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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....

Article

Ezio  

Don Neville

(‘Aetius’)

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....

Article

Faust  

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 ...

Article

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 ...

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Howard Mayer Brown

revised by Martin Renshaw

Article

Thomas Bauman

(‘The Island of the Spirits’)

Libretto in three acts by Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter and Friedrich Hildebrand von Einsiedel after William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was first set by Friedrich Fleischmann (1796, Regensburg).

Nine years after arriving on the island and subduing the witch Sycorax, Prospero faces a night of trials: Sycorax will return to join forces with her brutish son Caliban, and Prospero will be powerless to protect his daughter Miranda. A storm gathers; at its height a ship appears in distress and vanishes beneath the waves. After the storm clears Prospero comes upon one of its survivors, young Fernando, who falls instantly in love with Miranda. Elsewhere, several of Fernando’s companions encounter Caliban, who enlists them in a plot to kill Prospero. Caliban discovers the lovers, but Prospero’s magic protects them from his fury. As night falls Prospero sets Fernando and Miranda counting corals. A deep sleep overtakes him. Sycorax emerges from the ground, but the benign spirit Maja thwarts her attempt on Prospero and pitches her into a flaming ravine. After Prospero awakes, Caliban and his crew mount their assault, but Ariel foils them. Caliban throws himself into the sea. A ship lands, bringing the news that the people of Milan want Prospero to return as their ruler. He bids farewell to his familiar spirits, then breaks his magic staff....

Article

Judith A. Sebesta

(Simon )

(b Chicago, IL, Feb 25, 1928; d Beverly Hills, CA, Sept 11, 2009). American librettist. He began his prolific and diverse career at 16 writing for radio. After moving to television in the 1950s, he collaborated with such well-known early television actors as Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. His career in that medium peaked with M*A*S*H, for which he wrote the pilot and subsequently wrote, produced, and occasionally directed the hit series. His screenwriting credits include Tootsie (1982) and Oh, God! (1977), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. His librettos for A Funny Thing Happened on to the Way to the Forum (1962) and City of Angels (1989) both won Tony Awards. After Gelbart’s death from cancer in 2009, Jack Lemmon, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen all named him the best American comedy writer they had ever known....

Article

Ned Rorem

(b New York, NY, Sept 9, 1911; d North Stratford, NH, Aug 8, 1972). American poet. A student of philosophy and literature at the City College of New York (BA 1931) and later at the University of Chicago (1936–40), he received the PhD with the publication of The Structure of Literature (1954). He held various teaching positions but became known principally as a social reformer, with interests ranging from city planning to psychotherapy. He was also innately musical, admiring Beethoven above all other composers, and something of a self-taught composer himself.

Goodman’s published writings include novels, short stories, biographies, plays, and social and literary criticism; he enjoyed particular recognition in the 1960s after the publication of Growing Up Absurd (1960). But it is probably as a poet that he will be remembered. The controlled sadness evident in his verse, as well as his invention of a convenient stanzaic form—the “little prayer” (two tetrametric quatrains, strophe and antistrophe, with ...

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Article

Lara E. Housez

(Ian )

(b Oceanside, NY, May 15, 1956). American composer, lyricist, librettist, pianist, and singer. After studying composition at Carnegie Mellon University, Gordon settled in New York, where he emerged as a leading writer of art song, chamber pieces, opera, and musical theater. Drawing on his own texts as well as those by Marie Howe, Langston Hughes, Tina Landau, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and Dorothy Parker, among others, Gordon dramatizes complex and mature subject material with sophisticated musical means that often stretch beyond the traditional palette of popular and Broadway music. In 2007, he made his largest musical statement to date with The Grapes of Wrath, an ambitious full-scale opera in three acts with a libretto by Michael Korie based on John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Commissioned by Minnesota Opera and Utah Symphony and Opera and co-produced by Pittsburgh Opera and Houston Grand Opera, the work melds popular musical styles and forms of the 1920s and 30s, featuring guitar, banjo, saxophone, and harmonica, with the classical drama of grand opera. Gordon often twists the accessible sounds for critical effect. He has nine recordings devoted to his music, and a cast of such internationally acclaimed vocalists as Kristin Chenoweth, Renée Fleming, Audra McDonald, Frederica von Stade, and Dawn Upshaw have featured his songs on 19 other discs. His publications include: four songbooks, ...