Cover of a 1921 libretto for Giordano's Andrea Chénier

A libretto (lit. "booklet") is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.

Libretto (pronounced [liˈbretto]; plural libretti [liˈbretti]), from Italian, is the diminutive of the word libro ("book"). Sometimes other language equivalents are used for libretti in that language, livret for French works and Textbuch for German. A libretto is distinct from a synopsis or scenario of the plot, in that the libretto contains all the words and stage directions, while a synopsis summarizes the plot. Some ballet historians also use the word libretto to refer to the 15–40 page books which were on sale to 19th century ballet audiences in Paris and contained a very detailed description of the ballet's story, scene by scene.[1]

The relationship of the librettist (that is, the writer of a libretto) to the composer in the creation of a musical work has varied over the centuries, as have the sources and the writing techniques employed.

In the context of a modern English language musical theatre piece, the libretto is often referred to as the book of the work, though this usage typically excludes sung lyrics.

Relationship of composer and librettist

The composer of Cavalleria rusticana, Pietro Mascagni, flanked by his librettists, Giovanni Targioni-Tozzetti and Guido Menasci

Libretti for operas, oratorios and cantatas in the 17th and 18th centuries were generally written by someone other than the composer, often a well-known poet.

Pietro Trapassi, known as Metastasio (1698–1782) was one of the most highly regarded librettists in Europe. His libretti were set many times by many different composers. Another noted 18th-century librettist was Lorenzo Da Ponte. He who wrote the libretti for three of Mozart's greatest operas, and for many other composers as well. Eugène Scribe was one of the most prolific librettists of the 19th century, providing the words for works by Meyerbeer (with whom he had a lasting collaboration), Auber, Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini and Verdi. The French writers' duo Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy wrote a large number of opera and operetta libretti for the likes of Jacques Offenbach, Jules Massenet and Georges Bizet. Arrigo Boito, who wrote libretti for, among others, Giuseppe Verdi and Amilcare Ponchielli, also composed two operas of his own.

The libretto is not always written before the music. Some composers, such as Mikhail Glinka, Alexander Serov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Puccini and Mascagni wrote passages of music without text and subsequently had the librettist add words to the vocal melody lines. (This has often been the case with American popular song and musicals in the 20th century, as with Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart's collaboration, although with the later team of Rodgers and Hammerstein the lyrics were generally written first, which was Rodgers' preferred modus operandi.)

Some composers wrote their own libretti. Richard Wagner is perhaps most famous in this regard, with his transformations of Germanic legends and events into epic subjects for his operas and music dramas. Hector Berlioz, too, wrote the libretti for two of his best-known works, La Damnation de Faust and Les Troyens. Alban Berg adapted Georg Büchner's play Woyzeck for the libretto of Wozzeck.

Pages from an 1859 libretto for Ernani, with the original Italian lyrics, English translation and musical notation for one of the arias

Sometimes the libretto is written in close collaboration with the composer; this can involve adaptation, as was the case with Rimsky-Korsakov and his librettist Vladimir Ivanovich Belsky [ru; de], or an entirely original work. In the case of musicals, the music, the lyrics and the "book" (i.e., the spoken dialogue and the stage directions) may each have its own author. Thus, a musical such as Fiddler on the Roof has a composer (Jerry Bock), a lyricist (Sheldon Harnick) and the writer of the "book" (Joseph Stein). In rare cases, the composer writes everything except the dance arrangements – music, lyrics and libretto, as Lionel Bart did for Oliver!.

Other matters in the process of developing a libretto parallel those of spoken dramas for stage or screen. There are the preliminary steps of selecting or suggesting a subject and developing a sketch of the action in the form of a scenario, as well as revisions that might come about when the work is in production, as with out-of-town tryouts for Broadway musicals, or changes made for a specific local audience. A famous case of the latter is Wagner's 1861 revision of the original 1845 Dresden version of his opera Tannhäuser for Paris.

Other Languages
Alemannisch: Libretto
العربية: ليبريتو
azərbaycanca: Libretto
беларуская: Лібрэта
български: Либрето
Boarisch: Libretto
català: Llibret
čeština: Libreto
Cymraeg: Libreto
dansk: Libretto
Deutsch: Libretto
eesti: Libreto
Ελληνικά: Λιμπρέτο
español: Libreto
Esperanto: Libreto
euskara: Libreto
فارسی: لیبرتو
français: Livret (musique)
Frysk: Libretto
galego: Libreto
한국어: 리브레토
հայերեն: Լիբրետո
hrvatski: Libreto
Bahasa Indonesia: Libreto
íslenska: Söngbók
italiano: Libretto
עברית: לברית
ქართული: ლიბრეტო
қазақша: Либретто
Кыргызча: Либретто
Latina: Libellus
latviešu: Librets
Lëtzebuergesch: Libretto
lietuvių: Libretas
magyar: Librettó
Bahasa Melayu: Libreto
Nederlands: Libretto
norsk: Libretto
norsk nynorsk: Libretto
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Libretto
polski: Libretto
português: Libreto
română: Libret
русский: Либретто
Scots: Libretto
Simple English: Libretto
slovenčina: Libreto
slovenščina: Libreto
српски / srpski: Либрето
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Libreto
suomi: Libretto
svenska: Libretto
тоҷикӣ: Либретто
Türkçe: Libretto
українська: Лібрето
中文: 歌劇劇本