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date: 22 November 2019


  • Barbara Russano Hanning


Opera in a prologue and six scenes by Marco da Gagliano to a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini after Ovid ’s Metamorphoses (book 1); Mantua, Ducal Palace, February 1608.

Dafne is a slightly revised and expanded version of Rinuccini’s earliest opera libretto on the same subject. For characters and plot discussion see Dafne (i).

On a symbolic level the story is about the nature of art in general and, by extension, about the power of the new art form in particular. This is confirmed by the identification of Ovid/Prologue with Apollo/poet in the 1608 production; according to Gagliano’s preface, Ovid appeared as Prologue wearing a laurel crown and holding a lyre and bow, as did Apollo in the last scene (it is not unlikely that the same singer, Francesco Rasi, performed both tenor roles, just as Daphne and Venus were sung by the same soprano, Caterina Martinelli). Thus, although Apollo the dragon-slayer is in his turn vanquished by Love, Apollo the poet-musician rises above his despair by immortalizing Daphne in his encomium and conferring on her transformed state the honour of always remaining green. In this way he sublimates his defeat in love into a poetic statement about the power of art to overcome the limitations and frustrations of life. Apollo is therefore the real protagonist of ...

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