Mr. Ġorġ Peresso is one of Malta’s most established veteran authors. He has written innumerable short stories, novels and plays. He is the librettist of the first opera ‘City of Humanity 1 – Behind the Fortifications’ and co-author and mentor of the libretto for the second opera in the cycle ‘ City of Humanity 2 – The Island Fortress’
On writing a libretto.
Writing a libretto for an opera is a compelling albeit an enjoyable task.
In simple words, libretto (from Italian ‘Little Book’) is a script written for an opera, containing the story line, lyrics - not necessarily in metrical verses - and dramatic directions aptly written to be put in music. Actually, when this musical genre was invented right at the beginning of the 17th century, it was called dramma musicale or dramma per musica. If I'm not mistaken, the English, who always patronised music written by others, started calling it Opera, a plural of Opus, (work), implying that this genre is in a way a collection of different musical forms, like arias, duets, choruses, recitatives, preludes, and action put to music without words. The all-embracing forms of humans expression is the basis of the timeless popularity of the opera.
The libretto is a completely different genre of writing from the drama and the novel, although they are all based on a story. The difference is basically on how the story is treated and developed, technically and aesthetically.
In drama, the action is mainly based on the dialogue and the interaction of the characters -although other elements, like staging and theatrical effects, play a great part in the final result. In a drama, the effectiveness of the Word is an adamant vehicle for conveying action and thoughts. All in their good styles.
In a novel, the author is often present in the formation of the story, through descriptions, dialogue and reflections. His presence, as the raconteur, even if this could be presented in different manners, is evident from page to page. A novel is an author's book. A novel is a work to be read, and what is written is imagined - and created in the reader's mind.
A libretto could be all this, but in a different way.
A story or at least a dominant thought is necessary but the dialogue has to be kept in mind, other exigencies being expressed in the music. The words, often written in a non-day-to-day way of speech, have to depict the action. In a libretto, more than in other literary works, words are action. And music. Hence, the music is the important vehicle to give meaning to the words translated both into music and action. Characterisation of the different drama personae, implies a set of words and also style, which eventually give the composer that musical catch that becomes the leitmotif of each character. The balance between a scene and another, is another factor important to make an opera story more effective. The imagination of the author, has to work hand in hand with the staging of his story construction.
Last but not least, a libretto is not just a solitary work of a solitary author. The inter-action between the author and the composer is often an important asset for the final result of the script and eventually of the opera as a drama in music. Very often, a good story but a bad libretto, concurs to the downfall of an opera, notwithstanding the agreeable music composed. The libretto, in a way, belongs also to the composer, as consultation is an essentiality. Often the writing is an indicative means to the inspiration of the composer, even the use of technical effects which spring forth from the words (word painting). Music should not fight the words, and words should not keep music incumbent,unable to develop. A libretto, the text, and the music of the opera, are in fact, the effect of a 'bigamy' between the author and the composer. Or rather, between words and music. The co-existence of these two factors are essential in the success of the final work.
This is mainly the task of the librettist and the composer. The audience is entertained, and approves, when this combination is made one.