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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....

Article

Elizabeth Forbes

(‘The Departure’)

Musikalisches Lustspiel in one act by Eugen d’ Albert to a libretto by Ferdinand von Sporck after a comedy by August von Steigentesch (1828); Frankfurt, 28 October 1898.

The action takes place in late 18th-century Germany. Gilfen (baritone), whose relationship with his wife Luise (soprano) has cooled, debates whether or not to go on a long-planned but much delayed journey: an absence might help his marriage, but he is suspicious of the motives of his friend Trott (tenor) in encouraging the journey and making the necessary arrangements. Finally Gilfen pretends to leave, but returns almost at once, to discover that Trott has wasted no time before pressing his attentions on Luise. Gilfen and his wife are reconciled, while it is Trott who takes the journey he has so carefully planned.

D’Albert’s lighthearted score shows little or no trace of the verismo style that he cultivated in Tiefland and some of his later works. The influence of Cornelius and of the German romantics such as Lortzing is much stronger, though d’Albert, a musician of mixed cultural heritage, also owed, at least in this delightful piece, a certain allegiance to French style at the end of the 19th century as represented by Chabrier....

Article

Erik Levi

(‘Abstract Opera no.1’)

Opera in one act, op.43, by Boris Blacher to a libretto by Werner Egk; Mannheim, Nationaltheater, 17 October 1953 (previously broadcast on Hessischer Rundfunk, 28 June 1953).

This 35-minute opera scored for soprano, tenor and baritone, mixed choir and instrumental ensemble is divided into seven self-contained scenes entitled Angst (Fear), Liebe I (Love 1), Schmerz (Pain), Verhandlung (Negotiation), Panik (Panic), Liebe II (Love 2) and Angst (Fear). There is no conventional plot as such; rather the opera, constructed in arch-form, offers an exploration of various states of mind. The vocal writing dispenses with comprehensible speech and relies on syllables and stage gestures to make its effect. In the opening scene the dialogue between the three soloists consists entirely of primeval wails based on the sound patterns of ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’. Following this is the first love scene which ends in hilarity when a dressmaker’s dummy is shot by the soprano. At the centre of the work lies the fourth scene, ‘Verhandlung’, in which an infantile and barely comprehensible discussion between a Russian (baritone) and American diplomat (tenor) breaks down through lack of communication. With the return to the ‘Angst’ scene at the end of the opera comes an overriding feeling of the futility of modern life....

Article

Clive Brown

Singspiel in one act, j106, by Carl Maria von Weber to a libretto by Franz Carl Hiemer after Antoine Galland’s story Le dormeur éveillé; Munich, Residenztheater, 4 June 1811.

Hiemer based his libretto on the second part of Galland’s version of the well-known tale of ‘Abu Hassan, or The Sleeper Awakened’ from the Arabian Thousand and One Nights. In the opera Abu Hassan (tenor), cup-bearer to the Caliph, and his devoted wife Fatime (soprano) are being pressed for payment of debts by the moneylender Omar (bass), who is also unsuccessfully making advances to Fatime. Abu Hassan hits on the idea of pretending that his wife has died and claiming money from the Caliph (speaking role) for her funeral, while Fatime does the same with the Caliph’s wife, Zobeide (speaking role). They succeed in their plot, but when the Caliph and Zobeide try to discover which of them is really dead they both feign death. Abu Hassan, however, leaps up and reveals the subterfuge when he hears the Caliph offer 10 000 gold dinars to anyone who can clear up the mystery. For about half the opera Omar is imprisoned in a cupboard, where he has been forced to hide because of the unexpected return of Abu Hassan while Omar was trying to make love to the reluctant Fatime. Fatime explains to her husband, in an undertone, what has happened, and they decide to punish Omar by leaving him there in fear of discovery. When the Caliph is informed of Omar’s activities by Abu Hassan, at the end of the opera, he orders the cupboard to be taken to the city prison....

Article

Graham Sadler

[Acante et Céphise, ou La sympathie (‘Acante and Céphise, or Empathy’)]

Pastorale-héroïque in three acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau to a libretto by Jean François Marmontel ; Paris, Opéra, 19 November 1751.

To protect Acante (haute-contre) and Céphise (soprano) from the menacing genie Oroès (bass), the fairy Zirphile (soprano) gives the lovers a talisman. This provides them with the telepathic power (‘la sympathie’ of the subtitle) to sense each other’s feelings even when separated. The work, which celebrated the Duke of Burgundy’s birth, includes more inventive music than such a puerile plot deserves, and incorporates the earliest surviving clarinet parts in French opera. The overture, a representation of the nation’s joy at the royal birth, uses cannon fire in its portrayal of fireworks....

Article

Achille  

Scott L. Balthazar

(‘Achilles’)

Melo-dramma eroico in two acts by Ferdinando Paer to a libretto by Giovanni De Gamerra after Homer ’s Iliad; Vienna, Kärntnertor-theater, 6 June 1801.

