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Peter Ross

(‘Friend Fritz’)

Commedia lirica in three acts by Pietro Mascagni to a libretto by P. Suardon (Nicola Daspuro) from Erckmann-Chatrian’s story L’ami Fritz; Rome, Teatro Costanzi, 31 October 1891.

The sensational success of Cavalleria rusticana in 1890 aroused hopes that the precarious state in which Italian opera had existed for some decades was reaching a turning-point. In the next year Mascagni fulfilled those high hopes with L’amico Fritz, consolidating his already international reputation as the most promising composer of the younger generation. The première, hailed as the most important operatic event since that of Otello, was a triumph, and the work immediately had many further performances; it seemed at first that it would be just as successful as Mascagni’s first opera. With Fritz Kobus’s house and estate in Alsace, Mascagni had again chosen a rural setting, but the choice of a sentimental subject in the comédie larmoyante tradition shows that he was deliberately aiming for a contrast with the stark realism of ...


William Ashbrook


Tragedia lirica in four acts by Franco Faccio to a libretto by Arrigo Boito after William Shakespeare ’s play Hamlet; Genoa, Teatro Carlo Felice, 30 May 1865 (revised, Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 9 February 1871).

The second and last of Faccio’s operas, Amleto commands attention for two reasons. First, it marks an effort of two prominent members of the Scapigliatura (a late Romantic reform movement in northern Italy in the 1860s and 70s) to renew the tradition of Italian opera. Second as the first of Boito’s librettos derived from Shakespeare, it reveals the future poet of Otello and Falstaff collaborating with a far less experienced and gifted composer than Verdi. The libretto gives an Italian equivalent for many of the famous passages and images of Shakespeare’s text, but it possesses a decidedly un-Shakespearean flavour due to its metrical variety and self-consciously wide range of vocabulary. Undeniably it is a literary tour de force: learned, but callow....


Marita P. McClymonds


Opera seria in two acts by Gaetano Andreozzi to a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa after a tragedy by Jean-François Ducis; Padua, Teatro Nuovo, 12 June 1792.

Amleto (soprano castrato) is tormented by his father’s ghost demanding revenge for his murd’er. In an attempt to learn who committed the deed, all gather at his funeral urn. As Amleto’s mother Geltrude (soprano) and her lover Claudio (tenor) approach, the urn bursts into flames. Amleto holds Claudio responsible. Amelia (mezzo-soprano), Claudio’s daughter and Amleto’s betrothed, reports to Geltrude and Noresto (mezzo-soprano castrato) that conspirators are seeking Amleto’s death. In the final scene Claudio fatally wounds Geltrude. Amleto captures him and bids a heartbroken farewell to his dying mother.

Typical of the 1790s, the opera opens with an introduzione – a dialogue for Claudio and a chorus of conspirators in obbligato recitative, arioso and ensemble. The body of the work is principally a succession of recitatives and arias. New to ...


Scott L. Balthazar

(‘Conjugal love’)

Farsa sentimentale in one act by Simon Mayr to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi after Jean-Nicolas Bouilly ’s libretto Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal; Padua, Teatro Nuovo, 26July 1805.

Mayr’s opera is the third of four works based on Bouilly’s story; the others are by Gaveaux (Léonore, ou L ’amour conjugal, 1798), Paer (Leonora, ossia L’amore conjugale, 1804) and, of course, Beethoven (Leonore later Fidelio). In contrast to the other Italian opera on the story by Paer and his librettist Giovanni Schmidt, which adheres closely to the original source, Mayr’s incorporates numerous revisions. With the action moved from Spain to 17th-century Poland, it joined the vogue for Polish rescue operas at the turn of the century which included Cherubini’s Lodoïska (1791, reset by Mayr in 1796) and Faniska (1806). Rossi reduced the number of acts from two to one, rearranged several scenes eliminated the chorus, renamed most of the characters and changed their personalities. He transformed the politically motivated, vindictive Pizarre into the love-crazed, cowardly Moroski (bass), made Léonore into the ardently passionate, yet somewhat naive Zeliska/Malvino (soprano), gave the saucy wench Marcelline an idealistic, serious side as the character Floreska (soprano), and treated her father, now Peters (bass) instead of Roc, as an object of ridicule. The hero Amorveno (tenor), is rescued by his brother Ardelao (tenor)....


