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(‘The Clemency of Titus’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1734, Vienna). The title Tito Vespasiano was used for a later version of this libretto.

Titus Vespasian, Emperor of Rome, has succeeded to the throne that his father, Vespasian, usurped from the Emperor Vitellius.

Act 1 Vitellia, daughter of Vitellius, reminds Sesto [Sextus], her lover, that Titus not only occupies a throne that is rightfully hers, but that he has also chosen a foreigner, Berenice, as consort. She then alludes to the conspiracy against Titus that only awaits Sextus’s orders for its implementation. Loyal to Titus, Sextus hesitates; Annio [Annius], Sextus’s friend, bears news that Titus will choose a new consort. The choice falls upon Servilia, sister of Sextus; but since she is in love with Annius, Titus releases her. Vitellia, hearing that a new consort has been chosen, incites Sextus to move against Titus. Publio [Publius], captain of the guard, and Annius now announce a third choice: Vitellia herself. She implores them to find Sextus quickly so that the conspirators’ action can be halted....


Paul Corneilson

Libretto subject used in many periods. The story is based on historical figures and events recounted in Plutarch’s Lives and other ancient writings; William Shakespeare ’s play has been an influential source. Operas on the subject are also entitled Cleopatra regina d’Egitto, La morte di Cleopatra and Antony and Cleopatra. The story should be distinguished from those of other librettos treating an earlier episode in her life, in which Cleopatra is paired with Julius Caesar .

Set in 32 bc, the plot centres on the love between Cleopatra VII, Queen of Egypt, and Marcus Antonius [Mark Antony]. With Octavian, Antony rules as one of the Roman triumvirate. In a mutually beneficial political alliance, Antony establishes an amorous relationship with Cleopatra and eventually joins her in Alexandria. When he divorces his wife Octavia, sister of Octavian, the Romans declare war on Egypt and defeat Antony’s army and the Egyptian fleet at the battle of Antioch. But Antony commits suicide before the Romans reach Alexandria, and in order to avoid the humiliation of being their prisoner Cleopatra poisons herself with the bite of an asp....


Michael Talbot


A term signifying ‘composition’, usually in reference to a dramatic poem to be set to music as a Serenata (opera). It occurs with particular frequency in the repertory of the Viennese court during the Baroque period. Componimenti da camera (or per camera) were written by Zeno, Pariati and Metastasio; ...


Bruce Alan Brown

(‘The Young Countess’)

Libretto by Carlo Goldoni , first set by Giacomo Maccari (1743, Venice); new version by Marco Coltellini , first set by Florian Leopold Gassmann (1770, Mährisch-Neustadt [now Uničov]).

Goldoni’s three-act commedia per musica features clever social criticism of the sort often seen in his spoken pieces. Lindoro, son of the rich Venetian merchant Pancrazio, has fallen in love with the Countess, presenting himself as a Milanese marquis, as she will not condescend to marry a tradesman. Her proud father, Count Baccellone Parabolano, approves the match, pending proof of Lindoro’s nobility. Pancrazio’s direct approach to the Count on behalf of his son is rudely rebuffed, so in the second act he impersonates, with studied affectation, the marquis’s many-titled father, Marquis Cavromano. Meanwhile, the Contessina offends Lindoro by favouring a (fictitious) proposition from a would-be cicisbeo, relayed by the Count’s boatman Gazzetta. In the final act, the undisguised Pancrazio shocks Baccellone with his claim to be the father of the groom, but the Count allows the ceremony to proceed, to avoid embarrassment in front of the guests....


John Platoff

(‘The Stone Guest’)

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th and 19th centuries. This was the most common Italian title for the Don Juan story; operas on the subject are also entitled Don Giovanni and Il dissoluto punito.

The first important literary source is Tirso de Molina’s play El burlador de Sevilla y Convidado de piedra (‘The Trickster of Seville, or The Stone Guest’), published in 1630. Spoken dramas on the story were produced by Molière (Don Juan, ou Le festin de pierre, 1665) and Goldoni (Don Giovanni Tenorio; o sia Il dissoluto, 1736), but the legend circulated more widely in fairground and carnival performances. In Italy these drew upon the characters of commedia dell’ arte, while in France they took the form of comédies en chansons, with improvised or popular songs interpolated into the rather simple plot. The stone guest of the title is the statue of the Commendatore [Commander]. Early in most tellings of the story (though not necessarily in the opening scene) the Commendatore, trying to protect his daughter from seduction or rape by Don Juan, is killed by the latter in a duel. In the final scene the Commendatore’s stone statue comes to life, accepts Don Juan’s invitation to dinner, appears at his house and drags the licentious and (usually) unrepentant, blaspheming nobleman to hell. Some version of the episodes involving the Commendatore, his daughter Donna Anna and her betrothed Don Ottavio (as these characters are named in many of the settings) is to be found in virtually all presentations. Other common features are Don Juan’s comic servant, who frequently sings an aria cataloguing his master’s many conquests; a peasant wedding in which Don Juan attempts to seduce the bride; and one or more previously seduced and abandoned ladies who continue to pursue him. In general, the story consists of a loosely connected string of incidents with little overall organization apart from that implicit in the opening and closing scenes with the Commendatore....


