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Stephen Johnson

Opera in two acts by Alexander Spendiaryan to a libretto by the composer and S. Parnok after Hovhannes Tumanyan’s poem Tmkabert aṙumē; (‘The Capture of Tmkabert’); Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 1930.

The opera is set in the Crimea in the 18th century. Almast (soprano), a frail and beautiful girl of noble descent, is betrothed to Tatul, the ruler of the Armenian fortress of Tmkabert, which is under threat from the armies of Nadir, Shah of Persia. At first Almast is faithful to Tatul and to his people, but a Persian musician (tenor), sent as a spy by Nadir, persuades her by the power of his art that marriage to the Shah would mean greatness for herself and her country. Almast betrays Tatul to Nadir, but the Armenian people rise up, liberate the fortress and collectively sentence Almast to exile. Her fate in the opera is therefore very different from that related by Tumanyan, where she is killed by the bored Nadir....



John A. Parkinson

Opera in three acts by Michael Arne and Jonathan Battishill to a libretto by Richard Rolt; London, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 2 November 1764.

The sultan of Persia has been desposed and killed by the villain Mohammed (bass) who then makes advances to the sultan’s widow Aspatia (soprano), who is also loved by the sultan’s Vizier (bass). Aspana’s daughter Almena (soprano) is wooed by the hero Mirza (soprano castrato), the late sultan’s nephew. He has also aroused the affection of Zara (soprano), Mohammed’s sister. When Mirza is thrown into prison, Zara assumes a disguise and rescues him, without overturning his love for Almena. Eventually all ends happily with the lovers reunited. Michael Arne provided the arias for the hero and heroine, whereas Battishill was responsible for Mohammed and Zara’s arias and the choruses. Strangely, their contributions were published separately. Arne’s florid music include Almena’s aria ‘No fears alarm’ which features a remarkable mandolin obbligato....



Anthony Hicks

[Der in Krohnen erlangte Glücks-Wechsel, oder Almira, Königin von Castilien (‘The Change of Fortune gained with a Crown, or Almira, Queen of Castile’)]

Singspiel in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto by Friedrich Christian Feustking after Giulio Pancieri’s L’Almira (1691, Venice); Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt, 8 January 1705 (according to Mattheson, relevant wordbooks are dated 1704).

Handel’s first opera, produced when he was 19, is strongly influenced by the example of the leading Hamburg composer Reinhard Keiser in its brilliant fusion of French, Gemman and Italian styles. The libretto was in fact intended for Keiser, and was set by him for production in Hamburg in 1704; but it was not performed and (according to the account in Mainwaring’s Memoirs of the Life of … Handel, which there is no reason to doubt) Keiser had to leave Hamburg hastily, having ‘involved himself in debts’, and the opera house manager ‘therefore applied to Handel, and furnished him with a drama [i.e. Almira] to set’. (Keiser’s setting reached performance only in revised versions, one at Weissenfels in ...


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Alonso and Cora’)

Opera seria in three acts by Francesco Bianchi to a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa , after Ferdinando Moretti ’s libretto Idalide; Venice, Teatro S Benedetto, 7 February 1786.

The plot, a romance between the conquistador Alonso (soprano castrato) and the Inca sun-maiden Cora (soprano), closely follows Moretti’s libretto as set by Giuseppe Sarti ( see Vergine del sole, La ). Bianchi’s setting is unusual for the large number of concertato choruses (including introduzioni to both Acts 1 and 3), its three ensembles (two duets and a quintet), and the ballet that is incorporated into the final scene complex in Act 1. Act 3 is one enormous scene complex, large parts of which are set in obbligato recitative with orchestral accompaniment, there are several choruses, and a vocal rondò for Alonso, ‘Nella sede degli amanti’. Foppa enhanced the spectacle with a stormy sea, a disembarkation and a volcanic eruption, complete with ballet and chorus. In pairing ...


(‘The King of the Alps and the Misanthrope’)

Romantischkomisches Zauberspiel by Wenzel Müller to a libretto by Ferdinand Raimund ; Vienna, Theater in der Leopoldstadt, 17 October 1828.