Graham Hardie

(‘Love Demands Pain’) [La frascatana (‘The Woman from Frascati’); Il cioè (‘Mr That-is-to-Say’)]

Commedia per musica in three acts by Leonardo Leo to a libretto by Gennaro Antonio Federico; Naples, Teatro Nuovo, autumn 1739.

Amor vuol sofferenza is one of the finest surviving examples of the Neapolitan dialect comedy tradition, with the librettist at pains to ensure cohesion between the seria and buffa characters by a complex web of relationships. The three buffa characters recall masks from the commedia dell’arte: Mosca (bass), the scheming coachman, as Brighella, out to fleece a rich foreigner; Fazio Tonti (bass), the rich, gullible Lucchese, as Pantaloon the dupe; and Vastarella (soprano), the baker, as the flirtatious and streetwise soubrette. Typical of this genre, the comicality depends on intrigue and misunderstanding, on characterization in the buffa parts, and on spoofs of the opera seria, including incongruous use of Metastasian clichés. The music is in the galant style; the buffa arias draw, for their characterization, on techniques explored typically in the contemporary intermezzos. The ...


Joshua Kosman

(‘Love among the Artisans’)

Opera buffa in three acts by Florian Leopold Gassmann to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni ; Vienna, Burgtheater, 26 April 1767.

One of Gassmann’s most enduring successes, this opera was performed throughout Austria, Italy and Germany, sometimes in translation as Die Liebe unter den Handwerksleuten; Haydn oversaw three productions at Eszterháza. The libretto, first set in 1760 by Gaetano Latilla, is the second instalment in a trilogy depicting love among the various classes of society. The artisans of the title include the blacksmith Titta (tenor), the carpenter Giannino (tenor) and the elderly cobbler Bernardo (bass), who run adjacent shops in the village square; romantic entanglements involve Rosina, a dressmaker and Bernardo’s daughter (soprano), and the milliner Angiolina (contralto). The cast is completed by Madame Costanza, a wealthy widow of a certain age (soprano), in love with her French valet Girò (tenor). In fact the libretto is an extensive revision of Goldoni’s original, expanding the ensemble finales of all three acts from three sections to four or even five; sudden shifts in the action are matched by changes, sometimes abrupt, of key, tempo and metre. The role of the valet is also expanded, and his French nationality (Gassmann’s invention) gives rise to many gently satirical invocations of French music (generally the minuet)....


Luca Zoppelli

(‘The Love of Three Kings’)

Poema tragico in three acts by Italo Montemezzi to a libretto by Sem Benelli after his play; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 10 April 1913.

The action is set in the Middle Ages in a remote castle in Italy 40 years after a barbarian invasion. In the first act Baron Archibaldo (bass), old and blind, is wandering restlessly around his castle at night, reflecting on his heroic youth when he, a barbarian, had conquered Italy. His son Manfredo (baritone) is away fighting, and Manfredo’s young Italian wife Fiora (soprano) has been left in the castle, where she meets her lover Avito (tenor), also an Italian, at night. Archibaldo guesses that they have an adulterous relationship and interrogates Fiora, but his blindness prevents him from discovering the truth and he has to repress his hatred of her. When Manfredo returns, innocently happy at seeing Fiora again, she receives him with cold courtesy....


John C.G. Waterhouse

[Der Liebhaber als Arzt] (‘Love the Doctor’)

Comic opera in two acts by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari to a libretto by Enrico Golisciani after Molière’s play L’amour médecin; Dresden, Hoftheater, 4 December 1913.

After his uncharacteristic excursion into post-Mascagnian verismo in I gioielli della Madonna (1911), Wolf-Ferrari returned, in this sixth of his published operas, to that special vein of lighthearted satirical comedy in which he most often gave of his best. L’amore medico may not be quite as unfailingly polished and spontaneous as I quatro rusteghi (1906), but there is no question of mere self-repetition: the music contains some notable new departures, as well as having more than enough typically Wolf-Ferrarian sparkle to make it surprising that the work has remained so little known.

