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Lois Rosow

[Alceste, ou Le triomphe d’Alcide (‘Alcestis, or The Triumph of Alcides’)]

Tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Jean-Baptiste Lully (see Lully family (opera) §(1)) to a libretto by Quinault, Philippe after Euripides’ Alcestis; Paris, Opéra, 19 January 1674.

This was Lully’s second tragedy. The king and courtiers saw a rehearsal at Versailles in November 1673 and were enthusiastic. However, poets and musicians jealous of Lully’s growing power and of the success of Cadmus et Hermione organized a cabal to discredit Alceste after its première. Only Perrault defended the work at length, pointing out that everybody ‘knows by heart’ and sings everywhere the little songs that are said to be worthless, that the many scenes judged ‘useless’ by the critics (mainly scenes dominated by secondary characters) all have their dramatic purposes, and that the conventions of opera are different from those of spoken tragedy and comedy (Critique de l’opéra, 1674, attrib. Charles or Pierre Perrault)....


Jeremy Hayes


Italian version: Tragedia in three acts by Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi after Euripides; Vienna, Burgtheater, 26 December 1767.

French version: Tragédie opéra in three acts by Gluck to a libretto by Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc, Bailli du Roullet after Calzabigi; Paris, Académie Royale de Musique, 23 April 1776.

The Italian Alceste was the second of Gluck’s three so-called reform operas written with Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (the others were Orfeo ed Euridice and Paride ed Elena) in which a noble simplicity in the action and the music was intended to replace the complicated plots and florid musical style of opera seria. Although Orfeo was the first, it is Alceste that contains, in the first edition of the score, the famous preface in which Gluck and Calzabigi outlined their principles and ideals (see Gluck, Christoph Willibald Ritter von, §6). The opera was a great success; according to Calzabigi 60 performances were given in Vienna. It was choreographed not by Angiolini, the choreographer of ...


Thomas Bauman

(‘Alcestis’). Singspiel in five acts by Anton Schweitzer to a libretto by Christoph Martin Wieland based on Euripides’ Alcestis; Weimar, Hoftheater, 28 May 1773.

Alcestis (soprano) learns of the Delphic oracle’s pronouncement that the king is fatally ill from her sister and confidante, Parthenia (soprano), who cannot dissuade her from dying in her husband’s place. Neither can Admet [Admetus] (tenor), who senses immediately what she has done and is carried off in a stupor after she takes a tearful leave of him and their children. Her sacrifice so moves Admetus’s friend Herkules [Hercules] (bass) that he heads off resolutely to Orcus to fetch her back. After despairing monologues from Parthenia and Admetus, Hercules reappears with a beautiful woman to comfort Admetus. When Admetus registers indignation at the very suggestion, Hercules produces Alcestis, but refuses to explain how he rescued her.

Wieland’s much-simplified version of the Alcestis myth includes only four singing parts, owing to the limited number of skilled singers at Weimar. Literary and dramatic values are similarly constricted. The mellifluous aria texts vie consciously with those of Metastasio, and the drama’s range is restricted to what Wieland thought music capable of expressing – ‘warm feeling and glowing ...


Kathleen Kuzmick Hansell


Opera seria in three acts by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi ( see Guglielmi family (opera) §(1) ) to a libretto by ranieri de’ Calzabigi [Calsabigi], Ranieri (Simone Francesco Maria) de’ (opera) revised by Giuseppe Parini; Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro, 26 December 1768.

Shortly after the Viennese première of Gluck’s Alceste (1767) the directors of the theatre in Milan negotiated with Calzabigi for a revised libretto. In indignant letters Calzabigi defended his refusal to ‘add interesting characters’ or make any other changes. The correspondence also offers important evidence about the subsequent Milanese production. It reveals the reviser of the text, unnamed in the libretto, as the poet Giuseppe Parini and documents the theatre management’s unsuccessful attempts to secure a pre-publication copy of Gluck’s score. In the event, Guglielmi provided an entirely new setting without reference to Gluck.

