- Ariosto, Opera, and the 17th Century: Evolution in the Poetics of Delight by Edward Milton Anderson
This is an original, informative and fascinating book on a large and important subject—the corpus of seventeenth-century Italian dramatic texts, mostly opera librettos, based on Orlando furioso, and what those texts reveal about the development of Italian opera during its first hundred years.
Orlando furioso is the masterpiece of Ludovico Ariosto (1474–1533), one of the greatest Italian poets of all time and the illustrious precursor of Torquato Tasso (1544–95) and his Gerusalemme liberata. The title character is the medieval Frankish paladin Roland (died 778), his "fury" the frenzy or madness induced by his obsessive but unrequited infatuation with Angelica, the beautiful daughter of the king of Cathay who married the African soldier Medoro. The poem tells of Orlando's superhuman exploits in war and in love, and of his travels across Europe and beyond. Over the course of its forty-six cantos—38,736 lines in 4,842 stanzas of ottava rima (eight lines of eleven syllables)—this monumental epic also recounts the adventures of, for example, Alcina, Ariodante, Atalante, Bireno, Bradamante, Ginevra, Olimpia, Rinaldo, Rodomonte, and Ruggiero, ranges over a vast geographical area and probes almost every corner of human experience. First published in 1516, Orlando furioso had, by the end of the sixteenth century, achieved over 150 Italian editions and been translated into French and English. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the following two centuries it furnished material for musico-dramatic works by many composers, including Marco da Gagliano, Francesca Caccini, Luigi Rossi, Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti, Giovanni Alberto Ristori, Carlo Francesco Pollarolo, Vivaldi, Handel, Leonardo Leo, Wagenseil, Graun, Paisiello, Hasse, and Haydn. Some librettists supplied their own ending to the story of Angelica, which Ariosto had deliberately left incomplete ("forse altri canterà con miglior plettro"), but most went in other directions.
Edward Milton Anderson (1966–2013) was an American scholar, a historian of Italian literature with interests also in music and art. His book is not the first attempt to trace the use of Ariosto in sixteenth-, seventeenth-, or eighteenth-century vocal music. Most well-known, perhaps, are Tim Carter's lists of works based on Ariosto and Tasso in The New Grove Dictionary of Opera (London: Macmillan, 1992), but a start on both poets had already been made by Alfred Einstein in his article "Orlando Furioso and La Geru-salemme Liberata: As Set to Music during the 16th and 17th Centuries" (Notes 8, no. 4 [September 1951]: 623–30). Ariosto in music was subsequently explored by Renate Döring (1973), Maria Antonella Balsano and James Haar (1981), and Irène Mamczarz (1983), with Balsano and Thomas Walker (1988) conducting further research into the contribution of Tasso. Stefano Tomassini's 110-page study—"Un 'Orlando' novissimo: Ripresi teatrali, melodrammi e intermezzi dal Cinquecento al Settecento", in Lina Bolzoni, et al. (eds.), L'"Orlando furioso" nello specchio delle immagini (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia italiana fondata da Giovanni Treccani, 2014)—appeared too late for the author of the book being reviewed.
Anderson was fortunate, however, in being able to draw on Claudio Sartori's catalogue of Italian opera librettos, I libretti italiani a stampa dalle origini al 1800: catalogo analitico con 16 indici, 7 vols. (Cuneo: Bertola & Locatelli, 1990–1994). His debt to Sartori is clear from his two appendices providing lists of Italian dramatic texts inspired by Ariosto, the first devoted to the seventeenth century, the second to the eighteenth. Appendix A includes forty-three works, compared with twenty-one in Grove Opera. The difference is explained by a variety of factors: Anderson's list includes manuscript as well as printed texts, items intended for music but not set, and works other than opera librettos—including a prologue that was printed in a larger collection, a favola maritima (Sebastiano Martini...