Francesca Caccini: La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina at the Salon d’Hercule in the Chateau de Versailles

Edited by Neco Verbis —

Francesca Caccini*(1587-1640), also known by the nickname, ‘La Cacchina’ or the ‘song bird’, was an eminent music composer, poet, singer and music teacher belonging to the early Baroque era. She is also believed to be the most influential female composer in Europe between 12th and 19th century. Her work ‘La liberazione di Ruggiero’ is noted for being the first opera composed by a woman. The compendium of vocal music Il, ‘primo libro delle musiche’, published in 1618, was one of the best collections of her early solo songs. Her early songs had the influence of monodic style which was developed by her father. They encompassed genres of madrigals, canzonettas and others. Her composition of vocal music was brilliantly rendered in trills and ornamentations. Her extraordinary talent in music was well recognized by other great musicians of her time. She went on to become a lead composer and highest paid musician in Medici court.


La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’Isola d’Alcina
Balletto con prologo e tre scene, Florence, 1625

Florence, beginning of February 1625. The Medici court is preparing grandiose celebrations to celebrate the official visit of the heir to the throne of Poland, Wladyslaw.

The crowning event of his visit is a performance of the “commedia in musica”: La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, an opera commissioned for this occasion by the grand-duchess of Tuscany, Maria Maddalena of Austria, widow of Cosimo da Medici (1590-1621). Ferdinando Saracinelli, superintendent of the Medici court is the author of the libretto of this “Balletto” (as it is called on the first page of the edition). The court composer Francesca Caccini, the first opera composer in history, wrote the music. The work so impressed the Polish Prince that it was also performed in Poland.caccini_lib

The wonderful score mixes penetrating recitatives with varied accompaniment, musical arias where one senses the subtle feminine touch, chorus interventions (canzonetta and madrigals) to represent court ladies, demons, enchanted trees, freed knights and sinfonias, colorful ritornelli and instrument interludes.This practically unknown opera marks in fact an important stage in Italian music of the first half of the 17th century: the Salon d’Hercule will be an ideal setting for its revival by the inspired Paul Van Nevel.

Huelgas Ensemble – Paul Van Nevel


alcinaAchim Schulz, Ruggiero

Michaela Riener, Alcina

Sabine Lutzenberger, Melissa

Matthew Vine, Nettuno

Bernd Oliver Fröhlich, Vistola Fiume / Pastore

Dorothea Jacob, Sirena

Axelle Bernage, Nunzia

Matthew Vine, Astolfo

Paul Van Nevel, ConductorPaul Van Nevel, Conductor




Childhood & Early Life
Francesca Caccini was born on 18 September 1587 in Florence, Italy to Giulio Caccini and Lucia Gagnolanti. Her father, Giuilio Caccini was a music composer and also a member of the Florentine Camerata. Her mother, Lucia was a singer. Caccini’s sister Settimia was also a singer and composer. From early years, she received musical training from her father and studied literature, Latin, mathematics and Greek. She actively participated in musical performances staged by her family. In 1600, at the age of 13, Francesca Caccini made her first stage appearance as a singer in her father’s opera Euridice at the grand wedding ceremony of Maria de Medici and Henry IV of France. Her new style of presentation caught the attention of the French King who offered her the position of a musician at his court. However, Francesca Caccini could not join the Parisian court following objections from the Duke of Florence. She also practiced  lute, guitar and harp.
The training under a musician father shaped Caccini’s extraordinary talent in music and she became a successful musician in later years. The successful innings of Francesca Caccini’s musical career began with her composition “La stiava” in 1607 which was performed at Florentine Carnival. In 1608, she worked together with the poet Michelangelo Buonarroti to compose music for the court of Florence. Her musical talents received much appreciation from prominent musicians of that era. In 1610, Claudio Monteverdi, the contemporary of her father and one of the founders of early Baroque acknowledged Francesca Caccini’s extraordinary talent in singing and playing musical instruments such as guitar, lute and harpsichord.
By 1614 Francesca Caccini became the highest paid musician at Medici court. Her work Il ballo delle zigane which she wrote in 1615 was well received in Italy. She also taught music while serving at the court. Her musical compositions which included compendium of thirty-six solo songs and soprano or bass duets were published in 1618. These compositions were distinct and touched a range of sentiments like joy, sorrow, wits and romance. Very few of works have survived. Her major works include Il primo libro delle musiche and the opera La liberazione di Ruggiero. The opera, La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina, which was composed for the visiting crown prince of Poland, Ladislaus Sigismondo or W³adys³aw IV became one of the most notable works of Francesca Caccini. Apart from music, she was also known to be a poet and contributed lyrics for songs such as Il primo libro, Difpiegate and Laudate Dominum de Celis.
Personal Life
While serving at Florence court, Francesca Caccini got engaged to a fellow court musician Giovanni Battista Signorini. The couple got married on November 15, 1607. They had a child named Margherita, born in 1622. After Giovanni Battista Signorini’s death in 1626, Francesca Caccini remarried Tommaso Raffaelli, a nobleman. In 1628, a son, Tommaso was born to them. Her second husband did not survive for long and passed away in 1630. After this, Francesca Caccini came back to Florence with her two children and served as a music teacher at Medici court.
There is no precise record relating to the death of Francesca Caccini. According to some reports, Francesca Caccini was active in the court until May 1637 whereas, other sources reveal that she resigned from the Medici court on 8 May 1641. Some believed that she might have lived in Florence until her death in 1640. However, her death was evident following the transfer of her son’s guardianship to his uncle Girolamo Raffaelli in February 1645. Francesca Caccini was laid to rest in San Michele Visdomini near the tomb of her father Giuilio and sister Settimia,
Major Works
  • La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina.
  • La stiava
  • Ballo della Zigane
  • Primo libro delle Musche
  • Dove io credea
  • Ghirlandetta Amorosa
  • Ch’io sia fidele

1587:Born on 18 September 1587.


Made her debut as a singer.


Got married to Giovanni Battista Signorin and composed La stiava.


Collaborated with poet Michelangelo Buonarroti.


Became the highest paid musician in Medici court.


Composed Il ballo delle zigane.


Her workIl primo libro delle musiche was published.


She got married to Tommaso Raffaelli.

Left Medici court on 8 May and disappeared from the public record.