Catalani La Wally

Alfredo Catalani La Wally Alfredo Catalani was the great operatic hope which never materialised.  A contemporary and rival of Puccini, he was regarded for a while as the natural successor to Verdi as the leader of Italian opera, but two things prevented that from happening.  One was his early death from consumption at the age […]

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Jules Massenet – Thérèse

  Jules Massenet Thérèse Of several operas set during the turmoil of the French Revolution, Massenet’s Thérèse is the most concise: its powerful story of friendship, love, duty and sacrifice is an emotional roller-coaster as its three main characters play out their tragic lives against the backdrop of a country and a whole society turned […]

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Ethel Smyth – The Wreckers

OPERASTORY: Plots Ethel Smyth The Wreckers Holidays in Cornwall with friends when she was younger had a lasting effect on Ethel Smyth. Deeply impressed by stories of the determined Old Testament zeal of isolated Cornish communities who made their living by luring ships onto the wild coastline and the unsuccessful attempts of Wesleyan ministers to […]

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Tommaso Traetta – Antigona

OPERASTORY: Plots Tommaso Traetta Antigona Just occasionally, an opera comes along which changes the course of operatic history. But just occasionally, operas which should be better-known slip below the horizon and disappear from view. Whilst this is sad in that many operas can stay disappeared for ever, it can also provide opportunities for exciting discoveries. […]

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Francesco Cilea – Gina

Francesco Cilea Gina Opera composers have to start somewhere. In the case of Francesco Cilea, his first stage work, Gina, was a graduation piece written when he was twenty-two and performed by his fellow students in the theatre of the Conservatorio in Naples where Cilea had studied alongside Umberto Giordano with the distinguished and magnanimous […]

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Umberto Giordano – Mala Vita

Opera in three acts. Libretto by Nicola Daspuro, based on the play O Voto by Salvatore di Giacomo. First performed at the Teatro Argentina in Rome on 21 February 1892.  Revised and watered down as Il Voto, it was then first given at the Teatro Lirico in Milan on 10 November 1897.   Act 1 […]

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Umberto Giordano – Il Re

Novella (‘short story’) in three scenes. Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano. First performed at La Scala, Milan, on 12 January 1929.   Scene 1 Inside a windmill, the miller, his wife, their young neighbour Colombello, and a lawyer, a priest and an astrologer are sitting in silence, thinking.  A cuckoo clock strikes three.  The priest rises […]

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Richard Strauss – Intermezzo

A bourgeois comedy with symphonic interludes in two acts. Libretto by the composer. First performed in the Court Theatre in Dresden on 4 November 1924.   Act 1 Scene 1 It is early one morning in the home of the conductor and court composer Robert Storch in Grundlsee.  Robert is preparing to leave for a […]

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Charles Gounod – La Colombe

Opera in two acts. Libretto by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré, after a fable by Jean de La Fontaine. First performed at the Théâtre de Bade, Baden-Baden, on 6 August 1860.   Act 1 A small cottage in the country, just outside Florence. Mazet, the manservant of an impoverished young nobleman, Horace, starts the day […]

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Charles Gounod – La Nonne Sanglante

Opera in five acts. Libretto by Eugène Scribe and Germain Delavigne, based on an episode in The Monk, by Matthew Gregory Lewis (1796). First performed at the Paris Opéra on 18 October 1854.   Act 1 Bohemia in the eleventh century: the castle of Baron Moldaw There has long been enmity between the rival families […]

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Niccolò van Westerhout – Doña Flor

Opera in one act. Libretto by Arturo Colautti. First performed on 18 April 1896 in the Teatro Communale in Mola di Bari (now named the Teatro Van Westerhout).   The scene is Venice in the mid seventeenth century in the bedroom of Doña Flor, the wife of the Spanish Ambassador to Venice, Don Filippo Carlo […]

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Amilcare Ponchielli – I Lituani

