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Leonardo J.


Metamorphosis in Reverse: Diana, from Goddess to Woman in Da

Ponte and Martn y Solers Larbore di Diana

In Larbore di Diana, Lorenzo da Ponte and Vicente Martn y Soler stood the
classical tradition (as it had arrived to the eighteenth century) on its head. It is a story
about a confrontation between Eros and Artemis, or Amore and Diana. For one thing,
the authors restored to Eros his sensual pungency and his carnal nature, a dimension that
had been eroded by many centuries of Christianity and by the copious heritage of
courtly love, with its spiritualized, disembodied amor. For another, they subjected Diana
to a reverse metamorphosis, making her undergo a gradual transformation from goddess
to woman.
We learn from Da Pontes autobiography that the opera was the result of a
suggestion by no other than the emperor Joseph II himself, who asked the abbate to
write libretti only for Mozart, Salieri and Martn. This he did, working simultaneously
on Don Giovanni for the first, Axur re dOrmus for the second and Larbore di Diana
for the third.1 Diana was premiered at Laxenburg, the summer court residence, in
September 1787.2 It went on to become one of the most popular pieces in the
Burgtheater repertoire, being staged more often than any other opera during Josephs
reign. This includes the not-very-successful operas by Mozart as well as the top hits of
Paisiello, Salieri and Cimarosa. The poet, in his Memorie, rates this libretto as the best
he ever wrote (and again, this includes Don Giovanni, Le nozze di Figaro, and Cos fan
tutte). He affirms his pride in having invented the story from scratch, instead of adapting
it as was customary from a previous literary source.3 In fact, he has taken several
ideas from an azione teatrale by Metastasio (Endimione) and a few others from one of
the novelle galanti by Giambattista Casti.4 But the complexity of his plot and the tone of

Cf. LORENZO DA PONTE, Memorie, e-book,, 2006 (last retrieved: March 2015), pp. 64-
See INGRID FUCHS, Nuevas fuentes para la recepcin de las peras de Martn y Soler en Viena, y en
particular, de Una cosa rara, in Los siete mundos de Vicente Martn y Soler, proceedings of the
international conference (Valencia, 14-18 November 2006), edited by Dorothea Link and Leonardo J.
Waisman, Valencia, Institut Valenci de la Msica Generalitat Valenciana, 2010, pp. 255-264: 263.
Cf. L. DA PONTE, Memorie, cit., p. 66.
Cf. PIETRO METASTASIO, Endimione, Napoli, 1720 (Tutte le opere di Pietro Metastasio, edited by Bruno
Brunelli, 5 vols., Milano, Mondadori, 1943-1954, II, 1965 3, pp. 65-88). The libretto was in set to music
many times; according to The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, edited by Stanley Sadie,
London, Macmillan, 20012, XVI, p. 517: D. Sarri, 1721; G. Mancini, 1729; D. Alberti, 1737; G. B.
Pescetti, 1739 (as Diana e Endimione); ?Treu, 1741; A. Bernasconi, 1742; J. A. Hasse, 1743; G. B. Mele,
1749 (as Endimione e Diana); N. Conti, 1752; I. Fiorillo, 1754 (rev. 1763 as Diana ed Endimione); N.
Sabatini, 1758; N. Jommelli, 1759; G. Sigismondo, comp. 1760s (unperf.); N. Conforto, 1763; A. Rugarli,
1769; J. C. Bach, 1770; J. A. Schmittbaur, 1772; J. M. Haydn, ?1778; P. A. Guglielmi, 1781 (rev. L. Serio
as Diana amante); J. de Sousa Carvalho, 1783; G. Rugarli, 1795. In both libretti (the mentioned
Endimione and Larbore di Diana, cf. LORENZO DA PONTE, Libretti viennesi, edited by Lorenzo Della
Ch, 2 vols., Milano, Fondazione Pietro Bembo Parma, Guanda, 1999, I, pp. 621-686) Amore appears
disguised, and engages in an argument with Diana regarding the beauties and shortcomings of Love, by
asking her the reason for her hatred of the child-god (Larbore di Diana, I/7 [ed. Della Ch] OR VICENTE
MARTN Y SOLER, Larbore di Diana. Dramma giocoso in due atti, edited by Leonardo J. Waisman,
Madrid, ICCMU, 2001, I/6; Endimione, Part I, in Tutte le opere di Pietro Metastasio, cit., pp. 67-69).The

