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Article

Barbara Russano Hanning

[Daphne]

Opera in a prologue and six scenes by Jacopo Peri, with assistance from Jacopo Corsi, to a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini after Ovid’s Metamorphoses (book 1); Florence, Corsi’s palace, pre-Lenten Carnival season, 1598 (1597 old Florentine style), 1599, 1600.

This experimental musico-dramatic work, for which the music survives only partially in manuscript, and which its creators called a favola in musica (musical tale), is generally considered the first opera. The complete libretto exists in a printed edition from 1598. The characters’ vocal ranges given here are those assigned in Gagliano’s 1608 version (see Dafne (ii)). (The scene settings are inferred from the action.)

Prologue Ovid explains the cautionary nature of his tale: never underestimate the power of Love.

Scene 1 [A secluded grove] The resident nymphs and shepherds entreat Jove to send a saviour to deliver them from the monstrous dragon, which has been terrorizing their land, and are answered by Apollo in the form of an echo (‘Ebra di sangue in questo oscuro bosco’), after which the god descends and slays the python with bow and arrow. (This scene is a reworking of Rinuccini’s third ...

Article

Opera in prologue and two acts by John Adams to a libretto by Alice Goodman based on historical events surrounding the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in 1985; Théâtre Royal de la Monnaie, Brussels, 19 March 1991.

The première was conducted by Kent Nagano, with James Maddalena as the Captain, Sanford Sylvan as Klinghoffer, Thomas Hammons as both the First Officer and ‘Rambo’ and Stephanie Friedman as Omar.

The opera is a retelling of the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, which lasted for two days, 7–9 October 1985, and in which one passenger, Leon Klinghoffer was murdered by the hijackers. The story is told both in ‘real time’ with events unfolding on the ship, and in the witness accounts told after the fact. The real-time action is centred on the hijackers themselves and the Klinghoffers, each of whom (with the exception of Marilyn Klinghoffer) voice a perspective on the religious and political conflicts that form the backdrop to the events....

Article

Laura Macy

Opera in two acts by Tobias Picker to a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, based on the novel by Judith Rossner; Santa Fe Opera, 27 July 1996.

The première was conducted by George Manahan, with Patricia Racette as Emmeline, Anne-Marie Owens as Aunt Hannah, Kevin Langan as Henry Mosher, Wright Moore as Hooker, Melanie Sarakatsannis as Sophie and Curt Peterson as Matthew Gurney.

Although the libretto is adapted from Judith Rossner’s novel, Picker first encountered the story in 1990 in a documentary on the Public Broadcasting Corporation’s series An American Experience. The entire work was composed over a period of five months in 1994.

Article

Laura Macy

Opera in two acts with prologue, prelude and epilogue by Poul Ruders to a libretto by Paul Bentley after the novel of the same name by Margaret Atwood; Copenhagen, Royal Danish Opera, 6 March 2000.

The première was conducted by Michael Schønwandt and included the singers Marianne Rørholm as Offred, Hanne Fischer as Offred in the time before, Poul Elming as Luke, Ulla Kudsk Jensen as Offred’s mother, Anne Margreth Dahl as Aunt Lydia, Aage Haugland as The Commander, and Susanne Resmark as Serena Joy.

Article

Laura Macy

Opera in four acts with epilogue by Nicholas Maw to his own libretto based on the novel by William Styron; London, Covent Garden, 7 December 2002.

The première was conducted by Simon Rattle with Dale Duesing as the Narrator, Gordon Gietz as Stingo, Angelika Kirchschlager as Sophie and Rodney Gilfry as Nathan.

This extraordinarily ambitious opera was Maw’s first in 30 years. For the libretto, he drew his text almost entirely from the novel, rearranging the chronology to create the opera’s shifts between 1947, 1943 and 1938. The holocaust is, of course, extremely difficult subject matter for dramatic treatment, even more so for opera. Music may be the ideal medium for expressing what words cannot, but when it fails to do so it can fail very badly. Maw’s success, even with scenes as difficult as that of the famous ‘choice’, owes much to his superb orchestral writing. Less successful are some of the other Polish scenes: the prisoners’ chorus on the train to Auschwitz (3.ii) and the scene with her father, in ...

Article

Richard Toop

(‘Tuesday from Light’)

Opera in two acts, a greeting and a farewell by Karlheinz Stockhausen to his own libretto; Leipzig, Leipzig Opera, 28 May 1993.

