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ClassicsOnline Home » ROSSINI: Tancredi
GIOACHINO POSSINI (1792 - 1868)
Born in Pesaro in 1792, the son of musician parents,
Rossini was early familiar with the life of the theatre.
His musical gifts led him to instrumental and vocal study in Bologna. There he
also learned composition and notably the art of counterpoint, his models being
Haydn and Mozart. With this rigorous technical basis he preserved in his work
clarity in writing and precision in orchestration.
Rossini had his first great success with La pietra del
paragone at La Scala, Milan, in 1812. There followed a prolific period in
which he composed in little more than a year Seven operas, principally comedies
in which he already showed his developing talent and character, works including
La scala di seta and Il Signor Bruschino. The following year Tancredi
was first performed at La Fenice in Venice. The work definitively established
the composer, who was still not yet twenty-one and made his name known outside Italy.
Subsequently Rossini's style developed, while remaining
profoundly original, adapting itself to the places where he worked, and he
contributed to the aesthetic changes of the period, notably in the genre of
opera. From 1815 to 1823 he was official Court composer to the theatre in
Naples, renouncing in some of his serious operas neo-classical heroism in
favour of the growing romantic climate, as in Otello and La donna del
At the same time he also reformed opera buffa, giving the
singers longer arias, developing vocal virtuosity and word-setting, as in L'italiana
en Algeri and Il turco in Italia. His speed in composing was
legendary and if he often transferred passages from one work to another, his
work was never less careful, even painstaking. Of this Il barbiere di
siviglia and La cenerentola, both composed in less than a month, are
From 1822 political difficulties in his Own country and
his growing reputation led Rossini gradually to leave Italy for the great
capitals of Europe, Vienna, London and finally Paris, where his arrival in 1824
opened a very lively debate among composers and the public. Adapting his style
to the French language and tradition, he composed his last opera in a romantic
style very different from his other works, marking the beginning of French
grand opera with his Guillaume Tell in 1828.
In 1830, worn out by years of intense work and affected
by the political and aesthetic changes of the period, Rossini retired to Italy.
For twenty-five years he hardly composed at all, with the exception of the Stabat
mater, performed after various vicissitudes in 1842. At the end of his
life, with his second wife Olympe Pelissier, first in Italy and then again in
Paris, he found again the energy to compose what he called the sins of his old
age, Peches de vieillesse, and a masterpiece, the Petite Messe solennelle
of 1863. He died on 13th November 1868 at his house at Passy. The wit and
light-hearted spirit of many of his last works suggest the return of a certain
serenity in the evening of his life.
Tancredi and the Music of Rossini
The success of Rossini's comic operas has gone some way
to obscure his importance as a composer of serious operas. After having known
great success, his works quickly fell into oblivion, even in his life-time. In
a period when the art of music had undergone profound changes, in particular
with the birth of romantic opera, his La gazza ladra (The Thieving
Magpie), revived at the end of his life, seemed, as one contemporary critic
remarked, like a former mistress, now seen forty years later. This shows how
much the spirit of the period differed from Rossini's style of composition and
explains partly why his serious operas have practically disappeared from the
With Tancredi, a work that Stendhal already
considered Rossini's masterpiece, the composer found new solutions to some
problems that had then arisen in Italian opera. In the first years of the
nineteenth century, in fact, the adaptation of new subjects in the libretti
introduced new characters and dramatic situations, demanding other means of
expression and dramatic action than those of existing traditions in opera seria.
The innovation in Tancredi is, therefore, not only
in the tragic finale, exceptional in the tradition of the period, composed for
the performance of the opera in Ferrara, but also in the new manner of realising
the synthesis between the needs of lyrical expression and the necessities of
the dramatic action.
