|About this Recording
8.660403-04 - ROSSINI, G.: Sigismondo [Opera] (Gritskova, Aleida, Tarver, Bakonyi, Poznań Camerata Bach Choir, Virtuosi Brunensis, Fogliani)
Gioachino Rossini (1792–1868)
Dramma per musica in due atti • Libretto by Giuseppe Foppa
Sigismondo, King of Poland ............................... Margarita Gritskova, Mezzo-soprano
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań • Chorus-master: Ania Michalak
Recorded live at the Trinkhalle, Bad Wildbad, Germany, 14th, 16th and 24th July 2016 for the XXVIII ROSSINI IN WILDBAD Festival (Artistic director: Jochen Schönleber)
Anatomy of a Failure
Of all of Rossini’s thirty-nine operas, Sigismondo is among the two or three performed least often. Sigismondo never was a success, from its first performance at Venice’s Teatro La Fenice in 1814, although it boasted a strong cast and a carefully worked out score by the composer, who was no longer a novice: Sigismondo was Rossini’s thirteenth opera.
The reason for Sigismondo’s failure in 1814, and the paucity of modern performances, is usually laid at the feet of the librettist, Giuseppe Foppa, because of what was seen as a confused and illogical story. But Foppa was no theatrical novice. He had started writing libretti for the Fenice in 1793, its second year. He wrote for other theatres in Venice too, and for La Scala he wrote the libretto for Zingarelli’s Giulietta e Romeo, once a very popular opera; he was also active in Vienna and Lisbon. Although he is associated with the genre of farsa because of the early works he wrote for Rossini, he was equally at home with opera seria and semi-seria. By the time he wrote Sigismondo, he had been writing libretti for over 20 years for some of the major composers of the era such as Mayr, Pavesi, Zingarelli, Generali and, of course, the young Rossini. Sigismondo was the twelfth work he had written for the Fenice.
Foppa had also written the libretti for no less than three of the five Rossini farse, notably the one for L’inganno felice, which is based on the same topos as Sigismondo: a rejected courtier maligns an innocent wife, whose husband orders that she be put to death. Instead, she is rescued by a protector and lives under an assumed name as his daughter; when her husband and the rejected courtier come upon her they are astonished and confused. In the end the truth comes out and husband and wife are reconciled while the villain is punished.
The tale of a seriously abused wife who still loves her husband may not be very amenable to modern sensibilities, but it goes back a long way. Ariosto used a version for the tale of Rinaldo, Genevra and Ariodante in Orlando furioso, itself a source for many operas. Several Scandinavian ballads and medieval romances used a very similar story with differing names for the unfortunate lady, and this grand tradition came down to the nineteenth century tied to the historical figure of Marie de Brabant, whose husband Ludwig II, Duke of Bavaria and Palatine, believing her to be unfaithful, had her beheaded in 1256. Only afterwards did he learn of her innocence, and in expiation, he founded a monastery. Over time, the historical Marie became confused with a literary tradition about St Geneviève, Patroness of Paris, and thus Geneviève de Brabant was born. A fanciful book of 1638, L’innocence reconnue, ou vie de Sainte Geneviève de Brabant, fixed the name of the lady in the tale as Geneviève and not Marie.
An early version of the story posited that Geneviève (or Genoveva) was the wife of Siegfried of Treves; accused by the majordomo Golo, she is sentenced to death. Spared by the man sent to kill her, she has lived for six years in the forest, nurtured by a deer. When her husband chases the deer into the forest on a hunt, he finds her, and she is restored to her rightful place.
Foppa himself wrote a play with these themes entitled Matilde, ossia La donna selvaggia (Mathilda, or The Wild Woman), which was the basis for a ballet in 1800 and for his libretto for Coccia’s opera La donna selvaggia (Venice, 1813). For Rossini, Foppa shifted the locale from medieval Italy to a mythic Poland, and he begins the libretto towards the end of the story, when the abused wife (Aldimira) has been living in the forest under an assumed name (Egelinda) for some years, and the husband (Sigismondo) has become psychologically unbalanced and riddled with guilt.
