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Stanley Sadie

Masque or serenata in one (later two) acts by George Frideric Handel to words by John Gay and others; Cannons, summer 1718 (revised version in three acts, incorporating Italian words by Nicola Giuvo, London, King’s Theatre, 10 June 1732).

During the period 1717–20 Handel spent much of his time at Cannons, the seat of James Brydges, Earl of Carnarvon (later Duke of Chandos), at Edgware, a short distance north-west of London. As resident composer, he supplied his patron with church music, principally anthems, and two dramatic works, ...

Article

Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its principal source is Virgil’s Aeneid. Operas on the subject appear under various titles including Enea nel Lazio, Enea in Italia and Enea e Lavinia, and in French as Enée et Lavinie.

In opera Aeneas is most widely known for his desertion of Dido (particularly in Nahum Tate’s poetry for Purcell in ...

Article

Alfred  

Jan Smaczny

Heroic opera in three acts by Antonín Dvořák to a German libretto by Theodor Körner ; Olomouc, Czech Theatre, 10 December 1938 (in Czech).

The plot concerns the English King Alfred (bass), and his bride Alwina (soprano), who is a prisoner of the Danes. In the first act, the general of the triumphant Danes, Harald (tenor), attempts to persuade Alwina to marry him. Another Danish leader, Gothron (baritone), has premonitions of an English victory. Act 2 introduces Alfred and his companion, Sieward (baritone), and concludes with Alfred’s freeing of Alwina. In Act 3 Alfred, with the assistance of the noble Dorset (tenor), wins a victory, and Harald commits suicide....

Article

Nigel Burton

Opera in three acts by Isidore De Lara to a libretto by Augustus Henry Glossop Harris and Frederick Edward Weatherly, after Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth; London, Covent Garden, in a French translation by Paul Milliet, 20 July 1893.

The Earl of Leicester (tenor) fears that he will lose the favour of Queen Elizabeth (mezzo-soprano) if she learns of his secret marriage to Amy Robsart (soprano). Amy is therefore kept secluded at Cumnor Hall in the care of Leicester’s wicked retainer Varney (baritone). Her childhood sweetheart Tressilian (tenor), ignorant of her marriage, petitions the Queen for her release. Varney, fearful for his own ambitions, plots Amy’s murder; Leicester arrives at Cumnor to rescue her but, to his horror, she plunges to her death through a hidden trapdoor previously set by Varney....

Article

Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its source is Greek mythology.

The story of Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda from a sea monster was one of the most popular subjects of early opera, with over 25 independent librettos before 1800 (operas on the subject were also entitled ...

Article

Erik Levi

Tragedy in five acts by Carl Orff to Sophocles’ drama translated into German by Friedrich Hölderlin; Salzburg, Felsenreitsschule, 9 August 1949.

After the death of Oedipus, King of Thebes, his sons Eteocles and Polyneices were supposed to share the throne. But the brothers quarrelled and Polyneices fled to Argos to organize an army in order to occupy Thebes. The revolt was suppressed when the brothers killed each other. The opera begins as Creon (baritone) succeeds to the throne. He decrees that anyone who contemplates burying Polyneices will be put to death. But Oedipus’s daughter Antigone (dramatic soprano) is determined to accord her brother the true rites of burial. She attempts to enlist the support of her sister Ismene (soprano), but Ismene, fearful of the consequences, tries to discourage Antigone. Antigone ignores her and visits her brother’s corpse alone. As she scatters earth on the body she is seized by soldiers and taken prisoner by Creon. Ismene, ashamed of her former cowardice, admits complicity in the deed and is also imprisoned. Creon’s son Haemon (tenor), to whom Antigone is betrothed, goes to the king to plead for mercy, threatening to kill himself if either of the sisters is put to death. But while Creon releases Ismene he condemns Antigone to solitary confinement. The blind soothsayer Tiresias (tenor) appears and prophesies disaster for the king if he does not release Antigone and give Polyneices an honourable burial. Creon bows to this pressure but is unable to forestall a dreadful sequence of events. Antigone has already hanged herself with her sash and Haemon, clinging to her body, kills himself with his sword. When Creon’s wife Euridice [Eurydice] (contralto) hears this news, she also takes her own life. Creon is now in despair and longs for death, but is unable to effect complete absolution. The final words in the opera are reserved for the Chorus: only in wisdom can there be peace of mind and man should not profane the teachings of the gods....

Article

Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th century, derived from plays by Sophocles and Euripides . Italian librettos on the subject were entitled Antigona or occasionally Creonte.

The plot concerns Antigone, daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. Her brothers Polynices and Eteocles have died, each at the other’s hand; their maternal uncle Creon, who is acting as regent in Oedipus’s absence, has forbidden the proper burial of Polynices, but Antigone defiantly attempts to bury him. In Sophocles’ version of the story Creon inters her alive in a vault and her betrothed Haemon kills himself; in Euripides’ version Creon hands Antigone over to Haemon to be executed, but instead he hides her among shepherds and she bears his child....