Probably the masterpiece of both dramatist and composer, Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind can stand comparison with Molière in its depiction of the two sides of the character of a misanthrope. Herr von Rappelkopf (tenor) is cured of his misanthropy through the intervention of Astragalus (spoken), the King of the Alps, with whom under duress he exchanges appearances. Rappelkopf’s eviction of the charcoal burner’s family, a scene considered by some to be chillingly proto-naturalistic, is accompanied by the ensemble ‘So leb denn wohl, du stilles Haus’. The scenes of domestic life, with well-drawn comic servants, are more effective than those depicting young love; best of all is the role of Rappelkopf (which Raimund wrote for himself), with its lively and attractive songs. If the five choruses lack any great individuality the ensembles, and especially the solo numbers for Rappelkopf (for example the explosive entry song ‘Ha! Ja, das kann nicht mehr so bleiben’), are simple but highly effective. Raimund played the part to great acclaim both in Vienna and during his guest seasons in Germany. The play was successfully performed in London (Adelphi Theatre) in ...



Roger Parker

Tragedia lirica in a prologue and two acts by Giuseppe Verdi to a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano after Voltaire’s play Alzire, ou Les Américains; Naples, Teatro S Carlo, 12 August 1845.

There were two reasons why Alzira, Verdi’s eighth opera was something of a special event. It was the first he had written specially for the famous Teatro S Carlo of Naples, and so offered him an opportunity to confront a significant public and theatre with whom he had so far had little success. And it presented a chance to collaborate with Salvadore Cammarano, resident poet at the S Carlo, certainly the most famous librettist still working in Italy, renowned for his string of successes in the previous decade with Gaetano Donizetti. Because of Cammarano’s fame, Verdi seems to have taken little active part in the formation of the libretto (this in contrast to the works he prepared with his principal librettist of the period, Piave), being for the most part happy to accept the dictates of Cammarano’s highly professional instincts. Work on ...


Anthony Hicks

(‘Amadigi of Gaul’)

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to an anonymous libretto adapted from Antoine Houdar de Lamotte ’s libretto Amadis de Grèce (1699, Paris); London, King’s Theatre, 25 May 1715.

The original cast of Amadigi consisted of the castrato Nicolini (Amadigi), the contralto Diana Vico (Dardano), Anastasia Robinson (Oriana) and Elisabetta Pilotti-Schiavonetti (Melissa). (The singer of Orgando’s role, which consists only of brief recitatives, is unknown.) Robinson fell ill after the first night and was probably replaced by Caterina Galerati. (It may have been at this point that Oriana’s last aria in Act 2, ‘Affannami, tormentami’, was replaced by ‘Ch’io lasci mai d’amare’.) Further changes were made for revivals of the opera in the following seasons (1716 and 1717). A total of five new arias seems to have been added to the opera at various times, but the absence of wordbooks for the later performances makes the textual history difficult to trace. There were two productions in Hamburg in ...


Lois Rosow

[Amadis de Gaule (‘Amadis of Gaul’)]

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 Nicolas Herberay des Essarts’ adaptation of Garcí Rodríguez de Montalvo’s Amadís de Gaula; Paris, Opéra, 18 January 1684.

Lully’s last three tragédies were based on tales of chivalry rather than ancient mythology; Amadis was the earliest, and the subject chosen by Louis XIV. The title is sometimes given as Amadis de Gaule to avoid confusion with Destouches’ Amadis de Grèce. The première was in Paris instead of at court because the queen had died in July 1683; a court production without scenery or machines took place at Versailles in March 1685. The principal singers at the première included Moreau (Oriane), Le Rochois (Arcabonne), Dumesnil (Amadis) and Dun (Florestan); the principal male dancers were Beauchamp, Pécour and Lestang, and the principal female dancers La Fontaine, Carré and Pesan. There were eight Paris revivals between ...


Ernest Warburton

(‘Amadis of Gaul’) [Amadis des Gaules (‘Amadis of the Gauls’)]. Tragédie lyrique in three acts by Johann Christian Bach to a libretto by Philippe Quinault revised by Alphonse-Denis-Marie de Vismes du Valgay; Paris, Opéra, 14 December 1779.

Johann Christian Bach’s only French opera entered the repertory of the Académie Royale de Musique (with the haute-contre Joseph Legros in the title role) between Gluck’s Echo et Narcisse (24 September 1779) and Piccinni’s Atys (22 February 1780) and, predictably, satisfied neither the supporters of these two composers nor the traditionalists. The revision of Quinault’s 1684 libretto for Lully’s Amadis was undertaken according to the principles of Marmontel by the cavalry-officer brother of the director of the Opéra. The original prologue and five acts were reduced to three and the subplot involving Florestan and Corisande was eliminated. This drew fierce criticism, which led to the withdrawal of the work from the repertory after the third performance for revision; by the time it returned, following illness among the cast, public interest had cooled and its run ended after only seven performances....


