Francesco Cavalli

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Francesco Cavalli (allegedly)

Francesco Cavalli , actually Pier Francesco Caletti-Bruni (born February 14, 1602 in Crema , † January 14, 1676 in Venice ) was an Italian composer and organist who is mainly known today for his operas .


Cavalli's father and first teacher Giovanni Battista Caletti (1577 - around 1642) was cathedral music director and organist in Crema. Federigo Cavalli, the Venetian governor of Crema, became its patron, who took him to Venice and whose name he later took over as an opera composer. 1616 engaged Claudio Monteverdi Cavalli as a singer at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice, first as a boy soprano , then as a tenor . In 1620 he became organist in the church of San Giovanni e Paolo , which he only gave up when he married the wealthy widow Maria Schiavina in 1630. The marriage remained childless and his wife died in 1652.

Facade of the Church of S. Zanipolo in Venice

In 1639 he became second organist in San Marco after a competition and performed his first opera Le Nozze di Teti e di Peleo at the Teatro San Cassiano , the first public opera house that had been founded two years earlier. In 1641 La Didone was performed, the libretto of which was written by Giovanni Francesco Busenello , the librettist of the Incoronazione di Poppea Monteverdis. In 1642 he began working with the librettist Giovanni Faustini (1615–1651) with La virtù de 'strali d'Amore . Their last joint work was the opera La Calisto in 1651, the year of his death . In the meantime Cavalli had also become internationally known: his opera Egisto was performed in Paris in 1646, Giasone (1649) was one of the most frequently performed operas of the 17th century. Antonio Cesti (with L'Orontea ) was now his biggest rival.

In 1651 he traveled to Naples and performed three of his works. His opera Orione 1653 was performed in Milan when Ferdinand IV was elected king of Rome; Hypermestra (1658) was ordered by Carlo de 'Medici .

In April 1660, at the invitation of Cardinal Mazarin , he traveled to Paris to perform operas on the occasion of the marriage of Louis XIV to Maria Teresa of Spain . The stay in Paris turned out to be a great disappointment for Cavalli, who was spoiled for success, and who was ailing and only traveled there under political pressure (Mazarin absolutely wanted him). Upon his arrival, his sponsor Mazarin died. There were also performance problems or intrigues, which arose mainly through the Florentine Jean-Baptiste Lully , who was brought in as a ballet composer for the operas . They meant that the opera Ercole amante (Hercules in love), composed for the wedding, was not finished in time. Because the new theater in the Tuileries was not finished, Cavalli's successful opera Xerxes was performed in the Louvre's picture gallery on November 22, 1660 instead . It had a French overture and, instead of choirs, ballets by Lully.

General view of the Tuillerien Palace with the Théâtre des Tuileries (garden front to the right of the left corner pavilion) and the Louvre

The performance of Ercole amante took place a year and a half later in the Théâtre des Tuileries and lasted more than six hours. In between there was dancing and eating. There were at least 21 ballet interludes, composed and directed by Lully, in which the Sun King also took part. The ballet Hercule amoureux was to become one of the most memorable opera performances in music history, because it was here that the king appeared as Apollo for the second time . In the last act, in the Ballet royal des sept planètes , Louis XIV appeared as a dancer three times: as Mars, Pluto and finally as the sun. The court chanted during their dance, Long live the Sun King! Louis XIV would keep this nickname throughout his life. Lully's ballets were acclaimed, Cavalli's opera was received much more cautiously, partly because it was in Italian and possibly also because a castrato sang in it.

When Cavalli returned to Venice in 1662, after the disappointment in Paris he no longer wanted to write for the opera, but then composed six operas by 1673. He became the first organist in 1665 when Massimiliano Neri left for Bonn. Only in November 1668, when Giovanni Rovetta died, he became maestro di cappella of San Marco, which he remained until his death. In 1669 he composed Coriolano for the theater in Piacenza . At the end of his life he only composed religious music, including a. a requiem for his funeral. Cavalli is buried in the church of San Lorenzo.


Cavalli was the most successful opera composer in the mid-17th century. This was at a time when opera was developing, especially in Venice, as a successor to Monteverdi, and experiencing a real “boom” there. This also had an impact on the rest of Europe, as the ruling class often met in Venice for the carnival. Together with the librettist Giovanni Faustini, with whom he wrote most of his operas in the 1640s, he made opera a popular entertainment. Cavalli reduced Monteverdi's lavish orchestra for the artistic directors to (cheaper and) more practical dimensions, introduced bel canto into the music with melodic arias such as the lamento and popular comic types in his operas.

