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
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
Orontea, Queen of Egypt
Creonte, court philosopher
Tibrino, a young page
Alidoro, a painter
Aristea, supposed mother Alidoro
Gelone, a drunken servant
Corindo, a young courtier
Silandra, lady of the court
Giacinto (Ismero), a former lady
of the court - now disguised as a man
Attendants to the Queen
Continuo realized by:
Bess Karp and Arthur Haas, Harpsichord
Kathryn Derksen, Viola da gamba
Stanley Plummer, Concertmaster
Alan Gilbert and John Hall
Italian Diction and Repertoire
Musical Coaching and Repertoire
We wish to thank the UCLA Theater Arts Department (Dr. Walden Boyle, Chairman),
for assistance in the production of this opera.