Oct 062018
 

Euridice, an opera by Jacopo Peri, with additional music by Giulio Caccini is the oldest surviving opera, first performed in Florence on this date in 1600 at the Palazzo Pitti with Peri himself singing the role of Orfeo. An earlier opera by Peri, Dafne (1597), is now lost. The libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini is based on books X and XI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses which recount the story of the legendary musician Orpheus and his wife Euridice. Because Europe’s actual oldest opera is lost, this date is the best we can do for dating the genesis of modern opera. Euridice was created for the marriage of Henry IV of France and Maria de Medici.

At the premiere, many of the roles were filled by members of Caccini’s entourage, including his daughter Francesca Caccini. Peri composed all of the music for the first production, but owing to the integral involvement of Caccini and his performers, some of Peri’s music was finally replaced by that of Caccini. When Caccini discovered that Peri intended to publish the opera with the added Caccini pieces, he rushed to finish his own version of Euridice using the same libretto, and managed to have his published before Peri’s. In his preface, Peri notes that all of the music was completed by the date of the first performance earning his efforts the designation Prima Euridice.

In creating the music for Euridice, Peri envisioned a vocal style that is half sung and half spoken. For less dramatic parts he created vocal lines close to the style of spoken language set over a sustained accompaniment. For impassioned scenes he explored stronger and more rapid melodies with steadily changing harmonies. Peri’s critics have observed that within the score of Euridice, he created no musically remarkable examples of either. However, he did use ranges and widths of register, as well as frequency and power of cadences, to distinguish different characters and dramatic moods. The voice and accompaniment are carefully paced to emphasize the tension and release in the text. Rhythmic and melodic inflections in the vocal lines closely, almost scientifically, imitate dramatic speech. In addition, impassioned exclamations are set with unprepared dissonances and unexpected movements in the bass. This extract may serve to show the style of the piece. It is pleasant enough, but not remarkable musically.

Euridice has its detractors, but there is general agreement that Peri established sound principles for operatic composition. Classic opera, henceforth, tells a story that exploits the interplay between aria and recitative, and uses a mix of solo, ensemble and choral singing. Peri’s Euridice tells the story of the musician Orpheus and his wife Euridice based on classic Greek legend, but with allowances for artistic license. According to the legend (which is actually retold in a number of ancient texts in Latin), Orpheus was a great musician who journeyed to the underworld to plead with the gods to revive his wife Euridice after she had been fatally injured.

Act 1

Prologue

The opera opens with a simple melody by a singer representing the Tragic Muse, La Tragedia, and a short ritornello. Shepherds nearby and the Tragic Muse sing a conversation in recitatives and choruses, Daphne enters to notify everyone that Euridice has been fatally bitten by a serpent.

Scene 1

All of the nymphs and shepherds gather to celebrate the wedding of Orfeo and Euridice.

Scene 2

Orfeo is content after his wedding but is soon interrupted by Dafne. She brings the terrible news that Euridice has been bitten by a venomous snake and has died. Orfeo then vows to rescue her from the underworld.

Scene 3

Arcetro recounts that while Orfeo lay weeping, Venus, goddess of love, carries him off in her chariot.

Act 2

This opens with Orpheus pleading with Venere, Plutone, Prosperina, Caronte, and Radamanto in the underworld for the return of his beloved wife Euridice. Nearly the entire scene is carried in recitative. When the act closes, Orpheus is back with Tirsi and the other shepherds.

Scene 4

Venus and Orfeo arrive at the gates of the underworld. Venus suggests that through his legendary voice he might persuade Pluto to return Euridice to life. Orfeo succeeds and is allowed to leave with his bride.

Scene 5

Orfeo and Euridice return from the underworld and rejoice.

The entire opera, with libretto in Italian with an English translation, is here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIN5btYNn0M 

If you know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice you will know that the ending of the opera does not coincide with the Greek legend. In the original, Hades allows Orpheus to take Eurydice back but she is still a “shade” until she reaches the sunlight and gains human form again, and Orpheus must not look back until she is in the sunlight. Because she does not have a body, when she walks behind Orpheus she does not make any sound, and Orpheus, fearing he has been tricked by Hades looks back just before he reaches the surface to check she is there, and she is taken back to the Underworld. Lesson #1 people – HAVE FAITH.

