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Un Pasticcio di Madrigaletti

“A pastiche of little madrigals” is how Gaspare Murtola described Guarini’s Il Pastor Fido in 1626, and while his comment was intended as derogatory, he succeeding in pointing both to the strength and weakness of the play. The overblown and self-consciously poetic language of Guarini’s tragicomedy succeeded in making the play a relative failure on the stage, tremendous success as a work of literature, and a goldmine for composers seeking affective, emotional texts through which to display the new compositional techniques of the early baroque.

Guarini’s play, whether by design or not, turned out to be just as Murtola had described it: a series of little madrigals, from which composers drew texts for decades. Many of the “little madrigals” took on a life of their own, with composers seemingly competing with each other with their different settings. Often when the names of specific characters from the play occurred in the text, composers would alter the text or substitute generic pastoral names (Tirsi, Clori, etc.) to make their madrigal more general.

Though the play in many ways springs from the same humanist orientation that was leading the avant-garde composers of the late sixteenth century to develop the new monodic style of recitative, the majority of settings that were published at the time were in the form of polyphonic madrigals. Our program emphasizes the settings from the seventeenth century and features both monodic and polyphonic settings. While the program is ordered according to the narrative of the play, it is of course not a complete nor balanced rendering of the play, since certain sections received considerable attention from composers and other relatively little.

A little background is needed to understand the action of the play. In the prologue and first act it is revealed that Arcadia, where the play is set, is suffering under a plague cast by Diana. It seems that Aminta, a priest of Diana, was in love with Lucrina. She spurned him for another and Aminta asked his goddess to avenge him and Diana obliged with a plague on Arcadia which the oracle stated would have no end unless Lucrina, or someone who would take her place, were sacrificed. Aminta, appointed executioner, stabbed himself at the altar and Lucrina, stricken with guilt, followed suit. Diana, still angry, renewed the plague and the oracle made three pronouncements: that a young woman must be sacrificed each year to abate the plague; that any faithless woman should die unless a voluntary substitute were found; and that the preceding should be valid until Love united two people of divine ancestry.

The chief priest, Montano, is the theocratic hierarch of Arcadia. His son, Silvio, is descended from Hercules and, in order to end the curse, is betrothed to Amarilli who is descended from Pan. However, they do not love each other. Silvio it seems is only interested in the hunt and in the first scene his older servant Linco tries to persuade him. An excerpt from his entreaty, Quell augellin che canta, became one of the most frequently set excerpts with 15 surviving prints beginning with Leoni’s in 1591. Many, including Monteverdi’s found in his fourth book of madrigals, contain additional verses. The setting we will perform, from Sigismondo d’India’s third book of madrigals, published in 1615.

In the next scene we meet Mirtillo, lately arrived in Arcadia, and Ergasto, a doorkeeper at the temple who has befriended him. Mirtillo is in love with Amarilli and we find out later that she, albeit chastely, loves him in return. Perhaps the most famous of all the Pastor Fido madrigals comes from this scene, Crud’ Amarilli, in which Mirtillo bemoans his unrequited love. This text first appears in a music print in 1595 in a setting by Marenzio. Monteverdi’s famous setting, the subject of fierce and pedantic criticism by Artusi, was most likely written in 1597 or 1598, but published only in 1605 in the composer’s fifth book of madrigals. We will also perform a solo setting of the text by d’India that was published in 1609.

In the third scene we meet Corisca, described in the cast of characters as “a wanton nymph”. A great beauty, she reveals herself to be vain, jealous, and mischievous, but the extent of her treachery will only be discovered later. In scene four Montano, the father of Silvio and Titiro, the father of Amarilli congratulate themselves for arranging a marriage for their children that they assume will end the plague. Their encounter also provides a chance to fill the audience in on a lot of the background. In the final scene of Act I, we meet the Satyr, a comic character who ends up playing a significant role later in the play.

The second act opens with a breathless Ergasto telling Mirtillo that Corisca has cooked a scheme whereby Mirtillo to disclose his love to Amarilli. Mirtillo then recounts his first encounter with Amarilli, in which he was dressed as a nymph (this took place presumably before facial hair or a broken voice might have given him away) and got him invited to a nymph-only affair. At the party the frisky nymphs all decide to have a kissing contest and since Amarilli clearly possessed the most desirable lips she was chosen as the kissing judge. Sure enough Mirtillo-as-mystery-nymph won the contest but left with some uncertainty about whether Amarilli might have suspected the ruse.

