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Bruce Archibald

Opera for television in one act by Gian Carlo Menotti to his own libretto; NBC, New York, 24 December 1951.

The stage is in two parts. One is the stark interior of a shepherd’s hut; surrounding it is the exterior showing distant hills, a road winding offstage to the left and reappearing among the hills, and a starry sky with the star of Bethlehem shining brightly. After a very short prelude of soft, tender music Amahl (boy soprano, about 12 years old), who is crippled, is seen and heard (oboe) playing his shepherd’s pipe. It is a cheerful C major tune, totally diatonic, over a drone C–G bass 5th. He is seated outside the hut wearing an oversized cloak. His mother (soprano) calls him to go to bed. He delays as long as possible but finally takes his crutch and hobbles into the hut. He tells her of the large bright star and she replies that he is a chronic liar and complains of their poverty. Amahl begins a short duet – comforting his mother – which closes with ‘Good night’. While they sleep, he on a bed of straw and she on a bench, the voices of the Three Kings are heard in the distance: Kaspar (tenor), Melchior (baritone) and Balthazar (bass). Amahl wakes up and hobbles to the window. He tells his mother that he sees three kings and, of course, she does not believe him. The kings and a page (baritone) are allowed in by the bewildered mother. They settle in, the kings seated on the bench and the page on a stool, to a stately but sprightly march from the orchestra. During the following conversation there is a humorous song by Kaspar – ‘This is my box’. He shows off the precious gems in his box, but most important is the liquorice. He gives some to Amahl. In staged performances this song is often sung with Kaspar walking among the audience tossing out sweets....

Article

Virginia Saya

Opera buffa in one act by Dominick Argento to a libretto by John Olon (pseudonym of John Scrymgeour) after Anton Pavlovich Chekhov ’s play The Bear; Rochester, New York, Eastman School of Music, 6 May 1957.

A young Widow (soprano) has been mourning the death of her husband for exactly one year. A neighbour, the Boor (bass-baritone), arrives to collect a debt owed by the deceased, only to be rebuked for his indelicacy at making such a request on this anniversary. A lengthy argument ensues and a duel is proposed. In the heat of the moment, it comes out that the widow harboured no real fondness for her faithless, neglectful husband, and in the wake of these revelations, a new passion is kindled....

Article

Andrew Stiller

Folk opera in one act by Douglas S(tuart) Moore to a libretto (‘book’) by Stephen Vincent Benét after his own short story; New York, Martin Beck Theater, 18 May 1939.

Moore and Benét called this work a folk opera ‘because it is legendary in its subject matter and simple in its musical expression’. In fact, it is a musical, albeit an unorthodox one, with no overture, only one act, and much of the spoken dialogue accompanied by music. The opera may be performed either with full orchestra (wind in pairs) or a reduced ensemble with solo winds....

Article

Robert F. Nisbett

Opera in two acts, with a prologue and an interlude, by Louis Gruenberg to his own libretto after Eugene O’Neill ; New York, Metropolitan Opera, 7 January 1933.

Gruenberg’s adaptation follows the play with few alterations, the most frequent changes being either omission of dialogue or repetition for emphasis. The story is that of an ex-Pullman porter Jones (baritone), who makes himself emperor of a West Indian island by combining an appeal to superstition with a white man’s cunning. Jones cynically exploits the natives, or ‘bush-niggers’ (as he calls them), until they rebel and he is forced to flee. Gruenberg made two important changes from the original play: a chorus acts as a commentator on the events taking place, and Jones kills himself rather than being murdered by the natives....

Article

Julian Budden

Opera in three acts by Giacomo Puccini to a libretto by Guelfo Civinini and Carlo Zangarini after David Belasco’s play The Girl of the Golden West; New York, Metropolitan Opera House, 10 December 1910.

Early in 1907, during his first visit to New York for the Metropolitan premières of ...

Article

Comic opera in three acts by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco to his own libretto after Oscar Wilde’s play; New York, La Guardia Theatre, 22 February 1975 (in Italian, Florence, Chiostro delle Donne, 1984).

Set in Victorian London, this comedy of manners concerns two friends, Algernon Moncrieff (tenor) and John Worthing (tenor), who are in love with two young girls, Gwendolen Fairfax (soprano) and Cecily Cardew (soprano). Gwendolen’s mother, Lady Bracknell (contralto), cannot agree to John (nicknamed Jack) marrying her daughter until he can satisfactorily substantiate his eligibility as to age, money, education and, most importantly, parentage; he was found as a baby in a handbag at Victoria Station and then adopted by Lord Worthing. To further complicate matters, John Worthing assumes the names of ‘Ernest in town and Jack in the country [where he lives]’, while Algernon, who lives in town, ‘invents’ a permanent invalid named Bunberry whom he uses as an excuse to absent himself from the city to visit Cecily, John Worthing’s ward....

Article

Andrew Stiller

Chamber opera in two continuous acts with prologue, by Philip Glass and Robert Moran to a libretto by Arthur Yorinks after Jacob Ludwig and Wilhelm Carl Grimm; Cambridge, Massachusetts, American Repertory Theater, 6 December 1985.

