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Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its source is Roman history as related in Florus, Appian of Alexandria and others; many librettos relied on Jean Racine ’s Mithridate (1673), a work favoured by Louis XIV.

Mithridates VI, King of Pontus (called ‘the Great’, 120–63 bc), was a popular subject in 18th-century operas. His conquests of Asia and wars against Rome, and particularly his despotic cruelty and sensuality, were usually condensed into a single cataclysmic event. Two sons of Mithridates, Pharnaces and Xiphares, hearing a false report of Mithridates’ death, seek the hand of Mithridates’ proclaimed queen, Monima. Mithridates returns alive and learns of Pharnaces’ intentions towards Monima, as well as his alliance with Rome, and imprisons him. Next he discovers the mutual love between Xiphares and Monima. Pharnaces escapes and attacks with an approaching Roman army, but Xiphares rallies the king’s army, defeats his brother, and is rewarded with Monima and the kingdom. Librettos by Vanstryp (set by Porpora, ...


Gordana Lazarevich

(‘The World on the Moon’)

Libretto by Carlo Goldoni , first set by Baldassare Galuppi (1750, Venice).

A false astronomer, Ecclitico, is looking with his students at the moon through a telescope mounted on the balcony of his house. He decides to play a joke on the foolish and gullible Bonafede by telling him that with his powerful telescope he can see not only a world on the moon but can also detect houses, people and women undressing as they go to bed. At the telescope, Bonafede reports seeing a young woman caressing an old man, a husband beating his wife to punish her for infidelity, and a woman being led by the nose by her lover. Pleased that Ecclitico has made it possible for him to see such a world, Bonafede gives him money; but Ecclitico would prefer to have Bonafede’s daughter, Clarice, in marriage.

Ernesto loves Bonafede’s other daughter, Flaminia; he and his servant Cecco, interested in Bonafede’s maid Lisetta, conspire with Ecclitico to take the women away from Bonafede’s strict control by marrying them. Clarice and Flaminia are anxious to escape from the stifling atmosphere of their father’s home, hoping their future husbands will be too concerned with their own business to care about their wives’ social activities....


(‘The Olympiad’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1733, Vienna).

Megacle [Megacles] arrives in Sicyon just in time to enter the Olympic Games under the name of Licida [Lycidas], a friend who once saved his life. Unknown to Megacles, Lycidas is in love with Aristea [Aristaea], whose hand is to be offered to the winner of the games by her father, King Clistene [Cleisthenes]. Lycidas, once betrothed to Princess Argene of Crete, is unaware that Megacles and Aristaea already love each other, and he subsequently tells his friend of the prize. Aristaea and Megacles greet each other fondly, but Megacles now feels bound by his promise to compete as Lycidas. Meanwhile Argene arrives in Olympia disguised as a shepherdess, to win back Lycidas.

Megacles wins the games, confesses the truth to Aristaea and departs, broken-hearted. When Lycidas comes to claim her, Aristaea reproaches him, as does the disguised Argene, much to his dismay. Aminta [Amyntas], tutor to Lycidas, reports that Megacles has drowned himself, and King Cleisthenes, apprised of the deception, banishes Lycidas....


Gordana Lazarevich

(‘The Horatii and the Curiatii’)

Tragedia per musica in three acts by Domenico Cimarosa to a libretto by Simeone Antonio Sografi after Pierre Corneille’s tragedy Horace; Venice, Teatro La Fenice, 26 December 1796.

This opera is based on Corneille’s tragedy (1640); the main difference is in Horatius’s role. In Corneille’s play Horatius is the protagonist, and Curiatius is a secondary character. According to operatic conventions Curiatius, as the partner of the prima donna, had to be sung by the primo uomo (a soprano castrato), while Horatius, as the tenor role, was relegated to a secondary position.

At its première the opera featured an illustrious cast, including Matteo Babbini (Marcus Horatius), Josephina Grassini (Horatia), Girolamo Crescentini (Curiatius) and Carolina Maranesi (Sabina). At the age of 17 Crescentini had appeared in the Rome première of Cimarosa’s L’italiana in Londra; his singing partner, Grassini, appeared in this opera over a period of 20 years. The piece was popular on the European stage for several decades; in Venice alone it had more than 130 performances in six years. Over the years it was considerably altered, and its three acts were compressed to two. For the ...


Bryan Martin

Libretto by Antonio Palomba , first set by Pietro Auletta (1737, Naples).

The main characters are the lovers Orazio and Ginevra, who eloped from Genoa in defiance of their parents, were captured by Moorish pirates, and were separated when only Ginevra was rescued. The action begins seven years later with Orazio’s arrival, under the name of Leandro, at the residence of Lamberto, a Venetian singing teacher. Ginevra (now known as Giacomina), a pupil of Lamberto’s, is reluctantly to make her Naples début. She recognizes Leandro, but the two do not make themselves known to each other immediately. Orazio hatches an elaborate plot to free Ginevra from her Neapolitan engagement and, after the usual deceits, diversions and misunderstandings, the lovers are reunited. A subplot involves Lamberto, who is in love with Lauretta, another of his pupils: he contrives to keep her with him by declaring that her training is only half-finished, but she is discovered by the Neapolitan impresario Colagianni; after much scheming on both sides, Lamberto prevails....


