1.1 Among opera singers active in Venice during the 1660s and early 1670s, none surpassed the reputation and acclaim of Vincenza Giulia Masotti. “Discovered” by Venetian nobleman and impresario Vettor Grimani Calergi, she soon became the object of bidding wars, and her sometime reluctance to sing in Venice eventually resulted in huge salaries when she agreed to perform there. Although Masotti has been the subject of numerous studies, newly discovered documents now allow us to appreciate her career in Venice from fresh points of view.
1.2 Indeed, our understanding of Giulia and her career has advanced significantly over the past fifteen years. Documents from the archives of the Medici and Bentivoglio families have helped to humanize our view of Masotti, and the recent discovery of a significant cache of her letters to Cardinal Sigismondo Chigi, described more fully by Colleen Reardon in her “Letters from the Road: Giulia Masotti and Cardinal Sigismondo Chigi,” also serves to deepen our understanding.
1.3 This present article looks at the singer’s career in Venice from 1662 through 1673 with regard to issues of patronage and recruiting, but also with an eye to her worldview, as suggested both in her own letters as well as in others that concern her. Correspondence surviving from the mid-1660s in a number of archives reveals the constant rigors of recruiting that Giulia must have faced. Negotiations seem always to have stretched into the fall months, a time when impresarios and, undoubtedly, also the composers, would have wished for the cast to be set. These annual battles, all but one connected with the Grimani theater, are documented for the 1664, 1665, 1666, 1667, and 1669 seasons in Venice. Masotti’s reasons for not coming to Venice apparently remained constant: the strains of ill health, the difficult travel, and the wear-and-tear she suffered as the opera season progressed. When Masotti did accede to the impresarios’ demands, it was always with significant financial guarantees. Masotti was a true prima donna, one who could not only tailor her contracts to suit her financial demands, but who, as we shall see, could also influence the endings of the operas in which she performed in order to highlight her special status.
2.1 In March of 1662 the Medici agent in Rome, Carlo Eustachio, sent the following report to Florence regarding a young singer he had recently heard:
Two times during Lent, Count Montauto favored me by allowing me to enjoy a most exquisite concert in the house of a talented young woman called Giulia, who sings exquisitely; she is the student of Carissimi, the maestro di cappella at S. Apollinare. This young girl was in the service of the Princess of Butera, and was taught there. If she does not exhibit herself too soon, I think she will become a truly great singer; to this one can add good manners, which I hope will not be spoiled, as she does not possess great beauty or conversation.
Eustachio’s few words speak volumes about the young Giulia Masotti, of her world in Rome, and about the potential envisioned by those who had heard her sing. By this time she was already under the protection of Torquato Montauto, the Tuscan Resident in Rome, who would act as her protector as she began her operatic career. Not only had her family opened up their own home so that others could come to hear her singing, but Giulia had become a favorite of the Medici orbit in Rome, and Montauto had undoubtedly introduced her to other important figures as well. Her talent had first emerged while she was in the service of the Princess of Butera, and she must already have begun to make advantageous contacts at that time.
2.2 Giulia’s potential was such that she had been taught by one of the most important musicians in Rome, Giacomo Carissimi, the maestro di cappella at S. Apollinare, attached to the famed Jesuit college. Eustachio expressed the hope that Giulia would retain the gift of gracious behavior, which, perhaps, along with her vocal prowess, would be especially important as she, unlike a number of other female singers, was apparently not attractive. Janet Page’s recent discovery that Giulia died in Vienna in 1701 at the age of fifty shows that the singer was quite young in 1662, perhaps only eleven years old, so that it is not surprising that her social skills had not fully matured.
2.3 Eustachio must have been a keen judge of musical talent: he had earlier written in praise of Leonora Baroni in the Applausi published in her honor in 1639. His predictions certainly proved to be on target, as Masotti soon emerged as the leading singer of her generation. She sang at the Teatro S. Luca in Venice, then the capital of the operatic world, only months after Eustachio had heard her perform, and subsequently appeared there off and on over a period of ten years before moving to Turin, and finally to Vienna, where she would ultimately settle. Moreover, her social skills and conversation must have matured just in the way that Eustachio had hoped. We know for certain that Masotti interacted not only with Sigismondo Chigi, but also with his sister-in-law Maria Virginia Borghese, her husband Prince Agostino Chigi, and Cardinal Flavio Chigi (along with the Chigi family in Siena). Also in Rome she socialized with Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna, the librettist Giovanni Filippo Apolloni, and with the Princes of Brunswick, Georg Wilhelm and Ernst August (who also spent time in Venice). Outside of Rome, she visited with the Marquis Ippolito Bentivoglio of Ferrara, while among the Venetian nobility her contacts included the Grimani (the owners of the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo), their in-laws the Michiel, and the Dolfin. Her career in Venice was a reflection not only of her exquisite artistry, but also of her relations with these important men and her ability to blend her desires and preferences with those of her friends, her protectors, and the impresarios who sought her talents in order to increase the prestige of their theaters.
3.1 We know very little of Masotti’s initial recruitment to sing in Venice, only that it was achieved as a result of the strong bonds between various members of the Medici establishment and the man who had taken on the theater where Giulia would debut, the ruthless Venetian nobleman, Abate Vettor Grimani Calergi. The young Masotti’s initial perceptions and expectations of the trade must have been shaped in no small part by this powerful and persuasive man.
3.2 Vettor Grimani Calergi, born to a wealthy Venetian noble family in 1610, was one of the most colorful and notorious figures of seventeenth-century Venice. He was closely related to Giovanni Grimani, head of the Spago branch of the family that owned and ran the prestigious Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo; in various letters they referred to each other as “nephew” and “uncle.” Vettor, the oldest of many siblings, was the secular abbot of the wealthy S. Zeno of Verona. He corresponded with members of the Bentivoglio family in Ferrara, Carlo Emmanuele II, the Duke of Savoy, Ferdinand Karl, the Archduke of Austria, and, most frequently, with Prince Mattias de’ Medici, the brother of Ferdinando II, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Carlo II, the Duke of Mantua, socialized with Grimani Calergi during his frequent trips to Venice, and Ferdinand Karl, the Archduke of Austria, also resided in the Grimani palace during his visits there: all these connections would eventually help him in his operatic endeavors. The historian Alvise Zorzi described Grimani Calergi and his brothers as “a tribe of high ranking criminals of terrible repute.” Indeed, Vettor was banished four times from Venice for a variety of serious offenses. By all accounts he considered himself above the law and did not hesitate to apply pressure in order to obtain his goals, both political and operatic. Grimani Calergi has been perhaps best known in musicological circles for his recruiting of the notorious Roman singer Anna Maria Sardelli for the 1650–51 season, but his influence in operatic matters was keenly felt well into the 1660s.
3.3 During his early years in the opera business, Grimani Calergi formed a close relationship with Antonio Cesti. In 1650 the composer was residing in Grimani Calergi’s house, and in 1652 the abbot referred to him in a letter as “mio musico”; later that year Cesti took up his position with the Archduke of Austria in Innsbruck. The abbot would draw on his connections with both Cesti and the archduke precisely during Masotti’s initial years in Venice. Indeed, Grimani Calergi’s choice of repertoire, and his relationship with Cesti, would have a lasting influence on both Masotti’s career and her image in the public eye.
3.4 In January 1655, while Cesti was visiting Venice, he became the center of a dispute that arose between Grimani Calergi and another Venetian nobleman, Francesco Querini; the troubles that began that year would have far-reaching consequences for Cesti and his relations with the operatic establishment in Venice. The clearest description of the initial incident, which took place at a performance of Cavalli’s Xerse on January 21, 1655, survives in the dispatches of the Florentine Resident written from Venice:
From an insignificant beginning has arisen a considerable occurrence for which no remedy has yet been found, despite the vigilance of those who govern. On Thursday evening, during the performance of an opera in the Teatro di SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Padre Cesti was in an opera box listening to the performance, when Francesco Querini tried to enter. Padre Cesti refused in no uncertain terms to admit him, and Querini began to argue, voicing words of menace that were opposed by Abate Grimani, defending the same Padre Cesti. Despite this, however, the next morning at the Rialto, Querini beat the frate several times. Abate Grimani took offense at this not only because Cesti is staying in his house, sent there by the Archduke of Innsbruck, but also because of his pledge of the previous evening.
3.5 The tensions between the two Venetian families smoldered for a number of years, only to fully erupt on January 15, 1659, when Querini was killed, either by Vettor or his brothers, or by one of their armed men. As a result, Grimani Calergi was banned from Venice and so was absent from the operatic scene for a number of years (as were Cesti’s operas). This absence naturally bore consequences, and on his return to Venice in 1661, Grimani Calergi found the Grimani theater now under the management of the impresario Marco Faustini. While the abbot announced that he hoped to open his own theater, his efforts that year went unfulfilled. At some point before the opening of the next carnival season, with access to the Grimani theater blocked, he took his considerable talents and influence to the competing Teatro S. Luca, in anticipation of its third season.