Caroline Wood

(‘Amadis of Greece’)

Tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by André Cardinal Destouches to a libretto by Antoine Houdar de Lamotte ; Paris, Opéra, ?26 March 1699.

After about 1700 chivalric subjects became a popular alternative to mythology for French opera librettos; alongside this went a growing taste for horror and the supernatural, supplied here by the intervention of the sorceress Mélisse (soprano). The plot concerns Amadis (bass) and the Prince of Thrace (haute-contre), rival suitors for Niquée (soprano), daughter of the King of Thebes. An ombre, the spirit of the Prince, is summoned by Mélisse to help her thwart Amadis’s intentions, but pronounces instead the gods’ support of Niquée and Amadis. The casting of the haute-contre as the unsuccessful lover is unusual. The music contains many illustrations of natural and supernatural phenomena. The scene of the ombre in Act 5 (i and ii) gives the orchestra a prominent role: first in the evocation, with irregular flurries of activity in the ...


Bruce Archibald

Opera for television in one act by Gian Carlo Menotti to his own libretto; NBC, New York, 24 December 1951.

The stage is in two parts. One is the stark interior of a shepherd’s hut; surrounding it is the exterior showing distant hills, a road winding offstage to the left and reappearing among the hills, and a starry sky with the star of Bethlehem shining brightly. After a very short prelude of soft, tender music Amahl (boy soprano, about 12 years old), who is crippled, is seen and heard (oboe) playing his shepherd’s pipe. It is a cheerful C major tune, totally diatonic, over a drone C–G bass 5th. He is seated outside the hut wearing an oversized cloak. His mother (soprano) calls him to go to bed. He delays as long as possible but finally takes his crutch and hobbles into the hut. He tells her of the large bright star and she replies that he is a chronic liar and complains of their poverty. Amahl begins a short duet – comforting his mother – which closes with ‘Good night’. While they sleep, he on a bed of straw and she on a bench, the voices of the Three Kings are heard in the distance: Kaspar (tenor), Melchior (baritone) and Balthazar (bass). Amahl wakes up and hobbles to the window. He tells his mother that he sees three kings and, of course, she does not believe him. The kings and a page (baritone) are allowed in by the bewildered mother. They settle in, the kings seated on the bench and the page on a stool, to a stately but sprightly march from the orchestra. During the following conversation there is a humorous song by Kaspar – ‘This is my box’. He shows off the precious gems in his box, but most important is the liquorice. He gives some to Amahl. In staged performances this song is often sung with Kaspar walking among the audience tossing out sweets....


Dale E. Monson

(‘The Lover of All Women’)

Dramma giocoso in three acts by Baldassare Galuppi to a libretto by Antonio Galuppi ; Venice, Teatro S Moisè, 15 November 1760.

Don Orazio (bass) suspects his wife Lucinda (soprano) of indiscretion and offers the peasant Mingone (tenor) a reward to spy for him. His suspicions are confirmed when Lucinda invites Marchese Canoppio (alto castrato) and Clarice (soprano), a woman of the most delicate affectation, and receives a third guest, Conte Eugenio (soprano castrato), who by his own admission is hopelessly in love with whichever woman is nearby; he alternately courts Clarice, Lucinda and even the servant Dorina (soprano). Surprised at dinner by Orazio, who has been warned by Mingone, the guests discover they cannot leave, since their coach has departed. Later, Orazio and Mingone thwart a rendezvous between Eugenio and Lucinda. Lucinda, Dorina and Canoppio threaten Mingone for his treachery, and Orazio is outraged; Dorina is given her salary and dismissed, and Canoppio is insulted. In the end Clarice and Eugenio become engaged, Orazio forgives Lucinda, and she reciprocates with an apology. Everyone sings, ‘What has happened has happened, and we shouldn’t dwell on the past’....


Stephen Shearon

(‘The Generous Lovers’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Francesco Mancini to a libretto by Giovanni Pietro Candi revised by Ginlio Convò and Silvio Stampiglia ; Naples, Teatro S Bartolomeo, ?Carnival 1705.