Parini substantially altered the libretto’s structure and tone to suit Italian tastes and his own concept of opera, reducing the role of the chorus and cutting out the dances. While retaining all the characters, he shifted the emphasis away from the part of Alcestis by increasing the weight of the other roles. The greatest change was in the part of Apollo who, under the name of Evandro [Evander], is present throughout, swaying the course of the action. Parini added five new arias – three for Apollo/Evander and one each for Admeto [Admetus] and Ismene. In addition he replaced one of Calzabigi’s arias for Alcestis and the final chorus with his own....


Thomas Bauman

[Der Alchymist, oder Der Liebesteufel (‘The Alchemist, or The Love Demon’)]

Comische Oper in one act by Joseph Schuster to a libretto by August Gottlieb Meissner after Marc Antoine Le Grand’s comedy L’Amour diable; Dresden, Kleines Kurfürstliches Theater, March 1778.

The old alchemist Tarnow (baritone) refuses to let his daughter Louise (soprano) wed until he has discovered the philosopher’s stone. Her lover Bellnitz (tenor) has contrived a trap-door into her chamber in order to effect their escape. Bellnitz’s servant Heinrich (bass) impersonates a devil that Tarnow believes he has conjured up in one of his experiments and demands either Tarnow or a young female in his place. Tarnow agrees to give him Louise. He tries to renege when the deception is revealed, but threats from Frau Tarnow (soprano) and the charge of having given his daughter to a devil convince him that he should give up alchemy, and allow his daughter to marry Bellnitz.

A mixture of stylish vocal and comic writing absorbed in Italy and popular traits enforced by the indifferent skills of many of Pasquale Bondini’s singers, Schuster’s opera was one of the most successful to come out of northern Germany. It was revived as recently as ...


Eric D. Weimer

(‘Alcides at the Crossroads’)

Festa teatrale in one act by Johann Adolf Hasse to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio Vienna, Grosse Redoutensaal, 8 October 1760.

Written to celebrate the wedding of Archduke Joseph to Princess Isabella of Parma, this festa teatrale antedates Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice by only two years and may in fact have served as a model for some aspects of Gluck’s ‘reform’. The work is also the first in a series of three feste teatrali and three opere serie for the imperial court in the 1760s. The Alcides of the title is the youthful Hercules (soprano), who is led by his tutor, Fronimo (tenor), to a crossroads; there he is confronted by a choice between pleasure and virtue, represented by the goddesses Edonide (soprano) and Aretea (soprano). By choosing the latter Alcides earns the praise of the gods, expressed in an aria for their messenger Iride [Iris] (soprano). Alcide contains the features traditionally associated with the ...


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Alcides in the Gardens of the Hesperides’)

Opera seria in two acts by Gian Francesco de Majo to a libretto by Marco Coltellini ; Vienna, Laxenburg, Privilegiato, 9 June 1764.

Alcides (alto castrato; the same mythological figure as Hercules) has fallen deeply in love with Elettra [Electra] (soprano), who is promised to Dardano [Dardanus] (soprano castrato). Taigete [Taygete] (soprano), Electra’s sister, reports to King Atlante [Atlas] (tenor), their father, that pirates have taken Electra and Dardanus captive. Desperate for the safety of his daughter, Atlas promises her to his friend Alcides, if he will save her. Alcides returns victorious, and Atlas tells the rescued couple that Electra has been promised to him. Electra denounces Alcides for his unreasonable demands, and all leave in distress. Taygete explains the situation to the bewildered Alcides, who then kills the monster guarding the golden apple tree, which disappears. He releases the old king from his promise, thus reuniting Electra and Dardanus. Alcides is hailed as Atlas’s successor. Esperide [Hesperis], Atlas’s immortal wife, then emerges from the sea to join the company in a celebratory ballet....



Anthony Hicks

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to an anonymous libretto after Cantos vi and vii of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, adapted from the libretto for Riccardo Broschi’s L’isola di Alcina (1728, Rome); London, Covent Garden Theatre, 16 April 1735.

