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She is both subordinate to, and a supporter of Erisbe. The continuous repetition of the same phrases also serves to weave a kind of emotional melody, one that impresses the audience with the meaning and depth of Erisbe's feelings.
Laments fulfill an... integral role in the works of...Cavalli. All Cavalli's operas include at least one lament, and some of them several. Moreover, these threnodies fulfill their task admirably: they 'purge' the passions in the Aristotelian sense...they act as an effective foil for the lieto fine -- and they provide opportunities for good solo singing and for good music to boot. Since twenty-seven operatic scores of Cavalli survive, it is of course much easier to generalize about him [than about other composers of his time].... Everything...is fairly formulaic: the descending tetrachord in the minor mode; the cadential extension; intensification by the repetition of words.
While in the above example, Erisbe's and Mirinda's words are not sung in a minor key, they are in fact accompanied by another hallmark of the period: basso continuo. Running throughout the scene, always there, but always just below the surface, the chords of the basso continuo function as a sort of thematic glue, a theme song that continually replays the sense of doom and despair that fills the lovelorn Erisbe. The notes descend and rise again, but never to as high as the point where they began. And then again, they descend. It is an ever repeated set-piece, much like, were we to select a contemporary example, the killer's theme music in some Hollywood slasher. Basso continuo was much used by Cavalli's mentor Monetverdi, and in fact, became a stock feature of Baroque music. However, while providing a linking force, or undercurrent, to the entire piece, it also offered significant opportunities in regard to the dramatic presentation and effect of the piece. At such an early period as that at which L'Ormindo was composed (1644), there was little in the way of actual, notated direction that was given to the accompanist. A talented accompanist, therefore, could add real depth and poignancy to a piece.
A basso continuo part... was usually notated as a bass line with figures placed above it, the figures indicating to the player of a chordal instrument, such as the archlute, the harpsichord or the organ, the harmonies he was to play in addition to the bass line itself. The bass line was often supported by a sustaining instrument -- the bass viol, the cello, the bassoon, sometimes the violone or the double bass. It is usually fairly easy to deduce, where there is no explicit direction, what instrument or combination of instruments is most suitable...vocal music for some kind of lute early in the period.
Yet, it is not only to the opening lament, and to the basso continuo to which we owe the general sense of forlorn pathos that pervades this scene. Erisbe has two lovers, both princes, Ormindo and Amida. No sooner than Erisbe has concluded her echoed lament, Amida appears on the scene. For the first time in this scene, the music accompanying a vocalist is cast in minor key. Amida's "Whither, whither my sweet Aurora..." carries with it the sense of a lover's isolation. A lone voice in a wilderness of poignant emotion, his seeks out his lost sun - in Latin Aurora. Underlining this sense of loneliness and despair is the music itself, clear single notes - not chords. It is as if the surrounding world sympathizes with the broken-hearted Amida. Too, the basso continuo becomes heavier and more strident. A whole note and then a half. It is as though the whole world is thumping along, heavy-footed, keeping time to the steps of this one so forlorn. Hearing her lover's plaint, Erisbe sings out, again in major key, "What is this you say about my eyes?" The sweetness of her voice - it begins with an accompanying chord - breathes new life into the suffering Amida. There is a more noticeable rising and falling in the notes that accompany him. The basso continuo grows fuller, and recedes, and grows fuller again. The cautiousness of the lover is reflected in the music that fills up the scene. Does she love him? or, is it...only curiosity?
The musical language of [the] seventeenth-century...opera allows for a number of techniques by which a composer might represent traits such as self-control, resolve, and agency, as well as immoderation, vacillation, and passivity. Composers created characters musically through the presence or absence of conventions such as florid or otherwise tuneful singing or expressive recitative. For example, the sudden harmonic juxtapositions, chromaticism, dissonance, affective use of rhythm, and rhetorical figures that characterize the most expressive recitatives typically coincide with those moments during which a character possesses the least self-control, not only mirroring immoderation but helping to construct it.
Singing style, the tone and tenor of the musical accompaniment, and the rhythm of the recitative conspire together to produce a whole that both expressive and emotional. Such a composition meets the requirements of the operatic composition as understood at that point in time, fulfilling the earlier aspirations of Caccini, Monteverdi, and Ranuccini.
While the earliest operas may have attempted to create an Ancient Greek art form, they were far more successful in creating for us, a permanent record, of their own time, for in their works it is the Italy and Europe of the Early Seventeenth Century that we see, and not the world of Classical Greece and Rome. As with other art in the period, these composers of music at the close of the Renaissance and the beginning of the baroque embodied a virtuoso spirit, a spirit which sought to house, under one roof, all that was ideal and desirable in our world.
Whether they succeeded in all this is a question for the philosophers, but that they succeeded in creating an entirely new genre in Western music us certain, and to them we all owe a great debt.
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