Francesca Caccini

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COMPOSERS: Francesca Caccini
LABELS: Nannerl Recordings
WORKS: La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina
PERFORMER: Ars Femina Ensemble/TimeChange
CATALOGUE NO: NR ARS 003 DDD PO Box 7692, Louisville, Kentucky, US Phone 0101 502 897 5719
Francesca Caccini, the elder of the two daughters of the better-known Giulio Caccini, was the first woman to compose opera. (Her sister Settimia, a soprano, became one of the highest paid musicians at the court of Mantua.) Francesca’s one surviving opera, ‘The liberation of Ruggiero from Alcina’s island’, first performed in Florence in 1625, is derived from the same source – the 16th-century poet Lodovico Ariosto’s romantic epic, Orlando furioso – as Handel’s Alcina, but of course the music of Francesca Caccini’s opera is much closer in style to Monteverdi. It is also unique in its use of tonal contrast to reflect gender: Alcina and her attendant sing in flat keys, Ruggiero and other males in sharp keys, and the androgynous sorceress Melissa is mostly confined to C major.

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Though that description of Caccini’s method may make her opera sound somewhat clinical, the results are fascinating, her score consisting largely of mellifluous arias and choruses separated by recitative and instrumental passages. The performance by American singers and instumentalists, recorded in Louisville, Kentucky, last year, is exemplary. Anyone who responds to opera in its beginnings at the time of Peri and Monteverdi will delight in this hitherto virtually unknown piece. Charles Osborne