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8.225064-65 - MERCADANTE: Elena da Feltre

Saverio Mercadante (1795–1870)
Elena da Feltre


Fame did not grant Giuseppe Saverio Mercadante equal ranking with the four great Italian opera composers: Rossini, Donizetti, Bellini and Verdi. But the extraordinary esteem the composer enjoyed during his life-time and the numerous testimonies of his contemporaries, who had no hesitation in including him among the greatest composers of his time, invite us to rediscover and appreciate his work once again. It is said that Mercadante’s luck was never equal to that of many other opera composers of his time, but this is true only with regard to the popularity of his operas in England, France and Germany, where his name always trailed behind those, for example, of Paer, Morlacchi, Pacini and Donizetti, not to speak of Rossini, of course. But he was nevertheless “successful” in Italy, and in Spain and Portugal too, where he lived from 1826 to 1831, if we interpret correctly the meaning of the term “success” in the Italian production system of the early nineteenth century. For a new opera, given a first performance in one of the six major theatres, Turin, Milan, Genoa, Rome, Venice or Naples, “success” consisted in being taken up within one or two years by the other five, and then going on to a provincial tour. From this point of view, Mercadante wrote huge numbers of successful operas. The relevant statistics of performances during the period from 1825 to 1845, confirm him as one of the few composers constantly performed on Italian stages, with a large number of new productions. But what he lacked almost always, unlike Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti and then Verdi (and even Luigi Ricci), was that indisputable acclaim that encouraged impresarios to revive an opera that had already been performed once in the same theatres during the course of subsequent seasons. The truth is that even at the high point of his career, the name of Mercadante featured on the programmes of Italian theatres only beside his new titles, and therefore a much smaller number of times than, for example, Donizetti, whose works enjoyed much more lasting public favour, season after season. To understand the underlying reasons for this state of affairs—which does not seem to have its equal in the history of Italian opera—we need not only to look at the cultural education of the composer, but also the particular historical environment in which he lived and, not least, the peculiar characteristics of his composing method, in relation to the operatic style dominant at the time.

Born in Altamura, a small city in southern Italy, near Bari, on 17th September 1795, to a family in straitened economic circumstances, at the age of thirteen Saverio Mercadante entered the Royal College of Music of San Sebastiano, at Naples, benefiting from a free place. There he had as teachers the opera composers Fedele Fenaroli, Giovanni Furno and Giacomo Tritto, and in particular Nicola Zingarelli—at that time director of the College—whose favourite pupil he became. In 1818 Gioachino Rossini, only 26 years of age but already a famous composer, on the occasion of a visit to the San Sebastiano, after having heard two overtures by the 23-year-old Mercadante, embraced Zingarelli, exclaiming: “Dear Maestro, my congratulations on your pupil. His compositions really give me something to think about, and I can see that your pupils are beginning where we end…” In fact the old Neapolitan maestro had never hidden his aversion to the young and triumphant Rossini and found it difficult to tolerate his pupils’ imitating his style or even listening to his music. This hostility was only in part motivated by professional jealousy; the real reasons behind it lay in fact in a different concept of musical drama, that Zingarelli thought should be based on the imitative possibilities of singing and on a use of expressive models belonging to the style of the late eighteenth century. Rossini, however, had imposed on Italian theatre, of which he appeared in those years to be the real leader, a different dramaturgical set of rules, based exclusively on laws internal to musical language. According to his model, which was inexorably gaining the upper hand among the young generation, music was conceived not as imitative art, but as an autonomous expressive instrument, both in principle and in purpose, and capable of provoking ideas, as well as expressing emotions. Zingarelli’s teaching, however, was to coincide with the natural inclinations of the young Mercadante, which led him to leapfrog over the (Rossinian or indeed even Spontinian) present backwards to draw from the springs of a recent and glorious past (Cimarosa, Paisiello and Zingarelli himself) and be inspired anew at the classical fount of Metastasio’s theatre. Only in this way can Mercadante’s marked predilection be explained, at the very time when Italian musical taste was turning more and more towards Romantic literary sensibility, for those subjects from classical antiquity that filled the libretti of the eighteenth century (themes to which he returned, furthermore, in the last years of his active life). Hence the general critical conviction that Mercadante, especially in his youth, when Rossini dominated everyone and everything, aimed at conserving his own artistic individuality, eschewing the pursuit of fashions, styles and attitudes that did not belong to him.

