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Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its principal source is Virgil’s Aeneid. Operas on the subject appear under various titles including Enea nel Lazio, Enea in Italia and Enea e Lavinia, and in French as Enée et Lavinie.

In opera Aeneas is most widely known for his desertion of Dido (particularly in Nahum Tate’s poetry for Purcell in 1689, in Metastasio’s Didone abbandonata, found in numerous 18th-century settings, and in Berlioz’s Les Troyens) in order to appease the gods and fulfil his destiny, the founding of the Roman empire. Homer, and later Cato and Virgil, recounted the many trials and disasters to which Aeneas was subjected after the fall of his native Troy. In Virgil’s version of the episode in Latium, which follows Cato’s account, Aeneas arrives in Italy (having left Carthage and Dido) and is offered, by oracular decree, both the kingdom and the hand of King Latinus’s only daughter, Lavinia. Turnus, a foreign prince to whom these favours have previously been promised, wages a jealous war with his Rutolian forces against the king. Aeneas leads the king’s army to victory, however, and Turnus is slain. This account was the basis for numerous librettos of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century Bussani’s libretto, ...


Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its source is Greek mythology.

The story of Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda from a sea monster was one of the most popular subjects of early opera, with over 25 independent librettos before 1800 (operas on the subject were also entitled Andromeda e Perseo, Andromeda liberata, Persée and Perseo). Perseus, the son of Danaë and Zeus, cast into the sea with his mother by the King of Argos (Danaë’s father, Acrisius), grew up on the island of Seriphus. Later in life he saved his mother from the advances of Polydectes with the aid of the head of Medusa, which he cut off with a magic sword while shielded by godly armaments. An apparently middle-eastern addition to this legend concerns Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, dared compare her beauty to the Nereids, so Poseidon sent a sea monster to plague the town. King Cepheus, Andromeda’s father, was told through Zeus’ oracle that the town could be saved only by sacrificing Andromeda to the monster. On his return from slaying Medusa, Perseus fell in love with the chained Andromeda, turned the monster to stone by exposing it to Medusa’s head and took Andromeda for his wife....


Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th century, derived from plays by Sophocles and Euripides . Italian librettos on the subject were entitled Antigona or occasionally Creonte.

The plot concerns Antigone, daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. Her brothers Polynices and Eteocles have died, each at the other’s hand; their maternal uncle Creon, who is acting as regent in Oedipus’s absence, has forbidden the proper burial of Polynices, but Antigone defiantly attempts to bury him. In Sophocles’ version of the story Creon inters her alive in a vault and her betrothed Haemon kills himself; in Euripides’ version Creon hands Antigone over to Haemon to be executed, but instead he hides her among shepherds and she bears his child.

Early operas on the subject take up the story when Antigone’s daughter is a young woman. The earliest libretto may be Benedetto Pasqualigo’s Antigona in five acts, for G. M. Orlandini (1718), much performed early in the century. At the beginning of the opera, Antigone’s daughter Jocasta has appeared after a long absence and is not recognized. Creonte [Creon] has ordered Antigone’s husband, here called Osmene, to marry Jocasta, not knowing she is his daughter. Antigone returns to Thebes, identifies herself and attempts to stab Creon. Osmene is again ordered to kill his wife, but Creon dies in a popular insurrection and the couple are reunited with their daughter....



John A. Rice

Libretto subject used chiefly during the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries (also as Ariane or Arianna). Its source is Greek mythology. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, king of Crete, fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus, who came to Crete to slay the Minotaur, the monstrous offspring, half-bull, half-man, of Minos’s wife Pasiphae; she helped him to escape the Labyrinth by providing him (in one version) with a ball of string that he unwound as he penetrated it, thus enabling him to find his way out. Ariadne accompanied Theseus to the island of Naxos, where he abandoned her. In some versions she dies of grief; in others she is rescued by the god Dionysus (Bacchus), whom she weds.

Most librettos about Ariadne deal with either the events on Crete or those on Naxos but not both. Ariane, by Catulle Mendès, set by Massenet (1906), is one of the few that follow Ariadne and Theseus from one island to the other and show both Theseus’s victory over the Minotaur and his abandonment of Ariadne. Act 2 of this libretto, reminiscent of Act 1 of ...


Cid, El  

Dennis Libby

Libretto subject used in many periods. Its chief source is Pierre Corneille ’s tragedy Le Cid; earlier sources are the plays of Guillén de Castro y Bellvís (1569–1631), Las mocedades del Cid and Las hazañas del Cid, and popular Spanish ballads. All recount the exploits of Rodrigo (or Ruy) Diaz de Vivar, a Spanish warrior of the 11th century (called El Cid after the Arabic sidi, ‘lord’). Librettos on the subject have been written in Italian (as Il Cid, Il Cidde or Il gran Cid) and German (as Der Cid) as well as French (as Le Cid); some operas are entitled Cimene, Chimène or Rodrigue et Chimène.

The subject of Corneille’s play was rarely used by Italian librettists, perhaps because, even watered down, Chimène’s pursuit of vengeance against Rodrigue through most of the work made difficult the contriving of amorous encounters between them, as the genre required. A three-act libretto by Alborghetti had a few settings between ...


John Platoff

(‘The Stone Guest’)

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was the most common Italian title for the Don Juan story; operas on the subject are also entitled Don Giovanni and Il dissoluto punito.

