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Don Neville

(‘Achilles on Scyros’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1736, Vienna). The title Il trionfo della gloria was used for later versions of this libretto.

In order to circumvent the destiny that awaits Achilles in the Trojan War, his mother, Thetis, has asked Chiron, his old tutor, to conceal him on the island of Scyros; Chiron has placed his charge among the women at the court of King Licomede [Lycomedes].

Act 1 In female attire, and with the assumed name of Pirra [Pyrrha], Achilles is able to remain the constant companion of the king’s daughter, Deidamia, whom he loves. The disguise, however, hangs ill upon the warrior, and the demands of Deidamia for his constant presence soon become a burden. His distress is intensified when Lycomedes promises his daughter to Teagene [Theagenes], Prince of Chalcis, and when Ulisse [Ulysses] arrives on the island on the pretext of mustering the armed strength of Scyros. In reality, Ulysses seeks Achilles who he knows is vital to Greek victory....

Article

Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its principal source is Virgil’s Aeneid. Operas on the subject appear under various titles including Enea nel Lazio, Enea in Italia and Enea e Lavinia, and in French as Enée et Lavinie.

In opera Aeneas is most widely known for his desertion of Dido (particularly in Nahum Tate’s poetry for Purcell in 1689, in Metastasio’s Didone abbandonata, found in numerous 18th-century settings, and in Berlioz’s Les Troyens) in order to appease the gods and fulfil his destiny, the founding of the Roman empire. Homer, and later Cato and Virgil, recounted the many trials and disasters to which Aeneas was subjected after the fall of his native Troy. In Virgil’s version of the episode in Latium, which follows Cato’s account, Aeneas arrives in Italy (having left Carthage and Dido) and is offered, by oracular decree, both the kingdom and the hand of King Latinus’s only daughter, Lavinia. Turnus, a foreign prince to whom these favours have previously been promised, wages a jealous war with his Rutolian forces against the king. Aeneas leads the king’s army to victory, however, and Turnus is slain. This account was the basis for numerous librettos of the 17th and 18th centuries. In the 17th century Bussani’s libretto, ...

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Article

John A. Rice

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries, based on Euripides′ Alcestis. When Admetus, King of Pherae in Thessaly, is ill and about to die an oracle announces that he will be saved if someone else is willing to die in his stead. His wife Alcestis displays her conjugal devotion by offering herself; she dies and Admetus recovers. According to some versions, Hercules then brings Alcestis back from the Underworld and reunites her with Admetus.

In Aureli’s L’Antigona delusa da Alceste, first performed in 1660 with music by P. A. Ziani and reset by several other composers (including Handel, Admeto, 1727), the story is embroidered with typically Venetian intrigue. Princess Antigona [Antigone] loves Admetus; dressed as a man, she goes in search of him. On hearing of Alcestis’s death she reveals her identity to try to win Admetus. In the meantime, Hercules brings Alcestis back from the Underworld; now it is her turn to be disguised in male clothes. Hercules tells Admetus that he was unable to rescue Alcestis. Admetus decides to marry Antigone but changes his mind when Alcestis reveals her true identity and angrily accuses him of infidelity. In Philippe Quinault’s ...

Article

(‘Alexander in India’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Leonardo Vinci (1730, Rome).Versions of the libretto also appear with such titles as Alessandro e Poro, Cleofide, La generosità di Alessandro and Poro, rè dell’Indie.

Poro [Porus], an Indian king, defeated by Alessandro Magno [Alexander the Great], resolves to save Cleofide [Cleophis], queen of another part of India. Disguised as his general, Gandarte [Gandartes], and taking the name Asbite [Asbites], he is dispatched by Alexander to offer peace to Porus. Timagene [Timagenes], Alexander’s confidant, loves Erissena [Eryxene], Porus’s sister. When he leads her in as captive, Eryxene’s obvious admiration of Alexander, who releases her, arouses Timagenes’ jealousy of his king. Cleophis visits Alexander, but ‘Asbites’ (Porus) interrupts to relay Porus’s refusal of Alexander’s peace offer. Recognizing him, and angered by his jealousy, Cleophis invites Alexander to return her visit.

