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Commentary

Antonio Vivaldi: Tito Manlio
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Pratolino, Venice, Mantua: Musings on Vivaldi’s Tito Manlio

Tito Manlio, Vivaldi’s second opera in Mantua for the 1718/19 season, is fraught with political and familial tensions.1

Antonio Vivaldi: Tito Manlio

Nicola Ulivieri (Tito), Karina Gauvin (Manlio), Ann Hallenberg (Servilia), Marijana Mijanovic (Vitelia), Debora Beronesi (Lucio), Barbara Di Castri (Decio), Mark Milhofer (Geminio), Christian Senn (Lindo), Accademia Bizantina, Ottavio Dantone (cond.)

Naïve OP 30413 [3CDs]

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The opera opens with the Roman consul Tito Manlio demanding an oath of hatred against the Latins, who have rebelled against Rome. Daughter Vitellia’s refusal to swear to such an oath (she secretly loves Geminio, the leader of the Latins) portends trouble ahead for the family. As son Manlio sets off to assess the enemy’s forces, Tito warns him that both he and the Senate demand that he go peacefully into Latin territory: blood must not be shed. In the next scene Tito (a baritone/bass) converses privately with his son, Manlio, and his aria (“Se il cor guerriero”) reiterates his previous advice: “If your warlike heart invites you to fight, remember my command and your duty; Avoid the risk of battle, nor should you let vain pleasure flatter you.”2

Michael Talbot has described the aria’s rhythmic ostinato that “sets the warlike mood in a manner reminiscent of Monteverdi’s stile concitato,” and how it combines with several other motives to deliver a veritable tour de force.3 (Manlio, however, will disobey orders and murder Geminio, goaded through the Latin’s insults of cowardice.) Later, in Act 1, scene 8 Tito sings “Orribile lo scempio” (Horrible, bloody slaughter will be seen; for complete text, see below), predicting the consequences of Vitellia’s refusal to swear loyalty to Rome. Vivaldi, with the help of his libretto, creates a strong and powerful leader in Tito Manlio; indeed, it is difficult for the listener to imagine the opera without these arias. Tito’s characterization is continued further with the arioso “Legga e vegga” (II/16) and the aria “No che non vedrà Roma” (III/7). In the latter, having sentenced his son to death as punishment for having disobeyed his and the Senate’s orders, he sings that Rome will see no tears in his eyes: he is all cruelty. Vivaldi’s music powerfully conveys the iron will of this man who can show no pity or remorse. Manlio’s support will come from his betrothed; the Latin Servilia; Lucio, her countryman; and Decio, the leader of the centurions. All of these characters’ humanity shines through Vivaldi’s touching arias. (In Livy’s account, the son Manlio was indeed executed; according to operatic convention, however, our story ends happily, solely through Decio’s intervention.)

Tito Manlio and its travels

Vivaldi’s setting is based on a libretto by Matteo Noris first presented at the Villa di Pratolino in Tuscany in 1696, with music by Carlo Francesco Pollarolo, for Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici. Both of these creative artists were well established in Venice. Noris, Venetian by birth, had made his operatic debut in 1666, and Tito Manlio represented his thirty-first libretto (he would go on to produce twelve more before his death in Treviso in 1714). Pollarolo, from Brescia, some one hundred miles west of Venice, had recently become the house composer at one of Venice’s most important and luxurious theaters, San Giovanni Grisostomo. Tito Manlio was their fifth collaboration, and Pollarolo went on to compose over fifty more operas, both in and outside of Venice.

Noris’s popular libretto was presented in at least eleven different productions between its 1696 premiere and Vivaldi’s version, with performances at Ferrara, Livorno, Naples, Genoa, Verona, Reggio, Milan, and London. Tito Manlio was mounted twice in Venice, in 1697 and 1698, in the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo. Those Venetian seasons would affect the libretto in powerful ways. Indeed, Noris’s libretto provides a fascinating window into opera production in late-seventeenth and early eighteenth-century Italy. A number of these considerations were taken up by Luigi Cataldi in his “La rappresentazione mantovana del ‘Tito Manlio’ di Antonio Vivaldi.”4 Cataldi determined that of the thirteen librettos issued from the time of the original staging to Vivaldi’s, four were mined for use by Vivaldi: the original Florentine, the second Venetian (1698), Ferrara (1698), and Reggio Emilia (1701). Vivaldi’s libretto certainly had been reworked and refined by someone other than Noris, as the librettist had died several years earlier.

