Antony and Cleopatra
is an opera
in three acts by American composer Samuel Barber
. The libretto
was prepared by Franco Zeffirelli
. It was based on the play Antony and Cleopatra
by William Shakespeare
and made use of Shakespeare's language exclusively.
The opera was first performed on September 16, 1966, at the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. After an unsuccessful premiere, the opera was extensively revised by Barber and Gian Carlo Menotti in an edition first performed in 1975.
For the premiere, which was also the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House, no expense was spared. Franco Zeffirelli was hired as stage director. Thomas Schippers was the conductor. The stage design and costumes were elaborate; the cast was enormous including 22 singers, a full chorus, and a troupe of ballet dancers.
The opera was poorly received by the press, and not enthusiastically received by the public (Freeman 1997, 15; Heyman 1992b). Among the reasons cited for the opera's lack of success were an "inflated production with problematic technical apparatus, gaudy costumes, overcrowded stage forces and a press overly attentive to the social glitter of the occasion" (Heyman 1992a). Less kindly, the 1966 premiere was retrospectively described as "a hair-curlingly awful production. … The night has gone down in the annals of opera as a landmark of vulgarity and staging excess. Mr. Barber’s score, as we discovered from subsequent exposure to revised excerpts in concert and on records, was to a great extent an innocent victim of the over-all fiasco" (Henahan 1975). The opera was dropped from the Met's repertory after the initial performances of the production.
Barber later revised the opera, with text revisions by Gian-Carlo Menotti, Barber's partner and the librettist of his first opera, Vanessa (Heyman 1992a). This version was premiered under Menotti's direction at the Juilliard American Opera Center on February 6, 1975 (Freeman 1997, 15). There were further productions at the Spoleto Festival USA and Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto, Italy, in 1983, and the Lyric Opera of Chicago in 1991 (Heyman 1992a).
- Samuel Barber: Two Scenes from Antony and Cleopatra, Op. 40 ["Give Me Some Music" and "Give Me My Robe"], Knoxville: Summer of 1915, Op. 24. Leontyne Price, soprano; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Thomas Schippers, conductor, recorded 1968 (LP recording, stereo, RCA Red Seal LSC-3062, 1969)
- Antony and Cleopatra (complete 1975 edition). Esther Hinds, soprano, Jeffrey Wells, bass; The Spoleto Festival Orchestra and Westminster Choir (Joseph Flummerfelt, chorus master), Christian Badea, conductor. Recorded during the 1983 Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy (2-CD set, stereo, New World Records NW 322/23/24-2, 1984)
- Freeman, John W. (1997). The Metropolitan Opera Stories of the Great Operas. New York: W. W. Norton Co. ISBN 0-393-04051-8.
- Henahan, Donal (1975). "Juilliard Rehabilitating Antony and Cleopatra”. New York Times (February 8): 13.
- Heyman, Barbara B. (1992a). "Antony and Cleopatra". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie; managing editor, Christina Bashford. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-935859-92-6.
- Heyman, Barbara B. (1992b). "Barber, Samuel". The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, 4 vols., edited by Stanley Sadie; managing editor, Christina Bashford. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-935859-92-6.
- Heyman, Barbara B. (1995), Samuel Barber: The Composer and His Music, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-509058-6
- Kolodin, Irving (1966). "Music to my Ears: Barber’s Antony, after Zeffirelli". Saturday Review (October 1).
- Porter, Andrew (1975). "Antony’s Second Chance". The New Yorker (February 24): 123–24. Reprinted in his Music of Three Seasons: 1974–1977, 97–102. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1978.
- Schonberg, Harold C. (1966). "Onstage, It Was 'Antony and Cleopatra'; New Opera by Barber a Bit Lost in Shuffle". New York Times (September 17).