Durante’s Danza Fanciulla – imagining the dance

February 24, 2010

 

Beverley Chiat (l) & Violina Angeulov (r)

Danza, danza fanciulla is a song by Italian Baroque composer Francesco Durante (1684-1755). Loved and performed by singers across the world, this “Aria Antiche” will make part of a delightful programme Viva Italia, featuring Cape Town’s well-known singing partnership, soprano Beverley Chiat and mezzo-soprano Violina Anguelov, accompanied on the piano by Albert Combrink. The all-Italian programme includes familiar gems from the operatic repertoire – including Madama Butterfly, La Boheme and La Traviata – as well as Neapolitan songs.

Danza, danza fanciulla is a delightful invitation to the dance. The sound of the waves and the playful breeze are the accompaniment to this intoxicating frolic. Beautiful sounds such as the singing of the poet, mix with the glorious sounds of nature, inviting a young girl to let her spirit run free – and by implication also her body.

Danza, danza, fanciulla gentile (Text by an anonymous poet,  in Italian)

Danza, danza, fanciulla, al mio cantar;

danza, danza fanciulla gentile, al mio cantar.

Gira leggera, sottile al suono, al suono dell’onde del mar.

Senti il vago rumore dell’aura scherzosa

che parla al core con languido suon,

e che invita a danzar senza posa, senza posa,

che invita a danzar.

Danza, danza, fanciulla

"Girl dancing on Liquid GOld"

Dance, dance, gentle young girl

(Text by an anonymous poet, in free translation by Albert Combrink)

Dance, dance, young girl to my singing (song)

Dance, dance, gentle young girl to my (singing) song;

Twirling lightly and softly to the sound, to the sound of the waves of the sea.

Sense the vague rustling of the playful breeze

that speaks to the heart with its languid sound,

that invites you to dance without stopping, without stopping

that invites you to dance.

Dance, dance, gentle young girl to my song.

Durante: The composer whose sacred music overshadows the rest of his output. 

Francesco Durante

Durante was born in Regno delle Due Sicilie (the Kingdom of Two Sicilies) at a time when it was the richest and most important of the Italian states before the unification of Italy. From a large family, his first musical influence was his father, a dedicated singer in the parish church. He entered the Conservatorio dei poveri di Gesu Cristo (The Concservatory of the poor of Jesus Christ) in Naples and later became a pupil of Alessandro Scarlatti. He later became a famous teacher of pupils such as Giovanni Paisiello, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and Niccolo Piccinni, to name only a few. By all accounts, Durante was dedicated to his students’ welfare and education. Durante was, in turn, always spoken very highly of by his pupils. Unusually among Neapolitan composers, Durante had little interest in writing operas, although he did compose sacred dramas and secular as well as sacred cantatas. He made a name for himself chiefly in the devotional and liturgical genres of his day. Despite the dominance in his list of compositions of religious works, he also wrote a large number of successful harpsichord sonatas and toccatas, and eight Concerti per quartetto.

The uncertain history of Danza, danza fanciulla

Schirmer Edtion

Two popular arias attributed to Durante are published in anthologies of Italian songs – “Arie Antiche” collected by 19th century editors. Vergin, tutto amor and Danza, danza fanciulla are perhaps the only works for which Durante is still recognized. This is ironic since in his catalogue they would not hold a very esteemed place incomparison to the larger works and educational volumes he produced. In all probability they were only “solfeggios” or “singing exercises” to which elaborate accompaniment and text were added in the nineteenth century. He wrote many didactic works and even in non-didactic compositions there are signs in the actual printed scores that reveal the master-teacher at work. For example, in some of the masses elements of the plainchant or canon were marked as such for the edification of the student/performer. (Rachael Unite, All Music Guide )

Performance practice in Durante’s “Arie Antiche”

Ricordi Edition sold by Hal Leonard publ.