Having finished his studies, Mercadante made his début in 1819 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples with L’apoteosi di Ercole, but it was his seventh opera, Elisa e Claudio, performed in 1821 at La Scala, that fully revealed his genius. Elisa e Claudio went on a triumphal tour through all the theatres in the country, becoming one of the most performed operas of the season and bringing fame to the composer’s name. With success, however, Mercadante did not escape a false evaluation on the part of his contemporaries, who tended to consider him a follower of Rossini. Giovanni Pacini, his great colleague who was then also making his début, remembered many years later, in his memoirs: “Although there were many of my contemporaries, they all followed the same school, the same manners, and consequently they were imitators like me of the great Star [Rossini]. But good God! What could one do if there was no other means to support oneself? Therefore if I was the follower of the great man from Pesaro so were all the others…” This statement, later taken up, codified and applied by historians to Mercadante’s entire “pre-reform” output, is seen today to be in great part inaccurate. As I have already said, more than Rossini, if anything one might say a Cimarosa brought up to date on more recent operatic models. But if the general structure of his opera, the shape of the melodies, the narrative style linked up again to the “semiseria” operas of Cimarosa and Paisiello, its dramatic rhythm seems much more compact already completely nineteenth-century. Mercadante seems here already intent on seeking out his own path between: the Rossinian style and the Neapolitan tradition in an expressive concept fully in keeping with the classic model.

In his first extremely fertile decade of activity Mercadante wrote thirty-one of his fifty-eight operas, almost all performed by the most important theatres: La Scala in Milan, La Fenice in Venice, the San Carlo in Naples, the Regio in Turin and the Argentina in Rome, a clear sign of the prestige the young composer was already attaining. In a short time his fame even crossed the Italian borders. In June 1824, engaged by the impresario Domenico Barbaja at the Imperial Theatre of Vienna, he made his début there with Elisa e Claudio which, recounts his friend, the musicologist and composer Francesco Florimo, pleased to the point of fanaticism. The opera had also been performed the previous year in London, Barcelona and Paris. Between 1826 and 1831, Mercadante lived mainly in Spain and Portugal, where he was active in Madrid, Lisbon and Cadiz. During his residence in the Iberian peninsula, Italy experienced a great turning-point in the history of opera: Il Pirata by Vincenzo Bellini and Anna Bolena by Gaetano Donizetti signalled the arrival of an innovative taste at the level of dramatic expression and form. It was born from the willingness of the public out of love of the new Romantic subjects and for the sake of their smooth transfer to the opera stage to accept the abolition of some opera conventions until then considered sacred and inviolable. Thus a language arose aimed at achieving above all the psychological pinpointing of the characters in a flowing dramatic continuity manifested via episodes of spirited violence of expression, disregarding the finely-tuned symmetries of the closed pieces. Returning to Naples in August 1831 for the première of his new opera Zaira at the San Carlo, Mercadante was not slow to realise what had happened. Unfortunately for him, however, Naples had meanwhile succumbed to the absolute artistic supremacy—theatrical and academic—of Gaetano Donizetti,  who among other things held the chair in counterpoint at the Conservatory. This was a supremacy destined to last until 1838 when the banning of his Poliuto by the censorship authorities provoked the definitive break between Donizetti and Naples. The signal for the stylistic turning-point came, therefore, from the Teatro Regio of Turin where, in 1832, Mercadante presented his I Normanni a Parigi to a libretto by Felice Romani, Bellini’s favourite librettist and considered the restorer of dramatic poetry for music. If was with this score that Mercadante entered on that process of development in his musical dramaturgy which, in some aspects, actually presaged the arrival of Verdi, when he launched, from 1837 on, into the master works of his artistic maturity: the so-called “reform operas”. This is an expression not to be understood in radical terms: Mercadante’s “reform” was in fact not aimed at an alteration of the dramaturgical foundations of opera, but at their stylistic adaptation to the new taste, which was to emerge fully, as we have already seen, in the 1840s. He was able to adapt rapidly to this climate, thanks to an innovative impulse that he then maintained until the end of his artistic career. From 1832 on, Mercadante, although continuing his stylistic development, kept steadily to his own artistic path. His operas, however, from this moment on all demonstrate a curious ambivalence: on the one hand, from the point of view of harmonic experiment, instrumentation and also form, they attest to decidedly advanced attitudes; on the other hand, they avoid, by every means, conflicting with the classical norms of composition. In this context his decision was significant to set again to music—even using the same titles—subjects such as La vestale, Orazi e Curiazi and Medea, with which Spontini, Cimarosa and Cherubini had obtained enormous successes. It was almost as though Mercadante, coming from the little town of Altamura, intuitively felt that he could tell anew to the public of the new century the ancient tales made immortal by the masters he prized so much, thanks solely to the force of the innovations in his composing style.

