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Art, History & Politics, Literature, Music, Theater & Dance

Don Giovanni Before ‘Don Giovanni’

Alessandro Melani's 'L'empio punito' (1669)

October 24, 2022
6:30 pm


Viva Voce

Don Giovanni Before Don Giovanni
Alessandro Melani’s L’Empio Punito (1669)

A lecture by
Luca Della Libera
Music Conservatory “Licino Refice”, Frosinone

Elizabeth Weinfield, The Juilliard School
Giuseppe Gerbino, Columbia University

Followed by a selection of arias from Melani’s opera L’empio punito
performed by the early music ensemble Sonnambula


Luca Della Libera’s lecture explores the opera L’Empio punito by Italian composer Alessandro Melani. First given in Rome in 1669, Melani’s opera has been recently the object of a modern critical edition, which Della Libera has curated for A&R Editions (2022). His presentation will guide the audience through some of the most fascinating aspects of an opera that brings the myth of Don Giovanni on stage more than one century before Lorenzo Da Ponte and W.A. Mozart’s own version of the story. Emblematic of the musical taste of the Baroque, Melani’s cloak-and-sword opera is characterized by lush music, heightened passions and emotions, as well as narrative surprises of various sorts. After the presentation and responses by two specialists of early music – Elizabeth Weinfield and Giuseppe Gerbino – the audience of Casa Italiana will be up for a treat: the acclaimed early music ensemble Sonnambula will perform music from L’Empio Punito that has never been performed in the US before.

Luca Della Libera completed his music studies in Rome, where he graduated in flute at the Conservatory of Santa Cecilia and in history of music at the University La Sapienza. He obtained his PhD from the University of Rome Tor Vergata and the University of Mainz with a dissertation on Alessandro Scarlatti’s sacred music, then reworked into the monograph La musica sacra romana di Alessandro Scarlatti (Merseburger, 2018; English translation: The Roman Sacred Music of Alessandro Scarlatti, Routledge, 2022). He is tenured professor of History of Music in the Conservatory of Frosinone and music critic for “Il Messaggero”. His main field of research is the music of Baroque Rome. He published articles in Nuova Rivista Musicale Italiana, Rivista italiana di musicologia, Recercare, Studi musicali, Acta Musicologica, Analecta Musicologica, Die Tonkunst. Alongside numerous critical editions of Alessandro Scarlatti’s sacred music, he published the critical edition of L’empio punito by Alessandro Melani (A-R Editions, 2022). He collaborates with performers specialized in baroque music (Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano, Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, the violinist Enrico Gatti, Paolo da Col and ensemble Odhecaton). He has given lectures at European and American universities, including Princeton, Harvard, Stanford, Paris, Lisbon, Berlin, among others.

Elizabeth Weinfield is a music historian whose research explores the relationships among gender, performance, and race in the early modern period. Her interests include music by women in the crypto-Jewish communities of Antwerp, music in the 17th-century Constantinople harem, performance practice, and the early music revival in America. A native New Yorker, she holds a PhD in historical musicology from the Graduate Center (CUNY), an MSt in music from Oxford, and a BA in art history from Rutgers. She previously taught music history at City College, Fordham, and Yeshiva. Founder and artistic director of the ensemble Sonnambula, Dr. Weinfield has designed site-specific concerts at the Met Museum, the Cloisters, the Hispanic Society, the Frick, and recently published the first complete recording of the music of the 17th-century composer, Leonora Duarte (Centaur Records, 2019). She is working on the monograph Leonora Duarte (1610–1678), Converso Composer in Antwerp: An Early-Modern Feminist Identity, which investigates music’s role in the convergence of business and culture in the early modern domestic space.

Giuseppe Gerbino is a professor of music and historical musicology at Columbia University, where he has taught since 2001. His research interests include the Italian madrigal, the relationship between music and language in the early modern period, early opera, and Renaissance theories of cognition and sense perception. He is the author of numerous publications, including the monograph Music and the Myth of Arcadia in Renaissance Italy (Cambridge, 2009), which won the 2010 Lewis Lockwood Award of the American Musicological Society. His works have appeared in the Journal of Musicology, the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies, The Musical Quarterly, among others. He has received grants and fellowships from the American Musicological Society, the Harvard Center for Italian Renaissance Studies (Villa I Tatti), the Renaissance Society of America, the Mellon Foundation (Newberry Library), the American Philosophical Society, and the Italian National Research Center (CNR). He is also the co-director of the NEH-funded Marenzio Online Digital Edition, which has been funded by a three-year grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. In 2013 Columbia honored him with the Lenfest Distinguished Faculty Award.

Praised as “remarkable” and “superb” by the New Yorker, Sonnambula is a historically-informed ensemble that brings to light unknown music for various combinations of early instruments with the lush sound of the viol at the core. Sonnambula has performed at Early Music Ann Arbor, Houston Early Music, Duke University, Troy Friends of Chamber Music, and the Indianapolis Early Music Festival. In 2018–2019 Sonnambula was the Ensemble in Residence at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they designed a site-specific series at The Cloisters Museum. Sonnambula had its début at The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts series in the 2016–2017 season with a landmark performance of the complete works of Leonora Duarte (1610–1678), also the subject of the ensemble’s first CD, recently released on June 7, 2019 with Centaur Records, Inc. The group has a strong commitment to education, and has presented interactive masterclasses, lecture/demonstrations, museum programs, and composer workshops at The Frick Collection, The Hispanic Society of America, and Princeton University.


Organized by Prof. Eugenio RefiniViva Voce is a series of events – conversations, talks, book discussions – that address the intersections of voice, performance and the mechanisms of reception. Featuring specialists from different fields, these interdisciplinary events aim to bridge across research, teaching, and public outreach.