Rossini achieved this, in spite of the generally still
traditional form of Tancredi (the juxtaposition of numbers interrupted
by recitatives), thanks to a skilful inter cutting of arias, alternating
meditative passages and more dynamic sections, to a particular treatment of the
recitatives and to his use of the expressive resources of the orchestra. These
procedures are illustrated not only in the arias for solo voice but also in the
duets, or in important ensembles such as that at the end of the first act. In Tancredi
Rossini shows perfect mastery of the balance between dramatic, lyrical and
(English version by Keith Anderson}
Interview, on the occasion of the present recording, with
Alberto Zedda, who analyses the nature of Rossini's music and explains the
interpretation of an opera such as Tancredi.
The Classicism of Rossini
Unlike romantic opera, built on a realistic conception of
the art, the music of Rossini tends to idealise feelings, hence the lack of
concern with historical or narrative probability, the scorn for psychological
detail and introspection dear to romantic art. Seeking to free the essential
and non-anecdotal character from emotions, Rossini uses notes as a poet uses
words, to reach the truth behind their immediate sense. With him the primacy
accorded to the melody has not the same importance as with romantic composers
like Bellini and Verdi. His musical vocabulary is simple, with no great
introspective melodies nor long developments of a theme. The Rossini phrase is
constructed from micro-cells (some bars of a very short melody), often
instrumental in character, repeated several times in an almost obsessive way so
far as to suggest, in the same movement, an impression of immobility, as, for
example, in the 'Calumny' aria in Il barbiere di Siviglia. These
rhythmic repetitions, far from being the result of mere chance, follow a very
rigorous arrangement. This formal construction, short melodic fragments,
repetitions, simple and lively rhythms, balanced structure, quite simple
harmony, often reduced to the alternation of tonic and dominant, make Rossini a
composer who is classical in form and he was so considered by his
The Ambivalence of Rossini's Music
For all these reasons, the works of Rossini seem
generally easy to approach, but to appreciate his dramatic operas this first
level of listening is not enough. In these works, as the notes do not in
themselves carry expression, the message is much more hidden than in operas
such as La traviata or Madama Butterfly. Generally with Rossini
the same composition can as well express a profound emotion as its contrary.
Freedom and Responsibility of the Interpreter
In these conditions, how can the composer attain truth as
well, if not better than in more realistic works? He demands, in fact, the
active cooperation of the interpreter and even of the audience. More than its
words or content, it is the affetto (that is the general emotional
ambience) that characterizes the Rossini aria. This conception goes back to
Baroque tradition and arises from the aesthetic of the marvellous, of
astonishment and of surprise. The vocal writing of Rossini relies on the
virtuosity of the singer, which must be exceptional, all directed to this affetto.
This is why Rossini allows freedom to the interpreter to
modify the musical text in repeated passages. In introducing cadenzas and variations,
he allows the singer to bring out the power of expression required by the
dramatic situation and gives him the possibility of using his voice to the best
advantage of his tessitura and capacity.
It is here that creative research of a very rigorous
character is called for and it is in the spirit of contemporary practice that
Alberto Zedda has provided cadenzas and variations for the present version of Tancredi.
Observations collected by Corinne Polycarpe,
with the assistance of Gerard Loubinoux
(English version by Keith Anderson)
The action takes place at Syracuse in
the year A.D. 1005
 Introduzione. The scene is a gallery in the palace of
Argirio, leader of the senate. With him is Isaura and her attendants, with
Argirio's knights. Two attendants enter carrying a silver bowl with white
scarves. Other knights arrive and each group exchanges red or blue scarves for
white. The knights now celebrate the end of factional discord under their
respective leaders Argirio and Orbazzano (Pace, onore, fede amore - Peace,
honour, faith, love), both groups now united. Argirio declares that Syracuse
will be safe now the two factions are reconciled (Se amista verace, e pura
- If you keep in your heart true friendship).
 Recitativo. Argirio appoints Orbazzano as leader
against the Moors (Ed ecco, o prodi Cavalier, l'eroe - And here, brave
knights, is the hero who will lead you in my place). Orbazzano, however, warns
them against treachery from within, in particular from the exiled Tancredi, to
the dismay of Isaura. Argirio summons his daughter Amenaide.
