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Dana Gioia and Lequita Vance-Watkins: interview [US]:
LV: How does a libretto differ from poetry?

Gioia: A verse libretto must work simultaneously as poetry and drama. The language itself must be memorable and expressive, but good words aren't enough. The libretto must create arresting characters and powerful situations that propel the action Otherwise it is a failure. The great challenge is finding the right balance. The words must be emotionally direct and evocative but also extraordinarily concise. They must be richly poetic but not too dense or complex. The text must give the composer enough room to let the music take charge. The biggest difference between a poem and a libretto, however, is its essentially collaborative nature. A libretto doesn't exist to be judged on its own literary quality. It exists to inspire a composer to create a compelling musical drama. The libretto ultimately justifies itself as the departure point for a collaborative work in which the poet is a minority partner.
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