9 Introduction - Digital Access to Scholarship at Harvard

Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, around the middle of the century, with glad boldness, introduced dramas with his
Giasone—which to tell the truth is the first, and most perfect drama that can be found—and with this he brought
about the destruction of acting, and in consequence of true and good comic acting, and also of tragic acting.1
—Giovanni Maria Crescimbeni, La bellezza della volgar poesia [The Beauty of Common Poetry], 1700
iasone’s premiere in Venice on 23 January 1649 took the city by storm, generating
such intense interest among opera audiences that the publisher Andrea Giuliani
was forced to make two additional printing runs of its libretto just to meet
widespread demand. The following year, yet another edition was distributed for the benefit of
collectors. This flurry of publications represented an unprecedented triumph not only for
Giuliani, but for the Teatro San Cassiano that hosted the performances, as well as for the authors
of the opera—the neophyte librettist Giacinto Andrea Cicognini and the seasoned opera
composer Francesco Cavalli. Most of all, though, it was a triumph for Giasone. Created in a
burgeoning industry that chewed up and spat out operas, one in which most productions had an
effective shelf life of one year, Giasone went on to appear on stages throughout Italy for the next
four decades.
The earliest known performance of Giasone outside of Venice took place in Milan later
the same year that it premiered, in 1649. From there, aided by the traveling troupe of performers
known as the Febiarmonici,2 Giasone was presented on stages in Florence and Lucca in 1650,
“Giacinto Andrea Cicognini intorno alla metà del secolo con più felice ardimento introdusse i drammi col suo
Giasone, il quale per vero dire è il primo, e il più perfetto dramma, che si trovi, e con esso portò l’esterminio
dell’istrionica, e per conseguenza della vera, e buona comica, e della tragica stessa.” Giovanni Maria Crescimbeni,
La bellezza della volgar poesia, Dialogue VI (Rome: Giovanni Francesco Buagni, 1700), 140.
Nicola Michelassi provides a comprehensive overview of the Febiarmonici’s role in bringing Giasone to other
Italian cities, in “Balbi’s Febiarmonici and the First ‘Road Shows’ of Giasone (1649-1653),” in Readying Cavalli’s
Operas for the Stage: Manuscript, Edition, Production, ed. Ellen Rosand (London: Ashgate, 2013), 307-20.
and then Milan, Genoa, Bologna, Naples, and again Florence in 1651. This first wave of
performances helped to establish Giasone’s popularity in those cities, and likely generated
demand in other neighboring cities. Palermo would see a performance in 1655, as would
Livorno, Viterbo, Vicenza, and Ferrara later that decade. The 1660s saw revivals in many of
these same cities, including Venice for the first time, while others witnessed their own Giasone
premieres, including Velletri, Turin, Perugia, Trent, Ancona, Siena, Brescia, and Reggio-Emilia.
In the 1670s the number of productions began to diminish, although Rome hosted a “novello”
revival in 1671 to help celebrate the opening of its Teatro Tordinona. The 1680s saw the first
production of Giasone under a new title, Il trionfo d’amor nelle vendette, although by then the
opera’s wave of popularity had already ebbed considerably. By the time Giasone appeared again
in Brescia as Medea in Colco in 1690, it was clear that tastes had shifted toward more French
sensibilities. Even the front matter of the Brescia libretto claimed to have adjusted this work to
suit newer, French tastes. Nonetheless, this was a respectable run for an opera written in 1649,
during a different era when the genre of public opera in its first bloom was still in the process of
being defined and standardized by its participants, onstage and behind the scenes.
Certainly for the publishers in these cities, Giasone librettos proved to be a quick and
easy source of additional income, even if the prints did not supplement any concurrent
productions. Roughly one-third of the surviving librettos were printed in a year during which no
local performance was taking place. Archival research also shows us that of all of the
productions in these cities, only seven librettos are unaccounted for. That is, there is evidence to
show that Giasone was performed in Siena in 1666, for example, but no libretto associated for
that performance has ever been found. However, as a result of this popularity we are left today
with forty-five surviving unique librettos, two scenari, four prose editions, and twelve scores
associated with this opera, a legacy unmatched by any other staged work from the seventeenth
century. Historiographically, it was such a significant work that it was singled out by early
literary critics allied with the Arcadian reforms of the early eighteenth century, such as Giovanni
Maria Crescimbeni, whose two-faced critique of Giasone has become as well-known as any of
the opera’s more famous arias.
My dissertation provides a focused examination of Giasone, the first of its kind
undertaken with unfettered access to the vast majority of the opera’s sources.3 I begin with these
librettos and scores in Part 1 (“The Sources”), in an attempt to reconcile the sheer number of
variants among all of the sources with the fact that they all represent actual performances.
Chapters 1 and 2, then, are a philological exercise in organizing the sources according to
categorical criteria in a way that can make some sense of them and, if nothing else, divide them
into more manageable portions for consumption. But because these sources are all linked to a
performance, whether directly or indirectly (as in the case of literary reprints of librettos, or clean
copies of the scores), these two chapters as just as much a performance history of Giasone.
In Chapter One (“The Librettos”), the forty-five librettos (extending as late as 1690) can
be divided into seven (often neat) groups. Most of these groups4 are geographically based in
major Italian cities like Florence, Milan, Naples, and Rome. The criteria for fitting a libretto into
a certain group are based on a combination of publication city, historical data, and most
importantly variant agreement. The historical data primarily involves a series of “tours” of
This project has been made possible by the digitization of all of these sources, scattered throughout Italy and as far
as Lisbon and Oxford. On a personal level, I was unable to journey to these locations to physically inspect these
objects, and thus would not have been capable of writing this dissertation without the kind aid provided by the
holding libraries in photographing all of the scores and librettos, as well as the generosity of the Isham Memorial
Library at the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library of Harvard University in funding the collection of these digitized
In this dissertation I make the distinction between “groups” and “families,” with the former referring to related
librettos, and the latter referring to related scores. Because scores transmit textual material in addition to music,
they—that is, families—are also placed into groups.
Giasone undertaken during the 1650s by a traveling troupe named the Febiarmonici, led by
Giovan Battista Balbi. In turn, the variants largely fall into three categories—cuts, additions, and
substitutions—and range from single words to entire scenes (these being considered “structural”
variants). One particular variant involving a recitative replaced by an aria in I.14, for example,
separates the Venetian production of 1649 from all “post-Venice” performances in other cities
(including a Venetian revival in 1666). When determining whether two sources fit together,
priority is always given to such positive evidence as additions or substitutions. The lack of
textual material is never conclusive enough by itself to prove a correlation between two sources,
although it can be useful in support of evidence already in existence.
Chapter Two (“The Scores”) deals with the existing scores, placing them into similar
categories with greater difficulty. This is because even the scores directly related to the same
performance (as in the case of the two that chronicle the Roman Il novello Giasone revival of
1671) contain variants distinct from one another. Further complicating the organization of these
scores are the facts that none of them are dated, only three can be linked to a specific
performance or production5 of Giasone, and most importantly, there is no autograph score, much
less a performance score from the premiere. This makes a chronology, not to mention a stemma,
of these sources difficult. However, restricting my analytical lens to a limited number of very
significant variants, I propose a stemma—not accounting for each individual score, but for the
score families as they relate to one another. The lack of an autograph score also adds special
interest to the recently launched endeavor at a critical edition of Giasone.6 What constitutes an
“authoritative” version of Giasone, given the vast number of sources we have available, the
I use the term “performance” and “production” interchangeably within the scope of this dissertation, although in
general the latter term refers to multiple performances under the same direction and with the same scene structure.
This project will be helmed by Ellen Rosand, Lorenzo Bianconi, Nicola Usula, and others, and is forthcoming
(Berlin: Bärenreiter Verlag, 2017).
majority of which are tied to a specific production? I summarize the issues surrounding this and
propose, with results not dissimilar from the Giasone editorial board, a certain combination of
scores that can be put together to recreate a hypothetical score reflecting performance conditions
at the 1649 premiere in Venice.
The results of the first two chapters raise a potentially disturbing question: given all of
the changes made to Giasone over the years, how are they all still the same work (the last two
librettos, from 1681 and 1690, don’t even bear the same title)? That is, how does a Milanese
performance of Giasone, or a Neapolitan one, each with several shifted scenes and other
variants, differ from the original Venetian Giasone? To address this question, Part 2 of my
dissertation (“Dramma musicale,” in reference to the genre ascribed to Giasone on the majority
of its libretto title pages) delves deeper into the opera itself by way of three different points of
entry: the librettist, the story, and the music.
