As one of the champions of free association, I started to hear in my head Alessandro Scarlatti's well-known aria antica "Le violette" when I bought a couple of new African violets the other day. Although I privately consider collecting these particular flowers a sign of old-ladyhood, I can't help it. I love them even though I don't have tremendous luck in growing them. But they're inexpensive, and there's a rather grumpy florist across the street who keeps me supplied. I've finally learned to water them from the bottom only (duh—I guess most people know this already), and they're doing better. Anyway, back to arie antiche: Among those in the know, "Le violette" is practically a cliché in the vocal world; it's one of the songs beginning vocal students often work on. But its delicacy and loveliness prevent its ever becoming stale. Here's a favorite tenor from the recent past, Alfredo Kraus:
Violets have long been a metaphor for shyness because their little buds stay hidden beneath their velvety leaves, only gradually peeping out as they mature. The utterly charming words—conveniently repeated ad infinitum in songs and arias of the period—delightfully reflect the shyness of this little flower:
Voi vi state vergognose
Fra le foglie,
Le mie voglie,
Che son troppo ambiziose.
Music by Alessandro Scarlatti (1660-1725) from the opera Pirro e Demetrio
Words by Adriano Morselli (fl. 1674-1691)
Dewy, fragrant, graceful little violets,
You stay, shamefaced, half-hidden among the leaves,
And mock my desires that are too ambitious.
So charming it brings a tear to the eye! (Sniff!)