I vespri siciliani

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I vespri siciliani
Opera by Giuseppe Verdi
Vespri Siciliani-by Roberto Focosi.jpg
Scene from the opera
(Lithograph by Roberto Focosi)
Based onOriginal 1838 libretto for Donizetti's Le duc d'Albe
26 December 1855 (1855-12-26)
Teatro Regio, Parma

I vespri siciliani (Italian pronunciation:  [i ˈvɛːspri sitʃiˈljaːni] ; The Sicilian Vespers) is a five-act Italian opera originally written in French for the Paris Opéra by the Italian romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi and translated into Italian shortly after its premiere in June 1855.

French language Romance language

French is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. It descended from the Vulgar Latin of the Roman Empire, as did all Romance languages. French evolved from Gallo-Romance, the spoken Latin in Gaul, and more specifically in Northern Gaul. Its closest relatives are the other langues d'oïl—languages historically spoken in northern France and in southern Belgium, which French (Francien) has largely supplanted. French was also influenced by native Celtic languages of Northern Roman Gaul like Gallia Belgica and by the (Germanic) Frankish language of the post-Roman Frankish invaders. Today, owing to France's past overseas expansion, there are numerous French-based creole languages, most notably Haitian Creole. A French-speaking person or nation may be referred to as Francophone in both English and French.

Romanticism period of artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that started in 18th century Europe

Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century, and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature, preferring the medieval rather than the classical. It was partly a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, the aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment, and the scientific rationalization of nature—all components of modernity. It was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music, and literature, but had a major impact on historiography, education, the social sciences, and the natural sciences. It had a significant and complex effect on politics, with romantic thinkers influencing liberalism, radicalism, conservatism and nationalism.

Composer person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition

A composer is a musician who is an author of music in any form, including vocal music, instrumental music, electronic music, and music which combines multiple forms. A composer may create music in any music genre, including, for example, classical music, musical theatre, blues, folk music, jazz, and popular music. Composers often express their works in a written musical score using musical notation.


Under its original title, Les vêpres siciliennes , the libretto was prepared by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier from their work Le duc d'Albe , which was written in 1838 and offered to Halévy and Donizetti before Verdi agreed to set it to music in 1854. [1]

<i>Les vêpres siciliennes</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Les vêpres siciliennes is a grand opera in five acts by the Italian romantic composer Giuseppe Verdi set to a French libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier from their work Le duc d'Albe, which was written in 1838. Les vêpres followed immediately after Verdi's three great mid-career masterpieces, Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata of 1850 to 1853 and was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 13 June 1855.

Libretto text used for an extended musical work

A libretto is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.

Eugène Scribe French dramatist and librettist

Augustin Eugène Scribe was a French dramatist and librettist. He is known for the perfection of the so-called "well-made play", a mainstay of popular theatre for over 100 years, and as the librettist of many of the most successful grand operas.

The story is loosely based on a historical event, the Sicilian Vespers of 1282, using material drawn from the medieval Sicilian tract Lu rebellamentu di Sichilia . [2]

Sicilian Vespers successful rebellion in Sicily on Easter, 1282 against the rule of the French-born king Charles I

The Sicilian Vespers was a successful rebellion on the island of Sicily that broke out at Easter 1282 against the rule of the French-born king Charles I, who had ruled the Kingdom of Sicily since 1266. Within six weeks, approximately 13,000 French men and women were slain by the rebels, and the government of King Charles lost control of the island. It was the beginning of the War of the Sicilian Vespers.

<i>Lu rebellamentu di Sichilia</i>

Lu rebellamentu di Sichilia, fully Cronica di lu rebellamentu di Sichilia contra re Carlu, is a Sicilian historical chronicle of the War of the Vespers written around 1290. The anonymous Rebellamentu, probably written at Messina, was ascribed to Atanasiu di Iaci by Pasquale Castorina in 1883. Though the Rebellamentu sometimes adds valuable details to the history of the Vespers, it is frequently untrustworthy. Its monastic provenance is evident in its moralising tone. The antiquity of its language has placed its authenticity beyond doubt, despite its lack of an early manuscript tradition. This has not prevented speculation that it was written contemporarily with events: one verb in one manuscript is found in the first-person present; this may represent the author inadvertently stepping out of his usual frame of reference, or merely an error in that manuscript.

After its June 1855 Paris premiere, an Italian libretto was quickly prepared using a new title because Verdi realized that it would have been impossible to place the story in Sicily. Based on Scribe's suggestions for changing the location, [3] it became Portugal in 1640 while under Spanish control. This version was first performed at the Teatro Regio in Parma on 26 December 1855.

