La Pellegrina


One of the most spectacular staged events of all time, certainly of the sixteenth century, took place in 1589 in lavish celebration of the wedding of Ferdinando I de’ Medici and Princess Christina, daughter of Charles III of Lorraine. Hoping to preserve and promote the prestige attached to his family name, Duke Ferdinando paid for the La Pellegrina, Intermedio set design
La Pellegrina, Intermedio set design
Wikimedia Commons
production of numerous festival books and other souvenirs of the event which, along with the written memoirs of invited guests, have survived.

Beginning in late fifteenth century Ferrara, intermedii (“intermissions”) consisting of skits, songs or dances were performed between the acts of a play. They started out as relatively simple affairs using the same scenery as was already onstage for the play, but as the productions became more elaborate, the intermedio took on a life of its own, overshadowing the play it was originally meant to accompany. In 1539, Florence’s first La Pellegrina, Intermedio set design
La Pellegrina, Intermedio set design
Wikimedia Commons
intermedii were staged for the wedding celebrations of Cosimo I and Eleanora of Toledo, and they soon became a tradition on special occasions.

The music for almost all Florentine intermedii is lost, except for those of 1589, which came to be known as La Pellegrina (“The pilgrim woman”), named for the play by Girolamo Bargagli of Siena they were meant to embellish. The sheer scale of the production was staggering. It required the invention of sophisticated stage machinery, huge sets, dozens of costumes, and extraordinary choreography for scores of musicians, who performed both onstage and off. Among the famous musicians who contributed were Jacopo Peri, Cristofano Malvezzi, Giulio Caccini, and Luca Marenzio, along with Emilio de’ Cavalieri, who directed the affair; libretti were by Ottavio Rinuccini.

Earlier intermedii seldom had a unifying theme, but those for La Pellegrina commemorated Florence’s imagined Greek heritage, conceived by Giovanni de’ Bardi himself: the influence of music on humankind, in six separate intermedii:

Each intermedio was grander than the one before, building up to an all–cast song–and–dance marvel. The penultimate O fortunato giorno (“Oh Propitious Day”) was scored for thirty voices across seven choirs who volleyed back and forth in a manner easily outdoing the spectacle of San Marco:

The final O che nuovo miracolo (“Oh Such a New Miracle”) brings heaven to earth and praises the virtue of the couple in an extended performance of dance and song, the choir alternating with a soprano trio comprising Vittoria Archilei, and Lucia and Margarita Caccini, Giulio Caccini’s daughter and wife — clearly a nod to the guests from Ferrara.

⇐ Caccini, Dolcissimo sospiro

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