Perhaps Foppa had already overworked the Geneviève plot. Il Nuovo Osservatore di Venezia found it trite at the time of the première, an “unhappy birth from an author who has already demonstrated his lack of skill a hundred times over”. Yet before the première, Rossini had thought that the opera would be a success. He wrote his mother that “if I’m not mistaken, my opera will succeed. The singers are very happy with their parts.” At the rehearsals, according to Azevedo, the orchestra applauded, thinking it was the composer’s best effort thus far, but the public was not convinced. They sat on their hands throughout the whole first performance. They did not whistle (boo) out of respect for the composer, but Rossini read boredom in their faces, or so he told Ferdinand Hiller many years later. As for the music, the Nuovo Osservatore found “many beauties scattered here and there, bright flashes of his genius; but in the middle of all these beauties one discerns little by little a certain laziness—various motifs, certainly always his, certainly always beautiful, but already heard in different contexts, so that the general opinion is that he loves to copy himself because he doesn’t like to work that hard…”
The myth of Rossini’s laziness starts very early in his career, but in fact the score of Sigismondo is carefully worked out. It is true that the overture (presented here for the first time restoring cuts made by Rossini himself, perhaps during rehearsals) begins with an Adagio borrowed from Il Turco in Italia, and a couple of other numbers had been heard before, but if a lot of the music sounds familiar to us, it is likely because after the opera’s failure, Rossini mined it for future works including Elisabetta, Torvaldo e Dorliska, Barbiere, Cenerentola, and Adina, not so much because it repeats a lot from earlier works.
The most interesting feature of Foppa’s libretto is its emphasis on madness and guilt—Sigismondo’s guilt and regret call on him to fall into periods of melancholy madness at least four times. Even the villain, Ladislao, is conflicted and disturbed. By starting the libretto so far into the story, Foppa focuses on the psychology of the main characters (which makes his treatment remarkably experimental), and that focus seems to have inspired Rossini to create new and experimental ways to reveal these characters through his music.
Sigismondo’s opening cavatina “Non seguirmi… omai t’invola” [CD 1 / 4 ] is in an irregular, broken poetic meter, and Rossini sets it to a broken, fragmentary melody closely following the words, which illustrates the character’s psychological state. Ladislao’s arias display doubt and disturbance in their rhythms and leaps, especially “Vidi… ah no che allor sognai!” [CD 1 / 10 ] when he first sees ‘Egelinda’ in the forest. Is she a “spettro, un’ombra” (a specter, a ghost)? The broken rhythms, the trills and the tremolos all depict his turbulence. Also very interesting is the duet for Aldimira and Sigismondo in Act II, “Tomba di morte e orrore.” [CD 2 / 6 ] In fact it may have proved too forward-looking, because Rossini replaced it with a more conventional duet (“Se ricuso i doni tuoi”). The original duet is very successful in delineating the psychological conflicts—fear, anger, guilt, love—which swirl around the protagonists, besides offering some of Rossini’s loveliest writing for women’s voices.
The use of the reed instruments in the orchestra throughout the opera also gives it its own feeling or “tinta” that is different from the earlier works, and makes us feel the opera as an organic whole. The overture is thematically connected with music heard later in the opera which also gives the work a sense of unity.
On the other hand, the vocal format follows the pattern inherited from the Metastasian drama of the previous century, a format that we find in all of Rossini’s opere serie to this point. The central male-lover figure is a contralto in travesti while the main female is a soprano, and the antagonist is a tenor. And of course there is a happy ending.
Within this format, however, we can see Rossini pushing the boundaries, moving towards a more Romantic solution where the characters are individuals and not just types; where the music follows the words and the characters’ psychology; where the coloratura is often an expression of inner feeling, and not just display; and where the opera is more of an organic whole. Perhaps Foppa was aiming at something like that in his libretto too. If he failed (he never mentions Sigismondo when he looks back on his career in his memoirs published in 1840) because the plot becomes more and more unlikely, forcing recognition scene upon recognition scene, piling mad scene on mad scene, still the experiment was a noble one. Rossini’s music, however, would continue to live since he would pull out much of the best of it and adapt it to new situations during his Neapolitan period, when he would have more scope to exploit the innovative techniques which, in Sigismondo, bubble up among the conventional formulae of opera seria.
Apartments in Sigismondo’s palace in Poland.
