About this Recording
2.110614-15 - CAVALLI, F.: Virtu de' Strali d'Amore (La) (Teatro Malibran, 2008) (NTSC)

Francesco Cavalli (1602–1676)
La virtù de’ strali d’Amore


Tragicomedy in a Prologue and Three Acts
Revision by Fabio Biondi • Libretto by Giovanni Faustini

Caprice/Leucippe, companion of Cleria/Clarindo, a shepherd/A sorceress - Giacinta Nicotra
Pleasure/Clito, companion of Cleria/Rumour (Fama)/A nymph - Gemma Bertagnolli
Pallante, Prince of Thrace, lover of Cleria - Juan Sancho
Erino, his squire/A nymph - Paolo Lopez
Erabena, daughter of the King of Athens, beloved of Meonte, disguised as a servant under the name Eumete/A nymph/A sorceress - Cristiana Arcari
First Sailor/Evagora, King of Cyprus, father of Darete and Cleria/Jupiter - Marco Scavazza
Second Sailor/Saturn - Roberto Abbondanza
Cleria, daughter of Evagora/Venus/A sorceress - Roberta Invernizzi
Meonte, lover of Cleria - Filippo Adami
Cleandra, friend of Meonte, skilled in magical arts and astronomical sciences/Eros (Amore)/A nymph - Monica Piccinini
Ericlea, Queen of Thessaly, skilled in magic, enemy of Darete/Psyche/A nymph/A nereid - Donatella Lombardi
Darete, son of Evagora, bewitched by Ericlea/Mars - Filippo Morace
Mercury/A sea god - Gian-Luca Zoccatelli
A nymph/A sorceress/A nereid - Milena Storti

The first public opera house in Venice, the Teatro S Cassiano, opened in 1637 and two years later Cavalli’s first opera, Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo (The Marriage of Thetis and Peleus) was staged there. Cavalli continued to provide operas for Venice and for other Italian theatres over the next twenty years, winning a reputation that led, in 1660, to a journey to Paris, at the invitation of Cardinal Mazarin, to provide an opera in celebration of the marriage of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain. His importance is reflected not only in his contemporary popularity at a particularly important period in the development of the genre, but also in the number of his operas that have survived, notably in the Contarini collection that passed in 1844, to the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice.

Cavalli was born in 1602 in Crema, the son of the organist and choirmaster of Crema Cathedral, Giovanni Battista Caletti, his first teacher. His musical ability led to his recruitment, through the Venetian Governor of Crema, Federico Cavalli, at the end of the latter’s term of office in Crema in 1616, to the choir of St Mark’s in Venice as a treble, in a musical establishment under the direction of Claudio Monteverdi. He served also, from 1620, as organist at the church of SS Giovanni e Paolo. In 1627 he was listed, under the name of Francesco Caletto, as a tenor at St Mark’s, and in 1630 he married a niece of the Bishop of Pula, Maria Sozomeno, widow of Alvise Schiavina, a man of some substance, relinquishing his position at SS Giovanni e Paolo. It was from this time that he assumed the name of his patron, Cavalli. In 1639 he became second organist at St Mark’s, winning a considerable reputation there, although it was only in 1665 that he received official appointment as first organist, succeeding to a title the duties of which he had long carried out. In 1668, on the death of Giovanni Rovetta, pupil and successor of Monteverdi, Cavalli was appointed maestro di cappella at St Mark’s, retaining the position until his own death in 1676.

