Of all the sublime moments in operatic literature, few surpass “Pur ti miro, pur ti godo” (I gaze at you, I possess you), the final love duet between Nero and Poppea in Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea”. While the debate as to its true author is likely to never be fully resolved, this enduring masterpiece aims to represent love’s supreme power over all other forces through the unifying of the couple in unbreakable bonds of love.
The text, in two stanzas, is simple and direct:
I adore you, I embrace you,
I desire you, I enchain you,
no more grieving, no more sorrow,
O my dearest, O my beloved.
I am yours, O my love,
tell me so, you are mine,
mine alone, O my love.
Feel my heart, see my love, see.
For a recent musical project, we tasked Isomer with the creation of models from individual performances of each vocal part. The analysis yielded some interesting results that, I believe, provide a unique perspective on the musical underpinnings that elevate the intended emotional sentiment.
As we’ve seen previously, Isomer’s analysis includes the mapping of melodic expectation patterns. Given the imitative (almost canon-like) interaction between the two voices, it is not surprising that we find each voice expresses a similar pattern of expectation.
A closer examination of the expectation contours reveals the following trends for Nero and Poppea respectively:
The trends of melodic expectation form a pattern similar to simple harmonic oscillation, starting from wide swings and trending toward stable equilibrium at to two points:
- roughly the golden section (0.62) and
- the final cadence.
Further, it would seem that Nero’s melody is actively guiding the pair’s movement toward unification/equilibrium. In addition to the fact that Nero initially trends toward expectation-equilibrium earlier than Poppea, this observation is supported through a side-by-side comparison of Isomer’s pitch equity parameters.
Although Poppea’s melody contains ~10% more pitches (72 to Nero’s 65), Nero suggests stability more often through more frequent local registral return events. (18 to Poppea’s 16)
And while the voices contain an equal number of IR (expectation) equity events, Nero’s consistently occur before Poppea’s as if to subtly urge her toward equilibrium/unification in the final cadence.