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Ronald Crichton

(‘Ariane and Bluebeard’)

Tale in three acts by Paul Dukas to a libretto by Maurice Maeterlinck after Charles Perrault; Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 10 May 1907.

Maeterlinck’s many-sided, symbolic libretto (originally considered and rejected by Grieg) was written for his companion Georgette Leblanc, actress and singer. He claimed that it was based on actual experiences of hers. With typical Maeterlinckian ambiguity, questions are posed but not answered. We know by the end that the former wives are still attracted to their torturer and that they have refused Ariane’s offer of liberty. Bluebeard’s power is broken but uncertainty remains. In spite of her composure Ariane has achieved little except, as Dukas suggested (in a note published in 1936 in the special Dukas number – no.166 – of the Revue musicale also containing a valuable study of Ariane by Olivier Messiaen), the possibility of liberating herself. Ariane, completed in 1906 after seven years’ work, won and has retained the high regard of musicians and particularly composers, including Schoenberg, Berg and Messiaen. Yet though it is one of the foremost examples of the abundantly productive post-Wagnerian phase in French opera it has never gained popular success. Even in Paris productions have been infrequent (one of them was brought to London for two performances at Covent Garden during the ...



John Whenham


Tragedia in one act by Claudio Monteverdi to a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini ; Mantua, ducal palace, 28 May 1608.

Arianna was written for the celebrations following the marriage of Francesco Gonzaga, elder son of the Duke of Mantua, to Margherita, daughter of the Duke of Savoy. Monteverdi probably received the libretto in October 1607, and it was originally intended that the opera should be performed towards the end of Carnival (that is, before 18 February) 1608. The title role was to have been taken by Caterina Martinelli, a young singer trained under Monteverdi’s supervision. In the event the Gonzagas’ original intentions proved impossible to realize. Arrangements for the marriage were beset by political problems, causing the celebrations to be delayed until after Lent, and on 7 March 1608 Caterina Martinelli died of smallpox. Her place was taken by Virginia Andreini, one of a company of actors called to Mantua for the celebrations, and the opera was finally given on 28 May in a temporary theatre constructed for the purpose within the ducal palace. The role of Theseus was taken by Francesco Rasi. According to Federico Follino, chronicler of the occasion, the performance lasted two and a half hours and was played before an audience of several thousand people....


Anthony Hicks

(‘Ariadne in Crete’)

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto anonymously adapted from Pietro Pariati ’s Teseo in Creta (1715) as revised for Naples (1721) and Rome (1729); London, King’s Theatre, 26 January 1734.

Handel completed the score of Arianna in Creta on 5 October 1733. It was his only new opera of his 1733–4 season at the King’s Theatre, and the subject may have been deliberately chosen to complement Porpora’s Arianna in Nasso at Lincoln’s Inn Fields, the first production of the newly-formed ‘Opera of the Nobility’. The libretto elaborates the mythical tale of Theseus’s visit to Crete and his slaying of the Minotaur with the help of Ariadne, daughter (though she is unaware of it) of King Minos; there is a subplot involving Ariadne’s jealousy when Theseus champions Carilda, the intended first victim of the Minotaur, who herself secretly loves Theseus but is loved by Alcestes, Theseus’s friend, and more violently courted by Tauris, captain of Minos’s guards. The mezzo-soprano castratos Giovanni Carestini and Carlo Scalzi sang the roles of Teseo [Theseus] and Theseus’s friend Alceste [Alcestes]; the other singers were Anna Maria Strada del Pò as Ariadne (soprano), Margherita Durastanti (Handel’s old colleague from his time in Italy) as the Cretan general Tauride [Tauris] (mezzo-soprano), Maria Caterina Negri as the Athenian maiden Carilda (contralto) and Gustavus Waltz as King Minos (bass). Waltz probably also sang the small part of Sonno [Somnus], God of Sleep. ...


Michael F. Robinson

(‘Ariadne in Naxos’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Nicola Porpora to a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli; London, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, 29 December 1733.

The action takes place on the island of Naxos where the lovers Teseo [Theseus] (alto castrato) and Ariadne (soprano), forced ashore by a storm, come into contact with Theseus’s wife Antiope (soprano), with the god Libero [Dionysus] (contralto), in the guise of his high priest Onoro, who loves Ariadne, and with Piritoo (bass), who becomes friendly with Theseus and acts as his accomplice. By the use of various threats, Dionysus persuades Theseus to leave Naxos with his wife rather than with Ariadne. He then discloses his true identity to Ariadne and successfully woos her.

