Chapter

The Nymph Calisto and the Myth of Female Pleasure

Wendy Heller

in Emblems of Eloquence

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2004 | ISBN: 9780520209336
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520919341 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520209336.003.0006
The Nymph Calisto and the Myth of Female Pleasure

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This chapter explains the mythical realm of Arcadia in Francesco Cavalli's La Calisto, and looks towards a libretto by Giovanni Faustini. The opera La Calisto engages with the myth of Venice in an entirely new manner, intersecting in surprising ways with the city's unique self-image, political ideologies, and libertine tendencies. With La Calisto, Cavalli and Faustini find a novel way to manage the problem of women's desire and eroticism in opera, casting a somewhat different light on the Venetian ambivalence toward female sexuality. Cavalli illustrates a skill at motivic unity and text painting that was less apparent in La Didone. The transformation of female sexual desire into spiritual fulfillment is demonstrated. Cavalli provides a musical language that represents explicit female pleasure, but nonetheless contrives for its ultimate suppression in the guise of spiritual enlightenment.

Keywords: La Calisto; Giovanni Faustini; Arcadia; Francesco Cavalli; Venice; female sexual desire; spiritual fulfillment

Chapter.  14094 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Musicology and Music History

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