2 The courtiers feel sorry for Sigismondo in his mental confusion. Anagilda and Radoski are troubled by his cries of pain. Ladislao secretly fears that his misdeed is the cause of Sigismondo’s madness. 3 Ladislao explains to his sister Anagilda and his confidant Radoski that Sigismondo believes himself to be pursued by a ghost. Ladislao still hopes that Anagilda could become queen. 4 Beset by madness the king emerges from his apartments. He speaks to an unseen woman who protests her innocence. As the king draws his sword his confidants restrain him. Bemoaning the loss of his beloved, Sigismondo has abandoned all hope. 5 Sigismondo admits only to Ladislao that he feels himself to be haunted by his wife Aldimira, who has been sentenced to death. Meanwhile he has doubts about her adultery. Trouble is also brewing from his father-in-law Ulderico, who is secretly planning an attack in order to avenge his daughter. Sigismondo orders a recce to be carried out on the hostile manoeuvre near the woodland on the border; he himself will go to the wood on the pretext of hunting.
A remote cottage on the border with Hungary.
6 Aldimira loves the stillness of her deserted spot but can find no peace. Only her husband, to whom she entrusts her undying loyalty, could make her happy, even though it was he who unjustly had her sentenced to death. 7 Aldimira reiterates her gratitude to Zenovito, who saved her when Ladislao’s henchmen wanted to carry out the death warrant on her. 3 When a hunting party suddenly turns up Aldimira conceals herself. Zenovito learns that the king himself will soon pass by. 9 Sigismondo arrives with Anagilda. He sits down on the bench at the side of the cottage. He feels himself to be haunted once more by the image of his wife, while Aldimira and Zenovito, who are secretly watching him, hope for happier times. Both immediately recognize their enemy when Ladislao arrives and brings word of Ulderico’s successful advance. Sigismondo wishes to protect his kingdom but hopes to be able to placate Ulderico. 10 Ladislao has made a shattering discovery in the nearby cottage. On seeing Aldimira come out of the building, Sigismondo can understand the reaction of Ladislao who, thinking he has seen an apparition, takes to his heels. 11 Sigismondo, bewildered, learns from the woman, who seems to him to resemble his wife Aldimira, that she is Egelinda, Zenovito’s daughter. 12 Sigismondo begins to fantasise again and Aldimira asks why he is worried. Both are tormented by their feelings of a cruel love. Aldimira takes herself back into the cottage, while Sigismondo, followed by Zenovito, goes into the wood. 13 Ladislao encounters Zenovito, who explains to him his plan to save the kingdom: since his daughter Egelinda resembles so closely the king’s dead wife Aldimira, as he has just learnt from the king himself, she could be passed off as Aldimira and thus put a halt to Ulderico’s vendetta as unwarranted. Ladislao fears that the false Aldimira could lead to the discovery of his treachery and wants to thwart the plan. 14 Zenovito asks heaven to support his plan, so that Aldimira’s honour can be restored and the traitor punished. 15 Ladislao returns, charged with the task—on the orders of the king himself—to escort Egelinda to the court. But Zenovito explains that she is afraid and refuses to cooperate. Ladislao wants to talk to the stubborn woman. 16 Ladislao composes himself. Since the woman does not want to go to court, she cannot be Aldimira. When she arrives he rebukes her. Aldimira demands a guarantee of her safety, since the former queen was shamefully betrayed. Ladislao is uncertain, especially as she asks him to look at himself to find an explanation for her claim. The conversation stirs them both up and ends in reproaches on both sides.
A room in Zenovito’s cottage.
1 Unseen by him Aldimira and Zenovito watch Sigismondo fantasising. Ladislao too witnesses the scene, unnoticed by the others. In the background Aldimira adds interjections to Sigismondo’s conversation with himself, which hint at her betrayal. Ladislao is appalled, while Sigismondo calls frantically for his wife. Aldimira and Zenovito try to reassure him. All four are lost in their own agonising thoughts. Aldimira declares herself ready to follow the king to court, provided that her safety can be guaranteed. Sigismondo is surprised at this demand but at that moment there is a call to arms. Ladislao, Anagilda and Radoski report the enemy’s advance. They all comfort each other and, in defiance of fate, prepare for battle.
A hall in the king’s palace.
