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A Life for the Tsar (Russian: Жизнь за царя, Zhizn’ za tsarya), as it is known in English, although in Soviet times its name was Ivan Susanin (Russian: Иван Сусанин) is a “patriotic-heroic tragic opera” in four acts with an epilogue by Mikhail Glinka. The original Russian libretto, based on historical events, was written by Nestor Kukolnik, Baron Egor Fyodorovich (von) Rozen, Vladimir Sollogub and Vasily Zhukovsky. It premiered on 27 November 1836 OS (9 December NS) at the Bolshoi Kamenny Theatre in St. Petersburg. The historical basis of the plot involves Ivan Susanin, a patriotic hero of the early 17th century who gave his life in the expulsion of the invading Polish army for the newly elected Tsar Mikhail, the first of the Romanov dynasty, elected in 1613.
Time: The autumn of 1612 and the winter of 1613.
The village of Domnino
Antonida is eager to marry Sobinin, but her father Susanin refuses permission until a Russian has been duly chosen to take the Tsar’s throne. When Sobinin informs him that the Grand Council in Moscow has chosen a Tsar, everyone celebrates.
In a sumptuous hall, the nobility are celebrating the Polish dominance over the Russians with singing and dancing. Suddenly a messenger comes in, with the news that Mikhail Romanov has been selected as the Tsar of Russia and is now in hiding. The Poles vow to overthrow him.
Susanin and his adopted son Vanya pledge to defend the new Tsar. Susanin blesses Sobinin and Antonida on their upcoming wedding when a detachment of Polish soldiers bursts in, demanding to know the Tsar’s whereabouts. Instead Susanin sends Vanya to warn the Tsar while he, Susanin, leads the soldiers off the trail, into the woods. Antonida is devastated. Sobinin gathers some men to go on a rescue mission.
A dense forest
Sobinin reassures his men of the rightness of their mission. Night falls. In a part of the forest near a monastery, Vanya knocks at the gates and alerts the inhabitants to spirit the Tsar away. Susanin has led the suspicious Polish troops into an impassable, snow-covered area of the forest. The Poles sleep while Susanin waits for the dawn and bids farewell to his children. A blizzard sets in, and when day breaks, the Poles awake. When they realize that Susanin has deceived them, they kill him.
Red Square, Moscow.
Across the stage walks a crowd of people, celebrating the triumph of the new Tsar. Alone in their own solemn procession, Antonida, Sobinin, and Vanya mourn Susanin. A detachment of Russian troops comes upon them and, after discovering their connection with Susanin, comforts them. As the scene changes to Red Square, the people proclaim glory to the Tsar and to Susanin’s memory.
Romeo, with Mercutio and Benvolio, in disguise, takes part, uninvited, in a masked ball given by Count Capulet, traditional enemy of his family, the Montagues. Romeo falls in love with Juliet and in the second act in the garden below her balcony tells her of his love. At his cell, Friar Laurence marries the couple. In a scene outside the Capulet house, Stéphano, Romeo’s page, sings a provocative song about a turtle-dove held prisoner in a cage of vultures and fights a duel with Gregory, resulting in a further quarrel in which Mercutio is wounded and in which Romeo kills Tybalt, to be banished by the Duke. Romeo leaves Juliet’s room, as dawn breaks, but she then learns that her father intends her to marry Count Paris at once. She consults Friar Laurence, who gives her a potion to bring about the semblance of death. Romeo, returning and ignorant of the Friar’s plan, finds Juliet seemingly dead, lying in the Capulet tomb. He kills himself, and she, waking and finding him dying by her side, seizes a sword and stabs herself, allowing time for one duet before they both die.
STORY: In the first act Capulet welcomes his guests with Allons, jeans gens! (Come, young people!). Juliet shows her lack of interest in Count Paris in her waltz-song Je veux vivre (I want to live), while Mercutio has his Queen Mab song, Mab, reine des mensonges (Mab, queen of lies). Romeo expresses his love for Juliet in Ange adorable (Adorable angel) and in the Capulets’ garden sings to her the moving aria Ah! lève-toi soleil (Ah! rise, sun). Stéphano’s song, in which he taunts the Capulets, Que fais-tu, blanche tourterelle (What are doing, white turtle-dove) is well enough known and in the duet Va! Je t’ai pardonné (Go! I have forgiven you) Juliet pardons Romeo’s killing of Tybalt and they sing of their love for one another. There is an intensely moving final duet in the tomb, Viens, fuyons au bout du monde (Come, let us fly to the end of the world).
