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Pietro Antonio Domenico Trapassi (1698–1782) was an Italian poet and librettist, considered the most important writer of opera seria libretti. In this volume, Pietro Metastasio presents new translations of Dido Abandoned, Demetrius, and The Olympiad that stay close to the original form and wording. Featuring an introduction that highlights the playwright's life and significant innovations in dramatic technique as well as a short bibliography, Fucilla’s translations will be of interest not only to literary scholars, but also to those concerned with the history of music.

Joseph G. Fucilla is professor emeritus of Spanish and Italian at Northwestern University. He holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and is the author of numerous studies in the language and literature of Spain and Italy, and in comparative literature. Mr. Fucilla is a member of learned academies and recipient of scholarly awards in the United States and abroad.

Three Melodramas by Pietro Metastasio, translated with an Introduction by Joseph G. Fucilla. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1981. 159 pp. $11.00.

The translator enhances the present edition of Metastasio’s three plays, “Dido Abandoned, Demetrius, and The Olympiad,” by the addition of an introduction and a short bibliography. In his introduction, Fucilla comments upon life in eighteenth century Italy and Metastasio’s numerous literary compositions. He presents a limited study of Metastasio’s sources and discusses briefly the subject matter, protagonists, and popularity of his melodramas during the author’s lifetime and in the twentieth century. He points out that the Italian playwright made significant innovations in dramatic technique and in the use of confidants. His translations are based on the 1780–82 edition of Metastasio’s works, printed in Paris by the Veuve Hérissant. In his renditions, the translator has attempted to stay close to the original form and wording, a difficult task since the texts comprise recitatives and ariettas.

The rhymed translations of the ariettas, as a result, have often necessarily called for paraphrasing instead of a direct rendition. The translator has also tried to preserve the flavor of the Italian lines by using a poetic or archaic word order and vocabulary: in this regard, the “Dido” play seems much more stilted and artificial in style for the modern reader than the other two plays. Fucilla’s purpose is to make these melodramas available not only to English readers, but also to those interested in the history of music, a worthy goal. (An extraordinary number of composers have set Metastasio’s melodramas to music: Scarlatti, Handel, Mozart, etc.) Although the plays do not have a large number of characters, usually five or six, they are complicated in plot; the argument discussed at the beginning of each play is of considerable help in understanding the previous situation and the immediate story. “Dido Abandoned,” describing the passionate love of Dido and Aeneas, is a colorful spectacle with romantic ariettas filled with nature descriptions, enumerations, and deep feeling. Fucilla calls the work a stirring sentimental play of character. “Demetrius,” he affirms, is a melodrama of court intrigue, disguises, and thwarted love. Again we find here magnificent regal settings in Seleucia and a lively chorus as in Greek plays. The dramatic passages are well-translated; the language seems quite natural: the protagonist, for example, shouts to Cleonice: “Ah, barbarous, inhuman, and perjured woman” (p. 95). “The Olympiad,” a pastoral-type of melodrama generally considered Metastasio’s outstanding work, is perhaps also Professor Fucilla’s best translation. The play opens with a beautiful decor: a wooded section of a dark and narrow valley. There are as in other Metastasio plays, a multiplicity of short scenes which reach a climax and are enhanced by ariettas at the end. Choruses of nymphs and shepherds, and repeated appeals to the gods, furnish the traditional country atmosphere. Frequent powerful emotional outbursts, couched in forceful language, “Barbarian, you are killing me,” (Aristea to Lycidas, p. 139), add to the excitement of the Olympic games. This strong statement above is followed by the appropriate soliloquy of Lycidas: “Who has ever seen a soul so torn by so many conflicting emotions!” (p. 143).

The selected bibliography, which concludes the volume, gives the titles of writings dealing with the influence of Metastasio in other European countries, along with notations of biographical and critical studies in English. Fucilla’s translations, varied in themselves, will be of interest, as he himself has stated, not only to literary scholars, but also to those concerned with the history of music.Patricia M. Gathercole, Roanoke College, South Atlantic Review

Publication Date



The University Press of Kentucky

Place of Publication

Lexington, KY






Drama, Italian literature


Italian Literature


Translated with an Introduction by Joseph G. Fucilla.

Three Melodramas by Pietro Metastasio
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