the play are wholly his own, discarding both Metastasios dignified decorum and Castis
violent sarcasm, in favor of a lighthearted, playful amusement.
Amore has decided he must abolish the rule of chastity which Diana imposes on
herself and her group of female followers. In Dianas enchanting garden, a magic apple
tree grows. This tree enforces Dianas law through fear: she and her nymphs must walk
beneath it each day, whereupon it lights up and sings sweet songs to the chaste, but
drops black apples on the unchaste, killing or maiming them. Amore enters the garden
disguised as a shepherdess and announces that before the day is out he will have
brought Dianas reign to an end. To demolish the fragile universe of chaste femininity,
he smuggles three men into the island, three men whose mere presence in the garden
gives rise to intimations of revolution among the ranks of the attendant nymphs. Diana
is determined to kill whoever defies her laws. After much mockery mixed with
humiliation, Diana finds happiness by falling in love with the shepherd Endimione, who
return her love. Her happiness is, of course, her undoing, the triumph of Amore. A
timely earthquake engulfs the garden and the tree of chastity; the kingdom of love
materializes in their place, and Amore appears as himself at last, riding in glory, and
followed by Imeneo, the god of marriage. Diana and Endimione will be united, and one
of the remaining men will probably fulfill his dream of becoming generic husband to
three of the nymphs; the other will be the high priest of Love.

Larbore di Diana and Mythological Tradition

In spite of its subversive attitude towards tradition, Da Ponte makes abundant use of his
mythological erudition, including in his libretto a delightful number of details, some
associated with the Diana stories, others not at all. The story centers on the Selene-
Endymion episode, skillfully incorporating the shepherds sleep and the identification of
the moon with the chaste Diana into the plot. The myth of a miraculous dog is also
smuggled in, as the justification of the fight that introduces Endimione and Silvio.
Silvio comes in in hot pursuit of Endimione, whom he accuses of killing his magic dog.
It is of course, an allusion to the story of Laelaps, the dog entrusted to Cephalus by one
of the nymphs of Diana (just like Silvios dog) and endowed with special powers.
Needless to say, the powers that made Laelaps especially apt for the hunt are
transformed in the erotic atmosphere of this libretto into powers of seduction for its
owner. We must be aware, additionally, that a long-standing iconographic tradition

names of several of Dianas nymphs and shepherds coincide: Nice or Nisa, Aglauro, Licori (although it is
true that several of them belong to the pastoral tradition). Metastasio has a furious Diana dismissing the
annoying intruder thus: Temerario fanciullo, / parti dagli occhi miei. / Perch fanciullo sei, / alla debole
et lerror perdono (Endimione, Part I, in Tutte le opere di Pietro Metastasio, cit., p. 69). Da Ponte, for a
similar situation, makes her say Ben pentir ti farei, misera Ninfa, / di s stolido ardir, sio non avessi /
riguardo agli anni tuoi, riguardo al sesso. / Va, torna al tuo Signor, [] (Larbore di Diana, I/7 [ed. Della
Ch] OR V. MARTN Y SOLER, Larbore di Diana, cit., I/6). In both plays, Diana uses exactly the same
words to speak to Endimione: Tu mi guardi e sospiri (Larbore di Diana, II/13 [ed. Della Ch] OR V.
MARTN Y SOLER, Larbore di Diana, cit., II/13; Endimione, Part I, in Tutte le opere di Pietro Metastasio,
cit., p. 74). Among several other coincidences, we may mention the boastful manner in which Amore
comforts Diana after her defeat: in Endimione (Part II, ivi, p. 87) she sings: Ma tu sappi, o Diana, / che
de trionfi miei / lornamento maggior forse non sei. / Mi fan ricco i miei strali / di pi superbe e generose
spoglie, and introduces the noble couple whose wedding is being celebrated by the performance of the
piece. In Larbore di Diana (II/final scene), she says [] ti consola: / io non vinsi te sola. Il guardo
BRUNELLI?] mia, / e mira in lor il mio poter qual sia. Castis Novelle galanti were first published as a
collection in 1790, but many of them circulated in other forms since the early 1780s.