2 In the palace the courtiers wonder why the king has summoned them. 3 Sigismondo wants to put Egelinda’s appearance, in the guise of the queen, to the test. He asks his courtiers to offer their opinions on the person to whom he will now introduce them. When she appears they all spontaneously recognise her as Aldimira. 4 The court celebrates Aldimira as its queen, and Anagilda and Radoski declare that she has escaped a hostile fate. All call on Sigismondo to restore her to the throne. 5 Sigismondo is delighted at the favourable effect that Egelinda has brought about. Ladislao decides to do away with her, while Radoski, stung with remorse, has no doubt about her true identity. Sigismondo would like to reclaim his wife in Egelinda and asks her if she is married. Aldimira answers that a dreadful fate took her husband from her and appears surprised that Sigismondo would like to make her his wife so suddenly. 6 Sigismondo explains that in her his dead wife, whom he still loves, stands before him. Aldimira retorts that that is why she sees herself in mortal danger. He declares that his onetime cruelty was due to honour betrayed, but she accuses him of not having listened to the accused. She is on the brink of revealing her true identity to him but she allows herself not to extract a declaration of love and confirms that she is Egelinda. Both want to suppress their tender feelings which cause them only pain. 7 Radoski is convinced that Aldimira, whom he once betrayed when he was Ladislao’s loyal follower, is still alive. He wishes to atone for his misdeed. Anagilda sees her hope of attaining the throne recede. Radoski, equivocating, reassures her: once she has salvaged the kingdom through her cunning, Egelinda will return to Zenovito. 8 Anagilda confesses that she has dreamed of happiness. Yet if she gained a throne she could be proud of herself. 9 Ladislao abandons himself to his doubts and pangs of conscience. He implores heaven to give him back his peace of mind. If the dread went away just for a moment he would be happy. 10 Sigismondo sees himself pursued once more by the ghost. Under his breath Radoski promises to give Aldimira the letter in which Ladislao once demanded her love. Sigismondo notices that Egelinda is ready to leave. He explains to her how she should conduct herself in the presence of Ulderico, and she slips so easily into the character of Aldimira that Sigismondo almost loses his senses. 11 Radoski reports on the preparedness of the troops. Aldimira confesses how much she is suffering with Sigismondo. Amid the noise of military music she affirms that she will battle against the forces of evil and hope that two noble spirits will triumph. Undaunted, she and the soldiers will take to the field.
A valley where the armies of Sigismondo and Ulderico confront each other.
12 Ulderico hopes to see his daughter Aldimira again and to be able to pardon Sigismondo. Then Ladislao appears and pretends to disclose to him a hidden truth: that fifteen years earlier Sigismondo had Aldimira killed out of jealousy and, now that he sees himself in danger, he is going to present to Ulderico a woman who is the spitting image of Aldimira, but who is in reality Egelinda, the daughter of Zenovito. 13 Aldimira and Sigismondo appear on the scene but, instead of a happy embrace, they get a chilly reception from Ulderico. An awkward silence overcomes all four. Ulderico is sure that it is his daughter before him, but Ladislao’s warning causes him to have doubts and he calls her by her supposed name of Egelinda. Aldimira and Sigismondo see themselves betrayed while Ladislao pretends to be stunned. When Aldimira declares her support for Sigismondo, Ulderico’s anger escalates and, amid general uproar, both kings declare a state of war. 14 Sigismondo is marked by the defeat of the Poles. His soldiers urge him to flee but he hands himself over to Ulderico. Close by, Aldimira can be heard calling for help and Sigismondo sees that she is being pursued by Ladislao. As she breaks loose from him Ladislao stumbles and falls down, dazed. As though in a delirium he confesses to his wrongdoing and acknowledges that Aldimira was innocent. Sigismondo is distraught: because of the treachery of this rogue he allowed his wife to be killed and now he must live with the burden of contrition. Aldimira professes her love for him, which gives him cause to rejoice, but Ulderico has him led away. 15 Ulderico confronts Egelinda with her deceit. Then Aldimira gives him the letter which proves her true identity. Appalled, Ladislao admits aghast that he wrote it at that time. Ulderico embraces Aldimira and confirms to Sigismondo that she is his innocent daughter. She has no desire for revenge against Ladislao, whom Sigismondo allows to live so that he can repent in prison. 16 Aldimira, Sigismondo and Ulderico praise the day that gives them back peace, a peace which Ladislao sees disappear for ever. The couple affirm their love for each other and the chorus celebrates Aldimira and the triumph of honour.
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