Whereas the composer’s two most remarkable previous comic operas had been quite closely based on plays by Goldoni, Golisciani’s adaptation of one of Molière’s shorter comedies is somewhat freer: in addition to converting the text (for much of the time) into Italian rhyming verse, he added many picturesque and theatrically effective details. Nevertheless the basic drift of the plot remains unchanged. Arnolfo (baritone) – equivalent to Molière’s Sganarelle – has a daughter Lucinda (soprano) whom he jealously wants to keep as his companion for the rest of his life. But the girl develops a mysterious debilitating illness. Ignoring the down-to-earth advice of his quick-witted servant Lisetta (soprano) – who insistently identifies the malady as the need for a husband – Arnolfo sends simultaneously for four doctors (tenor, two baritones and a bass), who pompously give contradictory diagnoses and are clearly interested only in their fees. Meanwhile, however, Lisetta has found a physician of a very different sort: he is in fact Clitandro (tenor), whom Lucinda already loves from afar. With Lisetta’s help this new young ‘doctor’ persuades Arnolfo to let him demonstrate his special technique: he declares that by ‘pretending’ to be a suitor, and by continuing the ‘charade’ right up to and including a ‘false’ marriage ceremony, he will surely and irreversibly cure the girl’s sickness, which is a sickness of the soul. Only when it is too late does it dawn on Arnolfo that not only was Clitandro’s wooing genuine, but so was the wedding itself....


Curtis Price

(‘The Loves of Ergasto’)

Pastoral in a prologue and three acts by Jakob Greber to a libretto after A. Amalteo; London, Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, 9 April 1705.

Gli amori di Ergasto, the music of which does not survive, was the first Italian opera produced in London in Italian and inaugurated John Vanbrugh’s Haymarket Theatre, the principal opera house in London until 1789. Vanbrugh and his partner William Congreve were planning to open with either a play or perhaps Eccles’s English opera Semele, but the unexpected success of Thomas Clayton’s Arsinoe at the rival Drury Lane Theatre prompted them to opt for an Italian opera. Greber, a German who had studied in Italy before his arrival in England about 1703, evidently composed the score at short notice. In Roscius anglicanus (1708), the prompter John Downes said that Gli amori was performed ‘by a new set of Singers, Arriv’d from Italy; (the worst that e’re came from thence) for it lasted but 5 Days, and they being lik’d but indifferently by the Gentry; they in a little time marcht back to their own Country’. It is, however, unlikely that any singers were specially imported for this opera, which requires only four: Licori (probably doubling as Cupid in the prologue), Phillis, Ergasto and Filandro. Greber was closely associated with Margherita de l’Epine, one of the sopranos in ...


(‘Love Moved by Constancy’)

Pastorale in nine scenes by Michel-Richard de Lalande; Fontainebleau, autumn 1697.

An occasional piece for the French court, L’amour, fléchy par la constance represents the reduced scope of Lalande’s middle-period stage compositions following the War of the League of Augsburg. The work played twice at Fontainebleau in autumn 1697 as a concert, and may have been repeated with dancing at Versailles in December for the wedding of the Duc and Duchesse de Bourgogne. The theme is one of disrupted and then reconciled love among shepherds and the setting is a forest near a temple to Amour; the librettist is unknown. Tircis (haute-contre) with Philis (soprano) and Climene (soprano) with Daphnis (baritone) lament love’s travails, while the chorus affirms its pleasures. The nine scenes display organic unity: for example, solo and ensemble singing is well balanced by choral music and the extended chorus and instrumental passacaille in Scene 5 form the centrepiece of the composition. Climene’s ...


James R. Anthony

[Les amours de Ragonde, ou La soirée de village (‘The Loves of Ragonde, or The Village Evening’)]

Comédie lyrique in three acts by Jean-Joseph Mouret to a libretto by Philippe Néricault-Destouches, Sceaux, December 1714, as Le mariage de Ragonde et de Colin, ou La veillée de village (revised version, Paris, Opéra, 30 January 1742, as Les amours de Ragonde, ou La soirée de village).

Ragonde (tenor), an aged widow with only ‘four teeth’, proposes marriage to the young shepherd Colin (haute-contre), who loves Ragonde’s daughter Colette (soprano). Colette, however, loves Lucas (bass). Ragonde will agree to their union only when she herself is betrothed to Colin. Demons and sprites released by Ragonde surround Colin in the divertissement of Act 2, threatening him unless he agrees to marry Ragonde. In Act 3 all the villagers celebrate the double wedding of Lucas to Colette and of the hapless Colin to Ragonde.

