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Anna Guarini was the daughter of the Ferrarese court poet and secretary, Giambattista Guarini, and Taddea Bendidio, the sister of Lucrezia Bendidio, Contessa Macchiavelli.  Little is known of Anna's early years, but by the age of 17 she had been taken into service of Margherita Gonzaga d'Este, Duchess of Ferrara.  The earliest record of her performing comes on 19 November 1580, when she sang for the Duchess, together with Laura Peverara, in the apartments of Lucrezia d'Este, Princess of Ferrara.  Anna also played the lute, and took part in the Duchess's frequent balletti.  She was a constant companion of the Duchess, who was said to have her 'three ladies' with her (Peverara, Guarini and d'Arco) even when she went out in her carriage.
In 1584, the banns for her marriage were published, on the same day as those of her colleague in the concerto di dame, Livia d'Arco.  The coincidence suggests that, in all probability, the marriages were arranged at the same time.  Anna was married in August 1585 to Conte Ercole Trotti, a widower much older than herself.   She herself was already 22 years old, a veritable old maid according to common practice of the time.  It is tempting to believe that Anna and Livia's marriages were delayed for much longer than the ordinary noblewoman's, on account that marriage might result in a pregnancy that would take them out of service or, worse still, end in death (as in the case of Leonora Sanvitale). Mentre l'argute sue dolci parole
GUIRINA accorda col soave suono
nascondi Amor la tua fiamma e l'ardore
ch'ella che 'l mar i venti accender suole.
Qual hor ad ascoltarla intenti sono
non mirerÓ che tu le sua signore
se la dolce armonia pur odi un poco
che non t'avampi co'l tuo proprio foco.

Lodovico Agostini, Il terzo libro de madrigali a sei voci (Ferrara, 1582)

Anna's unhappy destiny was one of the greatest scandals to emerge from the d'Este court.  Her visibility as a singer may always have distressed her husband, who no doubt had been compelled to accept the marriage by the Duke Alfonso.  In 1596, the captain of the Duke's cavalry, Conte Ercole Bevilacqua, was accused of having an affair with Anna, an accusation that was never proven.  However, even the merest suggestion of scandal was enough to dishonour a woman permanently.  At the behest of Bevilacqua's wife, Duke Alfonso banished Bevilacqua from the court; he also ordered Trotti not to harm his Anna.  But Duke Alfonso died in 1597, and Anna's source of protection evaporated.  On 3 May, 1598, while she lay ill from a fever at the villa of Zenzalino, Trotti and an accomplice (aided by Anna's brother, Girolamo) entered Anna's bedroom.  Trotti ordered her to stand up; she pleaded that she was too ill.  He then told her to 'commend herself to God', picked her up, threw her to the floor and then butchered her with a hatchet and a razor.
Anna's father, who had left Ferrara some years before because of a dispute over pay and status, wrote an epitaph for her, describing the circumstances of her death.  It was placed over her tomb in S. Caterina Martire, yet after less than two months Guarini was forced to remove it, as it threatened to provoke more scandal during the visit of the Pope.  Bitterness for the Guarini family was compounded by the fact that Trotti, who had been condemned to death in his absence, was granted a reprieve by Cesare d'Este, the new Duke of Modena; he subsequently was given increased status and honour at court.
Of all the principal singers active at the Ferrara court in the 1570s and 80s, Anna Guarini is the least eulogised in verse.  It could be that this is due to her parentage (poets may have been less inclined to write verse for the daughter of the greatest poet of the court) or to the jealousy of her husband (what verse survives for her is mainly composed and published before her engagement).   Nevertheless, one of the most important texts to describe the activities of the concerto, Torquato Tasso's 'Mentre in concento alterno', is testament to her beauty and her vocal abilities.


Bibliography references (secondary sources):  DurMart, 1989; Newcomb, 1981

Written by Laurie Stras.

Last updated 04 October, 2002.

The views expressed in this document are those of the author and not those of the University of Southampton.