Cavalli, Cesti, Melani, Sartorio, D. Scarlatti: Il Canto della Nutrice, Nurse Tenor Arias in Italian Baroque Opera


  • Artist(s): Ensemble Il Groviglio, Marco Angioloni
  • Composer(s): Alessandro Melani, Antonio Sartorio, Domenico Scarlatti, Francesco Cavalli, Pietro Antonio Cesti
  • EAN Code: 7.46160665788
  • Edition: Da Vinci Classics
  • Format: 1 Cd
  • Genre: Opera
  • Instrumentation: Ensemble, Tenore
  • Period: Baroque
SKU: C00240 Category:

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The idea for this project emerged after playing a nurse role (Murmilla in Telemann’s Richard Löwenhertz) at the Magdeburg Opera House, Germany, in 2018. When I was first asked to play the role, I thought it was slightly odd for a lyric tenor voice to interpret a nurse: maybe this is my “macho” Italian heritage talking! However, performing Murmilla was a great chance and a true revelation for me. I was impressed to note that a role classified as comic by the codes of Baroque opera had, in fact, a high number of theatrical, human and emotional facets. It was more multifaceted than many “serious” characters; thus it encouraged me to discover this new world opening itself up in front of me. To my surprise, I found a wealth of repertoire in seventeenth-century Italy and especially in Venice with Francesco Cavalli, for a total of 114 nurse roles, which provided me clearly with enough material to make an album! I also realized that the nurse’s role has something more than all other operatic roles in that era; it is able to create a cathartic intimateness with the audience; we will find something similar only in the nineteenth-century operatic heroines. I find myself entirely at ease in such a relationship; possibly, it is the main reason why I chose to sing, in my life.

Note by Marco Angioloni

One thing one may safely affirm about seventeenth-century Venice is that it must have been a wonderful place to live. The city was harvesting the fruits of the lavish architectural creativity of the preceding centuries (and particularly of the Cinquecento), while still enjoying a flourishing cultural life, an opulent artistic scene and that unique combination of savoir vivre, of irony, of pleasure and of magnificence which always characterized the Serenissima, the Republic of San Marco.
Indeed, while Venice was never exactly a pious city, it was by no means indifferent to religion; only, it was exceptionally able to maintain a precarious, albeit intriguing, balance between a genuine interest in the sacredness of life and a healthy enjoyment of the worldly pleasures. These two aspects, in Venice, rarely conflicted with each other; in fact, the religious rites and buildings were as magnificent as the civic liturgies of the Republic and its secular spaces.
The same applied to music: whereas other Italian cities were trying and applying the recent deliberations of the Council of Trent on music, and attempting to find a “sober” musical rendition of the sacred texts, Venice was happily experimenting with new languages, which did not even endeavour to conceal their blatant disregard for the Council’s dictates. And while both the sacred spaces and the music which filled them were expressing with forceful evidence the splendour of the early Baroque era, and conveying through art a (sincerely religious) feeling of awe, amazement and grandiosity of the things divine, the first public theatres were developing a particular aesthetics of their own, which was in turn indebted to the “extraordinary” which characterized the Baroque experience.
In the early seventeenth century, opera as a genre was still very young; as is well known, the first examples of what is today identified as “opera” had been created, at the dawn of the seventeenth century, by a group of Florentine noblemen who gathered around the famous Count de’ Bardi. However, if Florence saw the birth and childhood of opera, the first masterpieces in this genre are certainly due to the pen of Claudio Monteverdi, who spent a considerable part of his life in Venice. Indeed, Monteverdi himself embodied the “sacredness of the secular” and the “secularity of the sacred” typical of Venice: his sacred music is as spectacular as his operas, while his operas have a supernatural dimension (even when they are not mythological) which verges on the religious experience.
It is not by chance, therefore, that Francesco Cavalli could find in Venice his ideal homeland, and that his activity embodied perfectly that same delicate balance and reciprocal contamination between sacred and secular. Cavalli was born in Crema in 1602 (so his birth was practically contemporaneous with that of opera); his family name was Caletti (or Caletto), though his father (and therefore the entire family) was also known as Bruno or Bruni; the name of Cavalli was later adopted by Francesco as a homage to his aristocratic patron. Cavalli’s father was a musician himself, who discovered the precocious musical gifts of his son and educated him, until, at fourteen, the boy was heard by Federico de Cavalli who brought him to Venice. From then on, young Francesco enjoyed a steady and prestigious career, mainly in the Basilica of San Marco, but also in some of the most important churches of the city. At San Marco, Cavalli was a singer (a soprano at first, and later a tenor), an organist (with a gradual ascending progression, embodied by his promotion from second to first organist), a composer and, eventually, the Chapel Master (1668). For these roles, obviously, Cavalli had both to compose and to perform many works of sacred music: he fulfilled his duty with general satisfaction, also acquiring an international fame.
However, his religious duties must have left Cavalli with considerable free time and a vast amount of creative energies, which he prolifically employed in the field of opera; here, the fruits of his art consist not only of his actual works (many of which, unfortunately, have not been preserved), but also of the influence he played on the further development of the genre. In particular, thanks to the particular dynamics of the artistic and social scene of the Serenissima, operas were not intended only for the patrician ears of the aristocracy; here, the rules of the market and the dynamics of patronage, sponsorship and entrepreneurship encouraged the creation of operas with a more pronounced humanity, and a higher affective content. If, on the surface, the subjects of the first operas were rather uniformly taken from the ancient myths or Classical historical figures, the treatment such subjects received in Venice was markedly different from that found in other cities; here, the affections were less stereotyped, the style more varied, the characters closer to those of the real human beings, and there was room for an ample variety of situations. And even though the protagonists normally maintained their august aura, a comical, or at least ironic element was frequently found in the Venetian operas; in particular, many such moments were entrusted to a particular character and voice, i.e. that of the Nurse. In the words of the artist performing in this CD:

When Venice invented public opera, in 1637, this new genre had existed for not yet forty years. A great variety of characters is found; and among kings, queens, servants and eunuchs, the nurse is an important – though too frequently forgotten – character. It is the symbol for that union of the registers which Venetian opera was seeking. This CD proposes a hour-long exploration of this character, which had been abandoned for too long in the libraries worldwide, resulting in a programme of mostly premiere recordings.
Within a universe ruled by the gods, the mythological characters or the rulers, the nurse leads the audience to a more material, to a more realistic reality; she embodies the two components – the tragical and the comical – pertaining to the union of registers, thus becoming a perfect symbol for the Venetian opera. She mainly performs the role of the one who teaches ethics, who gives common-sense advice, frequently about the passing of time and the unforeseeable traits of love.
She is generally old in age, and her part is sung en travesti; thus, she enjoys a privileged relationship with the audience, who, of course, knows about her dressing-up. Contrary to the feminine characters who dress as men for strategic purposes or love affairs, the nurse sings en travesti for a performing convention: her character deceives nobody, but it embodies an unrestrained freedom of expression which begs the modern question about gender, in a city, such as Venice, which was the symbol of freedom itself.
Thus, the character of the nurse is found in a substantial portion of the Venetian repertoire, between 1638 and 1670; we thus find a cohort of more than a hundred “old women”, before the disappearance of this figure. Indeed, Venetian opera opened itself up to reform in that era; it expunged from its stages the anti-heroes such as the depraved Roman emperors; and it put back on their pedestal the virtuous rulers, which mirrored on stage the royal ruler who attended the performances.

