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Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Alcides in the Gardens of the Hesperides’)

Opera seria in two acts by Gian Francesco de Majo to a libretto by Marco Coltellini ; Vienna, Laxenburg, Privilegiato, 9 June 1764.

Alcides (alto castrato; the same mythological figure as Hercules) has fallen deeply in love with Elettra [Electra] (soprano), who is promised to Dardano [Dardanus] (soprano castrato). Taigete [Taygete] (soprano), Electra’s sister, reports to King Atlante [Atlas] (tenor), their father, that pirates have taken Electra and Dardanus captive. Desperate for the safety of his daughter, Atlas promises her to his friend Alcides, if he will save her. Alcides returns victorious, and Atlas tells the rescued couple that Electra has been promised to him. Electra denounces Alcides for his unreasonable demands, and all leave in distress. Taygete explains the situation to the bewildered Alcides, who then kills the monster guarding the golden apple tree, which disappears. He releases the old king from his promise, thus reuniting Electra and Dardanus. Alcides is hailed as Atlas’s successor. Esperide [Hesperis], Atlas’s immortal wife, then emerges from the sea to join the company in a celebratory ballet....

Article

Alcina  

Anthony Hicks

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to an anonymous libretto after Cantos vi and vii of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, adapted from the libretto for Riccardo Broschi’s L’isola di Alcina (1728, Rome); London, Covent Garden Theatre, 16 April 1735.

Handel composed Alcina in the early months of 1735 while presenting his first season at John Rich’s newly built theatre at Covent Garden (the last page of the autograph score is dated 8 April 1735, eight days before the first performance). The title role was sung by Anna Maria Strada del Pò, Ruggiero by the celebrated castrato Giovanni Carestini. John Beard, at the start of a long career, sang Oronte, and the talented William Savage (then a boy treble, later a bass) Oberto. (That role, which does not appear in the source libretto, seems to have been created specifically for Savage: the scenes involving him are all late additions to the score.) In common with Handel’s other operatic productions in the same season (notably ...

Article

Alcyone  

Jérôme de La Gorce

[Alcione]

Tragédie en musique in a prologue and five acts by Marin Marais to a libretto by Antoine Houdar de Lamotte after Ovid ; Paris, Opéra, 18 February 1706.

On the evidence of box-office takings and contemporary descriptions, this opera was ‘much applauded’ at the time of its first performance; it was revived on several occasions to 1771. Lamotte was criticized for remaining ‘too close to the manner’ in which Ovid had treated the subject in the Metamorphoses (a modernist, he had never before shown such respect for the writers of antiquity), but the libretto was generally considered ‘well written, full of spirit and of sentiments which almost make one forget its failings’ (François and Claude Parfaict, Histoire de l’Académie royale de musique). Most of the praise, however, went to the composer, whose score shows great merits. There is some excellent vocal writing in the moving airs, accompanied sometimes by continuo, sometimes by flutes or an oboe, sometimes by the string ensemble. Accompanied recitatives may derive their structure from the repetition of a melodic element and are generally reserved for the most dramatic scenes. Also remarkable are the duets, trios and expressive choruses, which sometimes incorporate a solo voice....

Article

Aleko  

Richard Taruskin

Opera in one act by Sergey Vasil’yevich Rakhmaninov to a libretto by Vladimir Ivanovich Nemirovich-Danchenko -danchenko after Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin ’s dramatic narrative poem Tsïganï (‘The Gypsies’, 1824); Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 27 April/9 May 1893.

Aleko was an official graduation piece, assigned not only to the 19-year-old Rakhmaninov but to all three members of Arensky’s class in free composition at the Moscow Conservatory in 1892 (the settings by Lev Conus [Konyus] and Nikita Morozov were not published or performed; another opera on the same libretto, by Paul Juon, was performed in Tbilisi in 1897). Starting with the two gypsy dances, which were done by 23 March/4 April, Rakhmaninov completed the full score something over three weeks later, on 16/28 April. The work effectively launched the young composer’s professional career, earning him not only the highest possible grade and a gold medal but also his first publication (vocal score, ...

Article

Anthony Hicks

(‘Alexander’)

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto by Paolo Antonio Rolli based on Ortensio Mauro ’s La superbia d’Alessandro (1690, Hanover); London, King’s Theatre, 5 May 1726.

Alessandro was Handel’s ninth full-length opera for the Royal Academy of Music and the first of the group of five in which the leading female roles were designed for the rival sopranos Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni; they sang Lisaura and Roxana. The other singers included the castratos Senesino (Alexander) and Antonio Baldi (Taxiles), the tenor Luigi Antinori (Leonnatus), the contralto Anna Vincenza Dotti (Cleon) and the bass Giuseppe Boschi (Clitus). The opera was completed on 11 April 1726, less than a month before its production as the last of the 1725–6 season, but had been begun some months earlier in anticipation of Faustina’s arrival in London (Handel broke off composition to write Scipione). Owen Swiney, writing from Venice on ...

Article

(‘Alexander in India’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Leonardo Vinci (1730, Rome).Versions of the libretto also appear with such titles as Alessandro e Poro, Cleofide, La generosità di Alessandro and Poro, rè dell’Indie.

Poro [Porus], an Indian king, defeated by Alessandro Magno [Alexander the Great], resolves to save Cleofide [Cleophis], queen of another part of India. Disguised as his general, Gandarte [Gandartes], and taking the name Asbite [Asbites], he is dispatched by Alexander to offer peace to Porus. Timagene [Timagenes], Alexander’s confidant, loves Erissena [Eryxene], Porus’s sister. When he leads her in as captive, Eryxene’s obvious admiration of Alexander, who releases her, arouses Timagenes’ jealousy of his king. Cleophis visits Alexander, but ‘Asbites’ (Porus) interrupts to relay Porus’s refusal of Alexander’s peace offer. Recognizing him, and angered by his jealousy, Cleophis invites Alexander to return her visit.

