Felice Romani revolutionized the Italian opera libretto, creating a clearly contoured melodramma romantico that was suitable for a through-composed setting.
Romani’s libretto for Donizetti’s Anna Bolena produced a virtually through-composed opera, making the meter conform to the dramatic situation and mood. In Act I, all the characters enter immediately after the prima donna, so that in place of the usual introductory aria there is now an ensemble. The entry of the seconda donna now leads as a rule to a concerted piece, the stretta of the pezzo concertato unleashing all the passions of the protagonists.
Act II proceeds similarly, except that its final scene is treated as a composition in its own right: Out of a stretta the concertato emerges, structured as a concert piece.
This according to Felice Romani–Gaetano Donizetti–Anna Bolena. Zur Asthetik politischer Oper in Italien zwischen 1826 und 1831 by Richard Hauser, a dissertation accepted by Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg in 1980.
Today is Romani’s 230th birthday! Below, Sondra Radvanovsky sings Anna Bolena’s finale.
Illustrated libretti for eighteenth-century opera performances comprise a specific and unusual type of visual art. Since these engravings were made before the performances, they cannot be interpreted as objective documentation—indeed, clear evidence points to discrepancies between these representations and what the audiences actually saw. Rather, they must be seen as conveying the intention of these occasions, in surprisingly subtle ways.
Christine Fischer demonstrates this way of reading libretto illustrations in “Engravings of opera stage settings as festival books: Thoughts on a new perspective of well-known sources” (Music in art XXXIV/1–2 , pp. 73–88). In the above engraving by Johann Benjamin Müller of the final scene in Maria Antonia Walpurgis’s Talestri, regina delle amazzoni (1760), Fischer notes that the wide gap between the female Amazons and the male Scythians—their leaders both with drawn swords—demonstrates their opposition, but the bridge in the background indicates their impending reconciliation. The message below the surface involves reassurance that the composer’s ongoing consolidation of her political power in Dresden will be beneficial to all, and that her rule will be based on a deep knowledge of state affairs and peaceful collaboration with powerful men.
Facsimile editions may present reproductions of illuminated manuscripts; they also may document creative processes, like the famously scrawled and blotted manuscripts of Beethoven.
In rare cases facsimile editions provide evidence of collaborative processes; an example is the recent edition by Leo S. Olschki Editore of the working copy of the libretto for Puccini’s Tosca, part of which is pictured above.
With notes in the hands of Puccini, the publisher Giulio Ricordi, and the librettists Luigi Illica and Giuseppe Giacosa—and the inclusion of pasted-in pages fathfully reproduced as separate, attatched sheets—the edition documents the collaborative process that resulted in one of the landmarks of verismo opera.
Below, Renée Fleming sings Tosca’s signature aria Vissi d’arte.