Arianna in Nasso was the first of five operas composed by Porpora during his stay in London (1733–6) as musical director of the Opera of the Nobility company, set up in ...


Marita P. McClymonds

Opera seria in three acts by Angelo Tarchi to a libretto by Ferdinando Moretti; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, January 1786.

Ariarate (soprano castrato), true heir to the throne of Cappadocia, has been reared as Eumene by Attalo [Attalus] (tenor), King of Pergamum and father of Stratonica (soprano), Ariarate’s betrothed. Orossene (contralto castrato), usurper of the Cappadocian throne, is betrothed to Laodice (soprano), but wishes to put her aside in favour of Stratonica. By trickery, Orossene learns of Eumene’s true identity. He takes Ariarate and Attalus prisoner and forces Stratonica to choose who will be put to death. When Laodice’s supporters take the city, they are saved, and Orossene’s powers are broken.

Tarchi’s most successful opera in terms of the number of revivals, Ariarate is outstanding for the beauty and drama of its music and the suspense of its plot. It is a traditional ‘aria’ opera with a duet and a quartet at the close of Acts 1 and 2. The formally innovatory quartet dispenses with the usual initial quatrains for each participant, replacing them with short-breathed statements that spring dramatically from the dynamics of the action....


M. Elizabeth C. Bartlet


Drame mêlé de musique in three acts by Etienne-Nicolas Méhul to a libretto by François-Benoît Hoffman after Ludovico Ariosto ’s poem Orlando furioso (cantos v–vi); Paris, Opéra-Comique (Salle Favart), 11 October 1799.

Ina (soprano), a princess at the Scottish court, becomes betrothed to Ariodant (haute-contre). Othon (haute-contre/ tenor), spurned earlier by the heroine, challenges Ariodant to a duel over her, and they arrange to meet that night. Meanwhile, at the fête given by her father, King Edgard (tenor), to celebrate the engagement, a bard (haute-contre) accompanied by a harp entertains the guests with a touching romance (‘Femme sensible, entends-tu le ramage’). Ina worries that Othon will prove treacherous and seeks to dissuade her lover from keeping the rendez-vous. A model of chivalry, Ariodant insists on defending her honour. Left alone, she expresses her conflicting emotions (her love for and confidence in Ariodant and her fear of Othon) in a magnificent ...


Anthony Hicks

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto anonymously adapted from Antonio Salvi ’s Ginevra, principessa di Scozia (1708, Pratolino) after Ludovico Ariosto ’s poem, Orlando furioso, cantos iv–vi; London, Covent Garden Theatre, 8 January 1735.

Ariodante was the first new opera produced by Handel in his first season at Covent Garden Theatre. It was mostly written between 12 August and 24 October 1734, though some pre-performance revisions (such as the alteration of Dalinda’s part from contralto to soprano) may have been made later. The original cast consisted of the castrato Giovanni Carestini (Ariodante), Anna Maria Strada del Pò (Ginevra), the contralto Maria Negri (Polinesso), John Beard (Lurcanio), Cecilia Young (Dalinda), Gustavus Waltz (King of Scotland) and Michael Stoppelaer (Odoardo). In common with the other operas of Handel’s 1734–5 season Ariodante contains dance sequences in each act, written for Marie Sallé and her company. (These originally included a ballet of Good and Bad Dreams at the end of Act 2, representing Ginevra’s troubled thoughts and concluding with an accompanied recitative in which she wakes up; but the sequence seems to have been replaced before performance by a short ‘Entrée de Mori’ and transferred – without the recitative – to ...


George Truett Hollis

(‘Aristo and Temira’)

Dramma per musica in one act by Ferdinando Bertoni to a libretto by Conte de’ Salvioli; Venice, Teatro S Benedetto, 3 January 1776.

Performed alongside Bertoni’s Orfeo ed Euridice and described variously as a pastorale ( D-Mbs ) and cantata ( F-Pn ), Aristo e Temira is in nine short scenes and out-lines the separation and reunion of a pair of lovers. It gives each of the four singers an opportunity for virtuosic display of their voices, in contrast to the companion work. Aristo (soprano) was sung by Lorenzo Piatti and Temira (soprano) by Camilla Passi Sarti, who also sang Euridice in Orfeo. Egina (soprano) was sung by Lucia Alberoni and Alceo (tenor) by Giacomo Davide, who sang Imene in Orfeo. Scene iv comprises a complex of recitative (marked accompagnato in D-Mbs ), cavatina (‘Senza te, mio caro bene’) sung alternately by Temira and Aristo, a bravura aria for Aristo, and a rhapsodic duet for the reunited pair. Scene vi contains a bravura aria (‘Il fato à voi concede’) with lengthy ...