3.6 For the previous two years, Daniele da Castrovillari—who had the least prestige, perhaps, of any of the opera composers then active in Venice—had been the house composer at the Teatro S. Luca. During the summer of 1662 Castrovillari had begun work on an opera for the upcoming season, and Carlo Morandi, the financial officer of the company, had made a trip to Rome to recruit singers. A dispute arose between Castrovillari and the others in the company: he maintained that parts of the libretto he had been given were unsuitable to be set to music. When the composer Giovanni Battista Volpe determined that the libretto was, indeed, adequate, Castrovillari, insulted by the encounter, left the company and determined to have nothing more to do with opera. The departure of Castrovillari, which must have occurred before the appearance of Grimani Calergi, opened up the possibility of turning to more seasoned composers. Grimani Calergi would take advantage of this situation and present a revival of La Dori (first performed in Innsbruck in 1657) by his protégé Cesti, whose works had not been mounted in Venice since 1652. He also planned to mount an opera by Francesco Cavalli, who had been unable to come to an agreement at SS. Giovanni e Paolo with the stubborn Faustini.
3.7 By September 22, 1662, if not earlier, Grimani Calergi was in charge, and he had begun his search for personnel, including singers, dancers, and engineers. He asked Prince Mattias de’ Medici to help him obtain the services of a number of singers, and the prince was able to provide Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici’s castrato, Giuseppe Ghini, and the bass Ippolito Fusai. Grimani Calergi must have recruited Masotti through these same (and other) Medici contacts and their agents in Rome—given that Masotti was already under the protection of Torquato Montauto, the principal Medici agent there—although no correspondence for these particular months has yet come to light. A letter written by Giovanni Grimani several months later mentions that the Cardinal Deacon Carlo de’ Medici and Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici had been of assistance during Masotti’s recruitment.
3.8 Nearly all the pre-season news of the upcoming opera comes from the hastily written and often illegible scribbles of the Mantuan agent Abate Francesco Tinti. Among other things, Tinti listed some of the singers Grimani Calergi had collected and mentioned that the Archduke of Austria himself had also supplied the score for La Dori. One could say, then, that the young Masotti was immersed in a Cestian world that season: she was working on a Cesti opera with one of the composer’s most ardent supporters, and many of her fellow cast members had already worked with Cesti, both in Innsbruck and in Florence. In the end, the abbot proved himself to be a shrewd gambler: considering her age, Masotti may have had, at that time, little operatic experience, and probably none as the prima donna. Moreover, Grimani Calergi’s selection of Cesti’s opera bore consequences he could never have imagined, as Masotti came to be associated with the role of Dori throughout her career in Venice.
3.9 Giulia’s early days with Grimani Calergi may have provided more challenges than she had anticipated, for he was a man with strong musical tastes. Tinti, after describing Giulia, not identified by name, as “the best singer one could have” (una cantatrice la meglio che si ha), went on to say that at first Grimani Calergi took issue with her singing: “But it’s not to [Grimani Calergi’s] liking, because she wants to sing allegro, and not affettuoso.” The abbot’s criticism apparently reduced the young girl to tears. Tinti also related how, unhappy with the other lead singer “La Tiepola,” Grimani Calergi hired in her place a young woman from Florence; once she had arrived, however, she proved “worthless,” and the part was handed back to La Tiepola. La Dori also underwent a number of changes, as Tinti wrote to the Duke of Mantua: “It has been necessary to transpose some of the parts, and they question whether it will succeed. There were certain very beautiful pathetic passages; he [Grimani Calergi] does not want them, and has changed them into passaggi and cheerful things.” While some of these changes may have played to Masotti’s strengths, Grimani Calergi also came to impose his own musical preferences on the other opera composed that season. Regarding Cavalli’s work, Tinti remarked that “the abbot wants music according to his manner; thus, he does not allow free rein to the composer, who, in order to avoid difficulties, does everything as he orders it.” This opera, perhaps Scipione affricano, did not reach the stage that year.
3.10 Fortunately, we have eye-witness reports as to just how Giulia was received in Venice, a city accustomed for many years to welcoming acclaimed Roman prima donnas such as Maddalena Manelli, Anna Renzi, and Caterina Porri. The castrato Giuseppe Ghini, a member of the Dori cast, wrote to his patron, Prince Leopoldo de’ Medici:
The opera is so praised that one can hardly remember a similar circumstance. The evening of the premiere they took in 913 tickets, a number which has never been seen in the entire time that opera has been done in Venice. The Roman girl … receives such applause that they hardly let her finish, for all the shouting. Each night so many sonnets in praise of her fly through the air that they impede the view of the spectators. This is the news that I can give Your Most Serene Highness regarding the opera.
Ghini’s enthusiastic views were echoed in a report by a spectator writing to Ferrara:
I’ve heard two operas, one at Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo and the other at Teatro S. Luca. Both are truly beautiful in regard to the special effects, the scenery, the costumes, and for the excellence of the singers, who are in truth most perfect, although those who have written the librettos do not deserve much praise. Above all, however, there is a new woman who has come from Rome who has dethroned Caterina Porri. So much has this new singer pleased the public, I am certain that she cannot be exceeded either in the quality of her voice, or in the way she portrays the affects of the music.
3.11 Clearly, the young Giulia Masotti had become the new “it” singer, the one who would be able to draw crowds to the theater. One Venetian, however, was distressed at Masotti’s success at S. Luca: Grimani Calergi’s relative, Giovanni Grimani, owner of SS. Giovanni e Paolo. On March 17, 1663, he wrote:
Now we are talking about negotiations that touch me to the soul… Your Most Illustrious Lordship, who, I know, will allow me to fruitfully enjoy your graces given the authority you hold with the Most Serene Signor Cardinal Deacon. I cannot express to you the importance of this matter, while I assert to you that one is dealing with competition and profit: Your Illustrious Lordship will have heard about the applause that Signora Vincenza Giulia Mazzotti has won for having sung in the Teatro di S. Luca this past carnival. She was obtained at the request of Signor Abate Grimani my nephew with the help of the powerful patronage of the Serene Cardinal Medici of glorious memory, along with Count Montauto, the principal protector of the said woman, and from what I have heard, it seems that the said woman has promised to return next carnival to serve the abbot in that theater. May Your Lordship’s unmistakable prudence consider just how important it is to me to prevent the said lady from returning there. Rather, one should consider that I also have powerful patrons, among which Your Most Illustrious Lordship is foremost, and that gives me hope that I might obtain her for my theater, even more so because she was obtained through the intervention of the deceased cardinal, who is superseded far and away by the authority of the most Serene Signor Cardinal Deacon, who is still alive, and who is the absolute master of the said Count Montauti and Your Most Illustrious Lordship, who has authority regarding all things close to His Most Serene Highness. I implore, then, with all of my reverent spirit, your protection in this business, entreating you to make it happen either that she does not go to Venice to sing at the Teatro di S. Luca, or that she comes to mine, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, which would bring me such consolation, because I would make known to the world that I also have the means to make things happen…. P.S. I add to Your Most Illustrious Lordship that if it appears to you that you alone cannot obtain this kindness from the Most Serene Signor Cardinal, there is Signor Count Carlo Bentivoglio, who is also in a position of great favor with His Most Serene Highness. Do your best to make this happen, because it grieves me most urgently that Signor Abate is harming the interests of his own clan to favor certain low people who have that theater, who are even unworthy of being named. Therefore, once again I beg Your Most Illustrious Lordship to put all of your effort into this business.
Here, finally, we learn from Giovanni Grimani himself the pain that Grimani Calergi and his recruitment of Masotti had inflected on this veteran of the opera business, a man who had been involved in the trade for more than twenty years. This letter was written not to his good friend Ippolito Bentivoglio of Ferrara, but to Bentivoglio’s uncle, Annibale Bentivoglio, the papal nunzio in Florence and majordomo to the recently deceased Cardinal Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici, thus a man with many connections to the Medici.
3.12 We should note that so far, with the exception of the Princess of Butera, who had taken Masotti under her wing at the end of her life, all those mentioned regarding both the patronage of Masotti and her recruitment, have been men. Yet Masotti herself, in a letter of October 9, 1666, written during the difficult negotiations of 1666–67 at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, referred to the Duchess of Parma’s efforts in recruiting her for the Teatro S. Luca. By 1666 Masotti’s concerns were that her new patrons, the Contestabile Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and his wife, Maria Mancini, should write to the duchess, informing her of their protection and actions in this matter. This duchess must have been not one of the wives of Duke Ranuccio Farnese, but, rather, his mother, Margherita de’ Medici, the sister to Mattias and Giovanni Carlo de’ Medici. Although widowed in 1646, she retained her title after her son inherited his. This musically knowledgeable woman maintained contact with her family in Florence, often residing there rather than in Parma, so that she witnessed a number of musical festivities and operas presented with the characteristic pomp of the Medici. It is curious, then, that Masotti herself wrote about and valued the services of the duchess, but no one else connected with her recruitment found that patronage and support worthy of mention.
