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Lowell Lindgren

Dramma per musica in three acts by Giovanni Bononcini to a libretto by Silvio Stampiglia after Count Nicolò Minato ’s libretto (Venice, 1654); Rome, Teatro di Tordinona, 25 January 1694.

Minato is still named as librettist on the title-page of the 1694 edition, and Stampiglia did retain his plot. King Xerxes (soprano) falls in love with Romilda (soprano), who loves and is loved by his brother Arsamene (contralto). Her sister Adelanta (soprano) also loves Arsamene, and tries to obtain him by various ruses. Princess Amastre (contralto), who loves Xerxes even though he abandoned her, comes to the court disguised as a warrior. These five young lovers are joined by three of an older generation (contralto, tenor and bass) and two comic servants (soprano and tenor). Misunderstood orders and a misdirected letter set the plot spinning comically out of control until the very end, when Xerxes is finally reunited with Amastre and accepts the marriage of Arsamene to Romilda....


Richard Taruskin

Comic opera in one act by Yevstigney Ipat’yevich Fomin to a libretto by Nikolay Alexandrovich L’vov ; possibly Tambov, Municipal Theatre, 1788.

The trifling plot concerns a postal coachman who evades an unjust conscription thanks to the kind intercession of the Empress Catherine II. Though almost unknown until the 1940s, the opera is now considered one of the masterpieces of 18th-century Russian music. The autograph score (in ...


David Russell Hulme

Operetta in two acts by Arthur Sullivan to a libretto by W(illiam) S(chwenck) Gilbert ; London, Savoy Theatre, 3 October 1888.

For Gilbert this essentially romantic rather than comic libretto represented a new departure, and one which satisfied Sullivan’s desire to set what he had called ‘a story of human interest and probability’. The story, similar to that of Wallace’s ...



Simon Wright

Opera in three acts by Heitor Villa-Lobos after Federico García Lorca ’s play; Santa Fe, 12 August 1971.

Yerma (soprano) lives in a rural Spanish community where the primary occupation is shepherding. She laments her apparent infertility, for which she receives no sympathy from her husband Juan (tenor), who has no interest in children. Yerma’s despair increases as, all around her, she sees signs of fecundity and child-bearing, particularly in the pregnancy of her friend Maria (mezzo-soprano). Yerma’s disapproving sisters-in-law confine her both mentally and physically, and she secretly pays a nocturnal visit to a Sorceress (contralto), having been briefly tempted to return to the love of her youth, Victor (baritone). Magic failing, Yerma prays for a child at a religious shrine, but is confronted there with the ironic spectacle of a pagan fertility rite. Juan, outraged that Yerma should be out alone, comes to find her, and in a fit of passionate frustration at Juan’s indifference to her need for a child Yerma strangles him, realizing then that her dream of motherhood has now vanished forever. The opera closes with pilgrims singing at the shrine....


Ned Rorem

Puppet opera in 14 scenes by Lou Harrison to a libretto by Robert Gordon; Pasadena, California, 5 November 1971.

Harrison claims that his is the only opera with an overtly presented gay subject from history. The action, more described by a narrator than portrayed by actors, seems archaic, formal, stylized, dispassionate. It concerns the coming of age of Gaius Julius Caesar (tenor), from his patrician adolescence in Rome to his first conquest – military and amorous – in the Turkish province of Bithynia, where King Nicomedes (baritone) takes him to heart and bed with detailed pomp and circumstance. The first production used singers sitting in the pit; the orchestra consisted of instruments invented and built by Harrison’s companion, William Colvig, besides instruments imported from Korea, Japan and other points east. Lasting around 90 minutes, the work has nine singing and four speaking roles....


Richard Taruskin

Opera in five acts by Alexander Nikolayevich Serov to a libretto based on the composer’s scenario after Paolo Giacometti’s Giuditta (originally written in Italian by Ivan Antonovich Giustiniani), with textual accretions (mostly to already-composed music) by Konstantin Zvantsov, Dmitry Lobanov and Apollon Maykov, inspired in part by Friedrich Hebbel’s tragedy; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 16/...



Masakata Kanazawa

Opera in one act by Ikuma Dan , to a libretto which is the unchanged text of Junji Kinoshita’s play based on a Japanese folktale; Osaka, Asahi Hall, 30 January 1952 (revised version Zürich, 27 June 1957).

In a snowy village lives Yohyō (tenor), a farmer, with his new wife Tsū (soprano), who is popular among the village children. Yohyō is an honest and simple young man, but recently he has become lazy, while Tsū supports him by weaving a luxurious fabric made of heron feathers. Two sly villagers, Unzu (baritone) and Sōdo (bass), suspect that Tsū may be a heron which has taken human form, and find out that Yohyō did once help a heron hurt by an arrow; they persuade him to go to the capital to sell the fabric for a very high price. Meanwhile Tsū appears with the village children and laments the change in Yohyō’s character. Yohyō asks Tsū to weave the fabric once more, and she finally agrees on condition that he will not look into her room while she is weaving. The temptation, however, is too strong and he peeps in only to find a heron working on the loom. Tsū appears with the newly woven fabric, confesses that she is the bird Yohyō once helped, and disappears. As Yohyō desperately holds the fabric in his arms, the village children notice a heron disappearing in the evening sky....