Antony Beaumont

[Arlecchino, oder Die Fenster (‘Arlecchino, or The Windows’)]

Theatralisches Capriccio in one act, op.50, by Ferruccio Busoni to his own libretto; Zürich, Stadttheater, 11 May 1917.

The action is divided into four movements (Busoni uses the word Satz, which can also signify a leap or skip); the scene is a street in Bergamo. In ‘Arlecchino as Rogue’ the hero (speaking role) dallies with the lovely Annunziata (silent role) while her aging husband, the tailor-master Ser Matteo del Sarto (bass-baritone), reads Dante. Arlecchino persuades him that the town is surrounded by barbarians, hurries him into the house, locks the door and pockets the key. The Abbate Cospicuo (baritone) and Dr Bombasto (bass) pass by, taking their evening stroll. They are alarmed at Matteo’s news and set off in haste to inform the mayor, but vanish instead into a nearby tavern.

‘Arlecchino as Warrior’ shows Ser Matteo being called up for military service. Arlecchino grants him permission to take his Dante into battle: ‘Nobody shall say that culture was allowed to perish in the war’....


Julian Budden

(‘The Girl from Arles’)

Opera in four acts by Francesco Cilea to a libretto by Leopoldo Marenco after Alphonse Daudet’s play L’arlésienne; Milan, Teatro Lirico, 27 November 1897 (revised in three acts, 1898).

The action takes place at the farm of Rosa Mamai (soprano) in Provence. Of her two sons, the younger, known as L’Innocente (mezzo-soprano), is a simpleton. The elder, Federico (tenor), is madly in love with a girl from Arles, whom he intends to marry, much to his mother’s concern, since nothing is known about her. The old shepherd, Baldassare (baritone), is entertaining L’Innocente with a nursery tale. Rosa Mamai tells her foster-daughter, Vivetta (soprano), how Federico first set eyes on the girl (‘Era un giorno di festa’). Vivetta is distressed, since she is in love with Federico herself. The young man arrives with his uncle Marco (bass), who gives a satisfactory account of the bride’s family. While the others are celebrating the forthcoming wedding, Rosa Mamai and Baldassare receive a visit from the drover, Metifio (baritone), with letters proving that the girl from Arles has been his mistress. Baldassare borrows them to show to Federico, who is overcome with despair....


Peter Franklin

(‘Poor Heinrich’)

Musikdrama in three acts by Hans Pfitzner to a libretto by James Grun (with Pfitzner) after the medieval poem by Hartmann von Aue; Mainz, Stadttheater, 2 April 1895.

Pfitzner completed this, his first opera, in 1893, when he was 24 and still without a permanent post. Its first performance was secured with the assistance of the librettist’s influential sister, Frances Grun. The title role was sung by Bruno Heydrich, and the work’s favourable reception (sealed by an appreciative review by Humperdinck) marked the beginning of Pfitzner’s reputation as a significant post-Wagnerian composer (productions at Frankfurt and Darmstadt followed in 1897). In Hartmann’s original, more closely adhered to by Gerhart Hauptmann in his similarly titled play of 1902, Heinrich had suffered from leprosy, which could only be cured by the blood of a young girl who would voluntarily sacrifice herself. The daughter of the farmer with whom Heinrich had taken refuge agreed to do so. Struck by her beauty, Heinrich had nevertheless prevented the girl’s sacrifice and been rewarded with a miraculous recovery; he later married her. Pfitzner himself started a libretto on Hartmann’s subject and wrote the initial feverish ‘dream’ narration of his own more mysteriously ailing knight. The rest was the work of his friend James Grun, who adhered throughout to a somewhat slavishly Wagnerian manner of poetic diction....


Dramma per musica in three acts by Johann Gottlieb Naumann to a libretto by Giovanni Bertati after Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Padua, Nuovo Teatro, 13 June 1773.

Composed in only three weeks, Armida was one of the last works of Naumann’s student years in Italy. The opera depicts the bitter struggle between Armida (soprano), who magically controls her lover Rinaldo (soprano castrato), and Ubaldo (tenor), the leader of the French army, who wants Rinaldo to come away and fight with them for Jerusalem. Their intrigues involve Armida’s father Idreno (bass) and her confidante Zelmira (alto). After much scheming and struggling, Armida relents, Rinaldo promises that he will return to her after the battle, and goes off with the army. The music is heavily influenced by the reformist styles of Traetta and Jommelli. Naumann favours ensembles and short, through-composed cavatinas. Selections from Armida were first published in Venice, and a German translation of the opera gained recognition throughout central Europe....


