Francesco Cavalli was a composer, organist and singer. His operas made him one of the most celebrated composers in Italy after Monteverdi. He laid the groundwork for the Venetian lyrical tradition.
He was a precocious musician. His real name was Petro Francesco Bruni Caletti but he was very quickly taken under the wing of Federico Cavalli, the Venetian governor of Crema, where he was from. Under his guidance, Francesco joined the cappella of San Marc Cathedral in Venice, where he received a solid musical training under the aegis of Claudio Monteverdi. He first worked as a singer and organist in Venetian churches to great acclaim. However it wasn’t until after his marriage to Maria Sozomeno, a rich widow and daughter of the bishop of Pula, that Francesco Cavalli acquired the independence and sufficient financial support to be able to detach from his duties as a church musician. He was however an outstanding organist and retained the role of second organist of San Marc Cathedral for many years, even earning the title of master of chapel 1665.
In the 1640s, Francesco Cavalli benefitted from the growth of public theatres in Venice and embarked on the adventure of writing for opera. In ten years, he wrote 8 operas for the Teatro San Cassiano, the first public theatre in Venice. With the Faustini librettists, he laid the foundations of the Venetian operatic tradition: composing the virtù de 'strali d'amore (1642) and Egisto (1643). Egisto soon became part of the repertoire of many traveling companies, and is likely to have been performed in Paris (in 1646) and Vienna. Francesco Cavalli became one of the most popular opera composers in 17th century Italy, along with the likes of Giasone (1649). In the 1650s, Cavalli wrote operas for all the most important theatres in Venice, and contributed to develop the operatic tradition in Naples. His works, including Egisto, Giasone, Xerse and Erismena, entered the repertoire of all Italian opera houses (and were performed Milan and Florence).
In the 1660s, Cardinal Mazarin invited Cavalli to come to France, along with other Italian musicians, to produce an Italian opera on the occasion of the wedding of Louis XIV and Marie-Thérèse. Cavalli put on an "enriched" version of Ercole Amante in the Tuileries theatre, which had been built for the occasion, with ballet numbers composed by Lully, in which the king and the whole court danced. The show lasted for six hours, but Cavalli's music was not entirely successful. Cavalli returned to Venice after two years spent in Paris which brought great wealth but left him largely disappointed. He spent the last years of his life composing church music and turned away from the theatre forever.