1954): 194; and Weinberg, “The Accademia degli Alterati and Literary Taste from 1570 to 1600,” Italica 31 (1954): 211. Vincenzo Galilei made a similar observation in his Dialogo; see Howard Mayer Brown, “Music—How Opera Began: An Introduction to Jacopo Peri’s Euridice (1600),” in The Late Italian Renaissance, 1525–1630, ed. Eric Cochrane (New York: Harper & Row, 1970), 407–8.

14. Cited in Ruth Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1956; reprint, 1978), 101.

15. Clubb, Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time, 67–70.

16. On Florentine comedies in particular, see Richard Andrews, Scripts and Scenarios: The Performance of Comedy in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), esp. 53, 110–14. For analyses of gender representations as they intersect with class and age, see Maggie Günsberg, Gender and the Italian Stage: From the Renaissance to the Present Day (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), esp. 6–48.

17. Günsberg, Gender and the Italian Stage, 41–46.

18. Louise Clubb (Italian Drama in Shakespeare’s Time, 93–123) has stressed the widespread experimentation in the genre of pastoral drama, noting Aminta’s dissimilarity to most other late sixteenth-century pastoral plays, especially in its simplicity of plot and singularity of style.

19. Aminta may have been performed in Florence in 1591; see Pirrotta, Music and the Theatre, 242, n. 28. Warren Kirkendale, The Court Musicians in Florence, 356, cautions that a 1616 performance is the first “unambiguously documented” in the city.

20. I have used Barbara Hanning’s edition of the 1600 libretto (Of Poetry and Music’s Power, 269–96); all translations are my own.

21. Renaissance treatises on women are nearly unanimous in their association of female silence and chastity. I have explored this view as it informed the construction of other female characters in early seventeenth-century Florentine musical spectacle in “Chaste Warriors and Virgin Martyrs in Florentine Musical Spectacle,” in Gender, Sexuality, and Early Music, ed. Todd M. Borgerding (New York: Routledge, 2002), 73–121.

22. Pietro de’ Bardi, “Lettera a G. B. Doni sull’origine del melodramma [1634],” in Angelo Solerti, Le origini del melodramma (Turin: Bocca, 1903; reprint, Hildesheim: Georg Olms, 1969), 146. For an English translation see Margaret Murata, ed., The Baroque Era, vol. 4 of Source Readings in Music History, rev. ed. (New York: W. W. Norton, 1998), 16. The consensus among musicologists is that Peri’s setting is the more dramatic, stemming from his use of a wider continuum for nearly every possible musical parameter. Howard Mayer Brown (“Music—How Opera Began,” 422), judges Caccini’s work “inferior in every way to Peri’s.” See also Claude V. Palisca, “Peri and the Theory of Recitative,” Studies in Music 15 (1981): 58–59; Pirrotta, Music and the Theatre, esp. 252–57; Barbara Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power, 83–117; Georgie Durosoir, “L’Euridice de Rinuccini: Comparaison des réalisations de Peri et Caccini,” in Les Premiers Opéras en Europe et les formes dramatiques apparentées, ed. Irène Mamczarz (Paris: Klincksieck, 1992), esp. 54–55, where the author observes that Caccini “cherche à plaire là où son rival cherche à convaincre” (55); and Laura Pistolesi, Del recitar cantando: Per uno studio comparativo dell’Euridice di Jacopo Peri e dell’Euridice di Giulio Caccini, Musica e teatro 9 (Milan: Assoc. Amici della Scala, 1990), esp. 61–86. The fullest study of Peri’s musical style remains Tim Carter, “Jacopo Peri (1561–1633): His Life and Works,” 2 vols. (Ph.D. diss., University of Birmingham, 1980; reprint, New York: Garland, 1989), 1:157–204; much of this information also appears in Carter, “Jacopo Peri’s Euridice (1600): a Contextual Study,” The Music Review 43 (1982): 89–103.

23. Giovanni Bardi, “Discorso mandato a Giulio Caccini detto romano sopra la musica antica, e’l cantar bene,” edited and translated by Claude Palisca, The Florentine Camerata: Documentary Studies and Translations (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 112–15.

24. See Kelley Harness, “La Flora and the End of Female Rule in Tuscany,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 51 (1998): 463–74.