Fighting breaks out upon Alexander’s arrival in Cleophis’s realm. Alexander is victorious, and the vanquished Porus flees with Cleophis, who reaffirms her love for him. Porus is captured, but Timagenes, turned traitor, frees him and offers, in a letter, to help him assassinate Alexander. Gandartes (disguised as Porus) surrenders to Alexander, who magnanimously frees him. He orders ‘Asbites’ (Porus) released, but Eryxene reports that he has killed himself. Gandartes urges Eryxene to leave with him, but she reminds him of their duty to India....

Article

Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century. Homer ’s Iliad recounts the unfortunate early life of Andromache, daughter of Eëtion, the king of Thebes in Cilicia. Andromache’s husband Hector, as well as her father and brothers, are killed in the Trojan war, and her son Astyanax (also known as Scamandrius) is thrown from the walls. (In some versions of the legend he survives; librettos using this story are sometimes entitled Astianatte rather than Andromaca.) Virgil, in the Aeneid, tells of her subsequent enslavement by Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus), the son of Achilles, of her journey with him to Epirus where he is king, and of her bearing his son, Molossus. Pyrrhus later deserts her for Helen’s daughter, Hermione, but Orestes, consumed with jealousy for Hermione, kills him. Andromache marries Helenus, Hector’s brother.

Two famous dramas on this epic preceded the several opera librettos of the 18th century: the Andromache of Euripides...

Article

Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its source is Greek mythology.

The story of Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda from a sea monster was one of the most popular subjects of early opera, with over 25 independent librettos before 1800 (operas on the subject were also entitled Andromeda e Perseo, Andromeda liberata, Persée and Perseo). Perseus, the son of Danaë and Zeus, cast into the sea with his mother by the King of Argos (Danaë’s father, Acrisius), grew up on the island of Seriphus. Later in life he saved his mother from the advances of Polydectes with the aid of the head of Medusa, which he cut off with a magic sword while shielded by godly armaments. An apparently middle-eastern addition to this legend concerns Perseus’ rescue of Andromeda. Andromeda’s mother, Cassiopeia, dared compare her beauty to the Nereids, so Poseidon sent a sea monster to plague the town. King Cepheus, Andromeda’s father, was told through Zeus’ oracle that the town could be saved only by sacrificing Andromeda to the monster. On his return from slaying Medusa, Perseus fell in love with the chained Andromeda, turned the monster to stone by exposing it to Medusa’s head and took Andromeda for his wife....

Article

Tim Carter

(‘Angelica and Medoro’)

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. Its source is Ludovico Ariosto ’s epic poem Orlando furioso (1516); operas based on the story were also entitled Orlando, Roland, Orlando paladino and Le pazzie di Orlando.

Orlando (in French, Roland), nephew of Charlemagne, is one of several warriors infatuated with the pagan Angelica, daughter of the Great Khan of Cathay. The issue comes to a head with the appearance (in Canto xviii:165ff) of Medoro, an African prince. Medoro is seriously injured attempting to rescue the body of Prince Dardinello from the Christian camp. Angelica (xix: 17) heals his wounds and, as they rest in a shepherd’s house, falls in love with him: the account of Angelica and Medoro’s union as they dally in forest groves carving their names on trees and rocks (xix: 26–36) produces some of Ariosto’s most sensual verse. The couple leave for Spain; Angelica rewards the shepherd with a bracelet given to her by Orlando. Orlando, arriving in the forest (xxiii: 101), is incensed to see the carvings and even more distraught on hearing the shepherd’s tale and seeing the bracelet. Mad with rage, he runs naked through the land, wreaking havoc and destruction (xxiii: 129–xxiv: 14). He catches up with Angelica and Medoro in Spain (xxix:58–67), kills Medoro’s horse and pursues Angelica, who escapes only by virtue of a magic ring. Orlando continues on the rampage (xxx:4–15), swimming the straits of Gibraltar to Africa. Orlando’s allies hear of his madness (xxxi:42–8, 61–4), and St John the Evangelist explains (xxxiv:62–6) to Astolfo, Prince of England, that it is divine punishment for his loving a pagan. They fly to the moon to recover Orlando’s wits, stored there in a phial. Orlando arrives at Astolfo’s camp (xxxix:35), is forcibly restrained by the Christians, and (xxxix:57) has his wits restored. Sane, he is no longer in love, and he continues the campaign against the infidels. Angelica and Medoro’s fate is less clear, although we are told (xlii:38) that they sail to India where (xxx:16) he will become king....

Article

Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th century, derived from plays by Sophocles and Euripides . Italian librettos on the subject were entitled Antigona or occasionally Creonte.

The plot concerns Antigone, daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta. Her brothers Polynices and Eteocles have died, each at the other’s hand; their maternal uncle Creon, who is acting as regent in Oedipus’s absence, has forbidden the proper burial of Polynices, but Antigone defiantly attempts to bury him. In Sophocles’ version of the story Creon inters her alive in a vault and her betrothed Haemon kills himself; in Euripides’ version Creon hands Antigone over to Haemon to be executed, but instead he hides her among shepherds and she bears his child.

Early operas on the subject take up the story when Antigone’s daughter is a young woman. The earliest libretto may be Benedetto Pasqualigo’s Antigona in five acts, for G. M. Orlandini (1718), much performed early in the century. At the beginning of the opera, Antigone’s daughter Jocasta has appeared after a long absence and is not recognized. Creonte [Creon] has ordered Antigone’s husband, here called Osmene, to marry Jocasta, not knowing she is his daughter. Antigone returns to Thebes, identifies herself and attempts to stab Creon. Osmene is again ordered to kill his wife, but Creon dies in a popular insurrection and the couple are reunited with their daughter....

Article

Don Neville

(‘Antigonus’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio , first set by Johann Adolf Hasse (1743, Hubertus burg). The title Alessandro, rè d’Epiro was used for a later version of the libretto.

Act1 Princess Berenice of Egypt is engaged to Antigonus, King of Macedonia, but loves his son Demetrio [Demetrius]. Antigonus banishes Demetrius who returns to warn his father that King Alessandro [Alexander] of Epirus, previously spurned by Berenice, seeks revenge in a campaign against the Macedonians. Ismene, Antigonus’s daughter, confesses to Berenice her love for Alexander. During the battle, Demetrius disobeys his father in order to ensure the safety of Berenice, and the Macedonians are defeated. Antigonus, after banishing his son, is captured by Alexander along with Ismene and Berenice who steadfastly resists her captor’s protestations of love.

Act2 Demetrius begs Alexander to release Antigonus, offering himself in his father’s place. Alexander accepts, provided Berenice becomes his consort, a condition that Demetrius must persuade her to accept. This Demetrius does, but not before he and Berenice have renewed their vow of mutual love. Antigonus, however, is still held hostage, a situation that remains unchanged even after a victory won bythe reorganized Macedonian army....

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[antefatto, premessa](It.: ‘argument’)

Heading normally given to the prefatory material of a printed libretto ( see Libretto ) in which the background to the plot (‘the story so far’) is outlined. Its purpose is to inform the audience of relevant events supposed to have taken place before the rise of the curtain and thus to help elucidate what follows....

Article

Ariadne  

John A. Rice

Libretto subject used chiefly during the 17th, 18th and 20th centuries (also as Ariane or Arianna). Its source is Greek mythology. Ariadne, daughter of Minos, king of Crete, fell in love with the Athenian hero Theseus, who came to Crete to slay the Minotaur, the monstrous offspring, half-bull, half-man, of Minos’s wife Pasiphae; she helped him to escape the Labyrinth by providing him (in one version) with a ball of string that he unwound as he penetrated it, thus enabling him to find his way out. Ariadne accompanied Theseus to the island of Naxos, where he abandoned her. In some versions she dies of grief; in others she is rescued by the god Dionysus (Bacchus), whom she weds.

Most librettos about Ariadne deal with either the events on Crete or those on Naxos but not both. Ariane, by Catulle Mendès, set by Massenet (1906), is one of the few that follow Ariadne and Theseus from one island to the other and show both Theseus’s victory over the Minotaur and his abandonment of Ariadne. Act 2 of this libretto, reminiscent of Act 1 of ...

Article

Armida  

Tim Carter

Libretto subject used from the 17th century to the early 20th. Its source is Torquato Tasso ’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (1581). Almost 100 operas and ballets draw upon the love of the Saracen sorceress Armida for the Christian warrior Rinaldo (in French called Armide and Renaud), with such titles as Armida, Rinaldo, Armida e Rinaldo, Armida abbandonata and Armida al campo d’Egitto.

