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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

Daisi  

Laurel Fay

(‘Twilight’)

Lyric-dramatic opera in three acts by Zakhary Petrovich Paliashvili to a libretto by V. Guniya after verses by Shota Rustaveli, N. Baratashvili, Akvsenti Tsereteli and Vazha Pshavela; Tbilisi, Georgian National Opera House, 19 December 1923.

Paliashvili’s second opera, Twilight was the first opera to appear in Soviet Georgia and draws on motifs from Georgian folk legends. Set in late 18th-century Georgia, the story combines romantic and heroic themes, effectively playing off the dramatic conflict between love and patriotic duty. As in his earlier Abesalom da Eteri (‘Abesalom and Etery’), Paliashvili fused features of his Georgian musical heritage – characteristic modal inflections, genre writing, melismatic vocal lines and ornamentation – into a harmonically traditional structure inherited from 19th-century Russian opera. The poetic expressivity of the melodies, with their exotic flavour, has contributed significantly to the opera’s continued popularity.

In a courtyard at dusk Nano (mezzo-soprano) looks forward eagerly to the approaching holiday, but her friend Maro (soprano) is subdued. While her beloved, Malkhaz (tenor), has been away in distant lands, Maro has become betrothed to the military officer Kiazo (baritone), whom she does not love. Nano gives her the good news that Malkhaz has returned, and his carefree song is heard in the distance. When the lovers meet, Maro is sad and distracted; she confesses to Malkhaz that she has become betrothed to another. The peasants begin their festivities, and Nano ensures that Maro and Malkhaz are included in the dancing, observed by the elderly Tsangala (bass) who threatens to tell Kiazo. Nano chases him away. As evening falls, church bells summon the people to the festival. Malkhaz tries to detain Maro, but she runs away....

Article

Andrew Lamb

‘Japanese musical play’ in two acts by Sidney Jones to a libretto by Owen Hall with lyrics by Harry Greenbank and additional numbers composed by Lionel Monckton, James Philp and Napoleon Lambelet ; London, Daly’s Theatre, 25 April 1896.

In the Japanese Teahouse of Ten Thousand Joys, run by the Chinaman Wun-hi (buffo), the geishas welcome visiting English naval officers. Lieutenant Reginald Fair-fax (baritone) has a particular interest in the chief geisha, O Mimosa San (soprano), but she is in love with the Japanese Captain Katana (tenor). She is also sought by the pompous Marquis Imari (baritone), though his attentions are readily diverted to a mysterious geisha, Roll Poli – none other than Fairfax’s fiancée Molly (soubrette) in disguise. Imari is finally tricked into marrying Juliette (mezzo-soprano), a French interpreter at the teahouse, while Fairfax is reconciled to Molly, leaving O Mimosa San to marry Katana.

Jones’s best-known work, it enjoyed immense contemporary success around the world. It achieved more performances in Germany in its day than any native operetta, was featured by Chekhov in his story ...

Article

Stephen Hinton

(‘The Affirmer’)

Schuloper in two acts by Kurt Weill to a libretto by Bertolt Brecht after the Japanese noh play Taniko; Berlin, Zentralinstitut für Erziehung und Unterricht, 23 June 1930.

After the success of Der Lindberghflug (text by Brecht, music by Hindemith and Weill) at the Baden-Baden Festival in July 1929, Weill and Brecht planned another project for the festival of new music in Berlin the following year. The Baden-Baden piece had been an experiment using radio. But despite (and partly because of) having worked as a correspondent for the magazine Der deutsche Rundfunk, Weill had become disillusioned with that medium. ‘On the radio,’ he said, ‘an anonymous community of adults is available from the most diverse circles, with whom little can be done. One cannot offer these adults anything, because their opinions diverge too much’ (‘Aktuelles Zwiegespräch über die Schuloper’, Die Musikpflege, i, 1930, pp.48–53). For Berlin he developed the ‘school opera’, with which he associated three aims: ‘a schooling for composers or a generation of composers, in order to place the genre of “opera” on new foundations’; ‘a schooling in operatic presentation’ requiring ‘simplicity and naturalness’; and the placing of music ‘at the service of institutions’ such as schools, ‘rather than its being created as an end in itself’ (‘Über meine Schuloper ...

Article

Kerem  

Faruk Yener

Opera in three ads by Ahmed Adnan Saygun to a libretto by Selahattin Batu after an old Turkish legend; Ankara, State Opera, 22 March 1953.