In the next scene we meet Dorinda, who is as lovesick over Silvio as Mirtillo is over Amarilli. She is about in the woods with her servant Lupino (everyone has a sidekick in these pastorals) and happens upon Silvio’s faithful dog Melampo, who has strayed from his owner. She asks Lupino to hide with the dog and, upon encountering Silvio, tries pathetically and futilely to get him to promise his love to her in return for his beloved hound. Their exchange continues in the third scene, where Dorinda likens herself to a doe wounded in the heart. The frustratingly literal and impatient Silvio asks for an explanation and Dorinda’s responds tthat she is like a doe caught by the arrow of love, a statement that foreshadows the action of the fourth act.

In scene four, Corisca reveals a bit of her scheme, along with her very jealous nature, and in scene five she sets her “friend” Amarilli up for a meeting with Mirtillo, knowing that she is duty bound to reject him, owing to her forced engagement to Silvio. Corisca has planned for Mirtillo to appear during a game of Blind Man’s Bluff that seems to be a favorite of the local nymphs in Arcadia. Amarilli departs just before the final scene of Act II in which Corisca is trapped by the Satyr who attempts to drag her off to a cave and have his way with her. They engage in a spirited exchange of insults before Corisca finally escapes because the Satyr has grabbed her hair only to discover that she is wearing a wig causing him to fall down as she flees. His ego (and various parts of his body) bruised he concludes the scene with a self-pitying monologue. We are fortunate that this entire scene was set in the new operatic style for soprano and bass by Tarquinio Merula. Merula was a Cremonese composer who appears to have composed his Corisca e Satiro while working in Poland in the early 1620s, though it was not published until 1626, after his returned to Italy.

The Third Act was clearly the favorite source for composers and the first lines of scene one, which begin O Primavera, were chosen for over twenty madrigals beginning with a setting in Monteverdi’s third book of madrigals in 1592. One could assemble a very satisfying, if perhaps monotonous, program from the many beautiful settings of Mirtillo’s monologue including madrigals by Wert, Monte, Luzzaschi, Schütz and others. We will perform d’India’s exceptional five part setting for tenor and continuo published in 1609. Mirtillo’s soliloquy takes up the entire first scene and in the second scene he encounters Amarilli in the Gioco della Cieca (Game of Blind Man’s Bluff). This scene with its conceits of the blindness of love in many ways is a microcosm of the entire play and was perhaps the most famous scene and the most troublesome to stage. Apparently, Guarini wrote the words to fit the music, which had been written to fit the dance in an initial performance of the play during the mid-1580s. Neither the music nor a detailed description of the resulting performance have survived, but there is a complete setting of the scene by Giovanni Ghizzolo that was published in his Madrigali e arie, of 1609 which we will perform.

A long and emotional dialogue between Mirtillo and Amarilli, in which the former musters his most poetic possible expression of his fidelity and devotion for the latter, who is unable to return the love she so ardently feels in her heart, follows the game. Their departure is marked by another of the most beloved madrigal texts, Ah dolente partita, in which Mirtillo laments their separation. With 37 published settings, the last from the 1640s, Ah dolente partita was the most often set text drawn from Il Pastor Fido, and we willbegin the second half of our program with the setting from Monteverdi’s fourth book of madrigals published in 1603, though most likely composed several years before.

The program continues with Amarilli’s opening lines from scene four, O Mirtillo anima mea. Another extremely popular text, we will perform the famous setting from Monteverdi’s fifth book of madrigals. Along with Crud’ Amarilli, this madrigal was singled out for its harmonic infelicities by the Bolognese academic Giovanni Maria Artusi in 1601, commencing a public argument in print that Monteverdi at first ignored and then belated joined, with his brother eventually coming to the composer’s defense and coining the term seconda prattica to describe the new music that violated the old rules for expressive effect.

The following two scenes pair Corisca, first with Amarilli and then with Mirtillo, and she continues to play her devious psychological games with each of them. In her conversation with Corisca, Amaryllis reveals the depth of her love for Mirtillo and the anguish that her dilemma causes her. Corisca convinces Amaryllis that if Silvio is caught in an apparently adulterous situation, she will be free of her duty to marry him. Corisca’s scheme involves arranging a tryst in a notorious cave between Silvio and Lisetta, another nymph, which will be discovered by Amarilli. After some persuasion Amarilli agrees but insists on first visiting the temple and goes off leaving Corisca to congratulate herself on her sinister plan. She intends to arrange for Amaryllis herself to be caught in a compromising situation with Corydon (who is in love with Corisca, but that’s another subplot) which will lead to her death, thus freeing Mirtillo (or so she imagines) for her own lustful designs.

Next Corisca sets about deceiving Mirtillo, who conveniently wanders by, distraught from Amarilli’s rejection. His tragic and emotional opening soliloquy, Udite lagrimosi, was a favorite of madrigalists with over twenty settings, beginning with Marenzio’s in 1594. The tortured and pathos-laden lines were irresistible for composers and inspired some of the most exquisitely chromatic and expressive madrigals of the early baroque. We will perform a setting for tenor duet by Alessandro Grandi, Monteverdi assistant at San Marco in Venice.

