Librettos | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Librettos. Canada's earliest librettist was Joseph Quesnel, the poet and playwright who wrote the words and music for Colas et Colinette, premiered in 1790.


Librettos. Canada's earliest librettist was Joseph Quesnel, the poet and playwright who wrote the words and music for Colas et Colinette, premiered in 1790. (Frances Brooke, an English woman who lived 1763-8 in Quebec, wrote the libretto of the widely performed Rosina in 1782, after her return to Europe.) Canadians have produced texts, original or adapted, for operas, operettas, and musicals on numerous topics, foreign and domestic. This article will mention a selection of those which actually have been set. See also Oratorio composition.

19th Century
Besides Colas et Colinette, Quesnel wrote the libretto for his light opera Lucas et Cécile, and some 150 years later (1942) was himself the subject of a light opera with words and music by Eugène Lapierre - Le Père des amours. Calixa Lavallée used English-language librettos (by non-Canadians) for his light operas The Widow (Frank H. Nelson), Loulou (Arnold de Thiers), and TIQ (Will F. Sage). Elzéar Labelle collaborated with J.B. Labelle on the texts for several of the latter's operettas, including La Conversion d'un pêcheur de la Nouvelle-Écosse. The poet Pamphile Lemay provided the libretto for La Fiancée des bois by Célestin Lavigueur, who had written the libretto for his own opera Les Enfants du manoir.

William H. Fuller used Sullivan's popular music for H.M.S. Pinafore as the basis for H.M.S. Parliament, in which his libretto lampooned Canadian politics. The National Library of Canada holds the libretto of the two-act comic opera Bunthorne Abroad or The Lass that Loved a Pirate by the Toronto poet-cartoonist John Wilson Bengough (1851-1923). Using 'the best music and characters of Gilbert & Sullivan's Patience, Pinafore and Pirates,' it was presented in the Toronto Horticultural Gardens Pavilion in 1883. The text of Oscar Telgmann's four-act 'military' opera, Leo, the Royal Cadet, was written by the poet-journalist George Frederick. Cameron.

Early 20th Century

Joseph Vézina used texts by a variety of writers for his operettas: Félix-Gabriel Marchand (premier of Quebec) for Le Lauréat, the Quebec civil servant Benjamin Michaud for Le Rajah, and a team, A. Langlais and A. Plante, for Le Fétiche. Marchand also wrote the libretto for Amour vainqueur, the music written under the pseudonym 'Cello' and orchestrated by Edmond Hardy. For the operetta The Cavaliers, Herbert Spencer used a text prepared by the playwright W.A. Tremayne, while Émiliano Renaud provided his own English-language libretto for his musical farce Djymko. Rad wrote the libretto and Henri Letondal the lyrics for Henri Miro'sLe Roman de Suzon. In Winnipeg the lawyer Charles S. Blanchard wrote the book and lyrics for William Dichmont's musical play Miss Pepple (of New York). Amédée Tremblay'sL'Intransigeant used a libretto by the journalist-poet Rémi Tremblay; Oscar O'Brien'sPhilippino, one by the notary Gaétan Valois.

The libretto for one of Omer Létourneau's operettas - Coup d'soleil - was written by the broadcaster Alfred Rousseau (who also provided the text for J. Ulric Voyer's L'Intendant Bigot), while the texts for Létourneau's Vive la canadienne and Mam'zelle Bébé were prepared by the Quebec City notary Aimé Plamondon and the noted writer and lecturer J.-Eugène Corriveau. The latter also collaborated with the composer Rolland Gingras on the operetta L'Appel du missionaire. The first noted French-Canadian woman poet, Blanche Lamontagne-Beauregard, wrote the three-act comic opera Francine for the composer Albertine Morin-Labrecque.

John Murray Gibbon collaborated with Healey Willan on several ballad operas, including Prince Charlie and Flora, and possibly on two lost works - Maureen and The Indian Christmas Play. He also provided the English translation of the French-Canadian author Louvigny de Montigny's original libretto for L'Ordre de bon temps/The Order of Good Cheer. For Transit through Fire and Deirdre, Willan worked with the playwright John Coulter. Willan also worked with writer Peter Haworth on the latter's radio drama The Play of Our Lady; the score was finished by Giles Bryant after Willan's death.

Later 20th Century

The Halifax writer Donald Wetmore used a historical event - the Saladin mutiny of 1844 - as the basis of the text for Trevor Morgan Jones' folk opera The Broken Ring.

