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Gordana Lazarevich

(‘The Apothecary’)

Dramma giocoso per musica in three acts by Vincenzo Pallavicini (Act 1) and Domenico Fischietti (Acts 2 and 3) to a libretto by Carlo Goldoni; Venice, Teatro Grimani di S Samuele, 26 December 1754.

The plot concerns an apothecary, Sempronio (bass), who is outwitted in his love for his ward Grilletta (soprano) by his assistant Mengone (tenor); a series of subplots involves Sempronio’s daughter Albina (soprano) and her lover Lucindo (soprano), and alternative lovers, Volpino (tenor) and Cecchina (soprano), for the central couple. (For a fuller account of the story see Speziale, Lo.)

This collaborative work was the first setting of Goldoni’s highly successful libretto, which was commissioned in 1752 by the buffo singers Francesco Baglioni (see Baglioni family (opera) §(1)) and Francesco Carattoli (Sempronio and Mengone respectively), who then took the opera to a number of other Italian theatres where they continued to sing the lead roles. Lucindo was originally sung by a woman. Although the libretto gives Carnival ...


David J. Buch

(‘The Mirror of Arcadia’)

Grosse heroisch-komische Oper in two acts by Franz Xaver Süssmayr to a libretto by Emanuel Schikaneder; Vienna, Theater auf der Wieden, 14 November 1794 (text revised by Christian August Vulpius as Die neuen Arkadier, Weimar, Hoftheater, 2 February 1796).

Enjoying well over a hundred performances by 1804, this work was one of the most successful operas produced at the Wiednertheater in the 1790s. In his Eipeldauer Briefe (1794), Josef Richter reported that the melodies were heard all over Vienna, even in taverns. Adolf Bäuerle Memoiren of 1858 includes a remarkably detailed description of a performance of the opera at the Wiednertheater in 1795. The critical reception of the opera’s music was immediate and almost uniformly enthusiastic; the score was even favourably compared to those of Mozart’s operas, rare praise for the time. The opera was performed in almost every German-language theatre at least until 1833 and was translated into Italian, Czech, and Russian. Arnold Schoenberg even set an aria text (No. 21, “Seit ich so viele Weiber sah”) as No. 8 of the ...


Peter Franklin

‘Mysterium’ in one act by Franz Schreker to his own libretto; Munich, National, 30 October 1920 (revised version of Das Spielwerk und die Prinzessin, in two acts with sung Prelude, Vienna and Frankfurt, 15 March 1913).

An internal dream-interlude from the first version became the overture to this complex symbolic fantasy, in which the power of music is presented both as the intoxicant of the nihilistic, erotomane Princess (soprano) – particularly when emanating from Meister Florian’s strange mechanical music-box – and the gift of a young wayfarer (tenor), who redeems her with his innocently simple flute-playing. A schematized succession of scenes leads to a transfiguring round-dance of life and love, set against the moving lullaby of Old Liese (contralto), comforting the soul of her recently dead son, whose apparition had halted a mob intent upon burning the ambivalent ‘Spielwerk’....


Luisa Cymbron

[La Spinalba, ovvero Il vecchio matto (‘Spinalba, or The Old Madman’)]

Dramma comico in three acts by Francisco António de Almeida to a libretto by an unknown author; Lisbon, Palácio da Ribeira, Carnival 1739.

The action takes place in Rome. Spinalba (soprano) disguises herself as a man in order to enter the service of her unfaithful Roman lover, Ippolito (tenor). Her father, the Florentine merchant Arsenio (bass), does not know where she is, and as a result becomes mad with grief. Other characters involved in the plot include Spinalba’s mother, Dianora (mezzo-soprano), her cousin Elisa (soprano), Elisa’s lover Leandro (tenor), and the servants Vespina (soprano) and Togno (bass).

One of the first Italian operas performed in Portugal, at King João V’s court, La Spinalba is the only opera by Almeida that has survived complete. Written six years after Pergolesi’s La serva padrona, it is close in style to that intermezzo and reflects the Italian patterns of the time, with abundant use of ...


(‘The Spirit of Contradiction’)

Opera buffa in three acts by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi ( see Guglielmi family (opera) §(1) ) to a libretto by Martinelli, Gaetano ; Venice, Teatro S Moisè, Carnival 1766.

In 1763 Guglielmi had supplied the overture, three finales and one aria for Anfossi’s Lo sposo di tre e marito di nessuna, to a libretto in Neapolitan dialect by Antonio Palomba. He used the same plot and the same finales and introductory ensembles for this Venetian version three years later. The plot revolves around a charlatan, Don Cesarino (tenor), who convinces three rich women, Lisetta, Cecchina (sopranos) and the Countess Flaminia (mezzo-soprano), that he is going to marry each one of them. His plan, to pocket all three dowries and to leave quickly, is achieved close to the end of the second act. The Act 2 finale consists of his capture and chastisement. Fortunately there are other men waiting for the deceived women: Orazio Capocchio (tenor), who loves Lisetta, the notary Agabito (tenor) who loves Cecchina but gets Nanetta (soprano), and Nanetta’s brother, the governor Asdrubale (tenor), who gets Cecchina. Don Cesarino is banished ‘a denti asciutti’ (i.e. with no wife), and the Countess, having rejected the ignorant Asdrubale, also remains single. As befits the libretto, Guglielmi does not make strong contrasts between characters and the music never reaches extremes of either heroism or sentimentality. Although in Act 1 Orazio’s aria and the Countess’s cavatina tend respectively towards these two modes of expression even this variety seems motivated more by the need for musical diversity than by dramatic necessity. The arias are in a variety of binary-like and through-composed forms, with Guglielmi’s characteristically concise melodies and lively accompaniments which punctuate the text with gestural motifs, or enliven the rhythmic background of the vocal line....


Mary Hunter

(‘The Faithful Bride’)

Opera buffa in three acts by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi ( see Guglielmi family (opera) §(1) ) to a libretto by Chiari, Pietro ; Venice, Teatro S Moisè, Carnival 1767.

Rosinella (soprano) and Pasqualino (tenor) have eloped but have been separated in a shipwreck. They land close to the estate of the Marchese del Vento Ponente (tenor), but do not discover each other’s presence. Rosinella’s arrival (she introduces herself as Donna Aurora del Campo) diverts the Marchese and Conte Lelio from their previous amorous situations; both fall in love with her. Rosinella reciprocates the Marchese’s tenderness until she realizes that Pasqualino has landed safely and has been employed as her servant. The couple do not divulge their true identities, and Act 2 ends with a series of confused meetings in the dark. Act 3 ends with the Marchese permitting the lovers to marry, once he knows that Pasqualino is of an appropriate social class for the ‘Donna Aurora del Campo’. A main characteristic of this piece is the enlarged middle ground between comic and serious characters. Pasqualino and Rosinella both have significant elements of comedy and pathos; this is evident in the text and in their music, which includes simple melodies, similar to folktunes, highflown noble pieces and sentimental arias....


Richard Platt

(‘The Discontented Newly-Weds’)

Opera buffa in two acts by Stephen Storace to a libretto by Gaetano Brunati; Vienna, Burgtheater, 1 June 1785.

In spring 1783 the Austrian emperor Joseph II had disbanded his German opera ensemble and established an Italian opera group. Nancy Storace was engaged from Italy as prima buffa, and became a great favourite of the Emperor. It was probably due to her influence that her brother, a young man of 23 with no previous experience of writing for the stage, was commissioned to write an opera. In addition to Nancy Storace as Eginia (soprano), the singers at the first performance included Michael Kelly as Valente (tenor), Vincenzo Calvesi as Casimiro (tenor), Stefano Mandini as Artidoro (baritone), Francesco Benucci as Rosmondo (bass), Catarina Cavalieri as Enrichetta (soprano) and Therese Teyber as Bettina (soprano).

The scene is 18th-century Genoa. Eginia has married Casimiro at her father’s wish, but feels unable to love him. Valente, a middle-aged scholar, is angered at being rejected by Casimiro’s sister Enrichetta, who loves Artidoro, a previous suitor of Eginia, and he plans to revenge himself by spreading the rumour that Artidoro and Eginia are having an affair. Since Artidoro is in fact trying to elope with Enrichetta, he easily raises the suspicions of Casimiro and his domineering father, Rosmondo. The maidservant, Bettina, pretends to help Valente, but actually tells his plans to Artidoro, who arranges for Casimiro and Rosmondo to be in the garden that night so that Valente can be unmasked. It then becomes clear who has been causing all the trouble. Eginia’s innocence and honour are vindicated, Artidoro can marry Enrichetta and even Valente is forgiven. Although anticipations of ...


Julian Rushton

(‘The Deluded Bridegroom’)

Opera buffa, K430/424 a, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to a libretto after Le donne rivali; unfinished.

