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8.660419-21 - ROSSINI, G.: Ricciardo e Zoraide [Opera] (Marianelli, Mironov, Bills, Poznań Camerata Bach Choir, Virtuosi Brunensis, Pérez-Sierra)
Gioachino ROSSINI (1792–1868)
Dramma serio in two acts • Libretto by Francesco Maria Berio di Salsa
Agorante, King of Nubia, infatuated with Zoraide - Randall Bills, Tenor
Camerata Bach Choir, Poznań • Chorus-master: Ania Michalak
Live recording of a concert performance produced by ROSSINI IN WILDBAD for the XXV Festival
Critical edition by Federico Agostinelli and Gabriele Gravagna,
The musical reinvention of a tradition
It was as the result of a dare among friends that Nicolò Forteguerri (1674–1735) wrote Ricciardetto, the epic poem to which he owes his literary fame and which provided the source of Francesco Berio di Salsa’s libretto for Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoraide. Forteguerri explains this in a letter to Eustachio Manfredi, in which he gives an account of the evenings spent in Pistoia in the autumn of 1716, when he whiled away time with some ‘highly cultivated young people’ reading Orlando innamorato (Orlando in Love) by Boiardo, Morgante by Pulci and Orlando furioso (The Frenzy of Orlando) by Ludovico Ariosto, the best of the Italian chivalric epic poems of the 15th and 16th centuries. At one of these gatherings Forteguerri made a bet that he could compose an entire song in stanzas (octaves) in imitation of those famous poems. The dare succeeded, such that the following evening the select gathering was able to listen with great pleasure to the fruit of this poetic tryout from the mouth of the author himself. But that was just the beginning. The aristocratic Forteguerri, who was intended by his family to have an ecclesiastical career, sought to rise high in the hierarchical orders of Roman power. But his bureaucratic duties did not prevent him from completing in his free time his Ricciardetto, in which he succeeded in reviving—albeit in a comic and satirical version—the lustre of this special literary form that he had taken as his starting-point.
It was Forteguerri’s intention to create a sort of ‘little brother’ to the larger-scale poems, a kind of reinvention of the literary genre, from which he had re-discovered yet older models. This is already made clear by the choice of the protagonist. Ricciardetto (who already appeared briefly in Boiardo) is the brother of Rinaldo and Bradamante, but while these two are the plucky protagonists of countless memorable deeds, Ariosto devotes to Forteguerri’s future hero just one tale in a rather frivolous and risqué tone. Forteguerri’s poem which arose from it follows a distinctively playful and satirical course. It relates the ups and downs of the bitter hostilities between Ricciardetto and Despina who finally fall in love with each other. Their adventures (naturally with a happy outcome) blend in with those of Astolfo, Orlando and Rinaldo, who wander around enchanted islands to do battle with fearsome monsters and rescue comely maidens, and also with those of other mad people portrayed in a caricature of chivalry in incredible stories. All this is contained within thirty cantos, in which the episodes are constantly interwoven and give the reader the impression of merry confusion. Ricciardetto had some success. It was first published in 1738 and was issued in various new editions until 1813, when it appeared in the prestigious series of the Società Tipografica de’ Classici Italiani. So the ‘little brother’ of Ariosto, Boiardo and Pulci finally acquired the same ‘classic’ status as its famous predecessors, and it was as such that Francesco Berio di Salsa read it. That said, Salsa must have encountered difficulties with tracking down the material for a serious opera in Forteguerri’s chaotic and rambunctious poem. But he succeeded somehow or other. The episode with Despina and Serpedonte (Cantos xiv and xv) stands out through the absence of the satire and comedy which run through the greater part of the work. It tells of Despina, abducted by Serpedonte, king of the Nubians, in order to take her as his wife. She discloses to the Nubian king that she is already promised to Ricciardetto. Serpedonte’s rage inevitably follows; he has her thrown into a dungeon where she is to perish in misery. To compound her woes, her father, named ‘Lo Scricca’ appears; he is wandering around looking for adventures in the world. He tries to rescue his daughter but is quickly seized and incarcerated. The rescue is brought about at the eleventh hour by Ricciardetto, who has set out for Nubia with some paladins in order to free his beloved, and arrives at the exact moment as ‘Lo Scricca’ is to be executed by Serpedonte before his daughter’s eyes. The murder of Serpedonte, the rescue of Despina and her father, and the reunion of the two lovers form the climax of this tale.