Glass’s most popular operatic work, it had received more than a hundred performances by mid-...

Article

Andrew Lamb

Musical play in two acts by Kurt Weill to a book by Moss Hart and lyrics by Ira Gershwin ; Boston, Colonial Theatre, 30 December 1940, New York, Alvin Theatre, 21 January 1941.

Despite achieving success as editor of a popular fashion magazine, Liza Elliott (high mezzo-soprano) feels at odds with male-dominated and success-orientated society. Moreover, she is unable to decide between the rival attractions of the three men in her life, her business colleague Charlie Johnson (baritone), her publisher and current lover Kendall Nesbitt, and glamorous film star Randy Curtis (baritone). She consults her psychiatrist, and at each of four sessions relives a dream. In the first (‘Glamour Dream’) she becomes the glamorous, sought-after woman that in real life she never feels. In the second (‘Wedding Dream’) her plan to marry Kendall Nesbitt is interrupted when Randy Curtis appears. In the third (‘Circus Dream’) she undergoes a trial in a circus ring, accused of being unable to make up her mind between her three admirers. Russell Paxton (high baritone), a photographer on the magazine, is the ringmaster. In the fourth dream (‘Childhood Dream’) she finally recalls the traumatic childhood incidents that are at the root of her problems and bursts forth with the haunting childhood song (‘My Ship’) that has appeared fragmentarily throughout the score....

Article

Howard Shanet

A ‘family portrait’ in three acts by Jack Beeson to a libretto by Kenward Elmslie based on a scenario by Richard Plant; New York, City Center of Music and Drama, 25 March 1965.

The plot is derived from an actual crime, which took place in Fall River, Massachusetts, in ...

Article

John Rockwell

Opera in three acts by Virgil Thomson to a libretto by Jack Larson; Juilliard Theater, New York, 20 April 1972.

Set in Westminster Abbey in 1824, Act 1 opens with mourning for the poet and freedom-fighter, whose body has just been returned from Greece. Dead poets including Shelley (baritone) lament their colleague. A committee led by John Hobhouse (bass-baritone) and including Thomas Moore (baritone), Byron’s sister Mrs Leigh (soprano) and his estranged wife (mezzo-soprano) petition for Byron’s burial in the Abbey. The ship bringing the corpse also contains a statue as well as Byron’s memoirs, both accompanied by Byron’s last love, the Contessa Guiccioli (soprano) and her brother (baritone). The statue arrives and as the stage freezes in admiration, Byron (tenor) enters as a shade and sings a ‘satirical apostrophe’ to the city of London....

Article

Stephen Hinton

Musical tragedy by Kurt Weill to a libretto by Maxwell Anderson after Alan Paton’s novel Cry, the Beloved Country; New York, Music Box Theatre, 30 October 1949.

In South Africa in 1949, a black preacher, Stephen Kumalo (bass-baritone), is anxious about his son Absalom (spoken), who is working in the mines to pay for his education; Stephen has not heard from him for nearly a year. Stephen’s wife, Grace (spoken), senses trouble, but Stephen has faith, expressed in the song ‘Thousands of Miles’....

Article

Macías  

Donald Thompson

Opera in three acts by Felipe Gutiérrez (y) Espinosa after Mariano José de Larra’s historical drama; San Juan, Puerto Rico, Teatro Tapia, 19 August 1977.

The authorship of the libretto remains a matter of conjecture despite attributions to Alejandro Tapia y Rivera and Martín J. Travieso. A strong possibility, based by Batista on evidence found in the autograph score, is that the libretto was made by the composer himself....

Article

Julian Budden

Opera in three acts by Umberto Giordano to a libretto by Renato Simoni based on the comedy of the same title by Victorien Sardou and Emile Moreau; New York, Metropolitan Opera, 25 January 1915.

Set in Paris in August 1792, Act 1 opens outside the laundry of Caterina Hubscher (soprano), known as Madame Sans-Gêne, where all is confusion. Soldiers of the Revolution are attacking the Tuileries. Caterina arrives, having run the gauntlet of an amorous patrol, all of whom exacted a kiss (‘Mentre andavo via leggera’). Fouché (baritone), a supporter of the insurgents, takes shelter at the laundry while the fighting lasts. Caterina dispatches one of her girls with a bundle of clothes to an impoverished officer, telling her not to demand payment. His name is Napoleon Bonaparte. She then sends for Sergeant Lefèbvre (tenor) – her lover, she tells Fouché, ever since he rescued her from the attentions of a would-be seducer at Vauxhall (‘Lo conobbi son due mesi’). News comes that the Tuileries has fallen and Fouché leaves to join the victorious troops. An enemy soldier knocks at the door begging for shelter; he is the Austrian Count of Neipperg (tenor), gravely wounded in the fight. Caterina conceals him in an adjoining room. Lefèbvre arrives and joyfully recounts his exploits (‘Alle giubbe scarlatte diam la caccia’). Caterina is unable to prevent him from entering the room where Neipperg is hidden. He reappears to announce that the fugitive is dead. But this is merely a ruse to discover whether the man is Caterina’s lover. Satisfied with her reaction, he commends the wounded man to her care....

