Italian Paleography


Chicago, Newberry VAULT Case MS VM 1500 .L84a
Carlo Ambrogio Lonati
Milan, 1694

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This almost-complete full score of an opera, L’Aiace (“Ajax”), first performed in Milan in 1694, is a rarity on several counts.  Compared to the many operas produced in seventeenth-century Italy, relatively few scores have survived, a situation particularly true for the Milanese repertory.  In addition, this piece represents a kind of “subcontracting” of each of its three acts to a different composer, again a somewhat unusual procedure (due to the producers, the Piantanida brothers).  The text was by the prolific librettist Pietro Averara, and the composers were, in act order, the violinist/singer Carlo Ambrogio Lonati (c.1645-c.1710), the organist Paolo Magni (c. 1650-1737), and the chapelmaster from Bergamo, Francesco Ballarotti (1660-1712).  Like most operas of the time, it mixes the amorous adventures of mythological characters with lower-register comic figures.  The piece was staged in a now-destroyed opera theater inside Milan’s Ducal Palace, and the printed libretto was dedicated to Isabel María de la Cerda (1667-1708), Duchess of Sesto, the wife of the future Spanish viceroy of Sicily, Filippo Spinola (Milan was under Spanish rule at the time).

Although the score provides music for almost all the libretto’s text, readers will notice that severe trimming to the top has eliminated many notes above the first staff, especially in Acts I and II.  The manuscript was probably assembled at the last minute, as the last aria of Act I (f. 49; Aglaura’s “In un guardo”) is cued, but the music staves are blank.  Similarly, in Act II, f. 69v, the same character’s aria has only the beginning, and the opening overture on f. 1 (“Sinfonia”) is also missing.  This is likely the result of frantic last-minute composition and the late arrival of music into the scribe’s hands (this was a professional copyist, not one of the three composers).

The work seems to have enjoyed good success at its 1694 performance, and later libretti testify to 1697 performances in Rome, Naples, and Turin.  The printed libretto of 1694 (linked here) also gives the names of the singers, who were accomplished virtuosi, to judge from both their fame and the difficulty of some vocal writing (e.g. f. 83).  Although many of the arias are scored for voice (only) and basso continuo accompaniment, the score also requires a violin section, viole da gamba, and an oboe band (Act III, f. 105v).  The coat of arms embossed on the binding has not yet been identified; the paper seems to be late seventeenth-century north Italian, and as noted the manuscript was likely compiled in a rush just before the first performance in late winter 1694.  Before its arrival in the Newberry collections in the 1950s, its provenance is unknown.


Corsiva (sec. XVII fine) rozza, poco uniforme nell’allineamento e nel tracciato.
Da notare: la e con occhiello quasi verticale (7r, r. 4: temer); la r divaricata (8r, r. 1: amorosa); la t con asta conclusa da bottone (7v, r. 2: venti).

Selected Bibliography:

As this is the only source for this piece, there is no literature in English. See: