Translation from the Italian by Michael S. Howard, June 2013
Cristofaro Caresana, together with Francesco Provenzale, was one of the greatest composers active in Naples in the seventeenth century. Born in Venice in 1640, he began his musical career as a tenor, and when his company of Febi Harmonics came to Naples to perform, remaining there for the rest of his life. He became a teacher at the Conservatory of S. Onofrio, one of four musical institutions of the city and in 1688 succeeded Provenzale as a teacher at the Treasure of San Gennaro.
He composed musical dramas and much sacred music, among which were charming Christmas cantatas. One of these, The Vigil (Cantata for 6 voices with violins "For the birth of Our Lord", 1674) has attracted our interest by its special theme, that of gambling, practiced with the game of Ombre [Shadows] (1), much in vogue at the time of Spanish Naples, from which the cantata contains terms used in that game: mattatore, godiglio, faglio rozzo fieno, sbadiglia, palo .
Speaking of vigils, one of the most famous texts that mentions the use of the tarot as a courtly pastime is the Dialogo de’ Giuochi [Dialogue of Games], which uses old Sienese, by Girolamo Bargagli (1572), of which the text of the cantata of Caresana appears as a belated thematic reprise. The expression “veglie alle senese" [vigils in Sienese style], adopted by almost all Tuscan works of the 16th century, indicated an entertainment in which music, dance and other entertainment alternated, for the pleasure of noble society. In the Dialogo we find the use of tarot in the sense of "appropriated” (2): “Et io ancora (soggiunse il Mansueto) ho veduto fare il giuoco de’ Tarocchi, ponendo a tutti li circostanti un nome di tarocco, e qualcun di poi à dichiarar’ chiamando, per quale cagione stimasse, che a questo e a quello il nome d’un tal tarocco fosse stato posto”. (And I still - added Mansueto - saw done with of the game of tarot [tarocchi], giving to all those around the name of a tarot card, declaring for what reason was judged, to this one and that, each had been given the name of such card).
The alternation of music, dancing and games of the "vigils in Sienese style" is reprised by Caresana with archaic and contemporary dances ("Turn on turn / dancers flying / and with jumps and with carols / bow to revere the Sun", after which the Dance called Barrera follows, with instrumental and vocal concertos (Love makes on the golden harp / sweet majestic flights / of harmonious chords), and finally with the card game of Ombre. An extraordinary element inserted by the anonymous versifier is the attribution of "gambler" to the figure of Christ, who puts his own life as his wager and, in dying, wins (Then at the end, playing, he dies / to see death extinguished). His work of the salvation of mankind is equated with the gratuity left by the winner to those who watched the game (it is the trophy of a winner / to give a tip to those around).
Although here the tarot, very popular in Naples of the time, is not mentioned, there are various symbols that remind us of them: the Devil, the Stars, the World, Faith (Popess), Fortune (as the Wheel, which is asked to interrupt its turning by becoming still, allowing Jesus to triumph in the cradle, that is, its upper part), Love and the Sun (an attribute of Christ as "Sol Invictus") (3). [And also foco = fire (Tower), mondo = World, morte = Death, forze = Strength, as well as the word “trionfare” several times,]
The full text of the Cantata is below.
Cantata "On the birth of Our Lord"
Una dama la più fortunata
che diede a la luce del Mondo
agli applausi del seno fecondo
pregava la veglia di nobil serata.
A lady the most fortunate
who gave to the light of the World
the applause of her fruitful breast
prayed the noble evening vigil.
Ai suoni ai canti ai balli
schiere armoniche e liete
sciogliete su sciogliete
la man la voce e 'l pié
s'applauda s'onori la fascia del Re.
At the sounds of the songs at dances,
ranks harmonious and happy
release on release
hands, voice, and feet
applaud and honor the swaddlings of the King.
Girate su girate
e con salti e carole
chinate i piedi a riverire il Sole.
Turn on turn
with jumps and carols
bow in reverence to the Sun
Ballo detto Barrera
Dance called Barrera
Non e vero ch’è notte no:
se al corno del giorno
l’alba lucida appari,
un Sol partorì si degno
ch’in segno di Vergine sta;
più rara beltà mirar non si può.
Non e vero ch’è notte no.
It truly is not night:
if at the horn of the day
shiny dawn appears,
a worthy Sun is born
in the sign of Virgo;
rarer beauty you could not see.
It truly is not night.
Con pié di nettare
corrono i rivoli;
al nato Re
di latte i murmuri
la fede giurino
al Regio pié.
