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Stonehouse, Alison

French Attitudes Towards Metastasio as Poet and Dramatist
In the Second Half of the Eighteenth Century

Ph.D. University of Western Ontario
Anticipated Date of Completion: June 1996

The immense popularity of the works of Pietro Metastasio throughout eighteenth-century Europe is well established, and stands in stark contrast to the situation in Paris, where only ten musical settings of his works -- all but one considerably adapted from the original texts -- were performed, and none was an outstanding success.

The primary focus of the dissertation is three re-workings of Metastasio's Demofoonte, the Cherubini/Marmontel setting of 1788, the Vogel/Desriaux of 1789, and a hybrid, quasi-pantomime version which appeared in print anonymously in 1779. Comparison of the adapted French livrets with the Italian original shows the extent of the textual revisions as well as alterations in the overall structure of the opera,such as the insertion of ballets. Study of the scores shows the different ways in which the composers addressed the text, and evaluates reasons why the Cherubini setting was not successful (with only 9 performances), while the Vogel opera was performed 24 times, albeit over a period of 3 years.

Despite the lack of musical success, there are clear indications that Metastasio was held by the French in high regard as an author. There exists a large number of adaptations and translations of his libretti and poetry; these were intended for both public and private enjoyment. More important evidence lies in the extensive commentary on his works by contemporary French writers and philosophers; this is obtained from both sides of the various Italian-French controversies. Without exception, these writers held Metastasio in high esteem. The dissertation attempts to explain the disparity between the highly favourable critical opinion of Metastasio as a poet and the generally luke-warm assessment of the Metastasio-derived operas.