Given that the originals are now lost, performers have to rely on performing versions created and commissioned by 19th century publishers. Some of the editorial suggestions are appropriate, and without these wonderful “recreations” these melodies might have been lost for ever. However, one can not ignore the fact that when you hear these works performed, you are listening to a twenty-first century “imagining” of what the a 19th century editor (and therefore “minor” composer/arranger”) imagined what an 18th century composition might have sounded like. There is no saying that even the choice of text would carry the blessing of Signore Durante. There is no guarantee that the tempo indication given in the 19th century would be appropriate to a sound-world already a century old. In fact, apart form the melody, most of what we find in the published editions of this song, were added by other hands.

The metronome marking and the tempo indication of “Allegro con Spirito” are not Durante’s at all. The metronome had not even been invented yet, for a start. Singers have to interpret the song with the text as a starting point. Let’s forget for a moment that the text was not chosen – or set – by the composer, and accept its validity as a document. Given the lightness of the text – the references to delicate and playful breezes and rustling sounds of nature – the metronome marking given by the editors seems too fast and virtuosic. At 138 to a beat a whirling dervish is conjured rather than a simple “twirling lightly and softly to the sound”. Yet singers revel in the virtuosic display that the fast tempo affords. Thrilling as this might be, it makes the piece little more than a coat-hanger on which to hang an elaborate costume.

A delicate Baroque spinet

The piano used for accompaniment had not been invented yet when Durante wrote the melody. Even the dynamic indications are not “authentic” as it was a convention of the Baroque not to mark changes of volume – partly because instruments such as the spinet could only play at one dynamic level. Others, such as a harpsichord or organ, could not gradually change volume, but could only jump from one level to the next (“terrace dynamics”), given some technological device such as adding a few more strings or pipes.

 

What are performers in 2010 to do? 

– Play it on the harpsichord or spinet? 

"Self portrait at the spinet" - Lavinia Fontana 1577

This would recreate the keyboard sounds that Durante had available in his time. (But we do not have a harpsichord in our concert.) We are not even sure that it was actually written for a harpsichord. A spinet is unpractical in modern concerts as it is simply not loud enough to be heard properly more than a few feet away, let alone in a concert hall.

– Play it on a piano and imitate the harpsichord?

This is acceptable practice for keyboard works such as those by Bach and Scarlatti. Crisp articulation and not using the sustaining pedal, are used as techniques that outline the architecture of these works.

Here is a YouTube Clip of the piano accompaniment as it is published, recorded without a singer. This “Music Minus One” version illustrates the issues with the piano accompaniment as it stands. Pedals, legato double octaves and long sustained chords are used in abundance. None of these are technical devices employed in the Baroque – especially not on keyboard instruments.

Click here to listen to Danza, danza fanciulla (Piano Accompaniment Only)

In the case of Durante’s song and its “Arie Antiche” colleagues,  the accompaniments were composed in the 19th century with the piano and its technical abilities in mind – such as volume change and sustaining pedals – declaring any claims at authenticity totally bogus. One would have to recompose the accompaniment to make that possible, at the very least cutting out some of the very low notes or doubling which would have been impractical in the Baroque era.

Appropriate singing style in Durante’s Danza, Danza Fanciulla

As for the singer, do they attempt vibrato-less baroque-style singing of limited volume and dramatic expression? Many modern recordings use Baroque-style re-orchestrations. These charming pastiche versions have their own validity, but they are stylistic anachronisms. Dmitri Hvorostovsky – winner of the 1989 Cardiff Singer of the World competition – is one of the leading operatic baritones of his generation. His Aria Antiche  album was one of his biggest hits. The accompaniments on this CD are all modern orchestrations, and are certainly effective. But they are nonetheless a 20th century “imagining” of 19th century Baroque style. As for “barihunk” Dmitri: his vocal swagger – impressive as it may be – is probably very far removed from what singers in the Baroque era would have sounded like. The full-throated chest voice is an invention of the romantic era just as surely as the media invention of the barihunk is a 21st century phenomenon. In all likelyhood Danza, danza fanciulla  would have been sung by a decidedly unvirile castrato. Given the church’s prohibition on women singing in church, Durante would no doubt have had a stable of castrated boys at his diposal to sing his sacred works. This song was very probably composed for one of these children unfortunately cursed with musical talent.