Article

Nicholas Williams

Opera in two acts, op.21, by Alexander Goehr to a libretto by Erich Fried (English version by Geoffrey Skelton); Hamburg, Staatsoper, 5 March 1967.

The murder of Arden (bass), a prosperous businessman, is planned by his wife, Alice (mezzo-soprano), and her lover, Mosbie (tenor). Two landowners ruined by Arden, Greene (baritone) and Reede (bass), and two disaffected servants, Susan (soprano) and Michael (tenor), are also involved in the conspiracy. After three bungled attempts, the hired assassins Shakebag (tenor) and Black Will (bass) murder Arden at a reconciliation banquet arranged by him for his so-called friends. In the concluding court scene, Alice and Mosbie admit their guilt, while the others attempt to deny their complicity....

Article

Ariadne  

John A. Rice

Libretto subject used chiefly during the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries (also as Ariane or Arianna). Its source is Greek mythology. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, king of Crete, fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus, who came to Crete to slay the Minotaur, the monstrous offspring, half-bull, half-man, of Minos’s wife Pasiphae; she helped him to escape the Labyrinth by providing him (in one version) with a ball of string that he unwound as he penetrated it, thus enabling him to find his way out. Ariadne accompanied Theseus to the island of Naxos, where he abandoned her. In some versions she dies of grief; in others she is rescued by the god Dionysus (Bacchus), whom she weds....

Article

William Y. Elias

Opera in two acts (16 scenes) by Josef Tal to a libretto (in Hebrew) by Israel Eliraz; Hamburg, Städtische Oper, 9 November 1971 (in German).

Inspired by an ancient Talmudic legend, and an allegory about totalitarianism, the opera is set in an idyllic, peaceful country. The King (lyric baritone) hates the Queen (mezzo-soprano), whom he married only to prevent war with her father, and is in love with the Landlady (soprano). In Act 1, the devil Ashmedai (tenor) appears one night to the King and suggests that if he, Ashmedai, could rule as king for a year, he could turn the peace-loving citizens into bloodthirsty savages while the King could live happily with the Landlady. The King has such faith in his people that he agrees to the bet, but as soon as Ashmedai assumes the physical traits of the King and ascends the throne the citizens turn into intolerant, aggressive killers. A terrible war breaks out, causing total destruction. In Act 2, Ashmedai has won his bet, but the real King refuses to reclaim the throne because his faith in his people has been shattered. Ashmedai changes into a rooster and is devoured, unknowingly, by the Queen and her entourage. The King returns to his throne but refuses to continue the war, despite the advice of his Son (tenor), the commander of the army, and is lynched by the furious masses. Ashmedai appears to the people but they refuse to believe the truth. In an apocalyptic scene the physical world disintegrates, leaving only the King’s naked body with his anguished, faithful Daughter (soprano) leaning over him....

Article

Athalie  

Raymond A. Barr

Opera in five acts by Johann Abraham Peter Schulz to his own libretto (with C. F. Cramer) after Jean Racine ; Rheinsberg, French Theatre of Prince Heinrich, 1785.

Athaliah has usurped the throne after the death of her son Ahaziah and has massacred all the members of the royal house except her grandson Joash, who was rescued by an aunt. The opera opens after Athaliah has been ruling for seven years and as supporters of Joash are conspiring to elevate him to his rightful place on the throne. Athaliah is assassinated during the final struggle and Joash is crowned King of Judah. Schulz wrote his opera, in French, in ...

Article

Francesco Bussi

Lyric drama in three acts by Nicola Spinelli to a libretto by Eugenio Checchi (‘Tom’) after Goffredo Cognetti’s play Scene napoletane; in German, translated by Ludwig Hartmann and Otto Hess as Am untern Hafen, Cologne, Stadttheater, 18 April 1894 (first Italian performance, Rome, Teatro Costanzi, ...

Article

Betly  

William Ashbrook

Dramma giocoso, originally in one act, later revised in two, by Gaetano Donizetti to his own libretto after Eugène Scribe and Mélesville ’s [A.-H.-J. Duveyrier’s] libretto for Adolphe Adam’s Le châlet, ultimately derived from Goethe’s Singspiel Jery und Bätely (1780); Naples, Teatro Nuovo, ...

Article

Tibor Tallián

Opera in three acts (seven pictures) by Sándor Szokolay to his own libretto after Federico García Lorca ’:s Bodas de sangre; Budapest, Hungarian State Opera House, 31 October 1964

After a short introduction by the female chorus, the first act develops in concise, elliptical scenes. The Bride groom (tenor) leaves for the family vineyard. His Mother (contralto), who has lost both husband and elder son as victims to village hostilities, follows his every step with foreboding. She learns from a neighbour (soprano) that the bride of her son has been engaged before to Leonardo from the family of Felix, responsible for her past tragedies. The mere mention of this family name sends her into a paroxysm of fear. The Wife (soprano) and Mother-in-law (contralto) of Leonardo sing a lullaby to his son. Leonardo (baritone) enters, but soon leaves as he is met with reproaches for having been seen ‘at the other end of the plain’ (where, we surmise, his former betrothed lives). The mother and the bridegroom come to ask for the hand of the Bride (soprano). After they leave, the Maid (soprano) tells the bride about Leonardo’s nightly visits to the premises. The bride cannot conceal her ecstasy as she catches sight of him again through the window....