Teatro Regio (Parma) opera house in Parma, Italy

The Teatro Regio di Parma, originally constructed as the Nuovo Teatro Ducale, is an opera house and opera company in Parma, Italy.

Composition history

Verdi in 1859 Verdi in 1859.jpg
Verdi in 1859

While it was not Verdi's first grand opera for Paris (the first being his adaptation of I Lombardi in 1847 under the new title of Jerusalem), the libretto which Verdi was using had been written about 20 years before at the height of the French grand opera tradition, which "meant that Verdi was writing his first (original) opéra at a point at which the genre was in a state of flux". [1]

Grand opera opera genre

Grand opera is a genre of 19th-century opera generally in four or five acts, characterized by large-scale casts and orchestras, and lavish and spectacular design and stage effects, normally with plots based on or around dramatic historic events. The term is particularly applied to certain productions of the Paris Opéra from the late 1820s to around 1850; 'grand opéra' has sometimes been used to denote the Paris Opéra itself.

Performance history

As Les vêpres

It was first performed at the Paris Opéra on 13 June 1855. However, while it was initially successful, the French version never entered the established repertory and performances "limped along" [1] until Verdi attempted to aid its revival at the Paris Opéra on 6 July 1863 by revising some of the roles for selected singers. However, after a few performances, the opera disappeared and was replaced by the French version of Il trovatore , Le trouvère. Except for this one revival in Paris in 1863, "it vanished from the Parisian stage altogether" [3]

<i>Il trovatore</i> opera by Giuseppe Verdi

Il trovatore is an opera in four acts by Giuseppe Verdi to an Italian libretto largely written by Salvadore Cammarano, based on the play El trovador (1836) by Antonio García Gutiérrez. It was Gutiérrez's most successful play, one which Verdi scholar Julian Budden describes as "a high flown, sprawling melodrama flamboyantly defiant of the Aristotelian unities, packed with all manner of fantastic and bizarre incident."

Verdi's Italian language translation

An Italian libretto was quickly prepared under Verdi's supervision by the poet Ettore Caimi. The composer was aware that in Italy at that time, it was not possible to retain the Sicilian location, as he notes to his publisher Giulio Ricordi in April 1855: "I shall...(change) the subject so as to render it acceptable for Italian theatres". [4] Scribe's suggestions for changing the location – "that the Duke of Alba should just pack his bags once more and move to Lisbon" [5] – it became set in Portugal in 1640 at a time when that country was under Spanish rule. The title became Giovanna de Guzman, but "for censorship reasons it was known variously as Giovanna Braganza, Giovanna di Sicilia, and even Batilde di Turenna", notes Charles Osborne. [6]

Overall, Verdi was not happy with the translation, which Budden regards as "one of the worst ever perpetrated." [7] However, some improvements were made when the opera reverted to its translated Italian title after 1861.

In Italy, this version, along with the ballet, was first performed at the Teatro Regio in Parma on 26 December 1855 and, during the 1855/1856 season, the Italian version was performed nine times, although not without objections to the inclusion of the ballet. Finally, by July 1856, Verdi sanctioned the removal of the thirty-minute ballet, and, with rare exceptions, this has remained the case. The UK premiere took place on 27 July 1859 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London while on 7 November of that year, it appeared at the Academy of Music in New York. [8]

After 1861, in the new post-unification era, it reverted to its translated Italian title, I vespri siciliani [3] and it is under that title and in that version that the opera has been most commonly performed until recently.

Performance history

From 1856 forward,until the twenty-first century, it was almost always performed in the Italian version. The UK premiere took place on 27 July 1859 at the Drury Lane Theatre in London while on 7 November of that year, it appeared at the Academy of Music in New York. [8] The Metropolitan Opera in New York has staged this version 114 times since 1893, the most recent being 2004. [9] [10]

Companies which plan to present or have presented all of Verdi's works include the Sarasota Opera, ABAO in Bilbao Spain (December 2001), and the "Festival Verdi" in Parma (2010), have staged this opera.

