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date: 04 June 2020

Libretto (opera) (It.: ‘small book’; Fr. livret; Ger. Textbuch)(i)locked

  • Richard Macnutt

Extract

(It.: ‘small book’; Fr. livret; Ger. Textbuch)

A printed or manuscript book giving the literary text, both sung and spoken, of an opera (or other musical work). The word has also come to mean the text itself; for discussion of the literary text, see Libretto.

For three centuries the principal purpose of the published libretto was to provide for those attending a performance of an opera the text and a list of the characters. In most operatic centres until late in the 19th century, and in many until early in the 20th, a new libretto was customarily printed for each production and was available before the first performance. From simple beginnings the libretto gradually developed in extent and scope to become a detailed and reliable source of information on many aspects of the performance of individual operas, and it sometimes provides the sole surviving record of the very existence of an opera.

Up to about 1900 the libretto generally gives information about the date of the production, the size and constitution of the orchestra (often with the names of the principals), the names of the composer, the poet, the singers (which enables their mobility, careers and repertories to be studied), the musical director, the impresario, the scene designers, the machinists and other stage staff, the choreographer and the dancers; sometimes it also gives details of the dances performed and, especially in Italy, full synopses of the ballets that were traditionally given on the same bill as operas. Evidence of censorship is often present, especially in Italy and France. In Italy until about ...

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