Vèpres siciliennes, Les (Ivespri siciliani / The Sicilian Vespers)
  • Giuseppe Verdi. Opéra in five acts. 1854.
  • Libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier, after their libretto Le duc d'Albe (The Duke of Alba).
  • First performance at the Paris Opéra on 13th June 1855.
CHARACTERS
Guy de Montfort, Governor of Sicily under Charles d'Anjou,
King of Naples baritone
Le Sire de Béthune, a French officer bass
Le Comte de Vaudemont, a French officer bass
Henri (Arrigo), a young Sicilian tenor
Jean Procida (Giovanni da Procida), a Sicilian doctor bass
La Duchesse Hélène (Elena) soprano
Ninetta, her maid contralto
Daniéli (Danieli), her servant tenor
Thibault, a French soldier tenor
Robert (Roberto), a French soldier baritone
Mainfroid (Manfredo), a Sicilian, adherent of Procida tenor

It is the year 1282. In the great square in Palermo the occupying French soldiers vaunt their power and force Hôlène, whose brother has been killed by the French, to sing for them. Her patriotic song rouses the Sicilians, who attack the French, the riot quelled only by the appearance of de Montfort. Hélène is greeted by Henri, released from prison and now offered fame if he will enter de Montfort's service, a suggestion he refuses. Outside the city Procida, a Sicilian patriotic leader, has returned, joined now by Henri, with Elena. Henri refuses an invitation from de Montfort to a ball, and is seized by the French soldiers. Procida suggests to the French that they carry off Sicilian women, aiming, successfully, to rouse the anger of the Sicilians. De Montfort learns that Henri is his son and the latter at least accompanies him to a grand ball, where conspirators prepare to murder de Montfort, presenting Henri with a dilemma, divided, as he now is, between loyalty to his newly found father and to his patriotic Sicilian associates. He eventually chooses to shield his father from Procida. The conspirators are seized and imprisoned. Hélène and Procida are to be executed, but de Montfort offers pardon, if Henri will call him father, which he eventually does. In the garden of de Montfort's palace the wedding of Hélène and Henri is to be celebrated. Procida has prepared another attack on the French, the signal for which, as he tells Hélène, will be the ringing of the church bells. She will not betray the plot, but seeks to frustrate it by refusing to marry. De Montfort, however, overrules her, the bells are rung and the massacre of the French takes place.

Verdi's first original opera for Paris conforms with the conventions of the Opéra. It opens with a long overture and includes, in its third act, an extended ballet of Les quatre saisons (Le quattro stagioni/ The Four Seasons). Procida's patriotic greeting to his native country in the first scene of the second act, brings O patrie (O patria / My country) and Et toi, Palerme (O tu, Palermo / And you, Palermo). De Montfort muses on his life in Au sein de la puissance (At the heart of power), followed by Henri's Quand ma bonté toujours nouvelle (Quando al mio sen/ When my ever new kindness), the start of the duet between father and reluctant son. The last act brings Hélène's Boléro, Merci, jeunes amies (Mercè, dilette amiche / Thanks, young friends). Verdi's grand opera has had relatively little success in its original form and was translated for performance in Italy, where censorship continued to cause difficulties. Verdi himself expressed dissatisfaction with Scribe's libretto, complaining about the portrayal of Procida as a common conspirator, and about the fate of the French in the final massacre, matters which seemed to reflect badly on both French and Italians.