La Catena d’Adone

Domenico Mazzocchi, 1626

Domenico Mazzocchi was born and educated in the village of Cività Castellana, about sixty kilometres north of Rome. He took holy orders in 1606 after attending a local seminary, where his studies Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini
Cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini
(Wikimedia Commons)
included music and law. Both he and Virgilio, his younger brother of five years, are remembered for their sacred compositions for papal chapels.

Domenico moved to Rome in 1614 to continue his studies, was soon granted citizenship and, in 1621, became secretary to cardinal Ippolito Aldobrandini. Originally from Florence, the Aldobrandini family were now one of the most powerful clans in Rome, thanks to the elevation of Ippolito’s namesake grand–uncle as Pope Clement VIII in the same year as Domenico’s birth.

La catena d’Adone (“The Chain of Adonis”) was commissioned for the noble familia Conti and performed at its Palazzo Conti in February of 1626. Characterised as a favola boschareccia (“woodland fable”), the libretto by Ottavio Tronsarelli was based on parts of Marino’s epic L’Adone. Mazzocchi’s work carried on the tradition of Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di anima e di corpo Rubens, ‘Venus & Adonis’
Rubens, ‘Venus & Adonis’
(Wikimedia Commons)
but featured the species of monody that had been developed in Florence and was now a characteristic feature of Roman opera.

The story takes place in five acts that follow on a prologue in which Apollo, descending from heaven, decries Venus’s desertion of her husband Vulcan after she has fallen in love with the beautiful Adonis. The latter, fleeing from Venus’s old flame Mars, blunders into the realm of the conjurer Falsirena, who now falls in love with him as well. To prevent his escape, she keeps him captive by means of a magic chain, aided by her accomplices Arsete and Idonia, but she realises that her attentions are in vain: Adonis loves another. Falsirena invokes Pluto and forces him to reveal the name of the object of Adonis’s yearning, then takes Venus’s likeness to trick him into loving her. Her plan is thwarted when Venus herself appears, directing her son Cupid to free Adonis and bind Falsirena with her own chain as punishment.

The score of Adone was published in Venice later in 1626 — the libretto itself saw three Roman editions that year and the next. It comprises about thirty musicians, many of whom played out of sight of the stage in the first performance. Originating as it did from Rome, the work included an allegoria della favola that packaged the story along the same lines as Eumelio and similar Roman productions. It cast Falsirena as the Soul, entreated to goodness by Arsete as Reason but tempted by Idonia as Lust: Adonis’s mistakes represent the flaws of Man who is ultimately rescued by Venus as God.



Adone is Mazzochi’s only surviving opera, in which he is credited with carrying on the young tradition of Roman opera, but with several innovations. One of these is the interpolation of aria–like movements to contrast with extended monodic sections. Nymphs and shepherds are still present to act as chorus and comment on the goings–on, but now individual characters express, in a vein similar to Venus’s Chi da’ lacci d’amor in Gagliano’s Dafne, what is in the minds of the characters themselves.

⇐ Monteverdi, Madrigals VII (II)

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