The opera Telemaco , with a libretto by Marco Coltellini and music by Christoph Gluck, occupies a unique position as an opera seria that negotiates both tradition and reform. Scholars have long criticized the opera because of its ill-shaped libretto and uneven musical setting. This article contributes to the ongoing debate about operatic reform by reevaluating Telemaco based on its literary sources—Homer’s Odyssey and Fénelon’s novel Télémaque (1699). The absorption of Homer and Fénelon into the fabric of Telemaco goes well beyond adaptation, touching both its general dramaturgy and the specific creation of its characters. Set on the island of Circe, Coltellini's libretto echoes the timeless, liminal status of the corresponding islands (Circe’s and Calypso’s) found in Homer and Fénelon. The characters reflect and blend features of their literary counterparts. They fall into two groups: those who fight their captive condition through impetuous behavior (Circe and Telemachus) and those who attempt to circumvent their predicament by clinging to a golden past (Asteria) or yearning for a hopeful future (Ulysses’s desire to return home). Gluck’s expression of the characters’ longing and identity, achieved through a manipulation of form and textual re-composition, thus implies multiple temporal directions, suggesting a series of synchronic, revolving points of view that challenge the diachronic unfolding of events typically associated with opera reform in the eighteenth century. This method of analysis therefore offers insight into the creative process and helps refine our understanding of reformist opera, both in Gluck’s output and broader eighteenth-century operatic practice.
Between Lully's death (1687) and Rameau's operatic debut (1733), composers of the tragéédie en musique experimented with instrumental effects, greatly expanding the dramatic role of the orchestra. The profusion of these effects coincides with a new aesthetic reappraisal of instrumental music in France, as can be observed in the writings of Du Bos. The tempêête constitutes one of the most remarkable examples. Its sonic violence was too strong to end with the instrumental movement that depicted it; indeed, composers often prolonged the storm scene into a series of movements all connected by thematic material and key to produce a verisimilar effect of the storm's momentum, thereby creating what I term ““the domino effect.”” By the early eighteenth century, the tempêête had become such a well established and popular topos that it began migrating to non-staged genres like the cantata. The transference of the tempest topos from the tragéédie lyrique to the French baroque cantata entailed the breaking of formal frames. Unlike the supple dramatic structure of French opera, the cantata adopted the more rigid mold of the Italian opera seria ——the recitative-aria unit——which separated the flow of time into active and static moments. Three case studies——Bernier's Hipolite et Aricie (1703), Jacquet de la Guerre's Jonas (1708), and Morin's Le naufrage d'Ulisse (1712)——demonstrate how composers manipulated this mold to satisfy a French aesthetic that valued temporal continuity for the sake of verisimilitude. All three composers employ key and instrumental music to portray the storm's forward momentum across recitatives and arias, relying primarily on rhythmic energy and melodic activity to create continuity. Although each composer's musical response varies according to personal style, what emerges is a shared aesthetic and compositional strategy employed to portray an event whose relentless power transcends the temporal boundaries between recitative and aria. This aesthetic of continuity and linearity shown by French baroque composers influenced the treatment of the tempest topos in the later eighteenth-century repertory, vocal and instrumental alike, including opera, the concerto, the overture-suite, and the characteristic symphony.