We've posted photos from our rehearsals of Vecchi's L'Amfiparnaso with the Dell'Arte Company on our Flickr Page. Please have a look! It has been a pleasure exploring this fascinating piece with actors so deeply grounded in the historical commedia dell'arte tradition. One by one the familiar characters - Pantalone, the Doctor, the Captain, and all the miscievous servants - have come to life through Vecchi's entertaining and often deeply profound music. Tickets are still available at http://magnificatbaroque.tix.com.
The musical entertainment that has become known as the “madrigal comedy” enjoyed a brief, but exceedingly popular life in the decades before and after the turn of the 17th century, delighting audiences at courts and within the cultural academies of Italy with a mix of high art and low comedy. The musicologist Alfred Einstein coined the term madrigal comedy in 1949 as a description for the two dozen or so surviving collections of related madrigals, which, when sung consecutively, tell a story, often with a continuous dramatic plot.
The two composers most closely identified with this subgenre are Orazio Vecchi and the slightly younger Adriano Banchieri. It has been tempting to see the madrigal comedy as a precursor to opera, but it is perhaps better characterized as part of the final flowering of the Renaissance madrigal tradition, incorporating the humanist attention to the communication of dramatic narrative through the quintessential musical form of the late 16th century.
Easily the best known of these madrigal comedies to modern audiences, L’Amfiparnaso was first performed in Modena in 1594 and published in Venice in 1597 with a dedication to Cardinal Alessandro d’Este. Vecchi’s collection consists of fourteen five-part madrigals, arranged in three acts and preceded by a prologue. Except for the first two sentences of the first scene, the dialogue is not set for individual voices, as in opera, but rather for the entire ensemble or for sub-sets of two, three or four voices.
This approach is so different from opera that is perhaps not surprising that the first music historians to discuss madrigal comedies found them entirely puzzling and either struggled to find in them nascent elements of operatic style or dismissed them entirely. A modern edition of L’Amfiparnaso was published in 1902 with several others following over the next century and subsequent scholarship, together with performances and recordings by fine musicians have secured its place among the masterpieces of the late Renaissance.
There is no indication of an author for the text of Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso, and some historians have speculated that the composer wrote the libretto himself. However, as early as 1912, the British musicologist Edward Dent suggested that the author may have been the popular Bolognese poet Giulio Cesare Croce.
Born in 1550 at San Giovanni in Persiceto, about 15 miles to the north-west of Bologna, the son of a blacksmith. After his father’s death when Croce was just seven he was adopted by an uncle who followed the same trade who sent him to school at Castelfranco.
Orazio Vecchi would no doubt be puzzled to learn that four centuries after his death he would be best remembered (to the extent that he was remembered at all) for a light-hearted piece of entertainment, L’Amfiparnaso, and not for his considerable accomplishments as a composer of sacred music and highly sophisticated madrigals. Not that he would have any difficulty in defending his less serious compositions.
In the dedication of the collection Selva di varia ricreatione from 1590 Vecchi wrote “I am well aware that on first hearing some may perhaps think these my caprices base and trivial. Let them learn that it takes just as much skill, art, and knowledge…to make a silly comic character as it does to create a prudent and sagely old man…and if some smart ass says that it is easy to come up with such things, let him try; he’ll see that it is easy to want ideas, hard to have them, harder still to arrange them, and even more difficult to put them all together well.”
One of the story lines that give Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso unity is Pantalone’s promise of his daughter’s hand in marriage to the Doctor Gratiano in the opening scene of Act II. Almost every commedia dell’arte scenario involves some such arrangement between the miserly Pantalone and his blustery companion from Bologna, though most often the contract is between their offspring.
In Vecchi’s setting, Pantalone is, as usual, primarily concerned with the dowry (which he dutifully deposits in the third act) and he openly mocks the Doctor’s enthusiasm for the match. While the unfortunate daughter never appears vocally in the course of L’Amfiparnaso, she is understood to be in the balcony while the Doctor serenades her with one of his “favorites”, which turns out to be a parody, a travesty really, of Cipriano de Rore’s madrigal Ancor che col partire. This most famous of madrigal, for which there were more than 50 – far more serious – parodies in the 16th century, would have been very familiar to Vecchi’s audience, who would no doubt have found the altered text quite amusing indeed.
Joseph Sargent has written an excellent preview of our upcoming performances of L'Amfiparnaso, March 18-20 for the San Francisco Classical Voice. No one can accuse the Baroque ensemble Magnificat of lacking a sense of drama. Back in 2009, the ensemble made an unlikely pairing with the Carter Family Marionettes in Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ Isola d’Alcina. In its upcoming March 18-20 concert set, a staging of Orazio Vecchi’s madrigal comedy L’Amfiparnaso (The Twin Peaks of Parnassus), Magnificat continues the theatrics by collaborating with three theater artists from the Dell’Arte Company for what’s sure to be a high-spirited affair. Madrigal comedies — collections of madrigals strung together by a common narrative — enjoyed a brief vogue in late 16th-century Italy, and L’Amfiparnaso ranks among the genre’s masterworks. This collection of 14 five-voice madrigals tells a conventional love story in the commedia dell’arte tradition, with plenty of good humor thrown in. ...
Like several of the works in the small but fascinating sub-genre of the madrigal comedy, L’Amfiparnaso draws on characters and plots the Italian Comedy, or commedia dell’arte. The origins of commedia are found in the use of itinerant actors to supply comic entertainment between the acts of the refined and aristocratic commedia erudita of the early 16th century.
Stimulated by the success of these entertainments, actors developed a quick, satirical and typically off-color style – typically in dialect and always improvised. The commedia style was very physical – with clowning, acrobatics, dance and stunts interwoven into a repertoire of stock scenarios invariably centered around a tale of young lovers.
For our upcoming production of L’Amfiparnaso on March 18-20, Magnificat will be joined by Joseph Dieffenbacher, Emilia Sumelius-Beuscher and Stephen Buescher from the Dell’Arte Company based in Blue Lake in Humboldt County California. Dell’Arte International was founded by Carlo Mazzone-Clementi and Jane Hill in Berkeley in 1971 to bring the commedia tradition to the United States and to develop actor-creators through training in mime, mask, movement and ensemble creation.
A native of Padua, Mazzone was a childhood friend of sculptor Amleto Sartori, and Marcel Marceau’s first Italian partner. As Jacques Lecoq’s assistant for eight years during Lecoq’s Italian sojourn. Carlo was part of the nucleus of artists who reinvented the Italian theatre, commedia, and mask work after World War II in Italy. He came to the US in 1959 and introduced Sartori’s masks to America.
Magnificat is delighted to welcome Nigel North for our upcoming performances of Orazio Vecchi’s L’Amfiparnaso on the weekend of March 18-20. One of the most respected lutenists in the world, Nigel has enjoyed a remarkable performing career in early operas, baroque orchestras, chamber groups, as a soloist and accompanist.
Nigel has made well over a hundred recordings and appeared with the Early Music Consort, the Deller Consort, the English Concert, Academy Of Ancient Music, the Taverner Choir and Players, the Schütz Choir and Consort, Red Byrd, Brandenburg Consort, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Fretwork, The Purcell Quartet, Concordia, Trio and Ensemble Sonnerie, London Baroque, Ensemble Sans Souci, the Berlin Barocke Compagney and many other ensembles.