Today in things to stop thinking about before they get EVEN MORE CONFUSING

Remember this?

The text in this aria, “se mai senti spirarti sul volto,” is nearly identical to that used for the aria of the same title in the Gluck version of La Clemenza di Tito. When I heard the above, I assumed that it was from one of the many other versions of Tito that were composed to the same libretto in the eighteenth century.

But it isn’t. It’s from a Vivaldi opera called “Catone in Utica.” I was not previously aware that Cato ever went to upstate New York, but The libretto, like that for Tito, was by Metastasio. If you wish to read it, there is a digital copy available online via the University of North Texas. I shit you not. Here it is. Apparently, like Vivaldi, Metastasio was not above a little self-plagiarism, which I imagine thus:

[Historical note: Francine was Metasasio’s secretary.]

Metastasio: [from amid piles of scrap paper and mostly empty coffee cups] “Hey, Francine! What’s a word that sounds like ‘Utica’?

Francine: [wielding emery board with expression of great concentration; holds out hand to survey the results] “Cuticle?”

Metastasio: “Fuck it.” [knocks over coffee cup] “Fuck.”

Francine: [finally looks up] “What are you doing, anyway?”

Metastasio: “I have to write this Clemenza di Tito thing.” [Throws pencil, point first, at ceiling. Pencil drops to floor because ceiling is plaster, not ceiling tile, and pencils don’t stick.] “I’m gonna use some of the text from Catone but there’s one bit where I like the rhythm but I have to swap out all the times someone says ‘Utica’.”

Francine: [not really listening] “Why?”

Metastasio: “Because Sesto cannot go on a long fucking monologue about fucking Utica!” [Wild gesture accidentally knocks over a different coffee cup; Metastasio eyes the pool of spilled coffee and decides to proceed as if this has not happened]. “I do like the part about the guy’s dying breath blowing like a little breeze on the lady’s face, though.”

Francine: “Really?”

Metastasio: [looking defensive] “What, you didn’t like it?”

Francine: [screws up face] “I always thought that sounded kind of gross, if you really want to know.”

Metastasio: “I am surrounded by philistines. Fucking philistines. What the fuck. Do we have any more pita chips?”

11 thoughts on “Today in things to stop thinking about before they get EVEN MORE CONFUSING

    1. I can imagine pitching the idea: “Well, yeah, it’s a series about – you know opera? About the guys who used to write the, uh, scripts for the operas. In the eighteenth century. It’s a meditation on the nature of originality and the creative process, and there are a lot of obscure references to music no one has ever heard of, but it’s really funny because . . . What? Yeah, I can show myself out.”


      1. O ye of little faith. Just the other day I was filling out a survey for Amazon Preview for a proposed series about the founding of Massachusetts Bay Colony. They seem to think there’s possibility in the premise of scruffy unwashed yet undoubtedly buff Puritans living at very close quarters with a bunch of scruffier even less washed but every bit as buff Jack Tars for months on end.


  1. I think you’ve got the makings of a Very Interesting Opera Libretto. Now if you can just work in Dorothea robbing a 7-11, you’ll really have something! Hey if they can put Francesca di Rimini on stage, anything could happen. And thanks for upping the profanity level! 🙂


    1. Re: DR and the convenience store – I had almost forgotten about that! (Then again, 7-11 does usually have pita chips. Possibly this is the key to the entire thing.)


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