Opera Scotland

Promessi Sposi I Promessi Sposi; The Betrothed Lovers

Music

Amilcare Ponchielli (born Paderno, nr Cremona, 31 August 1834; died Milan, 17 January 1886).

Text

Anon (possibly the composer and friends), revised by Emilio Praga.

Source

Novel (1821-7, revised 1840-2) by Alessandro Manzoni (1785-1873).

 

Premieres

First Performance: Cremona (Teatro Concordia), 30 August 1856.

First Performance (Revision): Milan (Teatro dal Verme), 5 December 1872.

First Performance in UK: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 23 March 1881.

First Performance in Scotland: As above.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.

 

Background

The writing of The Betrothed occupied Manzoni for a number of years, and it is justifiably considered to be one of the most important works of Italian literature of the last two centuries. For that reason alone, it was inevitable that someone would try to carve an opera out of it, even though it is a long and complex plot. Verdi himself declared any operatic adaptation to be an impossibility. The interweaving of the fictional activities with historical events works well, it is beautifully written (Manzoni was considered to be almost the founder of modern standard Italian as a language), and the characters are all satisfyingly three-dimensional. It is perhaps a pity that Ponchielli, clearly young and enthusiastic, chose it as his first attempt at operatic composition, and may have produced his own adaptation of the novel. He inevitably lacked the experience of a seasoned professional, and while the music was received enthusiastically by his home town audience, the libretto was pilloried, and Praga's revision is still far from ideal. And the composer's own style had developed, with the result that the contrast of original music with the new or revised elements was perhaps too obvious. Nevertheless, there are a number of characteristically stirring melodies in the work.

Only one other composer of importance seems to have been tempted to have a go at the subject, though a number of minor figures had tried previously. This successful rival was Errico Petrella, with a much admired libretto by Antonio Ghislanzoni. This version of 1869 was played at a number of opera houses round Italy.

Ponchielli's version has only made two appearances in Britain. The first staging, by Carl Rosa, was launched at the Edinburgh Theatre Royal in 1881. And exactly fifty years later, the enterprising Glasgow Grand Opera Society, having had a success with La Gioconda, mounted their production of the earlier work.

 

Characters

Luisa (soprano)

The Lady of Monza (mezzo-soprano)

Renzo (tenor)

Don Rodrigo (baritone)

Father Cristoforo, a Capuchin friar (bass)

Agnese, Lucia's mother (soprano)

Cardinal Federico Borromeo (bass)

Griso, Don Rodrigo's henchman (baritone)

The Nameless One (tenor)

 

Plot Summary

The story is set in the province of Milan, under Spanish occupation in the seventeenth century, around 1629-30. Two young peasants, Renzo and Lucia, are betrothed, but Lucia is lusted after by the local overlord, Don Rodrigo, and they are forced to take flight from the district. Their adventures as they travel round the country are complex, and they find themselves involved in various events of historical importance before they are eventually reunited for a happy ending, following the death of Don Rodrigo from the plague.

The Cast

Agnese
 Lucia's mother
Don Rodrigo
 
Fra Cristoforo
 a Capuchin friar
Lady of Monza
 an abbess
Lucia
 betrothed to Renzo
Renzo
 betrothed to Lucia

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