The Howard Mayer Brown Libretto Collection (BLC) comprises many smaller collections. In the process of cataloging, we’ve come to recognize the bookplates of Pietro Gerini (d. 1939) and Pietro Buoninsegno (fl. 1802-1814), for instance, as dozens of their libretti found their way into Howard Mayer Brown’s hands. There are less formal groupings as well, such as the many early-18th-century oratorios performed at the Oratorio di San Filippo Neri in Bologna, many of which were published by Costantino Pisarri.
Two interesting collections-within-the-collection of this sort are now making their way through the workflow. The first consists of dozens libretti performed in at the Regio Ducal Teatro in Milan from 1698 through at least the 1750s, organized chronologically (BLC 712-760).
There’s no indication in the pieces themselves who might’ve put together this collection, but it is prodigious in scope and will serve scholars well.
The second mini-collection is pithier. The ten libretti BLC 632-641 (titles and call numbers below) were used as the basis for new productions in Florence, mostly at the Teatro del Cocomero. That is to say: they are full to the brim with alterations. Many of these are made directly in the text, changing title page information and cast lists or altering text and stage instructions. Some of the changes are so extensive, however, that they burst from the page, with slips of handwritten text pasted in or entire sheaves of alterations sewn up into a messy, wonderful package. The most jam-packed of these is Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636) La Mariane. The printed libretto was for a production at the Teatro di S. Angelo in 1724; the new production was at the Teatro del Cocomero in 1726.
Changes to the title page of La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)
The cast, of course, changed.
Changes to the cast list of La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)
Many of the additions and alterations are pasted in, like the folded slip on the left in the image below. On the right is a leaf that has been inserted.
Insertions pasted down and sewn into La Mariane. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)
Indeed, in BLC 636, there is a veritable pile of loose sheets which have been inserted and then the whole package sew together–not for use, but to keep everything in one place.
La Mariane -- more loose sheets, some folded. Case ML50.2.E33 L35 1724 (BLC 636)
I can’t wait for someone to work on this little collection and reveal all of its secrets. Someone has! William C. Holmes’ Opera Observed: Views of a Florentine Impresario in the Early Eighteenth Century. The third appendix is dedicated to these annotated libretti (plus one or two more). From this desk in Collection Services, it is easy to forget that, although the BLC has not been fully cataloged, it has been available — and mined by scholars — for decades.