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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

Don Neville

(‘Achilles on Scyros’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1736, Vienna). The title Il trionfo della gloria was used for later versions of this libretto.

In order to circumvent the destiny that awaits Achilles in the Trojan War, his mother, Thetis, has asked Chiron, his old tutor, to conceal him on the island of Scyros; Chiron has placed his charge among the women at the court of King Licomede [Lycomedes].

Act 1 In female attire, and with the assumed name of Pirra [Pyrrha], Achilles is able to remain the constant companion of the king’s daughter, Deidamia, whom he loves. The disguise, however, hangs ill upon the warrior, and the demands of Deidamia for his constant presence soon become a burden. His distress is intensified when Lycomedes promises his daughter to Teagene [Theagenes], Prince of Chalcis, and when Ulisse [Ulysses] arrives on the island on the pretext of mustering the armed strength of Scyros. In reality, Ulysses seeks Achilles who he knows is vital to Greek victory....

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....

Article

Ada  

Masakata Kanazawa

(‘Revenge’) [An Actor’s Revenge]

Opera in two acts by Minoru Miki to a libretto by James Kirkup after Otokichi Mikami; London, Old Vic, 5 October 1979.

In a Zen monastery, Yukinojō (tenor), once a popular kabuki actor specializing in female roles, reminisces over his past with remorse, seeing a vision of his beloved Namiji (soprano). He was destined to avenge his parents’ death by killing Lord Dobe (bass), a corrupt magistrate, and his henchman Kawaguchiya (tenor). He accomplished the deed successfully and also caused the downfall of Hiromiya (bass), a dishonest rice dealer, but it was done at the price of the life of Namiji, Lord Dobe’s daughter, promised to the Shogun (tenor). The music consists principally of declamatory solo singing with few ensembles, and exploits the tone colours of individual instruments. The orchestra is small and includes three Japanese instruments: koto, shamisen and percussion. The writing is spare but dramatically effective. At the première the role of Yukinojō was performed by two artists: a singer and a dancer....

Article

Norbert Dubowy

[L’Adelaide]

Dramma per musica in three acts by Antonio Sartorio to a libretto by Pietro Dolfin; Venice, Teatro S Salvatore, 1672 (libretto dedicated 19 February 1672).

The libretto is based on historical events of ad951 (for a fuller account of these events, see Lotario (‘Lothair’, ‘Lotharius’) , by Handel). Adelaide (soprano), the widow of Lotario, King of Italy, is commanded by Berengario (bass), the second King of Italy, to marry his son Adalberto (soprano). She steadfastly resists all Adalberto’s attempts to force her into marriage and is repeatedly imprisoned. She receives aid from Ottone [Emperor Otto] (soprano), who has come disguised as a fisherman to ask for her hand in marriage himself. He rescues her three times and eventually frees her from Berengario’s clutches. The subplot centres on the imaginary character of Gissilla (soprano), daughter of Adelaide’s uncle Annone (alto), Duke of Canossa; Gissilla is in love with Adalberto. The secondary characters include the courtier, Lindo (tenor), and the old woman Delma (tenor), as well as the shepherd Armondo (bass) and General Amedeo (tenor). Although the main action adheres closely to historical fact, the opera is embellished with a number of stock scenic and dramatic features from Venetian opera, including spectacular scenes such as a leap into a lake, disguises, cases of mistaken identity, attempted poisonings and unexpected rescues. A scene in a marble quarry indicates a realistic tendency....

Article

Richard Osborne

(‘Adelaide of Burgundy’)

Dramma in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Giovanni Schmidt ; Rome, Teatro Argentina, 27 December 1817.