The opera was the fourth by Mancini to be performed at the S Bartolomeo; the revised libretto included new or additional material by the Neapolitan Abate Convò and comic scenes by Stampiglia. The tale concerns the Persian king Artaserse [Artaxerxes] (contralto) and his problems with two pairs of lovers: his nephew Idaspe [Hydaspes] (soprano) and Berenice (soprano), whom Artaxerxes wants for himself, and his brother Dario [Darius] (contralto) and Mandane (soprano), daughter of the King of Media and a captive of Artaxerxes. Another pair of ‘generous lovers’ written in by Stampiglia – Ircano (bass), one of Darius’s soldiers, and Mandane’s maid Drosilla (soprano) – offers comic relief. Artaxerxes plans, with the aid of his captain Arbace [Arbaces] (soprano), to put his rival Hydaspes to death. Arbaces becomes disillusioned with the actions of his king and joins Darius, who attacks Artaxerxes’ capital city, Susa. But when Artaxerxes’ life is threatened by Darius’s soldiers Darius and Hydaspes protect him, whereupon he admits his past mistakes and gives Berenice to Hydaspes and Mandane to Darius....


Stephen C. Fisher and Harris S. Saunders

[ L’amazone corsara, ovvero L’Alvilda regina de’ Goti (‘The Amazon Pirate, or Alvilda Queen of the Goths’)]

Dramma per musica in three acts by Carlo Pallavicino to a libretto by Giulio Cesare Corradi ; Venice, Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, shortly after 1 February 1686.

L’amazone corsara was produced twice at the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, in 1686 and 1688. Six unattributed productions for other Italian cities between 1688 and 1697 may have used some of Pallavicino’s music, although the libretto was reset by Alessandro Scarlatti in 1689. Corradi provides no historical sources for his plot, which is presumably completely fanciful. By the standards of the day, the staging requirements are modest; there are only seven human characters. The allegorical character Fame (soprano) appears in a flying chariot to deliver the prologue. Alvilda, Queen of the Goths (soprano), has become a pirate rather than marry, but Alfo, King of Denmark (tenor), who loves her, has at length defeated and captured her. Alfo’s brother Olmiro (soprano) is in love with Gilde (soprano), but her father Ernando (bass) intends her to become a nun. Delio, a courtier (alto), and Alvilda’s companion Irene (soprano) also fall in love. Repeatedly rejected by Alvilda, Alfo pretends to marry Gilde and to give the pirate to her as a servant. Finally Alvilda agrees to marry Alfo and the other two couples also unite....



Harris S. Saunders


Dramma per musica in three acts by Francesco Gasparini to a libretto by Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Pariati after Saxo Grammaticus: Historiae Danicae; Venice, Teatro S Cassiano, Carnival 1706.

Ambelto was first performed during the week before 16 January 1706, with the alto castrato Nicolini in the title role. The libretto is based on Saxo Grammaticus, one of Shakespeare’s indirect sources. The characters in Ambleto parallel those in Shakespeare’s play: Ambleto (alto castrato) corresponds to Hamlet, Veremonda (soprano) to Ophelia, Gerilda (soprano) to Gertrude, Fengone (bass) to Claudius and Valdemaro (soprano castrato) to Fortinbras. There is neither incest theme nor ghost, but love complications abound. Fengone and Valdemaro are both in love with Veremonda, a princess in her own right, who is true to Hamlet. Another Danish princess, Ildegarde (contralto), who was Fengone’s mistress before he usurped the throne, is also in love with Hamlet. Twice Hamlet foils Fengone’s attempts to unmask his madness as pretence. The usurper’s resolve to repudiate Gerilda and marry Veremonda precipitates the crisis. Fengone forces Gerilda and Veremonda to bow to his wishes by threatening to kill Hamlet; but during a bacchanalian revel, Hamlet arranges to administer a sleeping draught to him and he awakens in chains. As the newly acknowledged king, Hamlet sentences Fengone to a slow death, but the officer in charge takes it upon himself to dispatch him swiftly. Hamlet will marry Veremonda and reign along with his mother; Valdemaro will marry Ildegarde....


Bruce Archibald

(‘Amelia Goes to the Ball’)

Opera buffa in one act by Gian Carlo Menotti to his own libretto; Philadelphia, Academy of Music, 1 April 1937 (in English).

Written when Menotti was 23, Amelia al ballo became his first major success. It was given its première, in an English translation by George Mead, by members of the Curtis Institute of Music (where Menotti had studied). It was performed at the Metropolitan Opera in New York on 3 March 1938; the first performance in Italian was at San Remo on 4 April 1938. Amelia (soprano) is dressing for a ball when her husband (baritone) storms in, having found a love letter to her. He leaves angrily and her lover (tenor) enters through a window; they sing a duet. The husband returns and during the ensuing argument Amelia, becoming ever more impatient at not going to the ball breaks a vase on her husband’s head. She blames her lover when the police arrive: her husband goes to the hospital, her lover to gaol. But Amelia has her wish, as the chief of police (bass) takes her to the ball. A joyful C major chorus from the gathered crowd closes the opera....


