I raved about one of those neglected 17th-century opera composers, Antonio Caldara, when Cecilia Bartoli brought her Opera Proibita recital to Washington. Another prolific composer whose operas are now mostly forgotten is Francesco Cavalli (né Pietro Francesco Caletti-Bruni; he took the name of the noble patron who brought him to Venice as a teenage singer). We owe most of the authoritative information we know about him to three musicologists, Lorenzo Bianconi, Jane Glover, and Ellen Rosand.
This weekend, Washingtonians will have the rare opportunity not only to hear a live performance of one of this great composer's complete operas, La Didone (Teatro S. Cassiano, 1641) but also to see it in a full staging with Baroque orchestra. Any fan of opera or early music is hereby charged, in the name of the Ionarts honor code, to make it to one of the three performances this weekend (June 16 and 17, 8 pm; June 18, 2:30 pm), at American University's Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre. The production will feature members of the pride of Baltimore, Ignoti Dei Opera Company, with a cast of fine singers, including D.C. favorite Rosa Lamoreaux in the role of Venus.
Poor Dido's story comes from the first four books of The Aeneid (see also John Dryden's classic English translation). Her tragedy, as with all things in ancient Greece and Rome, was the fault of the gods. Venus sent Cupid to make Dido love Aeneas, who was washed up on the shores of Carthage. As Virgil recounts in The Aeneid, Aeneas leaves Dido once he is well again, and the queen, distraught, kills herself (Book IV). That was the crucial part of Dido's story, told also by Ovid in his perplexing work Epistulae Heroidum, known in English as the Heroides, letters from mythological heroines to their unfaithful lovers. The seventh letter is Dido Aeneae (see also James M. Hunter's English translation). Cavalli's La Didone, set to a libretto by Giovan Francesco Busenello, is the first of many operatic adaptations -- Purcell's Dido and Aeneas (1689), Metastasio's Didone abbandonata (set to music by Porpora, Handel, Jommelli, Piccinni), Berlioz's Les Troyens (1858) -- not to mention Christopher Marlowe's play The Tragedy of Dido Queene of Carthage (1594).
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Francesco Cavalli, La Didone, Yvonne Kenny, Judith Howarth, Thomas Hengelbrock, Balthasar Neumann Ensemble (released on September 10, 1998)
There is, to my surprise, a complete recording, made from a live performance based on a significantly altered version of the libretto. Given the fact that the title role in this recording is none other than Yvonne Kenny, we could expect blogger Sarah Noble to have a post about it, comparing La Didone and Dido and Aeneas, at Prima La Musica, Poi Le Parole (March 15, 2006). Depending on how much I like the opera this weekend, I may be writing a review about the recording myself in the near future. Please, dear readers, go and hear La Didone so I have someone to argue with.