pictures a dog lying alongside Endymion in the scene of his celebrated sleep. We see it
in a Roman mosaic at the Bardo Museum, Tunisia (Fig. 1) and in the frontispiece of the
1817 edition of Metastasios Endimione (Mantova, Erede Pazzoni; Fig. 2). It agrees
almost exactly with the description of Lucian in his Dialogs of the Gods:

you should see him when he has spread out his cloak on the rock and is asleep; his javelins
in his left hand, just slipping from his grasp, the right arm bent upwards, making a bright
frame to the face, and he breathing softly in helpless slumber. Then I come noiselessly
down, treading on tiptoe not to wake and startle him [].5

And this tiptoeing, in turn, accords with Dianas approach to the sleeper in the opera:
after lauding his beauties, she gets near and sings

Pianin pianino
lo chiamer;
poi quando desto
fuggir presto, [].6

Metastasio had made Endymion a hunter rather than a shepherd and incorporated in his
makeup Dianas refractoriness to love:

Sol cacciator son io:

le fere attendo al varco;
fuor che gli strali e larco,
altro piacer non ho.
Ma non parlar damore,
chio non tascolter.7

Da Ponte, instead, transfers the hunter status to Silvio, and keeps Endymion a fairly
sheepish shepherd, without the bow and arrows of the engraving.
Another mythological bit from the Diana constellation incorporated into the
opera is the image of the bow and quiver of the huntress left hanging on a tree while she
takes a rest: it is a detail from Ovid, Metamorphosis, II, 439, where the protagonist is
one of Dianas favorite nymphs, Callisto.
But the most important bit of mythology introduced by Da Ponte is the
homicidal tree. There was, as has been repeatedly pointed out in this meeting, a tree of
Diana on the shores of Lake Nemi, south of Rome. From immemorial times to well into
the Christian era, it was a presumed residence and site of worship of the goddess;
Casanova still speaks of its magical alchemic powers. The priest that guarded this tree
could only be replaced after his murder at the hands of a new guardian. Da Ponte has

Dialogue 11, Afrodite and Selene, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, 4 vols., translated by Henry
Watson Fowler and Francis George Fowler, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1905 (available through Theoi
Greek Mythology,, where it is renumbered as
dialogue 19; last retrieved: March 2015).
L. DA PONTE, Larbore di Diana, II/9 [ed. Della Ch] OR V. MARTN Y SOLER, Larbore di Diana, cit.,
Endimione, Part I, in Tutte le opere di Pietro Metastasio, cit., p. 71.

incorporated the violence of this tradition into the tree itself, and made the grove house
the goddess and her entourage.8
Since Dianas feast of August 13th was subsumed by the Church into the Feast of
the Assumption, the dnouement of the opera, with her garden sinking into the abyss, is
interpreted by Felicity Baker as an inversion of the Virgin Marys ascent into heaven.9
This tallies with a major subtext of the opera, acknowledged by the librettist himself in
his memoirs/Memorie: the whole plot may be seen as an allegory of the emperors
recent crackdown on monasteries, seizing their properties and closing many of them.
The pagan tradition was thus transformed into an allegory of the Christian institution of
monasticism, complete with trial, reward, and punishment through the actions of the
tree. But it is a perverse institution, based on an unnatural enforced chastity; therefore
Amore dismantles it in the same way that Joseph had dismantled the monasteries. The
parallel can be extended: Diana actually gains by losing her fight against Amore, for she
acquires love. In the same way, if the Church accepts its defeat at the hands of the
Emperor, it can be integrated into the brave new illustrated world.

