Barbiere di Siviglia, Il (The Barber of Seville) (Giovanni Paisiello)
Giovanni Paisiello. Dramma giocoso in four acts. 1782.
Libretto by Giuseppe Petrosellini, after Le Barbier de Séville by Beaumarchais.
First performance at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, on 26th September 1782.
Paisiello’s opera, which enjoyed enormous contemporary success, largely follows the play by Beaumarchais, in which the young Count Almaviva, helped by the barber Figaro, succeeds in outwitting Doctor Bartolo, tutor to Rosina, the object of the Count’s attentions, and whom he succeeds in winning. In Paisiello Bartolo shares the main attention with Rosina in an opera which represents the height of contemporary achievement in 1782, a generation before Rossini’s treatment of the same subject.
Paisiello dedicated his opera to Catherine II of Russia. It was mounted in Vienna in 1783 and won great popularity there and elsewhere. Rossini, in his opera of 1816 on the same subject, its libretto possibly also indebted to Petrosellini’s libretto, did his best to avoid comparison with his predecessor. In this he was initially unsuccessful.
Il trovatore followed close upon the success of Verdi’s Rigoletto and was to be followed by La traviata (The Fallen Woman). It retains its place as a major work in Italian opera repertoire, in spite of the improbabilities of a plot in which Azucena might seem to have suffered a confusion of mind worthy of Miss Prism. This lack of verisimilitude is forgotten in the dramatic strength of the music. Ferrando’s narrative, Di due figli vivea padre felice (There lived once a happy father of two boys), sets the opening. The second scene allows Leonora her Tacea la notte placida (Silent was the night), as she tells Ines of when she first heard Manrico’s serenade, Deserto sulla terra (Deserted on the earth). The second act starts with the famous Anvil Chorus, Vedi! Le fosche notturne (See! The darkness of night goes), as the gypsies in their encampment start their day, a chorus that has its third part parallel in the song of the Count’s soldiers, Or co’ dadi (Now we gamble). The second act also brings Azucena’s powerful account of her mother’s death, Stride la vampa (The fire roars). She has her moments again when she is interrogated by the Count, as his prisoner, Giorni poveri vivea (There in poverty) and Deh! Rallentate o barbari (Ah! Cruel men, loosen these chains), and in her final scene with Manrico. For Leonora there is the moving D’amor sull’ali rosee (Love, fly on rosy wings), as she hears the Miserere from within the castle, where Manrico is held prisoner, and her final scene with Manrico.ACT I. The Duel
Scene 1. Aragon: a hall in the palace of Aliaferia, in Saragossa
The followers of the Count di Luna keep watch as he makes his nightly vigil under the windows of Leonora, one of the queen’s ladies in waiting, whom he loves.
Ferrando, the captain of the guard, keeps his men awake by narrating a terrible happening of 15 years ago: an old woman, accused of casting the evil eye over the count’s brother, was burnt at the stake. The subsequent disappearance of the boy, followed by the discovery of a child’s skeleton in the ashes, led to the conclusion that the woman’s daughter, who was present at the burning, had thrown him into the flames to avenge her mother. She was never found, but Ferrando swears that he would recognise her. As he relates how the witch has continued to haunt the castle, the soldiers are seized with superstitious terror.
Scene 2. The palace gardens
Leonora loves not the count, but the troubador Manrico. As she waits for him she tells her companion Ines how she first saw him at a tourney and loved him. She rejects Ines’ warning of the dangers of her infatuation with the stranger. They retire and the count appears, his love-lorn musings interrupted by the sounds of Manrico’s lute and serenade. In the dark Leonora mistakenly embraces the count, Manrico reproaches her and she explains the error.
The count confronts Manrico, not only as his rival, but as a follower of the rebellious Count of Urgel; and they rush off to fight a duel.
ACT II. The Gipsy
Scene 1. A gipsy encampment in Biscay
As the gipsies sing and work at their anvils, Azucena broods on the fate of her mother, burned as a witch.
She explains the circumstances to Manrico (who had left her at an early age to pursue his ambitions and was thus ignorant of the story), going on to tell him how she had intended to avenge her mother by burning the count’s son, but had become confused and killed her own child instead. In answer to Manrico’s puzzled question about his identity, she assures him that he is indeed her own son – the horrible memory caused her mind to wander and she did not know what she was saying. She reminds him that she has always loved him and has just nursed him back to health after he was wounded in a battle against the count’s forces. The battle had taken place just after the duel in which Manrico had spared the count’s life, as a voice from heaven seemed to command him. Azucena urges him to strike without hesitation if the occasion arises again.
A message is brought that Leonora, believing Manrico dead, is about to enter a convent. Brushing aside Azucena’s pleas that he is too weak to travel, he rushes off to prevent Leonora from taking the veil.
Scene 2. Outside the convent
The count has come to abduct Leonora, but Manrico’s followers defeat his and rescue her.
ACT III. The Gipsy’s Son
Scene 1. Outside the fortress of Castellor
As the count lays siege to the fortress, which is under Manrico’s command, Azucena is found wandering near the camp and brought to the count, accused of spying. Ferrando recognises her as the woman responsible for the death of the count’s brother and in terror she cries to Manrico to save her. Realising that she is Manrico’s mother, in addition to her crime, the count prepares to execute her.
Scene 2. Inside the fortress
Manrico and Leonora are preparing for their wedding when Ruiz brings the news that Azucena is about to be burnt at the stake. Manrico rushes off to rescue her, explaining to Leonora that his mother’s claims outweigh hers.
