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Paul Corneilson

Libretto subject much used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its principal sources are the historical accounts of the Roman leader Julius Caesar as recorded in Plutarch’s Lives. Opera librettos have tended to focus either on Caesar’s visit to Egypt, where he falls in love with Cleopatra (the subject of Bernard Shaw’s play Caesar and Cleopatra), or on his assassination at the hands of his fellow Romans (as in William Shakespeare ’s tragedy Julius Caesar). They may be found under titles including Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Cesare in Alessandra, Cesare e Cleopatra, Cesare in Egitto, La morte di Cesare and Il trionfo di Cesare.

Possibly the first libretto featuring an episode from the life of Caesar was G. F. Busenello’s La prosperità in felice di Giulio Cesare dittatore (libretto published in 1656; possibly intended for the Teatro SS Giovanni e Paolo, Venice, with music attributed to Cavalli, but possibly not composed). Probably the earliest setting on the Caesar and Cleopatra theme is Cesti’s ...



Gerald Bordman

(b Pittsburgh, PA, Nov 16, 1889; d New York, NY, June 2, 1961). American librettist and director. He first worked as a journalist, serving for a time as head of the drama desk at the New York Times, but resigned in order to write his own plays. His first libretto, produced in collaboration with Marc Connelly, was for Helen of Troy, New York (1923; music by B. Kalmar and H. Ruby) and established his reputation for witty and satirical writing. He then created two important shows for the Marx Brothers, The Cocoanuts (1925; I. Berlin) and, with Morrie Ryskind, Animal Crackers (1928; Kalmar and Ruby), and also collaborated with Ryskind on the libretto for the highly successful Of Thee I Sing (1931; G. Gershwin), the first musical to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for drama, and Let ’Em Eat Cake (1933; Gershwin). Kaufman contributed both libretto and lyrics for ...


Peter Purin

(b Chautauqua, NY, July 24, 1962). American composer and lyricist. He developed an interest in composing musical theater from a very young age. When he could not afford to attend the Juilliard School as a teenager, he became an accompanist at SUNY Fredonia. He then made his way to New York City in 1980 as a gigging pianist. ASCAP and BMI workshops for musical theater writing provided opportunities to hone his craft. His first full-length musical, Ballad of the Sad Café (1984), went unproduced. He began writing one-act musicals, including Agnes and Eulogy for Mister Hamm, which helped him secure the Richard Rodgers Development Award. Four of his one-act musicals were produced by Playwrights Horizon in 1991. There he met Ira Weitzman, who helped him obtain funding to continue writing. In the early 1990s, he did libretto work for opera composers Robert Moranon and Anthony Davis. His own through-composed ...


Jonas Westover

(b Stamford, CT, Dec 31, 1885; d New York, NY, Jan 22, 1976). American lyricist, publisher, and songwriter. He began his career in vaudeville, tailoring songs to individual singers, and working with a variety of composers. Leslie began to publish songs in 1909, when his lyrics and Irving Berlin’s music combined for “Sadie Salome.” That same year saw an early hit, “Lonesome.” Several of his songs were used on Broadway and vaudeville alike, including the huge hit “For Me and My Gal” (1917), which he co-wrote with George W. Meyer and E. Ray Goetz. His songs were recorded by a slew of popular stars, such as Guy Lombardo, Bing Crosby, and Connie Francis. In 1914, he became one of the founding members of ASCAP, later serving as president from 1931 to 1941. Leslie also created his own publishing company, where he worked primarily with Horatio Nicholls. Collaborations with Harry Warren (“Rose of the Rio Grande,” ...


Brian Trowell

The verbal text of an opera. For discussion of the printed wordbook, see Libretto.

The term ‘libretto’ has been extended from its literal meaning of ‘small book’ to denote the literary content of an opera, not merely its separate physical existence. The sung text will also appear in the musical score, though the visual layout of verse forms and poetic lineation will there vanish, and scene descriptions and stage directions will often be omitted or shortened. Score and wordbook together form a blueprint for theatrical performance, where the words will (one hopes) be heard, as song, as recitative, or in some forms of opera as speech, and the other arts prescribed or implicit in the libretto will be realized as acting, movement in space, dance, decor (including machines), lighting and costume. It is evident that ‘literary content’ is an insufficient description, for the libretto, unlike the play text, is only part of the blueprint. With these cautions in mind the libretto, like the play text, may be discussed as literature....


