With this production of Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggerio dall’isola di Alcina, directed by Elena Sartori, an important stepping-stone in the development of seventeenth-century opera receives a superb new recording from Glossa. For much of her career – Caccini was a composer, a virtuoso singer, a teacher, a poet and a multiinstrumentalist – she worked at the Medici court, and was commissioned by the grand duchess of Tuscany, Maria Maddalena of Austria, to write this commedia in musica for performance in Florence in 1625. Very probably this was the first opera composed by a woman, and its performance in Warsaw in 1628 stands as the first documented Italian opera known to have been staged outside the peninsula.
Caccini’s score, evoking not just the music of her father Giulio but that of Jacopo Peri and of the Monteverdi of Venice, is full of musical diversity and originality. The libretto of La liberazione (by Ferdinando Saracinelli, working from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic Orlando furioso) portrays the struggle between two sorceresses – one ‘good’, Melissa, the other ‘evil’, Alcina – over the young knight Ruggiero, who has been bewitched by Alcina.
The singers recorded here for these roles are Gabriella Martellacci, Elena Biscuola and Mauro Borgioni, whilst other roles – in a score packed with vocal opportunities – are taken by Emanuela Galli, Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli and Raffaele Giordani. Elena Sartori, who directs the ensembles Allabastrina and La Pifarescha, also contributes an illuminating booklet essay placing Francesca Caccini in her musical and biographical context.