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Giovanni Alberto Ristori


Giovanni Alberto Ristori through his long term service at the Dresden court during the Augustan Age was the composer responsible for the first performance of an Italian opera in Russia. As a composer his music was performed at some of the most famous venues in Europe, however today his music is almost completely neglected.

Ristori's exact birthplace is uncertain and could be Bologna, Venice or Vienna. His father Tommaso was the director of a group of Italian comedians who shortly after Ristori's birth were in the service of the Elector Johann Georg III of Saxony. Ristori's early career is dominated by Italian opera. His first opera Pallide trionfante in Arcadia was premiered in Padua in 1713. Orlando furioso was performed in the same year at the S Angelo theatre in Venice. Both these operas were revived for performance the following year. Additionally Euristeo was performed in Venice and Bologna and Pigmalione in Rovigo.

Ristori' connection to Dresden began in 1715 when he and his wife accompanied his parents there. By 1717 he was appointed composer to the Italian comedians directed by his father. Coincidentally he was also to become the first director of the Polish Kapelle with a salary of 600 thalers. The Polish Kapelle or chamber ensemble divided their time between Dresden and Warsaw and usually had a compliment of twelve musicians.

Ristori's opera Cleonice was given on 15th August 1718. In 1719-1720 Ristori and his father were spared in the expulsion of Italian performers from the Dresden court. The next opera given was Calandro performed in September 1726 at the Crown Princess Maria Josepha's request to celebrate the return of her husband from Warsaw. Another opera buffa (comic opera) was given the following year and Calandro was revived in 1728, its performance being attended by Frederick the Great.

In 1731 Augustus the Strong 'loaned' the Italian comedians to the Russian Empress Anna for the musical festivities celebrating her coronation in Moscow. Under the leadership of Tommaso Ristori and Giovanni Alberto Ristori, thirteen actors and nine singers including Ludovica Seyfried, Margherita Ermini and Rosalia Fantasia a performance of Ristori's Calandro was given – the first Italian opera performance in Russia!

Upon the accession of Friederich Augustus II in 1733 most of the Italian comedians were dismissed and Tommaso Ristori was pensioned off. Ristori was demoted to 'chamber organist'. Between 1734 and 1736 Ristori is thought to have accompanied Friederich August to Warsaw, however between 1735-1736 when Hasse was in Italy Ristori composed sacred music, cantatas for name days, a coronation opera Le fate given in August and finally, Arianna for the electors birthday. (7th October) In 1738-1739 Ristori accompanied the princess Maria Amalia and her husband, Charles III, King of the Two Sicillies to Italy where he directed Temistocle and Adriano in Siria at the new Teatro San Carlos in Naples. (opened in 1737 and designed by Giovanni Antonio Medrano)

We next discover Ristori in Dresden where he composed three masses which earned him the appointment in 1746 of Kirchen compositeur (Church composer), a position formerly held by Johann Sebastian Bach and Jan Dismas Zelenka. In 1747 the Princess Maria Antonio arrived in Dresden following her marriage to the Crown prince Friederich Christian. Ristori set several of her texts as cantatas. By 1750 Ristori was rewarded for his many years service by being appointed Vice-Kapellmeister under Hasse and his last known work, a Mass in C is dated as 1752. In 1753 he died and his widow received a pension of 400 thalers and was paid for Ristori's personal collection of scores. Unfortunately many were lost in the Prussian bombardment in 1760 and the Allied bombing in the Second World War.

~ Copyright © 1996-2000, David Charlton. If you have any comments, additions or questions I would be really pleased to hear from you!

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