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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....


Opera in a prologue and three acts by Francesco Manelli to a libretto by Benedetto Ferrari ; Venice, Teatro S Cassiano, Carnival 1637, before 25 February.

The opera, based on the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, is set in Ethiopia and required two stage sets. The account that follows is a conflation of the 1637 libretto and scenario. The curtain opens on to scenery depicting a rocky seashore at sunrise against which Aurora [Dawn], borne across the stage on a cloud, sings the prologue. Giunone [Juno] enters in a golden chariot drawn by peacocks, and Mercurio [Mercury] flies on to the stage. Cassiope [Cassiopeia], Queen of Ethiopia, has angered Juno by boasting that she is more beautiful than the goddess. Juno has resolved that her punishment will be to see her daughter Andromeda devoured by a sea monster. The scene changes to woodland, and Andromeda enters with a chorus of nymphs. They praise the beauty of the woods and depart to hunt a boar which has been terrorizing the countryside. The scene changes back to the seashore. Mercury brings Juno’s orders to Nettuno [Neptune], who summons Protheo [Proteus] from the depths and orders him to release the most ferocious of his sea monsters. The act ends with a madrigal sung behind the scenes, followed by an intermezzo – a dance performed by three boys dressed as Cupids....


Richard Taruskin


Opera in four acts by César Antonovich Cui to a libretto by Viktor Burenin after Victor Hugo ’s Angelo, tyran de Padoue; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 1/13 February 1876.

Despite its subtext of political liberation, Hugo’s play was pre-eminently an erotic one: a love rectangle, one has to call it, among Angelo Malipieri (bass in the opera), the ruler of Padua, his wife Caterina (soprano) and his mistress Thisbe (mezzo-soprano), both of whom love not him but Ezzelino da Romano, alias Rodolfo (tenor), scion of the former ruling clan of Padua. Caterina is saved from a life-threatening plot by the self-sacrificing Thisbe, who accidentally learns that Caterina had saved her mother’s life long ago in Venice. It is interesting to compare the libretto of Cui’s opera with the one ‘Tobia Gorrio’ (Arrigo Boito) fashioned from the same play for Ponchielli’s exactly contemporary La Gioconda. The whole first act of ...


Richard Langham Smith

Farce in one act by Jacques Ibert to a libretto by Nino (pseudonym of Michel Veber); Paris, Théâtre Bériza, 28 January 1927.

Set in a port, the opera concerns a woman, Angélique (soprano), who has been put up for sale by her husband Boniface (baritone) with the aid of Charlot (baritone), who takes money from three would-be buyers: an Italian (tenor), an Englishman (tenor) and a negro (bass), all characterized by clever musical pastiches. None of them can cope with her ebullience, and despairingly Boniface cries ‘the devil take her!’. Obediently the devil appears and takes her, but even he cannot keep her and he too gives her back to the despairing Boniface: she is destined to be always for sale. A drinking-chorus finishes off this concise and fast-moving work, where each set piece is clearly defined.

The ridiculous situation, somewhat reminiscent of commedia dell’arte, is captured with ‘wrong-note’ harmonies, bitonality and a constantly nervous rhythmic drive, which includes African cross-rhythms to portray the negro’s inspection, and what Ibert called ‘de choeurs rythmés-parlés’ – a chorus in speaking rhythm. His eclectic style and technique were well suited to the pastiche set pieces of this, his most successful opera. He was always pleased with it, considering it innovatory for a stage work: ‘Using the voices to the limits of their possibilities, I did not spare the orchestra, using the minimum of instruments for the maximum result’....





Anders Wiklund

‘Revue about man in time and space’ in two acts by Karl-Birger Blomdahl to a libretto by Erik Lindegren after Harry Martinson’s poem; Stockholm, Royal Opera, 31 May 1959.

The space-ship Aniara has left the desolated and poisoned Earth and is travelling to Mars. Through Mimaroben (bass-baritone), operator of the Mima (tape), a computer which is the master of Aniara, the emigrants learn about the cruelty of man. During the midsummer celebration Aniara is thrown off its course and panic breaks out. The commander, Chefone (baritone), says that the passengers are now doomed to travel towards the constellation Lyra until the ends of their lives. The Chief Technician I (tenor) compares the journey to the movement of an air-bubble through glass. A beam from the Mima blows up the Earth. The comedian Sandon (high buffo tenor) jokes that everyone is safe, but he falls silent when the Deaf Mute (mute role), in sign language, describes the end of the world. After this the Mima cannot survive. Chefone blames Mimaroben and takes him and the pilot Isagel (dancer) away. Despair and moral decline spread. A scene in the Hall of Mirrors shows Daisy Dodd (soprano) and her lesbian partner Libidel (dancer), passengers dancing lasciviously, and the Blind Poetess (high soprano), whose Light cult has replaced the Mima. Next the 20th anniversary of the departure from the Earth is celebrated, and the dead body of the Chief Technician I is shot into space. The Blind Poetess falls into ecstasy because she has seen the city of heaven, but she is taken away by men in white coats. In the final scene, on the last night in the ship, Isagel dances her swan-song. The Blind Poetess sings about the bliss of death, and a beam of light sweeps over the dead passengers; Mimaroben prepares for the end of the journey....