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“BEMF operas set the gold standard for sophistication, elegance and artistic sensibility.”

The Boston Herald


 
 
 




Music by Agostino Steffani (1653–1728)
Libretto by Luigi Orlandi, after Ovid's Metamorphoses

Fri, June 24, 7pm | Sat, June 25, 7pm
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Great Barrington, MA

Purchase tickets for the 2011 Operatic Centerpiece at mahaiwe.org

SYNOPSIS

 

Act I

 

The City of Thebes

Anfione, King of Thebes, has ruled for many years and is weary of the pressures of the throne. His wife, Niobe, has born him many children—her Niobids—and is inordinately proud of them. Anfione decides to transfer power to his wife. To this purpose he calls Prince Clearte back from voluntary exile to serve as Regent to Niobe. Clearte is reluctant to accept this rank. Nerea, the nurse to the queen, is aware of the source of Clearte’s discomfort, and she encourages him to reveal his feelings for Niobe. Clearte, left alone, laments his sad state.

 

A Forest on the outskirts of Thebes

Tiberino, a prince from a faraway land, is on a quest for fame and glory. During the course of a hunt, he rescues Manto, a young maiden in distress. She is overwhelmed by gratitude, and introduces Tiberino to her blind father, Tiresia, the High Priest of Latona. Tiresia is also clairvoyant, and reveals that Tiberino is the son of a King. Manto is smitten, but declares that she serves the goddess Latona, and has not yet worshipped at the altar of Cupid, god of Love. Tiberino is charmed by her naiveté. Left alone, Manto laments her inexperience and inability to express her feelings.

 

On their way to Thebes, the magician Poliferno has enchanted Creonte, Prince of the rival state of Thessaly. Poliferno casts a spell that causes Creonte to believe that he is in love with Niobe. The magician rouses the Prince and promises to help him to win the queen and the throne of the kingdom to further the cause of Poliferno’s family vendetta against Amphion.

 

The City of Thebes

Meanwhile, back in Thebes, Anfione devotes his time to the study of the Harmony of the Spheres, and Niobe encourages him. Clearte arrives with the news that Creonte’s army is invading the country. Anfione reluctantly returns to his royal duties. Niobe toys with Clearte under the shrewd eye of Nerea. Alone, Nerea cynically rails about the emotional neediness of women.

Creonte and Poliferno have reached Thebes, and find their way through a secret passage into the city. To protect his people, Anfione invokes Jove’s help with a hymn, and his prayer causes walls to rise and encircle Thebes. When she sees this feat, Niobe is convinced of her husband’s divinity, and asks the people to bow down and worship Anfione as the new Theban god. High Priest Tiresia is appalled by this blasphemy, and protests vigorously. Niobe will suffer no dissent and throws the old man to the ground, forcing him to make obeisance to her husband. Anfione, still in a trance and oblivious to the conflict, finds comfort in Niobe’s praise. Tiresia is left on the ground, hurt and alone, where Manto and Tiberino find him and are appalled by this abuse. They entrust him to the care of Tiberino’s companions. Manto takes comfort from Tiberino, and the young couple explores their feelings for each other. Tiberino is touched by Manto’s inexperience, and he resolves to declare himself to her. His companions congratulate him and tease him about his new love.

 

ACT II

The City of Thebes

Poliferno uses magic to hide himself and Creonte in a cloud so that they can observe Niobe unseen. Clearte and the Theban court arrive, still in awe of Anfione’s power and the raising of the walls. The Thebans, their confidence renewed, rally to engage the Thessalian invaders, but Clearte struggles with his unrequited love for Niobe.

The queen arrives, and declares her desire to raise Clearte to the throne. Clearte is reluctant to defy Anfione, but Niobe justifies her command by explaining that Anfione has relinquished his royal responsibilities. The king arrives, and is shocked to see Clearte in his seat. Niobe placates Anfione by offering him a place more suited to his station, and presents a celestial shrine worthy of his godlike powers. Anfione is beguiled by her plan, and enters the starry vault. The whole court is compelled to make obeisance to their new god. Poliferno interrupts the idolatry and abducts Niobe. Anfione, frightened and alone, laments the disappearance of his wife.

A Forest on the outskirts of Thebes

Tiresia, confused, cannot clearly discern the omens, but before he leaves, he reveals to Tiberino that his quest will be fulfilled not by success in war, but by other conquests. Manto arrives with her companions, and confesses her affections to Tiberino, but he decides to wait for a better time to reveal his feelings for her. Manto, left alone, is puzzled by his reticence. Poliferno, disguised as Mercury, leads Niobe through the forest. He flatters her by telling her that the god Mars has chosen her as his wife. Niobe is ecstatic at this turn of fortune. Posing as Mars, Creonte is able to declare his love for the queen. Under Poliferno’s spell, the couple is transported by amorous rapture.

 

The City of Thebes

Tiresia reveals to the king that he has been deceived by Poliferno’s magic, that Niobe has been abducted by Creonte, and that these misfortunes are the result of the royal couple’s arrogance. Anfione vows to take revenge on the Thessalian invaders.

A Forest on the outskirts of Thebes

Nerea, who has fled the city, finds Manto complaining of her amorous suffering. The confused girl rejects Tiberino’s efforts to console her, and the young Prince finds little comfort in the jaded observations of Nerea. He realizes that he is a prisoner of his love. Nerea preaches her philosophy by lecturing sarcastically about the wiliness of men.

ACT III

A Forest on the outskirts of Thebes

Niobe enjoys the attentions of Mars/Creonte and abandons herself to sensual oblivion. Their erotic rapture is interrupted by Poliferno, who bursts in to warn Creonte that the Theban army is approaching. Creonte and Poliferno leave in haste; the spell is broken, and Niobe is left behind, unconscious. Anfione discovers his wife and reveals to her that she has been deceived, and that her so-called Mars was none other than their enemy Creonte. Niobe, outraged to have been duped in this way, blames the gods for this humiliation, and swears revenge. Anfione loses hope of ever finding peace of mind.

 

The Temple of Latona

Tiresia celebrates of union of his daughter Manto with Tiberino. The High Priest and his new son-in-law leave Manto to her devotions. Niobe sweeps into the temple and boasts of her supremacy over the gods; she then commands her followers to destroy the images of Latona, Diana, and Apollo. The Queen orders Clearte to prepare a ceremony to acknowledge her children as gods, and exults in her victory. Nerea scolds the followers, pointing out that those who live a life of deception will never find true love.

The Square of Thebes

In the great square of Thebes, Clearte leads the Niobids in a triumphant procession, but Diana and Apollo destroy the walls of the city and strike the children from above, killing them all. Seeing this, Anfione takes his own life in despair, and Niobe arrives as he takes his last breath. She cries out in horror at the devastating sight of her dead family, but her grief is so great that she cannot weep. She is turned to stone by her own torment.

Creonte, victorious, enters the city. Free of enchantments, he exiles Poliferno, blesses the union of Tiberino and Manto, and promises a secure future for Nerea. The Thessalians and Thebans celebrate their new King.

 

—Gilbert Blin and Ellen Hargis


Niobe Gallery

Behind-the-Scenes Gallery

View costume sketches, the set model, and photos of the vocal cast.