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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 ?
Alessandro Scarlatti's setting of L 'Aldimiro, o vero, Favor per favore (libretto by Giuseppe Domenico de Totis)--which the Accademia dei Rozzi produced in 1691 for the inauguration of a new performance space, the "Saloncino"--had premiered in Naples in 1683 and was also performed in Livorno, Milan, Macerata, and Rome before the performance in Siena.
In this case it is somewhat unsettling that the author does not clarify to the reader that the edition of the libretto she uses corresponds, in fact, to the Viennese performance on which she focuses--the book shows a reproduction of the cover page of the Venetian libretto, while the quotations are from a modern edition of Metastasio's collected works.
A whole seven of the eight arias of the Prague libretto were identified in the Regensburg libretto, which with the two arias to which we know the music from other Vivaldi scores (,,Gelido in ogni vena" and "In bosco romito") represent a full half of the opera!
Because the source librettos of Handel's Orlando and Tolomeo are closely linked (both were written by C.
Parts of the printed edition are (unnecessarily?) duplicated here, such as the general editorial policy, preface, and digital copies of the new edition's libretto and score, but the complete critical report and an important evaluation of the musical and textual sources are also included.
As for the sources for the libretto - Cosi is unusual in that, unlike Figaro and Don Giovanni, it does not rely on a single pre-existing source, which is one reason why its interpretation has been so problematic - Brown gets further than most (in part, thanks to the unpublished research of Elizabeth Dunstan) in tracing the roots of the story in Ovid and in Ariosto's Orlando furioso, whence derive Fiordiligi and Dorabella (the latter a conflation of Doralice and Isabella), and in particular cantos 24, 28 and 43 of that famous Renaissance epic.
Edited by Hendrik Schulze (score), Sara Elisa Stangalino (libretto).
A concluding chapter deals briefly with Handel's revivals and the two London Italians who arranged the librettos. Their qualities are accurately distinguished, but not their very different impact on the operas.
librettoplural librettos or librettiItalian, literally, booklet, diminutive of libro book
The serious reader interested in further exploring Leoncavallo's work would also be interested in precise documentation of the location of autograph scores, librettos, and photographs; only the letters are consistently identified by archive.
.' is omitted from all the early librettos, although every musical source has it.
Tian wrote librettos for traditional Chinese opera when he was a teenager.