Many of us who are lucky enough to work here at the Library of Congress get to experience giddiness frequently. We are surrounded by amazing treasures of all types and forms day-in and day-out. Every day leads to a new discovery in the collections. One of the topics that makes us particularly giddy in the Music Division is opera. In addition to recently opening a new exhibit “A Night at the Opera,” we are celebrating the bicentennials of Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi, and we are also commemorating Benjamin Britten’s centennial. As if these important reasons to be excited about opera aren’t enough, it is one of the genres that fall within our area of responsibility that takes the word “interdisciplinary” to the extreme. Aside from various historical and socio-political tropes that opera addresses, the genre unites many different art forms.
Opera consists of a confluence of music, text, dramatic arts, dance, lighting, scenic design, costumes, popular culture, reception and even architecture. This combination makes opera much like time-travel in the most powerful and provocative of ways. Our collections in the Music Division go far beyond sheet music and correspondence. As a researcher or visitor you can be one with original set designs from the first production of Puccini’s Turandot at the La Scala in Milan in 1926. If you’re a Wagnerian you can commune with autographed photos of singers who originated Wagner’s greatest roles. For the Verdi aficionados we have the holograph manuscript of the aria “Romanza” for tenor and orchestra from Attila, as inscribed for Nicola Ivanoff (November 15, 1845). Rossini effectively used his clout with Verdi to have the composer insert this aria for Ivanoff, for whom he was a sort of mentor, into the opera (click here for more about Ivanoff, Verdi and the “Romanza”). For the Britten-nuts, of which I am proudly one (#Britten100), the Library of Congress is home to the manuscripts of Peter Grimes and the first string quartet (the latter was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the founding patron of our concert series). Going beyond the manuscripts, you can examine a cheeky postcard [front] [back] that “Benjy” sent to Mrs. Coolidge in 1941.
These items are all exciting, important and make me hysterical just thinking about them. But, where does it all come from? What are the origins of opera? Those questions prompt enough discourse to fill a semester-long university course. A very good place to start is Jacopo Peri (1561-1633). Going beyond the fact that this year marks the 380th anniversary year of his death (exciting, right?) and his 452nd birthday (August 20), Jacopo is known as one of the founders of opera. Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is sometimes given credit for creating the first operas in the form that we recognize today, but Jacopo deserves some time in the spotlight beyond that shed by musicologists and opera connoisseurs. Jacopo’s opera Euridice from 1600 is “the earliest opera for which complete music has survived.” It was preceded by Dafne, for which only a libretto survives.
The Library of Congress, which holds one of the foremost collections of European music, has several first editions of scores and libretti for Jacopo’s compositions, to include:
Euridice – Full Score (Firenze, G. Marescotti, 1600/1601)
M1500.P425 E8 1601
Le varie musiche – Vocal Score (Firenze, C. Marescotti, 1609)
M1500.P425 E8 1601
Dafne – Libretto (Firenze, Appresso Giorgio Marescotti, 1600)
ML50.2.D2355 R568 1600
“A Night at the Opera”
August 15-January 26, 2014 at the Music Division Performing Arts Reading Room, James Madison Building, LM113
Free and open to the public, Monday through Saturday, 8:30am-5:00pm
For more about the exhibit, read Cait Miller’s recent blog post.
For more about our public programs celebrating “Wagner + Verdi at 200” check out our concert season brochure.
 William V. Porter and Tim Carter. “Peri, Jacopo.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/21327.