In Canto iv of Gerusalemme liberata, Armida, niece of Idraoto, King of Damascus, lures Christian warriors (commanded by Goffredo) who are laying siege to Jerusalem in the First Crusade (1099). Their imprisonment, then rescue by the noble Rinaldo (in temporary disgrace for his murder of Gernando), is narrated in Canto x, and Armida’s vengeful pursuit of Rinaldo is recounted (Canto xiv) by a wizard to Carlo, a Danish knight, and Ubaldo, who are to bring him back to the Christian camp. Armida encounters Rinaldo, is attracted to him and, torn by love and hate, takes him to an enchanted island. Rinaldo, bewitched, spends languorous days with Armida in her palace (this recalls the episode of Alcina and Ruggiero in Ariosto’s ...

Article

(‘Attilius Regulus’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Johann Adolf Hasse (1750, Dresden).

Regulus, the former Roman consul, who has been a prisoner in Carthage for five years, returns to Rome with the Carthaginian ambassador, Amilcare [Hamilcar], to discuss a possible exchange of prisoners, the first gesture in a move for peace. If Hamilcar’s offer is rejected, Regulus must return to Carthage to be executed. To save the honour of Rome, Regulus nevertheless counsels the Senate to reject the proposal.

Regulus persuades his son, Publio [Publius], to argue his case in the Senate. Publius is torn between filial love and patriotic duty. Regulus’ daughter Attilia and her beloved, Licinio [Licinius], along with Barce, a Carthaginian slave, plot to save Regulus. Publius returns to announce the Senate’s rejection of the Carthaginian offer.

A crowd gathers, angered by the Senate’s verdict. Regulus addresses them and convinces them and his family not to let emotion mar a victory for Rome. All bid him farewell as he returns to Carthage to face death and glory....

Article

Lois Rosow and Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto subject favoured in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bellerophon, who loves (and is loved by) Philonoë, rejects the advances of Stheneboea (or Anteia), wife of King Proteus of Argos; she causes a monster, the Chimaera, to be unleashed on the kingdom, but Bellerophon kills it, secures Philonoë’s hand and turns out to be the son of Neptune.

The earliest setting is that of Sacrati, to a text by Vincenzo Nolfi, as Bellerofonte (1642, Venice). Lully set it for the Opéra in 1679, using a libretto by Thomas Corneille with Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (after Hesiod’s Theogony); here the various magical incantations and other supernatural events provide an excuse for the extensive use of the chorus coupled with dramatic symphonies. Among later settings are one by Graupner to a text by Feind (1708, Hamburg), by Terradellas to a text by Vanneschi (1747, London), by Araia to a text by Bonecchi (...

Article

Thomas Bauman

(‘The Miners’)

Original-Singspiel in one act by Ignaz Umlauf to a libretto by Paul Weidmann; Vienna, Burgtheater, 17 February 1778.

Old Walcher (bass) opposes the suit of the young miner Fritz (tenor) for the hand of his ward Sophie (soprano), whom he secretly wishes to marry himself. After thwarting one rendezvous he ties Sophie to a tree. The gypsy Zelda (soprano) frees her and takes her place. When discovered, she reveals to Walcher that Sophie is his own daughter, stolen by gypsies. An attempt by Fritz to gain Walcher’s consent miscarries but when a mine shaft caves in on Walcher, Fritz rescues him and earns his blessing.

Umlauf composed Die Bergknappen as a trial piece for the National Singspiel, the German opera company Joseph II hoped to create alongside the theatrical company (Nationaltheater) he had established in 1776. The opera enjoyed immediate success, ensuring a fair start for the enterprise with Umlauf as its music director. The work is notable for its musical portrayal of Walcher, for the brilliance of Sophie’s part (written for Caterina Cavalieri, Mozart’s original Konstanze in ...

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Dorothea Link

(‘Gaius Marius’)

Libretto by Gaetano Roccaforte , first set by Niccolò Jommelli (1746, Rome); the title also appears as Cajo Mario and Caio Marzio.