Peter Ross

(‘Friend Fritz’)

Commedia lirica in three acts by Pietro Mascagni to a libretto by P. Suardon (Nicola Daspuro) from Erckmann-Chatrian’s story L’ami Fritz; Rome, Teatro Costanzi, 31 October 1891.

The sensational success of Cavalleria rusticana in 1890 aroused hopes that the precarious state in which Italian opera had existed for some decades was reaching a turning-point. In the next year Mascagni fulfilled those high hopes with L’amico Fritz, consolidating his already international reputation as the most promising composer of the younger generation. The première, hailed as the most important operatic event since that of Otello, was a triumph, and the work immediately had many further performances; it seemed at first that it would be just as successful as Mascagni’s first opera. With Fritz Kobus’s house and estate in Alsace, Mascagni had again chosen a rural setting, but the choice of a sentimental subject in the comédie larmoyante tradition shows that he was deliberately aiming for a contrast with the stark realism of ...


William Ashbrook


Tragedia lirica in four acts by Franco Faccio to a libretto by Arrigo Boito after William Shakespeare ’s play Hamlet; Genoa, Teatro Carlo Felice, 30 May 1865 (revised, Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 9 February 1871).

The second and last of Faccio’s operas, Amleto commands attention for two reasons. First, it marks an effort of two prominent members of the Scapigliatura (a late Romantic reform movement in northern Italy in the 1860s and 70s) to renew the tradition of Italian opera. Second as the first of Boito’s librettos derived from Shakespeare, it reveals the future poet of Otello and Falstaff collaborating with a far less experienced and gifted composer than Verdi. The libretto gives an Italian equivalent for many of the famous passages and images of Shakespeare’s text, but it possesses a decidedly un-Shakespearean flavour due to its metrical variety and self-consciously wide range of vocabulary. Undeniably it is a literary tour de force: learned, but callow....


Marita P. McClymonds


Opera seria in two acts by Gaetano Andreozzi to a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa after a tragedy by Jean-François Ducis; Padua, Teatro Nuovo, 12 June 1792.

Amleto (soprano castrato) is tormented by his father’s ghost demanding revenge for his murd’er. In an attempt to learn who committed the deed, all gather at his funeral urn. As Amleto’s mother Geltrude (soprano) and her lover Claudio (tenor) approach, the urn bursts into flames. Amleto holds Claudio responsible. Amelia (mezzo-soprano), Claudio’s daughter and Amleto’s betrothed, reports to Geltrude and Noresto (mezzo-soprano castrato) that conspirators are seeking Amleto’s death. In the final scene Claudio fatally wounds Geltrude. Amleto captures him and bids a heartbroken farewell to his dying mother.

Typical of the 1790s, the opera opens with an introduzione – a dialogue for Claudio and a chorus of conspirators in obbligato recitative, arioso and ensemble. The body of the work is principally a succession of recitatives and arias. New to ...


Scott L. Balthazar

(‘Conjugal love’)

Farsa sentimentale in one act by Simon Mayr to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi after Jean-Nicolas Bouilly ’s libretto Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal; Padua, Teatro Nuovo, 26July 1805.

Mayr’s opera is the third of four works based on Bouilly’s story; the others are by Gaveaux (Léonore, ou L ’amour conjugal, 1798), Paer (Leonora, ossia L’amore conjugale, 1804) and, of course, Beethoven (Leonore later Fidelio). In contrast to the other Italian opera on the story by Paer and his librettist Giovanni Schmidt, which adheres closely to the original source, Mayr’s incorporates numerous revisions. With the action moved from Spain to 17th-century Poland, it joined the vogue for Polish rescue operas at the turn of the century which included Cherubini’s Lodoïska (1791, reset by Mayr in 1796) and Faniska (1806). Rossi reduced the number of acts from two to one, rearranged several scenes eliminated the chorus, renamed most of the characters and changed their personalities. He transformed the politically motivated, vindictive Pizarre into the love-crazed, cowardly Moroski (bass), made Léonore into the ardently passionate, yet somewhat naive Zeliska/Malvino (soprano), gave the saucy wench Marcelline an idealistic, serious side as the character Floreska (soprano), and treated her father, now Peters (bass) instead of Roc, as an object of ridicule. The hero Amorveno (tenor), is rescued by his brother Ardelao (tenor)....