Houses & Companies | The Barberini Family | Early & Middle Baroque | Opera
The writing and performance of Baroque music and opera relied heavily on wealthy patrons, who often employed musicians in their private orchestras and opera houses. Among these patrons were the aristocratic Barberini family, who made their fortune in the Florentine cloth business. Moving to Rome, the Barberini became one of the city’s most powerful family dynasties.
Maffeo Barberini (1568–1644), elected Pope Urban VIII in 1623, was an influential opera enthusiast, and Roman opera basked in the favours that flowed from his direction. Composers such as Landi and Rossi received financial support and a magnificent new opera house for their works: the family had the auditorium – audience capacity 3,000 – built in the Barberini palace. Landi’s Il Sant’Alessio, performed in 1632, was among many operas staged there. However, the golden age of Barberini opera was brief. After Pope Urban died, his family was sued by his successor, Innocent X, for lavishing papal funds on expensive opera productions. The Barberini fled to Paris, where their cause was championed by chief minister Cardinal Jules Mazarin. The family was reconciled with Innocent and reinstated in Rome after Mazarin threatened to invade the Papal States. Their opera house reopened in 1653 and, with occasional closures, was used until the end of the seventeenth century.
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