"I doubt anyone who had never heard Favella Lyrica could imagine what they do, or how well they do it: We've never heard anything quite like the duet singing of Pamela Murray and Pamela Dellal." 



Figures of Women

The 17th Century Cantata and the Feminine Ideal

music of Carissimi, Cesti,
Frescobaldi, Marazzoli, Luigi and Michelangelo Rossi, and Strozzi



with guest artist Daniel Ryan, baroque cello



Mid-17th century Rome was the center of a great circle of artistic and cultural activity, presided over and patronized by the powerful relatives of the Pope and the wealthy nobility that sought their favor. To please these clerical patrons, the themes of many of the cantatas of the day were moralistic, and dwelt upon the dangers of yielding to the pleasures of love. Figures of famous women of antiquity and myth were often the subjects of these pieces, held up as symbols of virtue or vice, victim or vixen. Although the strict rules of Counter-Reformation society forbade women appearing in public as performers, and the majority of these pieces were interpreted by male castrati, certain celebrated female performers were able to make professional careers appearing at private gatherings of wealthy patrons.

Barbara Strozzi, who lived and worked in Venice, was highly celebrated in her own day as a virtuoso singer. The natural daughter of poet and composer who did much to advance her career, Strozzi was fortunate to publish many compositions during her lifetime. Mercè di voi is the first piece appearing in her first published opus. At the opening of the duet, Strozzi addresses her audience and posterity, envisioning herself crowned with the laurel wreath of revered poets, and seeing herself as “a new Sappho,” a woman whose fame will echo through the ages. She presents herself emphatically as a woman artist and heroine in these opening pages. The piece continues with a magnificent embodiment of how music reflects and imitates love, using the duet texture to combine dialogue and consonance in highly unusual ways.

The execution of the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots at the hands of her Protestant cousin and rival, Elizabeth I of England, in 1587 was an outrage to Catholic Rome. In his Lamento di Maria Stuarda, Carissimi creates a Mary Stewart whose courage and nobility are matched by the royal fury she vents at her enemy. His characteristic alternation of major and minor modes lends additional poignancy to his heroine, and the unusual high tessitura of the vocal writing, outside the common range of this period, emphasizes her passionate nature and her royal stature.

Michelangelo Rossi is well known for his compositions for organ and harpsichord. Toccata VII illustrates the far-ranging harmony of the period; even as the concept of tonality is being developed in Rossi's music and that of his contemporaries, it is pushed to its limits by some of the passages in this piece.

Elena Invecchiata presents the very common theme among Roman cantatas of the fragility of beauty, a moralistic warning to lovers. In semi-dramatic fashion, the narrator sets the scene of the aged Helen of Troy confronting her faded image in a mirror and lamenting the tragedy that was brought about on its account. In the lovely duet that follows, the two singers turn directly to the audience to caution them against beauty’s charms.

The second duet by Marazzoli, Oh Dio, voi che mi dite, explores the same theme as the first, but with an interesting twist: the text was written by a Roman woman poet, Margarita Costa. This time, the elderly woman mockingly scolds the lover who pursues her. Age, she claims, has freed her from the burden of being the object of someone else’s desire; at her time of life, she at last can be her own “beloved, life, sun, desire.”

Luigi Rossi is commonly regarded as the greatest composer of the Roman circle. In his Lamento di Zelemì Turca he employs an arsenal of compositional tricks to illustrate an anti-heroine, the Turkish princess in love with her Italian slave. Odd rhythmic suspensions and unexpected harmonies underscore the barbaric nature of this woman, who abandons all of her dignity in her attempts to make her captive yield to her desires. The listener’s sympathies are swayed, but not won over by Zelemi, as the macabre ending reveals that even the God of Love is not on her side.

Frescobaldi’s Canzona for bass violin and harpsichord provides a perfect foil to the intensities of the vocal works, with its expressive, recitative-like passages alternating with brilliant lyrical sections.

Antonio Cesti belongs to the next generation of Roman composers. The fluid manner in which Pria ch’adori moves from aria to recitative to duet is characteristic of his style. Pursuing the theme of the dangers of love, Cesti creates a mini-drama within a framework of a lyrical, non-dramatic duet. To convince a hesitant heart to fall in love, Desire decides to ask Ariadne, the rescuer and betrayed lover of Theseus, for help. Ariadne responds by advising that the safest way to escape from Love’s clutches is never to fall in.


Barbara Strozzi

Mercè di voi

Giacomo Carissimi

Il Lamento di Maria Stuarda

Michelangelo Rossi

Toccata VII

Marco Marazzoli

Elena Invecciata
Oh Dio, voi che me dite

Luigi Rossi

Il Lamento di Zelemi Turca

Girolamo Frescobaldi


Antonio Cesti

Pria ch'Adori