Article

John C.G. Waterhouse

Trittico per concerto/Mistero in three episodes by Ottorino Respighi to a libretto by Claudio Guastalla after Domenico Cavalca’s Le vite dei santi padri (14th century); New York, Carnegie Hall, 16 March 1932 (concert première, semi-staged), Venice, Teatro Goldoni, 10 August 1932 (stage première).

Although it was soon transferred to the operatic stage, where it naturally belongs, ...

Article

John Rockwell

Opera in two acts by Virgil Thomson to a libretto by Gertrude Stein and a scenario by Maurice Grosser; New York, Columbia University, Brander Matthews Hall, 7 May 1947.

Despite the fame of the first opera on which they collaborated, Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein let nearly two decades elapse between ...

Article

Andrew Stiller

Opera in three acts by Marvin David Levy to a libretto by Henry Butler after Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy of plays; New York, Metropolitan Opera, 17 March 1967.

Mourning Becomes Electra was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera. Eugene O’Neill’s trilogy, based loosely on the Oresteia...

Article

Robert Stevenson

Opera in one act by José Pablo Moncayo García to a libretto by Xavier Villaurrutia and Agustín Lazo; Mexico City, Palacio de Bellas Artes, 23 October 1948.

Scene i is set in Córdoba, Veracruz. Accused of being accompanied by an invisible familiar spirit (whom she describes as her ‘father’), Soledad (mezzo-soprano) possesses the secret of never growing old. She attracts many suitors, among whom Anselmo (tenor) gains her trust and learns that she cannot love any mortal. Aurelio (baritone), a rejected suitor, tries to kill her and thus liberate Anselmo from her spell, but she disappears from his grasp. In scene ii (set in Mexico City), Soledad is pursued by Aurelio, who accuses her to Inquisition authorities of being a malevolent witch. Again she vanishes. In scene iii the Grand Inquisitor (bass) promises a just investigation, but threatens punishment when she refuses to tell the spirit’s name. As she is to be dragged away, Anselmo appears in the guise of a friar, promising to have her write the name on a wall. She pretends willingness to do so, but suddenly flames envelop them both, and they disappear in smoke....

Article

David Osmond-Smith

Opera in three acts by Luciano Berio , to a text by the composer after Furio Colombo, Umberto Eco, Alessandro Striggio, and Susan Yankowitz with the Open Theatre of New York; Santa Fe, 12 August 1970 (revised version, Florence, Teatro Communale, 28 May 1977).

The title, to be understood as the plural of ...

Article

Arnold Whittall

Operetta in a prologue and two acts by Benjamin Britten to a libretto by W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden ; New York, Columbia University, Brander Mathews Hall, 5 May 1941 (revised version, Snape, Maltings, 4 June 1976; previously broadcast, BBC, 1 February 1976).

This work is about the emergence of American civilization from what Auden termed ‘the struggle between Man and Nature’. The prologue describes ‘the virgin forest that is America before man tames it’. Then Bunyan (spoken) is born, a gentle giant who, as Auden emphasized, ‘has no magical powers’, is not seen, and does not sing. In speech he emerges as the fount of wisdom, the great enabler. In Act 1 he organizes a group of lumberjacks to clear the forest and a quartet of Swedes to cook for the workers. A more bookish character, Johnny Inkslinger (tenor), is persuaded to run the community’s finances. An early crisis over food is resolved by the arrival of a ‘good cook’, Slim (tenor). Inkslinger reports the community’s various discontents to Bunyan, who promises that things will improve and wishes them a benign goodnight. In Act 2 Bunyan suggests that the men volunteer to work as farmers. He knocks out one of the more obstreperous workers, Hel Helson (baritone), who then becomes a willing helper. At a Christmas party, Inkslinger announces that Slim ‘has been put in charge of a very large hotel in mid-Manhattan’, while Helson goes to Washington ‘to join the Administration’. Bunyan, his work complete, bids everyone a sad farewell....

Article

David Russell Hulme

Operetta in two acts by Arthur Sullivan to a libretto by W(illiam) S(chwenck) Gilbert ; Paignton, Royal Bijou Theatre, 30 December 1879; New York, Fifth Avenue Theatre, 31 December 1879.

The nursemaid Ruth (contralto) mistakenly apprentices her charge, Frederic (tenor), to a pirate instead of a pilot. About to come of age, Frederic proposes to leave the outlaws and bring them and their Pirate King (baritone) to justice. Encouraged by his new love, Mabel (soprano), daughter of Major-General Stanley (baritone) – whose ‘I am the very model of a modern major-general’ is among the best-known Savoy patter songs – Frederic prepares to lead the Sergeant of Police (bass) and his men to arrest the pirates. (That the policemen are not without sympathy for the criminal is, however, clear from the celebrated ‘When a felon’s not engaged in his employment’.) Frederic learns, however, that since he was born in a leap year on 29 February he has not reached his 21st birthday and is consequently still apprenticed to the pirates. The problem is resolved when it is revealed that the outlaws ‘are all noblemen who have gone wrong’....