Manchester, 14th-18th July 2004


Jonathan Glixon (University of Kentucky, USA)

The triumph of inconstancy: the vicissitudes of a Venetian libretto

We generally consider an opera libretto to be essentially a fixed text during any given series of performances, with only slight modifications being made to resolve problems or to satisfy the demands of audience or singers.  As Ellen Rosand and others have shown, some seventeenth-century Venetian librettos were slightly modified when reprinted during a season, and printers sometimes offered supplements with added or changed texts.  The libretto for Ziani’s L’Incostanza trionfante, produced at the Teatro S. Cassiano for the 1657/58 season, however, underwent an extraordinary series of trials and tribulations.  The unknown nobleman who devised the story assigned the task of creating the libretto to an author who departed the city before completing his work, leaving others to finish the text. Perhaps because of lack of time, the printer botched his job; at the same time, anonymous critics attacked the poetry itself. A response to the critics was prepared, but within a short period the printer received two communications claiming to be from the managers of the theater–one of which turned out to be a forgery--issuing conflicting instructions about corrections and reprinting of the libretto.  The extant copies of the work, although ostensibly either a simple first or second printing, actually represent at least four different stages in the process.

This paper will examine this bizarre series of events (including what seems to have been one of the earliest known attempts to sabotage a libretto), will explore the unusual aspects of the poetry that apparently initiated the problems, and will illustrate the various steps in the process of publication.

Last updated on 10 May 2004