The Story of ‘Sigismondo’
Daniela Barcellona ……….. Sigismondo
Olga Peretyatko ………………. Aldimira
Antonio Siragusa …………….. Ladislao
Manuela Bisceglie ………….. Analdilda
Andrea Concetti ……………… Zenovito
Enea Scala …………………… Radotski
Bologna Municipal Theater Orchestra and Chorus
Michele Mariotti, conductor
As even the most die-hard opera fans know, operatic stories — even the best of them — can be a tricky business.
There are many opera plots that at first glance seem horribly confusing, even implausible. But when they’re examined more closely, and their intricate details become clearer, their stories come into focus. The same might be said of certain plays by Shakespeare, or classic Greek dramas. They require a bit of study.
Then there are stories like Rossini’s Sigismondo, in which every detail that’s revealed seems to make the whole thing even more preposterous — to the point where it’s easy to give up on the opera altogether. But, when it’s kept simple, even this opera’s confounding plot clears up a little bit. So here it is in a nutshell.
The title character is the king of Poland, who had been happily married to the beautiful Aldimira. But Sigismondo found himself in a predicament similar to the character Othello, in Shakespeare’s tragedy and Verdi’s famous opera: His wife was falsely accused of infidelity by one of Sigismondo’s own lieutenants, a fellow named Ladislao. Sigismondo believed the accusations, and ordered Aldimira to be hauled off into the forest and executed.
But as ACT ONE begins, Sigismondo is having second thoughts, and his colleagues are afraid he’s going around the bend. He’s afraid Aldimira might have been innocent and it’s starting to drive him crazy, as he truly loved her.
The situation has also put Sigismondo’s kingdom in danger. Aldimira was the daughter of Ulderico, the king of Bohemia. Word has come that Ulderico wants revenge for his daughter’s death. So he’s about to invade Poland, and Sigismondo’s armies are ill-prepared for war.
But it turns out that Aldimira isn’t dead after all. A nobleman named Zenovito saved her, and hid her in a modest house in the woods, near the Bohemian border. When Sigismondo and his patrolling soldiers stumble on the cottage, Aldimira fears that if the king recognizes her, he’ll be angry and kill her for sure this time.
So Zenovito and Aldimira pretend that she’s actually Zenovito’s sister, calling her Egelinda, and they hatch a wild plan. They propose that Sigismondo take this “Egelinda” back to his castle, and pass her off as Aldimira. Ulderico will thus think his daughter is safe, and call off his invasion. And Sigismondo, not knowing that he has actually found his wife alive, won’t order her execution all over again. Sigismondo agrees, and as first act ends, Aldimira is headed to the palace, while the villain Ladislao is worried that his false accusations will be revealed and Sigismondo goes off to confront the Bohemian invaders.
Ladislao (Antonio Siragusa) maintains the upper hand until the end of the opera, when his minion Radotski (Enea Scala) betrays him.
Studio Amati Bacciardi
In ACT TWO Aldimira makes her grand appearance at Sigismondo’s court, but things don’t go quite as planned. The people do accept Aldimira as herself, the queen, somehow returned from the dead. And Sigismondo still believes that she’s actually someone else.
But Ladislao stays true to his villainous form. He goes to Ulderico and tells him that the woman who looks so much like his daughter is really a fake. Ulderico believes him and begins his attack on Sigismondo’s armies, quickly gaining the upper hand.
Still, all is not lost. By this time, Ladislao’s henchman Radotski is fed up with his treacherous boss. All the while, he has held a letter suggesting that Ladislao’s accusations of Aldimira were phony — and proving that Aldimira really is, well, Aldimira. Faced with that evidence, Ladislao confesses and is promptly arrested. Ulderico realizes that his daughter is still alive, and again becomes an ally to Poland. And Sigismondo, who loved Aldimira all along, gladly takes her back as the opera ends.