In 1833 Mercadante was appointed Maestro di Cappella of the Cathedral of Novara, a city in which he was to live until 1840, devoting himself to the composition of sacred music as well. His new residence, near to the theatres of Milan and Turin and not far from those of Bologna, Venice and Genoa, favoured an almost exclusive concentration of his creativity on the theatres of northern Italy. And in Novara Rossini’s invitation reached him to compose a new opera for the 1835-6 season at the Théâtre Italien in Paris. This was a magnificent opportunity for international renown: again, however, adverse external circumstances proved an obstacle. In fact the première of I briganti took place, in March 1836, too late in the season; furthermore, it was put totally in the shade by the enthusiasm unleashed by the première of Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, certainly the most important event in Parisian operatic life in the 1830s. Mercadante did not lose heart, however, and set to again, with passionate inspiration, producing in five years the group of his great master works: Il giuramento, Le due illustri rivali, Elena da Feltre, Il bravo and La vestale. These were scores that constituted artistically the highest peak of his output, ensuring for his name a distinguished place in the history of opera. Elena da Feltre occupies the central position in this group, and not only for chronological reasons…”

Referring to this particular score—which he loved very much—Mercadante in fact registered, in a famous letter to his friend Francesco Florimo, the ideas which constituted, in a certain sense, the “manifesto” of his reforms. After the distant Zaira of 1831, Elena also marked the composer’s return with a new opera to the Neapolitan stage of San Carlo, the path to which, it was said, had been cleared for him by the death af Donizetti. Accepting the invitation sent him by the impresario Domenico Barbaja for the 1838-9 carnival season, Mercadante decided to collaborate with Salvatore Cammarano (Naples, 1801–1852), one of the most esteemed librettists of the time, the author of over fifty opera libretti, among them Lucia di Lammermoor and Poliuto for Donizetti, Luisa Miller and Il trovatore for Verdi, and Saffo for Pacini. After Elena Cammarano wrote seven more libretti for Mercadante: La vestale, Il proscritto, Il reggente, Il Vascello de Gama, Orazi e Curiazi, Medea (to an original draft by Felice Romani) and Virginia. To this day the literary source of Elena da Feltre remains unknown: a somewhat anomalous case, as in those years Italian libretti were almost always inspired by pre-existent sources, often plays of French origin; John Black, today one of the major scholars on Cammarano, furthermore singles out some possible relationship between the subject of our opera and the play Elena degli Uberti by Franceschi. Among Mercadante’s letters, we find no reference to this matter, only one allusion: “Cammarano has sent me a subject, Elena degli Uberti, which I like, finding in it strong passions, rapid action and a good cast in general, although too many arias”. The plot, a story of love, betrayals and revenge, takes place in 1250 in the Guelph city of Feltre, near Belluno, occupied and ruled by the Ghibelline Boemondo (second tenor), lieutenant of Ezzelino III. Boemondo wants the marriage of his daughter Imberga (second soprano) to Guido (principal bass), who, however, is in love with Elena (principal soprano), daughter of Sigifredo (second bass), head of the Guelph party and therefore a fugitive. Elena, who is also in love with Guido, is frustrated by Ubaldo (principal tenor) who, carried away by passion for her, prevents the union between the two, thanks to the aid of the powerful Boemondo. A passionate resolution weighs upon the opera, in which, among. Other things, Mercadante overturns the usual scheme by attaching a morally negative value to the tenor rôle consequently giving a positive value to the bass. Elena da Feltre requires three excellent interpreters of the main rôles, although throughout the opera a sort of veto prevails on the traditional ingredients of solo singing: structural articulation the matic characterisation and exasperating technical difficulty. At the San Carlo the rôle of Elena was created by the soprano Giuseppina Ronzi De Begnis; that of the fiery and unhappy Guido by the bass-baritone Paul Barroilhet; the traitor Ubaldo was played by the great French tenor Adolphe Nourrit, the first Arnold in Rossini’s Guillaume Tell, who died a few months after the première. The other rôles were taken by Pietro Gianni (Sigifredo) Emilia Gandaglia (Imberga) Teofilo Rossi (Boemondo) and Giuseppe Benedetti (Gualtiero) while Giuseppe Festa conducted. The opera was received by the Neapolitan public without great enthusiasm and was not revived at the San Carlo after the first production, but it achieved a considerable success in the rest of Italy and Europe where it was performed in several places between 1839 and 1860 with twenty performances at La Scala in the 1843 autumn season. In 1842 Elena reached London where it was staged on 15th January at Covent Garden (in English) and on 31st May at Her Majesty’s Theatre (in Italian) before reaching the Theatre Royal, Dublin (in English) on 9th July, sung by the soprano Adelaide Kemble, the tenor Shrivall and the baritone and Irish composer Michael William Balfe.

