Mauro Calcagno

USEFUL LINKS (audio and video):


"In this bold, highly original book, Mauro Calcagno ventures into areas where no other scholar has tread. He explores the Petrarchian view of the self over a century-long arc from the early madrigal to the beginnings of opera, with Monteverdi's masterpieces taking center stage. A brilliant tour de force, From Madrigal to Opera proffers a remarkable new way to look at music, performance, and reception that rings true not only for the early modern period but also for our own age. A must read for scholars, performers, and lovers of early music."--JANE A. BERNSTEIN, author of Print Culture and Music in Sixteenth-Century Venice

"The mini-renaissance of early modern music studies continues apace, and Mauro Calcagno's From Madrigal to Opera is its latest, particularly impressive installment. Drawing on methodological impulses from a variety of sources--linguistics, phenomenology, narratology, and, above all, performance studies--Calcagno pays close attention to the interplay of the abstract text and live performance in both early opera and late madrigal. Common strategies, rooted in Petrarch's poetic practice, indeed united the two genres. This book will shape the discussion of early modern vocal music in the coming years."--KAROL BERGER is the author of Bach's Cycle, Mozart's Arrow: An Essay on the Origins of Musical Modernity.

"In this pathbreaking study, Calcagno offers a new and dynamic interpretation of the relationship between Monteverdi's madrigals and operas based on perceptions of subjectivity expressed in Renaissance literature--the poetry of Petrarch in particular. Calcagno interprets Monteverdi's work as realizing a Petrarchan notion of the dialogical self, a concept that extends well beyond the early modern period to illuminate and enrich our own experience of virtually any vocal work in performance. This book should be required reading not only for those interested in music and text of the Early Modern period, but for anyone involved in performance studies."—ELLEN ROSAND, author of Monteverdi's Last Operas: A Venetian Trilogy.

From Madrigal to Opera: Monteverdi's Staging of the Self

University of California Press, 2012

Companion webpage

On the left column please find links to audio and video resources useful to accompany the reading. Scroll down for the table of contents and Google Preview. Click here for a chapter-by-chapter summary.


From Madrigal to Opera: Monteverdi’s Staging of the Self examines how “selves” emerge and are perceived in two musical genres mastered by Claudio Monteverdi. . . . Why is the compound of words, music, and gesture characterizing Monteverdi’s madrigals and operas still so effective for today’s audiences? How do the agents involved in the creation and performance of texted music interact with one another? How does texted music tell stories (of gods, demigods, mortals) and what is the specific role of music and of the performer in this process? . . . . In order to approach these questions, I explore in this book a cultural paradigm that initially developed outside of music: Petrarchism. . . . In its musical guise Petrarchism provides a productive access point to the issues raised above, but especially to the one that underpins, in my view, the others—subjectivity. . . . From Madrigal to Opera investigates music’s own contribution to Petrarchism, as a window on the issue of early modern subjectivity. . . .

In Part I (“La Musica and Orfeo”) the purpose of investigating Monteverdi’s Orfeo is to establish contextual bases, critical tools, and a cross-disciplinary vocabulary for later use in the book. The tools and vocabulary are drawn from linguistics, phenomenology, narratology, and theater and film studies, as areas that allow bridging the gap between the worlds of abstract text and live performance. . . . In chapter 1 (“Text, Context, Performance”) I deal with the relationships between text, context, and performance in Orfeo. . . I discuss . . . the issue of performance both in its meaning for the Italian courts of the early seventeenth century and in its meaning today as a philosophical concept, as well as in its concrete implications for, say, a stage director producing Orfeo in an opera house. Through an analysis of the Prologue of this opera, chapter 2 (“Liminality, Deixis, Subjectivity”) introduces the basic terminology about subjectivity used in the rest of the book, including concepts such as deixis, dialogic self, and subject-effects. In discussing a recent production of Orfeo, chapter 3 (“Performing the Dialogic Self”) provides a first application of these concepts in the life of performance.

