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(‘The Shepherd King’)

Pietro Metastasio, first set by Giuseppe Bonno (1751, Schönbrunn).

Alessandro [Alexander], King of Macedonia, has freed Sidon from the tyrant, Straton, and wants to restore the rightful heir to the throne. He and the Sidonian nobleman Agenore [Agenor] approach the shepherd, Aminta [Amyntas], and are impressed by the noble manner in which he declines their offers to improve his lot. Amyntas plans to marry the nymph Elisa and is content. Tamiri [Tamyris], daughter of the deposed Straton, has disguised herself as a shepherdess and is in hiding with Elisa. She is in love with Agenor but too proud to seek clemency from Alexander. Just as Amyntas is about to approach Elisa’s father for a marriage blessing, Agenor arrives and informs him that he is not a lowly shepherd, but Abdalonimo [Abdalonimus], the closest relative to the royal line of Sidon. He summons Amyntas/Abdalonimus to the presence of Alexander.



Paul Cauthen

Libretto subject used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Its source is Roman history. Flavius Ricimer, Roman patrician and magister militum (Master of the Roman Soldiers), 456–72, directed Roman policy in the western empire through a succession of weak emperors under his control. His most amenable puppet, Livius Severus, ruled from 461 until his death in 465. With the installation of Anthemius in 467, Ricimer received the hand of the new emperor’s daughter in marriage. Dissatisfied with Anthemius’s failure to defend the empire against the Vandals, Ricimer laid siege to Rome in 472 and installed the Roman senator Flavius Anicius Olybrius as emperor. Both Ricimer and Olybrius died later that same year. While the most common Italian title for the story was simply Ricimero (and thus Ricimero, re de’ Goti; Ricimero, re de’ Vandali), operas on the subject were also called Flavio Anicio Olibrio.

The first libretto based on the character Ricimer was written by Matteo Noris for Carlo Pallavicino (...


Don Neville

(‘Romulus and Hersilia’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Johann Adolf Hasse (1765, Innsbruck).

Requiring wives for the young men of the new settlement in Rome, Romulus organized the seizure of a number of women from the Sabini tribe while they were visiting Rome. This action angered not only the Sabines but also the inhabitants of nearby Antemnae, Caenina and Crustumium.

At a general nuptial celebration, Romulus assures the Sabine women of the respect of their young Roman captors, and bids them join with the youth of Rome in founding a noble race. Romulus himself is urged to take a consort and would gladly name the Sabine princess, Hersilia, whom he loves. Hersilia, daughter of Curzio [Curtius], ruler of Antemnae, is in love with him, but will not marry against her father’s wishes.

Curtius enters Rome in search of his daughter and encounters Acronte [Acrontes], King of the Caeninenses. Acrontes, although previously rejected by Curtius as a suitor for Hersilia, bids him join his planned attack on Rome. Acrontes believes that Hersilia has already given herself to Romulus, and greatly distresses Curtius by telling him so. Curtius soon learns the truth, however, but Hersilia, fearing her inability to uphold her duty to her father, begs him take her from the city. Before she can depart, however, Ostilio [Hostilius], close friend of Romulus and unrequitedly in love with Valeria, a Roman woman of noble birth, asks Hersilia to commend Valeria to Romulus as a consort. While attempting to carry out this request, Hersilia confesses her love to the Roman king....


Don Neville


Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Johann Adolf Hasse (1771, Milan) as Il Ruggiero, ovvero L’eroica gratitudine.

Rogerus, a descendant of Hector, has been captured and imprisoned by the Greeks after a heroic battle. Leone, son of Constantine and now Emperor of Byzantium, has secretly saved and freed Rogerus, whom he knows only as Erminio, and both arrive at the court of Carlo Magno [Charlemagne] in Paris. Unaware of Rogerus’s return, Bradamante, his beloved, is distraught since Charlemagne has betrothed her to Leone against her wishes; Clotilde, her confidante, is also distressed, as she is in love with Leone. Leone admits to Rogerus/Erminio that he intends to marry Bradamante. Rogerus expresses support but silently laments his impending loss.

