La verità mascherata (Milan, 1681), an anonymous and apparently fictional account of a libertine’s reform, includes a description of an elaborate opera performance on the occasion of a royal wedding.
The account suggests that 17th-century Italian audiences were neither silent nor attentive during overtures and instrumental interludes; that the danced intermezzi were barely considered part of the opera at all (Italians apparently regarded stage dancing as comical and grotesque at that time); and that drunkenness and lasciviousness were freely depicted on the stage. The story ends with the hero renouncing opera and retiring to a monastery.
This according to “A Jesuit at the opera in 1680” by Edward Joseph Dent, an essay included in Riemann-Festschrift: Gesammelte Studien–Hugo Riemann zum sechzigsten Geburtstage überreicht von Freunden und Schülern (Leipzig: Hesse, 1909, pp. 381–393); the book is covered in RILM’s Liber amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966 (2009, 100 years after the article was published).
Above, Sharin Apostolou in a production of La Calisto, a 1651 opera by Francesco Cavalli that could have helped to form the impression of Italian comic opera depicted in La verità mascherata. Below, an excerpt from a 1996 performance in Brussels.
Related article: Operatic degeneracy I