Handel composed Alcina in the early months of 1735 while presenting his first season at John Rich’s newly built theatre at Covent Garden (the last page of the autograph score is dated 8 April 1735, eight days before the first performance). The title role was sung by Anna Maria Strada del Pò, Ruggiero by the celebrated castrato Giovanni Carestini. John Beard, at the start of a long career, sang Oronte, and the talented William Savage (then a boy treble, later a bass) Oberto. (That role, which does not appear in the source libretto, seems to have been created specifically for Savage: the scenes involving him are all late additions to the score.) In common with Handel’s other operatic productions in the same season (notably ...



Jérôme de La Gorce


Tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Marin Marais to a libretto by Antoine Houdar de Lamotte after Ovid ; Paris, Opéra, 18 February 1706.

On the evidence of box-office takings and contemporary descriptions, this opera was ‘much applauded’ at the time of its first performance; it was revived on several occasions to 1771. Lamotte was criticized for remaining ‘too close to the manner’ in which Ovid had treated the subject in the Metamorphoses (a modernist, he had never before shown such respect for the writers of antiquity), but the libretto was generally considered ‘well written, full of spirit and of sentiments which almost make one forget its failings’ (François and Claude Parfaict, Histoire de l’Académie royale de musique). Most of the praise, however, went to the composer, whose score shows great merits. There is some excellent vocal writing in the moving airs, accompanied sometimes by continuo, sometimes by flutes or an oboe, sometimes by the string ensemble. Accompanied recitatives may derive their structure from the repetition of a melodic element and are generally reserved for the most dramatic scenes. Also remarkable are the duets, trios and expressive choruses, which sometimes incorporate a solo voice....



Richard Taruskin

Opera in one act by Sergey Vasil’yevich Rakhmaninov to a libretto by Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko -danchenko after Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin ’s dramatic narrative poem Tsïganï (‘The Gypsies’, 1824); Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 27 April/9 May 1893.

Aleko was an official graduation piece, assigned not only to the 19-year-old Rakhmaninov but to all three members of Arensky’s class in free composition at the Moscow Conservatory in 1892 (the settings by Lev Conus [Konyus] and Nikita Morozov were not published or performed; another opera on the same libretto, by Paul Juon, was performed in Tbilisi in 1897). Starting with the two gypsy dances, which were done by 23 March/4 April, Rakhmaninov completed the full score something over three weeks later, on 16/28 April. The work effectively launched the young composer’s professional career, earning him not only the highest possible grade and a gold medal but also his first publication (vocal score, ...


Anthony Hicks


Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli based on Ortensio Mauro ’s La superbia d’Alessandro (1690, Hanover); London, King’s Theatre, 5 May 1726.

Alessandro was Handel’s ninth full-length opera for the Royal Academy of Music and the first of the group of five in which the leading female roles were designed for the rival sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni; they sang Lisaura and Roxana. The other singers included the castratos Senesino (Alexander) and Antonio Baldi (Taxiles), the tenor Luigi Antinori (Leonnatus), the contralto Anna Vincenza Dotti (Cleon) and the bass Giuseppe Boschi (Clitus). The opera was completed on 11 April 1726, less than a month before its production as the last of the 1725–6 season, but had been begun some months earlier in anticipation of Faustina’s arrival in London (Handel broke off composition to write Scipione). Owen Swiney, writing from Venice on ...


(‘Alexander in India’)

Opera seria in two acts by Giovanni Pacini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola after Pietro Metastasio ( see Alessandro nell’Indie (libretto) below); Naples, Teatro S Carlo, 29 September 1824.

Pacini’s Alessandro resembles other 19th-century adaptations of 18th-century librettos in a number of respects. It centres on a love triangle involving the invading Greek general Alexander (tenor), Cleofide [Cleophis] (soprano), queen of one part of India, and her lover Poro [Porus] (soprano), king of another part of India, who suspects unjustly that Cleophis has betrayed him. It also presents a horrifying climax in which the heroine threatens to immolate herself rather than marry Alexander, and it gives a primary role to ensembles of conflict. Yet it retains elements of Metastasian intrigue in the use of assumed identities by Porus and his general Gandarte [Gandartes] and in Alexander’s twofold attempt to coerce Cleophis’s affection. Moreover, it ends happily, when Alexander relents and reunites the couple....


Harris S. Saunders

(‘Alexander Severus’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Antonio Lotti to a libretto by Apostolo Zeno ; Venice, Teatro S Giovanni Grisostomo, Carnival 1717.