Berio was confronted by a story which was altogether ‘more serious’ than the poem in its general run, but which actually has only two protagonists: Despina and Serpedonte. (The appearance of ‘Lo Scricca’ serves only to add to Despina’s woes, and Ricciardetto appears only at the end in the rôle of a deus ex machina). If a libretto from it was to be created for the Teatro San Carlo in Naples which ascribed necessary importance to the prima donna, both tenors, the bass and to a contralto who had just been incorporated into the company, there was only one way: to let fantasy prevail in order to update the story with new entanglements, episodes and people. It was necessary to carry out the same operation which so many poets have undertaken—namely to construct new stories and new versions of the adventures of the paladins of King Charles the Great and of the people around them. The weapons which Berio seized upon are some of the best known dramaturgical and narrative topoi of opera seria in the early 19th century.
The necessity of isolating the story of Despina and Serpedonte from the rest of the poem forced Berio to invent a long prologue, from which one gathers that the poet changed the names of the people in his model. ‘Lo Scricca’ became the Asian prince Ircano (the bass Michele Benedetti), and his daughter is now called Zoraide (the prima donna Isabella Colbran). Three continents are even represented: Asia, Europe (with Ricciardetto, who has ‘grown up’ and has become Ricciardo, sung by Giovanni David) as well as Africa, where the story is set and from where Agorante (Serpedonte, sung by Andrea Nozzari) comes, as well as his wife Zomira (sung by Rosmunda Pisaroni), a rôle which the librettist has created.
The point of departure is that of a love triangle (the first operatic topos), even if it is a little sui generis: the mighty warrior Agorante loves the beautiful Zoraide and would like to divorce his wife Zomira because of her. This state of affairs is disrupted with the arrival of Ricciardo, who not only complicates the story but who is the vehicle for another operatic theme: that of disguise. The action becomes yet more complicated in the second act, and the topoi multiply simultaneously in a wide variety of situations. Berio organises his material according to Metastasio’s formulas and principles. As in Metastasio’ s libretti there exists also in Ricciardo the tendency to use long recitatives exclusively to advance the complicated plot and to leave ‘emotions’ to the musical numbers.
Equally Metastasio-like is the dramaturgical structure of the ‘double pair’. Beginning with the pairs of lovers Ricciardo and Zoraide, Agorante and Zomira the drama is subsequently ignited by the fact that one member (Agorante) of the second pair falls in love with one (Zoraide) of the first pair, until the original state of affairs is restored in the end. It has to do with a contrivance which occurs by no means rarely in Metastasio’s works (one thinks for example of Olimpiade or of Semiramide) and which summons the impression of a libretto which is firmly rooted in the melodramatic tradition. It does not go without a certain fascination to see the libretto of Ricciardo e Zoraide also as a sort of homage to the Italian tradition of opera seria and its topoi as well as Forteguerri’s homage to the literary tradition of epic chivalry.
On 4th December 1818, the day after the triumphant première of Ricciardo e Zoraide at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, there appeared in the Giornale delle Due Sicilie a curious letter, purportedly written by the deceased Domenico Cimarosa, who at that time was regarded as the guardian god of the Italian operatic tradition. The bogus Cimarosa sings a hymn of praise to Rossini who, with his new opera, has finally put an end to ‘modern musical excesses’, and has returned to the true style which the great masters who preceded him have passed down. To be sure Berio’s libretto occasionally gives the wink to that same august tradition and perhaps Rossini saw himself compelled, because of the absence of dramaturgical and musical experiments (which is a feature of other works of his of this period), to focus his attention more strongly on the musical content. When the libretto offered him no possibility of creating music in which events move forward, the composer tried to construct within the musical numbers a sort of subtle musical dramaturgy based on contrasts between darkness and light, cantabile melodies and musical artistry, or he deployed veritable spatial effects such as the on-stage (brass) band (Rossini uses this device here for the first time, something which became standard practice in subsequent Italian opera).
The great musical fresco which opens the opera consists of a long instrumental number which leads without a break into the first chorus. The ‘gentle melodies’ of which the pseudo-Cimarosa speaks, appear in the middle part of the work, in which the beautiful horn theme finally passes on to the solo flute ) is supported by a rather simple accompaniment. Yet preceding this middle part is a passage which, in its dark C minor, its contrapuntal continuation and orchestral richness, results in the depiction of that ‘Teutonic’ music which (again according to the fictitious Cimarosa) is the ‘wrong way’ (but this ‘wrong way’ is a stroke of luck, since it is music of exceptional quality!). Thus the dark-light contrast here is tellingly represented by the contrast between skilful music and gentle melody. But the musical dramaturgy is intensified further by the presence of the on-stage music, which at first is heard from afar and then gets ever closer. The stage music combines deftly with the opening chorus and in a crescendo the music reaches a fortissimo right at the end in a spectacular coda, which concludes a work in which Rossini produces a most subtle and highly effective use of the physical space of the stage.
