A study of Monteverdi's three genera from the preface to Book VIII of Madrigals in relation to operatic characters in Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea
The construction of character on the early operatic stage by means of musical gestures is an indisputable achievement of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). Such an accomplishment was the result of a continuing development of musical ideas over many decades that encompassed additional modes of inquiry from philosophy to rhetoric. The merging of these fields is evidenced in the Preface to Book VIII, in which Monteverdi laid out a concate-nation of threefold divisions: three genera--concitato, temperato, and molle--in association with a high, medium, and low voice and with three emotions / virtues: anger, temperance, and humility / supplication. A detailed inquiry into the Preface terminology reveals its roots in a series of theoretical, rhetorical, and philosophical sources. An indepth musical analysis of Monteverdi’s Venetian operas Ulisse and Poppea and their main roles--Penelope and Ulisse in the former, and Nerone, Poppea, Seneca, and the betrayed spouses in the latter--demonstrates that the application of the three genera went beyond Book VIII. The primary emphasis of this research is devoted to how Monteverdi extended this system, along with all his musico-rhetorical devices, to the construction of character and depiction of emotion in his operas. Such an analysis illustrates the development of the composer’s musical aesthetic and his search for verisimilitude conveyed in his human operatic characters, a quest that he pursued for many years.
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