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Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1736, Vienna).

Fearful of his power and fame, the people of Athens have driven Themistocles from the city. He believes that his daughter, Aspasia, dispatched to Argos for safety, has perished in a shipwreck, and with his son, Neocle [Neocles], has taken refuge in the land of his enemy, Serse [Xerxes], King of Persia, where he remains unrecognized. Meanwhile, Aspasia, rescued from the sea, has become attendant to the Princess Rossana [Roxana], now residing in Susa.

Aspasia learns from Sebaste [Sebastes], confidant of Xerxes, that there is a price on her father’s head, information that she conveys to him when the two meet and recognize each other. She is in love with Lisimaco [Lysimachus], the Athenian ambassador, who arrives in Susa in search of Themistocles. A friend of Themistocles, but bound by patriotic duty, Lysimachus entreats Xerxes to return the fugitive to Athens to stand trial, but Xerxes refuses and Lysimachus departs. Unexpectedly, Themistocles reveals himself to the king who, admiring his courage, befriends him and offers him refuge. Roxana, in love with Xerxes, suspects Aspasia of being a rival and joins with Sebastes, now resentful of the king’s new friendship, in a conspiracy against the throne....


(‘Titus Manlius’)

Libretto by Gaetano Roccaforte, first set by Gennaro Manna (1742, Rome).

The libretto is based on a story found in Livy’s history of Rome, book 8. Having shared the hardships of war, the Latins, allies of the Romans, want representation in government; the Roman Senate refuses the request, whereupon the Latins declare war on the Romans. The Roman consul, Titus Manlius, commands his son Manlio [Manlius] to enter the Latin camp to determine the army’s strength, but gives him explicit orders not to engage in any fighting. In the camp Manlius is challenged to a duel by Geminio [Geminius], the Latin leader, whom he kills. Manlius returns in triumph, but his father harshly reminds him of his violated orders. To uphold the authority of the Senate and to maintain discipline in the army, Titus Manlius condemns his son to execution.

The libretto expands the story by introducing three more characters. Sabina is the sister of Manlius and Geminius’s secret lover. Lucio [Lucius] is a Latin but also a friend of Manlius, secretly in love with Sabina. Servilia, the sister of Geminius, is also Manlius’s intended wife. Manlius is sent on his mission at the end of Act 1. The encounter with Geminius takes place off stage, and Act 2 begins with Manlius’s return to Rome. In the final scene, Lucius rouses the army in support of Manlius, whereupon Titus is obliged to recognize the voice of the people and pardon his son....


(‘The Triumph of Cloelia’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Johann Adolf Hasse (1762, Vienna).

In league with Tarquinio [Tarquinius, Tarquin], who seeks restoration to the throne, Porsenna [Porsena], King of the Etruscans, lays siege to Rome. The Romans, however, obtain a truce and, as a sign of their good faith, present Porsena with a group of young hostages, among whom is the noblewoman Cloelia.

Cloelia, betrothed to Orazio [Horatius], the Roman ambassador, refuses Tarquinius when he offers her both throne and marriage, reminding him that the throne is not his to give and that he is already promised to Larissa, daughter of Porsena. Learning from Larissa that Porsena knows nothing of Tarquinius’s duplicity, Cloelia begs Horatius to flee with her, but soon realizes that such an action would betray Rome. She is comforted, however, to learn from Mannio [Manius], Prince of the Veientes and in love with Larissa, that he is bent on proving Tarquinius’s unworthiness. When negotiations between Horatius and Porsena fail, Tarquinius plays upon the ambassador’s patriotism by offering to relinquish all claims to the throne in exchange for Cloelia....


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘The Revenge of Nino’)

Libretto subject used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its source is Voltaire ’s Sémiramis and it deals with different incidents from those treated in Metastasio’s Semiramide riconosciuta (libretto by Metastasio) (libretto by Metastasio) . Operas on the subject are also entitled Semiramide and La morte de Semiramide.