On beds of nectar
run the streams;
to the newborn King
murmurs of milk
at the Royal feet.
Basti, sospenda il ballo i suoi sbalci
fugaci: fermi il pié, non la gioia; ed hoggi
che trionfa l’umiltà, destinata al rigor
d'un cavo sasso, la cura del Bambin
honori il Basso.
Enough, stop the dance its movements
fleeting: stop the feet, not the joy; and today
may humility triumph, destined for the hardness
of a hollow cave, the care of the Child
honored by the Bass [Basso = bass instruments, also humble people].
Spezzi il giro la Fortuna
volga in archi la sua rota
ed estatica ed immota
formi al Prencipe la cuna.
Stop the round of Fortune
Turning in arcs her wheel
and ecstatic and motionless
set the Prince at the cradle.
Facci Amor su 1'arpa d'oro
dolci fughe maestose;
su le corde armoniose
tessa il canto il bel lavoro.
Love makes on the golden harp
sweet majestic flights;
in harmonious chords
the song weaves the good work.
Nasce il verbo e non favella
trema il foco e piange il riso
cade il Sol dal paradiso
per incanto d'una Stella.
The word is born and does not speak
the fire trembles and the laughter cries
the Sun falls from paradise
by the magic of a Star.
Dormi o ninno, dormi core
chiudi gl'occhi al canto mio,
dorme l’uomo e veglia Dio,
per amor non dorme amore.
Sleep O child, sleep at my birth
close my eyes while I sing,
man asleep and God awake,
for love [of man], the love [of God] does not sleep.
Silenzio o voci, o corde,
or che il Regio Bambin riposa un poco,
termini il canto, e s'incominci il gioco.
Silence O voices, O strings
that now the Royal Child may rest a little,
End the song, and begin the game.
Gioca al ombre il mio bel Sole
se fatt’uomo nasce in terra,
entra solo a mover guerra
e l'inferno vincer vole.
Gioca al ombre il mio bel Sole.
Play at Ombre [Shadows], my beautiful Sun
if made man born on earth,
he enters only to make war
and wants to vanquish hell.
Play Ombre, my beautiful Sun.
Ha gran forze, ed è Bambino,
degl'abissi il mattatore,
per far gioco al peccatore,
Ha gran forze, ed è Bambino,
He has great strength, and is a Child,
Of the abyss the antagonist [mattatore],
to play the game for the sinner,
He has great strength, and is a Child.
3.a - a 2
Fu godiglio nel entrare
che per l’uom giocò di pomo,
ma de falli è faglio l’uomo,
ch’entra al mondo a trionfare.
His [the devil’s] first move was the godiglio [a move in Ombre]
For man he played the apple.
but wins [faglio] from the errors the man [Christ]
Who enters the world [the game] to triumph
4.a - a 2
Per trofeo la gioca sola
e giocando a rozzo frenomille prede a Pluto invola.
Per trofeo la gioca sola.
For the trophy [to win and give the gratuity] alone does he play,
the indomitable Nazarene,
and playing in rough hay [rozzo freno, also a move in Ombre],
a thousand prizes from Pluto steals.
For the trophy alone does he play.
5.a - a 3
Sempre in mane ha la spadiglia
contro l’ombre il nudo Infante,
e gran palo trionfante
de la croce la bastiglia.
Sempre in mano ha la spadiglia.
Always in hand he has the sword [a particular group of cards in Ombre],
The naked Child, against the shadows [Ombre],
The most triumphant pole [palo],
His fortress the cross,
Always in hand he has the sword.
6.a – a 2
Pur al fin giocando more
per veder la morte estinta,
ma la poglia a sempre vinta,
se maniglia a sempre amore.
Pur al fin giocando more.
Then at the end, playing, he dies,
to see death extinguished,
but against the evil one he always wins,
if he does the maniglia [another move in Ombre] always with love.
Then at the end, playing, he dies.
7.a – Tutti
7.a - All
Fate applauso, O cori amanti,
al valor del giocatore,
ch’è trofeo d’un vincitore,
dar la mancia a’ circostanti.
Fate applauso, o cori amanti.
Then applaud, O loving hearts,
at the valor of the player,
because it is the trophy of a winner,
to give the gratuity to those around.
Then applaud, o loving hearts.
1 - The game of Ombre was a card game of Spanish origin, very popular throughout Europe in the. XVIIth and XVIIIth centuries.
2 - On the practice of "Tarocchi appropriati" see the essay Tarot in Literature I.
3 - In this regard please read the essay Nativitas.