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Elizabeth Norman McKay

(‘Alfonso and Estrella’)

Oper in three acts by Franz Schubert to a libretto by Franz van Schober; Weimar., Hoftheater, 24 June 1854.

In September 1821, enjoying the recent minor successes of three of his compositions in Vienna theatres, Schubert left Vienna with his friend Schober to spend several weeks in the country working on their new opera. Schober, a year older than Schubert and a dilettante of letters, music and the theatre, was full of enthusiasm for this collaboration. Both authors were influenced by the theories on opera of Ignaz von Mosel, a highly respected government official and man of the theatre and one of Schubert’s patrons, who supported Gluck’s operatic ideals. The young men may have followed his advice in omitting all spoken dialogue, thus breaking away from the German Singspiel tradition. The story, in which the son of a usurped monarch falls in love with the daughter of the usurper, and brings about a conciliation, might owe something to Shakespeare’s ...



Jan Smaczny

Heroic opera in three acts by Antonín Dvořák to a German libretto by Theodor Körner ; Olomouc, Czech Theatre, 10 December 1938 (in Czech).

The plot concerns the English King Alfred (bass), and his bride Alwina (soprano), who is a prisoner of the Danes. In the first act, the general of the triumphant Danes, Harald (tenor), attempts to persuade Alwina to marry him. Another Danish leader, Gothron (baritone), has premonitions of an English victory. Act 2 introduces Alfred and his companion, Sieward (baritone), and concludes with Alfred’s freeing of Alwina. In Act 3 Alfred, with the assistance of the noble Dorset (tenor), wins a victory, and Harald commits suicide.

Dvořák completed Alfred in 1870, but throughout his life, with the possible exception of an occasion in 1874 when he may have shown the score to Smetana, he neglected to draw attention to its existence. This may have been because, alone among his operas, and most of those of his contemporaries, ...


William Ashbrook

(‘Alina, Queen of Golconda’)

Melodramma in two acts by Gaetano Donizetti to a libretto by Felice Romani after Michel-Jean Sedaine ’s text for Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny’s Aline, reine de Golconde (1766, Paris), itself based on Stanislas-Jean de Boufflers’ novel of the same title; Genoa, Teatro Carlo Felice, 12 May 1828 (revised version, Rome, Teatro Valle, 10 October 1829).

Alina, Queen of Golconda (soprano), delays accept-ing the proposal that she marry Seide (tenor), when the newly arrived French ambassador Volmar (baritone) and his servant Belfiore (buffo bass) turn out to be the long-lost husbands of Alina and her maid Fiorina (soprano). Ultimately, the machinations of Seide are foiled and the happy couples are reunited to the joy of the populace.

Alina, one of the more serious of Donizetti’s comedies, includes some incipiently romantic touches, as in the episode in which Alina recalls the Provençal landscape where she and Volmar had first fallen in love. Notable, too, is the casting of the antagonist Seide, Alina’s Indian suitor, as a tenor....


Michel Noiray

(‘Aline, Queen of Golconda’)

Ballet-héroïque in three acts by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny to a libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine after Stanislas-Jean de Boufflers’ story La reine de Golconde; Paris, Opéra, 15 April 1766.

The opera opens with a ceremony during which Saint Phar (baritone), ambassador to the Indies (where France had trading stations at the time), comes to pay his respects to Aline, Queen of Golconda (soprano). Aline, who is of French origin herself, recognizes Saint Phar as the man she once loved when she was a simple peasant girl and hides her true identity behind a veil. In Act 2 she dresses as a shepherdess and is recognized by Saint Phar in a valley resembling the one where they first loved one another. She then leaves him, in order to test his love. In the final act Saint Phar refuses the hand of the Queen of Golconda out of faithfulness to the shepherdess he has found again, but Aline reveals that shepherdess and queen are the same woman and the lovers are reunited....


Olive Baldwin and Thelma Wilson

Pasticcio opera in three acts arranged by John Jacob Heidegger , including music by Giovanni Bononcini and Attilio Ariosti ; London, Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket, 10 January 1710.

Almahide (soprano) has been brought up as a man in order to kill her father’s enemy, Almiro (alto castrato), but has fallen in love with him. He loves Celinda (soprano), who is loved by the king, Almanzor (alto castrato). Celinda loves the disguised Almahide. After much jealousy and several threats of death, all ends happily in two marriages.

According to Burney (A General History of Music), ‘This was the first opera performed in England, wholly in Italian, and by Italian singers; who were Nicolini, Valentini, Cassani, Margarita, and Isabella Girardeau’. The work was based on Ariosti’s Amor tra nemici (1708), but most of the arias were replaced by the music of other composers, including six arias from Bononcini’s Turno Aricino...



Stephen Johnson

Opera in two acts by Alexander Spendiaryan to a libretto by the composer and S. Parnok after Hovhannes Tumanyan’s poem Tmkabert aṙumē; (‘The Capture of Tmkabert’); Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 1930.