The opera receives regular performance today, both in the original French version and the Italian translation. [11]


IT: Italian translation with change of location and characters to Portugal.
Post-1861: Italian translated versions after 1861,
reverting to Italian versions of the names from the original French.
Voice typeItalian version:
Premiere Cast,
26 December 1855
Teatro Regio (Parma)
(Conductor: Nicola De Giovanni [12] )
IT: Michele de Vasconcello, a Portuguese quisling . [3]
Post-1861: Guido di Montforte
baritone Francesco Cresci
Lord of Bethune, a French officer
Post-1861: Lord of Bethune
bass Guglielmo Giordani
Post-1861: Count Vaudemont, a French officerbassAngelo Corazzani
IT: Enrico
Post-1861: Arrigo, a young Sicilian
tenor Antonio Giuglini
IT: Don Giovanni Ribera Pinto, a Portuguese captain
Post-1861: Giovanni da Procida, a Sicilian doctor
bassGiorgio Atry
IT: Giovanna de Guzman (originally Helena)
Post-1861: Elena
soprano Caterina Goldberg Strossi
Ninette, her maid contralto Teresa Lenci Marsili
Post-1861: Danieli, her servanttenorCarlo Salvatore Poggiali
Post-1861: Tebaldo, a French soldiertenorRaffaele Giorgi
Post-1861: Roberto, a French soldierbaritoneRaimondo Beffagni
Post-1861: Manfredo, a Sicilian, adherent of ProcidatenorGiovanni Battista Garulli


Place: Palermo, Italy
Time: 1282

Act 1

Palermo's main square

Tebaldo, Roberto, and other French soldiers have gathered in front of the Governor's palace. As they offer a toast to their homeland, they are observed by the local Sicilians, unhappy with the occupation.

Elena enters dressed in mourning for her executed brother. Somewhat drunk, Roberto demands that she sing and she calmly agrees. Her song, about the perils of seamen and God's cry of "let dangers be scorned", (Deh! tu calma, o Dio possente / "Pray, O mighty God, calm with thy smile both sky and sea"), only incites the Sicilians to rebellion against the occupiers. When the governor, Montforte, enters the crowd calms down. Then Arrigo announces that he has been released from prison. Alone with Arrigo, Montforte offers him a position with the French as long as he stays away from Elena. He refuses, and immediately follows Elena into the palace.

Act 2

Beside the sea

Procida lands on the shore from a small fishing boat. It is clear that he is returning from exile and he expresses his joy at returning to his native land and city: O tu Palermo / "O thou Palermo, adored land...". He is surrounded by Manfredo and other companions and he quickly orders his men to bring Elena and Arrigo to him (Nell'ombra e nel silenzio / "In darkness and in silence"). The three make plans for an uprising during the impending festivities leading to the marriages of a group of young people. After Procida leaves, Elena asks Arrigo what reward he seeks. Swearing that he will avenge her brother's death, he asks for nothing but her love.

Bethune arrives with an invitation from Montforte to attend a ball. Arrigo refuses and is arrested and dragged off. Led by Roberto, a group of French soldiers arrive and Procida returns and sees that it is too late to save Arrigo, since the young people have come into the square and have begun to dance. As the dance becomes more lively, Roberto signals to his men, who seize many of the young women, dragging them off in spite of the protests of the young Sicilian men. The dejected young men witness a passing boat filled with French nobles and Sicilian women, all bound for the ball. Procida and others determine to gain entrance to the ball and seek their revenge.

Act 3

Scene 1: Montforte's palace

Montforte reads a paper from the woman whom he abducted, which reveals that Arrigo is his son: Si, m'abboriva ed a ragion! / "Yes, she despised me, and rightly!". Bethune tells him that Arrigo has been brought by force, but Montforte exalts in the fact that his son is close by: In braccio alle dovizie / "Given over to riches, surrounded by honors, an immense, horrid void...". The two men confront one another and Arrigo is somewhat puzzled by the way he is being treated. Finally, Montforte reveals the letter written by Arrigo's mother. Taken aback but still defiant, Arrigo insults his father who reacts in anger as the younger man rushes out: Parole fatale, Insulto mortale / "Fatal word!, Mortal insult! The joy has vanished...".

Scene 2: A ball at Montforte's palace

When Montforte enters, he gives the signal for the ballet to begin. In the crowd, but disguised, are Elena, Arrigo, and Procida. Arrigo is surprised when the two reveal themselves and they declare that their purpose is to save the young man. However, he is disturbed to hear that they intend to kill Montforte and when the father approaches the son, there is a hint of warning given. As approaching assassins close in, Arrigo leaps in front of his father just as Elena approaches. The Sicilians are horrified to see that Arrigo is being spared as the ensemble contemplates the situation. Elena, Procida, Danieli and the Sicilians curse Arrigo as they are dragged away, while he wants to follow, but is restrained by Montforte.

