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Le supplice d'une vestale (1790) by Henri-Pierre Danloux (1753-1809) [Musée du Louvre]
12 Aug 2007

SPONTINI: La Vestale

La Vestale, a tragédie lyrique in three acts.

Gaspare Spontini: La Vestale

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)


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

First Performance: 15 December 1807, the Opéra, 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 evening.

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.

Click here for the complete libretto.

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