Click here to listen to Dmitri Hvorostovsky singing Durante’s Danza, danza fanciulla.

Click here to listen to Christiaan d’Hooghe –  a countenor the closest thing we have today to a Castrato sound – singing Durante’s other famous Aria Antiche Vergin Tutto amor.

Restoration versus recreation

Michelangelo's "Daniel" Before & After restoration (Sistine Chapel)

Questions facing performers of this type of work is similar to those facing art historians when dealing with the prospect of restoring works from the past. The recent restoration of the Sistine Chapel is very controversial. The results of the cleaning were quite extreme. The colours that emerged after the restoration were quite startlingly different from what we had become accustomed to. Colours were surprisingly bright. Some might even say garish and gaudy. Our picture of the enchanting rotund angels floating in clouds of light pink, has changed dramatically and many books on the art of Michelangelo have had to be revised, some even rewritten.

As always, the experts are divided on the results.

A journey into history

The interesting part is that this modern restoration attempt was not the first. Already in 1625, a restoration was carried out by Simone Lagi, the Vatican’s “resident gilder”, who wiped the ceiling with linen cloths and cleaned it by rubbing it with bread. He occasionally resorted to wetting the bread to remove the more stubborn accretions. His report states that the frescoes “were returned to their previous beauty without receiving any harm”. Lagi also applied layers of glue-varnish to revive the colours. Between 1710 and 1713 a further restoration was carried out by the painter Annibale Mazzuoli and his son. They used sponges dipped in Greek wine (with a very high acidity similar to vinegar) which was necessitated by the accretion of grime caused by soot and dirt trapped in the oily deposits of the previous restoration. Mazzuoli then worked over the ceiling, according to an “eye-witness report” (by now almost 300 years old) to deliberately strengthen the contrasts by over-painting details. They also repainted some areas the colours of which were lost because of the efflorescence of salts caused by the salpetre leaks from the roof above the ceiling. So, to be fair, we have absolutely no way of telling if the recent renovations restores the Sistine Chapel to its original state as Michelangelo conceived it, or if it has been restored to the sate in which it was left are being cleaned with wet bread, or after parts had been repainted by Annibale Mazzuoli.

Bril's Landscape at San Silvestro before it was restored

Another equally startling restoration of Baroque fresco-painting is the restored paintings of Flemish Master Paul Bril in the San Silvestro Chapel at Rome’s Sancta Sanctorium. Bril’s work has only seriously entered the conscious realm of art-historian endeavour since this project revealed the extent of his achievement. Funded by the John Paul Getty Foundation, over 1.700 square meters of wall space was restored by forty art restorers and experts. Project leader Maurizio De Luca, who also oversaw the recent restoration of the Pauline Chapel by Michelangelo inside the Vatican, sates confidently: “Like any good restoration, it is invisible.”

Some might beg to differ.

Technically it was a stunningly complex restoration process: deep fissures risked bringing down whole patches of painted ceiling plaster, and inside the chapel with its high, vaulted ceiling the painted walls and ceiling were literally obliterated by four centuries of accumulated candle grease and grime. Only the faintest traces of the paintings remained, and all colors and themes were literally lost to time, and hence forgotten. The restorers painstakingly removed one layer of dirt, then waited to see the result before tackling the next.

Brils' landscape in the San Silvestro: After restoration

 The results are rather startling. The colours are extremely bright and direct. If this is what Baroque frescoes really looked like, who is to say we don’t also have the wrong idea of how Baroque music is supposed to have sounded?