The setting is 10th-century Italy (as in Sartorio’s Adelaide (opera) ). Lotario, the King of Italy, has been murdered by Berengario (bass). Lotario’s wife, Adelaide (soprano), has survived but is under siege in a fortress waiting for a promised intervention by Ottone (contralto), the German King Otto I, who has a longstanding treaty with the peoples of Italy. In the opera’s first concerted number, Adelaide rejects Berengario’s sly suggestion that his son Adelberto (tenor) should marry Adelaide in return for her restoration to Lotario’s throne. Ottone arrives and is also offered false peace terms, this time by the wily Adelberto. In the Act 1 finale Ottone finds himself immured in the fortress. At the start of Act 2, the fortress is still under siege, though Ottone has fled to rally forces that will eventually rout Berengario. Apart from the closing victory arias by Adelaide and Ottone, Act 2 is notable for the development of Adelberto’s character, caught between his military duties, his growing love for the widowed Adelaide, and his love for his mother, Eurice (mezzo-soprano). Fearful for her husband’s life, Eurice has thrown confusion into his plans and Adelberto’s by proposing a truce and the peaceful exchange of Adelaide and Berengario under Ottone’s auspices. But the plan only causes further confusion and the opera ends with the defeat of Berengario and the crowning of Ottone as the new king. Despite the somewhat grey atmosphere of feudal militarism and the relative anachronism of the ...

Article

Thomas Bauman

Schauspiel mit Gesang in four acts by Christian Gottlob Neefe to a libretto by Gustav Friedrich Wilhelm Grossmann; Frankfurt, Theater in der Junghof, 23 September 1780.

Achmet, Pasha of Tunis, so loves the captive German Adelheit von Veltheim that he has raised her to the status of his sole wife. Her fiancé Karl von Bingen, also a captive, works in the Pasha’s garden. He is the object of the attentions of Donna Olivia, a hot-headed Italian in the Pasha’s harem who is furious over the preferment shown to Adelheit. Karl, intent on abducting Adelheit, plays along with Olivia’s scheme to escape with him. With a ladder she has provided, he and Adelheit flee to a waiting frigate, but the Pasha’s forces overtake them and the Maltese knights on board. Asked to judge Karl’s behaviour, the knights condemn him to death, but the Pasha forgives the couple and frees them and the rest of his harem....

Article

Simon Maguire

(‘Adelson and Salvini’)

Opera semiseria in three acts by Vincenzo Bellini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola after François-Thomas de Baculard d’Arnaud’s novella Adelson et Salvini: Anecdote anglaise and Prospère Delamarre’s play Adelson et Salvini; Naples, Conservatorio di S Sebastiano, some time between 11 and 15 February 1825.

The action takes place in 17th-century Ireland at the castle of Lord Adelson (bass). While Adelson is abroad an Italian painter, Salvini (tenor), has fallen in love with his fiancée, Nelly (mezzo-soprano). Nelly rejects the infatuated Salvini, who tries to commit suicide. In Act 2 Adelson’s enemy, Struley (bass), enlists the help of Salvini in his plot to abduct Nelly. During the ensuing struggle a shot is heard and Salvini mistakenly believes that Nelly has been killed. In Act 3 (mostly cut in Bellini’s second version) Adelson stages a trial of Salvini, who confesses his guilt. When Nelly revives, Salvini recovers from his infatuation and she prepares to marry Adelson....

Article

Ademira  

Marita P. McClymonds

Opera seria in three acts by Angelo Tarchi to a libretto by Ferdinando Moretti; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 27 December 1783.

Ademira (soprano) has fallen in love with her captor, the Roman emperor Flavio Valente (soprano castrato). Her father Alarico [Alaric] (tenor), King of the Goths, has sworn vengeance on the emperor because he killed his son in battle. In an attempt on the emperor’s life, Alaric mistakenly stabs his own ambassador Eutarco (contralto castrato), who reveals that the man whom he thought to be his son had actually been switched at birth with Auge (soprano), Ademira’s sister, now posing as her friend. Alaric then embraces his newly found daughter and blesses the union of the lovers. The opera is innovatory for incorporating large choruses and dance: an antiphonal chorus serves as an introduction, a chorus with central solo section is used in Act 1, and a divertimento with dance and chorus opens Act 2. A conventional duet and a trio conclude each of the first two acts, but a dramatic cavatina ...

