Francesco Cavalli Italian baroque-composer

Francesco Cavalli (born Pietro Francesco Caletti-Bruni 14 February 1602 – 14 January 1676) was an Italian composer of the early Baroque period. He was known as Cavalli, the name of his patron, venetian nobleman Federico Cavalli.


Cavalli was born at Crema, Lombardy. He became a singer (soprano) at St Mark’s Basilica in Venice in 1616, where he had the opportunity to work under the tutorship of Claudio Monteverdi. He became second organist in 1639, first organist in 1665, and in 1668 maestro di cappella. He is chiefly remembered for his operas. He began to write for the stage in 1639 (Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo) soon after the first public opera house opened in Venice, the Teatro San Cassiano. He established so great a reputation that he was summoned to Paris from 1660 (he revived his opera Xerse) until 1662, producing his Ercole amante. He died in Venice at the age of 73.

Music and influence 

Cavalli was the most influential composer in the rising genre of public opera in mid-17th-century Venice. Unlike Monteverdi’s early operas, scored for the extravagant court orchestra of Mantua, Cavalli’s operas make use of a small orchestra of strings and basso continuo to meet the limitations of public opera houses.

Cavalli introduced melodious arias into his music and popular types into his libretti. His operas have a remarkably strong sense of dramatic effect as well as a great musical facility, and a grotesque humour which was characteristic of Italian grand opera down to the death of Alessandro Scarlatti. Cavalli’s operas provide the only example of a continuous musical development of a single composer in a single genre from the early to the late 17th century in Venice — only a few operas by others (e.g., Monteverdi and Antonio Cesti) survive. The development is particularly interesting to scholars because opera was still quite a new medium when Cavalli began working, and had matured into a popular public spectacle by the end of his career.


Cavalli wrote forty-one operas, twenty-seven of which are still extant, being preserved in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Library of St Mark) in Venice. Copies of some of the operas also exist in other locations. In addition, two last operas (Coriolano and Masenzio), which are clearly attributed to him, are lost, as well as twelve other operas that have been attributed to him, though the music is lost and attribution impossible to prove.

In addition to operas, Cavalli wrote settings of the Magnificat in the grand Venetian polychoral style, settings of the Marian antiphons, other sacred music in a more conservative manner – notably a Requiem Mass in eight parts (SSAATTBB), probably intended for his own funeral – and some instrumental music.

Performance history

TitleLibrettoPremière datePlace, theatreNotes
Le nozze di Teti e di PeleoOrazio Persiani24 January 1639Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
Gli amori d’Apollo e di DafneGiovanni Francesco Busenello1640Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
La DidoneGiovanni Francesco Busenello1641Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
L’amore innamoratoGiovanni Battista Fusconi1 January 1642Venice, Teatro San Moisè
Narciso et Ecco immortalatiOrazio Persiani30 January 1642Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paololost
La virtù dei strali d’AmoreGiovanni Faustini1642Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
L’EgistoGiovanni Faustiniautumn 1643Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
La DeidamiaScipione Herrico5 January 1644Venice, Teatro Novissimolost
L’OrmindoGiovanni Faustini1644Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
Il Romolo e ‘l RemoGiulio Strozzi1645Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paololost
La DoricleaGiovanni Faustini1645Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
Il TitoneGiovanni Faustini1645Venice, Teatro San Cassianolost
La prosperità infelice di Giulio Cesare dittatoreGiovanni Francesco Busenello1646Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paololost
La TorildaPietro Paolo Bissari1648Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo or Teatro San Cassianolost
Il GiasoneGiacinto Andrea Cicognini5 January 1649Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
L’EuripoGiovanni Faustini1649Venice, Teatro San Moiselost
L’OrimonteNicolò Minato23 February 1650Venice, Teatro San Cassiano
La BradamantePietro Paolo Bissari1650Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paololost
L’ArmidoroBortolo Castoreo20 January 1651Venice, Teatro Sant ‘Apollinarelost
L’OristeoGiovanni Faustini9 February 1651Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinare
La RosindaGiovanni Faustini1651Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinarealso known as Le magie amorose
La CalistoGiovanni Faustini28 November 1651Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinare
L’EritreaGiovanni Faustini17 January 1652Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinare
La Veremonda, l’amazzone di AragonaGiacinto Andrea Cicognini and Giulio Strozzi21 December 1652Naples, Nuovo Teatro del Palazzo Realealso known as Il Delio
L’OrioneFrancesco MelosioJune 1653Milan, Teatro Real
Il XerseNicolò Minato12 January 1654Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Il CiroGiulio Cesare Sorrentino30 January 1654Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paoloin collaboration with Andrea Mattioli
L’ErismenaAurelio Aureli30 December 1655Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinare
Statira principessa di PersiaGiovanni Francesco Busenello18 January 1656Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo
L’ArtemisiaNicolò Minato10 January 1657Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo
L’HipermestraGiovanni Andrea Moniglia12 June 1658Florence, Teatro degli Immobili
L’AntiocoNicolò Minato12 January 1659Venice, Teatro San Cassianolost
Il rapimento d’HelenaGiovanni Faustini and Nicolò Minato26 December 1659Venice, Teatro San Cassianoalso known as Elena
La pazzia in trono, ossia il Caligola deliranteDomenico Gisberti1660Venice, Teatro Sant’Apollinarelost
Ercole amanteFrancesco Buti7 February 1662Paris, at the Salles des Machines in the Tuileries PalaceBallet music by Jean-Baptiste Lully
Scipione affricanoNicolò Minato9 February 1664Venice, Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Muzio ScevolaGiovanni Faustini and Nicolò Minato26 January 1665Venice, Teatro San Samuele
Pompeo MagnoNicolò Minato20 February 1666Venice, Teatro San Salvatore
EliogabaloAurelio Aurelicomposed 1667, premiered 2004Venice, Teatro San SalvatoreIt was never staged and was replaced by another opera of the same name by Giovanni Antonio Boretti.[2]
CoriolanoCristoforo Ivanovich27 May 1669Piacenza, Teatro Ducalelost
MasenzioGiacomo Francesco Bussanicomposed 1673unperformed and lost

Modern performances 

Cavalli’s music was revived in the twentieth century. The Glyndebourne production of La Calisto is an example. More recently, Hipermestra was performed at Glyndebourne in 2017.  The discography is extensive and Cavalli has featured in BBC Radio 3’s Composer of the Week series. 

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