Giovanni Battista Andreini’s ‘La centaura’

Throughout the project to catalog all of the Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection I have become more and more interested in the dramas and festival pieces from the 16th and 17th centuries that are scattered throughout this collection.  One of my more recent finds is Giovanni Battista Andreini‘s La centaura (BLC 788 – Case PQ4562.A7 C46 1622).  Andreini (1576-1654) was an Italian actor, dramatist and poet, and son of the famous commedia dell’arte players Isabella and Francesco Andreini.  Anderini himself became a prominent figure in of the commedia dell’arte and by 1604 Andreini had formed his own troupe, Compagnia dei Fedeli, who were a resident company at the Gongzaga court in Mantua.  Andreini and his troupe performed in Paris beginning in 1613, through an invitation from the royal family, and were again in residence in 1622 when La centaura was premiered.

La centaura BLC 788

Andreini’s dramas are known for pushing the boundaries of traditional theatrical practices, and many of his works used music as important component.  La centura  amply demonstrates these qualities as it is divided into three acts, each of which is a different dramatic genre (Act 1-comedy, Act 2-pastorale, Act 3-tragedy) and  contains “substantial provision[s] for musical performance, including a sung prologue, finale, eight choruses and scenes sung in stile recitativo.” (New Grove dict. of music and musicians I, p. 625)

Cataloging this work was interesting because at first it was not clear whether it should be classified as an opera or drama (i.e. Italian literature) as is the case with many works from this time period that blur the line between play and opera. It was obvious from indications in the text that, indeed, there were portions of the work that were intended to be sung, as in the case of the prologue and choruses (as can be seen in the images below), but after a bit of research into Andreini and his works it was clear this work is a play.

La centaura prologue

La centaura - chorus


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