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Euridice(ii)locked

  • Barbara Russano Hanning

Opera in a prologue and five scenes by Giulio Caccini (see Caccini family, §1) to a libretto by Rinuccini, Ottavio; Florence, Palazzo Pitti, 5 December 1602.

The earlier setting of Euridice was conceived and produced, in October 1600, as one of the more modest events in a series of entertainments celebrating the marriage of Maria de’ Medici to Henri IV of France (see Euridice). Although the music for it was largely composed by Caccini’s rival, Jacopo Peri, some of Caccini’s own airs and three choruses (‘Al canto, al ballo’, ‘Sospirate, aure celesti’, and ‘Poi che gl’eterni imperi’), written for members of the cast who were his pupils, were interpolated on that occasion. In order to claim priority in the new stile rappresentativo, however, Caccini had his own complete setting of the opera published in January 1601, some weeks before Peri’s version appeared in print. Caccini’s opera did not receive a performance in its entirety until nearly two years later; apparently eclipsed by the success of Peri’s work, it was never repeated.

Caccini used the same Rinuccini libretto – published separately as a wedding souvenir – that was set by Peri (for characters and plot discussion see Euridice). In deference to the festive nature of the occasion, Rinuccini modified the myth’s original ending in which Eurydice dies a second time and Orpheus, turned misogynist, is torn apart by resentful Thracian women. By simplifying the action and devising a new, happy ending, Rinuccini identifies Eurydice more closely with the newly wed Maria de’ Medici. On a symbolic level too, given the poet’s statements in the preface to the printed libretto concerning the aims of the new musico-dramatic genre, Eurydice might be seen to represent ancient tragedy herself, whose metamorphosis for the modern age is accomplished in this new type of union between poetry and music.

In the preface to Caccini’s printed score (dedicated to his patron and mentor Giovanni Bardi), the composer articulates his concept of the new recitative style, which he apparently created simultaneously with Peri. While not as sophisticated as Peri’s in theory or practice, it shares the same tenets: imitation of speech inflection by the voice; rhythmic flexibility and harmonic freedom between solo voice and basso continuo to convey more effectively the meaning and inherent affections of the text; and ‘a certain sprezzatura’, or studied effortlessness on the part of the performer. Judging by the music, however, Caccini’s recitative has a more limited expressive range than Peri’s. It employs dissonance, chromatic harmonies, and syncopation only sparingly, even in passages of utmost dramatic intensity. At the same time, its more active harmonic rhythm and use of melodic sequences (for example, in ‘Non piango’) reinforce the general impression that Caccini’s theatrical style is more lyric than dramatic.

While recitative predominates, Caccini’s setting contains one strophic song for Orpheus (justified by its text, ‘Gioite al canto mio’), set in a graceful, dance-like style typical of the airs in Caccini’s Le nuove musiche; and for the seven quatrains of the prologue Caccini provides a single strophe in a declamatory arioso style characteristic of the traditional arie for 16th-century strophic poetry. The chorus functions in two ways: interacting with the principal characters to advance the plot (Scenes 3 and 5) and articulating the separation between scenes by commenting reflectively on the preceding action. Musically, these functions are differentiated by, in the first instance, monodic lines in recitative style (assigned simply to ‘coro’), and in the second by homophonic strophes for four or five parts (sometimes alternating with solo stanzas). Whether the monodic lines were meant to be performed by a unison chorus of nymphs, shepherds, or both, or by unnamed soloists from their company, it is unlikely that even the homophonic passages involved more than eight or ten singers.

In the fashion typical of the earliest collections of solo song, Caccini’s score is without instrumental indications or other embellishment, although the bass line would have been realized by a wide variety of instruments singly or in combination, and the vocalists would certainly have added ornaments to imitate the affections, as advocated by Caccini in his preface to Le nuove musiche.