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Clive Brown

[Czaar und Zimmermann, oder Die zwei [beiden] Peter (‘Tsar and Carpenter, or The Two Peters’)

Komische Oper in three acts by Albert Lortzing to his own libretto after Georg Christian Römer’s comedy Der Bürgermeister von Saardam, oder Die zwei Peter, itself based on Mélesville, E. C. de Boirie and J. T. Merle’s comédie-héroïqueLe bourgmestre de Sardam, ou Les deux Pierres; Leipzig, Stadttheater, 22 December 1837.

In the wake of his first success as a theatrical composer – Die beiden Schützen, given in February 1837 – Lortzing worked enthusiastically to complete another comic opera. Before the end of the year he had finished and mounted Zar und Zimmermann, in which he himself sang the part of Peter Ivanov, gaining a measure of acclaim and confirming his position as the leading German comic-opera composer. The principal factor in Lortzing’s success was his perfect matching of libretto and music; indeed, it was his carefully crafted librettos that were seen by contemporaries as his great strength. As the reviewer for the ...


Andrew Lamb

(‘The Tsarevich’)

Operette in three acts by Franz Lehár to a libretto by Heinz Reichert and Béla Jenbach , after the play by Gabriele Zapolska; Berlin, Deutsches Künstlertheater, 16 February 1927.

Written for Richard Tauber, with Rita Georg as his partner, the work is in the more serious style of Lehár’s later works, with an unhappy ending. The music is dramatic for the leading couple, offset with lighthearted dance numbers for the subsidiary couple. It is set at the end of the 19th century, and opens in St Petersburg, where the Tsarevich (tenor) is an austere, isolated and lonely young man (Volga Song: ‘Allein! wieder allein!’). His antagonism towards women is so great that even his valet Iwan (buffo) has to conceal the existence of a wife, Mascha (soprano). The Tsarevich’s lack of interest in women worries his uncle, the Grand Duke (spoken), who wishes to see him marry. To break down his reserve, a plan is hatched whereby Sonja (soprano), a dancer in a Cossack troupe, is brought to him disguised as a boy to join him in a gymnastic work-out. She agrees to the plan with some trepidation (‘Einer wird kommen’). By the end of Act 1 the Tsarevich has discovered her true sex, but already she has begun to break down his isolation. By Act 2, indeed, the relationship has developed into genuine love (‘Hab’ nur dich allein’), much to the concern of the Grand Duke, who has a royal bride in mind. Thus, in order to dispel the Tsarevich’s interest, Sonja is persuaded to tell him of a supposed string of previous lovers. However, she cannot maintain the deception, and they fall afresh into each other’s arms. By Act 3 they have escaped to Naples together, where they enjoy a bliss they sense may be all too short (Napolitana: ‘Warum hat jeder Frühling, ach, nur einen Mai?’). News comes of the Tsar’s death, and the Tsarevich realises that he must leave the heartbroken Sonja, to do his duty in St Petersburg....


Julian Rushton

(‘The Magic Flute’)

Singspiel in two acts, K620, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder ; Vienna, Theater auf der Wieden, 30 September 1791.

Die Zauberflöte is an allegory set in no real locality or historical period. Ancient Egypt is evoked by the mysteries, but early productions also showed Islamic influence on costumes and neo-classical architecture appropriate to the Enlightenment. The exotic costumes and setting (and Tamino’s nationality) are a mask; Mozart and Schikaneder intended a coded representation of Freemasonry.

Carl Ludwig Gieseke (who originally played the First Slave) said many years later that he had contributed as much as Schikaneder to the libretto, but his claims are now generally discredited. The sources of the libretto are diverse. Wieland provided the title (Lulu, oder Die Zauberflöte from Dschinnistan) and the source of Gieseke and Wranitzky’s opera Oberon (both 1789). Egyptological sources include Gebler’s Thamos, König in Agypten...


Erik Levi

(‘The Magic Violin’)

Opera in three acts (six scenes) by Werner Egk to a libretto by the composer and Ludwig Andersen after Franz, Graf von Pocci ’s fairy drama of 1868; Frankfurt, Städtische Bühnen, 22 May 1935 (revised Stuttgart, Württembergische Staatstheater, 2 May 1954).