Marita P. McClymonds

Azione teatrale in one act by Tommaso Traetta to a libretto by Giovanni Ambrogio Migliavacca and Giacomo Durazzo after Philippe Quinault ’s Armide, itself based on Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Vienna, Burgtheater, 3 January 1761.

The five acts of Quinault’s Armide have here been reduced to a single act of 20 scenes. Armida (soprano), her uncle Idraoto (tenor) and a band of Saracens, including Fenicia (soprano) and Argene (soprano), plot to capture a group of crusaders, among them Rinaldo (soprano castrato). During a confrontation Armida and Rinaldo fall in love. When Artemidoro (soprano castrato) and Ubaldo (tenor) restore Rinaldo’s reason, he leaves Armida, who falls into a rage, summons her dragon-drawn chariot and reduces the scene to flames and smoke.

This work appeared in Vienna a year before Gluck’s Orfeo, also a French-inspired piece. Following its French model, Lully’s Armide, Traetta’s work is rich in divertimentos incorporating chorus, dance and pantomime. It has several duets, and choruses occur in combination with one of the duets and a few of the arias. Nearly all the arias are in full da capo form. Traetta unified extensive scene complexes of recitative and cavatina through obbligato recitative, introducing programmatic material when appropriate. In the first, and most charming, such scene Rinaldo becomes enchanted with the limpid brooks and singing birds in Armida’s garden and falls asleep. Flutes, harp and muted strings depict his seduction. Armida enters, intent on killing him, but is dismayed to find herself falling in love with him instead. In the end she is abandoned, and like Metastasio’s Dido she expresses her emotions in a concluding scena with cavatinas. The work was divided into three acts and performed in Naples (...


Richard Osborne

Dramma in three acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Giovanni Schmidt after Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Naples Teatro S Carlo, 11 November 1817.

The Paladin Knights, led by Goffredo (tenor), are preparing to elect a successor to the deceased Dudone, but the election is interrupted by a weeping noblewoman demanding protection from Idraote who has usurped the throne of Damascus. The woman is the sorceress Armida (soprano) and the plea is a ruse. With the disguised Idraote (bass) as one of her followers, she has come to Jerusalem to enslave the knights in general and Rinaldo (tenor) in particular. The knights elect Rinaldo, to the fury of his closest rival, Gernando (tenor). Armida begins to seduce Rinaldo but is interrupted by Gernando’s insults. The two men fight a duel and Gernando is slain. Horrified by what he has done, Rinaldo flees the camp with Armida. Act 2 begins in a Fury-infested forest where Armida’s follower Astarotte (bass) rules over his demon empire. Rinaldo appears with Armida who transforms the forest into a vast Baroque palace. Love music and an extended ballet dominate the act. In Act 3 Carlo (tenor) and Ubaldo (tenor) arrive to recover Rinaldo. After a further duet with Armida, Rinaldo is shown his besotted image in the knights’ adamantine shield; this is the cue for the celebrated trio for three tenors ‘In quale aspetto imbelle’. The opera’s final scene, the lovers’ parting and Armida’s demented flight, is part realistic, part allegorical as Armida is confronted by the spirits of Vengeance and Love....


Dramma eroico in three acts by Joseph Haydn to a libretto by Nunziato Porta , after Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Eszterháza, 26 February 1784.

The original cast featured Matilde Bologna (Armida), Prospero Braghetti (Rinaldo), Antonio Specioli (Ubaldo), Paolo Mandini (Idreno), Costanza Valdesturla (Zelmira) and Leopold Dichtler (Clotarco). Armida, the most performed opera at Eszterháza, received 54 performances between its première and 1788. It enjoyed modest success outside Eszterháza; most later performances were in German. Artaria published a collection of ‘favourite songs’ from the opera in 1787. Haydn’s work derives originally from an episode in Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata (published in 1581), but relies more immediately on librettos on the same subject by Durandi, De Rogatis, Bertati and an unknown adapter (set by Tozzi, 1775). Today Armida is among the most admired of Haydn’s operas. There is at least one recording (with Jessye Norman in the title role), and there were several staged performances in the 1980s including one given at the ...


Dramma per musica in three acts by Antonio Salieri to a libretto by Marco Coltellini after Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Vienna, Burgtheater, 2 June 1771.

