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Key People:Richard WagnerPedro Calderón de la BarcaWilliam CongreveW. H. AudenBertolt Brecht...(Show more)Related Topics:Opera...(Show more)

Libretto, (Italian: “booklet”) many librettos or libretti, text of one opera, operetta, or other kind of musical theatre. It is likewise used, much less commonly, because that a musical work not intended for the stage. A libretto might be in city or in prose; it might be specially designed because that a certain composer, or it may carry out raw product for several; it may be wholly original or one adaptation of an existing pat or novel.

Writing a libretto demands techniques various from those for writing talked drama. Music move at a slower pace than speech, and also an orchestra can suggest emotions the would need to be do explicit in a play. As soon as sung, sophisticated literary artifices and unnatural indigenous orders would existing audiences with unnecessary problems, but simple words and also repetitions of phrases administer aids come understanding.


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The faster operas, start in 1597 with Ottavio Rinuccini’s Dafne, collection to music by Jacopo Peri, to be court entertainments, and as a commemoration the indigenous were published in a small book, or “libretto.” In the 1630s Venetian opera ended up being a publicly spectacle, and also audiences provided printed librettos to follow the drama. The at an early stage French and Italian librettists concerned their functions as poetic dramas, and the composer was intended to pay faithful regard come the accents of the words. A propensity to much more lyrical therapy of the text developed in Venice, however, and also purely music demands started to outweigh strict subservience come the poetry. Regardless of the enhancement of the composer’s role, complete operatic scores were seldom printed. It to be usually just the librettist who saw his name in print.

The early 17th-century librettists drew their subject matter from pastoral drama the the 16th century, which faced mythological subjects, together in Alessandro Striggio’s Orfeo (1607), collection to music by Claudio Monteverdi. Various other trends soon developed. In 1642 Gian Francesco Busenello based his L’incoronazione di Poppea (The Coronation that Poppea, music by Monteverdi) on events in the life the Nero, and, native that point on, historical subjects came to be increasingly popular. While castle appealed to the common people by the inclusion of love intrigues that were not required to reflect historic facts, historic librettos that portrayed magnanimous rulers flattered the aristocracy ~ above whom many opera centres were financially dependent.


The style of 18th-century librettos was exemplified through Pietro Metastasio and by Apostolo Zeno, both of whom aimed at increasing libretto standards by banishing comic characters from severe opera and also creating a lofty poetic drama. Their elevated style at some point came under criticism as unnatural and also occasionally absurd. The movement for revolutionary was many noticeable in the works of Christoph Gluck. Ranieri Calzabigi, working carefully with Gluck, composed the libretto for Orfeo ed Euridice; the result, in marked contrast with modern-day librettos, supported Gluck’s musical intends of simplicity and profundity.

In the late 18th century librettists began to rotate aside from mythology and antiquity. In contrast to major opera, comic opera had constantly dealt with subjects from actual life, and it now ended up being the framework for functions that were largely serious in intention. An instance of this technique is Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte (1791; The Magic Flute), to Emanuel Schikaneder’s libretto. After ~ the French revolution (1789) the “rescue opera” through its layout of resistance come tyranny became popular, culminating in Beethoven’s Fidelio, based upon Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s pat Léonore.

Nineteenth-century Romanticism encouraged texts dealing with medieval background and legends the the supernatural, such as Friedrich Kind’s libretto for Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz (1821; The Freeshooter, or, more colloquially, The Magic Marksman) and also the librettos created for Giacomo Meyerbeer by Eugène Scribe—e.g., Les Huguenots (1836). Exotic subjects and also themes attracted from folklore and also regional society found their means into 19th- and 20th-century librettos, among them Karel Sabina’s for Bedřich Smetana’s The Bartered Bride (1866) and Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot (1926), adapted from the oriental fable of Carlo Gozzi. Need for librettos the high literature quality additionally rose; Richard Wagner wrote his own, as did Hector Berlioz (e.g., Les Troyens, 1858; The Trojans) and also such later composers as Alban Berg, Leoš Janáček, Arnold Schoenberg, and also Gian Carlo Menotti.

Close collaboration between librettist and composer provided another systems to the inquiry of textual quality. As well as that in between Mozart and also Lorenzo Da Ponte, maybe the ideal example of effective partnership is the of Hugo von Hofmannsthal and also Richard Strauss, who collaborated ~ above Elektra (1909), Der Rosenkavalier (1911), two versions the Ariadne auf Naxos (1912 and also 1916), Die Frau ohne Schatten (1919), Die ägyptische Helena (1928), and also Arabella (produced—after von Hofmannsthal’s death—in 1933).

Among the rarely successful provides of spoken-drama texts room Claude Debussy’s setup of Maurice Maeterlinck’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1902) and Richard Strauss’s setup of Oscar Wilde’s Salomé (1905). The expansion of realism in spoken drama also influenced opera, significantly in Georges Bizet’s Carmen (1875), based upon Prosper Mérimée’s novel.

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This article was many recently revised and also updated through Virginia Gorlinski, associate Editor.