Maurice Blackburn's wife, Marthe Morisset, supplied the librettos for his Pirouette and Une Mesure de silence (the English-language version, Silent Measures, was prepared by Guy Glover). Another husband-and-wife team, Elaine and Norman Campbell, collaborated on the book, lyrics, and music for the musicals The Wonder of It All (based on the life of the painter Emily Carr), Private Turvey Goes to War, and Anne of Green Gables (the last-named also with Don Harron and Mavor Moore). Using Thomas C. Haliburton's early-19th-century satire The Clockmaker, Rosabelle Jones wrote Sam Slick for her husband, Kelsey Jones. Melba Cuddy prepared the libretto for Harlequins, an opera by her husband David Keane. His librettist for The Devil's Constructs was David Fanstone. Melissa Cameron wrote the libretto for Guacamayo's Old Song and Dance, composed by her son John Oliver.

Harry Somers has worked with several librettists: the Toronto lawyer and poet Michael Fram (The Fool, The Homeless Ones); Mavor Moore and the Montreal playwright Jacques Languirand, who provided the two-language text of Louis Riel; the Toronto director and playwright Martin Kinch (Death of Enkidu), the poets James Reaney (Serinette) and Rodney Anderson (Mario and the Magician, based on the Thomas Mann novella), and with Tim Wynne-Jones (A Midwinter Night's Dream). Languirand also wrote the historical musical comedy Klondyke (see Klondike) with the composer Gabriel Charpentier; and Moore also collaborated with Gregory Levin on Ghost Dance. Anderson, in addition, worked with composer Peter Paul Koprowski to create the one-act opera Dulcitius.

James Reaney has collaborated with John Beckwith on a variety of works, including three chamber operas - Night Blooming Cereus, The Shivaree, and Crazy to Kill. Reaney also provided the libretto for I, the Parade, the story of C.F. Thiele, with band music by James Frederick Brown. The Hungarian poet George Jonas, who moved to Toronto in 1956, used a poem by Schiller as the basis of the libretto for Tibor Polgar's opera The Glove and also provided the text for Polgar's earlier opera A European Lover. Michel Tremblay fashioned a libretto from Aristophanes' Lysistrata for Neil Chotem, and wrote the libretto for André Gagnon's opera Nelligan. Tremblay's play, St Carmen of the Main was adapted by Lee Devlin for Sydney Hodkinson's opera of the same name.

The Toronto poet and novelist Ronald Hambleton has written librettos for Samuel Dolin - Casino (Greed) - and for Raymond Pannell - The Luck of Ginger Coffey (after the novel by Brian Moore). Pannell also has written operas on texts by Beverly Pannell: Exiles, Midway, Aberfan, and N-E-W-S. The playwright Eugene Benson, a teacher at the University of Guelph, began his collaboration with the composer Charles Wilson with the grand opera Heloise and Abelard followed by the chamber operas The Summoning of Everyman and Psycho Red. The writer-composer John Reeves prepared the libretto for Norman Symonds'Opera for Six Voices, and for Lucio Agostini's uncompleted operatic score David. The Toronto writer John Reid based the libretto for Godfrey Ridout's opera The Lost Child on a story by the novelist Morley Callaghan. The novelist Robertson Davies wrote the libretto for Derek Holman's children's opera Dr Canon's Cure, and the text for Louis Applebaum'sThe Harper of the Stones. Applebaum used a text by novelist Paul Quarrington for his concert play So You Think You're Mozart? Composer Quenten Doolittle has used librettos by Jonathan Levy (Charlie and the Chicken), Betty Jean Wylie (The Second Shepherd Play), Jan Truss (Silver City), and Rex Deverell's play Boiler Room Suite. The writer and poet Peter Such prepared the librettos for two works by Kristi Allik: Loom Sword River and Of All People. Paule Tardiff-Delorme created the text for Anne Lauber's symphonic story Au-delà du mur du son/ Beyond the Sound Barrier. The novelist Timothy Findley wrote the story and lyrics for The First Fable: A Magical, Mystical, Musical Play for Children, and John Hawkins created the score. Rabbi Gunther Plaut created the libretto for Lothar Klein's opera Tale of a Father and Son. Nicole Desrosiers was the librettist for Les Étrivières by Claude Frenette, and Kim Élaine Gosselin wrote Zoé for composer Richard Désilets. France Théoret created the libretto for Transit, Micheline Coulombe Saint-Marcoux's final composition. Sean Mulcahy and Billie Bridgman based their libretto for Nightbloom, with score by the Canadian Electronic Ensemble, on the novel Ulysses by James Joyce. Gilbert Patenaude used a libretto by Thérèse Tousignant for Pour ces quelques arpents de neige. Anne McPherson was the librettist for Timothy Sullivan's opera Florence. The Canadian playwright Jack (writer) Gray prepared the libretto for the English composer Carey Blyton's opera The Girl From Nogami, premiered 7 Mar 1978 at the Guildhall School of Music in London. David Warrick prepared a new English version of the libretto for La Belle Hélène for the 1983 COC production.

