30 Aug 2011
Vincenzo Bellini: Zaira
Zaira, Tragedia lirica in two acts.
Zaira, Tragedia lirica in two acts.
Music composed by Vincenzo Bellini. Libretto by Felice Romani based on Voltaire’s Zaïre (1732).
First Performance: Parma, Teatro Ducale, 16 May 1829
|Zaira, slave of the Sultan||Soprano|
|Orosmane, Sultan of Jerusalem||Bass|
|Nerestano, brother of Zaira||Mezzo-soprano|
|Lusignano, father of Zaira and Nerestano||Bass|
|Meledor, official of the Sultan||Bass|
A magnificent gallery leading into the Harem; underground hall leading into the prisons; the inside of the Harem.
The beautiful slave Zaira is about to marry Orosmane, the Sultan of Jerusalem; there is a celebration in the harem, and odalisks and eunuchs dance and sing in his honor. The vizier Corasmino sees the Sultan’s decision to marry a Christian woman as an insult to Koranic law, especially at a time when their French enemies are about to descend on them; he therefore intends to prevent the wedding. Fatima, another slave in the harem, asks Zaira how she could have forgotten France and the French warrior who swore to free her, and renounced her Christian faith: but Zaira reminds her that she has had no news of that warrior since he returned to France, and that she now loves Orosmane, who loves her in return . Meanwhile the French knight Nerestano arrives at the Sultan’s court with the intention freeing Zaira: he was himself a prisoner of Orosmane but he was released: he learns however that the woman now loves Orosmane and has chosen the Muslim faith. and that the Sultan intends to release only the French knights who are still in his prisons but neither Zaira nor old Lusignano, a prince descended from the ancient Christian kings of Jerusalem and therefore hated by the Muslims. When they learn this, the prisoners decide to forego their freedom and accept the same fate as Lusignano. Zaira appears with Lusignano, whose freedom she has managed to obtain from Orosmane. By a necklace and a scar Lusignano recognizes Zaira and Nerestano as his daughter and son, who survived the massacre of Cesarea as children and were enslaved by the Muslims. When he discovers that Zaira has renounced her faith and is about in marry Orosmane, he orders her to repent and re-embrace Christianity: Zaira swears that she will do so.
Corasmino alerts the Sultan to the dangers which could arise from Lusignano return to Europe, but Orosmane does not want to refuse Zaira’s request. Meanwhile Nerestano in his turn attempts to persuade Zaira to end her liaison with the hated Sultan, reminding her that her old father is about to die of grief. Zaira does not wish to betray her love and Orosmane’s trust, but in the end she embraces her brother and decides to return to the Christian faith. The Sultan arrives and. when Zaira requests a postponement of the wedding, he suspects that Nerestano is a seducer and orders him. to leave the court.
Zaira’s rooms; a remote place near the quarters of the French knights; a hall of the Harem; a remote part of the Harem gardens.
Fatima encourages Zaira to forget Orosmane, who is so indignant at Zaira’s refusal that he wants to send her back among the slaves in the harem and find a woman more worthy of his love. Faced with Zaira’s tears, he asks for an explanation which she, bound by her promise to her brother, cannot give him at that moment. Orosmane agrees to wait one more day. Lusignano has died, and Nerestano blames his sister. The French knights ask Orosmane to postpone their departure so that they can comply with Lusignano’s wish to be buried in that land; the Sultan, out of love for Zaira, grants the request and pays no heed to warnings from Corasmino, who suspects that the request conceals a trick and who shows him a message in which Nerestano asks Zaira to meet him secretly. Orosmane is still doubtful and decides to test her: he will however have the secret message delivered to her. Zaira reads her brother’s letter and is torn between torment at having to betray the trust of her beloved and grief over her father’s death, for which she feels guilty. She faints into Fatima’s arms.
In a remote part of the harem gardens Orosmane and Corasmino are waiting to see if Zaira will go to the appointment with Nerestano. The pair arrive and Orosmane, seeing them ready to flee and believing them to be lovers, fatally wounds Zaira. At the revelation that they are brother and sister, he is overcome with grief and kills himself.