Rosanna Scalfi Marcello
Died: c. 1742
Rosanna Scalfi Marcello was an exceptional Venetian gondola singer and composer. She wrote twelve solo cantatas in Italian which had been credited, for hundreds of years, to her husband, Benedetto Marcello (1686-1739), composer, writer and magistrate. Only with recent scholarship by John Glenn Paton has it been determined that she, in fact, composed these works.
Nobleman Benedetto Marcello, brother of composer, Alessandro Marcello, heard Rosanna sing arie di battello on the canals of Venice and was enchanted by her voice. After discreetly arranging to meet her, he became her voice teacher and they later married during a secret religious ceremony in 1728. When Benedetto died, even though Marcello was the beneficiary of his estate, the will was declared null and void and Marcello was left penniless because their marriage was not official with the state.
All twelve of Marcello’s solo cantatas were written as chamber pieces for alto and basso continuo. She is also credited with writing some of the texts for these works. They are conventional in form and often feature two da capo arias surrounded by recitative. Vocal leaps, especially in the recitatives, and daring harmonic choices, express a dramatic intensity unusual for the conventional recitative of Marcello’s time. In addition to composing, Marcello was known to perform some of her husband’s music and it is believed that many of the more dramatic settings he composed, including those with register shifts, were written with her in mind as the performer.