The Nature of Eros

There are at least three different kinds of love in Larbore di Diana: the passion that
unites the central couple, Diana and Endimione, is deep, involuntary and coercive. Once
Diana has acknowledged that she has succumbed to it, she finds herself in the typical
opera seria dilemma: shall she follow love or duty? Endimione, likewise as in the
dramma per musica, is forever disconsolate when away from his beloved, his idolo. By
contrast, Amore is presented as an irrepressible force, capricious and mischievous, but
above all merry, ingenious and fun. With his travesties, he constantly plays with sexual
barriers: although he is a male, he seduces and promises marriage to Doristo; although
he is disguised as a girl, he flirts with Diana saying, for example [] mi piaci tanto
che potrei, / se femina io non fossi, / fare teco allamor; [] (if I werent woman, I
could make love to you; I/7 [ed. Della Ch] OR I/8 [tua ed. critica]). There is here a
double equivocation, because the voice that represents Amore is female (a soprano), and
in the original Vienna production Luisa Laschi-Mombelli, an excellent actress-singer,
appeared with her breasts almost completely uncovered.10 Amore is unrestrained love,
concrete and sensual rather than spiritual or mystical.
Also sensual, but lacking in finesse what it gains in innocence, is the love of
Doristo and the nymphs. A drive rather than a passion, an instinct rather than a feeling,
it is, in the artificial operatic world, perfectly suited to lower-class characters and helps
define them as such. It is an innocent carnal craving, manifested as a caricaturesque Don
Giovanni interacting with three jealous wenches. His undiscriminating concupiscence
attracts Amores reprimands, but nonetheless he is rewarded with the pleasures of a
marito generico to three beautiful women.
It should not be a surprise, given the foregoing discussion, that the operas moral
code, or lack thereof, awakened irate reactions from some Viennese. The arousal of this
outrage may owe less to some lewd scenes than to the distant, uninvolved tone with
which these affairs are treated. This is a divertimento in which no sorrow, no virtue, and
no vice can be taken seriously, cause everything happens in a spirit of good dirty fun.
See FELICITY BAKER, Larbore di Diana: Jos II como el dios del amor, in Los siete mundos de Vicente
Martn y Soler, pp. 265-275.
See LEONARDO J. WAISMAN, Vicente Martn y Soler. Un msico espaol en el Clasicismo europeo,
Madrid, ICCMU, 2008, p. 86.

Dianas Metamorphosis

The ultimate source for metamorphosis is, of course, Ovid. The hundreds of
transmutations he narrates, as well as the myriad other that may be found in Classical
and Western mythologies, may be grouped into two classes. What one might call
ascending transformations refer to human beings that turn into gods or god-like
beings, thereby acquiring immortality, or to inanimate objects developing into men.
Descending transformations comprise temporary human, animal or inanimate
disguises of the gods and permanent or transitory degradations of men into animals,
invariably as a form of punishment imposed by gods on humans. Nowhere do we find
permanent (or putatively permanent) transformations of a god into a human being,
although human beings may arise from stones, as in the story of Deucalion and Pyrrha.
Actually, the relinquishing of immortality seems to be an extremely rare case in most
mythologies; the only examples that come to mind in the West are those of Arwen (The
Lord of the Rings) and of course, Jesus.
In Larbore di Diana, however, the Goddess is initially portrayed as a childish
deity and she gradually acquires humanity together with maturity through the power of
Love (which, needless to say, is the source of the vast majority of Ovids
metamorphoses). Da Ponte has not only portrayed convincingly this transformation in
Dianas psyche by carefully fashioning her utterances at different moments of the
process, but he has also highlighted it by transferring her surrender from near the middle
of the action (as it occurred in Metastasios and Castis pieces) to the closing stages of
the second act; thus the whole opera may be read as the narration of an ongoing
progress in Dianas inner metamorphosis. The music of Martn y Soler fleshes out and
reinforces the outline thus designed by his librettist
The goddess first appears with the innocence of a girl enjoying the tranquility of
nature in her Utopian island (Tranquilli soggiorni, I, 3; Fig. 3). Martns music is
couched in what has been dubbed song style, a manner of writing that he devised for
the delight of contemporary publics. Fresh, simple and direct lines, straightforward
harmonies, symmetrical short phrases and enchanting, lolling rhythms provide a direct
sense of the girls candor. A few more ample melodic gestures and flourishes, however,
do reveal her divine status. And goddess she is, as Da Ponte has clearly shown in the
ensuing interactions with her followers, who worship her and obey her imperious
commands blindly. Diana only knows the agreeable side of a life of celibacy and
communion with an amiable Nature; she is the benevolent protectoress of that
immaculate world.
After a lengthy absence from the stage, upon her return she finds an unthinkable
development: unauthorized men on her island! Confronting the subversion of the only
values she understands, she shows the dark side of her personality as a goddess:
vengeful, autocratic, given to fits of rage. The aria Sento che Dea son io (I/13, in the
score [in Della Ch I, 8];11 Fig. 4) is an expression of her offended pridefor the
intrusion is only considered as an offense against her divine person, not as a breach of
the law with harmful effects. I feel I am a goddess, I have a kingdom and a throne, and
feel again inflamed by my usual pride. Martn has her speak the unadulterated
language of opera seria: it is an aria that would not be out of place in the most solemn
and grandiose dramma per musica; it is the Fiordiligi of Come scoglio and the Queen

