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Article

Don Neville

(‘Hadrian in Syria’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1732, Vienna). The title Farnaspe was used for a later version of this libretto

In Antioch, the Emperor Hadrian has conquered the Parthian king Osroa [Osroes] and, in spite of being betrothed to Sabina, a Roman noblewoman, has fallen in love with Emirena, Osroes’ daughter. He has invited several Asian princes to Antioch, but his invitation to Osroes is refused. Osroes, however, has come in disguise, as a follower of Farnaspe [Pharnaspes], the Parthian prince to whom Emirena is betrothed.

Hadrian consents to Emirena’s departure with Pharnaspes if she so chooses. But Aquilio [Aquilius], Hadrian’s confidant, because he himself loves Sabina, desires a marriage between Emirena and Hadrian; he warns Emirena of Hadrian’s supposed anger, cautioning her to conceal her true feelings for Pharnaspes, who is astounded by Emirena’s subsequent coldness. Hadrian’s hopes for Emirena are thus revived, and he is confused when Sabina arrives unexpectedly. Meanwhile, Osroes sets fire to the palace, and Pharnaspes is blamed. He and Emirena reaffirm their love....

Article

Brian W. Pritchard

(‘Hadrian in Syria’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Antonio Caldara to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio ( see Adriano in Siria above), with ballet music by Nicola Matteis; Vienna, Hoftheater (Teatro Grande), 9 November 1732.

Caldara’s 13th opera for the name-day celebrations of the Habsburg emperor Charles VI has the Roman emperor Adriano [Hadrian] (tenor) as its nominal hero. The plot deals with his amorous dalliance with Emirena (soprano), a captive Parthian princess, his arrogant dismissal of Farnaspe [Pharnaspes] (alto), Emirena’s lover, and his deception of his wife Sabina (soprano). In the lieto fine Metastasio’s allusion to the incorruptible position of the Holy Roman Emperor is obvious, as Hadrian rises above temptation to impart further dignity to his imperial role.

Caldara’s setting, however, emphasizes the three characters most affected by Hadrian’s illicit desires. Hadrian himself is drawn rather shallowly in arias that (apart from the tender ‘Dal labbro che t’accende’, 1.i) are mostly stereotyped but superficially impressive gestures of rage and revenge, such as ‘Tutti nemici’ (2.ix). The two minor characters, Osroa [Osroes] (tenor), Emirena’s father, and Aquilio [Aquilius] (bass), Hadrian’s treacherous confidant, likewise react conventionally to their situations, although the former’s ‘Sprezzo il furor del vento’ (1.iii) and the latter’s ‘Saggio guerriero antico’ (2.v) include clever pictorialisms. In contrast, Caldara acords Emirena, Sabina and Pharnaspes a series of intimate arias that capture moods of estrangement, abandonment and desolation, as well as reconciliation and optimism, and maintain a level of lyricism rarely surpassed in his other operas. Sensitive scorings, with relatively few contrapuntal devices in the accompaniments, enhance the emotional tension, especially in Pharnaspes’ ‘Doppo un tuo sguardo’ (1.v) and Sabina’s ‘Numi sì giuste siete’ (1.xi)....

Article

Dale E. Monson

(‘Hadrian in Syria’)

Opera seria in three acts by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio ( see Adriano in Siria above); Naples, Teatro S Bartolomeo, 25 October 1734.

In May 1734 the Kingdom of Naples was recaptured from the Austrian Habsburgs by Charles Bourbon (later Charles III) of Spain. To celebrate the birthday of the queen mother, Elisabeth Farnese, the Teatro S Bartolomeo staged a new work by Pergolesi, Adriano in Siria. This was the third of the four opere serie written by Pergolesi, and his first to a libretto by Metastasio. For Pergolesi the libretto was much altered. Of Metastasio’s 27 original aria texts, only ten were retained: ten substitute arias and a new duet were inserted, and several alterations to the recitatives were made to accommodate those changes. Most of these alterations can be attributed to the magnificent cast hired by the new king, with his typically Spanish emphasis on theatrical splendour. Caffarelli was the primo uomo; he received all new texts, and the position of some of them was shifted to give him a more prominent role: his character sings at the end of the first two acts. Caffarelli’s music is the most careful, extensive and lyrical in the opera, and includes the particularly exquisite ‘Lieto così tal volta’, with obbligato oboe, and ‘Torbido in volto e nero’, for double orchestra (this aria must have been particularly effective since it was later borrowed, without change, for ...

Article

Stephen C. Fisher

(‘Hadrian in Syria’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Pasquale Anfossi to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio ( see Adriano in Siria above); Padua, Teatro Nuovo, June 1777.

The libretto is much altered from the 1752 version, incorporating some elements from the 1732 original but giving the three Parthian characters – Osroa [Osroes], Emirena and Farnaspe [Pharnaspes] – greater prominence. Anfossi used a substantial amount of accompanied recitative and he wrote a trio for Emirena, Pharnaspes and Osroes to conclude Act 2. Act 3, greatly shortened in accordance with the conventions of the period, ends with simple recitative. Osroes and Aquilio [Aquilius] (whose role is cut substantially) are written for tenors, while the four lovers are soprano roles. Apart from a few cavatinas, the arias retain the textual structure of da capo arias but are through-composed. Many are in a sonata-form design in which the A sections constitute the exposition and recapitulation and the ...

Article

Bertil H. van Boer

[ Aeneas i Cartago, eller Dido och Aeneas (‘Aeneas in Carthage, or Dido and Aeneas’)]

Lyric tragedy in a prologue and five acts by Joseph Martin Kraus to a libretto by Johan Henrik Kellgren after an outline by Gustavus based on Jean-Jacques Le Franc de Pompignan’s play Didon; Stockholm, Royal Opera, 18 November 1799.

