Metastasio’s Old Testament Dramas: Biblical Stories in Eighteenth Century Oratorio

Siobhan Dowling Long


Pietro Metastasio’s five Old Testament oratorio libretti—based on the dramatic stories of Cain and Abel, Joseph, Judith, Joash, and Abraham and Isaac—reveal the influence of the Counter-Reformation, of seventeenth-century French literary criticism, and of eighteenth-century biblical interpretation. Reflecting a traditional christological interpretation, all five shed light on the emotional lives of their protagonists, while providing moral instruction for the edification of eighteenth-century Catholic audiences. I conclude with a brief discussion of the oratorio Abramo ed Isacco by Josef Mysliveček, based on a Metastasian libretto Isacco, figura del Redentore (1740), and illustrate by way of musical examples the reception of Genesis 22 in music.

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