Bellissimo Canto

May 2, 2012

Abraham Bloemaert: A Shepherdess Reading a Sonnet

When people think of opera, they often think too exclusively of huge orchestral sound above which massive vocal equipment is required even to be heard — a need to employ a term Luciano Pavarotti used to characterize his own art: “controlled screaming.” Who among us has not thrilled to some of that? But it’s refreshing to hear the kind of equally passionate expression that some of the early creators of opera were able to enable in smaller spaces, with quiet instruments, employing a varied palate and dynamic range, but a more personal intimate one. Herewith one of the greatest songs ever written, from 1601:

Amarilli, mia bella,
Non credi, o del mio cor dolce desio,
D’esser tu l’amor mio?
Credilo pur: e se timor t’assale,
Prendi questo mio strale.
Aprimi il petto e vedrai scritto in core:
Amarilli, Amarilli, Amarilli
è il mio amore.

Amaryllis, my lovely one,
Do you not believe, O my heart’s sweet desire,
That you are my love?
Believe it thus: and if fear assails you,
Doubt not its truth.
Take this arrow of mine.
Open my breast and see written on my heart:
Amaryllis, Amaryllis, Amaryllis,
Is my beloved.

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