Francesco Domenico Araja

Born: Naples - 25 June 1709
Died: Bologna - between 1762 and 1770

The first of many Italian opera composers to work in St. Petersburg, Francesco Araja was, like most of his successors, raised and educated in Naples. By the age of 20 he was already well known in his native city and throughout Italy. In the year 1735, he was invited to St. Petersburg as part of a large group of Italian artists recruited to boost the cultural life of the city. He became kapellmeister to Empress Anna Ioannovna.

Araja's place in history is assured as the composer of the first Italian opera to be performed in Russia and the composer of the first opera with a Russian text. His La forza dell'amore e dell'odio was staged in 1736, and a Russian translation of the libretto was printed as a booklet. Tsefal i Prokris, to a libretto by Alexander Sumarokov based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, was first performed at the Winter Palace in March 1755, with Russian singers and set designs by Giuseppe Valeriani. The opera proved enormously popular, and Empress Elizabeth presented Araja with a sumptuous sable coat in honour of his work.

It proved to be one of Araja's last works. He left St. Petersburg in 1759, but was called back to the city for the coronation of Emperor Peter III. However, when Peter was deposed and Catherine the Great came to the throne, he was obliged to leave Russia for good.

Works premiered in St. Petersburg: Il finto Nino, overo La Semiramide riconosciuta (opera seria, 1737), Artaserse (opera seria, 1738), Scipione (opera seria, 1745), Mitridate (opera seria, 1747), L'asilo della pace (opera seria, 1748), Bellerofonte (opera seria, 1750), Eudossa incoronata, o sia Teodosio II (opera seria, 1751), Tsefal i Prokris (opera seria, 1755), Amor prigioniero (opera seria, 1755), Alessandro nell'Indie (opera seria, 1755), Iphigenia in Tauride opera seria (opera seria, 1758)

Connected with: Alexander Sumarokov, Giuseppe Valeriani