La Dafne

Marco da Gagliano, 1608

Named for the village outside of Florence from which he hailed, Marco da Gagliano was expected to take holy orders and thus received his early training with a religious confraternity, later with Luca Bati. In 1602, he was engaged as an instructor of singing at Bust of Marco da Gagliano
Bust of Marco da Gagliano
(Wikimedia Commons)
San Lorenzo, but in 1607 found himself at the court of Mantua, where he wrote his version of Dafne, which was staged that same year along with Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In 1609 he returned to Florence as maestro di capella at the Compagnia dell’Arcangelo Rafaello where he had trained in his youth, and shortly thereafter he assumed the position held earlier by his teacher Bati, maestro di capella at the Medici court.

Gagliano is noted principally for his version of La Dafne, based mostly on the libretto by Rinuccini that Peri and Corsi had used for their version of the opera of 1597. Gagliano’s position among the Medici meant he was noteworthy and Baratta, Apollo Chasing Daphne
Baratta, Apollo Chasing Daphne
(Wikimedia Commons)
influential in his own day, collaborating on a number of operas following Dafne with composers such as Peri and Francesca Caccini, daughter of Giulio. He wrote a large quantity of religious music which, along with his half dozen books of madrigals, are considered traditional prima pratica works. His operas and a book of musiche published in 1615, on the other hand, are fashioned in the more progressive style of Florence and the Camerata.

Like Euridice, Rinuccini’s Dafne unfolds over six scenes in a single act, after opening with a strophic prologue sung by Ovid, the ancient Roman author of Metamorphoses from which the story is taken.


As elder sister to Euridice, Rinuccini’s libretto for Dafne is similar in structure and mood. Nymphs and shepherds are more plainly cast in the rôle of Greek chorus, commenting separately upon the action without taking any real part in it, and coming together in ensemble at the close of each scene. Gagliano’s setting is notable for the greater variety of music he uses, and for a supporting bass that moves a little Trevisani, Apollo and Daphne
Trevisani, Apollo and Daphne
(Wikimedia Commons)
less ponderously during recitatives than those of either Peri or Caccini. The messenger scene is transposed to the penultimate fifth, as the shepherd Thyrsis describes for his colleagues and the audience what transpired after Daphne and Apollo left the stage for the woods in scene three.

Two numbers from the opera are most often commented upon, as they were mentioned by Gagliano himself in the printed edition published in 1608. Venus’s Chi da’ lacci d’amor vive disciolto (“Who lives unfettered by the bonds of love”) is a strophic aria in which she considers the vagaries of love, just after Cupid has departed in search of his revenge. The rôle was sung at the first performance in Mantua by Caterina Martinelli, whom Gagliano praises in his foreword for her clarity and careful observance of his written passaggi without a lot of other superfluous decoration.

Gagliano, “Chi di’ lacci d’amor” (excerpt)

Who lives unfettered by the bonds of love,

for his liberty may he enjoy happiness,

but not arrogantly...



In the same vein, Gagliano references Apollo’s Non curi la mia pianta o fiamma o gelo (“May my tree fear neither flame nor frost”) from the final scene, in which he sets strophic variation meticulously for each stanza, with an exacting but measured amount of passaggi.

Gagliano, “Non curi la mia pianta” (excerpt)



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