Of the 40 or so operas by Cavalli, 30 have survived, most of them are kept in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana in Venice (from the collection of Marco Contarini ). They display all the characteristic exaggerations and absurdities of the 17th century, but they also have a sense of both dramatic effect and musical lightness and the grotesque humor that characterized the great Italian opera up to the death of Alessandro Scarlatti . Like all operas of the time, his operas were generally only performed for one season.


First performances were given by Raymond Leppard at the Glyndebourne Festival in the 1960s. Since then, several operas by Cavalli have been re-performed, in particular La Calisto by René Jacobs among others .



Unless otherwise noted, the theaters mentioned are in Venice.

  • Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo (The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus, first performed Teatro San Cassiano January 1639), libretto Orazio Persiani.
  • Gli amore di Apollo e di Dafne (first performance Teatro San Cassiano, Carnival 1640), libretto by Busenello after Ovid . Recorded by Gabriel Garrido and the Ensemble Elyma for K617, released in 2008.
  • La Didone (first performance Teatro San Cassiano 1641), libretto Giovanni Francesco Busenello based on Virgil's Aeneis, but with a “happy ending” for Dido. Recorded by Michel Corboz for Harmonia Mundi in 1998 and by Thomas Hengelbrock for Deutsche Harmonia Mundi.
  • Narcisso et Ecco immortalati (first performance 1642, lost), libretto Persiani
  • L'Amore innamorato (Cupid in Love, 1642, missing)
  • La virtù de 'strali d'Amore (The power of the arrows of love, first performance Teatro San Cassiano 1642), libretto by Faustini. Listed in Bologna in 1648.
  • L'Egisto (first performance Teatro San Cassiano 1643), libretto Giovanni Faustini. The opera was successful all over Italy. Performed by Leppard in Santa Fe in 1974.
  • La Deidamia (1644, lost), libretto S. Herrico
  • L'Ormindo (first performed at Teatro San Cassiano 1644), libretto by Faustini. Listed by Leppard in Glyndebourne in 1967.
  • Il Romolo e il Remo (1645, lost), libretto G. Strozzi
  • La Doriclea (first performed at Teatro San Cassiano 1645), libretto by Faustini
  • Il Titone (1645, lost), libretto Faustini
  • La prosperità infelice di Giulio Cesare dittatore (1646, lost), libretto by GF Busenello
  • La Torilda (1648, lost), libretto PP Bissari
  • Giasone (Jason, first performed at Teatro San Cassiano January 5, 1649), libretto by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini . One of the most successful operas of the entire 17th century. Photo by René Jacobs in 1988.
  • L'Euripo (1649, music lost), libretto Faustini
  • La Bradamante (1650, lost), libretto PP Bissari
  • L'Orimonte (first performed at Teatro San Cassiano 23 February 1650), libretto by Niccolò Minato
  • L'Oristeo (first performed at Teatro Sant'Apollinare in 1651). Libretto by Faustini. With one of the first examples of da capo arias , “Udite Amanti”, sung by Corinta (soprano).
  • La Rosinda (1651), libretto Faustini
  • L'Armidoro (1651, lost), libretto B. Castoreo
  • La Calisto (first performance at Teatro Sant'Apollinare, November 28, 1651), libretto by Faustini. Recording by Raymond Leppard in 1972 and René Jacobs in 1994.
  • L'Eritrea (first performance Teatro Sant'Apollinare January 16, 1652), libretto by Faustini. Performed at the Wexford Festival in 1975 under Jane Glover .
  • Il Delio (La Veremonda, l'amazzone di Aragona; first performance December 21, 1652 in Naples , on the occasion of the Spanish victory over Barcelona, ​​first performed in Venice on January 28, 1653), libretto by Cicognini with additions by Giulio Strozzi. German premiere in 2016 at the Schwetzingen SWR Festival .
  • L'Helena rapita da Teseo (1653), libretto G. Badoaro
  • L'Orione (first performed in Milan in June 1653 when Ferdinand IV was elected King of Rome), libretto Francesco Melosio, performed again by Leppard in Santa Fe 1983.
  • Il Ciro (first performance Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo , January 30, 1654), in collaboration with the composer Mattioli (or Cavalli arranged an opera by an otherwise unknown composer), libretto Giulio Cesare Sorrentino, arranged by Aurelio Aureli.
  • Il Xerse ( Il Serse , first performed January 1654), libretto Nicolò Minato. The opera was particularly popular with its aria “Ombra mai fù” and was later set to music by Handel and Giovanni Bononcini . It was also performed in Paris in 1660 in a heavily edited form. A recording under René Jacobs was released by Harmonia Mundi in 1985.
  • L'Erismena (first performed at Teatro Sant'Apollinare December 30, 1655), libretto Aurelio Aureli. The first opera of which an English translation is known (possibly performed in England in 1674). In 1670 the opera was revised by Cavalli.
  • La Statira (Statira principessa di Persia; first performed January 18, 1655 Teatro San Giovanni e San Paolo ), libretto Busenello. A recording of a Neapolitan version (from 1666) with Roberta Invernizzi in the title role and the Capella de 'Turchini under Antonio Florio appeared in 2003 in Opus 111.
  • L'Artemisia (world premiere Teatro San Giovanni e San Paolo January 10, 1657, Naples 1658, Palermo 1659, Milan 1663, Genoa 1665), libretto Nicolò Minato
  • L'Hipermestra (L'Ipermestra; first performed in Florence June 12, 1658), libretto Moniglia
  • L'Antioco (1659, music lost), libretto Minato
  • Elena (first performed at Teatro San Cassiano, dedicated on December 26, 1659), libretto originally by Faustini, completed by Minato
  • La pazzia in trono, ossia il Caligola delirante (1660, lost), libretto D. Gisberti
  • Ercole amante (premiere of Salles des Machines in the Palais des Tuileries , February 7, 1662), libretto by Francesco Buti based on Ovid
  • Scipione affricano (first performed by Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo , February 1664). Libretto by Minato. Also performed in Rome in 1671 and in a version revised by Giovanni Viviani in 1678 at the Carnival in Venice. Record recording by Michel Corboz in 1980.
  • Il Mutio Scevola (Muzio Scevola; first performance Teatro San Samuele , 1665), libretto Faustini, edited by Minato. Also listed in Bologna in 1667.
  • Il Pompeo Magno (first performed at the Teatro San Salvatore , February 20, 1666), libretto by Minato
  • Eliogabalo (composed in 1667, but withdrawn shortly before the planned premiere and replaced by an opera of the same name by Giovanni Antonio Boretti ). Librettist unknown, edited by Aureli (subject is the Roman emperor Elagabal ). First performed in Crema in 1999.
  • Coriolano (1669, missing)
  • Massenzio (1673, missing)