Canadian Legend and History

Canada's past has provided the subject matter for several Canadian operas. Norman Newton, the Vancouver poet, playwright, and CBC radio producer (who wrote the libretto for Robert Turner'sVile Shadows), used a Tsimshian Indian story as the basis for his libretto for Derek Healey'sSeabird Island. Dorothy Livesay, twice winner of the Governor General's Award for her poetry, drew her text for Barbara Pentland'sThe Lake from an Okanagan Indian legend. Tzinquaw, a musical dramatization of a Salish Indian legend by Frank Morrison, includes Cowichan Indian songs and dances. Murray Adaskin's chamber opera Grant, Warden of the Plains, which deals with the Métis Cuthbert Grant, has a libretto by the Winnipeg poet Mary Elizabeth Bayer. Henry Beissel used an Inuit theme in his libretto for Wolfgang Bottenberg's opera Inook. The Skin Drum, a chamber opera by Julian Grant, is set to a libretto by Mark Morris, and is based on an Inuit tale, as is the libretto by Leonard Peterson for the music drama Clear Sky and Thunder, composed by Ruth Watson Henderson for the Toronto Children's Chorus. The libretto for Elizabeth Raum's opera A Dream of Nicholas Flood Davin was based on the life of the Saskatchewan visionary.

20th-Century Composer-Librettists

The following composers have written or adapted librettos for their own works:

Anhalt La Tourangelle; Winthrop

Archer Sganarelle (from Samuel Eliot's English adaptation of the Molière text)

Benoist Onadéga (on an English drama by Filion Milway)

Betts Riders to the Sea (on Synge's play); The Woodcarver's Wife (on a poem by Marjorie Pickthall)

Bissell His Majesty's Pie

Borré, César L'Amour d'Apache

Buczynski From the Buczynski Book of the Living

Cabena The Selfish Giant (after Oscar Wilde)

Charpentier A Night at the Opera (10 short operas)

Coulthard The Return of the Native (with Edna Baxter after the Hardy novel)

Gagné, Marc Menaud

George Way Out; A King for Corsica; Revolt in Upper Canada

Goldberg Nacht mit Kleopatra; Galatea Elettronica; Jeanne des anges

Hambraeus L'Oui dire

Healey Mr Punch (adapted from Collier and Mayhew)

Kalnins Hamlet (Shakespeare)

Kaufmann Bashmachkin (Gogol); A Parfait for Irene; Sganarelle (Molière); The Research; Ansuya; A Hoosier Tale; The Scarlet Letter (Hawthorne)

Komorous Lady Whiterose; No no miya (after a Japanese Noh play)

Kunz The Watchful Gods

Lavigueur Les Enfants du manoir

McIntyre Death of the Hired Man (on the poem by Robert Frost)

McPeek The Bargain

Mills, David The Rebel

Pannell Aria da Capo (texts by Edna St Vincent Millay); Go; Push (on texts by Osip Mandelstam and Ezra Pound)

Poynter The Birth of Our Lord

Raum The Garden of Alice (based on Alice in Wonderland)

Robitaille, G Les Volatiles

Schafer Loving (French: Charpentier); Beauty and the Beast (after the story by Mme Leprince de Beaumont; also with a French version by Gabriel Charpentier); RA (with assistance of D.B. Redford from ancient Egyptian sources); Patria series. (See also Apocalypsis)

Sullivan, Timothy Dream Play (based on Stringberg play); Tomorrow and Tomorrow

Symonds Laura and the Lieutenant; Charnisay versus La Tour (or The Spirit of Fundy)

Vallerand LeMagicien

Vivier Kopernikus

Willan The Beggar's Opera (from John Gay)

Wilson The Selfish Giant (after Oscar Wilde); Kamouraska (from Kamouraska by Anne Hébert)

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