Leonardo Vinci's Didone Abbandonata (1726): an exercise in rhetoric




Kirton, Eleanora Lee

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This thesis is concerned with the discernment of rhetorical technique within the eighteenth-century opera seria. An oration and an opera seria are both carefully planned word strategies which are vocally performed before an audience with the aim both to entertain and to persuade. As the audience is led through a succession of events and emotional responses to these events, a climax is reached where the audience is suddenly aware of the message of the oration or drama, and the conclusion strongly reinforces this before the curtain drops. The audience is therefore obj ectively convinced as to the moral of the drama through the libretto and is similarly emotionally convinced through the use of music and gesture. This is the method of opera seria. The libretto, the music, and the acting all work towards the same rhetorical ideal of a moral lesson through persuasive presentation. It is truly an exercise in rhetoric from its smallest component to its overall structure. Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) wrote his first opera seria libretto in 1724 -- Didone abbandonata (set by Domenico Sarro) -- and from this point on, he became the century's chief librettist for opera seria. Anxious to continue the earlier reforms in operatic libretti, Metastasio required an ideal model on which to base his reforms. Given his strong knowledge and ready skill in the art of oration, this thesis proposes that it is upon this model that he formulated his many opera seria libretti. Although the original 1724 production of Didone abbandonata was a great success, most eighteenth-century critics of opera maintained that the drama was best presented in the Rome production (1726) as set to music by Leonardo Vinci (1690-1730), and it is this setting which will be the focus of the thesis. Chapter I examines and defines the art of rhetoric. Proof is provided to illustrate that both music and rhetoric share the same means, procedures, and goals, and as seen through the words of musicians and writers of rhetoric, it is shown that they themselves borrowed extensively from each other. In Chapter II, the libretto of Didone abbandonata is analyzed as a rhetorical exercise using the rhetorical framework discussed in the previous chapter as a guide. Chapter III examines the persuasive functions of the aria and the accompanied recitative for, although the libretto alone is a persuasive argument, it grows more powerful when underlined and punctuated with music as a direct appeal to the emotions of the audience. Finally, Chapter IV concludes with a discussion of the abuse of the aria by virtuoso singers and the unchanging opera seria format whose principles did not adapt to changing tastes of the audience. As a result, the opera seria remains a genre of the early eighteenth-century.



Didone abbandonata, Leonardo Vinci, Pietro Metastasio, Opera