F.W. Sternfeld

Libretto subject used in many periods.

On the surface, the myth of Orpheus seems tailor-made for opera: a tale of faithful love beyond the grave and the magical power of music. In reality the well-known story has impressed the Western mind more as a symbol of a superhuman protagonist who conquers death, and who is at various times perceived as a prophet, a sage, a ‘shaman’ or an allegorical depiction of Christ, Apollo, Dionysus or Osiris. The Orpheus plot looms large in the history of the stage from Aeschylus to Tennessee Williams and in the history of stage music from Renaissance intermedi to Stravinsky and Birtwistle. The ubiquitous myth appears not only in operas and ballets (and films) that bear the names of Orpheus or Eurydice (or their spelling variants) in the titles, but also as important episodes, for instance in a play by Seneca or an opera by Cavalli (...


David Tunley

‘Opera phantasy’ in two acts by Edgar Bainton to a libretto by Robert Trevelyan; Sydney, Conservatorium Opera School, 20 May 1944.

The opera is based on a Hindu legend in which the God Krishna (tenor), then a young village herdsboy, reveals his magic power to make a pearl, borrowed from his mother Yashoda (contralto), grow into a magnificent tree. Krishna’s love for the village girl Rahda (soprano), who had refused to lend him a pearl and who had scorned both Krishna and the story of his exploit, is fulfilled at the end of the opera.

Although composed in England in 1927 the opera was not performed until 1944, when it was staged by the Sydney Conservatorium Opera School conducted by the composer. In his glowing review (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 1944), Neville Cardus was particularly struck by the beauty of the orchestration into which vocal melody and recitative are superbly fused. Its harmonic style is not unlike that of Delius’s music, although the vocal line tends to be less chromatic. There are also moments of exotic modality appropriate to the libretto subject....


Gordana Lazarevich

(‘The Fisherwomen’)

Libretto by Carlo Goldoni , first set by Ferdinando Bertoni (1751, Venice).

Nerina and Lesbina are two fisherwomen, betrothed to each others’ brothers, the fishermen Burlotto and Frisellino. Old Mastricco also belongs to this community, but his presumed daughter, Eurilda, has never felt comfortable there. The fishermen’s routine is interrupted one day by the arrival of Lindoro, Prince of Sorrento, and his entourage of noblemen. The prince asks the villagers to help in finding the object of his search: the lost heiress of Benevento.

Nerina and Lesbina, attracted to the stranger, are prepared to abandon their bridegrooms to marry into a higher social rank; each feigns royal blood and proclaims herself the lost princess. Lindoro’s confusion is heightened by Burlotto and Frisellino, each of whom names his sister as the woman that Lindoro seeks. To arrive at the truth Lindoro offers jewellery to the villagers. Everyone reaches out for the gold except for Eurilda, who unwittingly takes the dagger with which her father was killed. Lindoro recognizes her as the object of his search. Mastricco reveals that she is not his daughter but was given into his custody as a baby by a man who had saved her from her father’s murderer; she is now free to marry Lindoro....


Patrick O’Connor

(Fr., livret de mise en scène; Ger. Regiebuch; It. disposizione scenica, messa in scena)

A text in which the setting and action of a production of a stage work is described in detail, usually with diagrams and sometimes incorporating a complete libretto. It is usually prepared by the director in the form of a manuscript or typescript and is sometimes distributed as a booklet printed for restricted use or general sale, often by the publisher of the music.

In France, a tradition developed in the early 19th century of compiling a detailed livret de mise en scène for opéras comiques and mélodrames, to fix their staging for the benefit of provincial directors. It may have been as a result of his experiences in Paris that Verdi initiated the disposizioni sceniche that appeared with his operas from Les vêpres siciliennes (1855) onwards; eight of these are known, the first, of 38 pages, embodying a clear, rudimentary ‘traffic plan’ of the opera’s action, the last, for ...


Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century, taken from Ovid ’s Metamorphoses, iv.

A young Babylonian couple, Pyramus and Thisbe, were betrothed; but the families quarelled, broke off relations and forbade the young people to see each other. They decided to meet at night and elope. Then the tragic chain of events began that has given their story immortality: while waiting for Pyramus, Thisbe is frightened away by a lion and leaves her scarf behind; Pyramus arrives, finds the scarf bloody and mauled by Pyramus arrives, finds the scarf bloody and mauled by the lion, and stabs himself believing that Thisbe is dead; returning, Thisbe finds him dying, and she stabs herself; and finally her father arrives to find both young people dead, and he stabs himself too. The plot of course appears as the rustics’ play in Shakespeare’s A midsummer Night’s Dream and in operas based on it, notably Britten’s....