The opera begins with a prologue depicting winds chained to a rock in the sea. Eol [Aeolus] (bass) refuses to release them until asked by Juno (soprano) to allow them to sink the escaping Trojan fleet. After a storm, Neptun [Neptune] (bass) calms the waves and Aeneas (tenor) is cast ashore on the coast of Carthage. His mother Venus (soprano) directs him to seek aid from Queen Dido (soprano). In Act 1, she welcomes the strangers and asks that they help dedicate a new temple in homage to Juno, who refuses to accept it. In Act 2 a hunt is interrupted by a storm that drives Dido and Aeneas to a cave for shelter; they pledge their love, only to be interrupted by the ghost of Dido’s first husband, Siché [Sychaeus] (bass), who warns of their impending doom. In Act 3, the Numidian King Jarbas (tenor or baritone) arrives disguised as his own ambassador to ask for Dido’s hand; he is rejected and vows revenge. Aeneas and Dido then appear before the temple of Juno to be married, but an earthquake occurs, followed by the appearance of Ära (soprano), who orders Aeneas to leave Carthage. As the Trojans prepare to set sail, Dido unsuccessfully asks Aeneas to stay. Her servant Clelié [Cloelia] (soprano) then arrives with news of the approaching Numidian army. In Act 5 a battle takes place in which Aeneas slays Jarbas and defeats the Numidians before leaving Carthage. Dido, at first encouraged by his victory, sees his ships departing and immolates herself. The goddess Iris (soprano) arrives and tells the Carthaginians that Dido has been apotheosized. Finally Jupiter (baritone) receives Dido in Olympus....

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, ...

Article

Thérèse Radic

Opera in one act, op.99, by Felix Werder to a libretto by Leonard Radic; Sydney, Opera House, 14 March 1974.

Lady Celia (soprano) sets a trap for her apparently unfaithful husband, Sir Reginald (tenor), the Australian High Commissioner, who spends too much time with Olivia Tomas (mezzo-soprano), the wife of the South American Ambassador. Lady Celia plans an opera performance to celebrate the Queen’s birthday and offers Sir Reginald and Olivia roles. When the opera begins, it becomes clear that the plot is a slice of Sir Reginald’s own life. He tries to break out of the scene but cannot. When Olivia shoots him as rehearsed, the ‘dummy’ gun turns out to be real and Sir Reginald collapses. Neither woman is responsible: Gregory Jones (baritone), the Second Secretary, loaded the gun knowing that it would be fired at his superior, a man who had long denied him promotion and had incessantly ridiculed him....

Article

Steven Huebner

(‘The African Maid’)

Grand opera in five acts by Giacomo Meyerbeer to a libretto by Eugène Scribe ; Paris, Opéra, 28 April 1865.

The genesis of L’Africaine is more complex than that of any other Meyerbeer opera. A first contract between Meyerbeer and Scribe for the production of the libretto was signed in May 1837; the point of departure for the plot seems to have been ‘Le mancenillier’, a poem by Millevoye about a young girl who sits under a tree that emits poisonous fragrances and is rescued by her lover. Doubts about the viability of the libretto, and the illness of Cornélie Falcon, for whom the title role was intended, caused Meyerbeer to abandon the project in favour of Le prophète in summer 1838. He returned to L’Africaine at the end of 1841, when the draft of Le prophète was almost complete. L’Africaine was set aside when Meyerbeer completed a draft in 1843...

Article

Thérèse Radic

Opera in one act by Felix Werder to his own libretto after Aeschylus’ play, translated by Gilbert Murray; Melbourne, Grant Street Theatre, 1 June 1977 (broadcast of earlier version, The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, ABC, 1967).

The plot follows precisely the words of Gilbert Murray’s translation of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon. On his return from the Trojan wars, King Agamemnon of Mycenae (bass) is greeted by his wife Clytemnestra (soprano) and her lover, Aegisthus (countertenor), who together plot the king’s murder. Warned of the plot against him by the prophetess Cassandra (soprano), a princess of Troy and concubine of Agamemnon, the king ignores all advice. The lovers kill him, fulfilling the destiny predicted not only for themselves but for their doomed House of Atreus.

Composed in 1967, the opera, then titled The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, was performed for a radio broadcast in the same year; the composer reworked and retitled the piece shortly thereafter. Through-composed in 25 sections and serially constructed, with the first 12-note row having strong tonal implications, ...

Article

Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Agesilaus, King of Sparta’)

Opera seria in three acts by Gaetano Andreozzi to a libretto by Francesco Ballani; Venice, Teatro S Benedetto, Carnival 1788.

Leucade [Leotychidas] (soprano castrato) is taken prisoner in an uprising against Agesilaus (soprano castrato), initiated by the Congiutati under the leadership of Leotychidas’ father, Lisandro [Lysander] (tenor), a military hero and supposed friend of the king. Outraged by his perfidy, Erissa (soprano), Queen of Paphlagonia and Leotychidas’ betrothed, condemns him to death and offers her hand to the king, much to the dismay of Lysander’s daughter, Aglatide (soprano), who loves the king. When Lysander attempts to take power Leotychidas interposes himself between his father’s sword and the king, thereby earning clemency for both of them. Based on a new libretto by the young Roman author Ballani, the opera enjoyed half a dozen revivals in the years before the Republic. Though still an ‘aria’ opera, with ensembles to end Acts 1 and 2 and a chorus in each act, it contains a few novelties: an aria interrupted by a second character, and a short quartet (‘cavatina a quattro’) when the captured Leotychidas is brought in. When it was revised for Florence in the autumn of ...