Today’s recipe is for a version of pasta in brodo from the cookery book Opera (first published 1570from Bartolomeo Scappi, who was active from 1536 to 1570 – the period of this opera. I chose it, partly because it is contemporary Italian, partly because I am a fan of pasta in brodo, and partly because of the coincidence of names (“opera” in the book’s title means “works” or “actions”). Note that the soup can be made with broth or milk and that the seasonings include sugar and cinnamon. By all means boil up a crane or hare to make your broth.

 

Per far minestra di tagliatelli

Impastinosi due libre di fior di farina con tre uoua, & acqua tepida, & mescolisi bene sopra una tavola per lo spatio d’un quarto d’hora, & dapoi stendasi sottilmente con il bastone, & lascisi alquanto risciugare il sfoglio, & rimondinosi con lo sperone le parti piu grosse, che son gli orlicci, & quando sarà asciutto però non troppo, perche crepe rebbe, spoluerizzisi di fior di farina con il fetaccio, accioche non si attacchi, piglisi poi il bastone della pasta, & comincisi da un capo, & riuolgasi tutto lo sfoglio sopra il bastone leggiermente, cauisi il bastone, e taglisi lo sfoglio cosi riuolto per lo trauerso con un coltello largo sottile, e tagliati che saranno, slarghinosi, & lassinosi alquanto rasciugare, & asciutti che saranno, fettaccisi fuora per lo criuello il farinaccio, & facciasene minestra con brodo grasso di carne, o con latte, & butiro, & cotti che saranno, seruanosi caldi con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella, & uolendone far lasagne taglisi la pasta sul bastone per lungo, & compartasi la detta pasta in due parti parimente per lungo, e taglisi in quadretti, & faccianosi  cuocere in brodo di lepre, ouero di grua, o d’altra carna, o latte, & seruanosi calde con cascio, zuccaro, & cannella.

To prepare soup with tagliatelle
Work two pounds of flour, three eggs and warm water into a dough, kneading it on a table for a quarter of an hour. Roll it out thin with a rolling pin and let the sheet of dough dry a little. Trim away the irregular parts, the fringes, with a cutting wheel. When it has dried, though not too much because it will break up, sprinkle it with flour through a sieve so it will not stick. Then take the rolling pin and, beginning at one end, wrap the whole sheet loosely on to the pin, draw the pin out and cut the rolled-up dough crosswise with a broad, thin knife. When they are cut, flatten them. Let them dry out a little and, when they are dry, shake off the excess flour through a sieve. Make a soup of them with a fat meat broth, or milk and butter. When they are cooked, serve them hot with cheese, sugar and cinnamon. If you want to make lasagnas of them, cut the dough lengthwise on the pin, and likewise divide it lengthwise in two, and cut that into little squares. Cook them in the broth of a hare, a crane or some other meat, or in milk. Serve them hot with cheese, sugar and cinnamon.

 

 

Mar 202014
 

ovid1

Today is the birthday (43 BCE) of Publius Ovidius Naso, known as Ovid in the English-speaking world, a Roman poet best known for the Metamorphoses, a 15-volume mythological narrative in epic verse, and for collections of love poetry in elegiac couplets, especially the Amores (“Love Affairs”) and Ars Amatoria (“Art of Love”). His poetry was much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced Western art and literature. The Metamorphoses remains one of the most important sources of classical mythology. Ovid is traditionally ranked alongside Virgil and Horace, his older contemporaries, as one of the three canonic poets of Latin literature. He was the first major Roman poet to begin his career during the reign of Augustus, and the Imperial scholar Quintilian considered him the last of the Latin love elegists. He enjoyed enormous popularity, but in one of the mysteries of literary history he was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death. Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, “a poem and a mistake,” but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

Ovid was born in Sulmo (modern Sulmona), in an Apennine valley east of Rome, to a well known equestrian family, a class that ranked above plebeians and below patricians. His father wished him to study rhetoric toward the practice of law, so he was educated in rhetoric in Rome under the teachers Arellius Fuscus and Porcius Latro with his brother who excelled at oratory. According to Seneca the Elder, Ovid tended to the emotional, not the argumentative pole of rhetoric. After the death of his brother at 20 years of age, Ovid renounced law and began travelling to Athens, Asia Minor, and Sicily. He held minor public posts, as one of the tresviri capitals (prison officers), as a member of the Centumviral court (chancery court) and as one of the decemviri stlitibus iudicandis (civil judges), but resigned to pursue poetry probably around 29–25 BCE, a decision of which his father apparently disapproved.