3.13 Giovanni Grimani’s letter also shows that Grimani Calergi planned to remain at S. Luca. In the event, however, any such competition vanished, because of developments within the family: Giovanni Grimani died on May 14, 1663. His heirs were his nephews Giovanni Carlo and Vincenzo Grimani, who at this time were fourteen and eleven years old. Giovanni Carlo began to take some part in the management of the theater almost immediately, writing letters concerning singers to Florence and Ferrara, but Grimani Calergi was there as well, supervising and using his influence and connections. Indeed, it is clear that in many respects, Vettor Grimani Calergi had the upper hand at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, despite the outrage that Giovanni Grimani had felt regarding the abbot’s betrayal of the Grimani theater, even as he lay dying; either the young Grimani brothers had sought his assistance, or they were unable to refuse his offers of help in running the family theater.
3.14 Grimani Calergi’s switch from S. Luca to SS. Giovanni e Paolo created some confusion in the minds of Masotti and her patrons: she had promised the abbot she would return to Venice, but to which theater was she obligated? The larger issue, however, was that after leaving Venice she had expressed doubts both to Grimani Calergi and others about returning there, citing her ill health. Nonetheless, Grimani Calergi (as well as the young Giovanni Carlo Grimani) once more pursued the young Giulia. He begged her to come for the 1663–64 season, promising not to bother her again the next year. As Giulia was under the protection of Count Montauto, who served the Medici princes, Montauto often found himself caught in the middle between Grimani Calergi, Masotti, and the Medici. In September 1663 the abbot wrote the following lines, not without a touch of sarcasm, to Prince Mattias:
She is thus obligated to fulfill her promises, as I, on the other hand, would be obligated to be willing to do anything in order to obtain her satisfaction. I beg the kindness of Your Highness to command Count Montauto in good form that likewise for this time only he should wish to assist me with this favor, and for this carnival only, and never again, and that he should endure being without the conversation of his adored Signora Giulia, who, I pledge to Your Highness, will be treated, protected, and returned as she came, and returned again.
3.15 In the end, however, at the urgings of Vettor Grimani Calergi, the young Giovanni Carlo Grimani, and Count Montauto, Masotti agreed to honor her commitment, and she sang in Giovanni Battista Volpe’s Rosilena and Cavalli’s Scipione affricano. The English traveler Philip Skippon heard her sing in both operas and described her thus: “She that acted the part of Rosilena was a Roman born, and is reputed to have the best voice in the world. Ericlea’s part [in Scipione affricano] was acted by her that acted Rosilena, who acquitted herself very well, and receiv’d great applause.” In later years, when trying to steer impresario Marco Faustini away from his preferred choices and toward the works of Cesti, Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna and the businessman Gasparo Origo would cite specifically the case of La Rosilena, and, presumably, its poor reception, though without supplying any details; Skippon’s remarks, perhaps predictably, show no disappointment with that work. Regarding the performances of that season, the castrato Atto Melani, who had also witnessed the operas, remarked: “The opera at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, under the patronage of Signor Abate Grimani, is the one that has all the applause, as they have virtuosi of the first order, who could certainly not operate better than they are.” It is worth mentioning that Scipione affricano concluded with Masotti’s character, Ericlea, singing the aria “O voi, che portate”; such an ending was untypical at this time, but it would become a feature of Masotti’s roles later on in her career.
3.16 The next year, during the fall of 1664, Grimani Calergi once more tried to recruit Masotti, despite his previous promises. Those efforts were still going on in early December for the operas Ciro (Cavalli, with additional music by Andrea Mattioli) and Perseo (Mattioli). Less than a month earlier, Grimani Calergi had written to Prince Mattias, requesting that he ask Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici (the Cardinal Deacon of Giovanni Grimani’s letter) to “command” Montauto to make sure that Giulia would come to serve him.
3.17 Montauto’s own letter to Prince Mattias speaks to his utter frustration, and he stresses Masotti’s repeated assertions that she would not be coming to Venice that year (i.e., she was only carrying out what she had repeatedly told Grimani Calergi she would do; it was he who was not acting honorably in the impresario/singer relationship). Despite all of this, Montauto makes clear his own devotion to Prince Mattias in trying to convince Masotti (against his own will?) to accede to Grimani Calergi’s demands:
I heard that Signora Giulia, while she was in Venice [during the previous season], many times told Signor Abate Grimani that she could not return to serve him. Here [in Rome] she tells me that she constantly affirmed this to Signor Alvise Contarini, who, in the months he has been in Rome, has asked her repeatedly to return. Also to Signor Lunardo Loredano, who is the brother-in-law of the deceased Giovanni Grimani [Calergi], who is presently here, she has most vividly proclaimed the same, and even to Signor Prince of Brunswick, as well as to the Contestabile [Colonna], but to demonstrate their advantage over her, they have encouraged her to go. And I hear that Signor Carlo Morando [Grimani Calergi’s agent, who had previously been connected with the Teatro S. Luca], who in more than one session of three or four hours each has tried his best to persuade her, has always received a negative response. Therefore, as a result of all these occurrences, I assured myself that my offices could not secure a better outcome. Nonetheless, in order to obey Your Highness, yesterday evening I read to her what you wrote to me, and I have brought back requests to beg Your Highness to pardon her if she does not obey you, and if she does not serve Signor Abate, because she says that her health cannot hold up to the difficulties of the voyage and the performances in Venice. And truly, I know that after her previous return she consumed considerable stomach oil, and she is always complaining of some ailment or another, such that there’s nothing more that I can do other than to beg Your Highness to believe that as for that which is up to me, I do not, nor will I ever fail to satisfy that which I owe to you as your most obedient and humble servant.
Montauto’s letter, in addition to confirming the high status of some of Masotti’s social contacts in Rome (the Venetians Contarini and Loredano, one of the Brunswick dukes, and Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna) lays before us the difficulties inherent in her situation: these men, who may well have had sympathy for her, nonetheless were forced to ally themselves with the Medici princes, and, through them, with the impresarios in Venice. It also demonstrates Montauto’s frustration over mediating between the competing desires of Grimani Calergi, Prince Mattias, and Masotti. Certainly, Montauto did his best to serve both as Masotti’s protector and to promote the interests of the Medici (that is, the interests of Grimani Calergi), taking care to confirm his allegiance to all parties. In the end, Masotti got her way and stayed in Rome rather than traveling to Venice.
4.1 Masotti has been best known through the correspondence that concerns her in the papers of the impresario Marco Faustini, written between 1665 and the fall of 1666. These letters convey a picture of a tough bargainer demanding astronomical sums, and it is this view of her that appeared in musicological writings of the second half of the twentieth century (including my own), as far back as Bruno Brunelli’s article “L’impresario in angustie.” We now know that this strong “woman” was only in her early teens, although she was already skilled at navigating the system with the aid of her Roman allies. Faustini had been absent from the management of SS. Giovanni e Paolo in the two years following the death of Giovanni Grimani (undoubtedly owing to the presence of Grimani Calergi), so that Masotti had never sung for him, nor had he met her in person; yet he had heard her perform in Venice and thus was determined to have her for “his” theater. Faustini pursued Masotti over two of his last three seasons at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. During the first, she was quickly offended at having been approached by Faustini and another interested party, “Bernardo muschier,” who was acting on behalf of an unspecified “important personage,” and Faustini was subsequently told that she was accustomed to dealing with nobility and royalty (as we have seen, this certainly was the case). Faustini was ultimately unable to recruit Giulia for the 1665–66 carnival, though not for lack of trying: as was the case with Grimani Calergi the previous year, he was still hoping for a positive result as late as December 1665.
4.2 Shortly after the end of Carnival, efforts commenced for the following season. Because Masotti refused to deal with Faustini directly, complicated negotiations ensued: letters circulated between Masotti, her patron Lorenzo Onofrio Colonna (who, along with his wife, Maria Mancini Colonna, had been an enthusiastic patron and attendee of Venetian opera, and the dedicatee of opera librettos), the Venetian nobleman Girolamo Loredano (whose brother, Lunardo, Masotti had known in Rome), and the Roman businessman Gasparo Origo, who had lived for a time in Venice during 1665 and who had subsequently helped to arrange for the hiring of Antonia Coresi as the 1665–66 carnival season drew near. Once Faustini agreed to Masotti’s high fees and her requirement that they be fully guaranteed in advance of her arrival, an understanding was reached and a contract drawn up. The singer stayed at the home of the Grimani, thus reacquainting herself with the two brothers, who by now were all of nineteen and fourteen years old.
4.3 As Valeria De Lucca and others have discussed, Masotti (and her protectors) were unhappy with the repertoire that had been chosen for the 1666–67 season at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. She disliked the old-fashioned librettos that Faustini championed (updated versions of librettos by his brother, Giovanni Faustini, which had been unfinished at the time of his death in 1651). She did sing in Faustini’s Alciade, but she had previously suggested the substitution of Cesti’s L’Argia (as relayed to Faustini by Origo). Happily for Masotti, Apolloni and Cesti’s La Dori was substituted at the last minute in the place of Giovanni Faustini’s Tiranno umiliato overo il Meraspe, so that she was able to reprise the role that had brought her such success at S. Luca in 1663. Marco Faustini had finally achieved his goal of having Giulia sing at his theater, and she must have contributed greatly to the image of the company, but the agreement had been for one season only. The next year Masotti’s countrywoman (and Maria Mancini Colonna’s “servant”), Antonia Coresi, continued in the third year of her contract, once again as the undisputed prima donna; the Tuscan Caterina Angela Botteghi joined the team as the seconda donna (taking over, ironically, the role that Masotti would have sung in Meraspe).