The first important literary source is Tirso de Molina’s play El burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de piedra (‘The Trickster of Seville, or The Stone Guest’), published in 1630. Spoken dramas on the story were produced by Molière (Don Juan, ou Le festin de pierre, 1665) and Goldoni (Don Giovanni Tenorio; o sia Il dissoluto, 1736), but the legend circulated more widely in fairground and carnival performances. In Italy these drew upon the characters of commedia dell’ arte, while in France they took the form of comédies en chansons, with improvised or popular songs interpolated into the rather simple plot. The stone guest of the title is the statue of the Commendatore [Commander]. Early in most tellings of the story (though not necessarily in the opening scene) the Commendatore, trying to protect his daughter from seduction or rape by Don Juan, is killed by the latter in a duel. In the final scene the Commendatore’s stone statue comes to life, accepts Don Juan’s invitation to dinner, appears at his house and drags the licentious and (usually) unrepentant, blaspheming nobleman to hell. Some version of the episodes involving the Commendatore, his daughter Donna Anna and her betrothed Don Ottavio (as these characters are named in many of the settings) is to be found in virtually all presentations. Other common features are Don Juan’s comic servant, who frequently sings an aria cataloguing his master’s many conquests; a peasant wedding in which Don Juan attempts to seduce the bride; and one or more previously seduced and abandoned ladies who continue to pursue him. In general, the story consists of a loosely connected string of incidents with little overall organization apart from that implicit in the opening and closing scenes with the Commendatore....


Judith Tick

revised by Laurie Blunsom

(Dorothea )

(b Liverpool, England, Sept 25, 1793; d Dublin, Ireland, May 16, 1835). English poet. She spent most of her life in Wales and became well known in literary circles, being much admired by Byron, Scott, Shelley, and Wordsworth. Her works were extremely popular at home and abroad, notably in the United States before the Civil War. She rivaled Thomas Moore in the extent to which her works were included in literary anthologies and equaled Tennyson in the degree to which her poems became part of the conventional education of American youth. “Cassabianca” (The boy stood on the burning deck) and “Pilgrim Fathers” (The breaking waves dash high) were standard school recitations until the early 20th century. Four collected editions of Hemans’s verse appeared in the United States between 1825 and 1850. Her importance to American musical life lies in the settings made of her poetry by her sister, Harriet Mary Browne (later Mrs. Hughes, ...


Julie E. Cumming

Libretto subject used in the 18th century. Its source is the Iphigeneia in Aulis of Euripides , but Racine’s Iphigénie (1674) is of equal importance. Librettos on the subject were written in French (Iphigénie en Aulide), German (Iphigenie in Aulis) and Italian (Ifigenia in Aulide).

In Euripides’ account, the Greek fleet is becalmed at Aulis where it has assembled to sail for Troy. An oracle demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia, in order that the winds may blow. Agamemnon vacillates; Clytemnestra protests; Achilles defends Iphigenia; Iphigenia goes willingly to the altar. At the last minute Diana carries her off, leaving a deer in her place. This version permits a sequel, Iphigenia in Tauris . According to Racine there is a second Iphigenia, known as Erifile [Eriphyle]. At the last moment the high priest realizes that Eriphyle is the one who must die; she kills herself, and Iphigenia and Achilles marry. The third common variant is a compromise, in which, without Eriphyle, Iphigenia is saved by divine intervention and marries Achilles....


Julie E. Cumming

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century. Its source is the Iphigenia in Tauris of Euripides, although Guimond de la Touche’s spoken drama Iphigénie en Tauride (1757) was also influential. Librettos on the subject were written in Italian (Ifigenia in Tauride), French (Iphigénie en Tauride) and German (Iphigenie in Tauris); they were sometimes named after the two principal male characters (Oreste; Oreste e Pilade; Pilade e Oreste) or their friendship (La forza dell’amicizia).

Iphigenia is a priestess at the temple of Diana in the barbarian kingdom of Tauris, having been transported there after her supposed sacrifice in Aulis. Her brother Orestes arrives in Tauris with his faithful friend Pylades. He is being pursued by the Furies for having killed his mother, Clytemnestra, and must do penance by finding the statue of Diana in Tauris and returning it to Greece. They are captured and the tyrant, Thoas, demands that they be sacrificed. Iphigenia does not recognize them, but feels a strange affinity with Orestes; there is a recognition scene, an attempt to escape, and a final ...


Paul Cauthen

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its source is Greek history, in particular Euripides’ lost tragedy Cresphontes.

The story is set in the kingdom of Messenia in the Greek Peloponnese, ruled by Cresphontes, a descendant of Hercules, and his queen, Merope, princess of Messenian nobles Cresphontes is deposed by Polyphontes and executed along with two of his three sons. Merope sends the youngest son, Aepytus, into hiding in Arcadia. When he reaches manhood he returns to avenge his father’s murder; arriving in disguise, he announces that he has killed the long-missing third son of Cresphontes. Merope, whom Polyphontes has forced to become his wife, learns that Aepytus is no longer in Arcadia and orders the stranger put to death. Aepytus’s true identity is revealed before the execution; mother and son are reunited. Aepytus kills Polyphontes and assumes his rightful place on the throne.

There are two major variants of the story. In its earliest version, by Zeno also adds a love interest for Epitide [Aepytus] in the Arcadian princess Argia, taken hostage by Polyphontes. Polyphontes forces Anassandro [Anasander], the executioner of Cresofonte [Cresphontes] and his sons, to accuse Merope in public of having commissioned the act. Merope learns Aepytus’s true identity only near the end of the opera, having believed him executed at her request. Later ...