The subtle fascination of this forgotten character, therefore, has led the artists to create an itinerary dominated by the works by Cavalli, but with meaningful presences of examples from the works of several of his contemporaries (some of whom were also his pupils, colleagues or protegées, as in the cases of Sartorio and Cesti; the works by Alessandro Ciccolini result from the modern reconstruction of a partially lost opera by young Domenico Scarlatti). Nurses inhabit a liminal zone between the empathy of motherhood and the wisdom of old age; they may be slightly more detached than mothers in their view of their charges, and thus possibly provide a more reasoned advice; they do not belong in the aristocracy but nourish its children, thus also providing a bridge between the classes by means of their very body. And just as Juliet’s Nurse is much more influential, in her life, than Lady Capulet, possibly also in the works recorded here the Nurse will act as a temporal bridge, allowing us to get a glimpse of a lost world, a lost society, a lost era which, however, still lives in its music.

Album Notes by Chiara Bertoglio


Ensemble Il Groviglio An entanglement of ideas, sonorities and multifaceted personalities. A vibrant interweaving of pinched and caressed strings, centered on baroque music, that brings together musicians from Italy, France and everywhere. This is the ensemble “Il Groviglio,” made up of young musicians trained in Europe’s best conservatories (Paris, Florence, Basel, Versailles). Since the beginning, the ensemble has explored on 17th and 18th century Italian repertoire and focused on some lesser-known composers such as Francesco Provenzale, Alessandro Stradella or Antonio Draghi. The ensemble was appeared at numerous international Festival such as le Petit Festival de Bretagne, the Festival Marin Marais, the Festival de Musique ancienne de Vanves and the Festival Baroque de Pontoise. Il Groviglio's last engagements include the Stradella’s oratorio Santa Editta for the first modern world premiere in some Swiss and French Festivals.

Marco Angioloni is an Italian tenor born in Arezzo and living in Paris. He first graduated as an oboist at the “L. Cherubini” Florence Conservatoire before dedicating himself to singing. He then began his vocal studies with Donatella Debolini in Florence and continued his training in Paris with Jean-Francois Rouchon and Enzo La Selva before joining the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles (CMBV). He has taken part in masterclasses with Chris Merritt, Jeff Cohen, Barbara Bonney, Karine Deshayes, I. Mula and he made his operatic debut in 2013 as Normanno (Lucia di Lammermoor) at l’Apostrophe, the national theatre of Pontoise (France). Since then, Angioloni has performed in numerous concert halls and festivals, including the Auditorium Parco della Musica di Roma, Chapelle Royale de Versailles, Tongyeong Concert Hall (South Korea), Opéra Royal de Versailles, Opéra de Paris, Theater An der Wien. Recent opera credits include Apolline in Landi’s La Morte d’Orfeo with Les Talens Lyriques and Christophe Rousset for the Festival de Royaumont, Vulcain in Lully’s Psyché and Murmilla in Telemann’s Richard Löwenherz at the Magdeburg Opera House (Germany). During the last seasons he also sung the roles of Truffaldino (L’Amour des trois oranges), Arlecchino (Pagliacci), le Brésilien (La Vie Parisienne), le Chevalier de la Force (Dialogues des Carmélites), Achille/Oreste (La belle Hélène), Sultan Soliman (Zaide), Arbace (Idomeneo). He was lucky to work with many prestigious conductors such as Andrew Lawrence King, Nicola Piovani, Jonathan Webb, David Fallis, Patrick Bismuth, Paul Agnew, Filippo Maria Bressan, David Stern, Christophe Rousset and Jean-Christophe Spinosi. He has been a finalist in the L. Zanuccoli and the N. Orizzonti competitions and has released several recordings for the labels Aethalia, Mirare, Aparté and Glossa. In the season 2019/2020 Marco’s upcoming engagements include the roles of Soldato II, Familiare II and Console in Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea in Buenos Aires at Teatro Colón conducted by Jean-Christophe Spinosi and at Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Haendel’s Dixit Dominus (tenor solo), still under the wand of J.C. Spinosi. He also will dress the roles of Prunier (La Rondine), Mrs Stevens in Lady in the dark (Kurt Weill), Captain/Governor (Candide), Don Basilio/Don Curzio (Le Nozze di Figaro) and he will record some tenor solos in Lully’s Grands Motets at Opéra Royal du Château de Versailles with the ensemble Les Epopées conducted by Stéphane Fuget. Marco Angioloni is also a graduate of the Royaumont Foundation.


