Arts & Culture | Librettists | Contemporary | Classical

The most successful librettist of the modern era was W. H. Auden, who provided texts for Britten’s first opera, Paul Bunyan and, in collaboration with Chester Kallman, for operas by Stravinsky (The Rake’s Progress), Henze (Elegy for Young Lovers, 1961; The Bassarids, 1966), and for less acclaimed works by John Gardner (1917–2011) and Nicolas Nabokov (1903–78).

Few opera librettists in recent history have been as prolific. Many composers have preferred to supply their own libretto. Several directors have involved themselves in writing texts, usually for operas which they would be staging: David Freeman (b. 1952) wrote the libretto for Hell’s Angels (1986) by Nigel Osborne (b. 1948), which Freeman directed; while Harry Kupfer (b. 1935) collaborated with the composer on the libretto of Die schwarze Maske by Penderecki.

For the most part, though, the job of librettist has gone to poets or playwrights. Among the former, notable contributors have been Tony Harrison (librettos for Birtwistle and Jacob Druckman), Paavo Haavikko (two for Sallinen), and Alice Goodman (two for Adams); while the playwright Edward Bond has written two librettos for Henze.

Arts & Culture | Literature | Contemporary | Classical


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