Upon hearing the pleas of Bradamante, Charlemagne declares that any man who can defeat her in combat may have her hand in marriage. Leone suggests to Rogerus that he disguise himself, and fight in Leone’s stead. Rogerus, reluctantly agreeing, overcomes Bradamante in combat....


[Semiramide] (‘Semiramis Recognized’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Leonardo Vinci (1729, Rome).

Scitalce, an Indian prince, masquerading under the name of Idreno, won the love of the Egyptian princess, Semiramide, with whom he eloped. He made an attempt on her life, however, when Sibari, also in love with her, suggested that she was unfaithful. Surviving the ordeal, Semiramide made her way to Assyria where she became the wife of Nino, the king; upon his death, she disguised herself as their son and heir, also named Nino, and now rules Assyria.

Act 1 Sibari has arrived in Babylon to witness Tamiri, princess of Bactria, select a consort from among three contenders: Ircano, a Scythian prince; Scitalce, the Indian prince; and Mirteo, a prince from Egypt, raised in Bactria, and brother of Semiramide (whom he believes dead). Although Semiramide and Scitalce recognize each other, both remain silent; but when Tamiri shows a clear preference for Scitalce, the disguised queen is quick to postpone an official announcement. Meanwhile, Sibari learns that, although his position as a rival for Semiramide remains unknown to Scitalce, the letter he wrote accusing her of infidelity is still in Scitalce’s possession. When Semiramide urges Mirteo and Ircano to plead their cases more strongly with Tamiri, the latter resolves instead to murder Scitalce....


Rebecca Green

(‘Sesostris, King of Egypt’)

Libretto by Pietro Pariati , first set by Francesco Gasparini (1710, Venice). It was long but mistakenly supposed to be a joint work of Pariati and Apostolo Zeno.

Aprio, king of Egypt, has been murdered by Amasi, who has usurped the throne. Each had a son, brought up secretly. Many years later, Aprio’s son Sesostris kills Amasi’s son Osiride, whom he then impersonates. Under this disguise, ‘Osiride’ presents himself to Amasi, who commands him to explain to Nitocri (widow of Aprio) how he killed her son (Sesostris). She vows revenge and attempts to involve Artenice, betrothed to Sesostris in childhood. Meanwhile, Artenice has fallen in love with ‘Osiride’, a situation further complicated by Amasi’s decision to wed her. Nitocri is imprisoned when she is discovered attempting to kill ‘Osiride’. Then Sesostris is arrested when Osiride’s tutor, Canopo, testifies that Osiride is dead by the hand of Sesostris. Amasi offers the unsuspecting Nitocri the opportunity to kill Sesostris, but Sesostris narrowly escapes when Artenice tells Nitocri she is about to kill her own son. Amasi is condemned and Sesostris is hailed as the new king of Egypt, with Artenice as his bride....


Don Neville

[Siface; Viriate](‘Syphax, King of Numidia’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio , first set by Francesco Feo (1723, Naples).

Siface, King of Numidia, has sought peace with the King of Lusitania by offering marriage to his daughter, Viriate, even though he loves Ismene, daughter of Orcano, a Numidian nobleman. Ismene ignites Siface’s animosity towards Viriate when she threatens to reject him if she cannot have the throne. Viriate, however, gains the support of Erminio, general of the Numidian armies, who, in love with Ismene, is distressed by her conduct, as is Orcano. Viriate also gains the respect of Libanio, Siface’s confidant, when she repels his advances. Orcano threatens Ismene with his sword, then offers his own life to Viriate in reparation for his daughter’s conduct. Viriate blames herself for his distress and urges Ismene to leave the palace; this she refuses to do.

Act 2 Viriate is imprisoned; when Orcano protests, Siface charges her with infidelity. Erminio attempts to rescue her, fails, and is also imprisoned. Siface then reads a spurious letter to Orcano, supposedly written by Viriate to Erminio, in which the king’s assassination is planned. Both Viriate and Erminio deny such duplicity in spite of rewards offered by Siface for confessions....


