Laura Peperara was one of the most famous singers in Italy in the second half of the 16th Century.

Born in Mantova probably in 1550, at the age of 12 Laura was already admired and praised by the famous poet Torquato Tasso who seems to have fallen platonically in love with her. The poet so describes her beautiful singing: ”Non fonte o fiume od aura/ Odo in più dolce suon di quel di LAURA; / né’n lauro o’n pino o’n mirto / Mormorar s’udì mai iù dolce spirto. / O felice a cui spira, / E quel beato che per lei sospira! / Ché se gl’insipira il core, / Puote al cielo aspirar col suo valore. (T. Tasso ,Rime)

I hear no stream nor soft wind sweeter than the singing of Laura. Neither in myrtle nor in pine can one hear the murmuring of a sweeter spirit. Happy is the person who receives her gentle breezes and who in turn sighs for her! Since with her virtue in his heart he could aspire to paradise.

Laura Peperara was musically trained at the court of Guglielmo Gonzaga in Mantova. Here she learned singing, harp playing, and dancing. Many poets described the virtuosity of her performances.

It was already a common practice in Mantova after 1560 for women to sing and accompany themselves on the harp or the lute. Tasso describes again in his Rime the beauty of two young ladies, Lauretta and Lia singing alone and in dialogue.
Also a madrigal by an anonymous poet set to music by Luzzasco Luzzaschi in his Third Book of Madrigals. “De l’odorate spoglie”, shows Laura in the act of removing her perfumed gloves and singing “Cara la vita mia” by Jeacques de Wert while playing her harp. (De l’odorate spoglie / sciogliete omai la mano / Che il mio voler e disvoler mi toglie; / E quell’arpa felice, / A cui non si disdice / Stringersi col bel petto / D’Amor fido ricetto / Togliete, e con l’usata leggiadria / Fatene udir: ‘Cara la vita mia’).

More than one document show Laura’s musical skill.
The poet Annibale Romei in his Discorsi, of 1584, describes Laura as “reciting a “capitolo amoroso “ alone on her harp. The capitoli were poetical compositions in “terza rima” focusing on a satirical figure or love object. In the compositions by Wert before 1580 we find four capitoli set to music: two by Tansillo and two by Ariosto.

Laura was already a very good singer in 1562 when she met Tasso in Mantova and at the Gonzaga court she probably perfected her talent under Wert who was the director of court music beginning in 1565.

Laura’s virtuosity was highly admired by the Duke Alfonso II d’Este who invited her to Ferrara as “dama di compagnia” of his wife Margherita Gonzaga and, “cantatrice” for her private music.

Laura moved to Ferrara in 1580 and was married there in 1584.
At the Este court she, with Anna Guarini and Livia D’Arco, was part of the famous “Concerto delle Dame” which became one of the musical attractions there. The three ladies, in addition to their singing, played the lute (Anna) and the viola da gamba (Livia).

Luzzasco Luzzaschi, the director of the music at court, composed the famous book for the three singers entitled “Madrigali per cantare e Sonare ad Uno, a Doi e a Tre Soprani”. It still is today a fundamental musical testament of madrigal solo singing in opposition of recitar cantando style.

Many other collections of madrigals were written for Laura Peperara before and after her arrival in Ferrara.

“Il Primo Lauro” Verona, 1580 ( manuscript collection of madrigals by Palestrina, Lasso, Gabrieli, and others)
“Il Lauro Secco”, Ferrara, 1582 (printed collection of madrigals by De Macque, Marenzio, Wert, Striggio, Vecchi, Merulo da Correggio, Luzzasco and others) …..
“Il Lauro Verde” Ferrara 1583 (printed collection of madrigals by the same authors plus Vecchi, de Monte, Nanino, Roy, Virchi and others).
…..

In Ferrara Laura took part in the private music of Margherita Gonzaga up until 1597 when, due to the death of Alfonso d’Este, the Concerto delle Dame disbanded. The next year the court moved to Modena but many musicians remained in Ferrara; among them were Luzzasco, Laura and others. The last concert of the Dame, consisting of Laura and Livia, took place on the 16th of November, 1598. The third singer, the lute player Anna, accused of adultery, had been killed by her husband and her own brother that same year in the month of May.
Laura died in Ferrara on the 14 January 1601.

Mara Galassi