La Dafne

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La Dafne (Daphne) is the first full-length opera ever composed and documented. It was written in 1594 by the Italian composer Marco da Gagliano with the libretto written by Ottavio Rinuccini. Created by the Camerata in Florence, Italy as an attempt to recreate Greek tragedies,[1] it is described as a favola in musica in one act and a prologue.

La Dafne, is based on the myth of Daphne and Apollo as related by Ovid in the first book of the Metamorphoses. It is a reworking and expansion of the text Rinuccini had given Jacopo Peri to set around 1598. The opera was first performed at the Ducal Palace, Mantua in late February, 1608.[2] It had originally been intended to form part of the wedding celebrations of Prince Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua and Margherita of Savoy, but the arrival of the bride was delayed and the staging was brought forward (Monteverdi's opera L'Arianna was also written for the marriage but not performed until May). A private performance of Dafne was given in Florence at the house of Don Giovanni de' Medici on 9 February 1611. The Medici were the patrons of the Florentine Gagliano and the laurel (into which the heroine of the opera is transformed) was their symbol.

The score of the opera was printed in Florence on 20 October 1608. It contains detailed instructions on how to perform the work. Among other things, Gagliano recommends clearly separating the soloists from the chorus, positioning the orchestra in front of the stage so the singers can see them properly, and having a second actor to play Apollo in the combat scene with the Python in case the singer should be out of breath for the big aria which follows.[3]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast
Dafne (Daphne) soprano Caterina Martinelli
Apollo tenor Francesco Rasi
Venere (Venus) soprano
Amore (Cupid) soprano Caterina Martinelli
Ovidio (Ovid)
Tirsi (Thyrsis) castrato Antonio Brandi


The prologue is delivered by the poet Ovid. When the opera proper begins, the god Apollo slays the Python, a monster which has been terrifying the Greek island of Delos. Cupid and Venus are unimpressed when he boasts he is invincible and plot revenge. They make Apollo fall in love with the nymph Daphne. She rejects his advances and prefers to be turned into a laurel tree to avoid his love. The disconsolate god makes the laurel the emblem of his art.



  1. ^ Brockett, Oscar G., and Franklin J. Hildy. History of the Theatre. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon, 2007. Print.
  2. ^ Oxford Illustrated p.15
  3. ^ Oxford Illustrated pp.355-360