5.1 By the time of the preparations for the 1668–69 carnival, Masotti had been recruited at least five times for the Venetian theaters and had appeared in three seasons, her service always associated in some way with the Grimani family. We do not know if she had been sought for SS. Giovanni e Paolo for this particular carnival season; we only know that two other Roman women, Antonia Coresi and Caterina Tomei, took the leading roles in L’Artaxerse and Il Genserico.
5.2 In November, however, Masotti was approached by the people at the Teatro S. Luca to return there for the first time since the 1662–63 season. Already in place was the other lead female, Caterina Porri, who had been singing at S. Luca for some years as the prima donna. Two sources from Rome shed light on Masotti’s recruitment: a letter from Abate Guido Passionei (an agent of the Chigi family) dated November 17, sent to Cardinal Sigismondo Chigi, and one from the singer herself written three days later, also sent to the cardinal (the sixth letter, chronologically, that survives in the Masotti-Sigismondo Chigi correspondence). The librettist Giovanni Filippo Apolloni was also in touch with Masotti around this time (at Flavio Chigi’s request).
5.3 Negotiations had already been set in motion when Passionei described how he had been called away from Giulia’s house the evening before (November 16). Here we sense the behind-the-scenes activity and strategic planning made before the final assault on Masotti.
Last night, while I was at Signora Giulia’s so that I could deliver the letters of Your Eminence, Prince Agostino had me summoned and thus I went to see what His Excellency [Prince Agostino] wanted. Thus, in the presence of the Contestabile [Colonna], Signora Princess Chigi [Prince Agostino’s wife], and Cardinal [Flavio] Chigi, he commanded that I, together with Signor Apolloni, exhort Signora Giulia to go to Venice to perform in L’Argia at the Teatro San Luca. And so, with much effort between last evening and this morning, at the urging of such important people, she consented to go, with an agreement, however, that she should be assured of receiving 500 doppie in Rome along with 200 scudi for traveling. But Signora Giulia did not want to say “yes” before writing to Your Eminence for approval. But because time is short, Prince Agostino has taken it upon himself that Your Eminence will have the satisfaction of acting in the interests of Signora Giulia. Indeed, because Prince [Agostino] forgot to write to Your Eminence, he has accorded to me, at four hours past sunset, that I should advise [you] that he has given Your Eminence’s approval in your place, as had to be done in order to have Signora Giulia’s agreement. The Contestabile and Don Agostino and I have been here this evening until now. Her going to Venice, however, will depend on the guarantee that must be sent from Venice, otherwise she will not go, because the assurance we have had so far has not been approved by the personages who are begging Signora Giulia to go. One hopes, however, that this assurance will come in the proper form, and in ten days she will head in that direction. I can assure Your Eminence that all of these personages urged her extremely forcefully, and in particular the Contestabile, who strongly urged them, and I made many trips back and forth, and it seems to me a beautiful thing that she will be earning 1,700 scudi there. From Venice they write that they would have her leave within the next week, but the Contestabile, who knows that Signora Giulia has already memorized much of her part, says that she can put it off a few days longer, and for now it is enough that in Venice they know that she will be coming. Thus they can give the parts to the other singers so that they can learn and rehearse them.… Don Agostino was moved to beg Signora Giulia to go because Cardinal [Neri] Corsini, in a number of letters, has been urging him in the strongest way.
Masotti’s own letter, written several days later, discusses the same incident, but from a different point of view, naturally:
I wrote to Your Eminence last Saturday [November 17, letter not surviving] that today, Tuesday, I would have let Your Eminence know what was happening in regard to my going to Venice. I will tell you, then, that that same evening, which was Saturday, the Contestabile [Colonna] and Prince Don Agostino [Chigi] came to me in order to persuade me that I should go to Venice; I told them neither “yes” nor “no.” Now these gentlemen, hearing this, told me that I should leave it to them … that when they had arranged for the Contestabile to guarantee the money, they hoped that I would go to serve them. That is what had happened regarding this, but it does not matter at all. What’s important is that it’s necessary to discuss how I can manage to see Your Eminence; given the situation, I will see what to do…. I do not know what more to say regarding my departure, if only that yesterday I took some medicine, and tomorrow they will draw my blood, because I am not doing well, feeling ill both in my stomach and my head. (Masotti Correspondence, [henceforth MC] 6, fol. 568v, November 20, 1668)
5.4 As it would appear from this correspondence, Masotti’s “protectors” (Colonna, who had stood by her during the time of her recruitment by Faustini, now supplemented by various members of the Chigi family) were the same people convincing her to go to Venice. Although we are unaware of a precise date for the formation of this new alliance, it is likely to have occurred only sometime around 1668. Librettist Giovanni Filippo Apolloni, the author of La Dori and L’Argia, joined the Chigi household in April 1668; as Apolloni had been a member of Masotti’s circle for some time, he may well have introduced the singer to the family. Indeed, in August of the same year, Masotti sang “a very beautiful recitativo” to a text by Apolloni that formed part of a serenata presented by Cardinal Flavio Chigi. Certainly the Colonna and the Chigi, who maintained residences near each other in Piazza Santi Apostoli in Rome, had had social, political, and cultural connections well before this, so that Masotti’s introduction into the Chigi family at large—for she interacted not only with Sigismondo, but also with Don Agostino and his wife, and with Cardinal Flavio Chigi—speaks to the fluid nature of patronage and social intercourse in seventeenth-century Rome. Of particular interest is Passionei’s reference to the involvement of Cardinal Corsini: it is at his request that Don Agostino so passionately entered into these negotiations to engage Masotti for the production of L’Argia at Teatro S. Luca. As Corsini was then papal legate in Ferrara, we might speculate that Corsini was himself acting on behalf of Ippolito Bentivoglio, to whom letters were directed that season from the Teatro di S. Luca regarding the recruitment of Domenico Querci. Indeed, through Passionei’s letter we sense the complex web of interdependencies that fueled the recruiting of singers during these decades, and of the planning that took place without the presence of the singer. Regarding the positive outcome of the negotiations, since Masotti had suggested L’Argia as a substitute for one of Faustini’s operas for the 1666–67 season, she must have been pleased to finally be performing that opera in Venice. Moreover, since it was the only opera mounted at S. Luca that season, she was spared from having to prepare a second role.
5.5 The Venetian opera season in which Masotti performed in L’Argia was remarkable in a variety of ways. Several months earlier, Marco Faustini had “retired” from SS. Giovanni e Paolo, so that this marked the first year that the Grimani brothers were running the theater without either his help or that of Vettor Grimani Calergi: now they could choose their own librettist and composer without any outside interference. The first opera to open at their theater was L’Artaxerse, with a libretto written by Aurelio Aureli, a librettist long associated with SS. Giovanni e Paolo and who had revised Eliogabalo the previous year. The music, usually attributed to Carlo Grossi, was, instead, by Antonio Cesti (his only setting of an Aureli text), as the composer remarked in a letter to Count Ferdinand Bonaventura Harrach. Indeed, Cesti, en route to Tuscany, stayed in Venice for nine days in September in advance of the season, during which time he must have consulted with the Grimani concerning the cast and other issues. Moreover, in this same letter Cesti claimed that he had been asked to furnish the music not only for L’Artaxerse, but for the second opera as well, Il Genserico, written by his former collaborator and correspondent, Nicola Beregan. The Grimani, then, had in both cases turned to Cesti rather than relying on a Venetian composer. If Masotti regretted that she herself had not had the opportunity to premiere a new Cesti role, she did not voice it in those letters that have survived. The second opera, however, was finished not by Cesti, apparently, but by a Venetian composer, Giovanni Domenico Partenio. As SS. Giovanni e Paolo and S. Luca were the only two theaters in operation that year, Cesti was, quite literally, the composer of the season.
5.6 Masotti’s correspondence with Sigismondo Chigi most likely only began in 1668, so that this season marked the first time she was writing to him about issues of her recruitment, rehearsals, life in carnivalesque Venice, and the social pressures put on singers. The letters she wrote from Venice give us a taste of the life of a singer who periodically resided in a distant city (for a list of Masotti’s letters written from Venice around the carnival season, see Table 1). Giulia was careful to notify those important to her of her safe arrival in Venice. Although her correspondents must have been many, only a few traces survive of what was undoubtedly a flourishing, and exhausting, epistolary practice. A number of the letters written during the 1668–69 carnival season are among the most entertaining and enthusiastic of the entire group; Masotti clearly enjoyed sharing the details of her Venetian life with Sigismondo (she also made sure to write to others in the family, though few of these letters have yet come to light). Masotti even took the time to write to him and his relatives on the day of opening performances. Such letters must have conveyed a level of excitement to the recipients and apparently formed part of Masotti’s pre-performance ritual.