Julian Rushton

Singspiel in two acts, K344/336b, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a libretto by Johann Andreas Schachtner after Franz Josef Sebastiani’s Das Serail; Frankfurt, 27 January 1866.

Mozart wrote Zaide in Salzburg between autumn 1779 and mid-1780, perhaps for J. H. Böhm’s touring company or Schikaneder’s, but surely with the National Singspiel in mind. In ...


Lionel Sawkins

Ballet-héroïque in a prologue and three acts by Joseph-Nicolas-Pancrace Royer to a libretto by the Abbé de La Marre; Paris, Opéra, 3 September 1739.

First performed as part of the festivities surrounding the wedding of Louis XV’s daughter in 1739, Zaïde initially ran for 44 performances (the ...



Simon Maguire and Elizabeth Forbes

Tragedia lirica in two acts by Vincenzo Bellini to a libretto by Felice Romani after Voltaire ’s tragedy Zaïre; Parma, Teatro Ducale, 16 May 1829.

Composed for the inauguration of the Teatro Ducale, Zaira represents the only lasting failure of Bellini’s career. Bellini was second choice of the commissioners, who had wanted Rossini (living in Paris) to compose an opera for the occasion. Bellini refused to set ...



Graham Sadler

Pastorale-héroïque in a prologue and four acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau to a libretto by (Jean-)Louis de Cahusac ; Paris, Opéra, 29 February 1748.

A vogue for the enchanted world of Middle Eastern myth had been created by such works as Duval’s Les génies (1736) and Rebel and Francoeur’s ...



Elizabeth Forbes

Opéra comique in three acts by Ferdinand Hérold to a libretto by Mélesville [Anne-Honoré-Joseph Duveyrier]; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Ventadour), 3 May 1831.

In a castle in Sicily Alphonse de Monza (tenor) and his fiancée Camille (soprano) are about to be married. As they await her father, the rich merchant Lugano, Camille sings the ballad of Alice Manfredi, who was betrayed by her lover and now adorns the castle as a statue. A stranger arrives; it is Zampa (tenor), a proscribed pirate sought by the authorities, who is, in fact, the Count de Monza, Alphonse’s elder brother and the seducer of Alice. Zampa reveals his identity only to Camille; he has taken her father hostage and desires to marry her. Zampa and his pirates celebrate noisily; in jest he places a ring on the statue’s finger, but then cannot remove it....


Richard Taruskin

‘Original little-Russian opera’ (i.e. Ukrainian-style Singspiel) in three acts by Semyon Stepanovich Gulak-Artemovsky to his own libretto; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 14/26 April 1863.

The opera is set in 18th-century Turkey (on territory now belonging to Romania). The plot, a thin thread on which to string various sorts of song, dance and stage business, revolves around a chance encounter between Ivan Karas (bass), an old Dnepr cossack (...


Opera buffa in one act, op.21, by Kurt Weill to a libretto by Georg Kaiser; Leipzig, Neues Theater, 18 February 1928.

In the Studio Angèle, Paris, the telephone rings. The Tsar (baritone) is in town and would like to have his photograph taken by the fashionable photographer Angèle (soprano). But before he arrives, terrorists burst in and take the place of the photographer and her assistants, who are gagged and bound. The ‘shooting’ of the Tsar turns into a pun around which the rest of the plot revolves: the camera is loaded with a pistol. The Tsar wants a picture of himself as an ordinary citizen. The terrorists want his life. To emphasize his undespotic urbanity he appears in a light suit (with the orchestra playing foxtrot rhythms). His response to the charms of his would-be assassin, the False Angèle (soprano), is also thoroughly human. Rather than be ‘shot’ by her, he wants to switch roles just as she is about to release the shutter. Cliff-hanging horseplay ensues, with the Tsar trying to photograph the False Angèle instead. Eventually she manages to reassume the photographer’s role, but is again interrupted on the count of three. It is the Equerry (bass), who briefly appears to warn of a plot against the Tsar. Just as the False Angèle seems to be warming to the Tsar’s advances, there is a further interruption and warning from the Equerry. With a view to escaping, the False Angèle places a recording of the seductive ‘Tango Angèle’ on the gramophone, requesting that the Tsar avert his gaze while she undresses. The kidnappers take flight just before the real Angèle and her assistants enter, followed by the police. The chorus, which has been commenting on the action all along and sharing the False Angèle’s secret with the audience, announces the final event just as it had done at the beginning: ‘The Tsar has his photograph taken’....