Only the libretto is extant from the performance at Sceaux in 1714. The reduced score, printed by Mouret’s widow in ...


Jérôme de La Gorce

(‘The Disguised Loves’)

Opéra-ballet in a prologue and three entrées by Thomas-Louis(-Joseph) Bourgeois to a libretto by Louis Fuzelier ; Paris, Opéra, 22 August 1713.

This work, which takes its title from a ballet of 1664 by Lully, was so successful that it was revived in 1714 with a new act, La reconnaissance, and again in ...



Bertil H. van Boer

Opéra-ballet in a prologue and one act by Johann Gottlieb Naumann to a libretto by Gudmund Göran Adlerbeth after Antoine Léonard Thomas’s play; Stockholm, Bollhus Theatre, 24 January 1778.

Antiope (soprano) loves Mercury’s son, Amphion (tenor) who is able to calm the passions of beasts through his song. She is threatened by the Chieftain of the barbarians (bass), who demands her love. Rejected, he captures and threatens both her and Amphion with death, but Amphion disarms the barbarians by singing. They promise to reform themselves, and Amphion weds Antiope.

Newly arrived in Stockholm from Dresden, Naumann wrote Amphion as a test piece to gauge both his ability with Swedish and public reaction to his style. It was an unqualified success in Stockholm, with more than 20 performances: arias from the opera are still in the Swedish repertory. The music, which shows both French and Italian influences, displays Naumann’s gift for word painting and a singable melody, coupled with often bniliant orchestration....


Nigel Burton

Opera in three acts by Isidore De Lara to a libretto by Augustus Henry Glossop Harris and Frederick Edward Weatherly, after Walter Scott’s novel Kenilworth; London, Covent Garden, in a French translation by Paul Milliet, 20 July 1893.

The Earl of Leicester (tenor) fears that he will lose the favour of Queen Elizabeth (mezzo-soprano) if she learns of his secret marriage to Amy Robsart (soprano). Amy is therefore kept secluded at Cumnor Hall in the care of Leicester’s wicked retainer Varney (baritone). Her childhood sweetheart Tressilian (tenor), ignorant of her marriage, petitions the Queen for her release. Varney, fearful for his own ambitions, plots Amy’s murder; Leicester arrives at Cumnor to rescue her but, to his horror, she plunges to her death through a hidden trapdoor previously set by Varney.

Amy Robsart is written in De Lara’s early style in which the influence of Massenet predominates. The opera was given at Paris, Boulogne, Monte Carlo and St Petersburg in ...



Acte de ballet by Jean-Philippe Rameau to a libretto by (Jean-)Louis de Cahusac ; Fontainebleau, 23 October 1754.

Intended for a projected opéra-ballet, Les beaux jours de l’Amour, this is one of two independent works by Rameau with the same title (the other, to a libretto by Pierre-Joseph Bemard, eventually became part of ...


Brian W. Pritchard

[L’Anagilda, o vero La fede ne tradimenti (‘Anagilda, or Faith Despite Betrayal’)]

Dramma per musica in three acts by Antonio Caldara to a libretto by Gerolamo Gigli ; Rome, Palazzo Bonelli, 4 January 1711.

This opera, commissioned by Francesco Maria Ruspoli for Carnival 1711, was staged 13 times by 5 February and was perhaps the most frequently performed of all Caldara’s operas. Its plot is based on an incident in Bartolommeo de Rogatis’s Storia della perdita e riacquisto delta Spagna (1648) in which Fernando (soprano), Count of Castile, defeats Sancio, King of Navarra, and is betrothed to his enemy’s daughter Sancia (Anagilda, soprano, in the opera) but incarcerated by her brother Garzia (alto castrato). Eventually Anagilda rescues Fernando and they escape to Castile. Elvira (contralto), Fernando’s warrior sister, who confronts Garzia only to fall in love with him, is apparently Gigli’s invention. He further adapted the libretto for its Roman première, providing additional arias and, at Ruspoli’s request, comic scenes within the acts as well as independent intermezzos for Dorina (alto) and Grullo (bass)....