Salieri’s opera takes as its subject the story of Armida and Rinaldo, already the subject of operas by Lully and Traetta among others. Like Traetta a decade earlier, Salieri used the story as an opportunity to combine the dramatic and musical devices of French and Italian opera. Following in Traetta’s footsteps, Salieri successfully exploited the melodic richness of Italian opera within the dramatic framework of French tragédie lyrique, anticipating many aspects of Gluck’s Armide (1977). Like Traetta, Salieri kept the number of soloists to a minimum; there are only four characters: Armida (soprano), her confidante Ismene (soprano), Rinaldo (tenor) and Ubaldo (tenor). Salieri’s Armida was much praised by critics; it was one of the few Italian operas to be published in Germany in the 18th century (Leipzig, ...


Opera in four acts by Antonín Dvořák to a libretto by Jaroslav Vrchlický , after Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Prague, National Theatre, 25 March 1904.

With a common root in Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata, Vrchlický’s libretto bears clear resemblances to Quinault’s for Lully. The first act is set in Damascus as the Crusaders are advancing. The magician Ismen (baritone) persuades King Hydraot of Damascus (bass) to send his daughter Armida (soprano) to distract the Christian knights. Armida only agrees when Ismen conjures a picture of the camp and she recognizes the knight Rinald (tenor), whom she had seen and fallen in love with in a dream. In Act 2 there is already discontent at the slowness of the campaign in the Crusaders’ camp. A hermit Petr (bass), who senses that Armida will indeed cause a distraction, attempts to have her removed, but Rinald intervenes and takes her under his protection. In a frenzy of passion Armida and Rinald attempt to flee the camp but are discovered by Petr. As he calls the guards, Ismen appears in a chariot drawn by dragons and sweeps them away....


Opera seria in three acts by Antonio Sacchini to a libretto by Jacopo Durandi after Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro, Carnival 1772.

Armida incorporates elements previously associated with French opera: choruses, ballets, spectacle, machines and monsters. The characters are Armida (soprano) Rinaldo (soprano castrato), Ubaldo (tenor, but sung in Milan by G. B. Zonca), Zelmira (soprano), Idreno (alto castrato), and Clotarco (alto castrato). Sacchini’s music reflects the special character of the libretto by being carefully composed, including numbers in minor keys. ‘Idol mio, se più non vivi’ is one of the earliest instances of a vocal rondò being employed as a showpiece for the prime uomo, and its success probably contributed to what became a vogue for this genre.

Sacchini used this subject twice more: as Rinaldo (1780, London), and as his first French opera, Renaud (1783, Paris), to a libretto by Pellegrin and Leboeuf. Although ...


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Armida Abandoned’)

Opera seria in three acts by Niccolò Jommelli to a libretto by Francesco Saverio De Rogatis after Torquato Tasso ’s Gerusalemme liberata; Naples, Teatro di S Carlo, 30 May 1770.

Armida abbandonata was the first opera Jommelli wrote for Naples after having spent 17 years in the service of the Duke of Württemberg. It is unusually rich in spectacular elements, especially the depiction of rage at the end of Act 2, when Armida (soprano) calls down thunder and lightning to destroy her palace and then leaves in a chariot drawn by winged dragons. Such theatrical effects were rare in Naples but more common in Jommelli’s operas for the new theatre at Ludwigsburg, which had been designed to accommodate spectacle in the French style. Ballet and choruses were also introduced, and in Act 1 Tancredi (tenor) converses with silent dancers. The programmatic recitative in Act 3, describing the progress of Rinaldo (soprano castrato) through Armida’s enchanted forest, originated in this opera; it was set by half a dozen other composers before it was later incorporated into Haydn’s ...


Lois Rosow

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 Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata; Paris, Opéra, 15 February 1686.

The last tragedy by Lully and Quinault was regarded during the 18th century as their masterpiece. It is their only opera to concentrate on the sustained psychological development of an individual character. According to Le Cerf de la Viéville, it was known as ‘the ladies’ opera’, presumably a reference to Armide’s internal conflict.

Louis XIV chose the subject, but because of illnesses and scheduling clashes, the initial production had no court première (although unstaged chamber performances were sponsored by the dauphine). Apart from Le Rochois (Armide) and Dumesnil (Renaud), the principal singers at the Paris première are uncertain; they probably included either Dun or Beaumavielle (Hidraot), Moreau (Sidonie), Desmatins (Phénice) and Frere (Hatred). ...