Act 1 opens in a peasant’s hut. Kaspar (baritone), a farm-servant, is fed up with life. He leaves his fiancée Gretl (soprano) to seek fame and fortune in the outside world. On his journey through the forest Kaspar gives his last three coins to a Beggar (low bass), who is instantaneously transformed into Cuperus, ruler of the elemental spirits. In return for such generosity Cuperus grants Kaspar his wish to own a magic violin on the condition that he renounces love and conceals the pact from anyone else. After Cuperus disappears Kaspar has the opportunity to demonstrate the powers of his magic violin when he encounters the shady merchant Guldensack (bass) and hypnotizes him with the beauty of his playing. Two vagabonds, Fangauf (tenor) and Schnapper (bass), take advantage of the situation and rob the unconscious Guldensack of all his money. But when the merchant awakens he believes that Kaspar was the culprit....



Julian Budden

Commedia lirica in four acts by Ruggero Leoncavallo to his own libretto after the play by Pierre Berton and Charles Simon; Milan, Teatro Lirico, 10 November 1900.

The première of Zazà was conducted by Arturo Toscanini, with a cast including Rosina Storchio (Zazà), Edoardo Garbin (Dufresne) and Mario Sammarco (Cascart). Later the opera became a favourite with star sopranos such as Emma Carelli and Geraldine Farrar. In 1947 the conductor Renzo Bianchi made a reduced version of the score which subsequently became the standard version. More recently, however, Zazà has been successfully revived more or less in its entirety.

The action takes place in St Etienne and Paris during the 1890s. After a prelude based on a swirling, heavily charged ‘kiss’ motif, the curtain rises on the backstage of a sleazy music hall, the Alcazar de St Etienne, during an evening’s performance. A stage band is intermittently heard accompanying the various turns in a diversity of styles – Hungarian, Spanish, French ...



Richard Osborne

Dramma in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola after Dormont de Belloy’s Zelmire; Naples, Teatro di S Carlo, 16 February 1822.

Rossini’s final Neapolitan opera, a vocally alluring showcase written with an eye to international audiences in Vienna and beyond, is set on the island of Lesbos in ancient times. Old King Polidoro (bass) has ruled over the island peaceably with his daughter Zelmira (soprano) and her husband, the Trojan prince Ilo (tenor). But Polidoro has been deposed in Ilo’s absence by an adventurer who has in turn been murdered by Antenore (tenor). Zelmira has hidden the old king and is guarding his and her son’s safety with the help of Emma (contralto); but Antenore, having been proclaimed King of Lesbos, institutes various calumnies against Zelmira. Ilo, returning, is led to believe that she has murdered Polidoro. Even when he himself is saved by her from an assassination attempt, his would-be assassin Leucippo (bass) attaches the blame to Zelmira, who is then arrested. In Act 2 Zelmira is released in the hope that she will lead them to the old king. This duly happens and they are thrown into prison to await execution; but Ilo, by now reassured of his wife’s good faith, is able to save them from the cruel fate awaiting them at the hands of Antenore....



Marita P. McClymonds

Opera seria in three acts by Francesco Bianchi to a libretto by Gaetano Sertor ; Naples, Teatro di S Carlo, 4 November 1781 (revised version, Padua, Teatro Nuovo, fiera del santo [? 13 June], 1786).

Sarabes (tenor), principal rajah of India, refuses to give his daughter Zemira (soprano) in marriage to Akbar (soprano castrato), emperor of the Mogols. She is betrothed to Gandarte (soprano castrato), another rajah. Fearing for her father’s life, she goes to Akbar’s tent. Gandarte and Sarabes believe she has betrayed them and rush to avenge themselves. Akbar intercepts them, but Zemira draws a dagger and threatens to kill herself if her father is harmed. Akbar ultimately orders his rival to be put to death, and only after Sarabes has stabbed his own daughter does he relent, declaring that with her noble action Zemira has saved her beloved.

Unusual components in this work are the opening trio with storm music, the short duet for two men, the programmatic battle music, the extensive quartet and the stabbing. The death of Zemira is cut in Anfossi’s setting (...


David Charlton

(‘Zémire and Azor’)

Comédie-balletmêlée de chants et de danses in four acts by André-Ernest-Modeste Grétry to a libretto by Jean François Marmontel ; Fontainebleau, 9 November 1771.

This version of the Beauty and the Beast story was created from two literary sources: the substance of the story is from La belle et la bête by Jeanne Marie Le Prince de Beaumont, and the names and the setting from Amour pour amour, a verse play by P. C. Nivelle de La Chaussée (1742). The precedent of a long opéra comique using the supernatural and dances existed in Duni and Favart’s La fée Urgèle.

