La barcarola e il “pittoresco”: dalla tradizione settecentesca all’opera italiana del primo Ottocento. Alcuni casi e alcune considerazioni
From the early eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century, the barcarole acquired specific grammatical and semantic features. Its use in early nineteenth-century Italian opera is here analyzed with reference to its “picturesque poetics” (with examples). Though opera has a significant visual element, its aesthetic role is realized through music. Both Rousseau and recent scholars argue that music’s power lies in expression rather than imitation or description – «l’art du musicien consiste à substituer à l’image insensible de l’objet celle des mouvemens que sa présence excite dans le cœur du contemplateur». Music links images, memories and emotions from the subjective sphere of an artist to objective referential elements. Beginning in the eighteenth century, English and Scottish landscapes are sonically represented in Glees and in W. Thomson’s Orpheus Caledonius (1725). Canzonettas to texts by P. Rolli, Canzoni da battello (1740-1750c.), barcaroles and notturnos provide further examples of “picturesque music” from southern Europe. Barcarole alla veneziana in 6/8 and 2/4 with simple melodies and texts in Venetian dialect appear as early as 1740: settings of Metastasio’s Grazie agli inganni tuoi by Leo and Rodario (I-VEc) are two examples of a spontaneously picturesque language. A recurrent, descending melodic formula stressing the opening beat suggests the motion of oars in the water. The mythical gondolier’s song of Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata was believed to have displayed these characteristics. For Rousseau and the early nineteenth century alike, the sound of the canzonetta portrayed not only a “watery” landscape but also its people. “Local colour” is created in Rossini’s Accours dans ma nacelle (Guillaume Tell, 1829) and Verdi’s Tutta calma è la laguna (I due Foscari, 1844). The song of the gondoliers imbues these scenes with the traditions and history of Venice, linking environment, nature and culture, the dangers of a mariner’s life and the dangers of life itself. Thus the “barcarole-gondolier formula” contrasts the mythical world of the Mediterranean to Wagner’s nordic Romanticism.