The opera is set in the Crimea in the 18th century. Almast (soprano), a frail and beautiful girl of noble descent, is betrothed to Tatul, the ruler of the Armenian fortress of Tmkabert, which is under threat from the armies of Nadir, Shah of Persia. At first Almast is faithful to Tatul and to his people, but a Persian musician (tenor), sent as a spy by Nadir, persuades her by the power of his art that marriage to the Shah would mean greatness for herself and her country. Almast betrays Tatul to Nadir, but the Armenian people rise up, liberate the fortress and collectively sentence Almast to exile. Her fate in the opera is therefore very different from that related by Tumanyan, where she is killed by the bored Nadir....



John A. Parkinson

Opera in three acts by Michael Arne and Jonathan Battishill to a libretto by Richard Rolt; London, Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, 2 November 1764.

The sultan of Persia has been desposed and killed by the villain Mohammed (bass) who then makes advances to the sultan’s widow Aspatia (soprano), who is also loved by the sultan’s Vizier (bass). Aspana’s daughter Almena (soprano) is wooed by the hero Mirza (soprano castrato), the late sultan’s nephew. He has also aroused the affection of Zara (soprano), Mohammed’s sister. When Mirza is thrown into prison, Zara assumes a disguise and rescues him, without overturning his love for Almena. Eventually all ends happily with the lovers reunited. Michael Arne provided the arias for the hero and heroine, whereas Battishill was responsible for Mohammed and Zara’s arias and the choruses. Strangely, their contributions were published separately. Arne’s florid music include Almena’s aria ‘No fears alarm’ which features a remarkable mandolin obbligato....



Anthony Hicks

[Der in Krohnen erlangte Glücks-Wechsel, oder Almira, Königin von Castilien (‘The Change of Fortune gained with a Crown, or Almira, Queen of Castile’)]

Singspiel in three acts by George Frideric Handel to a libretto by Friedrich Christian Feustking after Giulio Pancieri’s L’Almira (1691, Venice); Hamburg, Theater am Gänsemarkt, 8 January 1705 (according to Mattheson, relevant wordbooks are dated 1704).

Handel’s first opera, produced when he was 19, is strongly influenced by the example of the leading Hamburg composer Reinhard Keiser in its brilliant fusion of French, Gemman and Italian styles. The libretto was in fact intended for Keiser, and was set by him for production in Hamburg in 1704; but it was not performed and (according to the account in Mainwaring’s Memoirs of the Life of … Handel, which there is no reason to doubt) Keiser had to leave Hamburg hastily, having ‘involved himself in debts’, and the opera house manager ‘therefore applied to Handel, and furnished him with a drama [i.e. Almira] to set’. (Keiser’s setting reached performance only in revised versions, one at Weissenfels in ...


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘Alonso and Cora’)

Opera seria in three acts by Francesco Bianchi to a libretto by Giuseppe Maria Foppa , after Ferdinando Moretti ’s libretto Idalide; Venice, Teatro S Benedetto, 7 February 1786.

The plot, a romance between the conquistador Alonso (soprano castrato) and the Inca sun-maiden Cora (soprano), closely follows Moretti’s libretto as set by Giuseppe Sarti ( see Vergine del sole, La ). Bianchi’s setting is unusual for the large number of concertato choruses (including introduzioni to both Acts 1 and 3), its three ensembles (two duets and a quintet), and the ballet that is incorporated into the final scene complex in Act 1. Act 3 is one enormous scene complex, large parts of which are set in obbligato recitative with orchestral accompaniment, there are several choruses, and a vocal rondò for Alonso, ‘Nella sede degli amanti’. Foppa enhanced the spectacle with a stormy sea, a disembarkation and a volcanic eruption, complete with ballet and chorus. In pairing ...


(‘The King of the Alps and the Misanthrope’)

Romantischkomisches Zauberspiel by Wenzel Müller to a libretto by Ferdinand Raimund ; Vienna, Theater in der Leopoldstadt, 17 October 1828.

Probably the masterpiece of both dramatist and composer, Der Alpenkönig und der Menschenfeind can stand comparison with Molière in its depiction of the two sides of the character of a misanthrope. Herr von Rappelkopf (tenor) is cured of his misanthropy through the intervention of Astragalus (spoken), the King of the Alps, with whom under duress he exchanges appearances. Rappelkopf’s eviction of the charcoal burner’s family, a scene considered by some to be chillingly proto-naturalistic, is accompanied by the ensemble ‘So leb denn wohl, du stilles Haus’. The scenes of domestic life, with well-drawn comic servants, are more effective than those depicting young love; best of all is the role of Rappelkopf (which Raimund wrote for himself), with its lively and attractive songs. If the five choruses lack any great individuality the ensembles, and especially the solo numbers for Rappelkopf (for example the explosive entry song ‘Ha! Ja, das kann nicht mehr so bleiben’), are simple but highly effective. Raimund played the part to great acclaim both in Vienna and during his guest seasons in Germany. The play was successfully performed in London (Adelphi Theatre) in ...