5.7 L’Argia did not open until the middle of January, and Masotti apparently had ample time to tell Sigismondo about her social life in Venice in advance of L’Argia‘s premiere and to give him the latest news about the opera at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. She praised that company highly, and she made sure to obtain enough copies of the libretto to send to Sigismondo, Maria Virginia Borghese, and Cardinal Flavio, also apologizing that she was not writing to them.
Last Saturday at five hours past sunset my letters were delivered to me, and there was one from Your Eminence. Pardon me if I have not responded, the reason is that the conversation of the ladies of the house prevents everything. Last Sunday they performed the opera at SS. Gio. e Paolo for the first time; I can assure Your Eminence that they have the best virtuosi in the world, while we have an excess of weakness. I will send Your Eminence the libretto along with two others so that Your Eminence will honor me by giving them to the Most Excellent Signora Principessa, and accept my most humble servitude by telling them that I have not written to them to avoid boring them. I ask you to do the same also with the Most Eminent Signor Cardinal Chigi [Flavio Chigi] and give him a libretto…. At this point Monsignor Patriarca Dolfin [the coadjutor of Aquileia,] came to see me, asking me again that I go to his house; he also brought letters from the Eminent Signor Cardinal his brother [Giovanni Dolfin, the Patriarch of Aquileia, made cardinal in 1667], and from Signor Nicoletto [Daniele Dolfin, born in 1652—thus only sixteen years old] his nephew, all full of the most courteous expressions, but I see that there is no way that I can serve them in this regard, because the Signori Cornari have declared that if I should go in other houses for some time, then I should do the same for them, [also for] Procurator Contarini [Alessandro Contarini, the dedicatee of L’Argia], so that would not be the right thing to do. (MC 8, fol. 579r, January 1, 1669).
Masotti also asserted the responsibility she felt toward the production of L’Argia, calling herself Cesti’s “assistente” (perhaps best rendered in this case as surrogate).
5.8 A week later, on January 12, shortly before the opening of L’Argia, Masotti once again had news regarding the hospitality of the Dolfin and the upcoming opera:
Monsignor Dolfin came to see me; he never ceases to shower me with the most special favors. The other day I went to eat at their house, but it was not a meal, but rather, a banquet. There was [illegible; possibly game], all that one could find, and then came fish; I leave Your Eminence to judge whether all these special courtesies are due to the excellent care of Your Eminence. Today we rehearse the opera one time “in casa” and then in the theater to try everything out. See what beautiful delights these are. Monday we will perform L’Argia, and, God willing, that at least we should be, if not applauded, then indulged; as we judge that we have flaws in our company, it will be enough to hear some applause, whether for better or for worse, God forbid! (MC 9) fol. 581v, January 12, 1669)
Later in the same letter she mentioned that, having already sealed the letter she had written to the prince [Don Agostino Chigi] and because she was short on time, she had not been able to tell him about the meal that the Dolfin made for her. She asked Sigismondo to send to Don Agostino the regards of the Monsignor, who was visiting Masotti precisely at that time, and told Sigismondo that Dolfin was also was sending his regards to him.
5.9 As it turns out, Masotti need not have worried about the reception of the opera. The revival of L’Argia was certainly successful, with thirty-five performances in six weeks. The first performance, on January 15, drew in the most spectators with 964, the others ranging from 601 down to 225. Masotti was naturally excited to pass this news on to Sigismondo:
If Your Eminence is asking about what’s new, I will tell you that Monday we performed L’Argia to the greatest applause and to the regret of those who were hoping that we would not make much money. Those in the competing theater, who are desperate, have sent someone to request that we not perform on the same nights as they do, and Signor Apolloni will gladly tell you more about it…; for now it is we who are triumphant, but I do not know what the future will hold. I am not sending the libretto because everyone already knows what it is, and then they have ruined it in order to make it conform to the tastes of these parts. (MC 10, fols. 555v–556r, January 19, 1669)
5.10 By the time of the next letters, however, Masotti was nervously looking forward to the competition that the new offering at Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo would bring:
The Signori Dolfin favor me more than ever, and Signor Nicoletto, with his spirit, never fails to persuade me to go to receive his graces in his house. As to the news of Venice, I can tell you that tomorrow our competition will go on stage for the first time, and the opera is so amazingly beautiful that I fear that they will throw us to the ground, and right away I will send Your Eminence the libretto with all the details about who is playing the roles. (MC 11, fols. 558r–v, February 2, 1669)
One of the most expansive passages in all her letters to Sigismondo came with her description of that new opera, Il Genserico, at the Grimani theater:
But to speak of more cheerful things, I will tell Your Eminence that the people at SS. Giovanni e Paolo have brought forth a considerable grand opera [operone], one could even say regal. I can absolutely say that one could not have anything with more pomp. The musicians cannot be surpassed, and I will send you the libretto so that Your Eminence can decide for yourself. The opera actually features live camels rather than those made of stucco, but they have not brought satisfaction. People are saying that they are only for show, things done for peasants, and not for nobles. They say that those who are deaf can go to that theater, while those who are blind should come to ours. They also say that the Grimani could not have done more, that Beregan [the librettist] could have done better, and that Partenio could not have done worse, and that “Duri lacci Argia sciogliete” is worth more than that entire theater and those who are in it, and even if we cannot yet call ourselves triumphant, it is certainly not a small thing that merely two breaths are sufficient to put them into confusion, and even if they were to take in a huge audience, they are still spending six thousand ducats, so that we’re having the last laugh. (MC 12, fols. 559–60, February 9, 1669)
Masotti’s message here is clear: despite spending huge sums, presumably much more than at S. Luca, the Grimani, her former employers, are enjoying less success than they had hoped. Beregan’s libretto is not the best, and Partenio’s music (she does not mention the contributions of Cesti) has not been well received. One also senses here a bit of schadenfreude: Masotti enjoys talking about the Grimani’s problems in addition to the pleasure and pride she feels regarding the success of L’Argia, in particular the quality of the aria she sings in Act III, “Duri lacci Argia sciogliete.” She had caught wind of the ongoing comparison between the theaters (they say that those who are deaf can go to that theater, while those who are blind should come to ours), one that would continue even after Masotti’s return to SS. Giovanni e Paolo.
6.1 The early 1670s marked a change for Masotti. She appeared in Venice for three years running, and her letters to Sigismondo do not convey the sense of any particular struggles with impresarios and theater owners. Most of Masotti’s letters in the Chigi archive date from precisely these years, and they indicate that she had developed a close relationship with the Grimani brothers when she returned to serve them at SS. Giovanni e Paolo. Indeed, rather than return to Rome following the 1671 season, she remained in the Veneto, for her letters from that period are written either from Venice or from Polesella, the Grimani’s country home near Rovigo. Like Sigismondo Chigi and “Nicoletto” Dolfin, Giovanni Carlo Grimani and his brother Vincenzo were close to Masotti’s age. The singer clearly had grown to enjoy their company and had settled into a less harried life, with less of the traveling that taxed her physically. The brothers saw to it that Giulia was handsomely paid and entertained, and she returned the favor by asking Cardinal Sigismondo Chigi repeatedly, over the period of more than a year, to use his influence in order to find an ecclesiastical position for Vincenzo Grimani; indeed, this issue is mentioned in a number of letters, and both Grimani and Masotti were pleased at the positive outcome of the singer’s urgings to Sigismondo. Masotti again used her influence with the Chigi and the Colonna when she attempted to secure a libretto of Apolloni’s Alcasta so that the Grimani could commission an opera that would be premiered in Venice, with herself in the leading role; in this instance, however, her efforts were not successful.
6.2 During her last three seasons in Venice, Masotti must have come to know the librettists of the operas she performed in, especially Matteo Noris, who adapted La Semiramide (from a libretto of Moniglia) and penned both Attila and Domitiano, but also Nicola Beregan, the author of L’Heraclio, and Cesti’s former collaborator and correspondent. Both would have been available to make any necessary changes (and many changes transpired between the two printings of Domitiano).
6.3 Masotti also would have forged connections with two of the men who composed these new operas, Pietro Andrea Ziani (La Semiramide, L’Heraclio, and Attila) and Giovanni Antonio Boretti (Domitiano). We can only wonder how she regarded Ziani’s music and his fiery personality. The veteran composer may have been a useful connection for Masotti, given that rumors in 1666, voiced by Antonio Cesti, had implied that Masotti would soon be offered a position at the imperial court in Vienna, where Ziani had spent six years in the service of the Dowager Empress Eleonora. The music for Masotti’s last role (in Domitiano) was created by Giovanni Antonio Boretti, and that occasion marked the only time she sang in an opera composed by a Roman (albeit one who had been active in Northern Italy and the Veneto for a number of years).