Corisca then engages Mirtillo in a discussion of his love and marvels, jealously, at the constancy of his fidelity to Amaryllis. In not very subtly promoting herself as a more willing and desirable lover, she describes a less tortured and more carefree hypothetical situation in which love is actually requited by the object of one’s desire. An excerpt of this description Com’è soave cosa was set by many composers, including the brief monody found in d’India Musiche, book 3 of 1618 that we will perform. After painting this appealing, though false, picture of her desirability as a potential lover, Corisca tells Mirtillo that the true object of his love is unfaithful and directs him to the same notorious cave to catch Amarilli in the arms of another. Mirtillo of course refuses to believe but nevertheless is persuaded to go to the cave to see for himself.

Soliloquies for Amarilli and Mirtillo follow in which they further embellish their individual predicaments as they make their separate ways to the cave. Amarilli enters the cave first, and Mirtillo, thinking that she is there waiting for her lover, decides to hide in the cave where he will then attack his rival with darts when he enters The Satyr overhears Mirtillo as he goes into the cave and, suspecting that it is Corisca that Mirtillo is meeting in the cave, mischievously rolls a great stone in front of the cave’s opening, trapping the pair inside, leading to the chorus that concludes the Act.

The Fourth Act begins with Corisca discovering that the entrance to the cave has been blocked. She finally decides that it must have been Mirtillo who, in rage at finding Amarilli and Corydon there, moved the stone over the opening. She decides to go in through the secret entrance (of course there’s a secret entrance!) and find out what is happening. With the second scene of the act we return to Dorinda, whom her father’s servant Linco finds dressed in furs, a disguise that allowed her to watch her beloved Silvio in the hunt. Linco is understandably perplexed by the extremes to which Dorinda has gone and suggests that she should return to more normal attire. However, it seems that Dorinda’s servant Lupino, who was minding her clothes, has thoughtlessly gone off somewhere and Dorinda asks Linco to find him.

Next Ergasto relates the dreadful scene when, at the Satyr’s bidding, the chief priest’s minister went to the cave to apprehend the adulterous Amarilli. Mirtillo attacked Nicandro, the minister, thinking him to be Corydon, and threw a dart that miraculously missed its mark, but Mirtillo was nonetheless taken prisoner along with Amarilli. Corisca gloats in the next act of the success of her plans, since, by the double standard of the day, only the female half of such an adulterous pair is punished by death and Mirtillo will doubtless soon be set free. However, she reckons that it would be best for her to hide for a while, until her rival has been sacrificed.

In the fifth scene, Nicandro interrogates Amarilli. All of Arcadia is of course incredulous that the most virtuous Amarilli has been found in such a compromising position – on the very day that she was to be married to Silvio and thus end the horrible plague. This incredulity does not, however, seem to cause Nicandro to give Amaryllis the benefit of the doubt and her pleas that Mirtillo be questioned to corroborate her story fall on deaf ears. After all why should they believe her accomplice? In spite of several madrigals worth of entreaties, Nicandro is unmovable, heartlessly counseling her to nobly accept her punishment and reminding her that one “who fears to die, dies every hour of the day” – hardly adequate comfort for someone in Amarilli’s predicament.

In the very brief scene six, Silvio, fresh from his triumphs in hunting the wild boar, basks in the praise of the other shepherds and huntsman. In the next scene, Corydon appears to explain his tardiness in arriving at the cave. Corisca had sent Lisetta to beacon Corydon to hasten to the cave to see her but he was detained by his father and arrived only to find the cave closed up. He takes the opportunity to relate Corisca’s many betrayals and deceits and his resolve to forgo her for another nymph. It seems that Amarilli and Mirtillo were the only shepherds left gullible enough to take Corisca at her word.

In scene eight, Silvio ruminates on the sad news of Amarilli and congratulates himself on his immunity from the sickness of love only to find him in an argument with a mischievous and informative echo that seems to be Cupid himself. The echo dialogue, in which the final syllables are returned as an echo was the most popular of late Renaissance conceits and it is somewhat surprising that only one madrigal setting of Silvio’s echo scene survives, an eight voice setting by Monte published in 1599. The echo neatly foreshadows the events of the next scene, pointing out that not only would Love conquer Silvio but also it would be the huntsman’s bow and not Cupid’s, that would accomplish Silvio’s unlikely submission to Love’s commands. Silvio, unconvinced, dismisses the echo as a drunkard and turns to leave the forest when he spots a movement in the bushes and instinctively fires an arrow that, typically for such a fine marksman, hits its target. Only when its too late does he see that it was a human in wolf’s clothing (an interesting twist on the proverb) at first thinking he had inadvertently hit a shepherd.

