Justina Casagli was a celebrated actress and opera singer at the beginning of the 1800s. She is also considered to have been Sweden’s first internationally recognised singer.
Justina Kristina Casagli was born in 1794 in Stockholm. Her father, Johan Isak Wässelius, was a wallpaper manufacturer at the time of his daughter’s birth and her mother was Sophia Ulrica Essén. The family lived in Stockholm and Justina Casagli had several siblings. Her older half-sister Jeanette Wässelius was a pupil at the Kungliga teaterns drama school and ten years later Justina Casagli followed in her footsteps there.
Justina Casagli was very popular with audiences and her voice was described as flexible and enchanting. She received particular attention for her role as Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro, and for her performances as Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Papagena in Die Zauberflöte. Justina Casagli performed together with Charlotta Erikson, Maria Ruckman and Gustav Åbergsson. She also played the role of Iza in Hermann von Unna by Anders Fredrik Skjöldebrand that was produced during the 1817–1818 season. Like many other actors and actresses, her appearance was also assessed when her achievements on the stage were reviewed. She was described as dainty and pretty with a gracious expression, and also cheerful and vivacious. In 1812, she married the star dancer Ludivico Casagli. She was then seventeen years old and her husband considerably older. He had previously been married to the prima ballerina Hedvig Elisabeth Millberg until her death.
Just like her older sister Jeanette Wässelius, Justina Casagli received a salary from Kungliga teatern (now Operan) instead of lotto stakes. Only a few employees at that time were offered such a deal, which made their situation more secure and their relationship to the theatre freer. Justina Casagli’s annual salary was 1,000 Rd Bco with an extra 400 for a concert at either Riddarhuset or Kungliga teatern. Over and above this, she also had the right since 1815 to a six-month paid study trip abroad, but she did not take advantage of that benefit. Justina Casagli was elected a member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in 1817.
Together with her husband, she left the Stockholm theatres in 1818 and travelled to Italy where she performed in several roles and quickly became a success. That year, she performed in Torino as the prima donna in La Cenerentola, ossia La bontà in trionfo by Rossini. In Rome she was celebrated in his Donna del Lago in 1823 and in 1827 she performed in Lucca in Il matrimonio segreto, a comic opera by Cimarosa. The couple travelled from Italy on to Munich where Justina Casagli gained employment in 1827, as the first ever singer from Sweden.
After her husband’s death in 1831, Justina Casagli wanted to return to Sweden and she applied for re-employment at Kungliga teatern, but was turned down. The director at that time was of the opinion that there was a risk that the rumours of voice damage might be true. Besides, her position had been taken by Henriette Widerberg. Justina Casagli then returned to Italy.
According to contemporary sources, she committed suicide in 1842 by throwing herself out of a window. She was suffering from depression, probably caused by economic problems.