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John Evelyn describes a Venetian opera (1645)

June 12, 2008

This extract is taken from the diaries of John Evelyn, an Englishman who toured Italy in the middle of the seventeenth century. He describes a visit to a Venetian opera in 1645.

(We went) to the Opera, which are Comedies (& other plays) represented in Recitative Music by the most excellent Musitians vocal & Instrumental, together with variety of seeanes painted & contrived with no lesse art of Perspective, and Machines, for flying in the aire, & other wonderfull motions. So taken together it is doubtlesse one of the most magnificent & expensfull diversions the Wit of Men can invent: The historie was Hercules in Lydia, the Seanes chang’d 13 times, The famous voices Anna Rencia, a Roman, & reputed the best treble of Women; but there was an Eunuch, that in my opinion surpass’d her, and a Genoveze that sung an incomparable Base: This held us by the Eyes and Eares til two in the Morning when we went to Chetto de San: Felice, to see the Noblemen & their Ladies at Basset, a Game at Cards which much use, but play not in publique…..

The opera seen by Evelyn was Giovanni Rovetta’s Ercole in Lidia. The music for this opera has not survived.

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