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Article

David Osmond-Smith

(‘In the bright sunshine heavy with love’)

Azione scenica in two acts by Luigi Nono to a libretto by the composer and Yury Lyubimov after texts by Bertolt Brecht , Tania Bunke, Fidel Castro, Ernesto Che Guevara, Georgy Dimitrov, Maxim Gorky, Antonio Gramsci, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Marx, Louise Michel, Cesare Pavese, Arthur Rimbaud, Celia Sanchez, Haydée Santamaria and popular sources; Milan, Teatro Lirico, 4 April 1975 (revised, definitive version, Milan, Teatro Lirico, 11 February 1978).

Each half of this work brings together texts and images that gravitate around a central theme: in the first half, the Paris Commune, in the second, the Russian revolt of 1905. The two themes echo and complement each other. Both revolts were crushed, yet both have served to inspire subsequent struggles for social justice. Central to both halves is the role played by women within those struggles.

Act 1 charts the progress of the Commune with images taken from Brecht’s Tage der Commune...

Article

Arnold Whittall

Comic opera in three acts, op.39, by Benjamin Britten to a libretto by eric Crozier, after Guy de Maupassant’s short story Le rosier de Madame Husson; Glyndebourne, 20 June 1947.

After the stormy inception of Peter Grimes at Sadler’s Wells, Britten and Eric Crozier were among those who decided to launch a new, independent and progressive opera company. The English Opera Group was first associated with Glyndebourne, but this relationship gave rise to problems (connected with touring The Rape of Lucretia), and in the early days of 1947 the fully independent English Opera Group was finally established. Even so, Britten’s second chamber opera was first performed, under his direction, at Glyndebourne, alongside a revival of Lucretia, with Peter Pears in the title role, Joan Cross as Lady Billows and a supporting cast including Nancy Evans and Margaret Ritchie. But Britten and his friends were now determined to establish their own centre for performance. The Aldeburgh Festival was set up, and ...

Article

Curtis Price

Opera in three acts by Luis Grabu to a libretto by John Dryden ; London, Dorset Garden Theatre, early June 1685.

In 1680–81 the reign of Charles II was gravely threatened by the Exclusion Crisis, an attempt by certain members of Parliament to block the succession of his brother, James, Duke of York, a Roman Catholic. With the defeat of the Exclusionists and the foiling of plots to assassinate him, Charles II requested ‘something at least like an Opera’ to celebrate his deliverance and the continuation of the Stuart line. The actor-manager Thomas Betterton was despatched to Paris in 1683 with instructions ‘to carry over the Opera’, that is, Jean-Baptiste Lully and members of the Académie Royale de Musique. When this proved impracticable, Betterton returned with Luis Grabu, former Master of the King’s Music, who had been living in exile in Paris since 1679.

Apparently misunderstanding the king’s request, John Dryden, the poet laureate, wrote a play in blank verse, ‘adorn’d with Scenes, Machines, Songs and Dances’, that is, ...

Article

Lois Rosow

[Alceste, ou Le triomphe d’Alcide (‘Alcestis, or The Triumph of Alcides’)]

Tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Jean-Baptiste Lully (see Lully family (opera) §(1)) to a libretto by Quinault, Philippe after Euripides’ Alcestis; Paris, Opéra, 19 January 1674.

This was Lully’s second tragedy. The king and courtiers saw a rehearsal at Versailles in November 1673 and were enthusiastic. However, poets and musicians jealous of Lully’s growing power and of the success of Cadmus et Hermione organized a cabal to discredit Alceste after its première. Only Perrault defended the work at length, pointing out that everybody ‘knows by heart’ and sings everywhere the little songs that are said to be worthless, that the many scenes judged ‘useless’ by the critics (mainly scenes dominated by secondary characters) all have their dramatic purposes, and that the conventions of opera are different from those of spoken tragedy and comedy (Critique de l’opéra, 1674, attrib. Charles or Pierre Perrault)....

Article

Jeremy Hayes

(‘Alcestis’)

Italian version: Tragedia in three acts by Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi after Euripides; Vienna, Burgtheater, 26 December 1767.

French version: Tragédie opéra in three acts by Gluck to a libretto by Marie François Louis Gand Leblanc, Bailli du Roullet after Calzabigi; Paris, Académie Royale de Musique, 23 April 1776.

The Italian Alceste was the second of Gluck’s three so-called reform operas written with Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (the others were Orfeo ed Euridice and Paride ed Elena) in which a noble simplicity in the action and the music was intended to replace the complicated plots and florid musical style of opera seria. Although Orfeo was the first, it is Alceste that contains, in the first edition of the score, the famous preface in which Gluck and Calzabigi outlined their principles and ideals (see Gluck, Christoph Willibald Ritter von, §6). The opera was a great success; according to Calzabigi 60 performances were given in Vienna. It was choreographed not by Angiolini, the choreographer of ...

Article

Thomas Bauman

(‘Alcestis’). Singspiel in five acts by Anton Schweitzer to a libretto by Christoph Martin Wieland based on Euripides’ Alcestis; Weimar, Hoftheater, 28 May 1773.