Tito Manlio in Venice

The changes that occurred in the Venetian performances of Tito Manlio at Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo, especially the 1698 edition, must have been made by the the original librettist himself. Some of the most striking alterations, with profound musical and dramatic repercussions, occur in the first act of the opera. Vivaldi’s first aria for Tito mentioned above, “Se il cor guerriero,” was a refiguring of the sentiments originally written by Noris in 1696. The aria, as it appeared in Florence and in Venice in 1697, has the following text: “Tieni la spada al fianco/E questa legge al cor:/ Né faccio il cor guerriero/Uscir mai dal sentiero/Avidità d’allor.” The message is the same in both operas: restrain your military instincts, do not stray from the path of restraint. In Venice in 1698, however, Tito sang no such aria. Instead, the piece was sung by his son, Manlio, with a small change in the text (Tengo la spada al fianco: I hold the sword at my side). Manlio thus gains an aria, and also takes responsibility for following his father’s orders, delivered in recitative. Such a change is significant in itself, as Tito loses his initial opportunity to show his strength as a ruler. Moreover, later in the same act, the libretto continues to offer surprises. Tito also loses his second aria, “Orribile lo scempio.” This aria goes, instead, to a character of lower rank, Lucio, the Latin with Roman sympathies. The text (Horrible bloody slaughter will be seen. And the slaughter will serve as example to the hearts of others) thus takes on a quite a different meaning: rather than a threat coming from the consul Tito, Lucio sings, horrified, about the slaughter of Vitellia, whom he secretly loves.

If Tito is figuratively castrated (he sings no arias indicated as such in the Venice 1698 libretto), the ruler’s lyrical moments are transferred to others. Manlio now has nine closed forms, including a duet with Servilia (an increase of three from the Florence libretto); the clear winner, however, is the centurion Decio, who truly emerges from the background and finds his voice in 1698 with four arias compared with none in the two earliest versions of the libretto. By the time Vivaldi sets Tito Manlio, Tito, as mentioned above, will be blessed with closed forms, and Decio’s portion will decrease by two.

We do not know, of course, why Tito lost his arias in Venice in 1698. Was Noris making a political statement (in Venice the Senate and other governmental bodies held the true political power, not the Doge), weakening the title character’s role, reducing it to a series of dramatic recitatives (and giving an immediate boost to Manlio’s part), or could the change relate specifically to the voice of Anton Francesco Carli, the man who apparently sang the role?5 Michelangelo Gasparini, on the other hand, who sang the roles of both Geminio and Decio in the two Venice productions, ended up with six arias, surpassed in 1698 only by Manlio, Vitellia, and Servilla. In Venice during those two seasons, of all of the roles in Tito Manlio, only Tito, Geminio, Decio, and Breno (the comic character, originally Lindo in the Florence production), were performed by the same singers (by Carli, Gasparini, and the long-lived Tomaso Bovi, who by 1697 had been performing in opera for nearly fifty years).

The part of the servant Breno (Lindo) also merits our attention, if only briefly. “Lindo” (discussed in depth by Maria Purciello) accompanies Vitellia throughout the opera, the only such character who appears in this libretto (in many seventeenth-century librettos, several characters have servants and confidants). While the name “Lindo” appears on the list of characters in both Venice librettos, in the scenes themselves he is called Breno. Both “Lindo” and “Breno” are names attached to operatic comic characters in the decades preceding Tito Manlio, and Tomaso Bovi had played at least one “Breno” earlier in his career, so that the name could have been changed to suit the singer or to remind audiences of a previous “Breno.”

Vivaldi and Tito Manlio

Vivaldi began to compose Tito Manlio in 1718; it was to have served as a celebration of the marriage of Philip, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, who was the ruler of Mantua, and Eleonora di Guastalla, and recent widow of the Francesco Maria de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany.6 (Vivaldi was in the service of Prince Philip in Mantua for three years.) Two manuscript versions of the opera survive, the first famously annotated with the composer’s notation “Musica del Vivaldi fatta in 5 giorni” (music by Vivaldi accomplished in five days). It has been surmised that Vivaldi acquired Noris’s libretto during his sojourn in Florence earlier in 1718 for his Scanderbeg. While this may well have been the case–for it was the Florentine version of the libretto that Vivaldi first set–it is tempting to speculate about Vivaldi’s knowledge of the opera and its librettos in its earlier manifestations. Had the young musician or his father, the violinist Giovanni Battista (like Pollarolo, a native of Brescia), seen or had news of Pollarolo’s opera in 1697 or 1698? Pollarolo and Giovanni Battista Vivaldi served together at St. Mark’s from 1690; certainly, Antonio later knew Michelangelo Gasparini, the “Venetian” Decio and Geminio, who composed an opera for impresario Vivaldi at the Teatro S. Angelo in 1714 (Vivaldi signed the libretto’s dedication). Whatever the case, and whether or not he knew Pollarolo’s music personally, Vivaldi created a score based on a unique rendering of previous accounts of the libretto, a mélange of versions from Florence, Venice, Ferrara, and Reggio Emilia.

