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Gerald Bordman

revised by Jonas Westover

(b New York, NY, Sept 8, 1896; d New York, NY, July 30, 1983). American lyricist and librettist. He studied at Columbia University, where he was a contemporary of Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and served in the US Navy before becoming director of publicity and advertising in 1919 for the Goldwyn Pictures Corporation (from 1924 known as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer or MGM). He wrote verse in his spare time, and was asked by Jerome Kern to supply the lyrics for Dear Sir (1924). He also worked with Vernon Duke, Jimmy McHugh, and Ralph Rainger. But he is best remembered for the numerous songs he wrote in collaboration with arthur Schwartz , beginning in 1929 with the revue The Little Show (with “I guess I’ll have to change my plan”). Other collaborations with Schwartz include Three’s a Crowd (1930) and The Band Wagon (1931, containing the hit “Dancing in the Dark”). Their professional relationship extended over a period of more than 30 years to the production of the musical ...


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....


Ellen Marie Peck

(b New York, NY, Jan 28, 1880; d New York, Jan 4, 1928). American lyricist, librettist, and actress. Born into a theatrical family, she spent her entire life in the theater. A meticulous actress, Donnelly was particularly known for her ability to interpret a role with depth and sensitivity at a rather young age, as she demonstrated with title roles in Candida (1903) and Madame X (1909). However, chronic illness and years of touring took an early toll on Donnelly, forcing her to transition to a writing career in her late 30s. In 1916 Donnelly penned the libretto for an Americanized German operetta, Flora Bella. She soon teamed up with composer sigmund Romberg , with whom she wrote some of the most successful operettas of the 1920s. Donnelly and Romberg enjoyed a close friendship and a symbiotic collaborative process, which lay behind the overwhelming success of ...


Paul C. Echols

revised by David Music

(b Northampton, MA, May 14, 1752; d New Haven, CT, Jan 11, 1817). American poet and author of hymn texts. He graduated from Yale College in 1769, becoming a tutor there two years later. He served as a chaplain in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and wrote the texts of several patriotic songs, one of which (“Columbia, Columbia, to Glory Arise,” 1787) became widely popular. From 1783 to 1795 he was pastor of the Congregational Church in Greenfield Hill, Connecticut, where he rose to eminence as a preacher, educator, and poet. He was elected president of Yale College in 1795. In 1798, at the request of both Congregational and Presbyterian governing bodies in Connecticut, he undertook a revised edition of Isaac Watts’s Psalms and Hymns to replace one by Joel Barlow (1785) that had previously been compiled for the Congregationalists. Issued at Hartford in ...


James Leve

(b New York, NY, c8 April 1928–33; d New York, NY, Sept 11, 2004). American lyricist. He received a BA from New York University and a master’s degree in English literature from Columbia University. In the 1950s he collaborated with Phil Springer and placed several song lyrics with record companies in the Brill Building. He also collaborated with Paul Klein on three musicals, one of which, Morning Sun, appeared Off-Broadway in 1963. Ebb’s first Broadway experience was as a contributor to the 1960 revue From A to Z.

He is best known for his work with john Kander , with whom he started working in 1962. Within months they had their first hit, “My Coloring Book,” which garnered them a Grammy nomination. Their collaboration lasted more than four decades and resulted in 13 Broadway musicals, including two produced after Ebb’s death. Their first, Flora, the Red Menace (...



Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto by Giovanni De Gamerra , first set by Antonio Sacchini (1778, London). Operas on the subject were also called Erifile regina di Lacinto and Cleomene.

Learco, general of Zacinto’s army, has destroyed the royal family of Lacinto except for Erifile, whom he wishes to wed to establish himself on the throne he has usurped. The queen’s unyielding resistance, Cleomene’s invincible love for her and the tyrant’s rage at their undaunted fidelity constitute the centre of the drama, which ends with the deposition or assassination of the tyrant and the restoration of Erifile and Cleomene.

The first version, as published by Giuseppe Piatolli in 1784, cites Sacchini’s setting for London as the first production. Thus Mysliveček’s Erifile (1773, Munich), for which neither score nor libretto seems to have survived, was probably not based on De Gamerra’s text. In De Gamerra’s original text, Erifile is forced to take poison and appears to die at the end of the duet closing Act 2. In Francesco Bianchi’s setting (...