Fighting breaks out upon Alexander’s arrival in Cleophis’s realm. Alexander is victorious, and the vanquished Porus flees with Cleophis, who reaffirms her love for him. Porus is captured, but Timagenes, turned traitor, frees him and offers, in a letter, to help him assassinate Alexander. Gandartes (disguised as Porus) surrenders to Alexander, who magnanimously frees him. He orders ‘Asbites’ (Porus) released, but Eryxene reports that he has killed himself. Gandartes urges Eryxene to leave with him, but she reminds him of their duty to India....

Article

(‘Alexander in India’)

Opera seria in two acts by Giovanni Pacini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola after Pietro Metastasio ( see Alessandro nell’Indie (libretto) below); Naples, Teatro S Carlo, 29 September 1824.

Pacini’s Alessandro resembles other 19th-century adaptations of 18th-century librettos in a number of respects. It centres on a love triangle involving the invading Greek general Alexander (tenor), Cleofide [Cleophis] (soprano), queen of one part of India, and her lover Poro [Porus] (soprano), king of another part of India, who suspects unjustly that Cleophis has betrayed him. It also presents a horrifying climax in which the heroine threatens to immolate herself rather than marry Alexander, and it gives a primary role to ensembles of conflict. Yet it retains elements of Metastasian intrigue in the use of assumed identities by Porus and his general Gandarte [Gandartes] and in Alexander’s twofold attempt to coerce Cleophis’s affection. Moreover, it ends happily, when Alexander relents and reunites the couple....

Article

Harris S. Saunders

(‘Alexander Severus’)

Dramma per musica in three acts by Antonio Lotti to a libretto by Apostolo Zeno ; Venice, Teatro S Giovanni Grisostomo, Carnival 1717.

The plot is based loosely on Roman history. Giulia Mammea [Julia Mamaea] (soprano), mother of the emperor Alexander Severus (soprano castrato), desires to retain power as she did throughout her son’s reign (222–35). According to historical record, she succeeded in banishing her son’s wife Sallustia (soprano) and father-in-law after the latter’s foiled conspiracy against the emperor. But in the opera Sallustia selflessly offers her own life in order to save Julia Mamaea from the conspirators; overcome by the magnanimity of her gesture, Julia Mamaea is reconciled to Sallustia. A completely ahistorical subplot involves Albina (contralto), dressed as a man, testing the fidelity of her lover Claudio [Claudius] (soprano castrato).

This was the last opera Lotti set for Venice before leaving to take up his new post in Dresden and the last libretto Zeno wrote for Venice before becoming imperial poet in Vienna. It was the only production for the ...

Article

Anthony Hicks

(‘Alexander Severus’)

Opera in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto anonymously adapted from Apostolo Zeno as revised for Milan, 1723; London, King’s Theatre, 25 February 1738.

Like Oreste (1734), Alessandro Severo is a pasticcio opera created by Handel from his own works: the arias duets, entr’actes and final coro are taken (with verbal changes) from earlier operas (mainly those of the previous London season – Arminio, Giustino and Berenice); the overture and recitatives are new. The story is based on an incident in the reign of the Roman emperor Alexander Severus (222–35) as related by Herodian (vi, 1.9). Alexander (mezzo-soprano castrato) is dominated by his mother Giulia [Julia] (contralto), whose jealous rage at being outranked by Alexander’s wife Sallustia (soprano) generates the main action; Alexander is tricked into repudiating Sallustia, who bears her humiliation patiently and eventually saves Julia from being murdered in a conspiracy organized by Sallustia’s father Marziano [Marcianus] (bass). Alexander’s minister Claudio [Claudius] (soprano castrato) is also involved in the conspiracy but his role is discovered by his discarded lover Albina (soprano) and she wins back his love by protecting him....

Article

Peter Cohen

Romantic opera in three acts by Friedrich Freiherr von Flotow to a libretto by W. Friedrich ; Hamburg, Stadttheater, 30 December 1844.

The plot is a mild and comic extract from the turbulent life of the 17th-century Italian composer. In Act 1, set in and around St Mark’s Square, Venice, Stradella (tenor) is discovered in a gondola with some of his music students as they sing first a hymn to Venice and then a serenade to his beloved Leonore (soprano). She appears on the balcony and warns him against her guardian, Bassi (bass), a rich Venetian who has incarcerated her and plans to marry her the next day against her will. Stradella arranges to flee with Leonore, and the pair take advantage of a conniving, tumultuous carnival procession to elope. While Bassi gets caught up among the masked revellers, Stradella and Leonore slip away in the gondola.

Act 2 takes place in front of Stradella’s country house near Rome. Leonore, in bridal array, rejoices in her good fortune. To the sound of the bells Stradella leads her amid a procession of guests to the wedding ceremony. Malvolino (bass), a bandit who has been engaged by Bassi to assassinate Stradella, now arrives and is surprised to find that his associate, the bandit Barbarino (tenor), is there with the same mandate. When the marriage procession returns, the bandits introduce themselves to Stradella as pilgrims. He invites them to join in the celebrations, then sings a romance which describes the compassion and kindness that lie deep in the hearts of all robbers and bandits who help the poor and grant asylum to the wandering minstrel. This song so moves Malvolino and Barbarino that they abandon their murderous plan....