Personalities | Pietro Metastasio | Classical Era | Opera

1698–1782, Italian

The Italian poet Metastasio wrote 27 large-scale opera libretti, some of which were set to music up to 100 times. He created a genre of opera – Metastasian opera – that not only bore his name, but set new patterns for libretti during the 50 years he spent in Vienna. Invited to the imperial court in 1729, Metastasio created a sensation the following year when Hasse used Metastasio’s libretto for his opera seria Artaserse (1730). This introduced a new elegance into opera, which increased the prominence of solo singers. Metastasio became a particular favourite of performers, whose voices he allowed to be put on very effective display. Metastasio’s libretti were faithful to the ‘doctrine of the affections’, the dominant aesthetic theory of eighteenth-century opera. Although it restricted characterization and expression, his use of the ‘doctrine’ was tempered by his elegant verse, his vivid imagery and the sheer charm of his writing.

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