Disperate speranze

Luigi Rossi

In 1633, the famous soprano Adriana Basile arrived in Rome, her daughters Leonora and Caterina in tow. She had enjoyed fame as one of a trio of singers in Mantua, the Gonzaga court’s Adriana Basile
Adriana Basile
(Wikimedia Commons)
answer to Ferrara’s Concerto delle donne. Adriana had retired from Gonzaga service in 1626 and moved to Naples for a time, then went on to Barberini Rome, where she and her daughters quickly made a name for themselves as the famous ensemble known as Le Canterine Romane.

The Basiles would certainly have met Luigi Rossi, who himself had taken up residence in Rome in the service of the Borghese in 1620. Rossi — no relation to Salamone — went to Naples at quite an early age, and is said to have studied there under Macque. It is not unreasonable to assume therefrom that he had more than a passing acquaintance with musical activity in Ferrara and even Mantua, and may have been acquainted with Adriana already. He married his harpist wife Costanza de Ponte, who also worked for the Borghese family, in 1626. He became organist at S. Luigi dei Francesi in 1633, the same year the Basiles came to Rome.

Rossi is remembered mostly for his contribution to the development of the cantata. This was not yet anything like the standardised form comprising a succession of recitatives and arias, but it was a natural successor to monody and dramatic song. In Rossi’s hands, it served equally well in both sacred and secular settings.

Nothing concrete indicates that Rossi wrote anything specifically for the Canterine. Many of his works remain in manuscript form at the British Library and at Oxford Christ Church Library. Yet through their common ties with Ferrara and Naples, it is likely that numbers such as the melancholy Disperate speranza, scored for three sopranos, was written with them in mind.

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