Set in Anatolia, the story concerns Kerem (tenor), the son of the Khan (bass), who falls in love with Asli (soprano), the daughter of the Vizier (bass). Their love is thwarted by the Khan because the Vizier has betrayed his country; on being forbidden to marry Asli, Kerem picks up his instrument and leaves home. One day he dreams that he meets an old man (bass) who offers him a drink. Pouring it on the ground, Kerem has a vision of Asli. A caravan train then appears, and he is told that his suffering will soon end. He returns home to take part in a minstrel contest that includes a riddle set by the Khan. He relates how his mother and the Vizier’s wife met an old man who cut an apple in half, offering it to each of the women and prophesying that their children would marry. The Khan declares the riddle solved and the Vizier, now forgiven, leaps up to embrace Kerem, who slowly walks away towards the sound of Asli’s call....

Article

Masakata Kanazawa

(‘Kesa and Moritō’)

Opera in three acts by Kan Ishii to a libretto by Yasuo Yamanouchi after the Japanese epics Heike monogatari and Genpei seisuiki; Tokyo, Metropolitan Festival Hall, 20 November 1968.

The story is based on a historical incident in Kyoto around 1137. Endō Moritō (baritone), a young warrior, brings a Magician (bass) to a flower-viewing party held by his close friend Watanabe-no-Wataru (tenor). The Magician sees a bad omen on Wataru’s face and then disappears mysteriously. At the height of the party Wataru’s wife, Kesa Gozen (soprano), appears and greets the guests; Moritō is struck by her beauty. Desperately in love, Moritō tries to see Kesa, but their meeting is interrupted by his angry fiancée, Shiragiku (soprano). Kesa, seeing the impossibility of the situation, tells Moritō to kill Wataru in his bedroom; Moritō follows her instructions. But it is Kesa herself who is in Wataru’s bed and whom Moritō kills. After a long period of torments, reflections and meditation, Moritō decides to become a priest, assuming the name of Mongaku. ...

Article

Andrew Clements

Opera in three acts by Judith Weir to her own libretto based in part on Chi Chun-Hsiang’s The Chao Family Orphan; Cheltenham, Everyman Theatre, 8 July 1987.

Weir’s ‘opera within an opera’ uses a realization of the Yuan dynasty play as its central act, while the outer acts present a reflection of that drama in the ‘real-life’ terms of 13th-century China. The ‘orphan’ is the explorer and canal-builder Chao Lin (baritone), and the story of his exile after the invasion of his city by Kublai Khan and subsequent career is told in a series of swiftly moving scenes. Chao Lin attends a clandestine performance of The Chao Family Orphan, but before its final scene it is interrupted by an earthquake, and he then finds events following the course of the play, leading to his capture by the Military Governor (countertenor). After he is led away to be executed for treason, the actors return, to rehearse the final scene of their play, in which the Orphan of Chao finally overcomes the wicked general Tu-an-Ku and is rewarded by the emperor for his deeds....

Article

Allan Kozinn

Opera in three acts by John Adams to a libretto by Alice Goodman; Houston, Grand Opera, 22 October 1987.

Conceived in 1982 by Peter Sellars and completed in 1987, Nixon in China has as its subject Richard Nixon’s visit to China from 21 to 27 February 1972, with the differences between Eastern and Western views of the world as a subtext. The work contains little action; rather, it is divided into six tableaux, within which the characters convey their world views – and sometimes find themselves speaking at cross-purposes – in a series of connected conversations and soliloquies.

The opera begins with the arrival of the presidential aircraft at an airport outside Beijing and includes the expected ceremonial welcome from Chou En-lai (baritone). Nixon (baritone) describes the flight, diplomatically, as smooth, while the music conveys the truth: it was bumpy. Nixon, in his ‘News’ aria, immediately establishes that the priorities of the journey are symbolic; indeed, he likens his landing in Beijing to that of the Apollo astronauts who landed on the moon, and notes that because it is prime television viewing time in the USA, his arrival will be witnessed by the maximum possible audience. This focus on the superficialities of conveying a public image proves to be Nixon’s weakness here. In the second scene, which takes place in Mao Tse-tung’s study, Nixon, Mao (tenor), Chou and an oafish caricature of Henry Kissinger (bass) air various views of history and of the contemporary world, and it becomes clear that the Chinese are operating on a deeper, more philosophical level than the Americans. The first act ends with a banquet scene....

