I have a question. I'm currently studying bel canto with a very good teacher. However we are in disagreement about one factor. In "Caro Mio Ben", the words "languisce il cor" appear. In all of the sung versions I have heard by famous artists, they seem to elide the final "e" of "languisce" with the "i" of "il" to create the sound "el". My teacher claims this is not correct. Please clarify, so I will know how to sing these words. Thank you!
Premise: I'm italian, and I am really fanatic about our language pronunciation and writing, including their meaning, context and history, especially when related to music.
The elision is when an unstressed vowel (or syllable) is omitted at the end of a word when the following has a "compatible" sound (usually, another vowel). The apocope is very similar, but doesn't strictly require another similar sound for the next word, and it has always been used (even nowadays) mostly for poetic expression or due to broad usage. This is, coincidentally, the case of "cor", which is the apocope of "core", another writing of cuore ("heart") which is also sometimes written or pronounced as "cuor" even in current language, when some stress is required for "poetry" purposes.
Actually, it's common for everyday words and sentences, like "mangiar bene" (instead of "mangiare bene"): eating healthy/good food (yeah, we do enjoy our food, and we've good reasons ;-) ).
Another and related typical italian case is the word "Amore" (love), which is often reduced to "Amor" even if followed by a consonant (e.g.: "Amor mio", Manon Lescaut, et al.). Poetic emphasis is obviously more stressed when using words related to feelings. Interestingly enough, the apocope is avoided when current language normally uses it, as not omitting the vowel explicitly emphasizes the meaning, not unlike using "you ARE" instead "you're".
Now, the case of "languisce-il" is a bit different, as both elision and apocope are rarely used in Italian when some specific sounds are important part of the sillable or might create confusion: it's often avoided with sounds based on
z, but that's not a rule. The "general" (and, therefore, not absolute) concept is that the meaning and elegance of sound is a primary purpose, but, most importantly, the elision/apocope must not create confusion in the context. Since "languisc-" (with "sc" pronounced as "sh" when followed by
e) can be conjugated in two very different ways in italian, that could lead to confusion:
- languisce: he/she/it languishes [something]
- languisci: you [make] languish [something]
Also, you probably need to be italian (or really know what living in Italy is) to really and truly understand both the conjugation and the sound.
In this specific case, it would be a clear case of elision: it is followed by a vowel ("il") and the subject of the sentence is (almost) clear.
It's not "caro mio ben" ("my dear beloved"), but the heart: "languisce il cor" is "my heart struggles".
So, the "e" could be elided in Italian. Doing it is not grammatically wrong.
To a non-italian speaker (or italian/belcanto fanatic), that wouldn't be much of a difference. But, actually, this creates a doubt, as explained before:
- "languisc(e) il cor": my heart struggles
- "languisc(i) il cor": you make my heart struggle
Then there's the question of "il". In italian poetry and, therefore, librettos, the article is sometimes elided when following another vowel (so, almost always, since there are very few words that end with a consonant):
Voi che per li occhi mi passaste 'l core
Guido Cavalcanti, ca. XIII
As you can see, the "i" is elided even in the written form, and even if it does not follow the same vowel.
Considering the above points, pronouncing it "languisce'l cor" wouldn't be an error: it doesn't create confusion (the subject of the verb is clear) and there exist many examples of elision with a different vowel.
There's one last question here: attribution of the "song" is still undecided, which also means that there's no clear source about the actual "libretto", and so, the possible apocope.
We don't know for sure what was the original meaning, but, grammatically speaking, eliding the "e" is not strictly wrong: it could just change the meaning, but that's open to debate.
Current performance practice uses the full version, which means that the most accepted version (as the most famous singer performed) is by pronouncing both the "e" at the end of "languisce" and the "i" of "il".
If you do want to do the elision, you could elide the "i", but since in the second verse "sce" and "il" are on different notes, that wouldn't be very consistent.
Note: the verb "languire" is technically an intransitive verb, so you could not say "languire il cuore di qualcun altro" (as in "struggle somebody else's heart"), as it would be grammatically wrong. But, that's poetry: forms can be bent, as long as the meaning is strong enough and it's clear enough for the language.
The 'e' at the end of 'languisce' and the 'i' of 'il' should both be pronounced, with a legato connection.
NOTE: where one needs to be careful is in switching between the 'e' and 'i' vowel sounds that the purity of each is preserved. You don't want to produce "in between" vowels as you move from one to the other.