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Addressing the divine: the 'numinous' accompagnato in opera seria

Bruno Forment (UGent)
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Abstract
Few cases as blatantly override their contextual constraints as the ‘numinous’ accompagnato, i.e. a brand of recitative tagged by a homophonic texture for strings underscoring invocations, oracles, and divine utterances. Conceived in Italy in the 1680s, the topos would remain intact throughout the eighteenth century and beyond; yet its inscription in the discourse of early opera seria is surely at odds with the genre’s intellectual framework. Given its simultaneous presence in opera and oratorio, the numinous accompagnato was deployed to evoke Christian as well as pagan deities with the same degree of solemnity. Initially, the ‘college’ view on mythology (e.g. Bossuet, Gravina), which accepted pagan archetypes in terms of Christian allegories, may have offered a backdoor to escape censorial conflicts. However, rationalist doctrines espoused by Fontenelle and Muratori would rule out representations of ‘idolatry’ and ‘superstition.’ Not coincidentally, a growing number of libretti containing such ‘heathen fantasies’ were prefaced by disclaimers (proteste) that distanced them from the author’s ‘true’ beliefs. Equally hostile to the deus ex machina and ‘irrationality’ (alogon) as a whole, the implementation of neo-Aristotelian verisimilitude in opera was no less diametrically opposed to the scope of numinous accompagnati. Nonetheless, closer scrutiny of applications by Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Händel, and Jommelli reveals as to how accomplished composers have seized upon this particular topos to display harmonic extravagances, thus substituting the missing visual component with musical suggestions of the metaphysical that transgressed the logocentric borders of plot.
Keywords
gods, mythology, recitative, opera seria

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Chicago
Forment, Bruno. 2012. “Addressing the Divine: The ‘Numinous’ Accompagnato in Opera Seria.” In (Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera : Multidisciplinary Perspectives, ed. Bruno Forment, 93–117. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press.
APA
Forment, B. (2012). Addressing the divine: the “numinous” accompagnato in opera seria. In B. Forment (Ed.), (Dis)embodying myths in ancien régime opera : multidisciplinary perspectives (pp. 93–117). Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press.
Vancouver
1.
Forment B. Addressing the divine: the “numinous” accompagnato in opera seria. In: Forment B, editor. (Dis)embodying myths in ancien régime opera : multidisciplinary perspectives. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press; 2012. p. 93–117.
MLA
Forment, Bruno. “Addressing the Divine: The ‘Numinous’ Accompagnato in Opera Seria.” (Dis)embodying Myths in Ancien Régime Opera : Multidisciplinary Perspectives. Ed. Bruno Forment. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press, 2012. 93–117. Print.
@incollection{2093989,
  abstract     = {Few cases as blatantly override their contextual constraints as the {\textquoteleft}numinous{\textquoteright} accompagnato, i.e. a brand of recitative tagged by a homophonic texture for strings underscoring invocations, oracles, and divine utterances. Conceived in Italy in the 1680s, the topos would remain intact throughout the eighteenth century and beyond; yet its inscription in the discourse of early opera seria is surely at odds with the genre{\textquoteright}s intellectual framework. Given its simultaneous presence in opera and oratorio, the numinous accompagnato was deployed to evoke Christian as well as pagan deities with the same degree of solemnity. Initially, the {\textquoteleft}college{\textquoteright} view on mythology (e.g. Bossuet, Gravina), which accepted pagan archetypes in terms of Christian allegories, may have offered a backdoor to escape censorial conflicts. However, rationalist doctrines espoused by Fontenelle and Muratori would rule out representations of {\textquoteleft}idolatry{\textquoteright} and {\textquoteleft}superstition.{\textquoteright} Not coincidentally, a growing number of libretti containing such {\textquoteleft}heathen fantasies{\textquoteright} were prefaced by disclaimers (proteste) that distanced them from the author{\textquoteright}s {\textquoteleft}true{\textquoteright} beliefs. Equally hostile to the deus ex machina and {\textquoteleft}irrationality{\textquoteright} (alogon) as a whole, the implementation of neo-Aristotelian verisimilitude in opera was no less diametrically opposed to the scope of numinous accompagnati. Nonetheless, closer scrutiny of applications by Scarlatti, Vivaldi, H{\"a}ndel, and Jommelli reveals as to how accomplished composers have seized upon this particular topos to display harmonic extravagances, thus substituting the missing visual component with musical suggestions of the metaphysical that transgressed the logocentric borders of plot.},
  author       = {Forment, Bruno},
  booktitle    = {(Dis)embodying myths in ancien r{\'e}gime opera : multidisciplinary perspectives},
  editor       = {Forment, Bruno},
  isbn         = {9789058679000},
  keyword      = {gods,mythology,recitative,opera seria},
  language     = {eng},
  pages        = {93--117},
  publisher    = {Leuven University Press},
  title        = {Addressing the divine: the 'numinous' accompagnato in opera seria},
  year         = {2012},
}