Lyric drama in a Prologue and three acts. Libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni, based on Adam Mickiewicz’s narrative poem Konrad Wallenrod (1828). First performed at La Scala, Milan, on 7 March 1874.   Prologue Near Marienburg, towards the end of the fourteenth century German troops are sweeping across the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, destroying all resistance. […]

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Giacomo Puccini – Il Tabarro

Opera in one act.  Part of Il Trittico (‘The Tryptych’), a sequence of three one-act operas intended to be performed together (the other two are Suor Angelica and Gianni Schicchi) Libretto by Giuseppe Adami, based on the play La Houppelande by Didier Gold. First performed in the Metropolitan Opera House in New York on 14 […]

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Pietro Mascagni – Zanetto

Opera in one act. Libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci based on the play Le Passant by François Coppée. First performed in the Liceo Musicale G. Rossini, Pesaro, on 2 March 1896.   The story is set in a villa in the hills just to the east of Florence during the Renaissance period; it […]

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Giacomo Puccini – Tosca

Opera in three acts. Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giacomo Giacosa, based on the play La Tosca by Victorien Sardou (1888), a role made famous by Sarah Bernhardt. First performed in the Liceo Musicale G. Rossini, Pesaro, on 2 March 1896.   Act 1   The church of Sant’Andrea delle Valle in Rome; alas, it […]

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Giovanni Pacini – Saffo

Lyric tragedy in three acts. Libretto by Salvatore Cammarano. First performed in the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 29 November 1840.   Act 1 In the ancient Greek Olympic Games, poetry was one of the events.  Outside the stadium at Olympus, the poetry event has just taken place and applause and loud cries of […]

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Giovanni Pacini – L’Ultimo Giorno di Pompei

Opera seria in two acts. Libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola. First performed in the Teatro San Carlo in Naples on 19 November 1825.   Act 1 It is dawn in Pompei on the morning of 25 August 79AD.  In the atrium of Sallustio’s house, cheerful voices can be heard in the distance hailing Sallustio.  Sallustio […]

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Gioacchino Rossini – Demetrio e Polibio

Dramma serio per musica in two acts. Libretto written in separate numbers between 1806 and 1809 by Vincenzina Viganò Mombelli. First performed in the Teatro Valle in Rome on 18 May 1812.   Act 1 At the court of Polibio, King of Parthia, Polibio publicly tells a young man, Siveno, that although Siveno is not […]

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Richard Strauss – Salome

Opera in one act Libretto by the composer based on a German translation by Hedwig Lachmann of Oscar Wilde’s play Salome (1893) First performed in the Court Theatre, Dresden, on 9 December 1905 King Herod is inside his palace giving a banquet.  He has had Jokanaan (John the Baptist) captured and imprisoned in a cistern […]

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Gioacchino Rossini – Otello

Opera in three acts Libretto by Francesco Berio di Salsa based on Shakespeare’s play Othello (1604-05) First performed at the Teatro del Fondo, Naples, on 4 December 1816 Act 1 A public square in Venice The Doge of Venice and all the senators, including a nobleman Elmiro, are waiting for the return of the Venetian fleet, […]

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Giacomo Puccini – La Bohème

Opera in four acts Libretto by Luigi Illica and Giacomo Giacosa based on incidents in the novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger, originally produced in serial form between 1847 and 1849 First performed at the Teatro Regio in Turin on 1 February 1896 Act 1 Christmas Eve 1830. In a cold […]

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Jacopo Peri – Euridice

A tragedy in a prologue and five scenes. Text by Ottavio Rinuccini (the word ‘libretto’ had not been invented yet): written in verse and a very elegant poem in its own right. First performed in the Pitti Palace in Florence on 6 October 1600 Prologue The opera begins with a Prologue delivered by a singer […]

