A Scarlatti Operatic Masterpiece at Christ Church Library

Among the many rare and precious items in Christ Church Library is a manuscript of unusual importance in the history of music, the so called Mus 989. It preserves a complete musical setting by composer Alessandro Scarlatti of the text of poet Matteo Noris’ drama Il Flavio  Cuniberto. Scarlatti was the most important Italian composer of Italian opera of his time, and a complete score of one of his operas is a document of uncommon significance. Matteo Noris’ text is unusual in the number of times it was set to music, over a time-span that is atypically long for its moment in operatic history: 24 years (1682 to 1706). It is unusual, too, in the number of different composers who set it to music: Giovanni Domenico Partenio; Domenico Gabrielli; Domenico Giusino; Luigi Mancia; Alessandro Scarlatti; and others whose names are unknown to us today. Finally, it is unusual in the number of venues where operas based on the text were performed: Venice, Modena, Livorno, Palermo, Naples, Rome, Florence, Genoa, Pratolino (outside Florence), and Lucca.

The theatrical practices of the time were such that the text of the libretto was by no means fixed. It could therefore be drastically altered from one performance to another. The libretto for the 1702 Pratolino performance is a case in point. It had been thought that the manuscript at Christ Church was produced for the 1702 performance at the Medici villa in Pratolino. On closer examination however, it does not appear to be so.  Contrary to the earlier understanding of the origins of Mus 989, the text it contains corresponds not at all closely to that of the 1702 libretto for Pratolino, but, rather, with that of the 1693 libretto for the production staged in Naples. The Christ Church manuscript is thus an exceedingly important document of this opera's performance history.

An indepth study of  Mus 989 by Professor Anthony M. Cummings will be published in the forthcoming issue of the Christ Church Library Newsletter. The manuscript will be soon available in digital form. To access it, please go to the section dedicated to Christ Church Digital Library - Music Manuscripts on this website.