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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 ...



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 ...


(‘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....


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 (...


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 ...


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....


Marita P. McClymonds


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 ...


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....


Cid, El  

Dennis Libby

Libretto subject used in many periods. Its chief source is Pierre Corneille ’s tragedy Le Cid; earlier sources are the plays of Guillén de Castro y Bellvís (1569–1631), Las mocedades del Cid and Las hazañas del Cid, and popular Spanish ballads. All recount the exploits of Rodrigo (or Ruy) Diaz de Vivar, a Spanish warrior of the 11th century (called El Cid after the Arabic sidi, ‘lord’). Librettos on the subject have been written in Italian (as Il Cid, Il Cidde or Il gran Cid) and German (as Der Cid) as well as French (as Le Cid); some operas are entitled Cimene, Chimène or Rodrigue et Chimène.

The subject of Corneille’s play was rarely used by Italian librettists, perhaps because, even watered down, Chimène’s pursuit of vengeance against Rodrigue through most of the work made difficult the contriving of amorous encounters between them, as the genre required. A three-act libretto by Alborghetti had a few settings between ...


Don Neville

(‘Cyrus Recognized’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1736, Vienna).

It was foretold that Astiage [Astyages], King of Media, would lose his throne to a descendant; consequently he exiled his son-in-law, Cambise [Cambyses], and ordered that his grandson, Cyrus, should be killed by Arpago [Harpagus], his adviser. Pitying the infant, Harpagus left him with the shepherd Mitridate [Mithridates] who raised Cyrus as his son, Alceo [Alcaeus]. 15 years later, when Harpagus confessed, his own son was executed.

Act 1 It is rumoured that Cyrus is still alive but that an impostor, who claims the throne, is also using his name. Mandane, wife of Cambyses and mother of Cyrus, learns from Harpagus that her husband has secretly returned, and that Cyrus awaits Astyages at the Persian border. Mandane sends a greeting to her son, unaware that it is actually the impostor who is waiting. At Mithridates’ hut, Alcaeus learns his real identity and goes to find his mother. Cambyses enters Media and, hearing the king approach, hides inside the hut where he overhears Astyages order Cyrus’s execution. Cambyses makes an attempt on the life of the sleeping Astyages but Mandane intervenes, then recognizes her husband, as does the king, who has him arrested. Cyrus/Alcaeus appears, having killed the impostor; Mandane, believing her son dead, orders Cyrus’s arrest....