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Lucius Verus’)

Libretto by Apostolo Zeno, first set by C. F. Pollarolo (1700, Venice) and much re-used under a variety of titles.

The plot, taken from Roman history, deals with the Emperor Lucius Verus in Ephesus. He is promised to Lucilla, daughter of his co-emperor Marcus Aurelius, but is in love with his captive, Berenice, Queen of Armenia. Berenice is faithful to her betrothed, Vologeso [Vologeses], King of the Parthians, who was taken in battle. When Vologeses appears in the gladiatorial arena, she joins him. A lion threatens her, and Verus throws a sword to Vologeses, who kills it; Lucilla realizes that Verus loves Berenice. In Act 2, urged on by his friend Aniceto [Anicetus], Verus tries to separate the pair; Berenice would rather have Vologeses dead than become Verus’s wife. Verus orders Vologeses’ death, and Berenice resolves to die with him. Infuriated, Lucilla returns to Rome with her counsellor Claudio [Claudius] and enlists the Roman army against Verus. Act 3 begins in the Roman camp with military games in the form of a ballet. Meanwhile, Verus’s servant Niso [Nisus] brings Berenice a basin covered with a black cloth. She believes it contains Vologeses’ head, but as she lifts the cover the gloomy scene changes to a brilliant throne room: the basin contains a crown and sceptre. When Berenice still refuses Verus’s advances, Verus orders Vologeses’ death. Nisus reports that the people have turned against Verus, and that Lucilla is leading the Roman army in an attack; Verus stops the execution and is reconciled with Lucilla. Meanwhile Berenice, believing Vologeses dead, goes mad and is about to kill herself when Vologeses enters. He has uncovered a plot devised by Anicetus to gain Lucilla for himself. Verus apologizes and wishes the faithful couple well. The characters depart in separate ships during an antiphonal ...


Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century.

Operas on the subject have been entitled Lucio Papirio and also Quinto Fabio. Livy, not the most reliable of the Roman historians, gives a unique account (vi.29–35) of a conflict between Lucius Papirius Cursor, military dictator during the second Samnite war, and Quintus Fabius Maximus Rullianus, his Master of Horse (c 325 bc). Papirius left the field of battle briefly to retake the auguries in Rome, and though he left clear orders with Quintus Fabius neither to leave his post nor to engage the enemy, the youthful leader took advantage of the enemy’s laxity and attacked, winning a great victory. Papirius, learning of those events, declared his will breached and military discipline at danger; he condemned Fabius to death. Fleeing first to the Roman Senate with his father (and former Roman dictator) Marcus Fabius, then pleading his case to the Roman people, Quintus Fabius sought to escape the dictator’s wrath. In this he was supported by the army (the soldiers unsympathetic towards the merciless dictator) and the voice of the populace, but only when both father and son showed humility and pleaded for mercy did Papirius at last relent....


A lyricist writes the text for a song; the term is also applied to those who supply the text to certain other forms of vocal music. As part of the production and performance of a song, the lyricist participates as part of a larger process involving songwriters, arrangers, producers, publishers, and performers. Many notable lyrics worked in fruitful collaboration with a specific ...


[Sister Aimee ]

(b Salford, ON, Oct 9, 1890; d Oakland, CA, Sept 27, 1944). American evangelist, composer, librettist, and hymn writer. Known worldwide as “Sister Aimee,” she founded the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel (FSGC) and built the Angelus Temple in Los Angeles, California. The daughter of a Canadian wheat farmer, she grew up in the Methodist church and the Salvation Army, from which she inherited a strong preference for hymn singing. The Salvation Army also taught her the value of community service, emphasized the potential of women to be active in the ministry, and demonstrated the importance of vigorous and attractive music in worship services, especially brass bands and popular congregational hymns. After the death of her first husband, the preacher and missionary Robert Semple in Hong Kong in 1910, she settled in New York City, where she became active in religious revival work. In 1912 she married businessman Harold McPherson, but her growing interest in pursuing an evangelical ministry led to their divorce in ...