In the famous letter sent to his friend Florimo on 1st January 1838, exactly one year before the première of Elena da Feltre, Mercadante outlined his plan for reform: “I have continued the revolution I began with Il giuramento: forms varied, vulgar cabalettas banished, crescendos out, a narrower tessitura, fewer repeats, more originality in the cadences, emphasis on the drama, orchestra rich but not so as to swamp the voices in the ensembles, no long solos, which force the other parts to stand coldly by to the detriment of the action, not much bass drum, and a lot less brass.” That forms should be varied, especially in the sense of a general condensing and reducing, is clear in the ordered scheme of the opera, related below. For example, no solo moment is given to the name part other than two simple Preghiere and a Romanza in Act I (and not an aria!). All three pieces, corresponding to phases of intense expressive emotion, are also structured in a single movement, but in the Romanza: Ah, del tenero amor mio, where Elena, carried away by passion, dreams of being united with Guido, Mercadante translates perfectly the excess of feeling, entrusting to a solo flute the warmth of the melody, which is accompanied by first violins with arpeggio chords on a rocking triple rhythm, in the luminous key of G major. The Preghiere: Madre che in ciel and Per quest’orrendo strazio, both in Act III, depict wonderfully, in the reduction of their form to a simple state, Elena’s total distress when faced with the calamity that, having lost her father and her lover Guido, nothing is left to her now but to invoke the heavenly Mother and wait for divine aid. There is, among other things, an interesting and very noticeable connection between the second Preghiera and the opera’s Overture, in the initial Andante of which a quartet of cellos anticipates both the theme and the interesting tone-colour of this painful moment of agitation and jealousy. In the Overture too, it cannot escape the attentive listener that there is another explicit reference to the opera, where in the Allegro vivace Mercadante anticipates the main theme of the brilliant orchestral introduction to the chorus in the finale of Act II, Già Belluno al vento spiega. In his introduction to the facsimile edition of the printed score of Elena da Feltre (New York, Garland 1985), Philipp Gossett examines the statements contained in the letter to track down their concrete application in the opera, offering us other interesting points of analysis: “More originality in the cadences; for example, is one of his statements. While the opera has its share of fairly conventional cadential formulas, there are some remarkable efforts as well, many of which go beyond these conventions. Examine the extraordinarily long cadence, almost forty measures in all at the conclusion of the Second Act Finale. Then compare Mercadante’s procedure at the end of the Preghiera that opens the Third Act, where he eschews altogether the use of cadences outside the melodic period. Whereas in Rossini we know almost unfailingly how a cadential section will be constructed, Mercadante here seems committed to seeking out a multiplicity of approaches”. Vulgar cabalettas banished, he proclaimed to Florimo. Yet when we think again of the Rossinian formula for cabaletta construction (a cabaletta theme, a short transition, and a repetition of the cabaletta theme, often providing an opportunity for improvised vocal variations), we can legitimately be struck by the variety of forms adopted by Mercadante in Elena da Feltre. Only in two numbers, the Act II Finale and the tenor aria Lo sdegno guelfo in Act III, are there fully standardised cabaletta designs. In the other numbers, Mercadante constantly searches for new structural ways to embody the concluding function of the cabaletta. So, in Guido’s aria in the Second Act, No, tu non sei colpevole, the cabaletta, while maintaining the overall structure typical of the form, employs a tonal scheme reminiscent of the exposition and recapitulation of a sonata-form movement. The passionate stretta theme that concludes the First Act Finale is sung twice, once by Elena, then by Ubaldo, but Mercadante significantly varies the accompanimental patterns in both the orchestra and the other voices for the repetition. Sometimes he abandons the repetitive structure altogether in favour of a more direct dialogue between the voices. See, in particular, the interaction between Elena and Ubaldo in their third Act Duetto, where she persists in her denial of her love in order to save her father’s life and he denounces her supposed betrayal of that love. Mercadante also speaks about simplifying the vocal lines [“a narrower tessitura”] in these operas. Certainly they are not as florid as in his earlier operas, and the emphasis remains on dramatic declamation. In the original version, for example, Elena’s opening Romanza is notable for its lovely, simple tune with able chromatic touches and unusual harmonisations. But Mercadante’s reformist tendencies went only so far. When Luigia Boccabadati sang the rôle of Elena, Mercadante prepared a new Cavatina for her to replace this Romanza (the introductory Scena remained the same), and the piece is most noteworthy for its floridity (and some of its stratospheric tessitura). Greatly appreciated by his contemporaries, Mercadante’s orchestra represents a peak of Italian nineteenth-century instrumentation: in 1838, after having listened in Venice to Le due illustri rivali, Franz Liszt wrote that “his operas are without comparison the most correct and best instrumented among all those I have heard […]. The most recent compositions of Mercadante are without doubt the most seriously thought out of the contemporary repertoire.” If in Elena da Feltre the musical writing seems to want to free itself more and more from harmonic, rhythmic and melodic rules, in favour of an increase in dramatic power and expressivity, even the arrangement of tone colour seeks articulation and shadings capable of manifesting, in the same scene and sometimes in the same character, contrasting feelings. The composer establishes for the orchestra an undefined rôle, which springs directly from the relationship between music and words, from a great attention to dramatic logic and from an evident capacity to adhere to narrative developments. In this finely tuned approach Mercadante clearly reserves a leading rôle for vocal colour: although often taking pleasure in the lightness and elegance of fine singing, he does not indulge in bel canto-esque preciosities; he creates for the voices variations in volume and articulation, which confer great individuality and expression to the characters’ parts. At times, the vocal line emerges suddenly from the underlying orchestral accompaniment, because the singing suddenly, without any preparation, rises to long notes in the top register that sound like spasms of pain. Musical criticism of the time did not reproach Mercadante with lack of incisiveness in his writing or insufficient mastery of composition techniques. On the contrary, the negative judgments castigated if anything his alleged excesses: of ‘harmonic richness’ of “erudition”, of “contrapuntal elaboration”, and so on. Certainly his music is structurally too dense to allow for a superficial listening which is satisfied by a few melodic charms, but often the permanence of an opera in the repertoire is dependent on the popularity of just one number, conceived for this purpose with professional efficiency (and sometimes with a good dose of cynicism). Popularity and musical quality are not necessarily in opposition to one another, but a so to speak elitist trait does belong to musical quality, which a great part of Mercadante’s music possesses. His high grade of thematic elaboration demands taste and attention, and therefore found itself at odds with the demand for simple amusement of the main body of the Italian public of the time. His defect lies perhaps in not having pushed his compositional daring beyond the limits of judicious, or moderate interventions within the traditional forms; that did not actually, manage to shatter completely those norms that only Verdi was to overcome in one bound.

