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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Il Sant'Alessio (Saint Alexius) is an opera in three acts composed by Stefano Landi in 1631 with a libretto by Giulio Rospigliosi (the future Pope Clement IX). Its first performance was probably in February 1632.

Sant'Alessio was the first opera to be written on a historical subject. It describes the inner life of fifth-century Saint Alexis. The work broke new ground with a psychological characterization of a type that was new to opera. It also contains interspersed comic scenes that are anachronistically drawn from the contemporary life of Rome in the 17th century.

Musical context

Landi's religious context, in keeping with the Counter-Reformation spirit of Jesuit dramas, marks a new departure in the theatre in Rome, combining antiquarian interests in ancient drama with modern musical conceptions of recitative, ensembles and occasional arias. Musically, the work has considerable variety, with elements of comedy and tragedy, and went some way towards establishing specifically Christian opera in a Rome that remained musically conservative. Singers for the opera, all male, were recruited from the Papal Chapel and included castrati. The Barberinis, noted patrons of the arts, owed their current influence to the Barberini Pope Urban VIII. The librettist, Giulio Rospigliosi, became Pope Clement IX in 1667.

The part of Sant'Alessio lies extremely high and was meant to be sung by a castrato. The accompanying orchestra is up-to-date, dispensing with the archaic viols and using violins, cellos, harps, lutes, theorbos, and harpsichords. The opera includes introductory canzonas which function as overtures; indeed they are the first overtures in the history of opera. Dances and comic sections mix with serious arias, recitatives, and even a madrigalian lament, for an overall dramatic variety which was extremely effective, as attested by the frequent performances of the opera at the time. Sant'Alessio was one of the first staged dramatic works successfully to mix both the monodic and polyphonic styles.

Performance history

The exact date of the first performance is stated differently in the literature. It might have been the 17 February 1632,[1] 18 February 1632,[2] 21 February 1632[3][4] or 23 February 1632.[3][4] Apparently a production for 2 March 1631 had been prepared, but no historical sources confirm an actual performance on that date. Landi seems to have revised the work before the performance of 1632.[1] The place of the performance is also unsure. It might have been the Palazzo Barberini ai Giubbonari or the Palazzo Barberini alle Quattro Fontane, Rome.[2] A revised version was performed in 1634.[3]

An ambitious all-male production of the piece, directed by baroque theatre specialist Benjamin Lazar and conducted by William Christie, premiered in Caen, Normandy on October 16, 2007. This acclaimed production involved no fewer than eight countertenors, including Philippe Jaroussky as Sant'Alessio and Max Emanuel Cenčić as Sposa.[5][6] One performance was broadcast in full as a live video webcast by France 3 on October 18, 2007.


Role Voice Type[7] Premiere Cast, February 1632
Sant'Alessio (Saint Alexius) soprano most probably Angelo Ferrotti (castrato)[8]
Sposa (Alexius's wife) soprano Marc'Antonio Pasqualini (castrato en travesti)[8]
Curzio (Euphemianus's page) soprano probably sung by a boy[8]
Angelo (an angel) soprano sung by a castrato[citation needed]
Roma (Rome) soprano Paolo Cipriani (boy soprano)[8]
Religione (Religion) soprano Paolo Cipriani (boy soprano)[8]
Marzio (Euphemianus's page) soprano probably sung by a boy[8]
Nuntio (a messenger) contralto[9] sung by a castrato[citation needed]
Madre (Alexius's mother) soprano sung by a castrato en travesti[citation needed]
Nutrice (nurse to Alexius's wife) soprano sung by a castrato en travesti[citation needed]
Adrasto (Adrastus, friend of Euphemianus) contralto Girolamo Zampetti (castrato)[citation needed]
Eufemiano (Euphemianus, Alexius's father) tenor[10] Francesco Bianchi[11]
Demonio (Satan) bass most probably Bartolomeo Nicolini[11]
Uno del Coro (a member of the chorus) bass Geronimo Navarra[citation needed]

Brief synopsis

The story of the opera begins with Saint Alexius, who has embraced a life of holy poverty, returning from the Holy Land as a beggar to his father's house in Rome. He keeps his identity a secret, even when his wife and mother decide to travel in search of him. He resists the temptations offered by the Devil, with the help of an angel. He dies in the poverty he has chosen, under the steps of his father's house, his identity revealed in a letter he holds as he dies.


  • Landi: Il Sant'Alessio (Patricia Petibon, Sophie Marin-Degor, Mhairi Lawson, Stephanie Revidat, Maryseult Wieczorek, Steve Dugardin, Armand Gavriilides, Cecile Eloir, Katalin Karolyi, Christopher Josey, Nicolas Rivenq, Clive Bayley, Bertrand Bontoux; Les Arts florissants; Conductor William Christie). Originally recorded 1996. Label: Warner Classics


  1. ^ a b Grout, Donald Jay; Weigel Williams, Hermine: A Short History of Opera. Fourth Edition. Columbia University Press, New York 2003, ISBN 0-231-11958-5, pp. 64-67.
  2. ^ a b Murata, Margaret (2001). "Sant' Alessio". Grove Music Online (8th ed.). Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2 December 2018.
  3. ^ a b c Leopold, Silke: Il Sant’Alessio. In: Pipers Enzyklopädie des Musiktheaters. Vol 3: Werke. Henze - Massine. Piper, München/Zürich 1989, ISBN 3-492-02413-0, pp. 407-409.
  4. ^ a b Holden, Amanda (ed.): The Viking Opera Guide. Viking, London/New York 1993, ISBN 0-670-81292-7, pp. 553-554.
  5. ^ Laura Battle, Les Arts Florissants/Christie - Il Sant'Alessio (performance at the Barbican Hall, London, 24 October 2007), MusicOMH.
  6. ^ Steve Smith, Bounty of Countertenors in 1631 Opera, New York Times, October 31, 2007
  7. ^ According to Marco Emanuele (unless otherwise stated).
  8. ^ a b c d e f Margaret Murata, „The Light of a Thousand Days“ Revealed in a Roman Opera. In: booklet of the CD Erato 0630 14340 2, p. 11.
  9. ^ The part is notated either in the alto clef (p. 112, i.e. 120) or in the soprano clef (p. 136).
  10. ^ The part is generally notated in the tenor clef, except for p. 76 where the alto clef is used.
  11. ^ a b Emanuele.


  • (in Italian) Period printed score: Il S. Alessio//Dramma Musicale//Dall'Eminentissimo, et Reverendissimo Signore//Card. Barberino//Fatto Rappresentare//Al Serenissimo Prencipe//Alessandro Carlo//Di Polonia//Dedicato a Sua Eminenza//E Posto in Musica//Da Stefano Landi Romano//Musico della Cappella di N.S.//e Cherico Benefitiato nella Basilica di S. Pietro, Roma, Masotti, 1734 (accessibile for free online at IMSLP)
  • (in Italian) Libretto at
  • (in Italian) Emanuele, Marco (2007), Sant'Alessio, in Gelli, Piero & Poletti, Filippo (eds), Dizionario dell'opera 2008, Milan: Baldini Castoldi Dalai, p. 279, ISBN 978-88-6073-184-5 (reproduced online at Opera Manager)

This page was last edited on 16 November 2020, at 08:07
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