Dark-light contrasts, sophisticated melodic invention, the deployment of the physical stage, these are the weapons which Rossini deploys throughout the opera. Take the trio of Zoraide, Zomira and Agorante in the first act (one of the most famous numbers) where at first the characters take it in turns to sing their short sentences to just one melody, in which the composer succeeds wonderfully in expressing simultaneously three different states of mind in just one melodic span. Or one thinks of Ricciardo’s cavatina, whose first section is built from a single large and gentle melodic arch (another ‘gentle melody’), in contrast to the cantabile part of Agorante’s aria at the beginning, which is based on an ingenious and remarkable combination (with a light ‘Teutonic’ veneer) of orchestra and voice. Here too there is artistry versus melody, darkness versus light. It was on this basis that Rossini set up the distinct characterisations of the two tenors, one of whom (Agorante) was entrusted to the interpretative brilliance of Andrea Nozzari and the other (Ricciardo) to the pure singing of Giovanni David. Finally one thinks of the first finale, which is admittedly short on action, but which evolves in successive ensemble passages.
After the transparency of the opening, Rossini succeeds with great skill and dramatic feel in gathering dense musical clouds which consist of modulations and changes of key towards the minor, right up to a conclusion whose drama is heightened once again by the on-stage music. And so it continues through the whole of the second act, right up to the end. In short: although an action-packed story is missing, Rossini succeeds here in telling a musical tale—the hundredth reinvention in a tradition of tales of chivalry which still fascinate us today.
1 Overture and Introduction
A square outside the city walls of Dongola, the capital of Nubia.
2 The gathering troops and the Nubian people joyfully await their leader Agorante, who has just returned home victorious. 3 Agorante tells his people that he has expelled Ircano and his followers because Ircano had denied him the hand of his daughter Zoraide. Now the crusaders are mobilising against him because he has snatched Zoraide from her lover, the paladin crusader Ricciardo. 4 Agorante pours scorn on Ricciardo’s anger; Zoraide, who has robbed him of his love, will crown his triumph. 5 His warriors encourage him in this notion and he abandons himself to his feelings of pleasure.
A room in Agorante’s palace.
6 The young African women inform Zoraide and her maid Fatima of the arrival of Agorante; Zoraide is fearful of his advances and agonises over her love for Ricciardo and the reproaches of her father because of it. 7 Fatima tries to reassure her and at the same time warns her of the jealousy of Agorante’s wife Zomira. 8 Zomira then appears and offers to help Zoraide deal with Agorante’s wooing. Zoraide does not trust the queen and does not reveal her feelings. 9 Zomira loses her composure, for she fears that Zoraide wants to force her off the throne. 10 Both women lament their agonising situation. 11 Agorante comes in and declares that his wife will have to put up with another woman besides herself if she wishes to remain queen. Zoraide pretends not to understand Agorante’s intentions. 12 All three bemoan their fate, while a bridal choir sings a wedding song in the background. 13 Zomira is outraged at Agorante’s courting Zoraide, who tries to mollify him. All three hope, in spite of their opposition, to be united with their beloved, otherwise they will have to exact vengeance or die.
Outside the citadel of Dongala.
14 The scouts confirm to the soldiers that they have control of the area outside the city walls and that all is quiet. 15 Ricciardo and Ernesto moor their ship. Ernesto, as an envoy of the crusaders, wants to prevail on Agorante to return Zoraide while Ricciardo, as a guide with local knowledge and dressed as an African, insists on following him to the palace in spite of the dangers. 16 Ricciardo puts his trust in the fidelity of his beloved and in the friendship of Ernesto, who promises him his help. 17 Ricciardo can hardly wait to see Zoraide again.
A room in the palace, as before.
18 Zomira asks her confidante Elmira to watch Zoraide’s every move. Agorante and his entourage receive the envoy and his African guide. Agorante rejects the demand for the release of Zoraide and accuses Ricciardo of having previously abducted the girl. Ricciardo, in disguise, has to go along with him in order not to give himself away. Ernesto threatens an end to the ceasefire and looks forward to a speedy answer from Agorante.
The throne room.
1 Seated on the throne, Agorante has Zoraide summoned, while his retinue sings her praises as the highest reward for his courage. 2 Agorante reiterates his love for her but Zoraide pretends to be distressed by the separation from her father. Ernesto and the disguised Ricciardo enter the throne room. 3 While Agorante openly continues with his advances and Zoraide bemoans her fate, Ernesto has to warn Ricciardo not to betray himself. 4 Agorante continues to reject the envoy’s demand and declares himself ready for war. Zomira’s protests are also in vain. Troops have already been drawn up in front of the palace and, full of fear, the protagonists all await the impending events, which further intensify their inner turmoil.
An atrium of the palace next to gardens.