In 1840 Mercadante was appointed director of the Conservatory of San Pietro in Majella in Naples, thus attaining the most prestigious academic position in the Italian musical world of the time and gaining perhaps the satisfaction of finding himself, for once, preferred to his artistic rival, Donizetti. The increase in his involvement in Neapolitan musical life—he was immediately also appointed artistic consultant of the Teatro Regio—led him progressively to abandon his links with the theatres of northern Italy. But this is not the sole explanation for the fact that, from 1840, interest in his operas gradually declined outside Naples, where all his last works were written. To understand the phenomenon of which Mercadante—once again—was the innocent victim, the scholar Michael Wittmann finds an interesting justification in the fact that in those years Italy underwent a tremendous wave of enthusiasm for the operas of Meyerbeer. In fact, according to Wittmann, the Italian versions through which Meyerbeer was received, more than to grand opéra, bore relation to Mercadante’s mature operas, which they resembled in a surprising way in many aspects, above all from the point of view of classical aesthetics, proper to both composers. Unlike Mercadante, however, Meyerbeer was able in a masterly way to manoeuvre between a skillful mixture of simple sentiments and crude theatrical brainwaves, much appreciated by the impresarios who, regularly, preferred him to the former. This was a situation that was exacerbated when, after 1850, Verdi’s star reached its zenith on the Italian stage, but it was only by appropriating the results of Mercadante’s experimentalism that Verdi was able to advance with sure steps: “Mercadante was useful to Verdi”, stated Amintore Galli laconically, writing the former’s obituary when, forced by blindness to retire from directorship of the Conservatoire the Maestro of Altamura died in Napies on 17th December 1870.