One of Paer’s best early operas, Achille was particularly admired by Napoleon. In De Gamerra’s version of the story, the armies of Achilles (tenor), King of Thessaly, and Agamemnon (bass), leader of the Greek armies, are preparing to attack the city of Lyrnessus, which is allied with the Trojans. Achilles wishes to be reunited with Briseis (soprano), daughter of Briseus (bass), King of Lyrnessus. Upon defeating Briseus’s army, both Achilles and Agamemnon demand Briseis in exchange for clemency. She chooses Achilles, but Agamemnon later has her kidnapped. Suspecting foul play by his purported ally, Achilles refuses to lead his army against the Trojans, although he does eventually send them into battle under the command of his companion Patroclus (bass), cloaked in Achilles’ armour. After Patroclus is killed, Achilles relents and finally agrees to fight when Agamemnon surrenders Briseis. The opera ends with Achilles’ defeat of Hector and the Trojans....

Article

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, Esther (the first English oratorio) and Acis and Galatea, which has variously been described as a serenata, a masque, a pastoral or pastoral opera, a ‘little opera’ (in a letter while it was being written), an entertainment and even (incorrectly) an oratorio. Whether or not it was originally fully staged, given in some kind of stylized semi-dramatic form or simply performed as a concert work is uncertain; local tradition holds that it was given in the open air on the terraces overlooking the garden (the recent discovery of piping to supply an old fountain, suitable for the closing scene, might fancifully be invoked as support). It was performed on an unknown date, probably during the summer, in ...

Article

Lois Rosow

(‘Acis and Galatea’)

Pastorale-héroïque in a prologue and three acts by Jean-Baptiste Lully ( see Lully family (opera) §(1) ) to a libretto by Campistron, Jean Galbert de after Ovid ’s Metamorphoses; Anet, château (without machines), 6 September 1686, and Paris, Opéra, 17 September 1686.

This work was privately commissioned by the Duke of Vendôme for a celebration to honour the dauphin, it subsequently enjoyed public success. Lully turned to Galbert de Campistron because Quinault, his usual collaborator, had withdrawn from theatrical work. In keeping with the conventions of the pastorale-héroïque genre, the plot involves a love triangle that mixes gods and mortals: the sea-nymph Galatea (soprano), the mortal Acis (haute-contre) and the monster Poliphème [Polyphemus] (baritone). Acis is violently murdered by Polyphemus (in full view of the audience) but restored to life and transformed into a river by Neptune (baritone). The musical conventions are those of Lully’s mature tragédies en musique...

Article

Louise K. Stein

(‘Acis and Galatea’)

Zarzuela in two acts with music by Antonio de Literes to a libretto by José de Cañizares; Madrid, Alcázar palace or Coliseo del Buen Retiro, 19 December 1708.

A partly sung zarzuela on the story of Acis, Galatea and Polifemo [Polyphemus], it was composed for King Philip V’s birthday and performed by the combined companies of Joseph Garcés and Juan Bautista Chavarría. The characters also include Doris, Glauco [Glaucus], Tisbe [Thisbe], Telemo [Telemus], Momo [Momus] and Tíndaro [Tyndareus], as well as choruses. In the original cast only Polyphemus, Telemus and Tyndareus were played by men. After its first performance at court, the work entered the repertory of the public theatres in Madrid when the company of Garcés performed it in the Teatro del Príncipe for an extended run in January 1710. Subsequent revivals in 1713, 1714, 1721, 1725 and 1727 were largely successful, such that the work may represent Madrid’s most popular zarzuela of the first half of the 18th century. In style it exemplifies the hybrid nature of the early 18th century zarzuela in its absorption of foreign musical forms and procedures within Spanish musical-theatrical conventions. It is also typical of Literes’s theatrical scores in its restricted use of recitative and juxtaposition of set pieces in traditional Spanish style with expressly italianate arias....

Article

Actéon  

John S. Powell

(‘Actaeon’)

Pastorale in six scenes by Marc-Antoine Charpentier ; Paris, Hotel de Guise, 1683–5.

Actaeon (haute-contre) and a chorus of hunters are tracking game while Diane [Diana] (soprano) and her companions are bathing in a nearby spring. Actaeon takes leave of his party to find a quiet glade to sleep. Encountering the bathers, he attempts to hide but is immediately discovered. To prevent him from boasting of what he has seen, Diana transforms him into a stag. The hunters come looking for Actaeon to invite him to join their hunt, but Junon [Juno] (mezzo-soprano) appears and announces the death of Actaeon, who has been torn to pieces by his own hounds. A miniature tragédie lyrique, Actéon approaches other works by Charpentier, such as David et Jonathas and Médée, in its psychological dimensions. Charpentier’s music, through affective choices of key, orchestral colour and vocal style, faithfully reflects the rapid succession of moods within the drama’s short span. Especially moving is the poignant instrumental plaint that accompanies Actaeon’s transformation into a stag....