25. Margaret Murata, Operas for the Papal Court, 1631–1668, Studies in Musicology 39 (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981), 105–8.

26. My analyses and musical examples are based on facsimile editions of the original scores: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche di Iacopo Peri … sopra L’Euridice (Florence: Marescotti, 1601; reprint, New York: Broude Brothers, 1973), which I have compared with the Venetian edition of 1608; and Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence: Marescotti, 1600; reprint, Bologna: Forni, 1968). I have also consulted the following editions: Jacopo Peri, Euridice, ed. Howard Mayer Brown, Recent Researches in the Music of the Baroque Era 36–37 (Madison: A-R Editions, 1981); and Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice, ed. Angelo Coan (Florence: Edizioni Musicali Otos, 1980).

27. I have adopted here the 4-hexachord system described in Eric Chafe, Monteverdi’s Tonal Language (New York: Schirmer Books, 1992), 25–30.

28. Palisca (“The First Performance of Euridice,” 450–51) also notes Caccini’s “blander” music for Euridice.

29. “Ma a chi scrivo io della femminil virtù? Non già ad una cittadina o ad una gentildonna privata, nè ad una industriosa madre di famiglia; ma ad una nata di sangue imperiale ed eroico, la quale colle proprie virtù agguaglia le virili virtù di tutti i suoi gloriosi antecessori. Dunque non più la femminil virtù, ma la donnesca virtù si consideri,” Della virtù femminile e donnesca, in Torquato Tasso, Prose filosofiche, 2 vols. (Florence: Alcide Parenti, 1847), 2:371.

30. The University of Illinois copy of the libretto first described by Claude Palisca names the singer for Proserpina as “quel che fece Venere.” Palisca (“The First Performance of Euridice,” 445–46) has suggested that the castrato Fabio Fabbri sang the roles.

31. Clubb, Italian Drama, 101–2, 175–76.

32. Marsilio Ficino, In Convivium Platonis De Amore Commentarius, Oration 2, chapters 8–9, translation in Nesca A. Robb, Neoplatonism of the Italian Renaissance (London: G. Allen & Unwin, 1935; reprinted New York: Octagon Books, 1968), 80.

33. Ficino, Convivium 5.8. See also John Warden, “Orpheus and Ficino,” in Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 101–3.

34. Proserpina’s request recalls the Orphei tragoedia expansion of Poliziano’s fable, for in Poliziano, Proserpina speaks only after Pluto has granted Euridice’s release.

35. Tim Carter offers a similar assessment of the Orfeo role in “Jacopo Peri,” 159.

36. Barbara Hanning (Of Poetry and Music’s Power, 54) has suggested that this scene acquires its central dramatic significance precisely because the altered plot allows nothing to distract from Orfeo’s triumph.

37. Antistrophe is “repetition of the same word at the beginning of successive clauses or verses,” while in epistrophe the repetition occurs at the ends of successive verses (Richard A. Lanham, A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms, 2nd ed. [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991], 11, 16).

38. Gary Tomlinson (Monteverdi and the End of the Renaissance [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987], 132–33) has noted the similarities between Peri’s use of tonal juxtaposition (which he characterizes as G minor/F major) and Monteverdi’s music for Orpheus’s underworld acts in L’Orfeo.

39. The mirror and chameleon images appear in, respectively, Alessandro Piccolomini, Della institutione di tutta la vita dell’huomo nato nobile e in città libera (Venice, 1552), bk. 9, sig. I6; and Pietro Belmonte, Institutione della sposa (Rome, 1587), sig. B1v: both are cited in Constance Jordan, Renaissance Feminism: Literary Texts and Political Models (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1990), 145.

40. Sperone Speroni, “Della cura famigliare,” in his Dialoghi (Venice, 1596), sig. H2v, cited in Jordan, Renaissance Feminism, 153, n. 22.

41. Vives stresses this marital joining in chapters 1–4 of the “Marriage” section of his De institutione feminae Christianae; translated as The Education of a Christian Woman: A Sixteenth-Century Manual, ed. and trans. Charles Fantazzi (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2000), 175–222. Although Vives’s emphasis on companionship as a principal reason for marriage distinguishes his treatise from others on the topic, his descriptions of a wife’s duties are consistent with other Renaissance writers. For summaries of these views see Kelso, Doctrine for the Lady of the Renaissance, 78–121; and Ian Maclean, The Renaissance Notion of Woman: A Study in the Fortunes of Scholasticism and Medical Science in European Intellectual Life (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), esp. 17–20, 55–60.