Translation by Della Couling


The story of the opera Elena da Feltre takes place in the small Guelph town of Feltre, in Northern Italy in 1250, during the reign of Ezzelino da Romano, when it was occupied and dominated by the Ghibelline army. Elena degli Uberti and Guido are in love, Ubaldo, Guido’s friend also loves Elena, but neither knows that they are rivals. Boemondo, Ezzelino’s minister, wants Guido to marry his daughter Imberga, whom the former hates. To further complicate matters, Boemondo and Ezzelino have been trying to capture Elena’s father Sigifredo, who has so far eluded them. Unfortunately things go from bad to worse, Elena is betrayed, duped and double-crossed, by all around her. In a desperate attempt to save her father, who has been imprisoned, and, unbeknown to her, secretly executed, she gives up her beloved Guido, thus allowing the latter’s nuptials with Imberga to take place. Too late she learns of her father’s death as the joyous music from the wedding ceremony sounds. The loss of the two great loves in her life proves too much for Elena and she collapses dead from grief.

CD 1

Act I

[2] In a room in Ubaldo’s dwelling, courtiers, seeing him in deep melancholy, try to comfort him. They ask him to reveal the cause of his sorrow, but Ubaldo remains quiet. [3] Guido enters, asks them to leave, and tells Ubaldo that he will need the help of his brave men. Ubaldo asks Guido to explain, so the latter reveals that the fierce Boemondo wishes him to wed his haughty daughter, whom he loathes, and that he instead plans to marry another woman. Ubaldo protests that he will ruin his hopes of regaining the power that had once been wielded by his ancestors. Guido tells Ubaldo he will renounce all for love, and asks him to promise to help with his escape. Ubaldo agrees, but is thunderstruck on learning that Guido and he both love the same woman, Elena, the daughter of the outlawed Sigifredo. Ubaldo starts to tremble, but explains that he is only trembling for his friend, who will bring Ezzelino’s rage down on his head by marrying Elena instead of Imberga. [4] Ubaldo, dismayed to learn that Elena is lost to him, first tries to dissuade Guido, but when that proves impossible, he promises to help him, while at the same time trying to devise a way of stopping the marriage. He realises that the reasons for Elena’s rejection of him were all pretexts, and in desperation resolves to betray Guido to Boemondo. Then realising that this will not gain him Elena, decides to abduct her. [5] In Sigifredo’s palace, Elena is full of joy with both the news that her father has been able to reach the neighbouring town of Belluno, thus escaping Ezzelino’s ire, and at her coming wedding to Guido. [6] Gualtiero, comes in, to tell her great news: he has seen a pilgrim come down the road from the forest, and points to the approaching figure who it transpires is none other than Sigifredo. [7] Father and daughter embrace. Sadly he tells her that his flight has been in vain, as Belluno eventually fell, but that he was able to escape his enemies after its capture, and that he managed to return so that he could die in her arms. They hear footsteps, and Elena tells him to hide. The footsteps are those of Ubaldo and his men. Ubaldo enters alone, leaving his followers outside, and informs Elena that he is going to abduct her and take her to his home, which she will only ever leave as his wife. She is terrified, more for her father listening concealed, than for herself. [8] Enraged, Sigifredo comes out of hiding, sword in hand, to protect Elena. Sigifredo and Ubaldo prepare to fight, while she tries to intervene. Ubaldo’s adherents hear the commotion, enter, and on recognising the old man, arrest him despite Elena’s entreaties. A disconsolate Ubaldo departs, leaving behind a fainting Elena.

