DONIZETTI: Don Sebastiano

Music composed by Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). Libretto by EugËne Scribe, based on the drama by Paul-Henri Foucher.

First Performance: 13 November 1843, the OpÈra, Paris.

Principal Characters:
Zaida (Zayda), daughter of Ben-Selim Mezzo-Soprano
Don Sebastiano (Dom SÈbastien), King of Portugal Tenor
Don Giovanni di Silva (Don Juam de Sylva), Grand Inquisitor Bass
Camoens (CamoÎns) Baritone
Abaialdo (Abayaldos), Arab leader Baritone
Don Enrico (Dom Henrique Sandoval), the King’s lieutenant Bass
Don Antonio (Dom Antonio), the King’s uncle Tenor
Ben-Selim, governor of Fez Bass

Setting: Lisbon and the Moroccan desert in 1577.


Act I

In Lisbon harbor, an armada is being readied to set sail to carry the army of King SÈbastien to Morocco for a crusade against the infidels. The sailors describe their preparations for departure (ìNautoniers, mettez ‡ la voileî). Dom Juam de Silva, the Grand Inquisitor enters with Dom Antonio, the Kingís uncle. The latter preens because he will be regent during SÈbastienís absence, but Dom Juam (in an aside) mocks him, for he is determined to turn over all Portugal to King Philip II of Spain. A soldier approaches with a petition, requesting permission to address the King. Dom Antonio has just dismissed him rudely, when SÈbastien appears and insists upon hearing the manís petition (CamoÎns: ìSoldat, jíai rÈvÈ la victoireî). He explains that he is the poet Luis de CamoÎns (Luiz de Camıes), companion of Vasco da Gama and author of The Lustanians; he pleads for the privilege to accompany the King on his African expedition. The ominous voices of Inquisitors are heard approaching (ìCÈleste justiceî) as they lead a Moslem maiden to the stake. Much to Dom Juamís displeasure, SÈbastien insist that she be released and aided to return to her native land. The girl, Zayda (mezzo-soprano), throws herself at the Kingís feet in gratitude (ìO mon Dieu, sur la terreî). A trumpet signals the hour of departure, and SÈbastien invites CamoÎns to predict the expeditionís fate (CamoÎns: ìOui, le ciel míenflammeî). As the sky darkens and thunder threatens, the poet prognosticates disaster for the Kingís crusade. Undismayed and his optimism apparently widely shared, SÈbastien boards his flagship. The populace bids the armada farewell, while Dom Juam cynically expresses his hope that CamoÎnsí prediction will prove true.

Act II

Scene 1: A luxuriant African oasis. To one side is the entrance to the house of Zaydaís father, King Ben-Selim, in the distance a view of the city of Fez. Zayda confesses her love for the man who saved her life (ìSol adorÈ de la patrieî), an emotion that prevents her from being able to accept Abayaldos, the Moorish chieftain her father wants her to marry. Zaydaís companions seek to raise her spirits (ìLes dÈlices de nos campagnesî). Abayaldos appears and announces that the Portuguese army is approaching the plain of Alcazar Kebir, thereby rallying his followers to advance against the enemy (ìLes chrÈtiens dans nos desertsî).

Scene 2: The battlefield of Alcazar Kebir is littered with bodies of slain Portuguese and Moorish warriors. King SÈbastien has been seriously wounded, but he thinks only of trying to save his loyal companions: CamoÎns and Dom Henrique de Sandoval. The King lapses into unconsciousness as Abayaldos and his troops whirl in to massacre any chance survivors (ìVictoire, victoire, victoire!î). To draw attention away from SÈbastien, Sandoval announces that he is the King as he dies from his wounds. His body is carried away in triumph by the Moors. No sooner are they gone that Zayda, veiled, enters and searches among the slain for SÈbastien (Duet: ìgrand Dieu! as miser est. is grandeeî). She recognizes him and soon they confess their irrepressible love. When Abayaldos and his scavengers return once more (ìDu sange, cíest la loi du prophËteî), Zayda begs him to spare the life of this man, offering to marry Abayaldos at once if he will only let this wounded man live, explains that as a Christian had once saved her life in Lisbon, she has vowed some day to save a life in return. Grudgingly and suspiciously, Abayaldos consents. Zayda leaves with the party of Moors. Alone on the darkening field, SÈbastien laments the fate that has deprived him of all he cares for (ìSeul sur la terreî).


Scene 1: In a room in the royal palace in Lisbon. Abayaldos confronts Zayda whom he has brought with him on his embassy to the court at Lisbon. Zayda has aroused his ferocious jealousy because, although now his wife, she murmurs someone elseís name in her restless sleep. She protests her innocence, but his suspicions and resentment are not placated.

