Even if The Borgias, The Tudors, and Boardwalk Empire have established that people have been getting “nasty” for centuries, Vivaldi’s “Sol Da Te” from Orlando Furiso had to have steamed a few collars and corsets in eighteenth century Venice.
The aria takes place right after the knight Ruggiero swallows a love potion and instantly fixates on the sorceress Alcina. Nothing too racy there, so Vivaldi leaves it up to the music to scandalize his audience:
It’s that dark minor key, combined with a tense, palpitating but teasingly slow momentum, that makes the listener feel like they’re in on a very intimate moment. Flute over muted strings now seems like something for the Easy Listening set, but here the flute alternates between Vivaldi’s seductive melody and rapid bursts, as thought it’s having trouble concentrating. The Italian poetry, sung in cultivated operatic tones (originally written for a castrato!), only seems more “romantic” than “sexy;” don’t treat these lyrics too literally:
Sol da te, mio dolce amore,
Avra pace, avra conforto.
Le tue vaghe luci belle
Son le stelle,
Onde amor mi guida in porto.
(In loose English translation:
Only from you, my sweet love,
Does this heart
Find peace and comfort.
The beautiful lights of your eyes,
Are the stars,
That guides my love to harbor.)
It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t take a dirty twenty-first century mind to read into all that talk about “comfort, peace” and being “guided” into the harbor. Barry White wasn’t the first one to use “love” as a code word for a variety of feelings and actions. There’s a long history of guys using the right lines and music to get what they want. So get to happy hour tonight, keep the music of a dead Italian priest in mind and have a happy Valentine’s Day!