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(ləbrĕt`ō) [Ital.,=little book], the text of an opera or an oratorio. Although a play usually emphasizes an integrated plot, a libretto is most often a loose plot connecting a series of episodes. Characterization and emotion are suggested by the words of a libretto but are expressed by the music. The first major librettist was Ottavio Rinuccini, an Italian poet of the 16th cent. Outstanding in the 17th cent. was Philippe QuinaultQuinault, Philippe
, 1635–88, French dramatist. His tragedies and comedies are affected and undistinguished, but he found an outlet for his talent in the 14 opera librettos which he wrote for Lully.
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, and in the 18th cent. important librettists were the poet Pietro MetastasioMetastasio, Pietro
, 1698–1782, Italian poet and librettist, whose original name was Antonio Bonaventura Trapassi. A prodigy at poetic improvisation, he became court poet at Vienna in 1729.
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, many of whose 50 libretti were set numerous times by major composers, Ranieri di Calzabigi, and Lorenzo Da PonteDa Ponte, Lorenzo
, 1749–1838, Italian librettist and teacher, b. Ceneda as Emmanuele Conegliano. Born Jewish, he converted to Catholicism at 14, became (1773) a priest, and shortly after ordination moved to Venice.
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. The 19th-century librettists of note included Augustin Eugène ScribeScribe, Augustin Eugène
, 1791–1861, French dramatist and librettist. He began his prolific and highly successful writing career with vaudeville sketches. One of the first playwrights to mirror bourgeois morality and life, he infused 19th-century French opera and
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, W. S. GilbertGilbert, Sir William Schwenck,
1836–1911, English playwright and poet. He won fame as the librettist of numerous popular operettas, written in collaboration with the composer Sir Arthur Sullivan.
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, and the composers Arrigo BoitoBoito, Arrigo
, 1842–1918, Italian composer and librettist. His opera Mefistofele (1868, rev. 1875), influenced by Wagner's music-drama, helped to bring about a new dramatic style in Italian opera.
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 and Richard WagnerWagner, Richard
, 1813–83, German composer, b. Leipzig. Life and Work

Wagner was reared in a theatrical family, had a classical education, and began composing at 17.
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; prominent in the 20th cent. was Hugo von HofmannsthalHofmannsthal, Hugo von
, 1874–1929, Austrian dramatist and poet. His first verses were published when he was 16 years old, and his play The Death of Titian (1892, tr. 1913) when he was 18.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the verbal text of a work of musical drama, such as an opera or operetta and, in the past, of a cantata or oratorio; a ballet scenario; a brief summary of the content of an opera, operetta, or ballet. The term came from the fact that in the late 17th century, opera librettos were often printed for theatergoers in the form of little booklets.

The libretto is the literary and dramatic basis of an opera. Until the mid-18th century, librettos were composed in a fixed pattern following standard musical and dramatic conventions. Thus, the same successful libretto was often used repeatedly by different composers. Later, the libretto was usually written by a librettist in close collaboration with the composer, and sometimes with his direct participation, ensuring better unity among action, words, and music.

In the 19th century, outstanding composers with literary and dramatic gifts began writing librettos for their operas themselves, including H. Berlioz, R. Wagner, A. Boito, and M. P. Mussorgsky. Such 20th-century composers as S. S. Prokofiev and K. Orff continued the practice.

The main sources of subjects for librettos are folk poetry, legends, fairytales, and professional works of literature. Literary works are usually significantly different in libretto form—for example, the basic concept of Pushkin’s Queen of Spades was revised in P. I. Tchaikovsky’s opera. Only in exceptional cases have dramatic works been used intact in librettos—for example, Dargomyzhskii’s The Stone Guest, based on Pushkin’s drama, and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande, based on Maeterlinck’s play.

Librettos vary greatly in content, structure, application of a verse or prose text, and presence or absence of subdivisions of the text. The history of the libretto is inseparably linked with that of opera itself in all its generic and national varieties. Every type of opera in musical history has a corresponding type of libretto.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a text written for and set to music in an opera, etc.
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
As in almost every chapter, Ward takes details from the opera libretti to explore the culture that generates them, from fashion to art, from travel literature to periodicals, and so on.
The reason is that libretti often present remarkable variances from production to production.
Operatic Italian also contains a discussion of the operatic aspects of canzoni (such as Scarlatti's "Sento nel core") and the influence of Dante on poetry and the language of libretti. Throughout the text, Thomson offers much more than translations and transliterations.
If this can be a bit dry at times, and if we could have been told much more about the vibrant social and cultural life lying behind the politics, we are nevertheless rewarded with a vivid portrait of how townsfolk in Monte Libretti managed to exercise and maintain power over their own affairs while occasionally negotiating with their noble overlords, the Barberini, on their own behalf well into the eighteenth century.
Libretti,(74) the Tenth Circuit analyzed Rule 31 (e) in the context of a case where a defendant pled guilty to violating provisions of 21 U.S.C.
The Rule 31 (e) special verdict requirement applies specifically to criminal forfeiture.(85) Since the Court in Libretti determined that forfeiture is a part of the sentence, not part of the substantive offense, the Rule 31 (e) special verdict right is not equivalent to a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a jury determination of guilt.(86)
An increasingly important mode of inquiry is the correlation of primary sources (specifically, surviving scores and libretti) with secondary archival documents, including the administrative records of the theater itself, the contracts of singers, instrumentalists, and even copyists, and sources related to the materiel requirements of stage productions.
Butler's skillful utilization of primary source materials located in Turin's Archivio Storico della Citta (among several institutions) and careful integration of prior scholarship (notably that of Alberto Basso and Marie-Therese Bouquet) illuminates the protocol established by the Societa in its dealings with singers, negotiations with composers, choice of libretti, and allocation of resources for the spectacles.
A libretto must support other ends, for another art Small wonder that; for long stretches of opera history, writers of libretti were thought of with as much respect as the average B-movie-script hack.
Libretti: Die originalen Textbucher der bis 1990 in der Gluck-Gesamtausgabe erschienenen Buhnenwerke; Textbucher verschollener Werke.
He does not say in the preliminary pages of his book when he began working on it; but he does acknowledge that his bibliographical treatment of librettos was "inspired and in large part modelled on the principles and practices" set forth by Anna Laura Bellina et al., in La Raccolta Rolandi di libretti d'opera (Rome: Istituto della Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani, 1986).
Sartori aspires to a high degree of purity in avoiding assumptions, but I libretti italiani does not achieve the same level of clarity as the Alm catalogue.