VERDI: I vespri siciliani

Music composed by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901). Libretto by Augustin
EugËne Scribe and Charles Duveyrier, based on their libretto Le duc

First Performance: Les vÈpres siciliennes, 13
June 1855, OpÈra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Guy de Montfort (Monforte), governor of Sicily Baritone
Le Sire de BÈthune, French officer Bass
Le Comte de Vaudemont, French officer Bass
Henri (Arrigo), a young Sicilian Tenor
Jean Procida, a Sicilian doctor Bass
Le Duchesse HÈlÈne (Elena), sister of duc FrÈdÈric of Austria Soprano
Ninetta, her maid Contralto
Danieli, a Sicilian Tenor
Thibault (Tebaldo), a French soldier Tenor
Robert (Roberto), a French soldier Baritone
Mainfroid (Manfredo), a Sicilian Tenor

Time and Place: Palermo, Sicily, 1282.

Historical Background: The libretto upon which this opera
is based, Le duc d’Albe by Scribe and Duveyrier, was originally
written for HalÈvy, who never used it. It was taken up by Donizetti in 1839;
however, he never completed the work. Verdi eventually chose it as a vehicle
for a grand opera at the Paris OpÈra, albeit insisting that Scribe make
important revisions. The original libretto was set in 1573 during a Flemish
insurrection against the Duke of Alba, the governor of Flanders. For Verdi,
it was reset in Sicily at the onset of the War of the Sicilian Vespers
(1282–1302), resulting in its retitling as Les vÈpres

Although Les vÈpres siciliennes has been criticized for removing
the setting from 16th Century Flanders to 13th Century Sicily, the result is
nonetheless valid. The French would have been more familiar with (and
sympathetic to) this important event that laid the groundwork for the Kingdom
of Two Sicilies. Charles I of Anjou, the younger brother of Louis IX of
France, established control of northern and central Italy and of Sicily.
Unhappy with heavy taxes and the relocation of the capital to Naples, the
Sicilians revolted in 1282. The French garrison was annihilated. Knowing that
they could not hold against Charles, the insurgents offered Sicily to Peter
III of Aragon, which he took gladly. Charles’ efforts to regain Sicily were
repulsed. Meanwhile, the Byzantine Emperor allied with Aragon, thereby
preventing a Latin attack upon Constantinople and diverting Papal attention
away from the Crusade.

Ironically, the Kingdom of Sicily with its capital in Naples continued on,
even though the island of Sicily was no longer within its control. In 1442,
Alphonso V of Aragon conquered Naples and reunited the two kingdoms. The
Kingdom of Two Sicilies remained in Spanish control more or less until
Garibaldi’s invasion in May 1860.


Act I.

Piazza Grande. The duchess Elena is in mourning for her brother Federigo
d’Austria who has been executed as a traitor. A French soldier, Roberto,
obliges her to sing. With her song, she enflames the hearts of the Sicilians
and a fight begins with the French. The French governor Guido di Monforte
intervenes and establishes calm. Then he interrogates a young Sicilian,
Arrigo, who had been talking with the widow, and forbids further contacts
with the woman, suspected of being a revolutionary. But Arrigo manages to
meet her anyway.

Act II.

In a valley near Palermo Giovanni da Procida, who had been exiled but has
returned clandestinely, Elena and Arrigo meet. Giovanni announces that Pietro
d’Aragona plans to intervene in Sicily if an insurrection starts. Arrigo
declares his love to Elena: she will accept him and reciprocate if he will
revenge her brother.

Act III.

Monforte, in his study, learns from a letter from a woman he had seduced,
that Arrigo is his son. He summons the young man and tells him: Arrigo is
perturbed, sensing that he will lose Elena. That evening there is a masked
ball. Giovanni da Procida tells Arrigo that plans are ready to kill Guido di
Monforte; Arrigo defends his father and the conspirators are arrested.

Act IV.

Giovanni da Procida and Elena have been taken prisoner to the fortress.
Arrigo goes to them and justifies his actions: he had to pay his filial debt,
but now he is once again with them in their battle. Elena confirms her love
for him, and Giovanni reveals that the arms for the insurrection are being
sent. Monforte, in the meantime, devises a way to blackmail Arrigo: either he
publicly recognises Monforte as his father or the prisoners will be executed.
Arrigo gives in, the prisoners are freed, and the governor announces an
amnesty for the marriage of his son with Elena. She is unsure at this point
whether to accept, but Giovanni da Procida urges her to go along with it: it
will serve to buy time.

Act V.

In the gardens of the palace the wedding feast is starting. Elena is
singing, When Giovanni da Procida tells her that at the peal of the bells the
attack will be launched. The woman draws back, afraid; Arrigo is dismayed.
Guido da Monforte cannot understand what is happening, he sees only that the
wedding is in danger. To start the ceremonies, he has the bells rung. The
opera ends with the invasion of the gardens by the rebels, the start of the

Source: Giuseppe Verdi—il sito ufficiale]

here for the complete libretto (Italian).

image_description=Charles I of Anjou at Tagliacozzo
first_audio_name=Giuseppe Verdi: I vespri siciliani
product_title=Giuseppe Verdi: I vespri siciliani
product_by=Anita Cerquetti (Elena), Mario Ortica (Arrigo), Carlo Tagliabue (Monforte), Boris Christoff (Procida), Mario Zorgnotti (Bethune), Giuliano Ferrein (Vaudemont), Miti Truccato Pace (Ninetta), Coro e Orchestra Della RIA Di Torino, Mario Rossi (cond.)
Live performance, 16 November 1955, Torino.