Scene 2: In the great square of Lisbon in front of the cathedral, CamoÎns, now in rags, apostrophizes his native town (ìO Lisbonne, Ù ma patrieî). Reduced to begging, he asks another soldier for alms, and is both shocked and delighted to recognize the tattered veteran as SÈbastien, miraculously survived, in spite of all the rumors to the contrary (Duet: ìO jour de joieî). In abrupt contrast to their jubilant reunion, a funeral chant is heard issuing from the cathedral (ìDonne au coeur fidËle la paix Èternelleî). To the accompaniment of a solemn funeral march, the cathedral doors are flung wide and a huge funeral procession leads on a catafalque so massive that it requires twenty men to carry it. SÈbastien is watching what is purported to be his own funeral, for in the catafalque is the body that Abayaldos brought from Alcazar Kebir. Outraged, CamoÎns protests the fraud. Dom Juam orders him seized, but SÈbastien steps forward and, identifying himself, countermands the order. In the confusion attendant upon this announcement, CamoÎns eludes capture and later determines to rouse support for the discredited king. Beside himself with rage, Abayaldos recognizes in SÈbastien the man whom Zayda had begged him to spare and his hated rival (Sextet: ìDíespoir et de terreurî). Dom Juam orders the pretender seized so that hem ay be tried by the Inquisition (ìScÈlÈrat, ah, en vain tu tentesî). Those opposed to SÈbastien are determined he must die (Stretta of the finale: ìIl faut quíil pÈrisse!î).

Act IV

In the subterranean hall where the Inquisitors examine and torture their prisoners, the hooded and masked officials assemble (ìO vo˚tes souterrainesî). The implacable Dom Juam urges them to fulfill their sacred obligations. SÈbastien is led in and in answer to Dom Juamís interrogation, he steadfastly insists upon his true identity. A veiled witness is produced, Zayda, who swears a solemn oath of her veracity as she recounts how she spared SÈbastienís life upon the battlefield. Dom Juam accuses her of blasphemy; Abayaldos, of adultery (ìVa, perjure, epouse impieî). Although SÈbastien and Zayda protest their innocence, Dom Juam charges them both with treason and orders them to prison, while the outraged curses of the Inquisitors pronouncing anathema fall about the ears of the hapless pair.

Act V

Scene 1: A room in the Tower of Lisbon. To one side there is a door opening upon a balcony; to the other, double doors that lead to the interior of the prison. Dom Juam has summoned Zayda, offering to spare SÈbastienís life if she can persuade him to sign a document denying that he is the rightful king and abdicating all claims to the throne. Zayda eagerly accepts this offer, thinking of the pleasure of sacrificing herself to spare her beloved (ìMourir pour ce quíon aime!î). When SÈbastien is taken to her so that she may explain the Inquisitorís proposal, the King scornfully rejects the document, preferring death to dishonor. Yet, as he realizes the sacrifice that Zayda is intending to make (Duet: ìVain espoir, vain effortî), he declares that he would gladly renounce his throne if only they might live and love. Just then CamoÎns voice is heard, as he makes his way up a rope ladder to the balcony (Barcarolle: ìPËcheur de la riveî). He has come to help them escape and lead them to Sebastienís loyal supporters (Trio: ìDe la prudence et du mystËreî).

Brief final scene: Outside and beneath the tower, Abayaldos warns Dom Antonio that CamoÎns is leading a conspiracy to free the King, a plot that the regent acknowledges he is perfectly aware of, as he awaits his prey. When the figures of Zayda and SÈbastien are seen descending the rope ladder from the balcony, gunshots ring out and two corpses plummet into the harbor below. Dom Juam arrives exultantly, dismissing Antonio as he announces the annexation of Portugal by King Philip II of Spain. The distant voice of CamoÎns is heard celebrating the memory of King SÈbastien I.

[Synopsis Source: Opera Orchestra of New York]

Click here for the complete libretto

Click here for the complete libretto (Italian tranlsation)

image_description=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848)
first_audio_name=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): Don Sebastiano
second_audio_name=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): Don Sebastiano
Windows Media Player
product_title=Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848): Don Sebastiano
product_by=Fedora Barbieri (Zaida), Gianni Poggi (Don Sebastiano), Giulio Neri (Don Giovanni Da Silva), Enzo Mascherini (Camoens), Dino Dondi (Abaialdo), Paolo Washington (Don Enrico), Angelo Rossi (Don Antonio), Ugo Novelli (Ben-Selim), Coro e Orchestra Del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Carlo Maria Giulini (cond.)
Live performance, 2 May 1955, Firenze