Lo sposo deluso was composed in 1783–4. Its libretto, surviving complete with Mozart’s intended casting for the Italian company resident in Vienna, was formerly attributed, without evidence, to Lorenzo da Ponte. Campana (1990) has shown that the libretto is based on a Roman intermezzo, possibly written by Giuseppe Petrosellini.

The first three numbers were drafted and a trio completed. The overture’s Allegro begins with a sprightly fanfare; following an Andante, the reprise opens with a quartet, the first number. Pulcherio (tenor, or high baritone, Francesco Bussani) laughs at Bocconio, the title role (bass, Francesco Benucci) for aspiring to a young bride, Eugenia. Bettina (soprano, Catarina Cavalieri), his niece, and Don Asdrubale (tenor, Stefano Mandini) deride the old man’s pretensions. Eugenia (soprano, Nancy Storace) arrives; the sketched aria (the second number) reveals a lady of spirit. Pulcherio’s aria (the third) is addressed to the ill-matched couple. Eugenia and Asdrubale, former lovers tragically separated, contrast in the trio with the bafflement of Bocconio, expressed in a phrase used again in Bartolo’s aria in Act 1 of ...


Michael Talbot

Dramma per musica in three acts by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni to a libretto by Apostolo Zeno and Pietro Pariati ; Rome, Teatro Capranica, Carnival 1726.

The princesses Statira and Barsina (sopranos) both claim the Persian throne. Profiting from their dissension and angry that Statira refuses to wed him, the Scythian king Oronte (tenor) defeats the Persians and takes the princesses captive. Statira continues to reject his marriage proposal, since he killed her father in battle and she is betrothed to Arsace (soprano), a Persian prince; Barsina, however, schemes to win Oronte’s heart. Prince Idaspe (contralto), pursuing a private vendetta, fails to assassinate Oronte and implicates Arsace to protect himself. Oronte seeks Arsace’s death, but is stopped by Barsina, who secretly loves the prince; meanwhile Barsina seeks Statira’s death, but is impeded by Oronte’s continued hope of winning her. Eventually the deadlock is broken by Idaspe’s voluntary confession of guilt. Oronte generously agrees that Statira become Queen of Persia, while Barsina is granted a neighbouring kingdom....


Malcolm Boyd

[La Statira]

Dramma per musica in three acts by Alessandro Scarlatti ( see Scarlatti family, §1 ) to a libretto by Cardinal Ottoboni, Pietro (opera) ; Rome, Teatro Tordinona, 5 January 1690.

The action takes place in Persia in 333 bc . The Persians are defeated by the army of Alessandro il Magno [Alexander the Great] (soprano castrato); the Persian king, Darius III, is killed and his daughter Statira (alto castrato) taken prisoner. Alexander becomes enamoured of Statira, who is betrothed to the Persian prince Oronte (tenor), and what follows revolves around the attempts of Oronte to reclaim Statira and of Campaspe (soprano castrato), who is in love with Alexander, to have her put to death. To this end Campaspe enlists the help of the Macedonian general Demetrio (bass), who loves her, but in the end she is united with the court painter Apelle (tenor), who also has loved her all along. Alexander, impressed by the love Oronte and Statira show to each other, is ready not only to reunite them but also to bestow his throne and his empire on them, but Oronte’s honour will not allow him to accept such a sacrifice and he withdraws in Alexander’s favour. The goddess Diana (soprano castrato) appears on a cloud to bless the marriage of the two pairs of lovers....


Peter Branscombe

revised by David J. Buch

[Der Stein der Weisen, oder Die Zauberinsel (‘The Philosophers’ Stone, or The Enchanted Island’)]

Heroisch-komische Oper in two acts by Benedikt Schack, franz xaver Gerl , Johann Baptist Henneberg and emanuel Schikaneder to a libretto by emanuel Schikaneder ; Vienna, Theater auf der Wieden, 11 September 1790.

This work, tbe forerunner to and likely model for Die Zauberflöte, and the first of Schikaneder’s magic operas (and the second in a series of fairy-tale operas based on Wieland), was long thought to be lost. However, a manuscript vocal score was discovered by Alfred Einstein in Florence in the 1930s; then three collections of printed vocal texts from various productions. The story, derived from the tale ‘Nadir und Nadine’ in the first volume of Wieland’s collection Dschinnistan, involves a young couple who are exposed to various trials, two brothers with supernatural powers, one good and the other evil, and a comic couple with their own problems. The one comparatively familiar number from the work is a duet (‘Nun liebes Weibchen’) for the comic pair, Lubano and Lubanara, in which she can only mew like a cat; this collaborative number was mostly composed by Mozart (...