Article

John A. Rice

(‘Palmira, Queen of Persia’)

Dramma eroicomico in two acts by Antonio Salieri to a libretto by Giovanni De Gamerra ; Vienna, Kärntnertortheater, 14 October 1795.

A monster has been terrorizing Persia. The High Priest (bass) makes an oracular pronouncement: one of the kings who seek the hand of Princess Palmira (soprano) in marriage will kill the monster and thereby win her. Three kings arrive: the timid Egyptian Alderano (bass), the boastful Scythian Oronte (bass) and the brave Indian Alcidoro (tenor) are welcomed by King Dario [Darius] of Persia (bass). Alcidoro and Palmira are already secret lovers; they express their passion in the duet ‘O del cor speme gradita’. After Alderano’s cowardice is made known and Oronte fails to kill the monster, Alcidoro triumphs; the opera ends with joyful celebration of his impending marriage to Palmira.

The competition for the honour of first fighting the monster takes up much of the opera: Alderano arrives on a camel, Oronte on an elephant and Alcidoro on a horse, each singing an aria as he presents gifts. The unaccompanied quartet in Act 2 for King Darius and the three suitors, ‘Silenzio facciasi’, is one of the first ...

Article

Stephen Johnson

Opera in four acts by Fikret Amirov to a libretto by Talet Eyubov after Jafar Jabarli’s play; Baku, Azerbaijani Theatre of Opera and Ballet, 25 December 1953.

Described as a ‘national lyrical-psychological opera’, Sevil’ depicts the liberation of Azerbaijani women from Islamic repression in 1918–19, and the fourth act, set in 1929, paints a rosy picture of their improved situation under Soviet Socialist rule. The heroine Sevil’ (soprano) stands for the suffering Azerbaijani woman, oppressed by stereotypical religious and capitalist elements. By concerted action with her similarly oppressed sisters she brings about revolutionary change, the climax of the revolt taking place in the second act, which incorporates the melodies of the varsovienne, the revolutionary song Smelo tovarishchi (‘Bravely Comrade’) and the Internationale. Despite this use of non-indigenous material, Sevil’ was much praised on its first appearance for its strongly national style and for this reason it holds an important position in the history of Azerbaijani national music. Critics also praised the dramatic conflicts and the musical characterization, particularly of Sevil’ herself....

Article

Stephen Johnson

Opera in three acts by Reyngol’d Moritsevich Glier after an Azerbaijani legend; Baku, 17 March 1927 (revised version, Baku, 1934).

The opera tells of the wandering ‘Ashug’ musician Kerib (tenor), who takes part in a singing competition for the hand of the Shah’s beautiful daughter, Shakh-Senem (soprano). He wins, but the Shah (baritone) is angered by his poverty and his championship of the oppressed people. He banishes Kerib, but the people, who have sided with the young Ashug, mutiny, and Shakh-Senem defies her father, vowing to be faithful to Kerib. Her patience is rewarded in Act 3, when her lover returns in triumph to claim her hand and liberate the people from the Shah’s tyranny.

Glier wrote Shakh-Senem (including possibly all or part of the libretto) shortly after his invitation to Azerbaijan to assist in the development of Soviet-style musical life. This was his first large-scale attempt to fuse the republic’s indigenous folk styles with his own conservative Russian style, and it found immediate official favour. The ethnomusicologist Uzeir Gajibekov described ...

Article

Julian Budden

Opera in three acts by Umberto Giordano to a libretto by Luigi Illica ; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 19 December 1903.

The action takes place in Russia and Siberia during the 1850s. Act 1 opens in a palace in St Petersburg where the demi-mondaine Stefana (soprano) has been installed by her latest protector, Prince Alexis (tenor). Stefana is awaited by her anxious housekeeper Nikona (mezzo-soprano). When Alexis arrives with two friends, Nikona tells them that her mistress is still asleep, whereupon they sing her a mattinata (‘O bella mia’) and retire. Stefana returns from a secret assignation with her lover, Vassili (tenor), a young infantry officer who, she tells Nikona, knows nothing of her circumstances (‘Nel suo amore rianimata’). Her manager, Gleby (baritone), ridicules this new passion. It turns out, however, that Nikona is Vassili’s old nurse; and when he comes to bid her farewell before setting out for the Crimean War he and Stefana recognize one another. Their duet is interrupted by Alexis, who draws his sword on the intruder. In the ensuing fight Alexis is wounded. Vassili is arrested and led away to prison....