Clive Brown

Komische Oper in three acts by Albert Lortzing to his own libretto after Georg Christian Römer’s comedy Der Bürgermeister von Saardam, oder Die zwei Peter, itself based on Mélesville, E. C. de Boirie and J. T. Merle’s comédie-héroïqueLe bourgmestre de Sardam, ou Les deux Pierres...


Andrew Lamb

Operette in three acts by Franz Lehár to a libretto by Heinz Reichert and Béla Jenbach , after the play by Gabriele Zapolska; Berlin, Deutsches Künstlertheater, 16 February 1927.

Written for Richard Tauber, with Rita Georg as his partner, the work is in the more serious style of Lehár’s later works, with an unhappy ending. The music is dramatic for the leading couple, offset with lighthearted dance numbers for the subsidiary couple. It is set at the end of the 19th century, and opens in St Petersburg, where the Tsarevich (tenor) is an austere, isolated and lonely young man (Volga Song: ‘Allein! wieder allein!’). His antagonism towards women is so great that even his valet Iwan (...


Erik Levi

Opera in three acts (six scenes) by Werner Egk to a libretto by the composer and Ludwig Andersen after Franz, Graf von Pocci ’s fairy drama of 1868; Frankfurt, Städtische Bühnen, 22 May 1935 (revised Stuttgart, Württembergische Staatstheater, 2 May 1954).

Act 1 opens in a peasant’s hut. Kaspar (baritone), a farm-servant, is fed up with life. He leaves his fiancée Gretl (soprano) to seek fame and fortune in the outside world. On his journey through the forest Kaspar gives his last three coins to a Beggar (low bass), who is instantaneously transformed into Cuperus, ruler of the elemental spirits. In return for such generosity Cuperus grants Kaspar his wish to own a magic violin on the condition that he renounces love and conceals the pact from anyone else. After Cuperus disappears Kaspar has the opportunity to demonstrate the powers of his magic violin when he encounters the shady merchant Guldensack (bass) and hypnotizes him with the beauty of his playing. Two vagabonds, Fangauf (tenor) and Schnapper (bass), take advantage of the situation and rob the unconscious Guldensack of all his money. But when the merchant awakens he believes that Kaspar was the culprit....



Julian Budden

Commedia lirica in four acts by Ruggero Leoncavallo to his own libretto after the play by Pierre Berton and Charles Simon; Milan, Teatro Lirico, 10 November 1900.

The première of Zazà was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a cast including Rosina Storchio (Zazà), Edoardo Garbin (Dufresne) and Mario Sammarco (Cascart). Later the opera became a favourite with star sopranos such as Emma Carelli and Geraldine Farrar. In ...



Richard Osborne

Dramma in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola after Dormont de Belloy’s Zelmire; Naples, Teatro di S Carlo, 16 February 1822.

Rossini’s final Neapolitan opera, a vocally alluring showcase written with an eye to international audiences in Vienna and beyond, is set on the island of Lesbos in ancient times. Old King Polidoro (bass) has ruled over the island peaceably with his daughter Zelmira (soprano) and her husband, the Trojan prince Ilo (tenor). But Polidoro has been deposed in Ilo’s absence by an adventurer who has in turn been murdered by Antenore (tenor). Zelmira has hidden the old king and is guarding his and her son’s safety with the help of Emma (contralto); but Antenore, having been proclaimed King of Lesbos, institutes various calumnies against Zelmira. Ilo, returning, is led to believe that she has murdered Polidoro. Even when he himself is saved by her from an assassination attempt, his would-be assassin Leucippo (bass) attaches the blame to Zelmira, who is then arrested. In Act 2 Zelmira is released in the hope that she will lead them to the old king. This duly happens and they are thrown into prison to await execution; but Ilo, by now reassured of his wife’s good faith, is able to save them from the cruel fate awaiting them at the hands of Antenore....



Marita P. McClymonds

Opera seria in three acts by Francesco Bianchi to a libretto by Gaetano Sertor ; Naples, Teatro di S Carlo, 4 November 1781 (revised version, Padua, Teatro Nuovo, fiera del santo [? 13 June], 1786).

Sarabes (tenor), principal rajah of India, refuses to give his daughter Zemira (soprano) in marriage to Akbar (soprano castrato), emperor of the Mogols. She is betrothed to Gandarte (soprano castrato), another rajah. Fearing for her father’s life, she goes to Akbar’s tent. Gandarte and Sarabes believe she has betrayed them and rush to avenge themselves. Akbar intercepts them, but Zemira draws a dagger and threatens to kill herself if her father is harmed. Akbar ultimately orders his rival to be put to death, and only after Sarabes has stabbed his own daughter does he relent, declaring that with her noble action Zemira has saved her beloved....