CONTESSA TURCA (1550-1601)

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Before arrival at Ferrara (up to 1580)

Laura Peverara was born around 1550, the daughter of Vincenzo Peverara, a tutor to the Mantuan princes.  She was raised and educated at court, a creature of Gonzagan society, and she appears to have taken an active role in courtly life from a young age, primarily as musician but also as a dancer.  It has been suggested that she was a pupil of the Mantuan maestro di cappella, Giaches de Wert, whose music would become so important to the Ferrarese ensemble.
Laura played the harp, and many of the texts which celebrate her describe her in the act of playing and singing.  One of her harps, the exquisitely decorated 'arpa doppia di Laura', survives and is on permanent display in the Galleria Estense in Modena.
(Descrive la bellezza di due leggiadre donzelle, il cantare a vicenda e poi insieme)

Io mi sedea tutto soletto un giorno,
sotto gli ombrosi crini
di palme, abeti e pini,
e così asocoso udia
Lauretta insieme e Lia
nel solitario orrore.

Due vaghe ninfe appresso un chiaro fonte
tra l'erbe fresche e i lucidi ruscelli,
ambo a cantare ed a risponder pronte,
come di primavera i vaghi augelli:
ambe vidi con lunghi aurei capelli,
ambe soavi il riso,
bianche e vermiglie il viso,
ambe nude le braccia;
né so qual più mi piaccia,
che par ciascuna un fiore. . .

Torquato Tasso, Rime

In 1564, when she was in her early teens, Laura was introduced to the poet Torquato Tasso, who was visiting his father Bernardo Tasso during his employment as secretary to Duke Guglielmo Gonzaga.  Tasso immediately formed a romantic attachment to the girl (not wholly unlike his infatuation for Lucrezia Bendidio) and from this point, for many years to come, she was one of the most vital inspirations for his lyric poetry.  From these early poems we can see that Laura was already an accomplished musician and singer, and that she had been accustomed to singing in ensemble with other ladies.  Musical works setting poetry in praise of a 'Laura' start appearing from around 1572, specifically from composers working in and around Mantua and Verona.
In 1579, Duke Alfonso d'Este of Ferrara married Margherita Gonzaga, Princess of Mantua.  The pair were both renowned for their love of music, and Alfonso had already begun his 'project' of drawing the very finest female musicians to his court in order to create an exclusive ensemble.  It was therefore probably inevitable that Alfonso and Margherita would come to summon Laura to the Ferrarese court.  She did not come immediately, however; negotiations took some months and she did not finally arrive in Ferrara until April 1580.  Her final journey to Ferrara took her through Verona, where she was feted by the Accademia Filarmonica in both poetry and music.  A carefully prepared manuscript, made up entirely of encomiastic madrigals by northern Italy's finest composers, survives as evidence of her visit, as  do valedictory verses composed by the Accademia's padre, Alberto Laverozuola.

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Bibliography references (primary sources): Laverozuola, 1590; Tasso, 1593

Bibliography references (secondary sources):  DurMart, 1989; DurMart, 2000; Newcomb, 1975; Newcomb, 1981; Stras, 2002

Archival sources:  Archivio di Stato, Verona, Fondo Lando; Archivio di Stato, Verona, Fondo Dionisio

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.