The plot is based loosely on Roman history. Giulia Mammea [Julia Mamaea] (soprano), mother of the emperor Alexander Severus (soprano castrato), desires to retain power as she did throughout her son’s reign (222–35). According to historical record, she succeeded in banishing her son’s wife Sallustia (soprano) and father-in-law after the latter’s foiled conspiracy against the emperor. But in the opera Sallustia selflessly offers her own life in order to save Julia Mamaea from the conspirators; overcome by the magnanimity of her gesture, Julia Mamaea is reconciled to Sallustia. A completely ahistorical subplot involves Albina (contralto), dressed as a man, testing the fidelity of her lover Claudio [Claudius] (soprano castrato).

This was the last opera Lotti set for Venice before leaving to take up his new post in Dresden and the last libretto Zeno wrote for Venice before becoming imperial poet in Vienna. It was the only production for the ...


Anthony Hicks

(‘Alexander Severus’)

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto anonymously adapted from Apostolo Zeno as revised for Milan, 1723; London, King’s Theatre, 25 February 1738.

Like Oreste (1734), Alessandro Severo is a pasticcio opera created by Handel from his own works: the arias duets, entr’actes and final coro are taken (with verbal changes) from earlier operas (mainly those of the previous London season – Arminio, Giustino and Berenice); the overture and recitatives are new. The story is based on an incident in the reign of the Roman emperor Alexander Severus (222–35) as related by Herodian (vi, 1.9). Alexander (mezzo-soprano castrato) is dominated by his mother Giulia [Julia] (contralto), whose jealous rage at being outranked by Alexander’s wife Sallustia (soprano) generates the main action; Alexander is tricked into repudiating Sallustia, who bears her humiliation patiently and eventually saves Julia from being murdered in a conspiracy organized by Sallustia’s father Marziano [Marcianus] (bass). Alexander’s minister Claudio [Claudius] (soprano castrato) is also involved in the conspiracy but his role is discovered by his discarded lover Albina (soprano) and she wins back his love by protecting him....


Peter Cohen

Romantic opera in three acts by Friedrich Freiherr von Flotow to a libretto by W. Friedrich ; Hamburg, Stadttheater, 30 December 1844.

The plot is a mild and comic extract from the turbulent life of the 17th-century Italian composer. In Act 1, set in and around St Mark’s Square, Venice, Stradella (tenor) is discovered in a gondola with some of his music students as they sing first a hymn to Venice and then a serenade to his beloved Leonore (soprano). She appears on the balcony and warns him against her guardian, Bassi (bass), a rich Venetian who has incarcerated her and plans to marry her the next day against her will. Stradella arranges to flee with Leonore, and the pair take advantage of a conniving, tumultuous carnival procession to elope. While Bassi gets caught up among the masked revellers, Stradella and Leonore slip away in the gondola.

Act 2 takes place in front of Stradella’s country house near Rome. Leonore, in bridal array, rejoices in her good fortune. To the sound of the bells Stradella leads her amid a procession of guests to the wedding ceremony. Malvolino (bass), a bandit who has been engaged by Bassi to assassinate Stradella, now arrives and is surprised to find that his associate, the bandit Barbarino (tenor), is there with the same mandate. When the marriage procession returns, the bandits introduce themselves to Stradella as pilgrims. He invites them to join in the celebrations, then sings a romance which describes the compassion and kindness that lie deep in the hearts of all robbers and bandits who help the poor and grant asylum to the wandering minstrel. This song so moves Malvolino and Barbarino that they abandon their murderous plan....


Elizabeth Norman McKay

(‘Alfonso and Estrella’)

Oper in three acts by Franz Schubert to a libretto by Franz van Schober; Weimar., Hoftheater, 24 June 1854.