42. Lanham, Handlist, 70–71.

43. Gradatio, or climax, is the “mounting by degrees through linked words or phrases, usually of increasing weight and in parallel construction” (Lanham, Handlist, 36).

44. Rinuccini goes on to link Orfeo’s success with the demigod’s personal virtù in the interchange between Arcetro and Orfeo which immediately follows Euridice’s statement. Arcetro asks “Dunque mortal valor cotanto impetra?” and is answered by Orfeo’s “Dell’alto don fu degno/mio dolce canto, e’l suon di questa cetra,” rhyming with both Euridice and Arcetro and emphasizing that his music was “degno” to overcome the gloomy “regno.” Rinuccini’s unconventional ending has a visual counterpart in the particularly Roman approach to artistic representations of the Orpheus myth in the sixteenth century, one which emphasized the heroic Orpheus. Marcantonio Raimondi issued at least two engravings which depicted Orpheus leading Eurydice from the underworld without a hint of impending tragedy; see Giuseppe Scavizzi, “The Myth of Orpheus in Italian Renaissance Art, 1400–1600,” in Orpheus: The Metamorphoses of a Myth, ed. John Warden (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), 136–38.

45. The Guarini Dialogo, set to music by Emilio de’ Cavalieri, was presented during the banquet of 5 October. Its text has been reprinted in Solerti, Musica, ballo e drammatica, 231–38. Il rapimento, with music by Giulio Caccini and others and commissioned directly by Ferdinando, took place on 9 October. Its text and Buonarroti’s description of the performance have been reprinted in Angelo Solerti, Gli albori del melodramma, 3 vols. (Milan: Sandron, 1904; reprint, Bologna: Forni, 1976), 2:9–58.

46.. Carter, “Non occorre nominare tanti musici,” 102–3.

47. Bojan Bujic, “‘Figura poetica molto vaga’: Structure and Meaning in Rinuccini’s Euridice,” Early Music History 10 (1991): 29–64, esp. 47–56; and Barbara Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power, 52–53. Hanning has also demonstrated the close political associations between Apollo, the principal character in Rinuccini’s Dafne, and Medici iconography, noting that Orfeo was often described as the sun god’s progeny. See Hanning, “Glorious Apollo: Poetic and Political Themes in the First Opera,” Renaissance Quarterly 32 (1979): 485–513. These allegorical representations may stem from Cosimo’s desire to present himself as the new Augustus: the Roman Emperor considered himself the son of Apollo. A marble statue of 1559 by Domenico Poggini, which was placed in the Boboli Gardens, depicted Cosimo as a new Apollo; see Paul William Richelson, Studies in the Personal Imagery of Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence (Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 1973; reprint, New York: Garland, 1978), 37. The festivities of 1565 that celebrated the marriage of then Crown Prince Francesco de’ Medici and Joanna of Austria also confirmed visually the close association between Orpheus and Apollo: Vasari describes a performing Orpheus who, along with Aurora, Circe, and the nine muses, appeared on a car dedicated to Apollo in the “Geneologia degli dei” procession. See Emanuel Winternitz, Musical Instruments and their Symbolism in Western Art (London: Faber and Faber, 1967), 218; and Nagler, Theatre Festivals of the Medici, 28–29.

48. Karla Langedijk, The Portraits of the Medici: 15th–18th Centuries, 3 vols. (Florence: Studio per edizioni scelte, 1981), 1: 418, who dates the portrait “not after 1540.” Kurt W. Forster has suggested that the work might date from the period of the 1539 wedding festivities ( “Metaphors of Rule: Political Ideology and History in the Portraits of Cosimo I de’ Medici,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorisches Instituts in Florenz 15 [1971]: 83 n. 53); the portrait’s eroticism suggests it was a possible wedding gift from Cosimo to his bride Eleonora of Toledo, according to Robert B. Simon, “Bronzino’s Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus,” Bulletin. Philadelphia Museum of Art 81, no. 348 (Fall 1985): 16–27. Recent scholarship has also revealed that the painting underwent substantial revision, possibly at the direction of Cosimo himself: the earliest version portrayed a clothed Orpheus, with a peg-box and bow less reminiscent of female and male sexual organs. See Mark S. Tucker, “Discoveries Made During the Treatment of Bronzino’s Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus,” Bulletin. Philadelphia Museum of Art 81, no. 348 (Fall 1985): 28–32.