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Le Nozze di Figaro

Commedia per musica in four acts. Libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte, based on the play La folle journée ou Le marriage de Figaro by Pierre-Augustin de Beaumarchais (1784). First performed in the Burgtheater, Vienna, on 1 May 1786. The action of the opera takes place on the estate of the Almaviva family at Aguas Frescas  […]

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Etienne-Nicholas Méhul – Uthal

Opera in one act. Libretto by Jacques Maximilien Benjamin Bins de Saint-Victor, loosely based on the poem Berrathon, the final poem in the first volume of James Macpherson’s Ossian poems. First performed at the Opéra Comique in Paris on 17 May 1806.   Méhul (postcard in the author’s collection) The story of the opera is […]

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Giovanni Simone Mayr (or possibly Vincenzo Pucitta) – Verter

Opera in one act. Libretto probably reduced by Giulio Domenico Camagna from the five-act play by Antonio Simone Sografi (1794) based (very loosely indeed) on the novel Die Leiden de jungen Werthers by Wolfgang von Goethe (1774). Possibly first performed at the Teatro San Moisè in Venice in the autumn of 1802, but perhaps somewhere […]

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Giuseppe Verdi – Rigoletto

Opera in three acts. Libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on the play Le Roi s’amuse by Victor Hugo. First performed in La Fenice Opera House in Venice, 11 March 1851 Act 1 The palace of the Duke of Mantua After a prelude, the curtain rises to reveal a wild party in full swing.  The […]

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Jules Massenet – La Navarraise

Épisode lyrique in two acts. Libretto by Jules Claretie and Henri Cain after La Cigarette, a short story by Jules Claretie. First performed at Covent Garden, London, 20 June 1894 The action takes place in the village square of a small village outside Bilbao during the second Carlist war (more of a local Catalonian rebellion […]

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Jules Massenet – Hérodiade

Opéra in four acts and seven scenes. Libretto by Paul Milliet and ‘Henri Grémont’ (Georges Hartmann), developed from an original Italian text by Angelo Zanardini, based on the short story Herodias by Gustave Flaubert. First performed at the Théâtre de La Monnaie, Brussels, on 19 December 1881 Although Hérodiade tells the same story of Salome […]

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Antoine Mariotte – Salome

Tragédy Lyrique in one act. Libretto taken from the text of Oscar Wilde’s play (written in French) Salome of 1893. First performed in Lyon on 30 October 1908 Based on Wilde’s play, the title of Mariotte’s opera, just like that of Richard Strauss which completely eclipsed it, makes the central character Salome, and the story […]

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Hamish MacCunn – Jeanie Deans

Grand opera in four acts. Libretto by Joseph Bennett based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel Heart of Midlothian. First performed in Edinburgh on 15 November 1894. Act 1 The opera tells the story of two sisters, Jeanie and Effie Deans.  Their father, Davie Deans, upbraids the village young people for dancing outside his house.  The […]

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Engelbert Humperdinck – Dornröschen (Sleeping Beauty)

Fairy-tale opera in a prelude and three acts. Libretto by Elisabeth Ebeling and Bertha Lehrmann-Filhés. First performed in Frankfurt am Main on 12 November 1902. Prelude The King and Queen have long wanted a daughter, and now that they have one, they have arranged her name-day.  The queen is worried about the baby girl’s future, […]

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Georg Friderich Handel – Ariodante

Opera seria in three acts. Libretto by Antonio Salvi after an incident in Lodovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso (1516). First performed at Covent Garden, London, on 8 January 1735 Act 1 In the Scottish royal palace (Handel does not say exactly where this is in the text of the opera, but the libretto which […]

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Eugène d’Albert – Die toten augen

Drama in one act with a prelude and a postlude. Libretto in French by Marc Henry (the pseudonym of Achille d’Ailly-Vaucheret) (as Les Yeux morts); German translation by Hans Heinz Ewers. First performed at Dresden Court Opera on 5 March 1916. The action is set in Jerusalem at the time of Christ. In the Prelude, […]

