Peri, Jacopo



Florence was the birthplace of the founder of Italian Opera, dubbed II Zazzerino, because of his beautiful golden ha'ir. He studied music under Malvezzi of Lucca, and became chapelmaster to Duke Ferdinand of Tuscany, later to Duke Como, and in 1601 to the Duke of Ferrara. Whether his claim to noble birth was real or not, he married a rich lady of the Fortini family and associated with the most eminent men of his time, Count Giovanni Bardi, the nobleman; Jacopo Corsi and Pietro Strozzi, the poet Rinuccini, and the musician, Vincenzo Galilei, and Emilio Caccini, who called themselves the Academy and were working to revive ancient Greek tragedy. The first step was the monodies of Galilei, and in 1594, according to Peri's preface to Euridice, aided by Caccini, Peri wrote the first opera, Dafne, to a poem by Rinuccini. This opera was performed privately at the house of Corsi, Peri taking the part of Apollo. In this work the recitative or stile rappresentativo, as it was then called, was used probably for the first time, though the invention of that style is also claimed for Caccini and Cavalieri. Dafne was so successful that in 1600 both Peri and Caccini were commissioned to write music to Rinuccini's Euridice, for the marriage ceremony of Henry IV. of France and Maria de' Medici. Peri's was chosen, and he was thus the author of the first opera ever given in public. It was mostly recitative, with two or three choruses, and an orchestral interlude for three flutes. It was immediately printed, and was reprinted in 1683, and again in 1688. The only extant copy of the original edition is in the museum of the Newberry Library, Chicago, and in the preface Peri tells of his work in developing a style between singing and ordinary speech, which he believed must have been  used by the Greeks. He also gives the names of those who took part in Euridice, and the players and instruments forming the orchestra (a harpsichord, guitar, flute and viol), which played behind the scenes. He also states that in the presentation some of Caccini's music was used, though the edition is printed as he originally composed it. The British Museum has a copy of the second edition of Euridice, but of Dafne the only traces that remain are the fragments furnished by Caccini and printed in his Nuovo Musiche, at Florence, in 1602. Though the success of these two " dramas per music " was great, Peri wrote no more operas, and after the publication, at Florence, of La varie Musiche de Signor Jacopo Peri, no further mention of him appears.