Semiramide, who has murdered her husband Nino and plans an incestuous marriage, is fatally stabbed by their son, unwitting agent of his father’s vengeful ghost. Angiolini and Gluck’s ballet for Vienna, 1765, preceded by 20 years the first opera on the subject by an Italian composer. In Ferdinando Moretti’s libretto Semiramide, set by Michele Mortellari (1784, Milan), Nino’s ghost is satisfied with the assassination offstage of Semiramide’s lover and the establishment of a new generation on the throne; in this version Semiramide is innocent of her husband’s death, and the matricide is thus avoided.

The libretto for Alessio Prati’s opera (1786...


Marita P. McClymonds

(‘The Virgin of the Sun’)

Libretto subject used in the 18th century. Its source is Jean François Marmontel ’s Les Incas, ou La destruction de l’empire du Pérou. Operas on the subject were also entitled Alonso e Cora, Cora och Alonzo and Idalide.

Alonso, a conquistador, has assisted the Inca ruler Ataliba in vanquishing his enemies; as a reward, Ataliba bestows his sister’s hand on the Spaniard. Alonso, however, has fallen in love with Cora, a virgin of the sun. A volcanic eruption destroys the temple of the sun, threatening Cora’s life; in saving her, Alonso carries her from the temple. But in leaving the temple she has broken a sacred law and must die by burial alive. Alonso resolves to die with her. They are saved when the ancient law is abrogated.

Gudmund Göran Adlerbeth prepared a Swedish version of this plot, Cora och Alonzo, set by J. G. Naumann for the inauguration of the Royal Opera House, Stockholm, on ...


Tim Carter, Graham Sadler, Peter Branscombe, Roger Savage, and Arnold McMillin

This article considers verse structure in librettos in the chief languages of the opera repertory; for a fuller discussion of words and music, see Libretto, §I .

Two issues concern the analysis of Italian verse: the number of syllables in a given line and the position of the final accent. Accordingly, this verse is essentially qualitative rather than quantitative – insofar as such terms have any meaning – although the issue was always a matter of some debate among Italian theorists, especially in periods drawn to classical antiquity. In general, a given line can be from three to eleven syllables in length (thus ternario, quaternario, quinario, senario, settenario, ottonario, novenario, decasillabo and endecasillabo): the endecasillabo is the ‘classic’ norm, with its chief component, the settenario, in second place. Syllable counts are affected by elisions (sinalefe) and diphthongs (sineresi): respectively, the fusion of the final and initial vowels of two consecutive words in a given line into one syllable, and the similar fusion – permitted in specific contexts – of consecutive vowels in a single word. Thus...



Don Neville


Libretto by Pietro Metastasio , first set by Luca Antonio Predieri (1740, Vienna).

Act 1 Zenobia, daughter of Mitridate, King of Armenia, has married Radamisto, Prince of Iberia, for political reasons. When Mitridate is assassinated, Radamisto, falsely accused, flees with Zenobia. A Parthian army, led by Tiridate, with whom Zenobia had previously been in love, pursues them. Weakened by the flight, Zenobia begs Radamisto to end her life rather than let her fall victim to the Parthians; jealous of the previous love between his wife and Tiridate, Radamisto attempts to comply. The wounded Zenobia, however, is soon discovered by Egle, a shepherdess, and nursed back to health. While searching for Radamisto, Zenobia overhears Tiridate learn of her apparent death from Mitrane, his confidant, and is thus able to save her anguished lover from suicide.

Act 2 Tiridate tries to persuade Zenobia to marry him, but she refuses. Zopiro, a false friend of Radamisto and also in love with Zenobia, plans to create such enmity between Radamisto and Tiridate that one will kill the other in a contrived confrontation, the victor then falling prey to Zopiro’s followers. He suggests to Zenobia that he has the power to save one of the two contestants and invites her to choose which. She names her husband, but secretly prays for Tiridate....