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A libretto is body of words used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, oratorio, or musical. It includes the lyrics to the musical numbers as well as any spoken passages. The word libretto comes from Italian, and means "little book."

The role of the libretto in the creation of a musical work varies. Some composers, notably Richard Wagner, wrote their own libretti. Others adapted the libretto from an existing play, or had this done for them, as with Francesco Maria Piave, who adapted works by Victor Hugo, the Duke of Rivas, and others. Sometimes the libretto is an entirely original work, as with the libretti Hugo von Hofmannsthal wrote for Richard Strauss.

Metastasio (1698-1782) (real name Pietro Trapassi) was one of the most highly regarded librettists in Europe. His libretti were set many times by many different composers. Another noted librettist was Lorenzo da Ponte, who wrote the libretto for three of Mozart's greatest operas.

Many writers of libretti have been sadly overlooked in the receipt of credit for their work. Certainly some were recognized as part of famous collaborations, as with Gilbert and Sullivan. However, in many other cases the composer of the musical score to an opera or operetta has been given the lion's share of credit for the completed work, and the writer of the lyrics relegated to a mere footnote.

On the other hand, the affiliation of a poor libretto to great music has sometimes given the libretto's author a kind of accidental immortality. Certainly it is common for works of classical music to be admired in spite of, rather than because of, their libretti.

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