 Coro e Cavatina. Amenaide enters with her attendants,
as those present sing of the triumph of harmony and love (Pill dolci e placide
spirano l'aure - Sweeter and calmer breathe the winds on so fair a day).
She joins their pleasure (Come dolce all'alma mia - How sweet is the
sound of your voices to my soul), while privately expressing anxiety about the
absence of her beloved Tancredi, whom she has secretly invited to return to her
(E tu quando fornerai al fuo ben, mio dolce amor - And you, when will
you return to your beloved, my sweet love).
 Recitativo. Argirio tells Amenaide that he has
promised her hand in marriage to Orbazzano (E gia deciso, o figlia - It
is already decided, daughter). Orbazzano tells her of his love for her and of
her father's promise of her hand in marriage (Amenaide, d'immenso amore io t'amo
- Amenaide, my love for you is great). He demands immediate marriage, but she
begs for delay until the next day. As the company leaves, Isaura, alone,
laments the predicament of Amenaide, who is already pledged to Tancredi (Amenaide
sventurata! - Unhappy Amenaide, what a dreadful day for you).
 Recitativo e cavatina. The scene changes to the
pleasant garden of the palace. The garden adjoins the shore and the sea and a
ship approaches, from which first Roggiero and then Tancredi and his followers
disembark. He has not received Amenaide's message, but is resolved to defend
his native city against the enemy and to see again his beloved Amenaide. He
greets his native land (Oh pafria! dolce, e ingrata patria! - O my
country, dear, thankless country). His thoughts turn to Amenaide (Tu che accendi
questo core - You who set aflame this heart), begging her forgiveness for
the pain he has caused her (Di tanti palpiti, di tante pene - After such
beating of the heart, such torment); now he will at last see her again.
 Recitativo. He sends the loyal knight Roggiero with a
message to Amenaide (D' Amenaide ecco il soggiorno - Here is the house
of Amenaide, go faithful Roggiero), and tells his knights to spread the word
that an unknown warrior has arrived to offer his services to the city, while he
himself anxiously awaits Roggiero's return. Argirio and Amenaide enter the garden,
while Tancredi withdraws, but remains within hearing. Argirio tells his knights
to bid his friends attend the wedding of his daughter at midday (Andate, al gran
tempi' invitate gli amici - Go, invite our friends to the great temple),
demanding her obedience. As the knights leave, Amenaide asks for a delay in her
marriage, but Argirio tells her that Syracuse is in danger: the enemy leader,
Solamir, who has asked her hand in marriage, has surrounded the city and there
is danger from within with the rumoured return of Tancredi, seeking revenge: the
senate has condemned any such traitor to death, meanwhile she must marry
Orbazzano, who will lead the Syracusans against the Moors.
 Recitativo e Aria. Argirio tells Amenaide that the
senate has condemned every traitor to death (Della patria ogni nemico danna
a morte il Senato – The senate has condemned to death every enemy of the
country)  and she must remember that she is his daughter (Pensa, pensa che
sei mia figlia - Think, think that you are my daughter).
 Recitativo. Argirio goes out, and Amenaide regrets
her action in summoning Tancredi, to his imminent danger (Che feci! incauta!
- What have I done! Thoughtless woman!). Tancredi now reveals himself, to her
 Recitativo e Duetto. Amenaide tells Tancredi that he
must make his escape, (Oh qual scegliesti terribil ora! - Oh what a
terrible moment you have chosen!), responding coldly to his protestations of
love,  for the very air he breathes holds peril (L'aura che intorno spiri
- The air you breathe brings mortal danger). They both lament the situation in
which they find themselves, with the necessity of parting.