Act II

[9] In the municipal palace, Boemondo is: confirming to Ubaldo that Sigifredo is already held secretly in prison, when Elena comes in hoping to save her father. Boemondo promises her that if she capitulates, her father will live. Before leaving, Boemondo promises that Ubaldo will explain everything to her. Ubaldo reveals that Boemondo’s “price” for saving Sigifredo is to make Guido willing to marry Imberga, which would only be possible if she, Elena, marries Ubaldo. He tells her that he loves her, that he would have given anything to help his friend, but that his love for her has driven him to betray Guido. She replies that she has lost all the happiness a heart could have wished for, that she will be seen as a traitress, and that she would rather descend into a freezing abyss. Ubaldo describes how they are already building a scaffold, and that, the chimes of the great chapel will soon announce the day’s last hour, for Sigifredo who is to die on the block. Horrified, she consents. Ubaldo promises that he will love her more and more every day, even though she now feels death in her breast.

CD 2

[1] Guido is brought to Boemondo’s quarters by an armed guard, who then leave him there alone. He wonders about why he has been brought there, concluding that revenge and death await him, but he vows to die with Elena’s name on his lips. Boemondo enters and tells an unbelieving Guido that he has been betrayed by Elena, as she loves another, and that he will soon see the proof. Boemondo leaves and Guido decides that if an angel like Elena can betray him, then he will never find fidelity, and asks that Heaven kill him with a thunderbolt. [2] The knights and ladies from Boemondo’s court, with Ubaldo in their midst, have gathered together to celebrate Ezzelino’s victory over Belluno. [3] Boemondo enters with his daughter Imberga. He proclaims that a he will be merciful to the daughter of his enemy and points to the door through which a trembling Elena appears. Boemondo announces that she will now need a protector and asks her to name him. Elena entreats the earth to open and hide her, then asks for the courage needed to die for herfather. Boemondo and Imberga are exultant, while Guido and Ubaldo are filled with doubts as they wait for Elena to announce her choice and decide their fate. [4] Bemondo grows impatient as she does not speak and throws Elena a menacing look which causes her to announce that she loves Ubaldo. Guido, in shock, calls her a traitress, asks Imberga to marry him, and lunges at Ubaldo with his sword, but is disarmed. All the parties involved express their various emotions at the same time; Guido is furious, Elena expresses her suffering, Ubaldo his love for Elena, while Boemondo and Imberga, in asides, state that this is only the beginning of their vengeance, with promises of far more grievous blows to come.


Scene 1
[5] In Sigifredo’s palace, Elena prays to her mother in Heaven to be released from her misery through death. [6] Suddenly she hears someone coming, and Guido appears. He confronts her, saying that a small voice lingers in his heart, telling him that she is not guilty. He suspects a larger more horrible betrayal. She is deeply moved by his entreaties and is on the verge of confessing the whole truth, when the Chapel bell rings out, causing her to change her mind. She repeats that she: loves Ubaldo and denies ever having loved Guido. He leaves in fury, while she in desperation, prays for death.

Scene 2
[7] Ubaldo, looking horrified, muses on how he had gone to Sigifredo’s dungeon to release him only to discover that both he and Elena have been betrayed and cruelly tricked, for the old man had already been beheaded. He realises that Elena will never forgive him, and that he has lost her forever. His followers appear and learning of the tragic events they all swear to abandon Boemondo and return to the Guelph cause.

Scene 3
In her father’s palace, Elena and Gualtiero await the arrival of Ubaldo and her father, who are already very late. Anxiously, Elena asks Gualtiero to go to her father’s dungeon, and find out what the reason is for the delay. He is reluctant to leave her alone, but she insists, and Gualtiero goes. Suddenly she hears the sounds of the wedding: procession for Guido and Imberga, realising with a shock, that they are preparing to say their vows. She prays for solace through death for herself, and happiness for Guido. Ubaldo enters with his followers, but without Sigifredo, and Elena becomes more and more agitated as she hears joyous music. She asks Ubaldo where her father is. [9] Even more frenzied, she realises that Guido and Imberga are being led to the nuptial couch. Gualtiero returns with the news for Elena that her father has been beheaded. [10] Grief-stricken she loses her sanity, perceives her father in heaven and collapses. She regains her consciousness briefly, opens her eyes, and seeing in her delirium Sigifredo waiting for her, dies. Ubaldo in his misery swears that he will spend the rest of his life in tears at her grave, while those around him proclaim that an angel missing from Heaven has been called back by God.

Tom Kaufmann

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