The dynamic progression from orality to literacy is embodied in the notation of the prologues to the first court operas. This transition is influenced by the proliferation of printed scores at the beginning of the 17th century and has profound rhetorical consequences for vocal performance. In the first prologues, where the written arie are formulaic, the singer is the creator and authority; s/he controls the musical performance and makes the connection between words and music by means of variation, ornamentation, and improvisation as part of a persuasive dialogue with listeners. In the later prologues, however, the composer rather than the singer is in control of the discourse. Because of a new and more elaborate way of writing out the prologues, where all stanzas are set to music, the singer is now turned into an interpreter of the composer's rhetorical realization of the words, a realization fixed in the score by musical notation and capable of being brought to life in performance. The prologue can profitably be discussed as a genre in the context of the oral tradition of the late Renaissance, and is illuminated by a number of 16th- and 17th-century Italian sources dealing with lyric poetry, linguistic theory, vocal performance, sound, and listening. In this regard, the edition of Jacopo Peri's Euridice by Howard Mayer Brown (1981) is open to criticism, because all stanzas of the prologue are written out, which is not in accordance with Peri's original score (Florence, 1600). The editorial realization of the strophes, therefore, seems to run contrary to the principles of orality according to which the prologue was originally composed.
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