 Coro. The following scene is set in a public square,
near the city walls and leading to a magnificent Gothic cathedral. In the
square there are ancient monuments, and here the people gather to see the
wedding. The nobles summon love and pleasure (Amori scendete, scendete a
piaceri - Arise love, arise joy!) and to a march warriors and knights make
their entry, taking their due places (Alla gloria, al trionfo, agli allori
- March forward to glory, triumph and the laurel crown).
 Recitativo. Argirio addresses the assembly, assuring
them that this marriage will reconcile the feuding factions of Syracuse (Amici,
Cavalieri, al Tempio! - Friends, knights, to the temple). Tancredi, in
disguise, offers himself to Argirio, promising loyalty and honour (Fede e onore
- Loyalty and honour is my device), as he looks at Amenaide, who he thinks has
betrayed him by accepting marriage to Orbazzano. Amenaide now refuses to obey
her father, even if disobedience cost her life. Tancredi is overjoyed at what
he hears but Orbazzano, who now enters, is angry at what he has overheard and
at evidence of Amenaide's disloyalty.
 Recitativo istrumentale e Finale. Orbazzano shows
the letter Amenaide had written to Tancredi, which has fallen into his hands,
imagining that this is a letter to Solamir, her supposed secret lover, bidding
him enter and capture the city (Il suo infernal delitto - Her damnable
treachery, written in her own hand): her treachery must be rewarded with death.
Argirio reads the letter and he and Tancredi express their dismay.
 Finale primo. Amenaide is distressed at the false
accusation (Ciel! che feci! fier cimento! - Heavens, what have I done!
Unhappy that I am!). Those present greet the revelation with horror (Qual orrore!
- What horror!). Amenaide turns to her father (Padre amato - Beloved
father), who disowns her, and then to Tancredi (Ma! tu almeno - But you
at least) and is now repudiated by him too. Orbazzano can now have his revenge.
Of all present only Isaura remains faithful. Amenaide is dragged off to prison,
as all lament the turn events have taken (Quale infausta arrenda giarna!
- What an unlucky and terrible day!).
 Recitativo. The first scene of the second act is set
in a gallery in the castle of Argirio. There is a writing-table and a richly
decorated chair. Orbazzano is angry at Amenaide's contempt for him and her
apparent treachery (Vedesti? L'indegna! - You have seen? The unworthy
woman!): Isaura pities Amenaide's fate at the command of her own father, while
among the knights there is a mixture of the two emotions. Isaura reminds
Argirio that Amenaide is his own daughter (E tua figlia! - She is your
daughter), but he disowns her.
 Recitativo. Argirio is in distress at events (Oh Dio!
Crudel! qual name cara e fatal - Oh God! Cruel! You remind me of that name
both dear and fatal).
 Aria. Argirio yields reluctantly to Orbazzano's
demands and condemns
Amenaide to death (Ah! segnar invano io tento - Vainly
do I try to sign her death warrant), as some plead for mercy and others appeal
to his patriotism.
 Recitativo. Argirio and the others go out, leaving
Isaura and Orbazzano.
She reproaches him for his cruelty (Trionfa, esulta, barbaro!
- Triumph and exult, barbarous man!).
 Aria. As Orbazzano leaves, Isaura invokes divine aid
for Amenaide (Tu che i miseri conforti - Thou who comfortest the
wretched, beloved hope, give her patience in her suffering).
 Scena. The scene changes to a prison, with guards at
the gates. Amenaide is in chains. She laments her fate (Di mia vita infelice
- This then is the end of my unhappy life), dying for Tancredi, who
nevertheless thinks her disloyal.
 Cavatina. Yet to die for love is not a cruel fate (No,
che il morir non e - No, to die is not so cruel, if I die for love), for
one day Tancredi will realise the truth.
 Recitativo. Orbazzano, with guards and knights, comes
to seek justice (Di gia l'ora e trascorsa - The hour has already
passed). Orbazzano asks if there is anyone who dares to defend her and at this
point Tancredi intervenes, resolved to save Amenaide, although he believes her
guilty (Fermate! Io l'accusata donna difendo - Stop! I will defend the
accused lady). He throws down his gauntlet before Orbazzano, who accepts the
challenge. Amenaide urges him to prove her innocence, but this he does not
believe: he has come, instead, to punish her.
