Opera in five acts (six scenes)
Libretto by E. Scribe in S. Duverie
Guy de Montfort, Governor of Sicily
Arrigo, young Sicilian
Sire de Bétun, French officer
Count de Vaudemont, French officer
Giovanni di Procida, a Sicilian physician
Thibaut, French soldier
Robert, the French soldier
Ninetta, her maid
The action takes place in Sicily in 1282.
In the square of Palermo, French soldiers are drinking and having fun. Princess Elena leaves the church. She is in mourning. Today
is the anniversary of the death of her brother Federico, executed by the Governor of Sicily, Montfort. One of the merry soldiers, Robert, demands that Elena sing for the winners – the hosts of Sicily. Elena sings about the sailors caught in the storm. They pray to the creator for help, not knowing that salvation is a victory in their hands. Encouraged Sicilians pick up a song that encourages them to fight. Monfort appears, and soon Arrigo, unexpectedly released from prison. Arrigo tells Elena that she yearns to take revenge on Monfort. He hears his words, but instead of grabbing the rebel, he patiently talks with him. He offers Arrigo a service in the French troops. The young Sicilian angrily rejects his proposal, Montfort forbids him to approach the castle of Helena, But Arrigo neglects this. He will immediately go to Elena. Montford sees him with a worried look.
To the deserted shore near Palermo suits the boat It returned to the homeland of the leader of the struggling Sicilians Procida. To him friends rush – Elena and her accompanying Arrigo. When Procida leaves, Arrigo admits Elena in love. He
knows that a simple soldier is not a noble princess, but he can not conceal his feelings. The explanation is interrupted by Bethune: Arrigo is waiting in the palace of Montfort. The young man refuses to go, but he is disarmed and taken away. Peasants gather on the shore. The sounds of a cheerful tarantella are heard. The dance begins. French soldiers also come. Their cheeky behavior causes people’s indignation. Procida calls for struggle and vengeance.
Montfort, in his office, reread his wife’s letter. Many years ago she secretly fled, taking her son with her. Before her death, she asks for her son: this is the enemy of Montfort – Arrigo. The guard introduces Arrigo, to whom Montfort reveals the secret of his birth. The young man is shocked. His father is a tyrant, a villain!
In the Governor’s Palace a ball. The conspirators, led by Procida, made their way here to kill Montfort. In their plan, they dedicate Arrigo, who is here. A young man is torn apart by conflicting feelings. Unable to withstand, he takes from Montfor a dagger, brought by Elena. The conspirators are seized. They curse the traitor.
Arrigo comes to the prison, where Elena and Procida are imprisoned. He reveals to them the reason for his behavior: Montfort gave him life, he saved Montfort from death; now they are strangers and again enemies. Elena forgives him, but Procida is adamant. Appears Montfort and the guard. Sicilians should lead to execution. Arrigo begs the Count to free his friends or execute him with them. Montfort agrees to pardon the conspirators, but on one condition: Arrigo must publicly be called his father. And the boy fulfills the condition. Triumphant Montfort gives captives freedom and gives consent to the marriage of the son with Elena.
The wedding celebration is being prepared. Elena is happy. She believes that her marriage will bring peace and peace to her homeland. But Prochida reveals to her that the wedding ringing of the bells will be a signal to the uprising. Elena is in despair: after all, for Arrigo, this means death! Wanting to save him, the girl refuses to marry – the bell does not ring to the festive vespers, the uprising will break. The young man accuses her of betraying her love, Prochida – in betrayal of her country. Appearing Montfort, not listening to Elena, gives a sign to begin the celebration. The bells ringing. The Sicilians who have broken in are killing the French.
“Sicilian Vespers” is written in the manner of the French “big opera” with its characteristic decorative and pictorial interpretation of the historical plot. However, the composer managed to translate into her music freedom-loving pathos, strong passions. A large role is played by choirs, dances, ensembles, recreating the image of the people. Here, the deepest national genius of Verdi was most fully revealed.
In the overture are concentrated musical themes, characterizing the main characters and the main events of the opera. The first act is opened by a mass stage, preparing the exit of Elena. Her first characteristic is the heroically invocatory Cavatina “The ship is racing along the waves of the ocean,” turning into a climbing choral episode. In the dialogue between Arrigo and Montfort, the melodious instrumental melody accompanying their recitative conveys the secret feelings of the father, who is hesitant to tell their son. In the second act, Procid’s aria, “O my Palermo”, depicts features of courage, nobility, and all-consuming love for the homeland. Deep lyrics and pathetics penetrate the love duo of Elena and Arrigo. The central place in the act is occupied by mass scenes – the incendiary tarantella, the Sicilian chorus “From shame and resentment”, imbued with anger and indignation (its music begins the overture)
The third act includes two pictures. In the first – the painful memories of Montfort (“Yes, I did not love and was right”) are replaced by a dramatically saturated scene: against the backdrop of the joyfully excited melody of Montfort’s “It’s worth taking a look at my beloved’s face,” the fragmentary recitative phrases of the distracted Arrigo sound.
The second picture is divided into two parts. The first is the traditional ballet for the French “big opera”. The second is ensemble; in the cheerful, laid-back festive music, the conspirator intonations of the conspirators are woven. In a large final ensemble, the voices of the triumphant French, embraced by the despair of Arrigo and the Sicilians, who curse the enslavers, unite.
The fourth act begins with mournful choral chords, conveying the dark atmosphere of the prison and the spiritual state of Arrigo. His aria “I dreamed of happiness” is imbued with restrained sorrow; expressive song melody is simple and noble. The big duo of Arrigo and Elena “Did you call me?” consists of three sections: the pleas of Arrigo and the angry replica of Helena, the recitative narrative of Arrigo and the emotionally lyrical “duet of consent”. In the quartet, which belongs to the best ensembles of Verdi, Elena’s heartfelt lyrics (“Farewell, the country native”), the despondency of Arrigo, the inexorable cruelty of Montfort, the courageous severity of Procida are combined.
The fifth act is built on sharp contrasts. Its beginning is a serene chorus in the rhythm of the waltz “It’s played and the crystal glistens sparkling”, the charming melody of Siciliana, which Elena sings; the middle is the strenuously dramatic scene of Helena and Procida, to which Arrigo later joins; The final is the heroic choir of the Sicilians, who glorify freedom.
1 On the stages of Soviet theaters, opera is sometimes given with changes in the plot. Here it is set forth by Verdi.