Cf. VICENTE MARTN Y SOLER, Larbore di Diana. Dramma giocoso in due atti, edited by Leonardo J.
Waisman, Madrid, ICCMU, 2001.

of the Night of Der Hlle Rache fused into one arrogant harpy. The melodies are
jagged, full of extraordinarily wide leaps, with driving rhythms and restless energy. He
pushes to the limit the capabilities of the singer, in terms of range, agility, and fiato, for
the technical difficulties to be vanquished are indeed essential ingredients of the
enormity of her outrage; by overcoming them and dazing the audience, the singer waxes
From that point on, Diana undergoes a number of vicissitudes: in the canons of
the first finale she begins to show traces of sentiment, with halting melodies interrupted
by sighs, still broadly curved but now considerably softened in comparison to her
moment of divine fury. It is the sentimental style so dear to the emerging bourgeois
sensibility of the late 1700s. She has been wounded by Loves dart, and is rapidly
becoming woman. The first finale and the first stretches of the second act make this
process almost palpable, in her alternation between outbursts of divine childish fury
(trumpeting above the muffled utterances of the mortals) and moments of pensive
sentimental solitude.
The crux of Dianas transformation arrives in her duet with Endimione, which
represents the famous myth of Endymions sleep. In the opera, it is Amore rather than
Zeus who has magically induced his slumber. Diana arrives on tiptoes, debating within
herself whether she shall or not awaken him. Once again singing like a child, but this
time with comic indecision, she approaches and draws back, finally throwing a pebble
at him and immediately covering his eyes from behind, so that he will not recognize
hershe is still ashamed. When he starts to react, she has already changed her singing to
a more serene, widely spanned kind of melody. They unite in a shared song, the
intensity of which slowly rises until Diana, exclaiming Ah che resistere / non posso
ancor! (II/12 [Della Ch: II, 9]), uncovers his eyes and reveals herself. The sudden
tonal change at this point (a modulation to a distant key, see Fig. 5) underscores the
magic of the moment in which she abandons all pretense of the goddess of chastity and
enters simultaneously into the kingdoms of Love and of humanity. The serene stanzas
that they both sing in the aftermath of this prodigy prolong the ecstasy.
A few moments later, when Diana has to part from her beloved for a short time,
she sings like a woman. The longing ascending gestures and gentle dropping lines of her
Rond Teco porta, o mia speranza (II/15 [Della Ch: II, 14]; Fig. 6) are subsumed in
a style that synthesizes the nobility of opera seria with the warmth of feeling of proto-
romantic song. Deeply expressive, the wide melodic spans of this music present to us a
goddess turned woman and a child that has grown up. In letting herself be vanquished
by Love, she has conquered control over herself by renouncing domination of others.