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Discovering Opera via Timeline - Vecchi's "L'Amfiparnaso" (Conclusion) #1B

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In the introductory material to the only current DVD performance of “L’Amfiparnaso” it is suggested that the “twin peaks” of Parnassus refer to dramatic and comedic elements in the one work. My problem with that interpretation is that it does not seem a ground-breaking enough earmark of this work to give the whole thing the title of “L’Amfiparnaso”.

From what I understand, normal commedia dell’arte presentations of the time involved both dramatic and comedic elements. What then, made “L’Amfiparnaso” stand out at the time as something new?

In the book of the score edited by Cecil Adkins “A Genealogical Table of the Madrigal Comedy” is presented on page seven of the introduction. The table shows four types of madrigal comedies. They are identified as “Continuity provided only by the title”, “Continuity provided by title and use of same characters throughout”, “Like (the latter), but all based on pastoral themes”, and finally, “Continuity provided by plot and character development”.

It is this final category of which “L’Amfiparnaso” is the earliest example, and so, it seems to me that the “twin peaks” are more likely to be Music and Story than they are to be Comedy and Drama.

So, the question is – how well does “L’Amfiparnaso” succeed in its goal of melding music with a plot? What are its strengths and weaknesses as perceived by the modern listener – in this case….me?


The foremost strength is the music itself. In particular, the dramatic part of the plot involving the lovers who misunderstand each other contains some absolutely gorgeous passages. Most notable is the lengthy lament of Isabella when she thinks that Lucio has committed suicide because he thought she had left him for another love.

It should be noted that there is little visual performance value in these dramatic scenes (about which more later). However, a few of the comedic scenes are greatly enhanced by effective stage presentation. Notice how much an imaginative stage presentation can add to these scenes by comparing the rather limited staging on the DVD with the much more entertaining scenes from the work that can be seen in online video clips from what appears to be a presentation on Spanish TV. I would really, really enjoy seeing that entire performance if someone would take the time to issue it.

Although one of the weaknesses of “L’Amfiparnaso” is the jarring nature of the contrast between serious and comic scenes, the final scene that melds the two together is very enjoyable, with a lot of subtle humor provided as the various characters, serious and comic, each bring wedding gifts to Lucio and Isabella.


The strictly dramatic scenes suffer due to the fact that, in madrigal performance characters’ lines are seldom presented by a single voice. In comic scenes, the action moves so quickly that pantomime works. But the more static effect of the dramatic monologues or dialogues is very awkward when presented in “dumb show”. Here is where one feels that Vecchi’s intention to just have his audience visualize the action would work better.

We’ve grown accustomed to the highly developed, subtle and sophisticated mix of comedy and drama in later works like The Marriage of Figaro and Cosi Fan Tutte. In comparison, the juxtaposition of carnival-type humor with life-and-death issues in the dramatic scenes of this work makes for a rather unsatisfying whole. It might not have been so jarring if either the comic plot or the dramatic plot had been presented as an intermezzo. It’s the weaving in and out that makes the work as a whole not very satisfying on a story level.

To illustrate - the first dramatic scene involves a set of lovers that we do not encounter again until the very last scene when they bring their gifts to the wedding of Lucio and Isabella. The second dramatic scene is the very first mention of Lucio. He’s getting ready to kill himself because Isabella seems to have accepted the advances of a buffo character, Captain Cardon. We next see a scene with Isabella toying with the affections and expectations of said Cardon, but after the latter’s departure, we go immediately into a scene with Isabella lamenting over the supposed death of Lucio and getting ready to kill herself as well. We are led to believe then, that in the previous scene, she was contemplating revenge on Cardon by dashing his hopes with her own death. As drama, this clearly does not work. So, it probably behooves us just to ignore it and enjoy the music.


I actually love this “opera”. Once I learned to accept the story for what it is with all its limitations, I was able to just sit back and enjoy the glorious music which, after all, is really what it’s all about.