The final part of the overture paints a storm, after which we see Sander (baritone), a Persian merchant, and his servant Ali (tenor) sheltering in a deserted palace; it is night. Ali is scared, but induced to stay by food and wine that appear magically. Sander has lost his worldly goods in a shipwreck; for his third daughter, Zémire (soprano), he cuts a rose from an arbour. Azor (tenor) appears in anger. He, a Persian prince, has been given a beast-like countenance by a vengeful Fairy. Insulted by the theft of the rose, Azor demands Sander’s life; Sander successfully pleads to see his daughters once more. Azor proposes the life of one daughter instead, then transports Ali and Sander home on a cloud....


Clive Brown

(‘Zemire and Azor’)

Romantische Oper in two acts by Louis Spohr to a libretto by Johann Jakob Ihlée after Jean François Marmontel ’s comédie-balletZémire et Azor; Frankfurt, 4 April 1819.

After accepting the post of director of the Frankfurt opera in 1817, Spohr considered a number of possible opera projects. He began work on a version of Apel’s tale Der schwarze Jäger but abandoned it when he heard that Weber was writing an opera (Der Freischütz) on the same story. He then accepted the libretto of Zemire und Azor, adapted from the French original ( see Zémire et Azor above) by the director of the Frankfurt theatre. Spohr began work on the music in September 1818 and completed it in February 1819.

In this version of the old story of Beauty and the Beast, Sander (bass) and his servant Ali (tenor) find themselves in a magic garden. By plucking a rose they arouse the wrath of Prince Azor (tenor), who has been changed into a monster and can be redeemed only by the selfless love of a pure maiden. Sander’s youngest daughter, Zemire (soprano), goes to try to break the spell on Azor, and eventually comes to love him. When she leaves to visit her family, Azor gives her a magic ring without which she cannot return. Her sisters Lisbe (soprano) and Fatme (soprano) steal the ring, but she is miraculously transported back. The Fairy (speaking role) who had placed the enchantment on Azor releases him from it, and everything ends happily with the union of Zemire and Azor....


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Zenobia of Palmyra’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Pasquale Anfossi to a libretto by Gaetano Sertor ; Venice, Teatro S Benedetto, 26 December 1789.

The libretto, by the innovative Sertor, has a different plot from that of Metastasio’ Zenobia. Publia, daughter of the Roman Emperor Gallieno, has fallen in love with Arsace, Prince of Persia, who is a prisoner of Aureliano [Aurelian], Emperor of Rome, and betrothed Zenobia, Queen of the Palmyrans. Zenobia arrives to negotiate for Arsace’s release, and Aurelian falls in love with her, but she refuses to renounce Arsace. As the Romans rout the Palmyrans, Arsace escapes from prison, joins Zenobia, and leads the Palmyrans in successful retaliation. They are recaptured, and Arsace is condemned to death; but when Zenobia threatens to follow him in death and draws a dagger, Aurelian spares him.

A mature work, Zenobia was Anfossi’s most successful opera seria; Sartori’s libretto catalogue lists 11 productions in ten years. The work contains two duets and a trio for the principals and a short third act of four scenes, the last including an aria-length cavatina, and it offers several opportunities for lavish military display....


(‘Zenobia, Queen of the Palmyrans’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni to a libretto by Antonio Marchi; Venice, Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, Carnival 1694.

The Palmyran queen Zenobia (soprano) has been defeated by the Roman emperor Aurelian (alto) through the treachery of the governor of Palmyra, Ormonte (tenor), who hopes to wed his daughter Filidea (soprano) to the emperor. Zenobia refuses to submit to her conqueror, even when he falls in love with her and offers marriage. Furious at her resistance, Aurelian resolves to put Zenobia and her son to death, but refrains when he overhears Zenobia refuse Ormonte’s offer to assassinate him. The plot takes a historically inaccurate turn when Aurelian rewards Zenobia by restoring her to the Palmyran throne. Through Filidea’s pleas, Ormonte’s sentence of death is commuted to one of exile, and the opera ends with universal rejoicing.

Zenobia was Albinoni’s first opera. Its recitatives lack assurance, but many of its arias already show the simple tunefulness and idiomatic instrumental writing that are the hallmark of his mature style. The surviving score (in ...