Article

Adina  

Richard Osborne

[Adina, o Il califfo di Bagdad (‘Adina, or the Caliph of Baghdad’)]

Farsa in one act by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Marchese Gherardo Bevilacqua-Aldobrandini; Lisbon, Teatro de S Carlos, 22 June 1826.

The opera was written in 1818, to a libretto adapted from Felice Romani ’s Il califfo e la schiava, as a private commission for a Portuguese patron. The Caliph of Baghdad (bass) plans to marry the beautiful young slave-girl Adina (soprano). She, for reasons which are not immediately evident, is not unsympathetic to the Caliph but the reappearance of her one-time lover Selimo (tenor) puts her in a dilemma. Aided by his servant Mustafà (buffo bass), a gardener in the royal palace, Selimo persuades Adina to elope with him; which is just as well for it turns out that Adina is the Caliph’s longlost daughter. The abduction goes awry, however, leading to a vivid little scene among the fishermen of the Tigris as the lovers are arrested. Selimo is sentenced to death and Adina faints, but a medallion round her neck happily reveals her true identity to the Caliph. This eminently stageable work is a pen-and-ink sketch rather than a full-scale drawing, notable for the tender, elaborate music provided for Adina (the only woman in the cast), for the crystal-clear orchestration, and for a mood which is prevailingly sad. There is no overture, nor is there any evidence that Rossini ever heard the piece in performance....

Article

Admeto  

Anthony Hicks

[Admeto, rè di Tessaglia (‘Admetus, King of Thessaly’)]

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto anonymously adapted from Ortensio Mauro ’s L’Alceste (1679, Hanover) after Antonio Aureli’s L’Antigona delusa da Alceste (1660, Venice); London, King’s Theatre, 31 January 1727.

Admeto was Handel’s tenth full-length opera for the Royal Academy of Music, and the second of the group of five operas in which the leading roles were designed for the rival sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni; they sang Antigona and Alcestis. The other singers were the alto castratos Senesino and Antonio Baldi (Admetus and Thrasymede), the contralto Anna Vincenza Dotti (Orindo), and the basses Giuseppe Boschi and Giovanni Palmerini (Hercules and Meraspes). The opera achieved an excellent opening run of 19 performances to 18 April (during which period the act giving Handel British nationality was passed); two new arias seem to have been provided for Faustina during the run.

The opera was revived for six performances at the King’s Theatre from ...

Article

Julian Budden

Opera in four acts by Francesco Cilea to a libretto by Arturo Colautti after Eugène Scribe and Ernest Legouvé’s play Adrienne Lecouvreur; Milan, Teatro Lirico, 6 November 1902.

Adriana Lecouvreur was commissioned by the publisher Edoardo Sonzogno following the success of Cilea’s L’arlesiana. Cilea chose the subject for its mixture of comedy and tragedy, its 18th-century ambience, the loving intensity of its protagonist and the moving final act; three other operas use the story of Adrienne Lecouvreur (by Edoardo Vera, Tommaso Benvenuti and Ettore Perosio). Colautti reduced the intricate mechanism of Scribe’s plot to a serviceable operatic framework, occasionally at the expense of clarity. The première, however, was outstandingly successful, with a cast that included Enrico Caruso (Maurizio), Angelica Pandolfini (Adriana) and Giuseppe De Luca (Michonnet). The conductor was Cleofonte Campanini. The first London performance took place at Covent Garden in 1904 in the presence of the composer with Rina Giachetti (Adriana), Giuseppe Anselmi (Maurizio) and Mario Sammarco (Michonnet), again under Campanini. Three years later the opera arrived at the Metropolitan Opera, New York, with Caruso (Maurizio), Lina Cavalieri (Adriana) and Antonio Scotti (Michonnet). Since then ...