In his earlier career Cavalli had already won a reputation as a composer. At St Mark’s he was a member of a musical establishment directed by Monteverdi, maestro di cappella there from 1613 until his death in 1643 and a pioneer in the creation and development of opera, with his last such work, L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation of Poppea) staged in the latter year at the Venice theatre of SS Giovanni e Paolo. Cavalli’s second opera, Gli amori d’Apollo e di Dafne (The Loves of Apollo and of Daphne), with a libretto by Busenello, author of L’incoronazione di Poppea, was staged at the Teatro S Cassiano in 1640, followed in 1641 by Cavalli’s Didone (Dido), with the same librettist. Amore innamorato (Cupid in Love), its music now lost, was mounted at the Teatro S Moisè in 1642. The same year brought Cavalli’s first collaboration with Giovanni Faustini, the librettist of La virtù de’ strali d’Amore (The Power of Cupid’s Arrows) and of Cavalli’s next operas, Egisto (Aegisthus), Ormindo and Doriclea, all first staged at S Cassiano, where Giasone, with a libretto by Giacinto Andrea Cicognini, a work that won wide dissemination, was first seen in 1648. Faustini had served as the impresario at S Cassiano, at S Moisè and then at the sixth new opera house in Venice, S Apollinare, for which Cavalli set Faustini’s Oristeo, Rosinda, Calisto, and Eritrea, after Faustini’s death in 1651 collaborating with Faustini’s brother Marco, who continued Giovanni Faustini’s work as an impresario. Cavalli’s career in Venice continued until 1660, when he was persuaded, while retaining his position at St Mark’s, to travel to Paris. The theatre intended for a spectacular performance of Ercole amante (Hercules in Love), commissioned by Cardinal Mazarin, was not finished, and for the marriage festivity an earlier work of Cavalli, Xerse, which had been seen already in Venice and elsewhere, was staged. Cardinal Mazarin died in 1661 and in 1662 Ercole amante, with ballets composed by Lully, was eventually performed at the Tuileries in the new theatre there, generally poorly received because of the unsatisfactory acoustics of the building. After his return to Venice Cavalli composed three more operas with libretti by Nicolò Minato, the first, Scipione africano for Marco Faustini, impresario at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, and two for the Teatro S Salvatore, which had opened as an opera-house in 1661. His opera Coriolano was staged in Piacenza in 1669 and his last two operas remained unperformed. In his final years Cavalli devoted himself to church music, with compositions including a Requiem, and, in 1675, three Vespers settings.

La virtù de’ strali d’Amore is the first of Cavalli’s ten operas with libretti by the young lawyer Giovanni Faustini. Their collaboration came to an end with the latter’s death in 1651, when he left unfinished works some of which were staged under his successor as an impresario, his brother Marco Faustini. While musically in the tradition of Monteverdi, whose Arianna, now lost, had been revived at the then new Teatro S Moisè in 1640 and whose Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to his Country) had been first staged in Venice in the same year, the narratives invented and elaborated by Faustini set a pattern followed in later operas. The setting of La virtù de’ strali d’Amore, on the shores and in the enchanted woods of Cyprus, is relatively exotic. The plot, with its inevitable scope for the spectacular, involves two pairs of lovers, their tribulations caused or accentuated by the darts of Cupid and partly ameliorated by the interventions of the other gods, Jove, Mercury, Venus, Mars and Saturn. The first couple, the knight errant Pallante and his beloved Cleria, daughter of the King of Cyprus, are separated through Cleria’s unwillingness to accept Pallante, son of the King of Thrace, as a suitor. The second couple, Meonte and Erabena, are separated through Meonte’s love for Cleria and rejection of Erabena, who, disguised as a man and under the name Eumete, has been the companion of Pallante. The two mortal couples have their counterpart among the gods, with Cupid, the god of love (Amore), complaining about his mother Venus’s adulterous relationship with Mars and alienated from his wife Psyche, not least through the misappropriation of his own arrows. There is evil magic in the bewitchment of Darete, son of the King of Cyprus and brother of Cleria, by the wicked sorceress Ericlea, Queen of Thessaly, and beneficial magic through the kindly offices of the good sorceress Cleandra. A pastoral element is introduced with the shepherd Clarindo, who makes a brief appearance in Act II, when, happy in the success of his own love, he tells Pallante about the fate of Darete. There is a final revelation and recognition scene, when Meonte, on the verge of fighting Pallante, turns out to be the latter’s long lost brother. The narrative of the opera, in other words, contains ingredients that have a long tradition, classical, medieval and contemporary, and were to be echoed in later operas.



1. Main titles.


2. The Prologue is set in the kingdom of Caprice, where Caprice, supported by a chorus of Caprices, summons Pleasure.

Act I

3. The scene is set on a shore in Cyprus, where Pallante, after much suffering, has come in search of his beloved Cleria, daughter of Evagora, King of Cyprus. Pallante is accompanied by the supposed Eumete, disguised as a man, but in fact Erabena, daughter of the King of Athens, seeking her beloved Meonte, who has deserted her for Cleria. He wants to help Eumete, who is despondent.