Roger Parker

Opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi to a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave after Emile Souvestre’s and Eugène Bourgeois’ play Le pasteur, ou L’évangile et le foyer; Trieste, Teatro Grande, 16 November 1850.

As was becoming the pattern, Verdi’s April 1850 contract for the work that would become Stiffelio was signed not with a theatre but with a publisher, in this as in most other cases Ricordi. The librettist was again to be Piave, who himself suggested an adaptation of Le pasteur, a French play that had received its première only the previous year but was already available in Italian translation. It was a bold choice, a far cry from the melodramatic plots of Byron and Hugo: modern, ‘realistic’ subjects were unusual in Italian opera, and the religious subject matter seemed bound to cause problems with the censor.

Ricordi decided to have the première staged at Trieste – the theatre that had recently given such a lukewarm reception to ...


Richard Taruskin

[Kamennïy gost’]

Opera in three acts by Alexander Sergeyevich Dargomïzhsky set directly to the verse tragedy of Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin; St Petersburg, Mariinsky Theatre, 16/28 February 1872 (revised version, Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 19 December 1906/1 January 1907).

The opera, unfinished at the time of Dargomïzhsky’s death in 1869, was completed by César Cui and orchestrated by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov; the première was conducted by Eduard Nápravník, with Fyodor Komissarzhevsky as Don Juan, Osip Petrov as Leporello, Julia Platonova as Donna Anna and Ivan Mel’nikov as Don Carlos. Rimsky-Korsakov reorchestrated it in 1898–1902, and also retouched the score, in the process rewriting the duel music in Act 2 and Don Juan’s arioso ‘Kogda b ya bïl bezumets’ (‘If I were a madman’) in Act 3. The prelude, based on a number of themes and leitmotifs from the opera, was added in 1903. This second version, now regarded as the standard one, was conducted at its première by Václav Suk....


Richard Taruskin

[Povest’ o nastoyashchem cheloveke]

Opera in four acts, op.117, by Sergey Prokofiev to a libretto by the composer and Mira Alexandrovna Mendelson (Prokof’yeva) after Boris Polevoy’s novella (1946); Leningrad, Kirov Theatre, 3 December 1948 (closed run-through without sets or costumes); first public performance, Moscow, Bol’shoy Theatre, 8 October 1960.

Serving as a wartime correspondent (in which role he makes an ‘appearance’ in the last scene of Prokofiev’s opera), Boris Polevoy became acquainted at the Kursk battlefront with Alexey Meres’yov, a flyer who had lost both his legs in a crash, yet managed to return to active duty with the help of a double prosthesis. Later, at the Nuremberg Trials, Polevoy heard Hermann Göring testify that the Germans lost the war because they did not know the Russians, ‘who have always been and remain a riddle for the West’. The author came to conceive of Alexey Meres’yov’s story – so he later wrote – as a sort of answer to the riddle; this was the inspiration for one of the great Soviet bestsellers of the immediate postwar period....


Gerald Larner

Opera in three acts, op.29, by Gordon Crosse to a libretto by Ted Hughes after Georges Schehadé’s play L’histoire de Vasco; London, Coliseum, 13 March 1974.

Set in the midst of war, vaguely in the 19th century and somewhere in Europe perhaps, the subject is war and its absurdity and poignancy. Vasco (lyric tenor), a timid village barber who is the unwitting centre of the military action and ultimately its hero, is actually no more in evidence than Caesar (high tenor), a crazy self-styled scholar and father of Marguerite (lyric soprano), who dreams she is engaged to Vasco and who follows him as far as she can on his mission. Her ecstatically amorous visions inspire an elaborate vocal line and the most lyrical music of a score which, while reflecting the influence of Britten and Messiaen in particular among the composer’s contemporaries, is entertainingly resourceful in meeting the harsh realism, broad comedy, and surreal poetry of an extravagantly imaginative text....


Simon Maguire and Elizabeth Forbes

(‘The Stranger’)

Melodramma in two acts by Vincenzo Bellini to a libretto by Felice Romani after Victor-Charles Prévôt’s novel L’étrangère; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 14 February 1829.

After the great success of Il pirata, Bellini delayed before accepting this commission, trying to get the tenor Rubini freed from a contract in Naples. He eventually preferred the singers at Milan to those offered by Turin, then insisted on a libretto to be written by Romani, who was left to decide on the actual subject matter. Bellini began work some time around 10 September 1828; the première was planned for 26 December but Romani’s illness delayed it. The first cast included Henriette Méric-Lalande as Alaide, the ‘stranger’ of the title, Caroline Unger as Isoletta, Domenico Reina as Arturo and Antonio Tamburini as Valdeburgo. When the opera was revived at La Scala in 1830, Rubini sang Arturo and Bellini raised the tessitura of the part. The opera quickly became popular in Italy and there were productions in Palermo, Naples, Trieste, Venice, Rome and other cities during the next few years. ...


