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Article

(‘Demophoön’)

Libretto by Pietro Metastasio, first set by Antonio Caldara (1733, Vienna). Versions of the libretto were also set as Demofoonte, rè di Tracia, Démophon, Demophontes, Dirce and L’usurpatore innocente.

It has been decreed in Thrace that, until such time as one who would unknowingly usurp the throne has been identified, a virgin of noble birth must be sacrificed each year to Apollo. Demophoön, King of Thrace, aware that the death penalty threatens anyone not of royal birth who weds the heir to the throne, has arranged for the union of his son, Timante [Timanthes], with Creusa, Princess of Phrygia. Timanthes, however, has secretly married Dircea [Dirce], daughter of the noble Matusio [Mathusius], and by her has a son. Creusa arrives, accompanied by Timanthes’ younger brother, Cherinto [Cherinthus], who has fallen in love with her. Timanthes begs Creusa to reject him. Offended, she orders Cherinthus to avenge her by killing his brother. Demophoön, meanwhile, has named Dirce as the next sacrificial victim in defiance of a plea from Mathusius to have her exempted. A warning from Mathusius comes too late and Dirce is imprisoned....

Article

Mary Hunter

(‘The Deserter’)

Libretto subject used in the late 18th century and the early 19th, based on the opéra comique Déserteur, Le by Pierre-Alexandre Monsigny to a libretto by Michel-Jean Sedaine (1769, Paris), and on a play of the same name by Louis Sébastien Mercier (1770, Paris).

The first Italian operatic version was written by C. F. Badini for P. A. Guglielmi (1770, London). Badini acknowledged his indebtedness to ‘the French’ in the plan of the drama but asserted his independence as far as the individual numbers are concerned. His version is a fairly typical opera buffa, which distributes the dramatic attention more equally among the characters than does Sedaine’s work. The story begins with a feast, purporting to be the wedding of the heroine, Rosetta, to Beltramino. It is in fact a joke designed to test the constancy of Rosetta’s real lover, Alessio, who is deemed to have deserted the army by virtue of having strayed from the barracks to see Rosetta. Alessio is sentenced to death, but Rosetta obtains a last-minute pardon from the King....

Article

Paul Cauthen

Libretto subject used chiefly in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its source is Greek history, in particular Euripides’ lost tragedy Cresphontes.

The story is set in the kingdom of Messenia in the Greek Peloponnese, ruled by Cresphontes, a descendant of Hercules, and his queen, Merope, princess of Messenian nobles Cresphontes is deposed by Polyphontes and executed along with two of his three sons. Merope sends the youngest son, Aepytus, into hiding in Arcadia. When he reaches manhood he returns to avenge his father’s murder; arriving in disguise, he announces that he has killed the long-missing third son of Cresphontes. Merope, whom Polyphontes has forced to become his wife, learns that Aepytus is no longer in Arcadia and orders the stranger put to death. Aepytus’s true identity is revealed before the execution; mother and son are reunited. Aepytus kills Polyphontes and assumes his rightful place on the throne.

There are two major variants of the story. In its earliest version, by Zeno also adds a love interest for Epitide [Aepytus] in the Arcadian princess Argia, taken hostage by Polyphontes. Polyphontes forces Anassandro [Anasander], the executioner of Cresofonte [Cresphontes] and his sons, to accuse Merope in public of having commissioned the act. Merope learns Aepytus’s true identity only near the end of the opera, having believed him executed at her request. Later ...

Article

David Tunley

‘Opera phantasy’ in two acts by Edgar Bainton to a libretto by Robert Trevelyan; Sydney, Conservatorium Opera School, 20 May 1944.

The opera is based on a Hindu legend in which the God Krishna (tenor), then a young village herdsboy, reveals his magic power to make a pearl, borrowed from his mother Yashoda (contralto), grow into a magnificent tree. Krishna’s love for the village girl Rahda (soprano), who had refused to lend him a pearl and who had scorned both Krishna and the story of his exploit, is fulfilled at the end of the opera.

Although composed in England in 1927 the opera was not performed until 1944, when it was staged by the Sydney Conservatorium Opera School conducted by the composer. In his glowing review (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 May 1944), Neville Cardus was particularly struck by the beauty of the orchestration into which vocal melody and recitative are superbly fused. Its harmonic style is not unlike that of Delius’s music, although the vocal line tends to be less chromatic. There are also moments of exotic modality appropriate to the libretto subject....

Article

Marita P. McClymonds

Libretto subject popular in the 18th century, taken from Ovid ’s Metamorphoses, iv.

A young Babylonian couple, Pyramus and Thisbe, were betrothed; but the families quarelled, broke off relations and forbade the young people to see each other. They decided to meet at night and elope. Then the tragic chain of events began that has given their story immortality: while waiting for Pyramus, Thisbe is frightened away by a lion and leaves her scarf behind; Pyramus arrives, finds the scarf bloody and mauled by Pyramus arrives, finds the scarf bloody and mauled by the lion, and stabs himself believing that Thisbe is dead; returning, Thisbe finds him dying, and she stabs herself; and finally her father arrives to find both young people dead, and he stabs himself too. The plot of course appears as the rustics’ play in Shakespeare’s A midsummer Night’s Dream and in operas based on it, notably Britten’s....

Article

(‘Themistocles’)

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....

Article

(‘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....