Ottavio Rinuccini

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Born: 20 January 1562, Florence

Died: 28 March 1621, Florence


Italian poet, courtier and considered as the first librettist. He came from a noble Florentine family prominent in cultural and diplomatic circles since the 13th century. His education was presumably that of a courtier – some classical training and enough exposure to the arts to have made him a lively participant in court entertainments in Florence, for which he began writing verses as early as 1579 (Maschere d'Amazzoni). The court chronicler Bastiano de' Rossi called him ‘a very fine connoisseur’ of music, and G.B. Doni suggested that Monteverdi relied on him greatly while setting his libretto for Arianna.


Already a member of the Accademia Fiorentina, Rinuccini in 1586 joined another Florentine academy, the Alterati, whose members were particularly interested in dramatic theory and music; he took the name ‘Il Sonnacchioso’ (‘the somnolent one’). There is no evidence to affirm Rinuccini's connection with Giovanni de' Bardi's Camerata, but Bardi (like other musical humanists such as Girolamo Mei and Jacopo Corsi) was also a member of the Accademia degli Alterati and collaborated with Rinuccini on the 1589 intermedi, which he produced for the wedding celebrations of the Grand Duke Ferdinando I. Of the six intermedi, which are loosely unified by their dramatization of the marvellous powers of ancient music, Rinuccini was alone responsible for the text of three (nos. 2, 3 and 6) and wrote the greater part of two more (nos. 1 and 5), to which Bardi also contributed some verses. The third intermedio, which depicts the battle between Apollo and the dragon, later served Rinuccini as the basis for the opening scene of his first operatic text, Dafne, which he claimed to have written ‘solely to test the power of music’. Thus Apollo, god of both music and the sun, by virtue of his power in vanquishing the irrational forces represented by the python, was his first aesthetic spokesman.

During the 1590s Rinuccini was associated with Corsi, who collaborated with Jacopo Peri in setting Dafne to music in the newly invented recitative style. First performed at Corsi's home in 1598 and repeated in the following two years, Dafne was the first drama to be sung in its entirety ‘in the manner of the ancients’. The innovations claimed by Rinuccini and Peri in their prefaces to Euridice (1600) inspired the rival claims of Cavalieri and Caccini, neither of whom, however, had written recitative as such before 1600.

In creating the new genre of opera libretto, Rinuccini adopted many conventions from the major lyric poets of his day: Tasso, Guarini and Chiabrera. His originality lay in developing a consistent and unique verse style fashioned for a musical setting that was designed to imitate the accents of speech. This style, a compromise between the blank verse typical of spoken tragedy and the uniform metres and close rhymes of traditional lyric forms, consists of an irregular mixture of freely rhyming seven- and eleven-syllable lines able to promote the rhythmic and melodic continuity suited to narrative passages without precluding the more intense lyricism appropriate for dramatically affective passages.

Rinuccini's association with Monteverdi in Mantua also resulted in the Ballo delle Ingrate (1608), which reflects the influence of the French court ballet and his periodic sojourns in France between 1600 and 1604 as one of Maria de' Medici's courtiers. Also in 1608 Dafne was revived in a new setting by Marco da Gagliano, whose Mantuan-based Accademia degli Elevati Rinuccini had joined. However, his last libretto, Narciso, dating from about the same period, did not find a willing composer, and he subsequently wrote only a few minor works in the pastoral vein and some sacred verses in addition to sonnets, canzoni and madrigals (including Zefiro torna and Lamento della ninfa, famous in Monteverdi's settings). His decline as a librettist was due perhaps more than anything else to the gradual shift of operatic activity before his death away from Florence and Mantua to Rome. The texts of Rinuccini's principal works intended for musical setting appear in Solerti (1904–5, vol.ii).

Settings of text by Ottavio Rinuccini

External links

View the Wikipedia article on Ottavio Rinuccini.