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Francesco Cavalli - Five Most Famous Operas

Updated: Apr 16


Francesco Cavalli, born in 1602-1676 was a highly influential composer in the Baroque period.

As well as being a renowned composer, Cavalli also played the Organ and was a singing student of Monteverdi, although Operas was his specialty.


Cavalli’s operas were known to be both humorous and dramatic, a unique trait in the Baroque period that paid off. Another unique asset he used was a small orchestra, usually just of strings and bass continuo to express his characters stories. Cavalli wrote around 41 Operas overall, but only 27 survived and are being preserved in the Library of St Mark.




Which were Cavalli's most popular Operas?


Here you will be taken on a journey into Cavalli’s best Operas.




IL GIASONE



It was known as the single most popular Opera of the 17th century and was first premiered in Venice in 1649. Built on the myth of the Golden Fleece, this opera alternates between tragedy and idiocracy and contains some humorous moments.


Il Giasone manages to bring the mythical characters to life by using a musical texture that alternates expressive moments with short, dance-like arias, often in sarabande rhythm. However, late in the century critics started to turn negative towards the opera for the very reasons that audiences had enjoyed it. One writer complained that "the hotchpotch of characters brought about a total destruction of the rules of poetry." The opera was also attacked for creating a distinction between aria and recitative, thus destroying the drama and fluidity that had been the aim of the creators of opera at the start of the century.





ERISMENA



It was a big hit in 1655 but its popular appeal has dropped somewhat since then and it is almost never produced these days.


This opera is one of the most colourful and formulaic of all the operas as it has many strands of the plot but yet never fails to show the emotional complications of love, death, suffer and anguish. It involved cross dressing as the Armenian princess disguised as a wounded soldier, this was such a huge thing in the Baroque period. Interestingly the manuscript score for this opera is the oldest surviving opera score in England, dating from the 1670s.






LA CALISTO



Showed its first performance in 1651. It was not the most popular opera at the time as it brought in a small audience for the 11 shows, but now with the combination of catchy songs and a sensuous story line it has grown in popularity and subsequently was revived in the 20th Century.


The story is a formulaic one and consists of Nature and Destiny meeting to guide the valiant souls into the heavens. Despite being prepared with upmarket equipment for stage machinery, the shows seemed to experience lots of difficulty. For example, shortly after the the original Venetian production primo uomo Bonifatio Ceretti passed away which caused major changes for the original cast. There was even a new character that had to be added in - the drunken peasant.






LA DIDONE



This is Cavalli’s third (of 27) surviving operas. It was first performed in 1641 at the Teatro San Cassiano which was the first opera house to open in Venice and the first in Europe which allowed the general public to come and watch.


The story focuses on the story of Aeneas, the loss of his wife and the fall of Troy. With a small orchestra to allow the focus to shine on the highly skilled singers, this opera is known to be incredibly dark with movie music to accompany tragedies.






L’EGISTO



This was Cavalli’s seventh opera and was performed throughout Italy with the premiere being in 1643. The main character is a descendant of the sun-god Apollo, and for that reason is treated as an enemy by the goddess Venus. This opera is a mixture of love and tragedy as Climene and Lidio get kidnapped by pirates but manage to escape safely and fall in love with the right partners.


L’Egisto was one of Cavalli’s most successful operas as it had the magical music, extreme passion and quintessential drama. So popular in fact that it led to Cavalli travelling around Europe for the shows.


The two original copies of Egisto are kept in Vienna and only contained a vocal line or sometimes, only a coninuo. But the latter score had five instrumental parts. This opera was revived on stage in Paris (2012) and was known to be a great fusion of poetry, music, tragedy and comedy, a mix the Cavalli was always great at.






Which Opera by Cavalli is your favourite?

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