Vivaldi's era corresponds with “the golden age of Italian Canto”,
when vocalism approached perfection and virtuosity attained its height.
During these decades, whilst remaining the model to imitate for all
musical instruments, the human voice reaches an instrumental mechanical
perfection that will never more be obtained. Many voyagers of the era
echoed the amazement of De Brosses: «(She) possesses an astonishing
range, manipulating the throat as if she were bowing Somis' violin».
In effect, this vocalism perfect rather than recreates the mechanism of
emission, exploiting maximally its virtuosic possilities while remaining
faithful to the infallible traditions of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Fundamental to the “good Italian school of canto” is the total
fusion between two registers (the chest and the head or falsetto) such
that a single register is produced. This “miraculous fusion”, permitting
vocal acrobatics and all their conceivable effects, demands years of
assiduous study: «(...) because if the union is imperfect, the voice
emits in multiple registers and thereby loses its beauty» (P.P. Tosi,
Opinioni de' Canton Antichi e Moderni, Bologna 1723). «(...) //
can be obtained only if they are unified profoundly this is difficult
to achieve naturally and purely. It demands years of study, fatigue, and
ingenuity (...); few masters know the technical methods or how to apply
them. The ensemble must form combinations that never violate the union
of the full register». (Giambattista Mancini, Riflessioni
pratiche sul Canto Figurato, Milano 1777).
characteristics and splendid qualities of the perfect vocal instruments
are: purity, homogeneity, roundness, mellowness, wide range,
softness, portamento (legato and differenciated accents), perfect
intonation and «spiccata» (detached) virtuosity.
of the great Italian texts on vocalism of the epoch was written by Pier
Francesco Tosi, and published in Bologna in 1723. Certain of the
virtuoso's qualities are defined therein, as well as a methodology
valuable for the entire vocal range. Included in this range is the high
(feminine) octave guarded by the Musici (Castrati) who, after their
operation, manipulate the fusion of two registers. This explains the
rejection, in Italy, of the Falsettisti during the second half of the
«(...) The Master should teach the Student that very delicate vocal
movement wherein the notes are articulated proportionally and with
moderate detachment, such that the «passaggio» is neither too tied nor
too choppy. (...) All the beauty of the Passaggio consists in being
perfectly exact: articulated, detached, balanced, and rapid».
who possesses a very good trill, even if he sing unadorned, has the
constant advantage of good judgement concerning the Cadences, wherein
the trill plays a primordial role. (...) The Student ought to acquire it
in its most beautiful form: balanced, pronounced, detached, light, and
trill is justifiably vocalism's primary element, and Tosi may reasonably
affirm: «(...) He who lacks this talent (or formulates it
defectively) will never be a great singer, despite his learning».
Imagine the number of pseudo-great vocalist Tosi would denounce if he
imperative that we guard the memory of that which was undeniably the
primary interest for the composers, singers, and public of the golden
age of Italian canto: the quality and characteristics of
vocalism, that which constitutes, strictly speaking, the art of
canto. This art demands the fulfillment of one precondition: the
fusion of the two registers in perfect symbiosis. Voices operating
outside the boundaries of this fusion necessarily demean the
fore-mentioned qualities of this vocalism's true realization. On all
vocal, aesthetic, and historical planes, the falsetto performances so
much in vogue today (carrying the name countertenor, haute-contre etc.)
are thus rendered meaningless. Equally ludicrous is the propagation of
this immense repertory by voices which, lacking the mechanism permitting
perfect emission, cannot possibly reproduce the characteristics of the
Furthermore, one cannot forget the particularities of Vivaldi's case.
The majority of his vocal music was conceived for and dedicated to the
Daughters of the Pietà, universally recognized as great virtuosos.
We recall certain given names, cited in the manuscripts:
Chiaretta (Soprano), Bolognesa (Soprano), Apollonia
(Soprano), Ambrosina (Contralto), Albetta (Contralto),
Marietta (Soprano), Geltrude (Contralto), without excluding,
of course, «Annina della Pietà».
Italian Aria of the 17th and 18th centuries presents a tripartite
structure: A-B-A. No singer of epoch would dare to ignore the precise
rules characterizing its execution. The Aria with Da Capo offered an
occasion to demonstrate one's artistic capacities (involving taste and
inventiveness), as well as the purely virtuosic. The only problem was a
tendency to exaggerate which Tosi himself condemns: «Each aria
contains at least three Cadences, presented at the end. Today, the
Singers' task consists in ending the first part with flow of passages ad
libitum and making the Orchestra wait. While the Cadence of the second
part is lengthened, the Orchestra loses interest; in the repetition (of
last Cadence in Da capo Arias), one lights the girandole of Castel S.
Angelo and the Orchestra blasphemes». Benedetto Marcello, in the
chapter devoted to Cantatrici in his «Teatro alla Moda»
reaffirms: «And when the VIRTUOSA no longer knows what to reinvent,
she should introduce Passages within the trill itself; only this
variation lacks today».
her first part, therefore, the Aria should be sung simply, with only a
few «appoggiature» and trills; in the second part the singer should vary
frugally; «... (for) while singing the Aria da capo, he who does not
vane improvising his song is not a great Man» (P.P. Tosi).
Cadence is needed at the end of each of the Aria's parts; it begin with
a simple trill prepared by a «messa di voce» and end with a
series of passages of varying lengths. Only the Sicilian Aria
presents an exception to the virtuosic style, conserving the simplicity
and expressive quality of a «pathetic» while permitting brief virtuosic
passages. Most valuable to the «cantabile» and «pathetic» airs is the «rubato»,
defined by Tosi as the «glorious larceny of he who sings better than
is the terminology describing the motets, nearly universal among the
manuscripts at Turin's National Library which are used in this recorded
Anfuso's interpretation permits a taste of a vocal art whose style and
sensitivity, from all historical and aesthetic perspectives, is
unequalled in our time. In the vocalism of this great Artist, one
rediscovers all the fore-mentioned qualities. On the stylistic level,
one cannot ignore the simplicity with which Nella Anfuso executes the
«Larghetto» (Siciliana) of the motet «Nulla in pax». Uncommon legato and
portamento are remarkable in this performance by this «virtuosa degli
instrumental performance has been entrusted to solo instruments. At the
time, motets-an popular genre-were performed by more diverse ensembles
than required for operas. In this performance the original instruments
of the eighteenth century (Guadagnini, Guarneri, Gagliano) use covered -
gut strings as were also used at that time.
Today, one understands fully the historical absurdity of an idea as the
with the pitch 415 (we know that each city had its own pitch wich varied
from place), the instruments varied widely with respect to design,
strings, bows, etc. It suffices to read the texts of Raguenet (1702),
Muffat (1694), Monteclair (1712), Corrette (1738), etc.
for the use of vibrato, one recalls the words of Geminiani (a
Corelli's student): «(it) contributes make their Sound more agreable
for this Reason it should be made use of as often as possible». The
human voice was the model which instruments of the age were compelled to
imitate; this performance perpetuates the dogmas of the great Tartini:
«legato» demanded by the cantabile, and «spiccato» by the
performance of the Basso Continue uses a historical instrument, an
Italian Positive Organ of the latter half of the seventeenth century
(original pitch 450 Hertz).
Testo Musicologico del Prof. Annibale Gianuario