The Sources of Absolute Music

Mapping Emotions in Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera

The Project

The belief that ‘the end of music is to move human affections’ (Descartes, Compendium musicae) has been a central issue in European musical thought since Plato. Opera was invented to recover the power of Ancient music to move the human heart, and its history is a permanent exploration of the capacity of action, words and music to convey emotions.

In the eighteenth century a new type of opera consolidated with the chief concern of expressing the character’s emotions as they changed throughout the drama, inspired by Descartes’ theory of human passions. The key expressive medium was the aria col da capo, where a single, distinct passion was represented, like a concentrated pill of emotional meaning. The ideal corpus to study this issue are the 900 operas set to music by 300 composers on the 27 dramas by Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782). It contains a comprehensive catalogue of emotions in music, a unique window of opportunity to scrutinize conventions that defined music expression and meaning for over a century, paving the way for the emergence of ‘absolute’ instrumental music, autonomous from any other art form.

DIDONE presents an innovative approach to unveil these conventions: the creation of a corpus of 3.000 digitized arias from 200 opera scores based on Metastasio’s five most popular dramas, to be analysed using traditional methods and big data computer technology. The comparative scrutiny of dozens of different musical settings of the same librettos will reveal how composers correlate specific dramatic circumstances and emotions with distinct poetic and musical features. The results will be applicable to three main fields: (i) opera performance; (ii) analysis and interpretation of other types of music; and (iii) composition in several scenarios, from film soundtracks to creation by Artificial Intelligence. An opera festival will be designed to recover and disseminate this hitherto ignored repertoire, which was essential to define the European musical identity.

DIDONE. The Sources of Absolute Music: Mapping Emotions in Eighteenth-Century Italian Opera, is a research project leaded by  Álvaro Torrente, funded with an Advanced Grant nº 788986 from the European Research Council and developed at Universidad Complutense of Madrid and Instituto Complutense de Ciencias Musicales.

Copied Arias
Team Members


The DIDONE Database

Immerse yourself in the captivating world of 18th-century opera seria. 

The DIDONE Database was born as the result of an ERC-funded project dedicated to uncovering the compositional techniques behind the emotions expressed in this historical genre. Featuring approximately 3000 digitized arias from Pietro Metastasio’s iconic works, our database serves as a comprehensive catalog for exploring versions and performances based on various criteria. Additionally, it offers a unique collection of arias, allowing users to delve into musical attributes such as key, scoring, and vocal range. 

For inquiries and to explore our latest editions, contact us at


Pietro Metastasio’s Operatic Storm

Dive into the operatic brilliance of Pietro Metastasio’s timeless works with “Pietro Metastasio’s Operatic Storm: Texts and Musics for Didone abbandonata, Alessandro nell’Indie, Artaserse, Adriano in Siria, and Demofoonte,” meticulously curated and edited by Ana Llorens. 


Explore the emotional tapestry woven through these operas, as Llorens expertly examines the intricate connection between texts and music, providing a unique insight into Metastasio’s enduring legacy.


Cooperating Institutions


Whether you’re curious about the project, our database, publications or even press, we’re here to answer any questions.

Scroll to Top