ACT IV. The Execution
Scene 1. The Aliaferia palace
Ruiz brings Leonora to the tower where Manrico is imprisoned, having been captured in his vain attempt to save Azucena. Monks intone the miserere as Manrico laments that death is slow in coming. Leonora pleads with the count for Manrico’s life, offering herself in exchange. As he joyfully accepts her bargain, she takes poison, intending to leave him only her dead body.
Scene 2. Inside the dungeon
Manrico soothes Azucena, who is terrified at the idea of fire, and she falls asleep comforted by the idea that they will soon return to their mountain home.
When Leonora tells Manrico that he is free, he suspects the price she has paid and upbraids her, realising only as she collapses at his feet, that she is dying to save him. The count appears as she breathes her last, and realising that he has been deceived, orders Manrico’s immediate execution. Azucena wakes too late to prevent this, but is able to avenge her mother by telling the horrified count with her dying breath that he has just killed his brother.
The first version of “Dardanus”, which was performed at the end of 1739, was composed apparently in only six months and marks a particularly productive phase in Rameau’s career. In a period of only six years five of his major works were performed at the Académie Royale de Musique in Paris.
The theme is taken from Greek mythology: The opera describes the war between Teucer (the future founder of Troy), his Phrygian people and the army of Dardanus.
Dardanus is a tragédie lyrique in five acts by Jean-Philippe Rameau. The French libretto was by Charles-Antoine Leclerc de La Bruère.
It was first performed by the Académie de musique at its theatre in the Palais-Royal in Paris on 19 November 1739. It received 26 performances, mainly because of the support from Rameau’s followers in the dispute between the styles of Rameau and Lully.
Critics accused Rameau’s original opera of lacking a coherent plot. The inclusion of the sea monster also violated the French operatic convention of having a clear purpose for encounters with supernatural beings.
In 1744 (with help from Simon-Joseph Pellegrin), and again in 1760, Dardanus was revised extensively in an attempt to correct its shortcomings. Large portions of the score were sacrificed in favour of plot but some scenes as arresting as the “Prison scene” (1744) were added in the process.
Dardanus was produced three times in the 20th century: in 1907 at the Opéra de Dijon, in 1979 at the Opéra de Paris, and finally in 1998, in a concert version, at the time of a recording (below) by Marc Minkowski. Another recent production is by Grand Théâtre de Bordeaux (2015)
The American professional premiere, by the Wolf Trap Opera Company directed by Chuck Hudson, was given in July 2003 at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in suburban Virginia. The opera was also produced in Sydney in November-December 2005, by Pinchgut Opera and the Orchestra of the Antipodes, The Royal Academy of Music also staged Dardanus in London in 2006. In France it was revived again in October-November 2009, at Lille, Caen and Dijon, conducted by Emmanuelle Haïm and staged by Claude Buchvald.
The fifth of Rameau’s operas, Dardanus represents a musical if not a dramatic triumph, its libretto later simplified and made marginally more credible. The concert suite from the opera may be heard in the concert hall.
The Pleasures, invited by Venus to her son Cupid’s palace, send them all to sleep, to be aroused by the advent of Jealousy. In the first act Iphise is in love with Dardanus, enemy of her father Teucer, who proposes her marriage to Antenor. Dardanus, in love with Iphise, is warned by the magician Ismenor, whose form he now assumes, advising Antenor and learning, before he reveals his true identity, of Iphise’s love for him. News comes to Iphise of the capture of Dardanus, his imprisonment provoking divine anger and the intervention of Neptune. Dreams divert Dardanus and urge him to fight the sea-monster, which he does, rescuing Antenor, who gives him his sword in gratitude. Dardanus enters Teucer’s palace and is welcomed as the killer of the monster and consequent husband of Iphise.
Neglected for many years, Alfano’s Cyrano, the tenth of some dozen operas, has recently undergone partial revival. It reflects largely the Italian musical style of the period, its relatively spare neoclassicism replacing Alfano’s earlier musical language, akin to that of Puccini.
At the Hotel de Bourgogne in Paris Cyrano de Bergerac cuts a fine figure, insulting an actor and duelling with De Valvert, Roxane’s fiancé, who has remarked on the length of Cyrano’s prominent nose, killing him. Cyrano is in love with his cousin Roxane with whom her duenna suggests a secret meeting. Lignière tells Cyrano of a plan by De Guiche, about whom Cyrano has written a derogatory song, to ambush him, with a band of 100 men. At the bakery of the amateur poet Ragueneau, Cyrano, having worsted De Guiche’s men, meets his cousin Roxane, who confesses her love for Christian de Neuveville and asks him to protect Christian when he joins Cyrano’s Gascon cadets. Carbon, a fellow officer, joins Cyrano and they sing the praises of the cadets. Christian is introduced, comments on Cyrano’s nose, but later apologises, as Cyrano offers to help Christian in his wooing of Roxane, writing love letters for him and finally speaking for him beneath Roxane’s balcony, after Christian’s inept attempts at expressing his love for her. Cyrano’s eloquence wins Roxane’s heart for Christian. At the siege of Arras Cyrano reproaches Roxane’s old lover De Guiche with cowardice. Roxane, having charmed her way through enemy lines, tells Christian she loves him, convinced by his supposed eloquence. Christian realises that it is Cyrano that Roxane loves, and Cyrano is about to reveal his love for her, when Christian is brought in dead, to Roxane’s grief. The last act is set 15 years later in the garden of the Paris convent that Roxane had entered after Christian’s death. Cyrano apologises for his lateness in visiting her, as he has done for the last 14 years. He is pale and in pain, allegedly from an old wound. She shows him Christian’s last letter and when he reads it out to her, she realises that the letters were written by him and the speech beneath her balcony his. Cyrano has, in fact, between mortally wounded, stabbed in the back by an assassin, and dies in Roxane’s arms.