Act 4

A prison

Arrigo arrives at the prison gate and, on Montforte's orders, waits to be admitted. He contemplates the situation that his friends are in: Giorno di pianto / "Day of weeping, of fierce sorrow!". Elena is brought out and confronts him. Finally, he admits that Montforte is his father and she begins to be willing to sympathise: Arrigo! Ah, parli a un core... / "Arrigo! Ah, you speak to a heart already prepared to forgive." Not seeing Arrigo, Procida approaches Elena and reveals a letter telling him of awaiting freedom. But Montforte arrives and orders a priest and the execution of the prisoners while Procida is amazed to discover the truth of Arrigo's situation. Arrigo begs for mercy for his friends and Montforte confronts him with one thing: Dimme sol, di "Mio padre / "Say to me only, say "My father...". Arrigo says nothing as the executioner appears and the couple are led away, followed by Arrigo. Montforte steps in to prevent him from joining them. As Elena is led towards the executioner, Montforte steps in and announces a pardon for the Sicilians. Furthermore, he agrees to the marriage of Elena and Arrigo and announces to the crowd: "I find a son again!". There is general rejoicing.

Act 5

The gardens of Montforte's palace

As Knight and maidens gather, Elena gives thanks to all: Mercé, dilette amiche / "Thank you, beloved friends". Arrigo arrives, exclaiming his joy: La brezza aleggia intorno / "La brise souffle au loin" / "The breeze hovers about...". He leaves to find his father, but Procida arrives, announcing a plan to outwit his enemies with their massacre to take place at the foot of the altar after the vows have been said. She is torn, the more so following Arrigo's return, between her love and her duty: Sorte fata! Oh, fier cimento! / "Fatal destiny! Oh, fierce conflict!". Finally, she can go no further and she tells Arrigo that they cannot be married. Both men are furious with her for her seeming betrayal. Then Montforte arrives, takes the couple's hands, joins them together, and pronounces them married as the bells begin to ring. This is the signal for the Sicilians to rush in and hurl themselves upon Montforte and the French.


Opera House and Orchestra
Label [13]
1955 Anita Cerquetti
Mario Ortica
Carlo Tagliabue
Boris Christoff
Mario Rossi,
RAI Torino Chorus and Orchestra
Audio CD: Walhall Eternity Series
Cat: WLCD 0108
1975 Montserrat Caballé
Plácido Domingo
Franco Bordoni
Justino Díaz
Eve Queler,
Teatro del Liceo Orchestra and Chorus
Audio CD: MRF Records
Cat: MRF-128
1990 Cheryl Studer
Chris Merritt
Giorgio Zancanaro
Ferruccio Furlanetto
Riccardo Muti,
Teatro alla Scala
Audio CD: EMI
Cat: CDS 7 54043-2
2003 Amarilli Nizza
Renzo Zurlian
Vladimir Stoyanov
Orlin Anastassov
Stefano Ranzani,
Teatro Verdi,Busseto
Video DVD: Dynamic
2010 Daniela Dessì
Fabio Armiliato
Leo Nucci
Giacomo Prestia
Massimo Zanetti,
Teatro Regio di Parma
Video DVD:C Major
Cat:723904 [14]

1861 Italian version, with Act 3 ballet from the French version

Opera House and Orchestra
Label [13]
1951 Maria Callas
Giórgios Kokoliós-Bardi
Enzo Mascherini
Boris Christoff
Erich Kleiber
Chorus and Orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino
CD Audio: Warner Classics Cat: 0190295844516
1973 Martina Arroyo
Plácido Domingo
Sherrill Milnes
Ruggero Raimondi
James Levine
John Alldis Choir,
New Philharmonia Orchestra
CD Audio: RCA Victor
Cat: RCA 63492
1990 Cheryl Studer
Chris Merritt
Giorgio Zancanaro
Ferruccio Furlanetto
Riccardo Muti,
Teatro alla Scala
DVD: Image Entertainment
Cat: ID4361PUDVD

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  1. 1 2 3 Everist, p. 12
  2. Backman, p. 6
  3. 1 2 3 4 Budden, pp. 238–240
  4. Verdi to Ricordi, 29 April 1855, in Budden, p. 238
  5. Scribe to unknown, date unknown, Budden, p. 238
  6. Osborne, Charles 1969, p. 281
  7. "I now know what it means to translate and I feel sympathy for all bad translations that are around because it is impossible to make a good one", Verdi to Ricordi, 6 June 1865, in Budden, p. 238
  8. 1 2 David Kimbell (2001), in Holden, p. 984
  9. Met Opera archives, with details of 2004 cast, etc.
  10. Met Opera archives listing all performances
  11. I vespri performances on Operabase. Retrieved 22 March 2018
  12. Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Listing for Italian premiere" . L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).
  13. 1 2 Recordings of the opera listed on operadis-opera-discography.org
  14. "I Vespri Siciliani". Naxos.com. Retrieved 15 June 2015.

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