1280x680_Oper_Konzertant_1516 © beyond/Mara Burmester

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With the opera Xerse, premiered in 1654 at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo in Venice, Francesco Cavalli was to achieve one of his greatest triumphs. At least nine productions of the work were presented in his lifetime in Italy alone. Another and especially spectacular occasion at which Xerse was performed was the celebration marking the wedding of Louis XIV and Maria Theresa of Spain in 1660, although in this case the performance came about more by accident than design: rehearsals for the opera scheduled for the wedding, L’Ercole amante, which Cavalli had written especially for this occasion at the invitation of Cardinal Mazarin, were delayed because building work on the new theatre in the Tuileries was not finished on time. The delay proved so long that it was finally decided to fall back on an opera that the company had already performed and which presented no technical difficulties: and that was Xerse. This was at least a happy chance, since the work also deals with marriage among the highest in the land. The Persian King Xerse and his brother Arsamene are rivals for the hand in marriage of Romilda, daughter of Ariodate, a prince of Abydos. Romilda clearly prefers Arsamene, but this does not stop Xerse laying claim to her himself by regarding the marriage as part of an alliance with Ariodate...