Orontea, Queen of Egypt - 1972

program cover

UCLA Department of Music and Committee on Fine Art Productions

The UCLA Opera Workshop and Chamber Orchestra In

Orontea, Queen of Egypt

By Antonio Cesti (1649)

Musical Edition by William c. Holmes
Libretto by Giacinto Cicognini
English Translation by John Hall

Jan Popper, Conductor
John Hall, Stage Director
Natalie Limonick, Musical Preparation
Archie Sharp, Scenic and Lighting Design
Gail Bixby, Costume Design

West Coast Premiere

Friday and Saturday
May 19, 20 and 26, 27, 1972
Schoenberg Hall


About the Opera

Though Antonio Cesti (1623-1669) is remembered today principally for his festival work, “Il pomo d’ oro,” in his own day he was recognized as a master of the lyric chamber cantata as well as one of the most popular composers of the operatic stage. His fame was in no small part due to the success of “Orontea,” his first opera, which had its premiere at the Teatro SS. Apostoli, Venice in 1649. Taken into the repertory of the Febi armonici, Italy’s first traveling opera company, Orontea soon made its way to several other cities. During the next thirty-five years, as we know from extant printed librettos, it was given at least twenty-three different productions in Italy, Germany and Austria. This is truly an astonishing record for a work in an age which idolized the new and was noted for its short musical memory.

Orontea’s success rested upon its sparkling comedy, its memorable melodies and its striking dramatic and musical characterizations. Andrea Cicognini’s libretto, reflecting then current fashions, drew upon elements of both the popular commedia dell’ arte and contemporary Spanish theater. Cesti’s setting also incorporated new attitudes and ideas. He carefully constructed his music so that the moments of reflection, set as arias and duets, more nearly balanced those of action, set as recitative. The recitative is dramatic, but often moves along at the more rapid pace generally associated with operas of a later period. The melodies of the arias are tuneful, simple and graceful, yet designed to characterize both musically and psychologically the personalities and emotions of the characters on stage. The conflict between love and duty, the eternal triangle of love, an older woman’s pursuit of happiness with a young man, a drunken servant’s moments of truth, all are portrayed so vividly that they can still capture the attention of a modern audience. Thus Orontea is a romantic comedy in the best sense of the term, a worthy predecessor to such later masterpieces as Mozart’s “Le Nozze di Figaro.”

In recent times the score of Orontea was thought to have been lost, though some of its arias, copied separately in manuscript collections, were known to a few singers and scholars. It was only in the early 1950’s that three Italian scores were brought to the attention of the public, and since then another score has been discovered in England. The edition of the opera used in this performance was prepared from these manuscripts by Professor William C. Holmes of the University of California, Irvine, and is to be published this summer by Wellesley College.

Notes by Dr. Frank D’Accone


Introducing the opera we find a caustic debate between two allegorical figures, Love and Philosophy. Both esteemed personages are quite certain that their particular life style and influence over mankind is vastly superior to the other. When Philosophy rather nastily calls Love a bastard, the argument becomes a definite duel between the two. A test is decided upon. Love and Philosophy will fly to Egypt, there to test their influences upon the lovely young Queen, Orontea.

We first meet Orontea proclaiming that she rejects any thought of romance and refuses to submit her imperial heart to any of the pains that lesser mortals call “love.” Her court philosopher, Creonte, finds this proclamation rather distressing. For, without a royal marriage with royal heirs to the royal succession this dynasty is doomed indeed. At this moment, a page boy, Tibrino, rushes in full of fury at a mysterious assassin who had attacked two strangers at the palace doors. Orontea offers regal hospitality to the unfortunate pair and the plot thickens immediately. Alidoro, a young portrait painter and his very bumptious mother, Aristea, accepts the Queen’s gracious offer and agree to stay. With her first meeting with Alidoro, Egypt’s Queen seems to have lost her passion for celibacy and solitude.

These dreary states are far from the minds of Corindo and Silandra, members of Orontea’s court, who are enjoying the sweet bloom of first love. This pair amuses the servant, Gelone, who in his own tipsy fashion, says that the only thing worse than young love is sobriety. All seems to be running smoothly until Silandra gets a good look at the new visitor. She falls head over heels for Alidoro (who welcomes her attractive advances) forsakes Corindo and causes the Queen to suffer bitter pangs of jealousy and…love.

This already complex situation is further complicated by the revelation of the identity of Alidoro’s would-be assassin. It is none other than Giacinta, former servant to Orontea who has assumed male garb to escape white slavery in a neighboring kingdom. Too bad for Giacinta that she makes such an attractive figure of a man, for she has kindled the flames of passion once more in the breast of the aged Aristea. What to do? The problem is a very sticky one, for while trying to fight off the mother’s advances, she (he) has also fallen for the handsome Alidoro.

Needless to say, the whole court is scandalized at the behavior of their Queen and her guests. Creonte fears that Orontea may decide to marry this commoner Alidoro which would end the dynasty sooner than he had previously anticipated. Orontea agrees to give up alidoro, but cannot change the love she has for him in her heart. This is just as well, for in an improbable series of events our handsome young painter is transformed into the missing crown prince of Phoenicia. Corindo and Silandra are reunited, Aristea and Giacinta, sadder but wiser, Gelone happily drunk and Creonte very pleased that the proper (if confusing) succession of events and succession to the throne have been very carefully philosophized over. All’s well that ends well and the opera ends with a lovely ensemble celebrating the joys of love. - John Hall


Diane Thomas
Nancy O’Brien

Edythe Johnson

Orontea, Queen of Egypt
Sue Patchell
Diane Thomas

Creonte, court philosopher
Burman Timberlake

Tibrino, a young page
Kathleen O’Brien

Alidoro, a painter
Tom Oberjat

Aristea, supposed mother Alidoro
Kiyo Tashima

Gelone, a drunken servant
Sharles Bergman

Corindo, a young courtier
Trist Hillman

Silandra, lady of the court
Judy Edgerley

Giacinto (Ismero), a former lady
of the court - now disguised as a man
Janice Eckhart
Christina Wilcox

Attendants to the Queen
Ingrid Isaksen
Joanne Asher
Mary Thomsen
Diane Mitchell

Continuo realized by:
Bess Karp and Arthur Haas, Harpsichord
Kathryn Derksen, Viola da gamba


Stanley Plummer, Concertmaster
James Carpenter
James Moore
Anne Black

Cesare Pasacarella

Peggy Sheffield

Bass Viol
Peter Rofe

Phil Boroff


Auditorium Manager
Phill Lipman

Stage Manager
Peggy Sheffield

Al Cabot

Master Carpenter
Edward Johnson

Production Crew
Ingrid Isaksen
Diane Mitchell
Joanne Asher
Judy Moore
Judy Edgerley
Trist Hillman
Nancy O’Brien
Burman Timberlak
Suzanne Weiss
Mary Thomsen
Carl Gilford
Kathleen O’Brien

Carol Vane

Production Manager
Alan Gilbert

Staff of the UCLA Opera Workshop

Jan Popper

Associate Director
Natalie Limonick

Stage Directors
Alan Gilbert and John Hall

Italian Diction and Repertoire
Mario Carta

Musical Coaching and Repertoire
Peggy Sheffield

Christina Wilcox

We wish to thank the UCLA Theater Arts Department (Dr. Walden Boyle, Chairman),
for assistance in the production of this opera.


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