Jennifer Griesbach


Libretto by Giovanni Ambrogio Migliavacca , first set by J. A. Hasse (1753, Dresden).

Suleyman, the Turkish emperor, has sent his two sons to wage war against Persia. The mother of Osmino [Osmin] wants him to inherit the throne rather than his half-brother Selimo [Selim], the legitimate heir. She and Rusteno intrigue against Selim, until Suleyman, suspicious, confronts Selim in Persia. Meanwhile, the brothers have fallen in love with their prisoners, Narsea and Emira, daughters of Tacmante, the Persian king; they want to end the war and get married. Selim confesses his love for Narsea to his father, who tries to separate the pair. Rusteno produces a letter in which Selim asks Tacmante for Narsea’s hand in return for a military alliance against Suleyman; angered, Suleyman orders Selim’s death. Osmin refuses to believe that Selim was a traitor and discovers that Rusteno wrote the letter himself. Acomate appears with Selim, announcing that a slave died in Selim’s place. Suleyman promises peace and blesses the lovers’ alliances....



Libretto by Agostin Piovene after Michel Ducas’ Historia byzantina (1649) and Jacques Pradon’s play Tamerlan, ou La mort de Bajazet (1675, itself related to Racine’s Bajazet of 1672), first set by Francesco Gasparini (1711, Venice); Gasparini made two further settings (see Bajazet ).

The defeat of Sultan Bajazet (Bayazeid; 1347–1403) by the Turko-Mongol emperor Tamerlane (Timur I Leng, Tamburlaine; 1333–1405) had been treated in Antonio Salvi’s Il gran Tamerlano, also after Pradon, first set by Alessandro Scarlatti (1706, Florence) and subsequently by Gasparini (and two of his pupils) as Il Trace in catena (1717, Rome). Piovene locked his characters into a Racinian series of dilemmas: Tamerlane has defeated the Ottoman emperor Bajazet but is prevented from destroying his enemy because he loves his daughter Asteria; Bajazet desires to ennoble his defeat by committing suicide but fears for his daughter’s safety at Tamerlane’s hands; Asteria would like to reject Tamerlane in favour of the Greek prince Andronico [Andronicus] but is incensed by his complicity with Tamerlane and fears for her father’s safety; Andronicus intends to declare openly his love for Asteria but is bound by duty to his ally Tamerlane; and Princess Irene of Trebizond wants to break off her engagement to Tamerlane but is compelled by love to dissemble and wait. Eventually Asteria, Andronicus and Bajazet defy Tamerlane who, enraged, condemns all three, creating a dramatic impasse which is resolved only by Bajazet’s suicide....


Dale E. Monson

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century. The story of Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, is recounted in the first four books of Homer’s Odyssey, in which Telemachus learns from Menelaus that his father is a prisoner of Calypso on a distant island; Odysseus later returns and they are reunited. The Telemachus legend takes various forms; it is frequently held that he later married Circe, and from this union Latinus was born. François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon’s version of the myth, in his novel Aventures de Télémaque (1699), aroused considerable controversy during the 18th century. Often parodied and criticized, the work became a political pawn in the dispute between Fénelon (Archbishop of Cambrai and champion of an anti-cartesian Christianity) and Jacques Bénigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux. A didactic novel, it was designed to demonstrate to Fénelon’s pupil, the Duke of Burgundy (heir apparent to the French throne), the right way to govern. Fénelon expanded on the classical account, passing Telemachus through dozens of adventures and trials as he sought his father. In the seventh book, Telemachus is shipwrecked on the island of the goddess Calypso, who falls in love with him, though he is enamoured of a shepherdess, Eucharis. Calypso, jealous, tries to detain him and his tutor (Minerva in disguise) by burning the ship that is to provide their escape; at the last moment the tutor pushes Telemachus into the sea from a rock and together they swim to a passing ship....