Dubious History - Miraculous Music
By John Yohalem [Playbill Arts]
November 1, 2004
I Vespri Siciliani, a collaboration between Verdi and librettist Eugène Scribe, produced some astounding music--but historical fact was sacrificed to fit the drama. John Yohalem delves into how and why a Dutch Revolt became a Sicilian Revolution.
By the time he presented Rigoletto to the world, in 1851, Verdi was cock of the walk. Aside from Rossini, no living opera composer was in such demand. Verdi could choose the projects that intrigued him and, as with many an Italian composer before him, Paris was one of his goals. Thus, when the Opéra requested a work for the gala season of the Exhibition of 1855, Verdi was delighted. But although he welcomed the chance to write for the very different style of the Opéra, to compete with the likes of Meyerbeer and Halévy on their home ground, he wanted a level playing field. His Parisian grand opera must not be set to the verses of some house hack, but to a poem by no less a genius than Eugène Scribe. "I must have a grandiose project, impassioned and original, with an imposing mise-en-scène," he wrote the great librettist in the summer of 1852. "In my mind's eye, I see the many magnificent scenes in your poems, among others the coronation scene in Le Prophète. No one could have made more of that than Meyerbeer did, but given that spectacle, and that situation, no composer could have failed to achieve a great effect.... But you habitually make such miracles, so I hope you will make one for me."
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Cast information (8 November 2004)
Elena: Sondra Radvanovsky
Arrigo: Francisco Casanova
Guido di Monforte: Leo Nucci
Giovanni da Procida: Samuel Ramey
Conducted by: Frédéric Chaslin