Analysing early opera’s blend of ‘noble delights’

Published 05 November 2012

The aim of early European opera to achieve a perfect blend of poetry, spectacle and music will be examined in a free public lecture at the University of New England on Monday 12 November.

The visiting lecturer, Professor Sue Court, has published critical editions of two early European operas: Marco da Gagliano’s La Dafne (1608) and La Flora (1628). “The overall intention of combining many arts was to ‘unite every noble delight’,” Professor Court said, quoting Marco da Gagliano’s description of the first performance of La Dafne.

“When we think of opera, it is likely that by default the music springs to mind more readily than its poetry and visual aspects,” Professor Court said. “We are more likely to reignite memories of an opera by listening to a recording of the music than by reading the libretto or contemplating visual records of a performance.

“Yet, at the inception of the genre in the first few decades of seventeenth-century Europe, written accounts make it clear that an opera was regarded as a perfect blend of all those elements: poetic, visual and musical.”

Professor Court will discuss what she calls the “artistic triumvirate” of poetry, spectacle and music in the first performance of La Flora in Florence. “The libretto, based on the myth of Apollo and Flora bestowing flowers on the earth, made convenient political parallels and was accompanied by extravagant scenery and stage effects,” she said. “We know this from the engravings published with the libretto depicting the staging and scenery of the first performance.”

Her lecture on Monday 12 November, titled “‘Uniting every noble delight’: Illusion, deception and metaphor in the triumvirate of poetry, music and design in early European opera”, will be at 6 pm in UNE’s Arts Theatre (Lecture Theatre A1). The event will be the 25th in UNE’s series of Gordon Athol Anderson Memorial Lectures, which honours the memory of the pioneering scholar of medieval and Renaissance music who became a Professor of Music at UNE. Refreshments will be served in the Arts Theatre foyer from 5.15 pm, and everyone is welcome.

Professor Court, whose critical editions of early European vocal music by Marenzio, d’India and da Gagliano have been published by Gaudia Music and Arts in the United States, is Dean of Humanities and Communication at Central Queensland University.

A former professional musician, she continues to perform (classical guitar and lute) when time allows.