Alessandro Melani (b Pistoia, 4 Feb 1639; d Rome, 3 Oct 1703). Composer, brother of (1) Jacopo Melani. He sang at Pistoia Cathedral between 1650 and 1660 and then became maestro di cappella in Orvieto and Ferrara. He returned to Pistoia in December 1666 to become maestro di cappella of the cathedral in June 1667, replacing his brother Jacopo. Four months later he was elected maestro di cappella of S Maria Maggiore, Rome; he assumed a similar position at S Luigi dei Francesi no later than July 1672 and remained there until his death. In Rome he enjoyed the favourable conditions of the Rospigliosi papacy, who paid for an opera at the 1668 carnival, and the patronage of Ferdinando de’ Medici, his name appearing among ‘celebrated professors of music protected by the Prince of Tuscany’ in 1695, and of Francesco II d’Este, who in 1690 commissioned an oratorio from him, probably Lo scisma nel sacerdozio (which is lost). The justification for the admission of Alessandro’s nephews to the minor nobility of Tuscany speaks of unspecified services to the King of Poland; the fact that he composed an oratorio, Golia abbatuto, in 1685 (to celebrate the Holy League against the Turks negotiated by Pope Innocent XI and including the King of Poland) strongly suggests that these services combined politics and music.

As a composer of liturgical music for Rome, Melani was an important precursor of Alessandro Scarlatti. In addition to his three published collections and isolated motets in other published volumes many other works survive in manuscript; the majority are for eight, nine or ten voices and they constitute a surprisingly large corpus of polychoral music which has yet to be studied. Of eight oratorios ascribed to him the most frequently performed was Il fratricidio di Caino. Santa Dimna (Rome, 1683) is a pasticcio that brought together the three dominant composers in Rome in the second half of the century: Melani, Pasquini and Scarlatti. Alessandro, his brother Jacopo and later Pasquini, Stradella, Antonio Olivieri, Cosimo Bani and above all Alessandro Scarlatti constitute a second school of Roman opera. As noted above under (1), the revival of opera in Rome began with Jacopo Melani’s Il Girello in 1668. In the following year, also with Filippo Acciaiuoli as the impresario, Alessandro’s first datable opera, L’empio punito, was performed in the Palazzo Colonna; it is chiefly interesting as the first opera on the subject of Don Juan. These two operas, which were written for Maria Mancini Colonna, together established a bridge between the lyrical, comic style of mid-century Tuscan opera and the second flowering of Roman opera. But it should be noted that neither composer ever wrote another opera for Rome. Nor are any revivals of their operas recorded in Rome, though Alessandro continued to be a leading composer of oratorio and liturgical music there. Instead his operas were more in demand in Florence and Bologna.

Antonio Sartorio (b Venice, 1630; d Venice, 30 Dec 1680). Italian composer partly active in Germany. He was a leading composer of operas for Venice in the 1660s and 70s.

Domenico Scarlatti (b Naples, 26 Oct 1685; d Madrid, 23 July 1757). Composer and harpsichordist, sixth child of (1) Alessandro Scarlatti and Antonia Anzaloni. He never used his first Christian name (which could have led to confusion with his nephew Giuseppe): his name is always given in Italy as Domenico (or the familiar Mimo) Scarlatti, and in Portugal and Spain as Domingo Escarlate (Escarlati or Escarlatti).

Francesco Cavalli (b Crema, 14 Feb 1602; d Venice, 14 Jan 1676). Italian composer, organist and singer, son of Giovanni Battista Caletti. He was the most performed, and perhaps the most representative, composer of opera in the quarter-century after Monteverdi and was a leading figure, as both composer and performer, in Venetian musical life.

Pietro Antonio Cesti (b Arezzo, bap. 5 Aug 1623; d Florence, 14 Oct 1669). Italian composer and singer. He was the most celebrated Italian musician of his generation.

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Il Canto della Nutrice – Lyrics

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