Named for the village outside of Florence from which he hailed, Marco da Gagliano was expected to take holy orders and thus received his early training with a religious confraternity, later with Luca Bati. In 1602, he was engaged as an instructor of singing at San Lorenzo, but in 1607 found himself at the court of Mantua, where he wrote his version of Dafne, which was staged that same year along with Monteverdi’s Orfeo. In 1609 he returned to Florence as maestro di capella at the Compagnia dell’Arcangelo Rafaello where he had trained in his youth, and shortly thereafter he assumed the position held earlier by his teacher Bati, maestro di capella at the Medici court.
Gagliano is noted principally for his version of La Dafne, based mostly on the libretto by Rinuccini that Peri and Corsi had used for their version of the opera of 1597. Gagliano’s position among the Medici meant he was noteworthy and influential in his own day, collaborating on a number of operas following Dafne with composers such as Peri and Francesca Caccini, daughter of Giulio. He wrote a large quantity of religious music which, along with his half dozen books of madrigals, are considered traditional prima pratica works. His operas and a book of musiche published in 1615, on the other hand, are fashioned in the more progressive style of Florence and the Camerata.
Like Euridice, Rinuccini’s Dafne unfolds over six scenes in a single act, after opening with a strophic prologue sung by Ovid, the ancient Roman author of Metamorphoses from which the story is taken.
Scena prima: Nymphs and shepherds are in despair because a terrible monster has destroyed their flocks and poisoned their fields. They appeal to heaven for aid: Apollo approaches, literally echoing the shepherds’ pleas, and slays the monster. The chorus sing his praises as he departs into the woods.
Scena seconda: Apollo meets Venus and her blind son Cupid, boasting of his recent feat and gently mocking the blind little archer. As Apollo departs, Cupid vows to make him his next victim in retribution.
Scena terza: While hunting in the woods, the huntress Daphne learns from the chorus of shepherds and nymphs how the hero Apollo has just slain the dragon plaguing their country. Apollo arrives and falls in love with Daphne, who rebuffs his advances and flees into the woods while Cupid revels in his triumph over Apollo.
Scena quarta: Cupid returns to the woods, boasting of his own victory, and now considers aiming his arrows at Daphne herself for rejecting Apollo, but his mother calms him and advocates their return to heaven.
Scena quinta: Thyrsis recounts to the others how Daphne, appealing to heaven as she tries to elude Apollo, has been turned into a sapling as the awestruck god looks on.
Scena sesta: Back among the nymphs and shepherds, Apollo expresses his grief at what has happened and his promise always to love Daphne.
See an excerpt scene, "Piangete, O ninfa" performed by Fuoco E Cenere below.