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Catholic Church mends relations with Vivaldi after 300 years

Teatro Comunale

Public Domain | Lorenzo Gaudenzi/CC BY-SA 3.0

J-P Mauro - published on 01/11/22

Ferrara's archbishop gave the performance of "Il Farnace" his blessing three centuries after his predecessor exiled Vivaldi.

Nearly three centuries ago, famed Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi was preparing to premiere his opera, “Il Farnace.” The performance was never to be, however, as the  composer priest had run afoul of the Catholic Church and the performance was ultimately cancelled. Now, the Church has revised its ruling as an opera company in Ferrara runs the show. 

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A post shared by Teatro Comunale di Ferrara (@teatrocomunaleferrara)

Show cancelled

The cancellation was not due to the content of the show, but rather the character of the composer. Antonio Vivaldi, for all his secular fame, was a Catholic priest and thus his behavior was subject to clerical authority. By the time “Il Farnace” was composed, Vivaldi had stopped saying Mass and there were rumors of an improper relationship with one of his star singers, Anna Giro. 

According to the Associated Press, historians now know there was no romantic connection between Vivaldi and Giro. The two spent a lot of time together because she was his prima donna and the pair had a lot of vocal work to go over. Giro also spent more time with the composer because she acted as a nurse to Vivaldi as he struggled with his respiratory health. It was this sickness too that prevented the priest from celebrating daily Mass. 

Regardless of the truth behind these rumors, the Church could hardly let a priest suspected of unpriestly habits be seen running a successful opera. The Great Course Daily notes that Ferrara’s cardinal at the time, Tommaso Ruffo, cancelled the staging rehearsals and effectively banned Vivaldi from the city. 

Exile

This was devastating to Vivaldi, who had funded much of the production out of his own pocket. With the theater doors ordered closed, he had no way to make back any of his investment and was forced to leave Ferrara practically impoverished. The rest of his money ran out when he moved to Vienna, where he had previously been successful. Despite Vivaldi’s prolific composing – he wrote another 21 operas after “Il Farnace” – he would not pull himself out of this financial hole before his death in 1741. 

Vivaldi’s works were very influential to Baroque composers like J.S. Bach, but his memory faded with the public after his death. It was not until the 20th century that his works were rediscovered and popularized. Today, his concerto sequence “The Four Seasons” is one of the most celebrated works of his era. You may recognize the “Spring” concerto if you’ve ever been put on hold during a phone call. 

Mending relations

The City of Ferrara is now hosting a production of Vivaldi’s “Il Farnace.” The first performance was attended by Archbishop Giancarlo Perego, who was presented a bound copy of the score. Archbishop Perego said the actions taken against Vivaldi were based on rumor and should not have happened. He even noted that Vivaldi’s parish priest had written a letter to Ruffo trying to clear up the charges, to no avail. Nicole Winfield of AP News writes:

While insisting Ruffo had merely sought to promote “public morality,” Perego said the lesson of Vivaldi, “Il Farnace” and Ferrara was one that Pope Francis often makes: “The tongue kills more than the sword.”

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Catholic ChurchMusic
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