Alcestis (soprano) learns of the Delphic oracle’s pronouncement that the king is fatally ill from her sister and confidante, Parthenia (soprano), who cannot dissuade her from dying in her husband’s place. Neither can Admet [Admetus] (tenor), who senses immediately what she has done and is carried off in a stupor after she takes a tearful leave of him and their children. Her sacrifice so moves Admetus’s friend Herkules [Hercules] (bass) that he heads off resolutely to Orcus to fetch her back. After despairing monologues from Parthenia and Admetus, Hercules reappears with a beautiful woman to comfort Admetus. When Admetus registers indignation at the very suggestion, Hercules produces Alcestis, but refuses to explain how he rescued her.

Wieland’s much-simplified version of the Alcestis myth includes only four singing parts, owing to the limited number of skilled singers at Weimar. Literary and dramatic values are similarly constricted. The mellifluous aria texts vie consciously with those of Metastasio, and the drama’s range is restricted to what Wieland thought music capable of expressing – ‘warm feeling and glowing ...

Article

Kathleen Kuzmick Hansell

(‘Alcestis’)

Opera seria in three acts by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi ( see Guglielmi family (opera) §(1) ) to a libretto by ranieri de’ Calzabigi [Calsabigi], Ranieri (Simone Francesco Maria) de’ (opera) revised by Giuseppe Parini; Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro, 26 December 1768.

Shortly after the Viennese première of Gluck’s Alceste (1767) the directors of the theatre in Milan negotiated with Calzabigi for a revised libretto. In indignant letters Calzabigi defended his refusal to ‘add interesting characters’ or make any other changes. The correspondence also offers important evidence about the subsequent Milanese production. It reveals the reviser of the text, unnamed in the libretto, as the poet Giuseppe Parini and documents the theatre management’s unsuccessful attempts to secure a pre-publication copy of Gluck’s score. In the event, Guglielmi provided an entirely new setting without reference to Gluck.

Parini substantially altered the libretto’s structure and tone to suit Italian tastes and his own concept of opera, reducing the role of the chorus and cutting out the dances. While retaining all the characters, he shifted the emphasis away from the part of Alcestis by increasing the weight of the other roles. The greatest change was in the part of Apollo who, under the name of Evandro [Evander], is present throughout, swaying the course of the action. Parini added five new arias – three for Apollo/Evander and one each for Admeto [Admetus] and Ismene. In addition he replaced one of Calzabigi’s arias for Alcestis and the final chorus with his own....

Article

John A. Rice

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 17th and 18th centuries, based on Euripides′ Alcestis. When Admetus, King of Pherae in Thessaly, is ill and about to die an oracle announces that he will be saved if someone else is willing to die in his stead. His wife Alcestis displays her conjugal devotion by offering herself; she dies and Admetus recovers. According to some versions, Hercules then brings Alcestis back from the Underworld and reunites her with Admetus.

In Aureli’s L’Antigona delusa da Alceste, first performed in 1660 with music by P. A. Ziani and reset by several other composers (including Handel, Admeto, 1727), the story is embroidered with typically Venetian intrigue. Princess Antigona [Antigone] loves Admetus; dressed as a man, she goes in search of him. On hearing of Alcestis’s death she reveals her identity to try to win Admetus. In the meantime, Hercules brings Alcestis back from the Underworld; now it is her turn to be disguised in male clothes. Hercules tells Admetus that he was unable to rescue Alcestis. Admetus decides to marry Antigone but changes his mind when Alcestis reveals her true identity and angrily accuses him of infidelity. In Philippe Quinault’s ...

Article

Thomas Bauman

[Der Alchymist, oder Der Liebesteufel (‘The Alchemist, or The Love Demon’)]

Comische Oper in one act by Joseph Schuster to a libretto by August Gottlieb Meissner after Marc Antoine Le Grand’s comedy L’Amour diable; Dresden, Kleines Kurfürstliches Theater, March 1778.

The old alchemist Tarnow (baritone) refuses to let his daughter Louise (soprano) wed until he has discovered the philosopher’s stone. Her lover Bellnitz (tenor) has contrived a trap-door into her chamber in order to effect their escape. Bellnitz’s servant Heinrich (bass) impersonates a devil that Tarnow believes he has conjured up in one of his experiments and demands either Tarnow or a young female in his place. Tarnow agrees to give him Louise. He tries to renege when the deception is revealed, but threats from Frau Tarnow (soprano) and the charge of having given his daughter to a devil convince him that he should give up alchemy, and allow his daughter to marry Bellnitz.

A mixture of stylish vocal and comic writing absorbed in Italy and popular traits enforced by the indifferent skills of many of Pasquale Bondini’s singers, Schuster’s opera was one of the most successful to come out of northern Germany. It was revived as recently as ...

Article

Eric D. Weimer

(‘Alcides at the Crossroads’)

Festa teatrale in one act by Johann Adolf Hasse to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio Vienna, Grosse Redoutensaal, 8 October 1760.

Written to celebrate the wedding of Archduke Joseph to Princess Isabella of Parma, this festa teatrale antedates Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice by only two years and may in fact have served as a model for some aspects of Gluck’s ‘reform’. The work is also the first in a series of three feste teatrali and three opere serie for the imperial court in the 1760s. The Alcides of the title is the youthful Hercules (soprano), who is led by his tutor, Fronimo (tenor), to a crossroads; there he is confronted by a choice between pleasure and virtue, represented by the goddesses Edonide (soprano) and Aretea (soprano). By choosing the latter Alcides earns the praise of the gods, expressed in an aria for their messenger Iride [Iris] (soprano). Alcide contains the features traditionally associated with the ...