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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.
Samson et Dalila (Samson and Delilah)
Camille Saint-Saëns. Opéra in three acts. 1876.
Libretto by Ferdinand Lemaire.
First performance at the Grossherzogliches Hoftheater, Weimar, on 2nd December 1877.
Abimélech (Abimelech) bass
High Priest of Dagon baritone
Two Philistines tenor & bass
Philistine Messenger tenor
Dalila (Delilah) mezzo-soprano
An Old Hebrew bass
SYNOPSIS: Defeated by the Philistines, the Hebrews lament their fate. The Philistine Abimelech proclaims the superiority of Dagon and is struck dead by Samson, who, with his people, is cursed by the High Priest of Dagon. He plans to use Delilah in an effort to overcome Samson. She appears, as the day dawns, luring Samson with her charms. At her retreat in the valley of Sorek, Delilah is urged by the High Priest to capture Samson. When he appears, intending to leave her, she tries to elicit from him the secret of his strength, and as he goes into her house, Philistine soldiers emerge from hiding, to a signal from Delilah. Eyeless in Gaza, imprisoned and turning a mill-wheel, Samson offers his life in repentance. There is a bacchanale in the temple of Dagon and Samson is brought in. Delilah joins others in mocking him, telling him of her duplicity. Samson is led to the two pillars that support the building and in a final effort of strength brings the temple down on himself and the whole assembled company.
BACKGROUND: There is a Wagnerian element in Samson et Davila, an expression of the composer’s contemporary preoccupations. The opera marks the height of the dramatic achievement of Saint-Saëns, the second of his 13 operas to be conceived, the third to be completed and the only one with an assured place in contemporary international operatic repertoire. The best-known aria must be Delilah’s Mon coeur s’ouvre à ta voix (My heart opens at your voice) in the second act. She has exercised her charms earlier in the seductive Printemps qui commence (Spring that begins). The third-act Philistine bacchanale provides a concert orchestral excerpt.
Modest Petrovich Mussorgsky. Opera in seven scenes. 1869.
Revised version in four acts and a prologue. 1872, further rev. 1873.
Libretto by the composer, after Pushkin’s tragedy, with historical information drawn from the work of Nikolay Mikhaylovich Karamzin.
First performance, of the revised version, at the Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg, on 8th February 1874.
Boris Godunov bass or baritone
Fyodor, his son mezzo-soprano
Xenia, his daughter soprano
Her old wet-nurse mezzo-soprano
Prince Vasily Ivanovich Shouysky tenor
Andrey Shchelkalov, clerk to the Duma baritone
Pimen, monk and chronicler bass
Pretender, the false Dmitry, Grigory tenor
Marina Mniszek, a Polish princess mezzo-soprano
Rangoni, a Jesuit bass
Varlaam, a vagabond bass
Missail, a vagabond tenor
Hostess of the inn mezzo-soprano
Nikitich, a constable bass
Yurodiviy, the simpleton (Holy Fool) tenor
Synopsis: Boris Godunov has had the rightful heir to the empire, Dmitry, murdered and now is proclaimed Tsar. Time passes and Russia is in turmoil, in spite of the Tsar’s efforts to rule well. In a monastery cell the monk Pimen, who has been writing a history of the times, tells his young novice Grigory of the events leading to the triumph of Boris. Grigory, now inspired to seek justice and identifying himself with the murdered prince, is sought by the authorities, but seeks to cast suspicion on the disreputable wandering monk Varlaam. Boris Godunov, in the Kremlin palace, suffers torments of remorse, as revolt threatens from Poland. There the pretender Dmitry declares his love for Marina Mniszek, and they are urged by the Jesuit Rangoni to march on Moscow, leading an army of Polish nobles. In the Kremlin Boris is haunted by his fears, more so when he learns of miracles worked at the grave of Dmitry, the boy whose murder had brought him the throne. As monks chant their prayers and the council of boyars gather round him, Boris dies. In a final scene the pretender Dmitry leads his army to victory, while the Simpleton laments the fate of Russia.
The two versions of Boris Godunov differ in many respects. In addition to the revision, the work was re-scored by Rimsky-Korsakov for performance in 1896. The first version ends with the death of Boris, while the Polish scenes and the final success of the false Dmitry belong to the later version, although in this the two scenes of the fourth act are often reversed, to allow the opera still to close with the death of Boris. The opera provides a major role in that of Boris Godunov, famously taken by singers such as Chaliapin, Nicolai Ghiaurov and Boris Christoff. In whatever version it is a monumental element in Russian operatic
Swan Lake seen by Rudolf Nureyev
“To me, Swan Lake is one long daydream of prince Siegfried. Reared on romantic reading, his desire for infinity has been fired and he refuses the reality of the power and the marriage forced on him by his tutor and his mother.
To escape from the dreary destiny that is being prepared for him, he brings the vision of the lake, this “elsewhere” for which he yearns, into his life. An idealized love is born in his mind, along with the prohibition that it represents. (The white swan is the untouchable woman, the black swan the reverse mirror image, just as the evil Rothbart is a corrupt substitute for Wolfgang, the tutor).
And so when the dream fades away, the sanity of the prince does not know how to survive.”
NUREYEV’S SWAN LAKE
Already omnipresent in the world of ballet as an element for transformation, for purification and for regeneration, the theme of water could but attract Nureyev, the choreographer, whose heroes and heroines try to get away from their situation, their entourage, their closed and stifling worlds, and escape to the often imaginary “elsewhere”.
