Spontini – La Vestale

Music composed by Gaspare Spontini. Libretto by Etienne de Jouy.

First Performance: 15 December 1807, the OpÈra, Paris

Principal Characters:
Licinius, a Roman general Tenor
Cinna, commander of the legion Tenor
The Pontifex Maximus Bass
The Chief Soothsayer Bass
A Consul Bass
Julia, a young Vestal virgin Soprano
The High Priestess Mezzo-Soprano

Setting: Republic of Rome, c. 269 B.C.E.


Act I

The young commander, Licinius, has returned to Rome in triumph.
Nonetheless, he is filled with dread. He tells his friend, Cinna, that his
beloved Julia joined the cult of Vesta, the goddess of the hearth, while he
was in Gaul. Julia asks the head priestess that she not be present during the
commander’s honor; but, her request is denied. As Julia presents Licinius
with the golden wreath, he whispers to her that he plans to abduct her that

Act II

Julia stands watch before the sacred flame, which must never go out. She
prays to Vesta for deliverance from her sinful love. Yet, she races to open
the temple doors to allow Licinius entry. When Licinius arrives, he swears to
free her from her obligations. The sacred flame goes out as they pledge
mutual fidelity. Cinna warns Licinius to escape at once. The Pontifex Maximus
arrives and accuses Julia of perfidy. He demands to know the name of the
intruder. Julia refuses to name Licinius. She is then cursed, stripped of her
garments and sentenced to death.


Julia is to be buried alive. Licinius and Cinna plead for mercy. The
Pontifex Maximus is unyielding. Licinius confesses that he is to blame; but
Julia claims that she does not know him. She is led before the altar and
climbs down into the open grave. A storm envelopes the temple. A lightning
bolt ignites Julia’s veil that had fallen near the altar and the sacred flame
is rekindled. Licinius and Cinna rescue Julia from the grave. The High
Priestess recognizes divine intervention. All are forgiven. Julia is freed
from her vows. Licinius takes Julia’s hand and leads her to the altar where
they are married.

here for the complete libretto

image_description=Le supplice d’une vestale (1790) by Henri-Pierre Danloux (1753-1809) [Source: Wikipedia]
first_audio_name=Gaspare Spontini: La Vestale
product_title=Gaspare Spontini: La Vestale
product_by=Leyla Gencer (Julia), Renato Bruson (Cinna), Robleto Merolla (Licinius), Agostino Ferrin (The Pontifex Maximus), Franca Mattiucci (The High Priestess), Sergio Sisti (The Chief Soothsayer), Enrico Campi (A Consul), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Massimo di Palermo, Fernanco Previtali (cond.)
Live performance, 4 December 1969, Palermo (sung in Italian)
product_id=Above: Le supplice d’une vestale by Henri-Pierre Danloux (1790) [Source: Wikipedia]