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Working in 17th-century Venice soon after the world’s first public opera houses opened there, composer Francesco Cavalli had no tradition to follow. He gave his fertile imagination free rein, tinkering with the brand-new art form to create the lively Venetian style of opera, with its melodious arias, sprightly dance rhythms, free-wheeling mythological or historical plots and generous dollops of comedy. Like most of Cavalli’s operas, l'Ipermestra wasn’t performed between the late 17th century and recent years.
In 1658, on the occasion of the recent birth of King Philip IV of Spain’s first son (prince Felipe Próspero), the Grand Duchy of Tuscany celebrated the royal event with one of the most magnificent operas ever staged in Florence: l'Ipermestra by Giovanni Andrea Moniglia and Francesco Cavalli.
This opera originated from an unusual mix of court culture and the fashionable “opera alla veneziana”, one of the most in vogue entertainments in Europe at the time. However, the main patron of this sign of alliance with the Spanish crown was not the grand duke Ferdinand II de’ Medici, but his notorious brother, cardinal Giovan Carlo de’ Medici: relentless operagoer and patron of singers, musicians, and academies. l'Ipermestra was one of his most important projects, and its origin, hidden for centuries, has only recently come to light.
An account of the opera was printed in 1658 on the occasion of the performances. Yet although the publicity for the 1658 première was so convincing that everyone believed the opera had been written just for that occasion, we have proof of the existence of l'Ipermestra as early as 1654 – four years prior to the Spanish prince’s birth.