With its combination of gestures and music, instrumental sections, a narrator who occupies most of the composition, and two characters who sing for very short sections while acting and dancing for the rest of the piece, Monteverdi’s Combattimento defies genre definition. Starting from Tim Carter’s reading of the composition as a salon entertainment and responding to Suzanne Cusick’s call for the untangling of Combattimento’s multiplicity of meanings, this article investigates Combattimento in its ritualisation and performance of mutually defining relations that are mediated by the social and ideological implications of its immediate performance space, the salon – or portego, in Venetian dialect – the main entertainment hall of Venetian palaces. Using this as a key framework, the article explores the Combattimento’s associations with Venice itself as the broader performance space. Within that context, the choice of a particular episode from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata for Monteverdi’s composition – with its mixture of love and violence, assimilation and confrontation, personal identity and agency, history of winners and history of victims
– proves as crucial to seventeenth-century Venice, at the crossroads between Western and Islamic civilisations, as it does for today’s culture.