In September 1821, enjoying the recent minor successes of three of his compositions in Vienna theatres, Schubert left Vienna with his friend Schober to spend several weeks in the country working on their new opera. Schober, a year older than Schubert and a dilettante of letters, music and the theatre, was full of enthusiasm for this collaboration. Both authors were influenced by the theories on opera of Ignaz von Mosel, a highly respected government official and man of the theatre and one of Schubert’s patrons, who supported Gluck’s operatic ideals. The young men may have followed his advice in omitting all spoken dialogue, thus breaking away from the German Singspiel tradition. The story, in which the son of a usurped monarch falls in love with the daughter of the usurper, and brings about a conciliation, might owe something to Shakespeare’s ...



Jan Smaczny

Heroic opera in three acts by Antonín Dvořák to a German libretto by Theodor Körner ; Olomouc, Czech Theatre, 10 December 1938 (in Czech).

The plot concerns the English King Alfred (bass), and his bride Alwina (soprano), who is a prisoner of the Danes. In the first act, the general of the triumphant Danes, Harald (tenor), attempts to persuade Alwina to marry him. Another Danish leader, Gothron (baritone), has premonitions of an English victory. Act 2 introduces Alfred and his companion, Sieward (baritone), and concludes with Alfred’s freeing of Alwina. In Act 3 Alfred, with the assistance of the noble Dorset (tenor), wins a victory, and Harald commits suicide.

Dvořák completed Alfred in 1870, but throughout his life, with the possible exception of an occasion in 1874 when he may have shown the score to Smetana, he neglected to draw attention to its existence. This may have been because, alone among his operas, and most of those of his contemporaries, ...


William Ashbrook

(‘Alina, Queen of Golconda’)

Melodramma in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a libretto by Felice Romani after Michel-Jean Sedaine ’s text for Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s Aline, reine de Golconde (1766, Paris), itself based on Stanislas-Jean de Boufflers’ novel of the same title; Genoa, Teatro Carlo Felice, 12 May 1828 (revised version, Rome, Teatro Valle, 10 October 1829).

Alina, Queen of Golconda (soprano), delays accept-ing the proposal that she marry Seide (tenor), when the newly arrived French ambassador Volmar (baritone) and his servant Belfiore (buffo bass) turn out to be the long-lost husbands of Alina and her maid Fiorina (soprano). Ultimately, the machinations of Seide are foiled and the happy couples are reunited to the joy of the populace.

Alina, one of the more serious of Donizetti’s comedies, includes some incipiently romantic touches, as in the episode in which Alina recalls the Provençal landscape where she and Volmar had first fallen in love. Notable, too, is the casting of the antagonist Seide, Alina’s Indian suitor, as a tenor....


Michel Noiray

(‘Aline, Queen of Golconda’)

Ballet-héroïque in three acts by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny to a libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine after Stanislas-Jean de Boufflers’ story La reine de Golconde; Paris, Opéra, 15 April 1766.

The opera opens with a ceremony during which Saint Phar (baritone), ambassador to the Indies (where France had trading stations at the time), comes to pay his respects to Aline, Queen of Golconda (soprano). Aline, who is of French origin herself, recognizes Saint Phar as the man she once loved when she was a simple peasant girl and hides her true identity behind a veil. In Act 2 she dresses as a shepherdess and is recognized by Saint Phar in a valley resembling the one where they first loved one another. She then leaves him, in order to test his love. In the final act Saint Phar refuses the hand of the Queen of Golconda out of faithfulness to the shepherdess he has found again, but Aline reveals that shepherdess and queen are the same woman and the lovers are reunited....


Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson

Pasticcio opera in three acts arranged by John Jacob Heidegger , including music by Giovanni Bononcini and Attilio Ariosti ; London, Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket, 10 January 1710.

Almahide (soprano) has been brought up as a man in order to kill her father’s enemy, Almiro (alto castrato), but has fallen in love with him. He loves Celinda (soprano), who is loved by the king, Almanzor (alto castrato). Celinda loves the disguised Almahide. After much jealousy and several threats of death, all ends happily in two marriages.

According to Burney (A General History of Music), ‘This was the first opera performed in England, wholly in Italian, and by Italian singers; who were Nicolini, Valentini, Cassani, Margarita, and Isabella Girardeau’. The work was based on Ariosti’s Amor tra nemici (1708), but most of the arias were replaced by the music of other composers, including six arias from Bononcini’s Turno Aricino...