On July 18, I began a series of posts dealing with the conventional form.
Since then, I came across a book in my library which I had forgotten about,
and which discusses precursors. The book is by Friedrich Lippmann, a noted
Bellini scholar and is entiltled:
Vincenzo Bellini und die Italienische Opera Seria Seiner Zeit,
Published in 1969. It has a major section on the form of arias, and
specifically cires several examples by Mozart, Paisiello and Cimarosa as
having early precursors of the cabaletta--although the slow and "fast"
portions may well be separated by recitative.
I would certainly agree that it became a fully developed convention in the
time of Rossini, but not necessarily in an opera by Rossini. I say this
because Giovanni Pacini, rather than Rossini, was known as the "maestro delle
cabalette", and also because we find somewhat more developed precursors in
works of Spontini and Puccitta.
The period from around 1810 to around 1830 was one during which the form grew
in complexity and variety. The next twenty to thirty or so years saw it as an
accepted form, but still a form which was varied constantly. Then, between
1860 or so and 1890, the form started to die out, although vestigial uses
remained well after that.
There have been many attempts to define cabalettas. I don't find any really
satisfactory because whatever limiting factors are put in, there can, and
Cabalettas can occur in arias, duets and ensembles--although the term stretta
is geenerally used for ensembles, and can also be used for duets (I actually
prefer it for duets). They were predominatly used in Italian opera, but occur
less frequently in French opera, and still less frequently in German
opera--but they do occur there as well--and, undoubtedly in works in other
langauges--e.g. Balfe's Daughter of St,. Mark (an English version of the
Caterina Cornaro story).
In a typical example for an aria we might have a chorus, a recitative, a
cantabile, a "tempo di mezzo", and a concluding cabaletta. But one or another
(least likely the cantabile) might be skipped, and the tempo di mezzo might
totally missing, or an elaborate number such as the miserere in Il trovatore.
The cabaletta would usually be repeated, and in some cases, the tempo di
might be between the first and second times ithe cabaletta is sung. But we
rarely encounter such typical cases in Rossini's Italian operas--in fact.
tempi di mezzi are the exception, rather than the rule in his earlier operas.
And there are instances of simple two part arias--no chorus, no recitative,
just a slow movement followed by a cabaletta. Take, for example, "Di piacer
balza il core" from La gazza ladra. Ninetta appears, sings "Di piacer", and
immediately launches into her cabaletta.
By the time of Rossini's later Italian operas, and especially Semiramide,
tempi di mezzo had become commonplace, although not universal. One of the most
elaborate examples is in Arsace's second aria in the latter opera:
a. Chorus: "In questo augusto soggiorno arcano"
b. Recit.:"Ebben compiasti omai"
c. Cavatina: "In si barbara sciagura"
d. Tempo di mezzo: Coro: "Su ti scioti, rammento chi sei"
and pre cabaletta "Si vendetta"
e. Cabaletta proper (with chorus): Al gran cimento (and Si, vendicata).
There are similar examples in Meyerbeer's Il Crociato in Egitto--in two of
which the protagonist has two "slow arias" followed by cabalettas. However,
the second one (for tenor) exists in two different versions, so the first for
Palmide might be a better example.:
a. recit. "O solinghi recessi"
b. first aria: "Tutto qui parla ognor"
c. first bridge passage: Ma ciel! s'ei mai peri!
d. second aria-part I "D'una madre disperata" and part II: "Deh mira
e. second bridge passage: A suoi preghi A suoi pianti
f. Cabaletta: "Con qual gioia le catene".
In the above scene, Palmide had worried first about her husband, then her
child. But when she sees her father Aladino embracing and huigging the child,
her mood changes--and she has a joyous cabaletta.
As we will see later, these "tempi da mezzo" (or bridge passages) were a form
which grew steadily at first. It has a tremendous value in that it explains
changes in mood between the slow (often melancholy) cantabile and the fast
(often happy--at least in the early acts) cabaletta. I can repeat that they
were rarely used by Rossini--and probably did not become commonplace until
the 1820s. In addition to those mentioned above, there are others in
Vaccai's Giulietta e Romeo (1825), and
still others in Bellini's Il pirata (1827). By the time of Donizetti's
Parisina (1833) they were pretty standard, and played a big role in the
Verdi used them liberally in his early operas. They could take any number of
forms--a few lines by a comprimario announcing the arrival of an important
personage, or some news event; a chorus of warriors may come upon the scene,
the soprano's lover may be heard serenading her off-stage, the temporary
appearance of a major character, resulting in a brief duet, the tenor may be
brought in on a stretcher, badly wounded, and sings a brief "death aria", it
may even be a formal ballet. The whole point is, of course, that anything was
permissible, as long as it was dramatically plausible.
The same holds true for the form and nature of the cabaletta. A duet may
become a trio, a trio may become a duet, the cabaletta may even be sung by
another personage, it may either have no cantabile preceding it, or just a
vestigial cantabile, it may be slower than the preceding movements; and, on
rare occasions, we might even have a "tempo di mezzo" between the first and
second times that a cabaletta is sung.--again, anything went.