Silvio rushes to aid the fallen shepherd and sees that it is Dorinda, with Linco at her side. Eventually, Linco, who recognized Silvio’s arrow, sees the huntsman and berates him for shooting before looking and Silvio rushes to Dorinda’s side. Three extraordinary madrigal cycles, by Monteverdi, Marenzio, and d’India have immortalized the ensuing dialogue between the wounded Dorinda and Silvio, who suddenly (as foretold by the Cupid echo) is overwhelmed by love for her. We have chosen to perform d’India’s five-voice setting, Se tu me saettasti, published in his eighth and last book of madrigals in 1637. Written near the end of the d’India’s life and well after the popularity of the polyphonic madrigal had faded, this five-part cycle is arguably the composer’s greatest masterpiece. D’India avoided the issue of dramatic verity by incorporating the best of his skill as a monodist and polyphonist in a style that was called madrigale concertato, or concerted madrigal.

In the ensuing dialogue, Silvio offers his arrows to Dorinda to avenge her wounds on him, an offer she of course refuses protesting

“I should wound you? Let Love wound you, rather,
for I could not desire
greater revenge than to see you in love.”

Silvio and Linco carry Dorinda, still gravely wounded, to Silvio’s family. Our program ends here but that is still another act of the play necessary to resolve all the various plots.

It takes the appearance of visitors from a distant land to untangle Mirtillo and Amarilli’s dilemma and we meet them as the fifth act begins. Carino and his friend Uranio (as noted before, everyone has a sidekick in these plays) have journeyed back to Carino’s beloved homeland of Arcadia. Sure enough, he is Mirtillo’s father, or at least he has acted as a father to him since he was washed ashore in a cradle many years before. (Oh, did I forget to mention that Silvio’s older brother had been swept away in a flood in infancy? Details, details…) Well Mirtillo had gone off journeying some time before and Carino had thought to find him in Arcadia.

In the next scene, Titiro, the father of Amarilli, is disconsolate not only over the imminent death of his only child, but at the lost hope of ending the plague. A messenger arrives to fill us all in on the recent events at the temple. It seems that her life has been spared; Mirtillo has offered to be sacrificed in her place. This turn of events was highly extraordinary to say the least and caused some consternation at the temple. Apparently Amarilli had protested that Corisca could vouch for her story, but, not surprisingly, the sneaky nymph was nowhere to be found. Then at the crucial moment, Mirtillo had appeared with his self-sacrificing offer, confounding Corisca’s scheme and creating an uproar amongst the priests. Needless to say, Amarilli was quite distressed and argued that Mirtillo should be spared but apparently temple protocol allowed for only one pinch-hit victim and all the knives and vestments were sent off to be re-sanctified.

In the next scene we witness the last preparations for the sacrificial rite. Mirtillo apparently speaks his last and is sworn to silence as the rite begins. In the nick of time Carino appears and, noting the sacrificial rite in progress, quickly realizes that it is his son Mirtillo that is about to die. Carino’s vociferous protests are not appreciated by Montano, who complains loudly about being disturbed from his priestly duties by the stranger. After much rancor, Mirtillo, who has silently endured the entire argument, spoils everything by blurting out that the life that his father had given him could not be spent for a better cause than saving that of Amaryllis. Breaking his vow of silence apparently required that the entire ritual had to begin anew and he was sent back to the temple to take his vows over again. This unexpected delay allows for Carino and Montano to sort things out with the help of an old shepherd, Demeta. Apparently Demeta had been sent to look for Montano’s lost child during the flood and had returned empty handed. Now it seems that he had indeed found the child but having been told by an oracle that were the child to return to Arcadia he would die of his father’s hand, he thought better of it and delivered it to a gentleman of Arcadian heritage in far off Elis in hopes of preserving the child from this fate.

As if this weren’t enough, the blind hermit Tirenio appears just then to clarify everything. It seems that actually all has worked out quite well since what was required to end the plague was that two souls of noble lineage should fall in love, and a forced marriage of Silvio and Amaryllis would not have sufficed. However, now that Mirtillo had been revealed as Montano’s son and also demonstrated his unbending fidelity to Amarilli all would be well. In the next two scenes, Corisca learns to her displeasure that love was winning on all sides and she was losing. Linco informs her that Dorinda, revived by Silvio’s newly discovered love for her, had made a miraculous recovery after Silvio himself had removed the arrowhead from her wound. The next scene brings even worse news to Corisca when Ergasto informs her of the happy fate of Mirtillo and Amaryllis. The last scenes are spent tying up all the loose ends including a rather disappointing pardon granted inexplicably to Corisca, but then, this is a tragic-comedy.

Magnificat’s concerts will be September 30-October 2. For times locations, and to purchase tickets please call 415-979-4500 or visit our the Magnificat Website

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