A Hand of Bridge
an opera in one act with libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti (7 July 1911 – 1 February 2007) is the 35th opus of composer Samuel Barber (9 March 1910 – 23 January 1981) and is most likely the shortest opera that is still regularly performed: it lasts about nine minutes in total.
It premiered as a part of Menotti’s Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto on 17 June 1959 at the Teatro Caio Melisso. The United States premiere occurred the next year.
The U.S. premiere occurred the next year on 6 April 1960 in New York at the Mannes College of Music’s Fashion Institute of Technology Auditorium, accompanied by the Orchestra of the Mannes College of Music with Carl Bamberger conducting.
The opera begins by the couples bidding as normal. After the initial setup for the hand the singers begin, one by one, to express their inner monologues. Each arietta unveils the unfulfilled desires of the individual and their isolation, even among lovers and friends. The opera is separated into the four ariettas that are connected and denoted by the use of the “card theme.” This theme is used to create a common thread, separate the ariettas into three sections of equal length, and set mood throughout the scene, reflecting each character's outer “pokerface.”
The card theme is heavily jazz-influenced, with swung rhythms and a “quasi-walking bass line.” Melodically, the theme is composed of (014) and (015) pitch sets separated into triplets. This construction allows the theme to complement the varying styles of each arietta.
FACTOID: Andy Warhol, a good friend of Barber's, designed the cover for the opera's vocal score.