- Scott L. Balthazar
Tragedia lirica in three parts by Giovanni Pacini to a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano after Pietro Beltrame’s play of the same name; Naples, Teatro S Carlo, 29 November 1840.
The first of six collaborations between Pacini and Cammarano, Saffo is the most innovatory opera of the composer’s second creative period, in which he self-consciously attempted to strike off in new directions after having adhered closely to Rossini’s practices during the first 25 years of his career. In his memoirs Pacini recalled that he had prepared for composing the work by immersing himself in a study of Greek history and philosophy of music in an effort to find a characteristic tinta for depicting Greek culture. However, after completing two numbers, he apparently lost his nerve and needed Cammarano’s encouragement to complete the opera that was to be universally acclaimed as his masterpiece. Saffo was an immense success at its première, with a cast that included Francilla Pixis as Sappho (soprano) and Gaetano Fraschini as Faone [Phaon] (tenor)....