Article

Richard Taruskin

Opera-farce in five acts (often designated the ‘first Russian operetta’) by Alexander Porfir’yevich Borodin to a libretto by Viktor Alexandrovich Krïlov ; Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 6/18 November 1867.

The music, about one-quarter original and the rest pastiche, was orchestrated with the assistance of F. F. Büchner, the Bol’shoy’s first flautist, and E. N. Merten, the assistant conductor, who conducted the first performance....

Article

Opera in three acts by Bedřich Smetana to a libretto by Karel Sabina; Prague, Provisional Theatre, 5 January 1866.

Smetana’s first opera was written for the opera competition sponsored by Count Jan Harrach to provide the recently-instituted Czech Provisional Theatre with new Czech operatic repertory. Since no entries were received by the deadline of ...

Article

Péter P. Várnai

Opera in one act by Emil Petrovics to a libretto by Miklós Hubay; Budapest, Opera, 11 March 1962 (previously broadcast, Hungarian Broadcasting Corporation, 27 August 1961).

The scene is the flat of a middle-class family in Budapest during the German occupation in summer 1944...

Article

William Ashbrook

Melodramma giocoso in one act by Gaetano Donizetti to a text by the composer after a French vaudeville, La sonnette de nuit, by Brunswick, Mathieu-Barthélemy Troin and Victor Lhérie; Naples, Teatro Nuovo, 1 June 1836.

An elderly pharmacist, Don Annibale Pistacchio (buffo bass), is celebrating his marriage to Serafina (soprano). Attending the party is Enrico (baritone), who has been in love with Serafina himself and plots to discomfit Don Annibale on his wedding night. Relying on the legal requirement that a pharmacist must answer his bell at any hour of the night, Enrico proceeds to assume a series of disguises to keep Don Annibale otherwise occupied. First he comes as a French dandy, then as an opera singer out of voice, and last as a querulous old man with an endless prescription. Rid of this patient at last, Annibale starts upstairs, only to set off the fireworks that Enrico had obligingly planted. The ensuing uproar brings out the partygoers, now gathered to speed Annibale on his way to Rome, where he must see about an inheritance. Enrico wishes him a lifetime of nights as happy as the one just past, a sentiment enthusiastically endorsed by all but Don Annibale....

Article

Erik Levi

‘Cantiones profanae cantoribus et choris comitantibus instrumentis atque imaginibus magicus’ in three scenes by Carl Orff to 13th-century Latin and German poems by the monks of Benediktbeuern; Frankfurt, Städtische Bühnen, 8 June 1937.

Orff’s best-known composition is more frequently encountered in the concert hall than in the opera house, but it was originally conceived for the stage. The work, divided into three main sections which deal with nature, the tavern and love, is framed by an imposing opening and concluding chorus in praise of Fortune, the goddess of fate. In the first section entitled ‘Im Frühling’ and ‘Uf dem Anger’ the awakening of spring is depicted in a simple rising unison melody in the chorus, and the ensuing baritone solo praises the overwhelming power of love. There follows a series of dances and short choral movements set in medieval German evoking a peasant spring feast. In the second section, ‘In taberna’, the theatrical element of the work is manifested in a series of parodies – a baritone solo of exaggerated pathos in which the drunkard seems oblivious of the perilous condition of his soul, the grotesque falsetto singing of a Swan (tenor) which is being roasted, the inebriated psalmody of the Abbot (baritone) from Fool’s paradise and an orgiastic hymn to earthly enjoyment sung by the male chorus. The final section, ‘Cour d’Amours’ and ‘Blanziflor et Helena’, provides a dramatic contrast in extolling the pleasures of refined courtly love. Individual numbers include a baritone solo in which the lover seeks to make his wooing more seductive by indulging in a brilliant coloratura vocal line, a coquettish song for soprano which seeks to kindle a young man’s desire, a wooing song for double chorus and finally a chorus of Dionysiac intensity in praise of Venus....

Article

Norm Cohen

A collection of 305 ballads from oral tradition included by Francis James Child in his The English and Scottish Popular Ballads (1882–98). Approximately 120 have been found in American oral tradition. While many of the ballads deal with British historical events, those that survive in America generally concern universal themes such as unrequited love (“Barbara Allen” [Child No. 84]), love triangles (“Lord Thomas and Fair Ellender” [73]), infidelity (“Gypsy Davy” (200)), and adultery (“Little Matty Groves” [81]). A few treat humorous subjects, such as “Our Goodman”/“Three Nights Drunk” (274), about a drunkard cuckolded on successive nights by his sharp-tongued wife, or “The Farmer’s Curst Wife” (278), about a farmer whose pact with the devil to take his wife away goes awry....