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The Beginning of Competition

The publicity created around Andromeda and expanded in connection with La maga fulminata paid immediate and lasting dividends. Interest was such that the libretto of La maga fulminata quickly sold out and was reprinted in the same year.[25] More significant, by the next year a second opera company had been formed and a second theater converted for use as an opera house: the Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo.[26]

Owned by the Grimani family, the original Teatro SS. Giovanni e Paolo was probably built sometime between 1635 and 1637. According to Giustiniano Martinioni's revision of Francesco Sansovino's standard guide to Venice, the wooden theater was soon moved from its original site on the Fondamenta Nuove to a location nearby (in Calle della Testa at Sta. Marina) and rebuilt, part in stone, part in wood.[27] The move and reconstruction, which probably occurred sometime in 1638, were arguably stimulated by the Grimani family's desire to exploit the political potential of the new genre, to compete with those families who had already invested in it. This motivation is clearly acknowledged in Bonlini's account: "In the year 1639, following the example of the theater of S. Cassiano, the first Opera in Musica was recited . . . in that of SS. Giovanni e Paolo, built a short time after the two already mentioned [i.e., the two S. Cassiano theaters], not only for the purpose of emulating them, but also to overshadow their fame."[28] The Grimani theater certainly exceeded that of S. Cassiano in size as well as magnificence, for in 1645, even after several other theaters had opened, it was referred to as the most comfortable and beautiful in the city: "il teatro, stimato più commodo, e bello di questa città."[29] This reputation it maintained for close to forty years, until the construction of a new Teatro Grimani, the S. Giovanni Grisostomo, in 1678.[30]


Ferrari's troupe, reconstituted to include, among others, two experienced theater men, the scenic designer of Ermiona , Alfonso Chenda "detto il Rivarola," and the librettist Giulio Strozzi, moved to the new theater in time for the 1639 season, when they produced not one but two operas.[31] Both season and theater were inaugurated with a setting of. Strozzi's Delia by Ferrari's usual collaborator, Manelli. Ferrari's own authorial efforts were reserved for the second production, Armida , for which he wrote not only the text but the music as well.

In the meantime, a new company, an "Accademia per recitar l'Opera," had taken charge of Ferrari's former theater at S. Cassiano.[32] It, too, consisted of a composer, a poet, a ballet master, and singers, including several veterans from Ferrari's troupe.[33] Unlike Ferrari's, however, it was not in any sense a traveling company. Its composer and leader was Francesco Cavalli, a Venetian who had already made something of, a name for himself. in the realm of. sacred music at San Marco and was soon to dominate the operatic field. His chief. associates— the librettist Orazio Persiani and the ballet master (scenographer) Balbi—were also local residents, and most of the singers belonged to the San Marco chapel.[34] The new company began its activity with a collaboration between two of. its founders. Cavalli's setting of Le nozze di Teti e di Peleo , a libretto by Persiani, was performed in 1639, during the same season as Delia and Armida at SS. Giovanni e Paolo.

In the space of. three seasons Venice had seen five new operas, by three librettists and three composers, at two theaters. These numbers were to increase dramatically the very next year, 1640, when a third theater, the Teatro S.


Moisè, owned by the Zane family, opened its doors to opera.[35] Its two productions raised the number of new operas in a single season to at least four (most likely five): Arianna (Rinuccini/Monteverdi) and Il pastor regio (Ferrari/ Ferrari) at S. Moisè; Adone (Vendramin/Manelli) and probably Il ritorno d'Ulisse (Badoaro/Monteverdi) at SS. Giovanni e Paolo;[36] and Gli amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (Busenello/Cavalli) at S. Cassiano. In this year, the names of two new librettists (Vendramin, Busenello) and one new composer (Monteverdi) were added to the fast-expanding roll of opera makers.[37] Approximately five productions per season remained the norm until 1645, when theatrical entertainments and all other carnival activities were suspended by government decree because of the war with the Turks that had begun early that year.[38]

The economic arrangements supporting the individual undertakings at S. Cassiano, SS. Giovanni e Paolo, and S. Moisè differed in detail, but they shared the special tripartite, cooperative organization that characterized opera production in Venice well into the eighteenth century. Indeed, although the system developed gradually over a period of years, its origins and structure are evident in the first S. Cassiano venture. There were essentially three agents responsible for the operation: theater owners, impresarios, and artists. Theater owners, like the Tron, Zane, or Grimani, belonged to the great patrician families of Venice;


they invested in the buildings themselves, but generally delegated responsibility for what went on in them to an impresario—or a society (like Cavalli's) or troupe (like Ferrari's)—with whom they contracted seasonally. That party either supplied itself or hired at its own expense singers, players, and workers of various kinds. Besides paying the rent, the impresario or society covered operating costs for such necessities as scenery and illumination. The expenses were offset and profits made by receipts from the rental of boxes and by ticket sales.

The capital derived from box rentals depended on the number of boxes as well as the prices charged for them—which, at least in some theaters, depended on the position of the box. In both these matters individual theaters differed considerably. Figures for the earliest period are lacking, but by 1666 S. Cassiano had ninety-eight boxes (twenty-nine in each of the first two tiers), which rented for twenty-five ducats each.[39] SS. Giovanni e Paolo, although the "most magnificent" of the theaters, seems to have had fewer, only seventy-seven, which were arranged in four rows.[40] The number of boxes in S. Moisè during this period is unknown, but the theater had the reputation of being uncomfortably small, so presumably there were fewer, if any.[41]

Most boxes were rented in perpetuity, but paid for on a seasonal basis by members of the aristocracy, Venetian and foreign. Individual tickets, purchased nightly, were of two kinds: the bollettini were required for everyone entering the theater, including box-holders; scagni , purchased for an additional sum, entitled


the holders to seats in the parterre.[42] The artists, who originally participated in the running of the theater (such as Ferrari's troupe or Caralli's), eventually became employees of the impresario. Among them, the librettist became financially independent of the others, deriving his income exclusively from libretto sales and the largesse of his dedicatees.

Despite the proliferation of theaters and new works, opera remained confined to the carnival season.[43] Even allowing for a reasonable rehearsal period, opera companies were essentially unemployed for at least half the year. This hardly presented a problem for Cavalli and his troupe, since they were employed elsewhere in Venice. But several members of Ferrari's company, including Ferrari himself, did not yet have fixed posts. For several off-seasons they continued the itinerant ways that had brought them to Padua and Venice in the first place, producing four of their Venetian operas in Bologna in 1640 and 1641, and two in Milan several years later.[44]

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