Dienstag is both the shortest opera in the Licht cycle (it comprises about two and a half hours of music), and the most stylistically discrepant one. Though it is chronologically the fourth opera in the cycle, the first act – Jahreslauf – is actually a marginally revised version of a work (Der Jahreslauf) composed in 1977, immediately before Stockhausen started work on Licht, and thus the only part of the opera not to be based on the tightly integrated melodic, rhythmic and formal structures that govern the rest of the work. Dienstag is also the first of the operas to focus on two central figures rather than one. Thematically, it represents the confrontation between Michael and Lucifer. In Act 1, this confrontation is somewhat artificially imposed on the pre-existing ...

Article

Richard Toop

[Freitag-Versuchung] (‘Friday from Light’ [Friday Temptation])

Opera in a greeting and two acts with farewell by Karlheinz Stockhausen to his own libretto, Leipzig, Leipzig Opera, 12 September 1996.

The fifth part of the Licht cycle to be composed, Freitag focuses on the interaction of Eve (Eva) and Lucifer (as represented by the ‘Lucifer-emanation’ Ludon). Of all the Licht operas, it is the one that comes closest to conventional notions of operatic structure, and also the most tightly integrated: in effect, it comprises a single act, a single, narrative-driven dramatic process that is divided into two parts as a matter of practicality rather than artistic necessity. The full title of Freitag is Freitag-Versuchung, and the essence of the plot is that the white, blonde Eve is approached by the black Ludon to ‘yield’ (Stockhausen’s word) to his son Caino. At first she resists, then consents, and subsequently repents her action.

Electronic music plays a special role in ...

Article

Richard Toop

(‘Wednesday from Light’)

Opera in four scenes, a greeting and a farewell by Karlheinz Stockhausen to his own libretto. As yet (2007) unstaged as a whole, but all individual parts have been given semi-staged performances:

The sixth part of the Licht cycle to be composed, Mittwoch was originally intended to be the only opera within the cycle in which the three main protagonists (Eve, Lucifer, Michael) came together, in a spirit of momentary cooperation. Yet in the event, none of these main figures appears in literal form, though Eve and Lucifer are represented by ‘emanations’ (clearly related characters), and Michael’s name, at least, is invoked throughout the first and last scenes. Instead, each scene of Mittwoch has some form of collaboration as its central theme. In the outer scenes, almost uniquely in Stockhausen’s work, this collaboration is political, in a parliamentary sense; in the inner ones, it is more specifically musical....

Article

Richard Toop

(‘Sunday from Light’)

Opera in five scenes with a farewell by Karlheinz Stockhausen to his own libretto. As yet unstaged as a whole, but all individual parts have been given semi-staged performances:

Both the concluding part of the Licht cycle, and the seventh and last opera to be composed, Sonntag is, like its chronological predecessor Mittwoch, a work that tests the conceptual boundaries of the operatic genre. Nevertheless, it is very clearly ceremonial music theatre; Wagner’s designation of Parsifal as a Bühnenweihfestspiel – stage dedication festival-play – seems even more apt for Sonntag, which Stockhausen describes as ‘the music for the mystical union of Michael and Eve’. Although, as in Mittwoch, the main protagonists of the whole cycle (Eve, Michael and Lucifer) are never literally present, at least Michael and Eve are strong ‘virtual presences’. For example, of the four principal performers in ‘Light Pictures’ (Scene 3), the tenor and trumpet clearly embody Michael, and the flute and basset-horn embody Eve. Moreover, all five scenes have a strong vocal element, and while this might seem to be self-evident in opera, in many scenes and acts from earlier parts of the cycle (most notably in ...

Article

Stephen Johnson

(‘Absalom and Etery’)

Opera in four acts by Zakhary Petrovich Paliashvili to a libretto by P. Mirianashvili after the Georgian legend Eteriani; Tbilisi, Georgian National Opera House, 21 February 1919.

Paliashvili began work on Absalom and Etery in 1909, three years after co-founding the Fraternity for the Creation of Opera in the Georgian Language. His studies with Taneyev (1900–03) and his experience as collector and editor of Georgian folk music had given him the resources he needed for the creation of a style that was both technically secure and national in character. In addition, Taneyev had shown him how oriental folk styles could be synthesized with elements from traditional western European music, rather than simply grafted on – the besetting sin, Taneyev felt, of the Russian Five. Paliashvili was by no means the first Georgian composer to attempt such a synthesis in opera, but no work before Absalom and Etery aroused the same degree of enthusiasm. It is now accepted as a milestone in the development of Georgian music and continues to play an important part in the repertory....