In Part II (“Constructing the Narrator”) I extrapolate backward from opera to identify fluctuating expressions of self created by the composer-as-poet in sixteenth-century polyphonic madrigals. This discourse on a flexible self emerges in the opening sonnet of Petrarch’s Canzoniere, which I discuss in chapter 4 (“From Petrarch to Petrarchism: A Rhetoric of Voice and Address”) also in musical settings. Petrarch’s view of the self was appropriated, inflected, and socialized in late Renaissance literary Petrarchism, of which the madrigal was an epiphenomenon. . . . representative figures of the literary side of Petrarchism practiced, and theorized about, what I call a “rhetoric of voice and address,” a way in which poets communicated to readers/​listeners, which was then appropriated by musicians. In chapter 5 (“In Search of Voice: Musical Petrarchism in the Sixteenth-Century Madrigal”) I investigate the musical side of Petrarchism in the madrigal before Monteverdi, from the micro-level of verbal resonances and emphasis on specific words to the macro-textual level of modeling print collections of poems and madrigals on the Canzoniere. I explore this range of possibilities from the point of view of creators, performers, and listeners, in works by Verdelot, Arcadelt, Willaert, Rore, Wert, and Marenzio, focusing on these composers’ appropriation of the voice of poets, as well as on the listeners’ perception of it. Through madrigal books, musicians created stories that effectively met the expectations of listeners who stored in their memories narrative patterns absorbed by reading poetry collections. These composers calibrated the relationships between narrator and characters in a variety of ways, assembling texts from disparate literary sources and even modifying them to suit their own purposes. . . .

Part III (“Staging the Self”) deals exclusively with Monteverdi, whose works are seen as the culmination of the Petrarchist process of progressive appropriation of the narrator’s voice described in chapter 5. In chapter 6 (“Monteverdi, Narrator”) I show how, on the one hand, the composer develops his voice as narrator to such a degree that in Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda he transforms the epic poetry of Torquato Tasso into a multimedia, semi-staged piece. On the other hand, Monteverdi overcomes Petrarchism by creating full-fledged and flesh-and-blood characters well beyond the classic Petrarchan “lover.” In this process he adapts for his own purposes the poetics not only of Tasso but also of Giovan Battista Marino, the quintessential Baroque poet. . . . Monteverdi’s “impulse to narrative,” his creation of fictional worlds, is the result of madrigalistic and operatic techniques that I subsume under the term focalization, meaning perspective or point of view. Narrator and characters project a focalizing effect by acquiring a visual dimension through which they see, perceive, and experience the events of a story, making the audience aware of them. Instrumental music as well becomes a factor in this process. As a result, madrigal and opera become, in the hands of Monteverdi, multi-vocal and multi-focal, with the potential of being developed as multimedia artworks. . . . The singers’ use of pure voice as empty, non-verbal sounding music, which I trace back to the aesthetics of Marino (chapter 7, “The Possibility of Opera”), enables them to shift the audience’s perspective toward the narrative power of music per se, as well as toward themselves. Today, the opera director, by locating and moving the singers within the performance space, becomes yet another agent in the chain of appropriations inaugurated by the Petrarchist poets and the madrigalists; and in filmed productions, the video director becomes the last link of this chain. In the highly relativistic world of Poppea, characters such as Otho and the two soldiers provide a perspective on, respectively, Poppaea and Seneca. Thanks to the focalizing effect generated by these characters, but also depending on the choices of opera or video directors, the audience perceives the events of the opera in a particular way, absorbing a worldview conveyed by the performance and mediating it with its own. . . .

REVIEWS updated June 2013

From Choice of November 2012

This brilliantly erudite book will delight those interested in matters Monteverdian, i.e., his madrigals, his operas, and his musical/​intellectual world. Calcagno (SUNY, Stony Brook) argues that Monteverdi's dramatic "staging of the self" is derived from Petrarchism, the pan-artistic overview built on Petrarchan rhetorical and narrative devices, which was hugely influential in Italy as the "late Renaissance" became the "early Baroque." The composer's musical narration interwove descriptive declamation with character representation, enabling actor-singers, and then operatic singer-actors, to come to grips with their shifting roles as narrators or actual characters onstage in the new genre called "opera." In other words, Petrarchan-influenced madrigals, especially by Monteverdi, made Monteverdi's operas--and those of others--possible. Jacket blurbs, by respected musicologists, rightly assert that the book is "bold, highly original ... [in] areas where no other scholar has trodden ... a brilliant tour de force"; that the author "draw[s] on ... linguistics, phenomenology, narratology, and ... performance studies"; that he offers "a new and dynamic interpretation" of the "notion of the dialogical self." Warning: one must be familiar with many bodies of academic, departmentalized jargon to read this intense study with any ease. A triumph, but a very dense one.