7.1 The 1670–71 season held both disappointments and triumphs for Masotti. Owing to circumstances surrounding the reception of the first opera, she appeared in three works, rather than two: La Semiramide (Noris/Ziani), a revival of her beloved La Dori (Apolloni/Cesti), and L’Heraclio (Beregan/Ziani). Masotti’s own words regarding these operas are few. On December 6 (MC 18), she spoke of getting the first opera in order and announced that the premiere would be the following Thursday. Following that premiere, she wrote (MC 19) that the opera was not very remarkable (“non è cosa riguardevole”). The production of La Semiramide closed prematurely, and the preparations for getting La Dori to the stage in its place prevented Masotti from writing to Sigismondo until after Cesti’s opera had already opened. Masotti only remarked: “I will not bother to tell you about what has been happening with the opera, as Your Eminence can be fully apprised regarding that from Prince Don Agostino.” (MC 23), fol. 591r, February 7, 1671)
7.2 Much of the anecdotal evidence concerning the operas this year comes, rather, from Francesco Maria Massi, the Venetian agent of Johann Friedrich, Duke of Brunswick-Calenberg. On December 26 he wrote about the failure of La Semiramide and the substitution of La Dori:
At the Teatro di S. Zuanipolo the first opera has been taken down because it was not drawing crowds. There, in its place they have put together again La Dori, that beautiful opera that is so applauded, and where Giulia Romana allowed us to hear wonders, which she is doing in the same theater with more sweetness and more nectar than she had in the first opera. La Dori will be succeeded by Signor Nicola’s drama [L’Heraclio].
7.3 The Grimani continued to increase their expenditures on scenery: the reports concerning L’Heraclio indicate that it surpassed anything that had been seen for years in Venice. In this case the spectacular opening scene included huge machines representing elephants, surrounded by legions of armed forces. The lengthy description sent to Duke Johann Friedrich by Massi conveys the excitement that such spectacle created in the theater:
As to the news, it appears in these days of carnival that the world at large revolves around the small world of the theater. No one talks of anything except the opera at San Zuanepolo. Truly, My Most Serene Patron, that little devil, our adored Piramide [Beregan], has brought wonders to the stage. There’s the first scene with the triumphal carriage drawn by big, life-sized elephants with a structure on it that reaches up to the level of the architrave. And on the structure at the first level there is the emperor Foca with numerous actual warriors, soldiers, and pages, and on the neck of the elephant an imprisoned king in chains; this carriage is followed by two other large elephants with big turrets on their backs, also filled with armed cavaliers. The theater is surrounded by warriors; and the scenery is laid out so that until the end of the horizon of the perspective, one sees a vast army. And then one hears a great clamor of military sinfonie, trumpets, drums, pifari, cornetti, drums, artillery, all in music. The warriors, soldiers, pages, with a noble, yet distant military confusion, all sing, as if they were speaking in a hostile camp. All of this brings the greatest magnificence to the eye, and great satisfaction to the mind. The said elephants are so lifelike that one would say they are real; and it seems that this first set is not even one of the best compared to many of the others in this opera, a sign that the Signori Grimani can pride themselves for having spent lavishly, according to the most ardent urgings of the always adorable Signor Nicola. They say in Venice that such spectacle has never before been seen in the theater. There is that Dori, who truly has a voice infused by nectar, and purified in the foundry of the graces. There’s [also] the beloved of Signor Pietro [Dolfin], that is, Signora Barbieri, who makes one languish. I am sending to Your Royal Highness my two sonnets in praise of the same; the attendance in the said theater is such that not only Venice, but all the cities of the terra firma are emptied of the nobles, who run to see the opera.
Even if it was the spectacle that was attracting large audiences, at least with Masotti in the cast, the spectators could relish both the singing and the scenery.
7.4 Masotti wrote only two letters that contain references to the operas she would be performing for this season. On November 29 (MC 33) she mentioned that there would be a rehearsal of the first opera (by Giovanni Maria Pagliardi): “This evening we are rehearsing Caligola delirante, the first opera, and I think it will succeed.” Three weeks later, on December 19 (MC 34, fols. 607r–v), she spoke of yet another rehearsal, one that would be attended by the Princes of Brunswick: “Now I am going to the rehearsal, and the Princes of Brunswick will be there. I am sending two printed librettos … and give one to the Prince [Agostino] to whom I am not writing because I do not have time…. Excuse me if the librettos are not covered in cloth because there was not time.” The Dukes of Brunswick were indeed in Venice during this season, so that the colorful reports that would ordinarily have been sent to Johann Friedrich by Massi, Dolfin, and Beregan are regrettably lacking.
8.1 Masotti’s last appearance in Venice was in Domitiano, once again the work of Noris, this time in conjunction with the composer Giovanni Antonio Boretti. This opera played opposite two others at S. Luca (Aureli and Antonio Sartorio’s controversial L’Orfeo and Giacomo Francesco Bussani and Sartorio’s Massenzio), as well as La costanza trionfante at S. Moisé (Ivanovich/Partenio). Only three of Masotti’s letters survive from this season, and she herself comments very little, saying only that the company would not be mounting a second work, as Domitiano was “sufficient.” We know from other accounts, however, that Domitiano was not highly praised. Most informative is that written by Giuseppe Ghini, who had been Masotti’s fellow cast member in La Dori (1663). On December 14 he had written to Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici that he did not have high hopes for Domitiano because of the weak cast, and his prediction proved true. Ghini wrote again on December 31:
Thursday evening the opera was done at SS. Giovanni e Paulo, where Giulia and [Domenico] Querci played their parts very well, and indeed, sustained the opera, because otherwise, there are no other singers that one could describe as exquisite. The scenery is truly superb, and the pomp of the first scene one could not hope to surpass. There is a most beautiful naumachia, a banquet scene with Domitiano as Jove that is incomparable, and the last scene, as I said before, is esteemed as beautiful as is possible, so much so that they say at the Piazza: to S. Luca to hear, to SS. Giovanni e Paolo to see.
8.2 Beregan, writing to Johann Friedrich, said much the same, remarking that the scenery was superb, but the cast was poor other than Masotti. Pietro Dolfin had an even more personal view of the situation at the Grimani theater:
Yesterday evening the opera performed at SS. Giovanni e Paolo failed because of the unworthy company of musicians, from which, miraculously, I removed your servant Lucretia [Dolfin’s protégé] even though the Grimani begged her a number of times, even appearing at my house (and, particularly, the other night when I had already gone to bed). But I did not want to concede her to them, and I said to them that having refused to let her have the part at S. Luca, because I was not pleased with it, that I certainly should not let her go to them, one might say as a stopgap, to learn the part in only two days, and she was fortunate not to appear with those ragamuffins.
In the same letter he remarked about the sad news of “the death of poor Giovanni Antonio Boretti, the composer of the opera [at SS. Giovanni e Paolo] and well known to Your Highness (and surely appreciated because of his goodness). He expired yesterday, before his opera premiered on the stage, after having been ill for fifteen days. Therefore if the same [Domitiano] served as his requiem, it could not have turned out otherwise than funereal.”
8.3 Other news of Masotti’s last operatic appearance in Venice comes from a little-known source, Serie virtuose delle operazioni esercitati in diversi tempi e luoghi da Marietta Barbieri. This unusual publication, introduced to the musicological community by Norbert Dubowy, celebrates in poetry the life and career of singer and composer Marietta Barbieri and was written by her husband, the violist and poet Faustino Barbieri. The publication reveals that Marietta sang in two Venetian theaters, first at S. Luca (1668), and then at SS. Giovanni e Paolo, in Domitiano. Barbieri the husband describes his wife’s experiences, recounting how she played the role of the confidante Elisa, filling in at the last moment. Particularly intriguing, for our purposes, is Barbieri’s description of another singer in the production, “M…,” whose behavior was less than pleasant:
L’Opera pur seguì senz’altra in fine
A ben che la M … havea sconvolto.
Col suo tratto imperrioso è quasi tolto
Ad’ogn’uno il seren tramando brine.
(The opera then proceeded without fail to its conclusion, even though “M” upset things. With her imperious manner she very nearly took away everyone’s peace of mind with her frostiness.)
Barbieri subsequently compares the comportment of “M” (undoubtedly Masotti) with that of his wife, who was praised. This publication, then, in certain respects, brings us back full circle to the familiar characterization of Masotti as a temperamental and difficult prima donna.
9.1 While we could say that Masotti’s letters communicate those issues most important to her and to her patron, it is important to consider what these letters can tell us and what they cannot. For the most part, they do not speak about the operas being staged in Venice other than to relay the various openings of productions. In 1669 Masotti had been frank in her opinion on changes to L’Argia. Given her friendship with Apolloni, and Apolloni’s relationship with the Chigi, it was certainly appropriate for her to object to the changes made in order to adapt the libretto to the tastes of Venice. With the exception of L’Argia, however, she does not speak of the composers, and she never refers to other singers in the productions, even those whom Sigismondo must have known, such as the Coresi. Clearly, Sigismondo and his family were eager to collect the librettos that accompanied these performances, but Masotti does not share the smaller particulars of the goings on regarding the productions. In comparison, letters sent by Giuseppe Ghini to his patron, Cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici, can be quite informative; during the lengthy 1665–66 season, for example, Ghini sent, on request, the names of the singers and their roles in many of the operas staged that year (Masotti may simply have written in those names in the librettos themselves). Ghini is also careful to mention the performances of other singers within the Medici orbit, for Cardinal Leopoldo, along with his brothers, had a history of patronizing opera in Florence and supplying singers for productions elsewhere, so that the activities in Venice were of special interest to him. Marquis Ippolito Bentivoglio of Ferrara, a frequent visitor to Venice and friend of Giovanni Grimani, as well as an occasional librettist, also had acted frequently as a broker for singers needed for Venice, Florence, and Bologna, so that letters written to him by friends, businessmen, and singers were often filled with details about the comings and goings of musicians.
