Francesco Cavalli’S Elena (1659): A Study And Edition Volume 1
This dissertation arose out of the process of reviving Francesco Cavalli’s 1659 opera, Elena, for performance at Cornell University in 2006. It presents the first modern edition of the opera, along with a commentary. Elena commands our attention for a number of reasons, the most important being that it is one of the earliest and clearest examples of comic opera in Venice. The opera depicts the wooing of Helen by Menelaus, who disguises himself as an Amazon woman wrestler and becomes Helen’s private wrestling instructor. The rollicking play of spectacle and gender confusion is matched by a score both witty and affecting. The opera cashes in on contemporary tropes of “Helen the whore”,∗ to great comedic effect. And the original production maximized the opera’s shock value by casting a famous courtesan in the title role. Elena appears to be one of a cluster of seventeenth-century Venetian comic operas, along with Lucio’s Orontea, a number of operas by Pietro Andrea Ziani and Marc Antonio Ziani, and possibly others as well. The libretto of Elena, by Count Nicolò Minato, on a scenario of Giovanni Faustini, may have been modeled on the commedia dell’arte practice of ∗ Bettany Hughes, Helen of Troy: Goddess, Princess, Whore (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). spoofing the classics. Unlike many Venetian operas, in which comic characters and themes occupy a prominent, though subsidiary position, Elena moves comedy from the wings to center stage: the central action is comic, central characters are comic, and exalted characters are portrayed as ridiculous. The surviving manuscript of Elena is a presentation copy commissioned by the composer toward the end of his life, and appears to have been copied from a manuscript used for performance. The manuscript contributes to ongoing conversations about performance practice in this repertory: inconsistencies in cleffing suggest that there may have been changes of cast during the production, and the presentation of tied bass notes may have implications for the deployment of continuo forces. Finally, reviving Elena in the twenty-first century requires performers to engage creatively with the representation of gender and sexuality in performances of Italian baroque opera in an era without castrati.
dissertation or thesis