Benedetto Ferrari was instrumental in establishing the public performance of opera in Venice in the early-17th century. In his role as both composer and librettist, he, along with composer Francesco Manelli, helped usher in an era in which operas were attended in large numbers by an enthusiastic, paying Venetian public.
Ferrari was born mostly likely in 1603 or 1604. One must ignore erroneous and long-held claims established by Italian scholar Girolamo Tiraboschi that the composer's birth can be dated to 1597. Little is known of Ferrari's early years, but by July, 1618 he had taken leave, owing no doubt to a break in his voice, of his membership in the Rome-based Collegio Germanico Choir, where he had sung as a boy soprano. Afterward Ferrari briefly served as a musician at the Parma Court, but after 1622 details of his activities are uncertain and remain hazy for the next decade-and-a-half.
It is known that his first compositions date to the early 1620s, however, though their manuscripts were lost. Ferrari apparently did appear as a singer and possibly as a theorbo player at the Modena Court in the late-1620s and early-1630s. The next known details about his life concern his collaboration with Manelli: Ferrari wrote the libretto for the 1637 Manelli opera Andromeda, the first opera in Venice in which the public paid to attend. After another collaborative effort with Manelli, Ferrari wrote the music to Armida in 1639, which appears to have achieved no significant success.
Ferrari seemed to have attracted some attention with his 1641 opera Il pastor regio, a work for which he also fashioned the libretto. The success of his ballet La vittoria d'Imeneo at Modena in 1648 suggests ties to the Modena Court during the late-1640s. In November, 1651 Ferrari traveled to Vienna to accept a post from Emperor Ferdinand III as his Court festivities director.
Ferrari returned to Modena in 1653 to assume the position of Court choirmaster. He would serve in this capacity until 1662, when unfavorable economic circumstances necessitated his dismissal. He returned to Reggio nell'Emilia to work in relative obscurity for the next twelve years. In 1674, however, he would emerge again, this time to accept a position as co-choirmaster at the Modena Court of Duke Francesco II. Ferrari held this post until his death in 1681.