Swan Lake, based on an imaginary theme with this love of the prince for a young girl/bird who is a poetic and unreal creature, is servant to numerous symbolic and psychological interpretations.
In the Petipa/Ivanov version handed down by Russian tradition, the choreographic and dramatic interest is centred on the ballerina who plays and dances a dual role; Odette, white swan-lyrical showcase, and Odile, black swan-dangerous seductress, the prince being reduced to become the instrument of fate. Nureyev completely reversed the situation.
Nureyev was invited during his first season at the London Royal Ballet to dance the role of Siegfried in the June 1962 production rearranged by Ninette de Valois and Frederick Ashton. Here it was that, at the end of Act I, he took the liberty of introducing a new variation, choreographed around the andante sostenuto which precedes the pas de trois in the score and which used to be habitually cut. This melancholic, dreamy solo expressing Siegfried’s yearning for an ideal world was considered so good that the Royal Ballet has kept it in the various versions of Swan Lake which have since followed.
In October 1964, when Nureyev undertook his own version of the complete work at the Vienna Opera House, he choreographically fleshed out the role of the Prince, and above all, developed his psychology, using fantasies which lead him to ruin as he runs frantically after the illusion of a woman/swan.
“The charismatic dancer, Rudolf Nureyev, created a Swan Lake, insofar as choreography, which, contrary to previous productions, made the Prince the principal character in the dramatic action: first of all sad, prey to “melancholy”, then in love, finally deceived and ending up destroyed. In fact, the outcome could only be tragic with Rothbart setting a dreadful storm in motion which swallowed Siegfried up in the waves.
In the performance of his Swan Lake at the Paris Opera in December 1984, Rudolf Nureyev went even further…
Below is a synopsis based on the 1895 libretto. Swan Lake is generally presented in either four Acts, four Scenes (primarily outside Russia and Eastern Europe) or three Acts, four Scenes (primarily in Russia and Eastern Europe). Some productions in the West include a prologue that shows the actual transformation by which Princess Odette is first turned into a swan. The biggest difference of productions all over the world is that the ending varies from romantic to tragic.
A magnificent park before a palace.
[Scène: Allegro giusto] Prince Siegfried is celebrating his birthday with his tutor, friends and peasants [Waltz]. The revelries are interrupted by Siegfried’s mother, the Queen [Scène: Allegro moderato], who is concerned about her son’s carefree lifestyle. She tells him that he must choose a bride at the royal ball the following evening. Siegfried is upset that he cannot marry for love. His friend Benno and the tutor try to lift his troubled mood. As evening falls [Sujet], Benno sees a flock of swans flying overhead and suggests they go on a hunt [Finale I]. Siegfried and his friends take their crossbows and set off in pursuit of the swans.
A lakeside clearing in a forest by the ruins of a chapel. A moonlit night.
Siegfried has become separated from his friends. He arrives at the lakeside clearing, just as a flock of swans land nearby [Scène. Moderato]. He aims his crossbow at the swans [Scène. Allegro moderato-], but freezes when one of them transforms into a beautiful maiden, Odette [Scène. -Moderato]. At first, she is terrified of Siegfried. When he promises not to harm her, she tells him that she is the Swan Queen Odette. She and her companions are victims of a terrible spell cast by the evil owl-like sorcerer Von Rothbart. By day they are turned into swans and only at night, by the side of the enchanted lake – created from the tears of Odette’s mother – do they return to human form. The spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before swears to love Odette forever. Von Rothbart suddenly appears [Scène. -Allegro vivo]. Siegfried threatens to kill him but Odette intercedes – if Von Rothbart dies before the spell is broken, it can never be undone.
As Von Rothbart disappears, the swan maidens fill the clearing [Scène: Allegro, Moderato assai quasi andante]. Siegfried breaks his crossbow, and sets about winning Odette’s trust as the two fall in love. But as dawn arrives, the evil spell draws Odette and her companions back to the lake and they are turned into swans again.
An opulent hall in the palace.
Guests arrive at the palace for a costume ball. Six princesses are presented to the prince [Entrance of the Guests and Waltz], one of whom his mother hopes he will choose as his bride. Then Von Rothbart arrives in disguise [Scène: Allegro, Allegro giusto] with his enchantress daughter, Odile, transformed so that she appears identical to Odette in all respects. Though the princesses try to attract the prince with their dances [Pas de six], Siegfried, mistaking Odile for Odette, has eyes only for her and dances with Odile. [Scène: Allegro, Tempo di valse, Allegro vivo] Odette appears as a vision and vainly tries to warn Siegfried that he is being deceived. But Siegfried remains oblivious and proclaims to the court that he intends to make Odile his wife. Von Rothbart shows Siegfried a magical vision of Odette and he realises his mistake. Grief-stricken, Siegfried hurries back to the lake.
By the lakeside.
Odette is distraught at Siegfried’s betrayal. The swan-maidens try to comfort her, but she is resigned to death. Siegfried returns to the lake and finds Odette. He makes a passionate apology. She forgives him and the pair reaffirm their love. Von Rothbart appears and insists that Siegfried fulfill his pledge to marry Odile, after which Odette will be transformed into a swan forever. Siegfried chooses to die alongside Odette and they leap into the lake. This breaks Von Rothbart’s spell over the swan maidens, causing him to lose his power over them and he dies. In an apotheosis, the swan maidens watch as Siegfried and Odette ascend into the Heavens together, forever united in love.