Techniques | Cabaletta | Early Romantic | Opera
The cabaletta or cavaletta came from the Italian word for ‘grasshopper’. Originally, the cabaletta was a short popular aria with a simple, repetitive rhythm. However, by the nineteenth century the cabaletta had a more specialized meaning; now, it described the final, lively section of an aria or a duet, which followed a ‘smoothly sung’ cantabile and so ignited the enthusiasm of the audience with an exciting ending. Unfortunately, the cabaletta – and especially its repeats – provided opportunities for singers prone to show off with a bravura vocal display and much ornamentation. This prolonged an aria or duet and held up the action of the opera. Both Rossini and Donizetti wrote cabalettas for their operas and so did Bellini, in the ‘sleepwalking aria’ he wrote for Amina in Act III of his La sonnambula. However, the real master of the technique was Giovanni Pacini (1796–1867). Pacini, composer of some 40 operas, produced very energetic melodies with all the fire that made the cabaletta so rousing. Giuseppe Verdi also wrote cabalettas for arias in some of his operas, notably La traviata (‘The Fallen Woman’, 1853) and Il trovatore (‘The Troubadour’, 1853). Even so, Verdi did not really approve of the cabaletta, and, under his influence, it eventually disappeared.
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