Chapter Three (“Cicognini: Playwright and Librettist”) presents the first extended
English-language study of the librettist to Giasone, Giacinto Andrea Cicognini. A Florentine
playwright for most of his career who was deeply influenced by the Spanish plays of Félix Lope
de Vega, Pedro Calderón de la Barca, and others from the siglo de oro, Cicognini did not begin
writing librettos until 1646, the same year that he moved to Venice. The last three years of his
life (he died later the same year that Giasone premiered) saw four librettos written, one of which
was completed posthumously. These four works in verse represent his only contribution to the
rapidly-growing genre of librettistic writing, in comparison to his dozens of plays; and yet his
Orontea and Giasone would go on to become the most-performed operas of the seventeenth
century (with Orontea coming second to Giasone with twenty-three surviving librettos).7 I
See Antonio Cesti, Orontea, ed. William Holmes (Wellesley: Wellesley College, 1973), and Holmes, “Giacinto
Andrea Cicognini’s and Antonio Cesti’s Orontea (1649),” in New Looks at Italian Opera: Essays in Honor of
analyze the close relationship between several of his plays and his Spanish muses, and then turn
the focus to the three librettos he completed before his death (the third being Celio, written in
Florence in 1646), examining their third acts with respect to the distinctive dramatic pacing that
he developed as a playwright. Finally, I compare Cicognini’s style as a neophyte librettist (but
veteran dramatist) to that of a prolific Venetian librettist who was roughly contemporary with
him: Giovanni Faustini, the first brazenly self-avowed professional librettist, in an era when most
librettists were often lawyers or other tradesmen by day, and insecure about the legitimacy of
their librettistic creations as literary objects.
Chapter Four (“Elucidating the Drama in Giasone”) presents an in-depth analysis of the
opera’s story and dramatic structure: how the shifted, cut, and substituted scenes have an effect
on the disposition of the story. To do this, I employ two complementary methodological
frameworks: speech acts, and character continuities. Speech acts, the brainchild of John
Langshaw Austin,8 operate at the level of character interactions from verse to verse,9 but I
propose that by virtue of Giasone’s tight narrative construction relying on blocks of continuous
scenes, entire scenes can be construed as segments in a perpetual chain of illocution and
perlocution. Part of my analysis, therefore, deals with disruptions to these chains when scenes
are shifted, cut, or substituted in later productions of Giasone. Character continuities, an
analytical lens I have developed, are predicated upon the existence of these blocks of continuous
Donald J. Grout, ed. William W. Austin (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1968). The average number of surviving
librettos from this century per opera hovers at slightly over two, according to Jane Glover, Cavalli (New York: St.
Martin’s Press, 1978), 158-59, as well as Claudio Sartori, I libretti italiani a stampa dalle origini al 1800: Catalogo
analitico con 16 indici (Cuneo: Bertola & Locatelli, 1990–94).
In general, there are even fewer scores; the average hovers between one and two (if any survive at all). The
second largest number of scores for an opera belong to Filippo Acciaiuoli and Jacopo Melani’s Il Girello (1668), at
six scores, followed by Giovanni Andrea Moniglia and Melani’s Ercole in Tebe (1661), Nicolò Minato and Cavalli’s
Scipione affricano (1664), and Cicognini and Antonio Cesti’s Orontea (1649) at four scores apiece, several of which
are incomplete. Thanks to Nicola Usula (private correspondence) for information on the first three of these operas.
John Langshaw Austin, How to Do Things With Words (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1962).
I use the poetic term “verse” to mean a “line” throughout this dissertation.
scenes; related to Corneille’s liaison de scène developed later in the century, this analytic relies
specifically on location and character focus as barometers for continuity within a scene block.
Location is a key dramatic element in Giasone: the First Impression libretto boasts of eleven
distinct sets. Two groups of characters are situated separately at the beginning of the opera, one
on the isle of Colchis and the other in Caucasian Iberia (modern-day Georgia).10 Through a series
of events, the two strands are brought together in Caucasian Iberia in the middle of Act II,
although Cicognini maintains dramatic tension partly through his employment of different
locations throughout that country. Character focus simply refers to the object of discourse in a
particular scene. So while Isifile may appear on Caucasian Iberia in I.14, sandwiched between
two scenes that take place on Colchis, her focus is entirely on the lover who abandoned her,
Giasone—also the focus of I.13 and I.15. After a discussion of the prose version of Giasone and
the integral role that it played in the creation of the libretto, particularly during rehearsals, I shift
focus to modern-day productions of Giasone in my concluding section and the different modernday priorities employed in making performance-based decisions.