49. Simon, “Bronzino’s Cosimo I de’ Medici as Orpheus,” 21–22. On Cosimo’s iconography see Forster, “Metaphors of Rule,” 65–104; Cox-Rearick, Dynasty and Destiny in Medici Art; Richelson, Studies in the Personal Imagery of Cosimo I de’ Medici; and Cox-Rearick, Bronzino’s Chapel of Eleonora in the Palazzo Vecchio (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

50. Erwin Panofsky, Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1939; reprint, New York: Icon Editions, Harper & Row, 1972), 19. The literature dealing with artistic representations of David during the Renaissance is too extensive to cite here. However, for a study which deals with the multivalence of David symbolism in Florence and its relationship to the Medici family see Andrew Butterfield, “The Evidence for the Iconography of David in Quattrocento Florence,” I Tatti Studies: Essays in the Renaissance 6 (1995): 115–33. Langedijk (The Portraits of the Medici, 1:133) cites an instance in which a visual allegory of Ferdinando’s victory over the Turks appeared immediately below a representation of David and the ark.

51. Earlier in the sixteenth century, another powerful member of the Medici family used a representation of Orpheus as a political proclamation of restored peace and order: ca. 1516/17 Pope Leo X, through Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici, commissioned Baccio Bandinelli’s Orpheus statue for the Palazzo Medici-Riccardi, a statue intended to fill the location vacated by Donatello’s David. On the iconographical relevance of this statue, and on Orpheus as a symbol for the good prince, see Karla Langedijk, “Baccio Bandinelli’s Orpheus: A Political Message,” Mitteilungen des Kunsthistorischen Institutes in Florenz 20 (1976): 33–52. The literature dealing with aspects of Orpheus imagery in the Renaissance is vast; I have found the following sources particularly helpful: Elizabeth A. Newby, “A Portrait of the Artist: The Legends of Orpheus and Their Use in Medieval and Renaissance Aesthetics” (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1981; reprint, New York: Garland, 1987), esp. 62–221; F[rederick] W. Sternfeld, The Birth of Opera (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 1–30; Scavizzi, “The Myth of Orpheus in Italian Renaissance Art, 111–62; D. P. Walker, “Orpheus the Theologian and Renaissance Platonists,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 16 (1953): 100–20, esp. 100–103; and Celine Richard, “La Légende d’Orphée et d’Eurydice au XVIe et au XVIIe siècles,” in Les Métamorphoses d’Orphée (Brussels: Snoeck-Ducaju, 1995), 43–47.

52. Also important within late sixteenth-century political thought was the metaphor of the Medici family as healers of the Florentine state; see Samuel Berner, “Florentine Political Thought in the Late Cinquecento,” Il pensiero politico 3 (1970): 177–199, esp. 184. In medical practice of the time, healers sought to restore health by adjusting humoral balance.

53. Eric Cochrane, Florence in the Forgotten Centuries, 1527–1800: A History of Florence and the Florentines in the Age of the Grand Dukes (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1973), 101; J[ohn] R[igby] Hale, Florence and the Medici: The Pattern of Control (London: Thames and Hudson, 1977), 151, 162–64; and Strong, Art and Power, 144–45. On Ferdinando’s involvement with Henri’s conversion and the wedding negotiations, see [Jacopo] Riguccio Galluzzi, Istoria del Granducato di Toscana sotto il governo della Casa Medici, 5 vols. (Florence: Gaetano Cambiagi, 1781; reprint, Milan: Cisalpino-Goliardica, 1974), 3:164–85, summarized in Palisca, “The First Performance of Euridice,” 439–42, and Bojan Bujic, “‘Figura poetica molto vaga,’” 50–53.

