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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, ...