Mary Ann Parker


Libretto by Gioacchino Pizzi , first set by Niccolò Jommelli (1757, Rome).

The story is taken from Herodotus. The Persian princess Cratina tells Croesus, last king of Lydia, that his daughter Ariene has fallen in love with Ciro [Cyrus], betraying Prince Euriso, to whom she has been promised. Croesus vows to punish his daughter by death, while Cratina vows revenge on Cyrus, who has sworn his love to her. Euriso (disguised as Rodaspe) goes to Cyrus’s camp offering to trade Ariene for Cratina, but he refuses. Ariene is unable to convince Euriso that she is faithful.

In the second act Croesus and Euriso’s plot to assassinate Cyrus fails, and they are captured in the enemy camp as Croesus is about to murder Ariene. Sibari, Cyrus’s captain, reveals his love for Ariene, who remains faithful to her father and Euriso, and tries to rescue them.

As the third act begins, Cyrus plans to send Euriso, unarmed, into exile and is about to burn Croesus, who predicts that Cyrus will suffer the same fate. Ariene vows she will save her father or die with him. Cyrus allows Croesus to live, gives Ariene to Euriso and offers his love to Cratina....


Don Neville


Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1731, Vienna). Versions of the libretto were also set as Alceste, Cleonice and Demetrio, rè della Siria.

Cleonice, newly crowned Queen of Syria, is urged by her people to choose a husband. She complains about this pressure to Olinto, a nobleman, who reveals his hopes to be the chosen king. Cleonice spurns him, however, because she secretly loves the commoner Alceste [Alcestes], of whom there has been no word since he fought beside her father, Alexander Balas, against the armies of Crete. Balas was slain in this battle, and it is suspected that Alcestes has met the same fate. Alcestes is in truth Demetrius, son of the former King of Syria, whose throne Balas usurped. His identity, however, is known only to his tutor, Fenicio, Olinto’s father. Alcestes’ sudden return incites Cleonice to insist upon no social barriers in her choice of consort. This granted, she still dismisses Alcestes, believing that she has now placed her personal desires ahead of her duty....



Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1733, Vienna). Versions of the libretto were also set as Demofoonte, rè di Tracia, Démophon, Demophontes, Dirce and L’usurpatore innocente.

It has been decreed in Thrace that, until such time as one who would unknowingly usurp the throne has been identified, a virgin of noble birth must be sacrificed each year to Apollo. Demophoön, King of Thrace, aware that the death penalty threatens anyone not of royal birth who weds the heir to the throne, has arranged for the union of his son, Timante [Timanthes], with Creusa, Princess of Phrygia. Timanthes, however, has secretly married Dircea [Dirce], daughter of the noble Matusio [Mathusius], and by her has a son. Creusa arrives, accompanied by Timanthes’ younger brother, Cherinto [Cherinthus], who has fallen in love with her. Timanthes begs Creusa to reject him. Offended, she orders Cherinthus to avenge her by killing his brother. Demophoön, meanwhile, has named Dirce as the next sacrificial victim in defiance of a plea from Mathusius to have her exempted. A warning from Mathusius comes too late and Dirce is imprisoned....


Don Neville

(‘Dido Abandoned’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Domenico Sarro (1724, Naples).

In spite of their mutual love, Enea [Aeneas] has resolved to separate from Dido, Queen of Carthage. Iarba [Iarbas], King of the Moors, arrives disguised as his own minister, Arbace [Arbaces], to offer peace on behalf of his king in return for Dido’s hand and the life of Aeneas. His offer rejected, larbas instructs his confidant, Araspe [Araspes], to kill Aeneas; Araspes refuses, but is arrested along with Iarbas when the latter makes a thwarted attempt himself. Iarbas reveals his identity and departs under escort. Aeneas tells Dido of his intention to leave, but falters when she accuses him of treachery and ingratitude.

Araspes, now released, declares his love for Selene, Dido’s sister – who, herself in love with Aeneas, rejects him. Meanwhile, Aeneas gains a pardon from Dido for Iarbas, unaware that the king has already been set free by Osmide [Osmidas], a confidant of Dido who has offered his services to the Moorish king in the hope of gaining Dido’s throne. Dido pretends to accept the offer of marriage from Iarbas; Aeneas’s jealous anger reassures her of his love, and with renewed hopes of detaining him she again spurns Iarbas....


Mary Hunter

(‘The Deserter’)

Libretto subject used in the late 18th century and the early 19th, based on the opéra comique Déserteur, Le by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny to a libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine (1769, Paris), and on a play of the same name by Louis Sébastien Mercier (1770, Paris).

The first Italian operatic version was written by C. F. Badini for P. A. Guglielmi (1770, London). Badini acknowledged his indebtedness to ‘the French’ in the plan of the drama but asserted his independence as far as the individual numbers are concerned. His version is a fairly typical opera buffa, which distributes the dramatic attention more equally among the characters than does Sedaine’s work. The story begins with a feast, purporting to be the wedding of the heroine, Rosetta, to Beltramino. It is in fact a joke designed to test the constancy of Rosetta’s real lover, Alessio, who is deemed to have deserted the army by virtue of having strayed from the barracks to see Rosetta. Alessio is sentenced to death, but Rosetta obtains a last-minute pardon from the King....