Roccaforte, typically, drew his subject matter from Roman history, in this case from Titus Livius, book 62.64, and Plutarch’s Lives. When Jugurtha invades a neighbouring kingdom, the Roman Senate sends the Consul, Gaius Marius, against him, accompanied by Annio [Annius], his future son’in’law, and Lucio [Lucius], his first lieutenant. Jugurtha is defeated in battle, and the only member of his family to survive is his daughter, Princess Rodope, with whom Lucius falls in love. She, however, loves Annius and wants to kill Marius’s daughter Marzia. Marius dreams that he has sacrificed his daughter to the gods; to discover the meaning of the dream he secretly sends Lucius to the oracle at Delso with instructions to follow his party to Rome. Lucius confides his mission to Rodope, who suggests that he falsify the oracle, and he agrees; he persuades her to meet him in Rome....

Article

Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Callirhoë’)

Libretto by Mattia Verazi , first set by Antonio Sacchini (1770, Ludwigsburg).

Agricane has conquered Assyria to avenge his sister, Bicestre, whom the Assyrian heir Tarsile has scorned, and to prevent Tarsile’s marriage to Callirhoë. Believing Tarsile dead, Callirhoë poisons herself. When Tarsile appears with an army, Callirhoë’s father Arsace and brother Sidonio join him in seeking vengeance. Callirhoë wakes – she had taken only a sleeping potion – and restores peace. The author credits Giacommelli’s Italian translation of Greek stories and Lopez de Vega’s Giulietta, e Roselo as his sources. (Destouches’ opera Callirhoé of 1712 is unrelated to Verazi’s plot.)

Calliroe was Verazi’s last libretto for the Duke of Württemberg’s new French theatre at Ludwigsburg. Sacchini set it because the former resident composer, Jommelli, had returned to Italy. Typically of Verazi’s librettos, Calliroe contains lavish spectacle with chorus and pantomime, and the entr’acte ballets and the opening sinfonia are related to the opera. The initial Allegro of the programmatic sinfonia accompanies the besieging of a city wall; the Andante is a victorious march and the final Allegro, a duet with chorus, functions also as ...

Article

Marilyn Fritz Shardlow

(b near Winchester, VA, Dec 7, 1873; d New York, NY, April 24, 1947). American poet, journalist, and author. Between 1892 and 1940, she produced numerous novels, three short story collections, and one volume of poetry. Born and raised in rural Virginia, Cather moved with her family to Nebraska in 1883; her writing was deeply influenced by both the lively immigrant culture of that time and the landscape of the prairie itself. She published her first short story in 1892 before graduating from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln (BA 1894). Working as a journalist in Lincoln, then Pittsburgh, and later in New York, she honed her skills as a writer and nurtured a fierce sense of ambition that was strikingly modern for a woman of her time. Her novel One of Ours brought her the Pulitzer Prize in 1922 and launched her career as a literary celebrity. Although not a musical expert or a performer herself, Cather was a passionate supporter of the arts, and she maintained close relationships with many of the notable musicians of her day, such as Yehudi Menuhin and the British pianist Myra Hess. Her proximity to the opera scene in New York fed an interest in Wagnerian opera in particular, and her notion of the “diva” is emblematic of female power and independence in both ...

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Don Neville

(‘Cato in Utica’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Leonardo Vinci (1728, Rome).

Cesare [Caesar] is preparing to attack Utica. Cato, ruler of Utica and Caesar’s last opponent after the murder of Pompey, wants his daughter, Marzia [Marcia], to marry his ally, Arbace [Arbaces], Prince of Numidia. Marcia, secretly in love with Caesar, persuades Arbaces not to mention the subject of marriage. Cato receives Caesar and Fulvio [Fulvius] who arrive unarmed with a bid for peace. Emilia, Pompey’s widow, suspects treachery and rails against Caesar. Fulvius, Caesar’s ally, expresses his love for Emilia, who demands that he murder Caesar before speaking to her of love. Caesar, at first spurned by Marcia, convinces her of his honourable intentions. Emilia is quick to counter such notions, suspecting Marcia’s feelings for Caesar.

Cato rejects a demand from the Senate for a reconciliation with Caesar, but agrees to meet him. Caesar offers to divide the empire with Cato, but the latter, unmoved, insists that Caesar surrender his dictatorial powers. Caesar refuses, and Marcia’s pleas are unable to subdue his impulse for war, while her confession to Cato of her love for Caesar only heightens her father’s anger. Arbaces feels his love for Marcia betrayed, and Emilia seizes this opportunity to try to lure him into an assassination attempt on Caesar....