His first poetic recitation has been dated to around 25 BC, when Ovid was eighteen. He was part of the circle centered on the patron Marcus Valerius Messalla Corvinus, and seems to have been a friend of poets in the circle of Maecenas. In Tristia 4.10.41–54, Ovid mentions friendships with Macer, Propertius, Horace, Ponticus and Bassus (he only barely met Virgil and Tibullus, a fellow member of Messalla’s circle whose elegies he admired greatly). Ovid was very popular at the time of his early works, but was later exiled by Augustus in AD 8. He married three times and divorced twice by the time he was thirty years old. He had one daughter, who eventually bore him grandchildren. His last wife was connected in some way to the influential gens (clan) Fabia and would help him during his exile in Tomis.

ovid2

The first 25 years of Ovid’s literary career were spent primarily writing poetry in elegiac meter with erotic themes. The chronology of these early works is not completely certain, but his earliest extant work is thought to be the Heroides, letters of mythological heroines to their absent lovers, which may have been published in 19 BCE. The first five-book collection of the Amores, a series of erotic poems addressed to a lover, Corinna, is thought to have been published in 16–15 BCE; the surviving version, redacted to three books according to an epigram prefixed to the first book, is thought to have been published c. 8–3 BCE. Between the publications of the two editions of the Amores can be dated the premiere of his tragedy Medea, which was admired in antiquity but is no longer extant.

Ovid’s next poem, the Medicamina Faciei, a fragmentary work on women’s beauty treatments, preceded the Ars Amatoria, the Art of Love, a parody of didactic poetry (including advice such as “do not forget her birthday”), and a three-book manual about seduction and intrigue, which has been dated to 2 CE (Books 1–2 go back to 1 BCE). Ovid may have identified this work as the carmen, or song, which was one cause of his banishment. The Ars Amatoria was followed by the Remedia Amoris in the same year. This elegiac, erotic poetry earned Ovid a place among the chief Roman elegists Gallus, Tibullus, and Propertius, of whom he saw himself as the fourth member.

ovid4

By 8 CE, he had completed his most ambitious work, the Metamorphoses, a hexameter epic poem in 15 books which encyclopedically catalogs transformations in Greek and Roman mythology from the emergence of the cosmos to the deification of Julius Caesar. The stories follow each other in telling of human beings transformed to new bodies: trees, rocks, animals, flowers, constellations etc. At the same time, he was working on the Fasti, a 12 volume poem in elegiac couplets which took as its theme the calendar of Roman festivals and astronomy. Only 6 volumes were completed The composition of this poem was interrupted by Ovid’s exile, and it is thought that Ovid abandoned work on the piece in Tomis.

ovid6

In 8 CE, Ovid was banished to Tomis, on the Black Sea, by the exclusive order of the Emperor Augustus, without any participation of the Senate or of any Roman judge. This event shaped all of his following poetry. Ovid wrote that the reason for his exile was carmen et error – “a poem and a mistake” that his crime was worse than murder, more harmful than poetry.  We know no more than that, which tells us very little. The Emperor’s grandchildren, Julia the Younger and Agrippa Postumus (the latter adopted by him), were also banished around the same time. Julia’s husband, Lucius Aemilius Paullus, was put to death for conspiracy against Augustus.  That Augustus allowed Ovid to live suggests that whatever his crime was, it was unlikely to have been directed against Augustus per se.  Most modern critics think that it had something to do with Augustus’ distaste for the rather loose morals of Ovid’s love poems at a time when the emperor was trying to clean up marriage in Rome in order to make the society more stable.  But in the end, it is useless to speculate without more information.