Vivaldi’s score (as performed by Ottavio Dantone’s Accademia Bizantina) is filled with gems; through his imaginative orchestration and skillful vocal writing the composer wonderfully brings all of Noris’s characters to life. I mentioned earlier Tito Manlio’s arias. Vivaldi’s Tito is steadfast in his resolution that Manlio must die for having disobeyed the Senate’s orders, though his heart softens when he bids goodbye to his son. (Missing from Vivaldi’s version of the opera, unfortunately, is the wonderful scene between Tito and Lucio, where Lucio tries to tell the consul that his son has been saved, while Tito, always interrupting him, is filled with remorse.) Among the highlights are the duets between Servilia and Vitellia (discussed by Andrew Dell’Antonio), the prison scenes, and, certainly, Lindo’s four magnificent arias, both clever and poignant at the same time (and a wonderful foil to his hardhearted mistress, Vitellia). Lucio and Decio also emerge as fascinating characters in their own right through the power of Vivaldi’s music. Manlio, too, is convincing; both the libretto and Vivaldi’s music allow him to remain dignified as he approaches his death. Finally, it should be noted that Vivaldi’s Manlio was played in Mantua by a woman, Margarita Gualandi. Gualandi had performed in Venice for a number of years, in Vivaldi’s operas as well as other, so that he must have specifically picked her for this role. We must wonder if he knew about earlier performances of the role by a woman in Naples in 1698 (Maria Maddalena Musi), and in 1720 Naples would see another female Manlio, Marianna Benti Bulgarelli.7

If I have only touched the surface of Tito Manlio, I hope I have conveyed some of the history, the richness, and the merits of this opera. Through its Edition Vivaldi, Naive is introducing Vivaldi’s operas to an audience, many of whom may be acquainted only with the master’s instrumental works or his Gloria, and other companies are issuing operas as well. Tito Manlio, a wonderful legacy of Vivaldi’s employment in Mantua, is likely to win over many listeners to the delights of the “other” Vivaldi.

Beth L. Glixon
University of Kentucky


1. I would like to thank Paula Hickner, Jonathan Glixon, Gary Hoffman, Herbert Kellman, Patrizia Metzler, Maria Purciello, Michael Talbot, Olga Termini, and Carlo Vitali for assistance of various sorts.

2. My translations are largely taken from the Accademia Bizantina recording of Tito Manlio, Naive OP 30413.

3. Michael Talbot, Vivaldi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 133-35.

4. Luigi Cataldi, “La rappresentazione mantovana del ‘Tito Manlio’ di Antonio Vivaldi,” Informazioni e Studi Vivaldiana 8 (1987), 52-89.

5. The names of the singers (taken from an anonymous manuscript) appear in Harris Sheridan Saunders, “The Repertoire of a Venetian Opera House (1678-1714): The Teatro Grimani di San Giovanni Grisostomo” (Ph.D. dissertation, Harvard University, 1985), 457. It is not completely clear whether Anton Francesco Carli, tenor, or Anton Francesco Carli, bass (who later performed in some of Vivaldi operas, as well as Handel’s Agrippina) sang the role. Those arias for the character Tito Manlio surviving in a collection of arias in Naples “58 arie et ariette” are notated in the alto clef. I would like to thank Olga Termini who kindly provided me with this information. According to Termini (private communication, 12 May 2006), the Naples collection comprises arias from different versions of the libretto.

6. For a fascinating look at Eleonora’s family, and their connections with Vivaldi, see Carlo Vitale, “I nove ‘principi di altezza’ corrispondenti di Vivaldi e la dedica enigmatica del Concerto RV 754. Alla ricerca dell’indirizzario perduto,” Informazioni e Studi Vivaldiana 16 (1995), 59-88.

7. A number of the Tito Manlio librettos listed in Claudio Sartori, I Libretti Italiani a Stampa dalle Origini al 1800 (Cuneo: Bertola & Locatelli, 1990-94) do not supply the singers, so we do not know how common or uncommon it was for a woman to play the role of Manlio. In Venice, according to Saunders’s appendix, Manlio was played by men, both in 1697 and in 1698. Musi had appeared in the 1696 Florence premiere as well as in Naples, 1698. See Robert L. Weaver and Norma W. Weaver, A chronology of music in the Florentine theater, 1590-1750 (Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1978, 178. As Musi was already playing other male roles at this time, it is possible, barring further documentation, that she was the Manlio in the Pratolino production.

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