Ariosto as Operatic Ballet - A Rare Account of a 17th c. Italian Festival - The Feltrinelli Copy

FESTIVALS. Rondinelli, Simone Carlo [Salvadori (Andrea), 1591-1634, librettist] Accademia dei Rugginosi (Florence)

Le Fonti d’Ardenna festa d’arme, e di ballo; fatta in Firenze da dodici Signori Accademici Rugginosi il carneuale dell’anno 1623. Nel principato del Sig. Alessandro del Nero. Inuenzione del Sig. Andrea Saluadori. Descritta dal Rugginoso Percosso

Florence: Pietro Cecconcelli, 1623



Woodcut printer’s device on title page, two woodcut initials, head- and tail-pieces. First signature spotted, but a good, partly uncut copy of this rare book, printed on heavy paper. Bound in nineteenth-century Italian calf-backed boards, headcap chipped. Provenance prince Piero Ginori Conti (1865–1939), his exlibris and crowned cipher stamped in gilt on binding — Giannalisa Feltrinelli (1903–1981) — Christie’s South Kensington Ltd., ‘The Giannalisa Feltrinelli Library, Part Six’, London, 2 June 1998, lot 1270

A fascinating and vivid description of ‘The fountains of the Ardennes’, an entertainment that included singing, a tournament on horseback, and dancing, performed by the Accademici Rugginosi in the Palazzo della Gherardesca (Casa Rinaldi), on 3 February 1622 (stile fiorentino). The librettist was Andrea Salvadori, from 1616 to 1628 the principal author of texts for theatrical entertainments at the Florentine court. Music for the spectacle (now lost) was composed by Marco da Gagliano; the scenery was designed by Giulio Parigi. Salvadori derived his material mostly from Ariosto's "Orlando furioso", with descriptions drawn from Boiardo's 'Orlando innamorato' and Ripa's 'Iconologia.' For an in-depth examination of the iconography see: Harness, Echoes of women’s voices: music, art, and female patronage in early modern Florence, pp.147–152.

The occasion was a quasi-diplomatic visit to Florence of Henri II Bourbon, prince of Condé, and Salvadori's libretto comments explicitly on the current events that had prompted his visit: a territorial dispute in the Valtelline, traditionally Catholic, but controlled by the Protestant Swiss, and now contested by France, Spain, and Austria. According to the court diarist, Cesare Tinghi, the Archduchess Maria Magdalena, who ruled Tuscany from 1621 to 1628 during the minority of Grand Duke Ferdinando II, occupied the primo luogo for the performance, followed by (in order) Cardinal Carlo de’ Medici, Grand Duke Ferdinand II, the prince of Condé, and Don Lorenzo de’ Medici. After the performance, the academicians mounted their horses and with musical accompaniment paraded through the streets of Florence.

"As with plays and operas based on saints' legends, the plots for the balletti abbattimenti often deviated significantly from their source material. Florentine poets most often construed plots that revisited personages at some point after the events narrated in the poetic source. Characters thus bring with them their personalities and their histories, which then often inform their actions in new situations. The first work of this type was Andrea Salvadori's 'Le fonti d'Ardenna' [The Fountains of the Ardennes] performed on 3 February 1623 by the Accademia de' Rugginosi, with music, now lost, by Marco Gagliano.

"For his 'entertainment of arms and dance', Salvadori extracted characters from Ariosto's 'Orlando Furioso' then reinserted them into a new dramatic context, whose action he distributed over four sections. In part 1 the sorcerers Merlin and Melissa devise a plan to rid the world of the fountain of disdain, whose waters cause all who drink from them to despise love. Merlin predicts that this will lead to a battle between those knights who defend the fountain and those who instead champion love, and, since the outcome of such a conflict is uncertain, he suggests that Melissa, proven friend to magnanimous women, seek out the loveliest of the Tuscan ladies to influence the result. According to the descriptions of their costumes, both Merlin and Melissa wore attire similar to the priests and priestesses of the ancient Gauls and Belgians. They conversed in music with instrumental accompaniment, probably in recitative. 

"The second section offers the verbal equivalent of a battle, a sung debate [contrasto] between the allegorical personages of Love and Disdain, each seconded by the appropriate trio of Graces and Furies. Then six combatants enter, with one member of each three-man squadron delivering a lengthy recitative. The two groups begin to battle, escalating to a ferocity that alarms the spectators. In the midst of such violence, Melissa returns with her troop of Tuscan ladies, who honor the French prince by their costumes 'alla Franzese': dresses, embroidery, and stockings designed to explore all possible combinations of three colors –red, blue, and yellow- of the Condé coat-of-arms, which featured three fleurs-de-lis plus the red Bourbon baton on a blue field. Melissa and her followers interrupt the fighting and, simultaneously with the simulated battle taking place upstage, they initiate a more pleasing ballet, accompanied by four strophic canzonette sung by a chorus of Love's supporters. The battling knights gradually desist and join the ladies, after which Disdain concedes defeat, Merlin dispatches the fountain of disdain to the Underworld, and the chorus accompanies the corrente danced by the knights and ladies with a two–stanza canzonetta."(Harness, Echoes of women’s voices: music, art, and female patronage in early modern Florence, pp.147–152)

In this account, the secretary of the academy, Simone Carlo Rondinelli, presents Salvadori’s libretto (357 lines) interspersed by his own detailed description of the knights’ costumes and armor (more than twice the number of pages needed for the libretto). In explicating the visual aspects of the work, Rondinelli drove home its message, at the top of Archduchess Maria Magdalena’s political agenda: the Catholic powers of France, Spain and the Empire must stop fighting each other, and join in battle against their common enemy, heresy. Another entertainment sponsored by the court during Condé’s visit (Jacopo Cicognini’s La finta mora) urged the Catholic leaders to direct their combined might against the Turks