In exile, Ovid wrote two poetry collections titled Tristia and Epistulae ex Ponto, illustrating his sadness and desolation. Being far from Rome, he had no access to libraries, and thus might have been forced to abandon the Fasti poem about the Roman calendar, of which only the first six books exist – January through June. The five books of the elegiac Tristia, a series of poems expressing the poet’s despair in exile and advocating his return to Rome, are dated to 9–12 CE. The Ibis, an elegiac curse poem attacking an adversary at home, may also be dated to this period. The Epistulae ex Ponto, a series of letters to friends in Rome asking them to effect his return, are thought to be his last compositions, with the first three books published in 13 CE and the fourth book between 14 and 16 CE. The exile poetry is particularly emotive and personal. In the Epistulae he claims friendship with the native people of Tomis (in the Tristia they are frightening barbarians) and to have written a poem in their language (Ex P. 4.13.19–20). And yet he pined for Rome and for his third wife; many of the poems are addressed to her. Some are also to the Emperor Augustus, yet others are to himself, to friends in Rome, and sometimes to the poems themselves, expressing loneliness and hope of recall from banishment or exile.

Ovid died at Tomis in 17 or 18 CE. It is thought that the Fasti, which he spent time revising, were published posthumously. He was allegedly buried a few kilometers away in a nearby town.

ovid5

The Metamorphoses is a sprawling work that explores the world from the beginning of time down to the life of Julius Caesar.  It is a source, not only for tales of Greek and Roman sacred history, but also for historical narratives concerning people in the classical world who lived close to the time of Ovid.  Book 15 has extensive discussions on Pythagoras and his work; 11 of 18 sections in this book are directly about Pythagoras’ philosophy.  Among other things, Pythagoras was a vegetarian (as were many of his followers), and Ovid provides us with his justifications for such an unusual stance to take at that time:

 Human beings, stop desecrating your bodies with impious foodstuffs. There are crops; there are apples weighing down the branches; and ripening grapes on the vines; there are flavorsome herbs; and those that can be rendered mild and gentle over the flames; and you do not lack flowing milk; or honey fragrant from the flowering thyme. The earth, prodigal of its wealth, supplies you with gentle sustenance, and offers you food without killing or shedding blood.

 Flesh satisfies the wild beast’s hunger, though not all of them, since horses, sheep and cattle live on grasses, but those that are wild and savage: Armenian tigers, raging lions, and wolves and bears, enjoy food wet with blood. Oh, how wrong it is for flesh to be made from flesh; for a greedy body to fatten, by swallowing another body; for one creature to live by the death of another creature! So amongst such riches, that earth, the greatest of mothers, yields, you are not happy unless you tear, with cruel teeth, at pitiful wounds, recalling Cyclops’s practice, and you cannot satisfy your voracious appetite, and your restless hunger, unless you destroy other life!

But that former age, that we call golden, was happy with the fruit from the trees, and the herbs the earth produced, and did not defile its lips with blood.

There is no evidence that Ovid was a vegetarian but I thought it might be suitable, based on this excerpt, to give a recipe for an ancient Roman vegetarian dish – broad beans and leeks with cilantro.  Something similar can be found here, although the latter is a recipe for mussels where the leeks and cilantro are merely flavoring agents.  The recipe I give here is my own adaptation from Apicius’ De Re Conquinaria which gives a list of ingredients and not much else.  Liquamen was a sauce made by fermenting fish, and was very common in classical era cooking.  It was primarily a source of salt to season the dish.  I use a diluted mix of Thai fish sauce (phrik nam pla) and water as a substitute.  You will find many attempts to convert Apicius’ recipe for the modern kitchen, but they all make the same mistake; they list string beans as the main ingredient.  This is absurd because all string beans were domesticated in the New World, and taken to the Old World in the sixteenth century.  Ovid’s “green beans” are fresh broad beans (fava beans). However, when I made this dish I was forced back on string beans myself because broad beans are not in season yet.  I ended up making it into a soup and then as a sauce for pasta.  It can accompany a variety of meat and fish dishes.

013a

©Fabaciae virides et baianae (broad beans and leeks)

Ingredients:

1lb/500g green beans (preferably broad beans)
1 tbsp Asian fish sauce mixed with 1 cup water
¼ cup
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp coriander leaves, chopped
1 tsp cumin
½ leek, sliced thin

Instructions:

Place all the ingredients in a heavy pot just big enough to hold them all.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the beans are cooked through.

Strain (reserving the cooking liquid) and serve as a side dish, or ladle into soup bowls as a first course with some crusty bread.