4. The cries of Cleria are heard, apparently about to be abducted, but now defended by Pallante against her attacker, Meonte. The two men fight and Meonte falls wounded.

5. Eumete asks if Meonte is hurt, and Meonte tells him that he is near to death; when he is dead his body should be buried, with the words ‘Here lies Meonte, who died for Cleria’; he can say no more. Eumete too wishes to die, now that her beloved Meonte is seemingly dead, but is restrained by two sailors. Cleandra appears, a friend of Meonte and gifted with skill in the magic arts.

6. Cleandra tells Eumete that Meonte is not dead, as she knows through her magic arts, and she will take Meonte away with her. Eumete wants to follow him, but is told that she may not, but, before the sun sets, Meonte shall be with her again.

7. Eumete is resolved to stay, awaiting the return of her beloved Meonte. She recalls the fatal love of Meonte for Cleria, daughter of the King of Cyprus, and is urged by the sailors to avoid the King’s anger. They make for their ship, leaving Eumete to wait in Cyprus for Meonte.

8. The scene changes to a fearful enchanted wood. Cleria’s companions Clito and Leucippe call Cleria’s name, joined by a chorus of nymphs.

9. Cleria joins them, breathless in her flight. She had become separated from them in their hunting and had encountered an unknown knight, from whom she had been seized by the hated Pallante, recognised from his shield, who had kissed her, against her will. She urges her companions to escape from the enchanted wood before the spirits of the night appear; it is here that her beloved brother Darete was bewitched by the wicked Queen of Thessaly, Ericlea.

10. Pallante talks with his squire Erino of his rival’s fate. Erino tells him that Cleria hates him more for his intervention against Meonte than for kissing her.

11. Ericlea appears, accompanied by her sorceresses, tormenting Cleria’s brother Darete, transformed by her into a tree, the reason for this to be explained in Act II. She calls on all the powers of the Underworld to wreak her revenge on Darete.


Act II

1. The scene is again by the shores and groves of Cyprus. Venus and Cupid are attended by a chorus of Nereids and Sea Gods. The gods sing of their powers.

2. They are joined by Mars, who pleads for Pallante, languishing for love, begging Cupid to have pity on his suffering, but Cupid absolutely refuses to awaken love for Pallante in the heart of Cleria, objecting strongly to any interference in his own affairs.

3. In a pastoral scene the shepherd Clarindo sings of his happiness in love, while Pallante deplores the contrast with his own state. Clarindo asks whether Pallante is a stranger to Cyprus and does not know of the misfortunes of the kingdom. Pallante tells him he has been away for a year, but all was well before he left. Clarindo goes on to recount the misadventure of Prince Darete, a victim of the sorceress Queen of Thessaly, Ericlea, who, disappointed in her love for him, bewitched him, so that he remains in the wood, imprisoned in a tree; at its roots there is a marble urn, which, when it is broken, will release Darete. Erino is listening, and comments, while Pallante would change his fate for that of his dear Darete, brother of his beloved Cleria. Erino promises to go quickly to Salamis to tell the King of Pallante’s news.

4. At the royal court King Evagora, with his son and heir lost to him, urges Cleria to marry but she proposes to remain unwed and join the followers of Diana. Her father tries to persuade her to marry Pallante, but she would prefer to die.

5. In a pleasant meadow Cupid inveighs against the adulterous Mars and his mother, Venus, who has neglected him, her son, even if she is a goddess. A gentle breeze arises and Cupid lies down to sleep.

6. Erabena, still in the guise of Eumete, laments the torments of love that she feels, rejected by Meonte, calling on the streams to weep and breezes to sigh. She sees Cupid asleep, the cause of her woes, his quiver and his bow, and, taking Cupid’s arrows, strikes him. Cupid wakes and at once falls in love with Erabena.

7. Meonte, meanwhile, is recovering from his wounds, with the help of his friend Cleandra and her magic arts. Her prophesies seem obscure to Meonte; she advises him to seek out Eumete and console him.

