Roland (Piccinni)

Roland (Piccinni)

Roland is a tragédie lyrique in three acts by the composer Niccolò Piccinni. The opera was a new setting of a libretto written by Philippe Quinault for Jean-Baptiste Lully in 1685, specially adapted for Piccinni by Jean-François Marmontel. The opera was first performed at the Académie royale de musique, Paris on January 27 1778.

Background and performance history

Roland was the first opera Piccinni wrote for Paris. He had been hired by the Académie royale de musique in 1776, in spite of his ignorance of the French language. Piccinni still knew no French when he was composing Roland and had to be helped all the way by his librettist Marmontel, who provided a translation of every word along with details on how to accentuate it correctly. Marmontel also helped Piccinni come to terms with the French style of opera, which was very different from the Italian. The French preferred short arias, accompanied recitative and plenty of dance movements. In spite of these obstacles, Roland was a great success at its premiere.

Roland forms part of a late 18th century vogue for resetting libretti Quinault had written for Lully, the first major French opera composer, almost one hundred years before. Another famous example is Gluck's Armide (1776). In fact, Gluck - who was regarded as Piccinni's rival in Paris - was said to have abandoned work on his own setting of Roland when he learnt of Piccinni's version. Piccinni went on to set another Quinault libretto, Atys, in 1779.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast
January 27, 1778
(Conductor: - )
Roland (Orlando) baritone Henri Larrivée
Angélique (Angelica) soprano Rosalie Levasseur
Médor (Medoro) tenor Joseph Legros
Témire soprano Lebourgeois
Astolfe (Astolfo) baritone Tirot
Logistille (Logistilla) soprano Châteauvieux
Isolano bass Nicolas Gélin
Coridon tenor Étienne Lainez
Tersandre baritone Jean-Pierre Moreau
Belise soprano Anne-Marie-Jeanne Gavaudan


Marmontel's revised libretto adheres closely to Quinault's original. The major changes are the omission of the allegorical prologue and the reduction of Quinault's five acts to three. For an outline of the plot see Roland (Lully).


  • Roland Soloists, Bratislava Chamber Choir, Orchestra Internazionale d'Italia conducted by David Golub (Dynamic, 2001)


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