9.2 The excitement of Masotti’s social life in Venice, characterized by the Dolfin family’s courtship of her in 1669, does not emerge in any of the successive seasons, when she would have been housed in the Grimani palace, and, probably, moved within their social circles. One might also wish she had written more about the operas she performed in, as well as those performed in the other theaters. In 1669 she was happy enough to pass judgment on the offerings at the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo (Genserico), but discretion, perhaps, prevented her from revealing her views on the Grimani operas in later years when she was building a closer relationship with the two brothers.
9.3 Naturally, we cannot accurately appreciate Masotti’s views on opera and the opera season for those periods in which the correspondence is spotty. This is particularly true for the 1672–73 season, where we have only letters from December 17 (1672), February 4, and February 18 (1673). Therefore we miss entirely any discussion of the composer Boretti’s death (which occurred on December 29, 1672), and of the many changes made to Domitiano, the only opera mounted at SS. Giovanni e Paolo that year. Luckily, we do have Masotti’s description of the murder of the castrato Santi Casati:
I believe that by now you will have heard about the tragic incident surrounding the castrato Santi Casata, who came here with a Milanese woman, having had a falling out with a certain Marquis Crasso, who had fallen in love with this woman. One evening … the woman entered the boat of Signor Antonio Bassadonna, the brother of he who was ambassador down there [in Rome]. When Santi started to board the boat he was shot with a musket, and as a result he died twenty-four hours later. This is the latest from this city. (MC 43, fols. 609v-610r, February 18, 1673)
9.4 The report regarding this incident sent to the Duke of Brunswick by Massi was both more and less informative. He wrote, with a touch of sarcasm: “The Grimani have lost 3,000 ducats; and, even better, to make this disaster perfect, someone fired a weapon at a singer who was performing at that theater, and he was mortally wounded while in a gondola along with four or five other musicians.” Massi avoids mentioning the amorous intrigue, while getting right to the heart of the financial issues plaguing the Grimani theater. Undoubtedly Masotti did not have to mention that Santi Casati was a cast member, as Sigismondo would have already known that. More surprising, however, is her failure to mention the danger to the other musicians, if Massi’s account was indeed accurate.
10.1 We tend to think of Masotti as a Cestian singer: she became famous as “Dori” and championed the Tuscan’s operas whenever possible, yet she performed in only two of his operas. As seen in Table 2, Masotti’s repertoire changed considerably during her years in Venice. Despite being less than enthusiastic about the prospect of singing in Ziani’s Alciade, she ended up singing in three more of his operas: La Semiramide, L’Heraclio, and Attila, as well as in one by Pagliardi and another by Boretti.
10.2 In most cases, it is a fairly simple matter to assess which parts Masotti sang in these operas. As has been pointed out by De Lucca, because Masotti demanded to have a larger role than the other women in the cast, one need merely analyze the librettos in that regard. During this period, except in the case of Caligula delirante, one of the female roles in each opera features many more arias than the others. Consequently, one can with confidence assign to Masotti the roles of Iside (La Semiramide), Theodosia (L’Heraclio), and Irene (Attila).
10.3 Ziani’s Semiramide has been discussed by Wendy Heller, who detailed Matteo Noris’s transformation of Giovanni Andrea Moniglia’s Semiramis from a libretto written to be performed in Vienna into one suitable for the tastes of Venetian audiences. Questions of gender figure significantly in this opera, and Heller has considered how these issues play out, both in the libretto and in Ziani’s music for the three main characters: Semiramide, her son Nino, and his beloved, Iside. Heller describes how the figure of Semiramide, as designed for the Venetian stage, combined strength and sexuality: she appears throughout much of the opera dressed as her son. De Lucca has stressed how Dori and Argia, Masotti’s favorite roles, are disguised as men for much of their operas. However, in Noris and Ziani’s Semiramide Masotti appears not to have played the infamous, legendary Semiramide, but must, instead, have been cast as Iside, her future daughter-in-law: it is the latter character who sings the most arias, and, as Heller has pointed out, who has the finest music; moreover, she is triumphant at the end of the opera (she gets her man, Nino, while Semiramide must suffer both the loss of her throne and the necessity of submitting to the will of the king, Creonte). Iside, a much more traditional character, is perhaps less interesting than Semiramide, but her importance grows as the opera progresses. One could say that the casting of Masotti as Iside—for whatever reason—may have had the inevitable effect of celebrating that character over Semiramide. In Heller’s words, “The virtuous Iside inspires some of Ziani’s best music in the opera.” That same year, in L’Heraclio, the opera so praised by Massi for its scenic elements, Masotti played Theodosia, the beloved of Heraclio; although she is at first depressed and seeks death, she ends the opera in a much more heroic manner. While it is Heraclio (disguised as a woman until the last moment) who slays the tyrant Foca in the splendid setting of the baths of Constantine, Theodosia herself takes on a military bearing, assaults several guards, and kills Emiliano (III, 17), the favorite of Foca (she is even seen fighting on stage).
11.1 One of Masotti’s most remarkable roles came in Ziani’s Attila, in which another tyrant meets his death. Noris’s libretto deserves special notice for the inventiveness of its plot, i.e., the manner in which he transformed historical figures and settings alike. Attila was a well-known figure during the seventeenth century, and the story of his life had been published many times. This “scourge of God” had wrought havoc in Italy and in other areas of the Roman Empire. Regarding his death, which occurred in 453 CE, there were two principal theories. In the first, he died from a hemorrhage most likely brought on by the consumption of too much food and wine during the celebrations that marked his final wedding; alternatively, he was stabbed by his last wife on the night of their marriage. Attila’s death took place, it is said, in Pannonia, a region that extended from present-day Slovakia and Croatia to Western Hungary; Corneille’s play Attila (1667) is set in Noricum, contiguous with Pannonia. One significant change that Noris made in his libretto was to set his story in Aquileia (80 miles to the northeast of Venice), rather than either of those two regions; although Aquileia was quite near to the western-most border of Pannonia, Attila’s home was rather more distant from that city, bordering on the Danube in Hungary.
11.2 Almost any story involving Attila includes the character Honoria, sister of the Roman emperor Valentinian III, who at one time had offered herself to the tyrant as his bride. When Attila demanded half of the Western Roman Empire as dowry, the plans faltered. Noris included Honoria in his story, but completely changed the nature of her involvement in the plot.
11.3 Among Noris’s other characters in the opera are Teodorico (in the libretto he is described as “Prencipe delle Gallie”), his son Torismondo (in love with Honoria), and Teodorico’s invented wife, Irene, the role played by Masotti. Historically, Attila’s only defeat came at the hands of Teodorico (Theodoric, the king of the Visigoths) and his son at the great battle of the Catalaunian Plains (451 CE), but Theodoric did not survive the battle. Nonetheless, both men (or perhaps Theodoric’s relatives) turn up in Noris’s libretto in the final chapter of Attila’s life, among the former kings imprisoned by Attila. Indeed, Noris’s libretto blends history and fantasy in intriguing ways. Unlike many earlier librettists, such as Minato and Aureli, he neither cites his historical sources, nor explains how his story deviates from them, so that his libretto invites a number of interpretations.
11.4 As Noris’s story begins, Honoria is believed to be dead, drowned at sea. Irene, Masotti’s character, takes advantage of this situation and introduces herself to Attila as Honoria, in an attempt to get close to the tyrant and eventually save her husband and son (Teodorico and Torismondo). Meanwhile, Attila has been warned by a soothsayer that his death will come at the hand of a woman of Aquileia. He reacts to this prophecy by ordering the deaths of all the local women and their female children, but continues his relationship with Irene/Honoria. Indeed, Valentinian and the other Romans go along with her ruse, even when the real Honoria appears. All attempts to inform Attila that “Honoria” is not who she seems are thwarted, and as the opera draws to a close Irene lulls Attila asleep and kills him (after which she makes reference to herself as a new Judith to the Gothic Holofernes). As in L’Heraclio, Masotti is seen in a heroic light, but this time she has slain perhaps the greatest tyrant of all time. Noris created a much stronger and resourceful character, a real heroine, by having Irene (Masotti) assume the identity of Honoria and kill Attila herself; indeed, Honoria’s role is considerably smaller than Irene’s, and its scope much narrower.