5 Agorante is informed by his confidant Zamorre that the Franconian envoy’s African companion has slipped away from him and wants to speak to Agorante. Still disguised as an African, Ricciardo pretends that he, like Agorante, is a victim of the paladin, since he has abducted his wife. Agorante hopes for Zoraide’s affections when the African stranger reveals to her Ricciardo’s betrayal. 6 Ricciardo promises to inform Zoraide about Agorante’s feelings of love for her. Both place all their hopes in the meeting. 7 Yet they can hardly contain their fear and their passion.
1 Full of hope and doubt, Ricciardo waits for Zoraide. He reckons that his friends will join him in time. Zoraide is frightened at the sight of the unknown African person, but Ricciardo manages to reveal himself to her. 2 Despite the danger of being discovered, the lovers fall into each other’s arms. They don’t notice that they are being watched by Elmira, who rushes off to inform Zomira. Ricciardo asks Zoraide to assist him in misleading Agorante. 3 They hope that their love will see them through, since they are meant for each other. 4 Ricciardo is unable to explain to his beloved his plan in its entirety, since Agorante suddenly appears. Ricciardo makes him believe that Zoraide has trust in his words and recommends to him that he feign indifference towards her. Agorante pretends that his love has turned to hate and that she should turn back to the lover who had betrayed her. Ricciardo barely manages in a low voice to let Zoraide know of this deception. She declares that she wants to return to her father in her homeland. Agorante sees all his hopes dashed and intends to have Zoraide thrown into the dungeon. Ricciardo tries to encourage him to be lenient once more. Meanwhile Ircano, who has been able to break into the palace incognito wearing the armour of a black knight, appears in the background unnoticed. Agorante is prepared, contrary to Nubian tradition, to submit Zoraide to an ordeal by battle: whoever fights for her and emerges victorious will be able to save her from punishment. Ircano steps forward unexpectedly as her champion. Agorante is incensed that a foreigner has been able to break into his palace. 5 Ircano explains that he will defend the poor and weak out of pity. He will compete with whomever Agorante declares as his defender. To the horror of the two lovers, Agorante chooses the disguised Ricciardo as his champion; so Ricciardo is obliged, against his will, to compete against the unknown champion of his lover. 6 Confusion and outrage grow when Ircano claims that Zoraide belongs to him. Amidst general trepidation the fighters are leaving for their duel, while Zoraide has to await the outcome in the dungeon. 7 Agorante’s followers inform Zomira that an unknown knight is championing Zoraide, while the African who earlier accompanied the envoy is representing Agorante. Zomira learns from Elmira that he is none other than Ricciardo. Zomira sees the moment of vengeance arrive. 8 Only when this has been achieved will she be at peace.
A deep, dark dungeon.
9 Zoraide languishes in the dungeon. The court servants berate her for her foolish love and for her self-inflicted demise. But all Zoraide has in mind are thoughts of her loved one. 10 Zomira appears unexpectedly. She reports that Ricciardo has been victorious, has been unmasked and is in her power. She deviously pretends only to want Zoraide’s departure from the court and to want to facilitate her escape with Ricciardo. Zoraide is led out of the dungeon by one of Zomira’s servants. Zomira rejoices, but only when both lovers are dead can she consider herself fully avenged. Agorante appears and notices that Zoraide has escaped. Zomira makes known to him the true identity of the supposed friend, while she learns from Agorante that the unknown warrior is Zoraide’s father. Agorante, who by now has ordered the capture of the fleeing couple, agrees to Zomira’s revenge. Her followers inform her that the lovers are already in irons. Zomira sees her position on the throne assured.
The great square, at whose end a triple fork in the road leads to the river bank.
11 The people mourn the fate of the young beauty who was to be celebrated as a bride in the morning. Zoraide now sees comfort only in a joint death with Ricciardo. 12 Ircano too is led to the place of execution. He pushes Zoraide away from him, while she wishes, despite everything, still to be called his daughter. She rebukes Ricciardo for having defeated her father. Agorante appears on the scene and orders the immediate execution of the unworthy ones. 13 Zoraide begs for mercy for her father. Agorante wants to kill first her lover and then also her father if she does not profess her loyalty to him. Zoraide battles inwardly with herself. 14 Eventually she offers the king her hand, but not her heart, at which the scorned Agorante orders Ricciardo’s death. Then Zomira rushes in with the news that the enemies are advancing. Ernesto has landed with his troops who, in the thick of the battle, have dispersed Agorante’s followers. Ernesto disarms the king, but Ricciardo averts the finishing blow and gives back the sword to his defeated rival. Ircano is impressed by this chivalrous act and grants Ricciardo the hand of Zoraide. 15 While all rejoice at the happy outcome and even Agorante sees himself freed from the chains of love, only Zomira is frustrated by her unassuaged thirst for revenge.
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