Julian Budden

Dramma istorico in four acts (‘tableaux’) by Umberto Giordano to a libretto by Luigi Illica; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 28 March 1896.

Illica’s libretto, inspired by the life of the French poet André Chénier (1762–94), was ceded to Giordano in 1894 by Alberto Franchetti, for whom it was written. The opera was completed in mid-November the following year. After some hesitation it was accepted for performance at La Scala on the strong recommendation of Mascagni, and it proved the only success of a disastrous season given at that theatre under the management of the publisher Sonzogno, who excluded from the cartello all works belonging to his rival, Ricordi. The principals were Giuseppe Borgatti (Chénier), then at the start of his career, Evelina Carrera (Maddalena) and Mario Sammarco (Gérard); the conductor was Rodolfo Ferrari. Andrea Chénier at once raised the composer to the front rank of the ‘giovane scuola’, along with Mascagni, Puccini and Leoncavallo. Today it remains the most widely performed of Giordano’s operas, mainly as an effective vehicle for a star tenor. Borgatti owed to it the start of a notable Italian career. Outstanding exponents in recent times have included Franco Corelli and Placido Domingo....


Hanns-Bertold Dietz


Opera seria in three acts by Francesco Feo to a libretto by Apostolo Zeno after Euripides, Seneca, Corneille and Racine; Rome, Teatro della Valle, 5 February 1730.

At the end of the Trojan war Andromache (soprano), Hector’s faithful widow, her son Astianatte [Astyanax] (alto) and his ‘brother’ Telemaco [Telemachus] (soprano), Ulysses’ child, whom she had abducted and raised as her own, are held captive by Pirro [Pyrrhus] (soprano), King of Epirus, who desires Andromache although she rejects his love. She fears for the life of Astyanax, whom the Greeks regard as heir to Hector’s strength. The Spartan princess Ermione [Hermione] (soprano), betrothed to Pyrrhus, is overcome with jealousy at her lover’s betrayal, and wants to eliminate her rival. Ulisse [Ulysses] (tenor) comes to press Pyrrhus into honouring his commitment to Hermione, to punish Andromache for the abduction and murder (he thinks) of his son, and to kill Astyanax. Protected by Pyrrhus, Andromache hides the boys in Hector’s tomb. When Ulysses discovers them, she reveals that one of them is his son. After Hermione identifies Telemachus, and Astyanax is taken to be executed, Pyrrhus commands that Telemachus too must die. Ulysses then relents and their lives are spared. Pyrrhus, hearing that Andromache would kill herself if forced to be his wife, accepts Hermione....


Stephen Shearon


Dramma per musica in three acts by Leonardo Leo to a libretto by Antonio Salvi after Jean Racine ’s play Andromaque; Naples, Teatro di S Carlo, 4 November 1742.

Andromaca was the alternative title of Salvi’s libretto Astianatte. Leo’s setting – his penultimate opera seria – was performed for the name-day of King Charles III. The opera represents a decisive advance in the composer’s powers of dramatic expression. The stylistic language is leaner and simpler, but more profound, than that found in his earlier works. In addition to powerfully emotive accompanied recitatives one finds choruses and marches; modified da capo arias are the norm, but where the drama requires greater flexibility it is given; and the use of orchestration and dynamics is more sophisticated than in L’olimpiade of only five years before. As in L’olimpiade, Leo employed his students from the conservatory of S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini to sing the simple choruses, unusual in any form in Neapolitan opera....


Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century. Homer ’s Iliad recounts the unfortunate early life of Andromache, daughter of Eëtion, the king of Thebes in Cilicia. Andromache’s husband Hector, as well as her father and brothers, are killed in the Trojan war, and her son Astyanax (also known as Scamandrius) is thrown from the walls. (In some versions of the legend he survives; librettos using this story are sometimes entitled Astianatte rather than Andromaca.) Virgil, in the Aeneid, tells of her subsequent enslavement by Pyrrhus (Neoptolemus), the son of Achilles, of her journey with him to Epirus where he is king, and of her bearing his son, Molossus. Pyrrhus later deserts her for Helen’s daughter, Hermione, but Orestes, consumed with jealousy for Hermione, kills him. Andromache marries Helenus, Hector’s brother.

Two famous dramas on this epic preceded the several opera librettos of the 18th century: the Andromache of Euripides...