My task as coach and accompanist for this “Aria Antiche” is therefore not so simple. There are no hard-and-fast rules. Recreating a supposed baroque-style is not possible: the instrument I play is a 9 foot concert grand piano made of steel and wood, not a delicate little spinet. To attempt to play the piece in a technically “clean” manner, sheared of rubato and other agogic responses accumulated in subsequent centuries – to the text as well as the harmonies – would seem perverse: like washing the original in vinegar. By the same token, I feel that simply following the romantic indications – not to mention the thick octaves and large chords in the accompaniment – is the equivalent of centuries’ worth of accumulated oil, soot and grime. I am not sure I am in the market for recomposing the accompaniment, to attemtp a compromise. Not yet, anyway.

In preparing a performance I shall attempt neither to wash the original with wet bread nor vinegar. The key – of course – is the singer. This work will be sung by Violina Angeulov, a superb mezzo-soprano trained at the UCT Opera School by Sarita Stern. As we work on the programme in the next couple of weeks, I am sure we shall do our own restoration and recreation of “Danza, danza fanciulla”. We have no idea what we might yet discover. Perhaps we will dance to Durante’s tune. Or perhaps we won’t. We might just dance our own dance, to the sounds carried on the wind down through the centuries. And how we dance, depends entirely on what we choose to hear. And who knows which voices will be whispering in our ears?

Violina Anguelov (mezzo-soprano) CV

Violina was born in Bulgaria. She obtained her Performer’s Diploma in Opera with distinction as well as Honours Degree in Singing (First Class) from the University of Cape Town under voice teacher Sarita Stern. She has been awarded the Adcock Ingram Music Prize, the Leonard Hall Memorial Prize and Erik Chisholm Prize.

She made her European operatic début as Dorabella in Cosi fan Tutte in Hanover, Germany, in 2000. Her South African operatic début was as Cherubino in The Marriage of Figaro with Cape Town Opera in 1999. Since then she has sung, just to mention a few,  roles such as Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Rosina in The Barber of Seville, Fenena in Nabucco, Marguerite in Berlioz’s La Damnation de Faust, Ruggiero in Alcina, Nerone in L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Hänsel in Hänsel and Gretel, Idamante in Idomeneo, Orlofski in Die Fledermaus, Mrs. Roland in the One Act One Woman opera Dark sonnet by Erik Chisholm in celebration of 100 years of the composers birth, Elisetta in Il Matrimonio Segreto at the Pretoria State Theatre. She has been invited twice to perform for Opera Africa in the roles of, Romeo in I Capuleti e I Montecchi by Bellini performed in Pretoria State Theatre and Amneris in Aida by Verdi performed both in the Pretoria State Theatre and Johanneburg Civic Theatre. She also sang the as Third Lady in Mozart’s Magic Flute a production directed by William Kentridge. This production was performed in Cape Town Opera House and Civic Theatre Johannesburg. Her latest appearances include the roles of Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Mrs Patrick De Rocher in Jake Heggie’s opera Dead Man Walking both productions of Cape Town Opera.

She has a vast repertoire of sacred works: Coronation Mass by Mozart, Stabat Mater by Pergolesi, Gloria by Vivaldi, St. Theresa Mass by Haydn, Mozart’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, The Dream of Gerontius by Elgar, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and 9th Symphony, Bach’s Easter Oratorio as well as St. Johan’s and St. Matthews Passions, L’Enfance du Christ by Berlioz, Elijah by Mendelssohn and Verdi Requiem. She has worked with conductors such as: Doctor Barry Smith, Arnold Bosman, Chris Dowdeswell, Doctor Donald Hunt, Richard Cock and Kamal Khan.

2 Responses to “Durante’s Danza Fanciulla – imagining the dance”

  1. Anthea Haupt said

    What you are up to is wonderful….Will try and come to the tango CD launch. Can I send a singer you for coaching? I can only do once a week and she wants more. Fabulous dramatic soprano voice,my age, British semi-professional in England, archeolpogist by profession. Singer at heart but life turned out otherwise.Her name is Sue Corrigan..wants to get into Artscape ad hoc chorus..Let me know if you can make time for her.Sounds as if you are happily drowning in work Love anthea..

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: