Music by Samuel Barber Libretto by Franco Zeffirelli after the play by William Shakespeare
About Antony and Cleopatra
Barber's last opera was commissioned for the opening of the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center, and was the first piece played at the new house. Unlike his other operas, which were to librettos by Barber's partner, Gian Carlo Menotti, the libretto to Antony and Cleopatra was written by well-known stage director Franco Zefferelli. The libretto, and Zefferelli's overdone production, took much of the blame for the work's poor reception, which was especially surprising compared to the raves that greeted Barber's first opera the the Met, Vanessa.
A heavily revised version of the opera, with the libretto reworked by Menotti, premiered in 1975 to somewhat better reviews.
Both versions of the opera roughly follow the outlines of Shakespeare's play, although many of the scenes in Rome (including most of the role of Caesar) were cut in the 1975 revision.
In Rome, Antony agrees to marry Caesar's sister, Octavia; however, he is still in love with Cleopatra, queen of Egypt. Antony returns to Egypt with Cleopatra, and Caesar attacks. Caesar is victorious, and Antony falls on his sword, thinking Cleopatra has killed herself. Cleopatra herself, to avoid being humiliated by being dragged through Rome, allows herself to be bitten by an asp and dies.
World premiere Metropolitan Opera, New York, New York September 16, 1966
Revised version premiere Julliard School, New York, New York 1975