Catalogue aria

A catalogue aria is a genre of opera aria in which the singer recounts a list of information (people, places, food, dance steps, etc.) that was popular in Italian comic opera in the latter half of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. "Madamina, il catalogo è questo" from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni is the most famous example, and is often referred to as "the catalogue aria". Leporello notes how many lovers the title character has had in each country he has visited. Pasquale sings two such arias in Joseph Haydn's Orlando paladino, "Ho viaggiato in Francia, in Spagna" in act one, which lists the countries to which he has traveled, and "Ecco spiano" in act 2, which rattles off all of his varied musical talents.[1]

The traditional devices of the catalogue aria include a solidly neutral opening, a section of rising comic excitement full of rapid patter and an emphatic final cadence, normally closing with an epigram.[2]: 311  Common features include asyndeton, anaphora,[2]: 301  rhyme schemes, and complete phrases stacked two to a line,[2]: 311  typically expressed with joy, anger, excitement or fear, routinely fast declamation of patter in a generally mechanical and often impersonal way.[2]: 302 


The clearest antecedent of the catalogue aria of Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte can be found in the 1787 opera, Don Giovanni Tenorio, with which they were both familiar, composed by Giuseppe Gazzaniga on a libretto by Giovanni Bertati. Da Ponte based much of his libretto on Bertati's, heavily revised for content and language but significantly retaining much of the narrative structure.[2]: 297  In this opera, one finds a similar catalogue aria for the equivalent character of Leporello, Pasquariello. John Platoff sees superiority in Da Ponte's text as well as Mozart's music. The Bertati aria, "Dell' Italia ed Alemagna" uses punch lines such as "ve ne sono non se quante (there I know not how many)" while Da Ponte uses specific numerical figures to add to the humor (e.g. "ma in Espagna, son già mille e tre, mille e tre, mille e tre (But in Spain he had one thousand and three, one thousand and three, one thousand and three)".[2]: 304  Bertati also structures the aria differently, beginning immediately with the list and not including an introduction, which is in the preceding recitative. Da Ponte removed ugly words and references to women of lower social station ("cuoche," "guattere"),[2]: 305  and took a reference that being female is enough to be of interest to Giovanni (although Bertati's Giovanni, unlike Da Ponte's, is not interested in old ladies), to a more subtle conclusion shifted to the closing that it Giovanni wants anyone who wears a skirt.[2]: 306  Platoff considers Mozart's approach to the music "genius" in that Mozart finishes the patter in the first part of the aria before going on to the second. His unconventional approach divides the aria "based on content rather than metre."[2]: 310  By dividing the aria at line 14, Mozart separates the numbers of women from the kinds of women, "contrary to the natural tendency to put the energetic high point at the end of the comic aria,"[2]: 310  although Platoff also notes that Giovanni Paisiello does this in "Scorsi già molti paesi," a buffa aria from Il barbiere di Siviglia (libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini) to which Platoff compares catalogue arias in general. The minuet for of the andante section allows Leporello to imitate his master. This, Platoff argues, "draws comedy from human foible rather than mechanized display of patter declamation", suggesting that Leporello is telling us as much about himself as he is about Giovanni.[2]: 311  Leporello's aria contains no epigram—the Andante section takes its place.

C. Headington, R. Westbroook, and T. Barfoot in Opera: A History (1987) say that "Ho viaggiato in Francia, in Spagna" "must surely be ranked as the forerunner of Leporello's... aria",[2]: 296  but they seem to have gone to the next most familiar piece of music rather than digging into research. Platoff notes that catalogue arias were a particular specialty of Bertati.[3]


(in chronological order)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ H. C. Robbins Landon and David Wyn Jones. Haydn: His Life and Music. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988, 185.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Platoff, John (1996). "Catalogue Arias and the 'Catalogue Aria'". In Stanley Sadie (ed.). Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Essays on his Life and his Music. Oxford: Clarendon Press. ISBN 978-0198164432.
  3. ^ (Platoff citing Daniela Goldin. "Aspetti dela librettistica italiana fra 1770 e 1830" AnMc no 21. (1982), 128–91.)
  4. ^ Patrick J. Smith. The Tenth Muse: A Historical Study of the Opera Libretto. New York: Random House, 1970, 165
  5. ^ Platoff notes that this is not normally categorized as a catalogue aria, but argues for its inclusion.


Michael Burden, "Counting Italian Musicians; a London Catalogue aria in context", Early Music, 45/3 (2017), pp. 429–43.

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