Graham Sadler


Acte de ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau to an anonymous libretto; no known performance in Rameau’s time.

Originally entitled ‘Les nymphes de Diane’, this was probably intended as part of an opéra-ballet, possibly the aborted Les beaux jours de l’Amour ( see Naissance d’Osiris, La ). It presents the wooing of the nymph Cloris (soprano) by the God of the West Wind, Zephirus (...


Andrew Lamb

(‘The Gypsy Baron’)

Operette in three acts by Johann Strauss to a libretto by Ignaz Schnitzer after the novel by Mór Jókai; Vienna, Theater an der Wien, 24 October 1885.

The action takes place in the mid-18th century. Sándor Barinkay (tenor) returns to his native Temesvár after 20 years’ exile due to his father’s associations with the former Turkish rulers. He has meanwhile followed a catalogue of unlikely occupations (‘Als flotter Geist’). The Royal Commissioner, Conte Carnero (baritone), calls the local pig-farmer Zsupán (tenor buffo) to witness the deed that will restore Barinkay’s lands to him, but Zsupán has been too busy with his pigs to learn to read or write (‘Ja, das Schreiben und das Lesen’). Zsupán is anyway none too pleased at Barinkay’s return, since he has been making free use of Barinkay’s land for farming. Still, in the interest of getting his hands on the treasure reputedly buried on the land, he is happy to encourage Barinkay’s interest in his daughter Arsena (soprano). Arsena nevertheless declares that she will marry nobody lower than a baron. Barinkay is now attracted by the singing of the gypsy girl Sáffi (soprano) (‘So elend und so treu’), and he is welcomed by a bunch of gypsies as their lost leader. When he thus presents himself to Arsena as a ‘gypsy baron’, she rejects him afresh, and he immediately pledges allegiance to Sáffi....


Stephen C. Fisher

(‘The Gypsy Girl’)

Intermezzo in two acts by Rinaldo di Capua ; Paris, Opéra, 19 June 1753.

Nisa (soprano), a gypsy girl, with the connivance of her brother Tagliaborsi (tenor), tricks the old miser Calcante (bass) into parting with his purse and finally into marrying her. Tagliaborsi appears in disguise first as a bear and then as a devil. Calcante has a mute servant, Taddeo, and there is a chorus of gypsies in the finale.

Rinaldo’s lively intermezzo played nearly as large a role in the Querelle des Bouffons as Pergolesi’s La serva padrona. It shows a remarkable variety of resources for a comic opera of this date, including both comic and serious arias, accompanied recitatives and a concluding trio with chorus. Its history is complicated. Six of the arias were taken from Rinaldo’s Il cavalier Mignatta (1751), which employs similar stock characters. The first Paris production and a revision given at Pesaro in ...


Andrew Lamb

(‘The Circus Princess’)

Operette in three acts by Emmerich Kálmán to a libretto by Julius Brammer and Alfred Grünwald ; Vienna, Theater an der Wien, 26 March 1926.

At the Stanislavsky Circus in St Petersburg, the mysterious, masked ‘Mister X’ (tenor) creates a sensation with his daredevil act. In the audience is Princess Fedora Palinska (soprano), who has recently rejected the attentions of Prince Sergius Vladimir (baritone). To avenge himself the Prince hires ‘Mister X’ to pose as an aristocrat and woo and marry her. ‘Mister X’ turns out to be Baron Korosov, a young hussar officer disinherited for falling in love with his uncle’s fiancée. The latter was none other than Fedora, and the two are only too happy to be reunited. First produced with Hubert Marischka and Betty Fischer in the leading roles, the work has as its principal numbers the tenor solo ‘Zwei Märchenaugen’ and the buffo song ‘Die kleinen Mäderln im Trikot’....


Kurt Markstrom

(‘The Lovers on the Galley’)

Commedia per musica in three acts by Leonardo Vinci to a libretto by Bernardo Saddumene; Naples, Teatro dei Fiorentini, 3 January 1722.