Chapter Five (“Musical Diplomacy: Cavalli’s Harmonic Language”) provides the last
piece of the puzzle: the music. Francesco Cavalli, a veteran opera composer already by the time
of his first encounter with Cicognini’s libretto, made Giasone a truly famous opera by writing
gems like “Delizie, contenti,” whose languid, undulating melody paired with the title character’s
sensuous paean to the joys of love to become Giasone’s—both character’s and opera’s—calling
card as the quintessence of Seicento effeminacy. And yet, Cavalli also succeeded in adding an
entirely new dimension to interactions between characters, one coded in a complex harmonic
language. My methodological framework in deciphering this language relies chiefly on the work
Present-day locations obtained from Fausta Antonucci and Lorenzo Bianconi, “Plotting the Myth of Giasone,” in
Readying Cavalli’s Operas for the Stage: Manuscript, Edition, Production, ed. Ellen Rosand (London: Ashgate,
2013), 201-28: 204.
of Henry Burnett and his system of hexachord-based transposition.11 Through it, the conflict
between characters at odds with each other is magnified beyond a textual level, and into a deeper
level of musical structure. Nowhere is this truer than the “Central Act Finale” of Giasone, where
the two disparate strands of the opera (Giasone and Medea on one side, and Isifile on the other)
are finally brought together climactically. The heightened tension at the end of this finale—a
result of the utter lack of resolution—is evoked in the music by an explicit disjunct between
hexachord system (1) and cantus (a key signature). Cavalli, I argue, engaged with Cicognini’s
libretto not merely as a contractor-for-hire. Rather, he approached Giasone as a seasoned
composer and provided a nuanced reading of an equally nuanced text. In a way, then, Cavalli’s
setting was itself a performance of Cicognini’s text.
Plot Summary
Giasone, who fathered twin sons with Isifile the queen of Lemnos, has subsequently abandoned
her and traveled on to Colchis at the urging of his friend Ercole, to resume his quest for the
Golden Fleece. There, our hero has enjoyed relations with an unidentified woman for a year,
fathering another set of twin sons with her. This woman is the sorceress Medea, queen of
Colchis. She is deeply enamored of Giasone, having rejected her former suitor Egeo, the king of
Athens, when seeing our hero for the first time. After revealing herself to Giasone with the help
of her old nurse Delfa, the two lovers declare their mutual adoration. Medea then conjures fell
magics and obtains an ensorcelled ring to aid him in his quest for the Golden Fleece. Meanwhile,
Isifile has been searching for her husband, and arrives with her children and retinue in Caucasian
Henry Burnett and Roy Nitzberg, Composition, Chromaticism, and the Developmental Process: A New Theory of
Tonality (London: Ashgate, 2007).
Iberia. Upon finding out from her servant Oreste that Giasone has fallen in love with another
woman, she resolves to kill her rival.
Having successfully acquired the Golden Fleece, Giasone and the Argonauts decide to
sail to Corinth with Medea in tow. In the meanwhile, the gods have taken notice: Giove, a
progenitor of Isifile, is offended both at Giasone’s treatment of his descendant, as well as his
despoilment of the sacred fleece. Rather than sending a storm to drown the Argonauts, Amore
convinces him to keep the Argo at Caucasian Iberia; a scorned and betrayed wife is the greatest
possible punishment for a wayward husband. On their way to Corinth, then, Giasone and Medea
end up in same country as Isifile. During their climactic initial confrontation, Giasone debunks
Isifile’s claims that they were lovers by discrediting her as a copycat. His gambit is helped by the
uncanny resemblance between Medea’s and Isifile’s backstories: both women fell in love with
and slept with Giasone, both women had twin sons by him, and both women forsook throne and
homeland to follow him. Having successfully shown that Isifile is a harmless madwoman,
Giasone makes his escape with Medea (who remains none the wiser about his sordid past).
Later, Isifile happens upon the couple, sleeping in an open camp, and awakens Giasone,
who promises to return to her if she will leave without disturbing Medea. Medea in fact
overhears this, and becomes furious upon learning the extent of his history with Isifile; in a
whispered aside to Giasone, Medea forces him to swear that he will have her rival killed.
Giasone then instructs Isifile to meet Besso, captain of the Argonauts, at a nearby cliff during the
night, to ask if Giasone’s orders have been carried out, and then report the answer to Giasone.
The question is in fact a signal for Besso to throw the speaker off the cliff into the sea. But
because Isifile is delayed by Oreste, Medea, curious to confirm her rival’s death, arrives at the
location before the intended victim and asks Besso if Giasone’s orders (to kill Isifile) have been
carried out. After being thrown into the sea, she is rescued by none other than her rejected suitor
Egeo, who has been following her with the aid of his stuttering servant, Demo. Pledging her love
to her savior, Medea goads Egeo into a frenzy by deducing that Giasone must have intended her
to be killed. Just as Egeo attempts to kill a sleeping Giasone, Isifile grabs the knife from him and
is promptly arrested as a murderer. Giasone, upset at seeing her still alive, is told that Medea died
instead, and is then further discomfited when Medea shows up claiming that she now owes her
affection to Egeo. Initially protesting Medea’s exhortation that he return to his own wife,
Giasone is won over by Isifile’s emotional, guilt-inducing pleas. The opera ends with the proper
pairs of lovers happily reunited.