 Recitativo. Argirio embraces the unknown knight,
seeking to know his identity (Ah si! pace, contento - Ah yes! Peace and
joy are far from my heart).
 Duetto. Argirio seeks to learn the identity of his
daughter's champion (Ah! se de'mali miei - Ah! If you pity my
misfortune, tell me who you are). The trumpets sound and Tancredi leaves for
the contest, with the blessing of Argirio.  Recitativo. Amenaide, learning
from Isaura the turn events have taken, prays for divine protection for her
champion (Gran Dio! Deh! tu proteggi - Great God! protect my champion),
begging that Tancredi may return to her and recognise her innocence.
 Aria. Amenaide prays for help (Giusto Dio che umile
adoro - Just God, whom I humbly worship). News comes of Tancredi's victory,
to the delight of Amenaide and her supporters.
 In the main square townspeople gather and knights
and soldiers march in, with Tancredi in a triumphal chariot, escorted by his
men, and the arms of Orbazzano displayed as trophies. The people rejoice (Plaudite,
a popoli - Applaud, people, the victor).
 Tancredi, however, sweet as victory is, has resolved
to leave Syracuse to die in some distant country (Caro, e a me sacro e questo
suolo - Dear and sacred to me is this land).
 Recitativo. Amenaide approaches him (Tu a me la vita
generoso serbasti - You have generously saved my life), but he still doubts
her loyalty, believing that she is unfaithful to him.
 Duet to. Tancredi will not hear her (Lasciami:
non t'ascolto - Let me go: I will not listen to you) but she urges him, in
that case, to kill her. As they go out, Tancredi prevents Roggiero from
 Recitativo. Roggiero will not abandon his leader,
but now having learned from Isaura that Amenaide's innocence can be proved (S'avverassero
pure i detti suoi! - If her words were only true), seeing some hope for
 Aria. The news is more than welcome, as Roggiero
reflects, for if Amenaide is innocent Tancredi can live in peace, the torch of
love shining once more (Torni alfin ridente e bella - May the torch of
love return shining, smiling and fair).
 Gran Scena. The scene is now a mountain range, with
ravines and waterfalls forming the Fountain of Arethusa: Etna can be seen in
the distance, while the sun in the West is reflected from the sea. There is a
cavern, before which Tancredi grieves over his sad destiny (Dove son io?
- Where am I? Through what horrors does my despair lead me!), never forgetting
the one who betrayed him (Ah! che scordar non so - Oh that I could
 Coro. Syracusan knights come in search of their
champion against Solamir (Regna il terror nella citta - Terror reigns in
 Recitativo. Argirio, Amenaide, knights and soldiers
now find their hero, whose identity Amenaide has revealed (Ecco, amici, Tancredi
- Here, friends, is Tancredi). Tancredi, however, while willing to fight and
die for Syracuse, still does not believe Amenaide's innocence.
 Rondo. Tancredi now seeks death in combat (Perche
turbar la calma – Why trouble the peace of my heart, child of sorrow). He
is urged to battle (Vieni al campo - Come to the field).
 Recitativo. Isaura and Amenaide now await the issue
of the battle. (Quanti tormenti in un sol giorno! - How many torments in
one single day!) Shouts of triumph are heard and Argirio returns with Tancredi,
who has killed Solamir, the latter, dying, having justified the innocence of
 Secondo finale. The lovers are re-united (Fra quai
soavi palpiti – Gently beats my heart) and Argirio and Amenaide express
their joy, shared with Tancredi (Si grande e il mio contento - So great
is my joy), and, with Isaura, they celebrate the final happiness of Amenaide
and Tancredi in a scene of general rejoicing.
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