Religious music

  • The Musiche sacre collection (1656) contains masses, hymns, a magnificat and six polyphonic sonatas
    • including Vespro della beata Virgine
  • Vespero delle Domeniche (Venice 1675)
  • Vespero delle cique Laudate (Venice 1675)


  • Jane Glover : Cavalli = Francesco Cavalli. Palgrave Macmillan, London 1978, ISBN 0-312-12546-1 .
  • Beth L. Glixon, Jonathan E. Glixon: Inventing the Business of Opera. The Impresario and His World in Seventeenth-Century Venice. Oxford University Press, New York NY u. a. 2006, ISBN 0-19-515416-9 .
  • Silke Leopold : The opera in the 17th century (= history of the opera. Vol. 1). Laaber-Verlag, Laaber 2006, ISBN 3-89007-658-0 .
  • Ellen Rosand: Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice. The creation of a genre. University of California Press, Berkeley CA 1991, ISBN 0-520-06808-4 .
  • Ellen Rosand: Readying Cavalli's Operas for the Stage: Manuscript, Edition, Production , Routledge 2013

Web links

Commons : Francesco Cavalli  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Notes and sources

  1. Cavalli's handwriting can also be found in his manuscript. After Leppard (R. Leppard: Liner Notes to Cavalli “La Calisto” ) he may have contributed to parts.
  2. ^ R. Leppard: Liner Notes on La Calisto , Decca 1972.
  3. ^ Manfred Bukofzer : Music in the Baroque Era. WW Norton, New York 1947, ISBN 0-393-09745-5 , pp. 148-149.
  4. There is also another version that he appeared as a representative of the House of France. [1]
  5. ^ F. Vliegenthart: Een Venetiaanse opera voor Parijs , pp. 13, 17. In: Opera guide to Francesco Cavalli's Ercole amante by De Nederlandse Opera , 2009.
  6. ^ Manfred Bukofzer : Music in the Baroque Era. Pp. 118, 129-133.