54. Saslow, The Medici Wedding of 1589, 11–12; Strong, Art and Power, 127; and Hale, Florence and the Medici, 150. Barbara Hanning has shown the importance of Apollo’s control over nature as a theme in Rinuccini’s Dafne (“Glorious Apollo,” 489, 491). Suzanne Butters has informed me that Artimino, Ferdinando’s hunting lodge, also included a painting of Orpheus. Among the villa’s other artworks were lunettes affirming the iconography of Ferdinando as a man of action. Prof. Butters has recently delivered a paper on this topic: “Land, Women and War: Identities Portrayed at Ferdinando de’ Medici’s Artimino,” read at the conference L’arme e gli amori: Ariosto, Tasso, and Guarini in Late Renaissance Florence, June 27–29, 2001 – Villa I Tatti, Florence.

55. Saslow (The Medici Wedding of 1589, 12) links the engraving of Livorno to Ferdinando’s self-presentation; for studies and reproductions of the entire series see Thomas Schröder, ed., Jacques Callot: Das gesamte Werk. Druckgraphik, 2 vols. (Munich: Rogner & Bernhard, 1971), 2: 914–34; and Edwin de T. Bechtel, Jacques Callot (New York: George Braziller, 1955), 16, 37.

56. Newby, “A Portrait of the Artist,” 77–128. For a summary of later fourteenth-century Christian allegories of the fable, see Sternfeld, The Birth of Opera, 7–16. A classic study of mythological figures’ role in Renaissance allegory remains Jean Seznec, The Survival of the Pagan Gods: The Mythological Tradition and Its Place in Renaissance Humanism and Art, trans. Barbara F. Sessions (New York: Pantheon Books, 1953).

57. John Warden, “Orpheus and Ficino,” 86.

58. Although Peter Dronke (“The Return of Eurydice,” Classica et Mediaevalia 23 [1962]: 198–215) has demonstrated the persistence, into the seventeenth century, of a version of the story in which Orpheus successfully rescues Eurydice from the underworld, it still appears far less frequently in art and literature than Virgil’s well-known tale. In his dedication of the libretto to Maria de’ Medici, Rinuccini explained his alteration of the fable’s ending as more suitable for an occasion of such happiness, and his self-conscious justification of the decision clearly indicates his belief that audience members did view Eurydice’s second death as essential to the story (“Potrà parere ad alcuno, che troppo ardire sia stato il mio in alterare il fine della favola d’Orfeo, ma cosí mi è parso convenevole in tempo di tanta allegrezza …” (In Hanning, Of Poetry and Music’s Power, 270).

Table 1: Comparison of the settings by Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini based on the musical parameters of melodic range, harmonic vocabulary, and V–I cadences

Musical Examples

Example1a: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 5: Euridice’s second recitative (scene 1)

Example1b: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 6: Euridice’s second recitative (scene 1)

Example2a: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 5: Euridice’s first recitative (scene 1)

Example2b: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 4: Euridice’s first recitative (scene 1)

Example3: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 35–36: Proserpina’s recitative, scene 4

Example 4: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 32: Pluto’s musical “thumbprint” and Orfeo’s use of it in response (scene 4)

Example 5: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 35: Proserpina’s recitative (scene 4)

Example 6a: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 49: Orfeo’s final recitative (scene 5)

Example 6b: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 49–50: Orfeo’s final recitative (scene 5)

Example 7a: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 47: Euridice, “Quella son io”

Example 7b: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 47–48: Euridice, “Per quest’aer giocondo”

Example 7c: Jacopo Peri, Le musiche sopra l’Euridice (Florence, 1601), 48: Euridice, “Tolsemi Orfeo”

Example 8a: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 48: Euridice, “Quella son io”

Example 8b: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 48–49: Euridice, “Per quest’aer giocondo”

Example 8c: Giulio Caccini, L’Euridice (Florence, 1600), 49: Euridice, Tolsemi Orfeo”


Figure 1: Angelo Bronzino, Cosimo I as Orpheus, reproduced with the kind permission of the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Figure 2: Jacques Callot, Life of Ferdinando I de’ Medici: the Grand Duke has the Port of Livorno Fortified

Figure 3: Jacques Callot, Life of Ferdinando I de’ Medici: the Restoration of the Pisan Aquaduct

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