11.5 Noris’s greatest innovation in the libretto, perhaps, is its setting: as mentioned above, it takes place neither in Pannonia nor Noricum, but in Aquileia, the town Attila so famously razed in 452; indeed, it was long believed that Venice was founded as a result of that assault, as its inhabitants fled the tyrant. Yet Noris’s Aquileia is quite different: while he refers to the destruction of Aquileia in the foreword to the libretto, the scenic requirements include an amphitheater, rooms in a palace, and a garden: here is an Aquileia at least partially intact rather than totally annihilated. Because Attila’s murder takes place in Aquileia, Noris’s heroine, in the person of Irene/Masotti, presumably saves the city from its legendary, awful fate. Indeed, the librettist seemingly rewrites history and brings a sense of righteous closure to what was the town’s and the region’s darkest moment. In doing so, he restores a sense of glory, both for Aquileia and the Venetian republic.
11.6 Although the story of the destruction of Aquileia was well known during the early modern period, seventeenth-century Venetians would have placed the city’s name in an entirely different context, for one of the most important ecclesiastical positions in the Veneto was that of the Patriarch of Aquileia (who resided in Udine), whose diocese encompassed the Friuli, part of the Venetian territories. Remembering Masotti’s strong social ties during the season of L’Argia with Cardinal Giovanni Dolfin, the Patriarch of Aquileia, and his brother Daniele, the patriarchal coadjudicator, we must wonder if this libretto was meant to be an homage to the Patriarch himself, and also if Masotti had had some role in its fashioning. Moreover, three of the patriarchs from the late fifteenth- and early sixteenth centuries, Domenico Grimani, Marino Grimani, and Marco Grimani, were the theater owners’ relatives, so that Noris created a libretto with extraordinarily rich political and cultural associations.
12.1 Masotti may have proved a difficult colleague for the singers with whom she shared the stage, but she remained a favorite with her many admirers. We have also seen how her savvy bargaining resulted in high fees, promptly paid to her at a time when many others were not so lucky; indeed, Masotti has been famous for her success in these areas. I would also suggest that we can find evidence of her influence on the Venetian stage in the librettos and in the music she sang.
12.2 During the late 1660s and early 1670s, the prima donna became the focus of even greater attention, for she often commanded the stage with an aria at, arguably, one of the most satisfying and enjoyable moments of the evening: the end of the opera itself. Such prominence had already gradually begun to be offered to both the prima donna and the seconda donna at the end of the first two acts, which had previously been the domain of comic characters and servants, who then introduced the dances that closed each of the first two acts before the intermissions. The prima donna’s aria at the end of the opera, however, was a new trend, and I would argue that this practice had much to do with Masotti.
12.3 From the beginning of the genre’s inception in Venice, operas had ended with ensembles. One need only think of the duet “Pur ti miro” at the end of L’incoronazione di Poppea, to cite the most famous example. Even if the sensuous duet between Nero and Poppea was not written by Monteverdi himself, it remains emblematic of that particular dramatic situation—the uniting of lovers—where the audience feels a sense of release in the portrayal of the blissful state of love. If one of the principal tenets of the opera plot was the working out of the jealousies and misunderstandings among several groups of lovers, then it was only fitting that the resolution of the plot would end with music sung by all of them, made all the sweeter by the trials they had overcome throughout the opera.
12.4 In a number of Masotti’s roles, however, that situation began to change (see Table 3 for Masotti’s operas and Table 4 for those in the same period in which Masotti did not appear). The ending of Scipione affricano (1664) differs from many of those presented in Venice, as the hero Scipione renounces his claim over Ericlea, Masottti’s character; had there been a final amorous quartet, it would have comprised Ericlea, her intended husband, Luceio, Sofonisba, and Sofonisba’s husband, Siface. Rather than exclude the hero Scipione from that quartet, Minato and Cavalli chose to avoid the problem altogether and to focus instead on Ericlea, so that we find, quite uncharacteristically for the time, an aria sung by Masotti alone:
|Scipione affricano, III, 20|
|O voi, che portate
De l’amoroso ardor
Acceso il cor,
Sperate pur sperate,
Che non sono d’amor
Lunghe le noie.
Hà principio di duol, e fin di gioie.
|Oh you, who carry
a heart enflamed
with amorous ardor,
Hope, oh hope
that the sorrows of love
do not linger.
What begins in pain, ends in joy.
12.5 La Semiramide (1670–71) ends with Masotti’s character Iside singing the aria “Non vi sia chi di Cupido,” concluding with the line “Non conosce piacer chi non è amante” (Whoever is not a lover, does not know pleasure), rather than with a quartet of lovers. The final scene of Heraclio features not the slayer of the tyrant Foca, but, instead, his beloved Theodosia (played by Masotti), who sings of her love for Heraclio (“Sin che spirto in sen havrò”). In Attila, the showcasing of Masotti’s heroic character Irene, who kills Attila, goes even further, for she sings at the end of each of the three acts. The text of her final aria is indeed appropriate to the conclusion of the opera; although she does not allude specifically to Attila’s death, here Masotti sings of the cessation of the troubles of the world, so to speak, rather than of the triumph of love, which would have been much more typical:
|Attila, III, 21|
|Miei spirti ridete,
Rallegrati o cor.
Mi brillino in petto
La gioia, e’l diletto.
Di perfide stelle
Cangiato è l’aspetto,
|Laugh, my spirits,
rejoice, my heart.
Joy and delight
shine in my breast.
The appearance of the
wicked stars has changed,
the rigors have ceased.
12.6 The most convincing evidence of the change that occurred during Masotti’s tenure in Venice can be seen in the last scene of La Dori, the singer’s signature role. When Masotti first sang the role in 1663, Act III ended with the quartet “Amori volate,” sung by the two pairs of lovers, Dori and Oronte, and Arsinoe and Tolomeo. By 1667, the quartet had been reduced to a duet which ends with the lines “Trionfa gli Amori/D’Oronte, e di Dori” (the love of Oronte and Dori triumphs). By 1671 the transformation is complete. Masotti sings alone:
|La Dori, III, 16 (Venice, 1671)|
|Miei pensieri amorosi, omai godete.
Doppo lunghe procelle
Dal fulgor delle Stelle
Ch’ha negl’occhi il mio sol il porto havete.
Miei pensieri amorosi, omai godete.
|My amorous thoughts, rejoice at last.
After long tempests
you have arrived at port
in the starlight that fills the eyes of my sun.
My amorous thoughts, rejoice at last.
Indeed, Masotti sang at the ends of five of her final operas in Venice; in her last performance, in Domitiano, the audience could bask in the prima donna’s expressions of peace, joy, and contentment:
|Domitiano, III, 26|
|Ridete, ridete miei spirti amorosi,
Festeggi, Festeggi la pace de l’alma,
Del Mar de Contenti gradita la calma
Promette al mio cor più dolci riposi.
|Laugh, laugh my amorous spirits,
rejoice, rejoice peace of my soul[:]
The welcome calm that emanates from the sea of contentment
promises even sweeter repose for my heart.
13.1 When considering opera in Venice during the Masotti years, we should not forget the Grimani theater’s tendency to spend lavishly on triumphal processions, extravagant scenery, and machines that dazzled the eyes of the spectators; yet at the same time an altogether different focus on the prima donna, on this prima donna, encouraged a more intimate connection with the audience. Certainly, Masotti insisted on the biggest role in the operas in which she sang, and an examination of these works shows an extraordinary number of arias with which she dominated the stage. Her solo scenes and the arias she sang at the ends of operas, however, did not serve merely to showcase her talents; they were also a gift to the audience, who could not get enough of her remarkable voice and presence. In the end, Masotti’s insistence on singing numerous arias worked both for her, for her impresarios, and for the fans who adored her.
13.2 In the early 1670s Masotti reigned as the leading woman on the Venetian stage. Francesco Maria Massi often sent news to Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Calenberg regarding Masotti, whose voice he described as “infused by nectar purified in the foundry of the Graces.” In February 1673, following Masotti’s last appearance in Venice, he told the duke about a popular preacher in Venice for the season of Lent, but managed at the same time to remind him once again of Masotti’s special charms. He wrote: “the [preacher’s] style is not to preach; rather, it is like ordinary talking, easy and without any ostentation, as if he were not preaching. It is exactly like Signora Giulia, who sings as if she were talking, but it is all sweetness…. He concludes the sermon like Signora Giulia ended that aria ‘Io moro’: dolcino dolcino, e pianino, pianino.”
13.3 Masotti left Venice in 1673, but her voice was remembered for some time to come. Ten years after her last appearance on the Venetian stage, the composer Alessandro Melani wrote to Marquis Ippolito Bentivoglio of Ferrara concerning two singers whom he described as “not bad.” Melani continued, “Therefore, after I’ve heard Signora Teresa I will tell Your Excellency what I think, also about the latter. However it’s true that neither one nor the other is the equal of Giulia Masotti, or Maddalenina [Gabrielli].”
13.4 One could say that Masotti’s career in Venice had been timed and executed perfectly: she arrived in a blaze of glory, was coveted by the leading theaters of the city, and left her adoring fans wanting more. With her, the true age of the prima donna had arrived.
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