Don Neville

(‘The Chinese Hero’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio , first set by Giuseppe Bonno (1752, Vienna). The title Narbale was used for a later version of this libretto.

During an insurrection which forced the Chinese emperor, Livanio [Li-vang], into exile, his son, Svenvango [Swen-vang], was saved by Leango [Le-ang], who wrapped his own infant son in the royal garments and left him for the mob. Later, as regent, Le-ang raised the royal heir as his own child under the name of Siveno [Si-veng].

Si-veng and Lisinga [Li-sing], a captive Tartar princess, are in love. Li-sing is reminded by her sister, Ulania [U-lan], that Si-veng is not only a commoner but also her enemy: for these reasons, U-lan claims, she will leave Minteo [Min-ti], Si-veng’s friend and a mandarin in the Chinese army. Si-veng and Li-sing despair when her father sends word that she must marry the unknown heir to the Chinese throne. With this opportunity for an alliance with the Tartars, Le-ang feels ready to reveal Si-veng’s identity; Si-veng, however, announces that the populace call for Le-ang himself as emperor. Le-ang’s response leads Li-sing to suspect that Si-veng is indeed the heir....



Don Neville


Libretto by pietro Metastasio, first set by Nicola Porpora (1728, Venice).

Act 1 Aetius returns to Rome in triumph after his victory over Attila. The Emperor Valentiniano [Valentinian] III (reigned 425–55), though grateful to his returning general, resents the celebrity being accorded him. To Massimo [Maximus], his confidant, the emperor speaks of Fulvia, Maximus’s daughter, whom he loves. Although aware of the love between Fulvia and Aetius, Maximus, instead of enlightening Valentinian, encourages his suit; secretly an enemy of the emperor, Maximus proposes to use this marriage to gain control over the throne. Since Aetius is the throne’s protector, Maximus is glad to place enmity between him and the emperor by telling him of Valentinian’s intentions towards Fulvia. Informed by her father of his plans, Fulvia is repelled by his proposed treachery against Aetius, Valentinian and herself, but filial duty compels her silence. The emperor offers Aetius the hand of his sister, Onoria [Honoria], in recognition of his military achievements; Aetius asks instead for Fulvia, only to learn from Honoria that Valentinian plans to wed her himself the following day. Honoria, secretly in love with Aetius, is astonished by his violent threats against her brother, and she and Fulvia express their suspicions of each other’s affections for Aetius....



F.W. Sternfeld

Libretto subject, popular in the 19th century. The legend of Faust (or Doctor Faustus), like that of Orpheus or Don Juan, is an old one surviving in several popular sources; it has been extensively drawn upon by opera composers. Its sources fall into two main genres: ‘histories’, published in folk-books (or chapbooks), and dramatic versions, preserved in puppet plays. The Historia von Dr. Johann Fausten published at Frankfurt in 1587 by Johann Spiess seems to have been a source of Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus, probably first performed in 1594 and printed in 1604 and 1616. Goethe was familiar with both the traditions of the chapbooks and the puppet plays. His Faust, in its definitive version, appeared in two instalments, Part I in 1808 and Part II in 1832; although the libretto of Busoni’s opera was also affected by the puppet play and by Marlowe, it is fair to say that most Faust operas after ...


Ronald J. Zank

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 6, 1954). American performer, playwright and librettist. Fierstein grew up in New York and worked as an actor; he also pursued his interest in painting and received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. He was both lead actor and playwright for Torch Song Trilogy, which originated off-off Broadway before transferring to off-Broadway and finally to Broadway (1982). He wrote the libretto for the musical adaptation of the French play and film La Cage Aux Folles (1983, music and lyrics by Jerry Herman), about a gay couple dealing with their son’s marriage into a conservative family. Fierstein also crafted the book for the short-lived Legs Diamond, a production that featured the songs and performance of Peter Allen as the title gangster. As a performer Fierstein originated the role of plus-sized mother Edna Turnblad in the musical ...