Stephen Hinton

American opera in two acts by Kurt Weill to a libretto by Elmer Rice after his own play, with lyrics by Langston Hughes and Rice; Philadelphia, Shubert Theatre, 16 December 1946; New York, Adelphi Theatre, 9 January 1947.

Weill saw a production of Elmer Rice’s Street Scene in Berlin before emigrating to the USA (the play was first performed on Broadway in 1929). During rehearsals for Johnny Johnson in 1936, he met Rice and suggested a musical version of his drama, which had meanwhile been awarded a Pulitzer Prize. Rice rejected the idea as premature, but finally consented when the two men met ten years later. Much of the spoken dialogue was retained in abridged form, and the black poet Langston Hughes was engaged to write the lyrics. Weill himself described the changes:

The political element in the original play will be considerably toned down. The love story between Sam and Rose will be made more passionate; Sam, instead of being always the beaten Jew, will be the young poet trying to adjust to the world and to the hateful surroundings he is living in … His aria, ‘Lonely House’, is almost a theme song for the show: the house as a prison for the human spirit....


Lukas Pearse

(b West Point, MS, Feb 5, 1941). American lyricist and vocalist. Barrett Strong first had success as a vocalist with his only hit record as a performer, “Money (That’s what I want)” (1959). Released on Tamla, the song hit no.2 on the R&B charts the next year and became Berry Gordy’s first hit for his Motown enterprise. Strong was hired as staff lyricist at Motown, often writing in partnership with Norman Whitfield, with whom he crafted many of Motown’s top hits. His songwriting spanned from the emotion of “I heard it through the grapevine” (recorded by Marvin Gaye and others) to the antiwar urgency of “War” (Edwin Starr), and other topical numbers such as “Ball of Confusion (That’s what the world is today)” (the Temptations). All of these were crossover R&B and pop hits. With Whitfield, he became deeply involved with writing for the Temptations, contributing the lyrics to such songs as “Cloud Nine,” “Just My Imagination,” and “Papa was a rolling stone,” the last of which won him a Grammy Award. After Motown moved to Los Angeles in ...


James P. Cassaro

Opera in one act by Hugo Weisgall to a libretto by Richard Hart after August Strindberg play Den starkare; Westport, ct, White Barn Theatre, 9 August 1952 (with piano); revised version, New York, Columbia University, January 1955 (with orchestra).

Within the short duration of this dramatic monologue, three lives are brought sharply into focus, those of Estelle (soprano), her husband Harold, and Lisa (silent). Harold never appears in the opera but figures significantly in the action. Set in a bar on Christmas Eve afternoon, the work portrays Estelle’s bitterness towards Lisa’s friendship with Harold. As Estelle downs one cocktail after another, she becomes openly hostile to Lisa’s silence and failure to respond to her jealous accusations. At the height of drunkenness, Estelle, in a rage and full of self-pity, accuses Lisa of trying to take Harold from her, as so many others have tried, as well as dominating every aspect of Estelle’s domestic life. In an effort to determine who is ‘the stronger’ of the two, Estelle expresses her hysterical suspicions, portraying Lisa as a monster of hatred and guile. Having unburdened herself of thoughts that have afflicted her for some time, Estelle, convinced she is ‘the stronger’, regains composure and bids Lisa a ‘Merry Christmas’ as she exits....


Jan Smaczny

[Tvrdé palice]

Comic opera in one act by Antonín Dvořák to a libretto by Josef Štolba; Prague, New Czech Theatre, 2 October 1881.

In a small country town, the widower Vávra (baritone) and widow Říhová (contralto) agree that their respective children, Toník (tenor) and Lenka (soprano), will marry. Knowing the stubborn nature of the two young people, the godfather Řeřicha (bass) warns that they probably will not agree to their parents’ wishes. The opera is taken up with the implementation of Řeřicha’s plan in which Toník and Lenka are duped into thinking that each one is going to marry the other’s parent. During the course of the opera the two stubborn lovers admit to Řeřicha that they do love one another, but it is only in the penultimate scene that they tell each other. With Řeřicha’s design exposed, the young ones are free to marry and the final scene commemorates the happy outcome with rejoicing....