Article

Anthony Hicks

[Siroe re di Persia (‘Siroes, King of Persia’)]

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto adapted by Nicola Francesco Haym from Pietro Metastasio’s Siroe as revised for Naples (1727); London, King’s Theatre, 17 February 1728.

Siroe was Handel’s twelfth full-length opera for the Royal Academy of Music and the fourth of the group of five operas in which the leading female roles were designed for the rival sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni; they sang Laodice and Emira. The other singers were the alto castratos Senesino as Siroe and Antonio Baldi as Medarse, with the basses Giuseppe Maria Boschi as Cosroe and Giovanni Battista Palmerini as Arasse (this part has no arias). Some of the music was originally composed for a version of Beregan’s libretto Genserico (1669, Venice), which Handel abandoned before completing the first act. The new libretto was the first of the three by Metastasio used by Handel, and had been first set, by Vinci, two years earlier in Venice. (For details of the plot, ...

Article

Howard Mayer Brown

[Siroe re di Persia (‘Siroes, King of Persia’)]

Opera seria in three acts by Johann Adolf Hasse to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio ; Bologna, Teatro Malvezzi, 2 May 1733 (second setting, Dresden, Hoftheater, and Warsaw, Imperial Theatre, Carnival 1763).

The castrato Farinelli sang the title role in the original version of this opera in Bologna; on 4 November 1747 it was revived at the S Carlo, Naples. 30 years after the initial production, Hasse made a second setting for the Elector of Saxony (who as King of Poland also resided in Warsaw during the Seven Years War); this new version was the last opera written and performed at the Saxon court. While the second Siroe shows a greater regard for Metastasian dramatic conventions and a deeper, more mature command of musical form in the construction of its da capo arias, with longer phrases, stronger rhythmic drive and more contrapuntal orchestral accompaniments, the earlier setting is nevertheless a fine example of the heights Hasse’s creative powers had reached only a few years after he went to Dresden. The aria ‘Spresso tra vaghe rose’ (once attributed to Pergolesi and other composers) was extracted from ...

Article

Stephen Johnson

(‘The Legend of Shota Rustaveli’)

Opera in three acts by Dimitri Ignat’yevich Arakishvili to a libretto by A. Khakhanashvili after a Georgian folk legend; Tbilisi, Opera Theatre, 5 February 1919.

Shota Rustavelze was a Georgian poet, probably in the late 12th or early 13th century, whose exploits became legendary. In the first act, Rustavelze (tenor) sets off from his home to study, leaving behind his childhood sweetheart Nina (soprano). In Act 2 he learns that in his absence Nina has married, and he himself takes a wife. When one of his poems wins him honour from Queen Tamara, there is a great celebration; in the midst of it he is told by a mysterious young man that he must return home. In the final act he surprises his wife in the arms of an Arab servant, and subsequently discovers, to his amazement, that the mysterious youth is in fact Nina in disguise. He leaves in high dudgeon and Nina commits suicide. It is a little surprising that Arakishvili should have chosen this variant against the legend’s more common ending, where Rustavelze in his fury kills the nameless youth, only then to discover that it is Nina....

Article

Laurel Fay

[Shurishe Vose] (‘Vose’s Uprising’)

Opera in four acts by Sergey Artem’yevich Balasanian to a libretto by A. Dekhoti and M. Tursun-zade; Stalinabad (now Dushanbe), Tajik Musical Theatre, 16 October 1939.

Conscious that he was composing the first Tajik opera, Balasanian steeped himself in the history and lore of the peasant uprising of the 1880s, the subject of his opera, visiting locations in the Bukhara khanate and studying the extensive musical folklore. He kept the style of his opera simple and accessible, emphasizing familiar couplet forms, unpretentious harmonies and transparent orchestration; in the second version, first performed at the Ayni Tajik Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet, Stalinabad, on 13 January 1959, he introduced more complex aria, ensemble and choral writing and a more sophisticated role for the orchestra.

Peasant discontent with the Emir’s usurious taxation is brought to a head when Gyulizor (soprano), the beautiful daughter of Vose (bass), is kidnapped by the tax collector for the pleasure of the Emir’s governor, Khakim (baritone). When he hears of the uprising, Khakim sends for reinforcements and infiltrates a spy into Vose’s camp, but he barely escapes when the fortress is captured by Vose’s troops. They free Gyulizor and the other prisoners....

Article

Yūzuru  

Masakata Kanazawa

(‘The Twilight Heron’)

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....