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Georges Bizet – Don Procopio

Opera buffa in two acts. Libretto by Carlo Cambaggio. Written in 1858 as part of Bizet’s obligations under the conditions of the Prix de Rome.  The score was found in 1894 among the papers of Auber long after his death in 1871 and the opera was eventually first performed in Monte Carlo on 10 March […]

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Georges Bizet – Le Docteur Miracle

Operetta in one act composed for a competition mounted by Jacques Offenbach for young composers and intended to revive the genre of the comic operetta. Libretto by Léon Battu and Ludovic Halévy based on the play St Patrick’s Day by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (1775). First performed at the Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens in Paris on […]

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Georges Bizet – Djamileh

Comic opera in one act. Libretto by Louis Gallet based on the poem Namouna by Alfred de Musset. First performed at the Opéra Comique in Paris on 22 May 1872 The scene is a lavish room in a palace in Cairo. Haroun is a rich, self-indulgent and idle young man of noble birth who amuses […]

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Jules Massenet – Werther

Libretto by Edouard Blau, Paul Milliet and Georges Hartmann. Based on Goethe’s novel Die Leiden des jungen Werthers (‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’) of 1774. First performed at the Vienna Opera, 16 February 1892 [First of all, so that there can be no doubt about it, a note about pronunciation.  Goethe’s story was written in […]

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Pietro Mascagni – Cavalleria Rusticana

Opera in one act. Libretto by Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci based on the short story and subsequent play Cavalleria Rusticana by Giovanni Verga 1880). First performed in the Teatro Costanzi in Rome on 17 May 1890 The setting is the main square of a small village in Sicily.  At the back of the square […]

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Ruggero Leoncavallo – La Bohème

Opera in four acts. Libretto by the composer based on incidents in the novel Scènes de la vie de Bohème by Henri Murger, originally produced in serial form between 1847 and 1849. First performed at La Fenice in Venice on 6 May 1897 Act 1 Christmas Eve 1837 at the Café Momus. Schaunard is trying […]

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Erich Wolfgang Korngold – Die tote Stadt

Opera in three acts. Libretto by Julius and Erich Korngold after Georges Rodenbach’s novel Bruges-la-Morte of 1892 (and the play Le Mirage which Rodenbach himself made from it), translated into German as Das Trugbild by Siegfried Trebitsch. First performed simultaneously in Hamburg and Cologne on 4 December 1920   The story is set in the […]

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Gustav Holst The Wandering Scholar

Chamber opera in one act. Libretto by Clifford Bax based on a story told in Helen Waddell’s book The Wandering Scholars (1928). First performed in the David Lewis Theatre in Liverpool on 31 January 1934 The action takes place in thirteenth century France and is set in a farmhouse.  As the opera starts, a farmer, […]

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Umberto Giordano – Fedora

Opera in three acts. Libretto by Arturo Colautti based on the play Fedora (1882) by Victorien Sardou, written for the actress Sarah Bernhardt. First performed in the Teatro Lirico in Milan on 17 November 1898. Act 1 St Petersburg in the winter of 1881: the palace of Count Vladimir Andreievich, Captain of the City Guard […]

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Gaetano Donizetti Anna Bolena

Opera seria in two acts. Libretto by Felice Romani, based on Ippolito Pindemonte’s Enrico VIII (a translation of a play of the same name by Marie-Joseph de Chénier) and Alessandro Pepoli’s Anna Bolena. First performed in the Teatro Carcano, Milan, on 26 December 1830 Act 1 In a hall in Windsor Castle, courtiers gossip about […]

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Bizet Pearl Fishers

Opera in three acts. Libretto by Eugène Cormon and Michel Carré. First performed at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris on 30 September 1863. Act 1 On a wild and arid beach on the island of Ceylon, a group of pearl-divers are setting up their camp.  Some are pitching the tents while others are drinking and […]

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