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Researchers, scholars, specialists.

-- W. Metcalfe, emeritus, University of Vermont

Excerpts from Early Music of February 2012, 152-55 ("Performing the Monteverdian self," by Antonio Cascelli)

Over the last 40 years, scholars have developed a more dynamic understanding of Monteverdi’s music in its contexts and performances, from Denis Arnold’s and Nigel Fortune’s The Monteverdi companion (London, 1968), Gary Tomlinson’s Monteverdi and the end of the Renaissance (Berkeley, 1987) and Silke Leopold’s Monteverdi: music in transition (English edn, Oxford, 1990) to John Whenham’s and Richard Wistreich’s Cambridge companion to Monteverdi (Cambridge, 2007 ). . . . Mauro Calcagno’s new book is thus the latest in a series of rich contributions to the fertile research field on Monteverdi’s music, laying the foundation for a bridge between gender-orientated studies of Monteverdi and more traditional lines of investigation.

Much of the recent research on Monteverdi has focused on performance—an important aspect of not just his music but that of the 16th- and 17th-century repertory in
general (a repertory by now recognized as distant from the 19th-century concept of the ‘musical work’)—and on subjects, subjectivities and bodies in performance.
Calcagno, by contrast, explores the textual conditions for the individuation of subjects and selfhood that so far have been investigated in more hermeneutic ways. He redirects
our attention ‘to the textual level of enunciation, the level most relevant to performance’ (p.41), with a pragmatic move towards discourse meanings, towards the linguistic elements that create a theatrical language, those deictic components (words such as ‘I’, ‘you’, ‘this’, ‘there’, ‘now’, ‘then’) that establish a series of subject-effects within the time and place of the performance, as different from the time and place of the audience (which is indeed invited to join in the world of the performance itself).
. . .
However, what might seem a purely textual analysis has, in Calcagno’s view, deep historical and cultural roots. The subject conveyed by self-reflexive, presence and narrative effects, which always pose an ‘I–you’ relationship (p.54), was first introduced and thematized by Petrarch at the start of his Canzoniere
. . .
Music is central to Calcagno’s analyses, which are a very fascinating deviation from the usual focus when analysing madrigals on word-painting and on the relationship between music and textual affects.
. . .
Despite these small omissions, Calcagno’s book is a highly original work that sheds fascinating and unfamiliar light on Monteverdi’s music, exposing our modern-day enthusiasm for the composer’s operas as part of a complex and rich network of cultural practices.




Part One. La Musica and Orfeo

1. Text, Context, Performance

Performing Nobility • Authorizing Performance • The Work of Opera

2. Liminality, Deixis, Subjectivity

Prologues as Paratexts • “I am Music” • The Prologue of Orfeo as Performance • Dialogic Subjectivity • Subject-Effects

3. Performing the Dialogic Self

Music’s Touch • Echoes

Part Two. Constructing the Narrator

4. From Petrarch to Petrarchism: A Rhetoric of Voice and Address

Voi ch’ascoltate • Appropriating the Self • L yric Modes • Equivocality

5. In Search of Voice: Musical Petrarchism in the Sixteenth-Century Madrigal

Theatricality and Temporal Perspective • Diffracting the Self • Who is Speaking? From Soggetto to Dialogo • The Madrigal Book as Canzoniere

Part Three. Staging the Self

6. Monteverdi, Narrator

From Narration to Focalization • Combattimento between Page and Stage

7. The Possibility of Opera

The Aesthetics of Nothing: Monteverdi, Marino, and the Incogniti • Focalization in Poppea

Epilogue: Subjectivity, Theatricality, Multimediality

Appendix 1: Tables of Contents of the Madrigal Books

Appendix 2: Monteverdi, Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda: Text and Translation