Apostolo Zeno was born of a Venetian family in 1669. Passionately devoted to the study of history, he was the first to introduce historical pieces into the scenes of the opera, instead of confining himself, as others had done, within the limits of mythology. The reputation of French tragedy had already begun to extend throughout Europe; and he freely availed himself of its best productions, using them as his models. Of sixty operas which he brought before the public, the most complete and successful were undoubtedly those in which he had imitated the French classics. Thus, the whole of the plot, the incidents and the characters of his lphigenia are borrowed from Racine, and used in such way as he thought best adapted to the opera. The language of the passions is throughout imbued with that solemn harmony with which music so well accords, without, however, arriving at the vigor and brevity of tragedy. The historical pieces which he produced are somewhat of a burlesque on history; for in this direction his genius did not incline. While constantly dwelling on the passion of love, he is deficient in the harmony, delicacy and ardor which, in Metastasio, transport us out of ourselves. Zeno, likewise, composed several comic operas, which appeared about the same time as those of a more serious kind. They were modeled upon the extemporized. comedies already well known, in which harlequins, columbines and other masks of the Italian theatre appear as the principal personages. But Zeno did not exhibit much talent in the lighter vein of opera, and this very amusing branch of popular entertainment, to which Italy is indebted for much of her most attractive music, has never been illustrated by any superior ability.
Zeno was invited to Vienna by the Emperor Charles VI, where he was invested with the two very opposite employments of imperial historiographer and poet laureate to the court opera. He lived to be eighty-one, and in his old age had the mortification of finding his reputation eclipsed by Metastasio.