8. Psyche appears, seeking her husband Cupid, who treats her so cruelly.

9. Rumour (Fama), tells her that she is right to complain. Psyche asks where her husband is, and Fama tells her that he is in Cyprus, without his bow and arrows, in love now with a mortal, the proud Erabena, who has Cupid’s arrows in her possession. Psyche is horrified, but Fama tells her to enjoy herself. Psyche, however, blames Venus and her betrayal of her husband Vulcan, for the inconstancy of her Cupid, to whom she will remain faithful.


10. Psyche pleads her cause before Jupiter and the gods, claiming that it is dishonourable that a mortal should scorn the gods and use the darts of love. Jupiter understands, but Psyche asks who will give her her husband again. Saturn feels pity for her and promises to help by seizing Cupid. Psyche is happy and Saturn will do as he promised. Jupiter sends Mercury with him to deal with the unfaithful Cupid and have Cleria marry Pallante, bringing the bow back again to Jupiter.

11. Cupid, meanwhile, pleads, in his turn, with Erabena for pity, which she will not give. He tells her to think who he is, his powers, and promises to marry her and make her divine. Erabena angrily rejects the proposal, accusing Cupid of being the cause of infinite pain. He asks where she learnt such cruelty, and Erabena tells him that it comes from him. She wants only Meonte, led astray by Cupid.

12. Pallante and Erino, on the shores of Cyprus, hide, hoping to see Cleria.

13. Cleria’s friends Clito and Leucippe try to persuade her to turn to love; beauty, after all, will not last. Cleria, however, prefers her freedom and has no wish to follow one who is blind. She sees an arrow lying among the flowers, in fact the dart from Cupid’s bow that Erabena had shot at Cupid. Testing its point, she pricks herself.

14. Pallante, fearing that Cleria is hurt, comes forward and Cleria at once falls in love with him, to the delight of Clito and Leucippe. Cleria is sorry for her rejection of Pallante and Leucippe and Clito are joined by a chorus of nymphs as they call on Hymen.

15. Eumete, carrying Cupid’s bow and arrows, is happy to see Meonte once more, his wounds healed. Eumete, now the time has come for her to reveal herself as Erabena, tells of her dream that Erabena, beloved only child of the King of Athens, appeared before her in the guise of a boy, lamenting her rejection by Meonte in favour of Cleria. Meonte tells Eumete that Erabena is dead and blames his behaviour towards her on Cupid. Eumete/Erabena, when he once again refuses to declare his love for her, strikes him with Cupid’s arrow, and Meonte falls in love with her, now finally revealed as Erabena, who, as Eumete, had followed him.

16. Mercury appears, telling Erabena that mortals may not wield divine weapons; she must yield her arrows to Jupiter. She hands the weapons to Mercury.

17. Venus questions Mercury about Cupid and is told that he has been seized by Saturn, and that Mercury has Cupid’s powerful arrows. Venus, Mars and Mercury express their happiness.

18. In the enchanted wood Pallante, happy at the outcome of his love, seeks the tree in which Darete lies imprisoned. He battles with the evil spirits and eventually overcomes them, breaking the magic urn and freeing Darete.

19. Darete emerges, seemingly from a deep sleep. Pallante tells him that he has been bewitched by the Queen of Thessaly and is now in Cyprus. Pallante reveals himself as Darete’s friend and Darete embraces him, hoping that he will marry Cleria. Pallante assures him that Cleria’s heart of stone has been pierced by the darts of Cupid, to Darete’s pleasure.

20. Meonte sees Pallante, identifying him as the warrior who had wounded him and prepared to fight him again. Pallante draws his sword, to the dismay of Erabena, who fears both of them may die.

21. Cleandra, a dea ex machina, appears and calls on the men to lay aside their weapons. She reveals that Meonte is in fact the brother of Pallante, Cratillo, kidnapped by pirates as a baby with his nurse and rescued by Atamante, King of Thrace, and brought up as his son.

22. Evagora, King of Cyprus, greets his son Darete, rescued by Pallante. Erabena and Meonte are happy in their love.

23. Venus has received Cupid’s arrows from Jupiter and tells her son to promise care in his future use of them. Psyche reproaches Cupid, who claims some excuse in the power of his own arrows, a plea that Psyche finds unacceptable. Finally, however, they are united in love once more.

24. End credits

Keith Anderson

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