Carlo (soprano) has deserted Belluccia (soprano) in Sorrento and run off to Naples, where he has fallen in love with Ciomma (soprano). Belluccia disguises herself as a man and goes to Naples in search of Carlo. Her disguise is so successful that both Ciomma and Meneca (tenor) fall in love with her. The capa y spada intrigue (Saddumene’s phrase for ‘cloak and dagger’) develops at length until it is resolved with the appearance of the galley captain Federico Mariano (bass), Belluccia’s father, who threatens to kill Carlo for betraying his daughter. Tragedy is prevented only by the magnanimous intercession of Belluccia. The appearance of Federico, a serious character who speaks in standard Tuscan, is typical of second-generation commedia per musica, which saw a gradual introduction of serious characters and Tuscan speech into the Neapolitan dialect comedy....


Virko Baley

(‘The Golden Ring’)

Opera-drama in four acts by Borys Mykolayovych Lyatoshyns’ky to a libretto by Yakiv Mamontov after Ivan Franko’s novel Zakhar Berkut; Odessa, 28 March 1930 (revised version, L’viv, 29 April 1970).

The opera is set in the Carpathian mountains, where the Tukholtsi live. The son Maxym (tenor) of their leader Zakhar Berkut (bass) rescues, during a hunting expedition, Myroslava (soprano), daughter of the boyar Tuhar Vovk (baritone). The two fall in love. Vovk attempts to take over some public lands and is condemned and banished by the Tukholtsi; he sides with an invading Tatar horde, but is drowned when the Tukholtsi destroy a river barrier and cause a flood. Maxym, their prisoner at the time, perishes too, but is acclaimed as a hero for sacrificing his life for his country.

One of the most significant operas to come out of the Soviet Union in its time, Zolotyy obruch (sometimes known as ...


William Ashbrook

(‘Zoraide of Grenada’)

Melodramma eroico in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a libretto by Bartolomeo Merelli after J.-P.-C. de Florian’s Gonsalve de Cordove, ou Grenade reconquise; Rome, Teatro Argentina, 28 January 1822 (revised version, Rome, Teatro Argentina, 7 January 1824).

The plot deals with the machinations of Almuzir (tenor) to marry Zoraide (soprano), the daughter of the king he has murdered and whose throne he has usurped. His attempts to dispose of his rival Abenamet (contralto en travesti), whom Zoraide truly loves, are ultimately foiled when Abenamet, as an unknown knight, wins a single combat to defend her, whereupon he forces Almuzir to confess his perfidy and then defends the usurper against the wrath of the populace. The grateful Almuzir permits Abenamet to marry Zoraide.

Abenamet was to have been a tenor role, but the singer assigned the part died during rehearsals and Donizetti was forced to recast the part as a ...


Graham Sadler

Tragédie en musique in five acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau to a libretto by (Jean-)Louis de Cahusac; Paris, Opéra, 5 December 1749.

* – original version only † – 1756 version only

Though produced with more than usual magnificence and a cast including Jélyotte (Zoroastre), Chassé (Abramane) and Fel (Amélite), Zoroastre had initially only limited success. Despite 25 performances it proved far less popular than Mondonville’s Le carnaval du Parnasse, staged during the same period. By May 1752 Rameau and Cahusac had begun an extensive reworking affecting the whole character of the work. This version, first given on 19 January 1756, was much more successful. It was revived with minor modifications on 26 January 1770 to inaugurate the Opéra’s Palais Royal theatre, rebuilt after the fire of 1763. The earlier version was staged at Dresden on 17 January 1752 in an Italian translation by Casanova, music by Johann Adam replacing most of Rameau’s.

As Cahusac pointed out, ...


Helena Havlíková

Opera in five acts by Jiří Pauer to his own libretto after Jan Bor’s play of the same name; Prague, National Theatre, 30 December 1958.

The opera, set during the years 1587–1620, deals with the love between Petr Vok (baritone), head of the powerful Rožmberk family, and the lowly country girl Zuzana (dramatic soprano). Refusing to be bound by convention, Zuzana gives Petr an heir. Vok’s wife (contralto) secretly kidnaps the child; meanwhile the situation has angered and alienated Zuzana’s former lover and betrothed, Ondrej (tenor). After Vok’s death Zuzana is driven out of the castle, but at the end of her life she sees Ondrej and her son again and finds lasting peace.

Composed between 1954 and 1957, Zuzana Vojířová is based on a highly successful historical play written during the German occupation. Pauer completely revised the work in 1978, and it was one of the most frequently performed Czech operas until the end of the 1970s. Pauer viewed opera within a socialist culture as a means to provide a social forum and platform on which to play out the ethical and ideological struggle for the improvement of humanity. In this sense, ...