Siracusa | Rossini’s Tancredi
Tancredi: “the simple purity and virginity of genius“
In Stendhal’s opinion Tancredi was Rossini’s best opera. He wrote in his biography: “there’s no bravery or grandeur in this opera but only the simple purity and virginity of genius”.
Tancredi premiere held at La Fenice in Venice on February 1813 was a brilliant success. Rossini’s third opera seria became his first acknowledged masterpiece and the first to enter the repertoire – it was regularly performed untill 1860. Only Tancredi’s cavatina Di Tanti Palpiti was still performed in the second part of the century.
A second version of the opera, ending with Tancredi’s death was staged at the Teatro Comunale in Ferrara in March 1813 but the public didn’t like the change so the opera was performed in Milan in a third final version with a happy ending and three new pieces. It is in this version that the opera became popular.
A perfect mix of baroque and modern belcanto
The libretto by Gaetano Rossi was drawn from Voltaire’s tragedy Tancrede. For that libretto Rossini composed an innovative score, combining in an original way the baroque “extreme coloraturas” with the pre-Romantic simple melodies of the new belcanto.
Rossini’s style is the product of a transitional era. The variety of styles he uses, the increased number of ensembles – taken from comic opera – laid the foundations for Donizetti’s and Verdi’s romantic melodramas.
The neo-classical ideal of beauty: sublime elegance and grace
Cimarosa’s beauty ideal is replaced by Rossini’s neo-classical ideal of beauty, where affections are never dramatic but always expressed in a measured and detached way, with sublime grace and elegance.
The opposition between old and new appears also in the choice of a contralto for the title role. Tancredi is juxtaposed to a female character, Amenaide, that has the traits of a romantic unhappy heroine and not the cunning and manipulative nature of Rossini’s others female characters.
Siracusa “the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities“
Siracusa, defined by Cicero “the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities” is the location where the action of Tancredi is set. UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, it owes its name to the Sicilian word Syraka which means “plenty of water” and refers to the city many rivers.
Brief history of Siracusa
Founded in 734 BC by the Greek Archia, a noble native of Corinth, became capital of the first great empire of the west, controlling the sea and undermining the Carthaginians and the Romans power. Remains of that era are the famous Fountain of Arethusa, some temples such as the Temple of Apollo -the oldest in Sicily – and the second largest ancient Greek theatre, after that of Athens.
The decadence of the city started under the Roman domination. Yet several important buildings were built in that period, such as the Roman Amphitheatre, one of the largest in Italy, used for gladiator fights, circuses and naval battles, the Roman Gymnasium and the catacombs, the most important after those in Rome.
Syracuse was conquered by the Byzantine and became from 663 to 669 the new capital of the Byzantine Empire. From 878 is controlled by the Arabs, until, after 50 years of fights, it’s conquered by the Normans between 1077 and 1088.
Synopsis of the opera Tancredi
The opera takes place in 1005, during the fights between Byzantines and Sicilian, under the domination of the Arabs.
Syracuse is still an independent city under King Argirio but it’s devastated by the fight between the two rival families of Argirio’s and Orbazzano’s. Argirio promises his daughter Amenaide in marriage to Orbazzano to join forces against their common enemy, the Saracens, who are besieging the city.
Amenaide though is already in love with Tancredi, son of the rightful King of Syracuse, banished by Orbazzano because believed loyal to Byzantium.
Tacredi arrives in the city incognito and finds out of Amenaide’s wedding plans. He assumes she has broken her vows to him and is bitterly disappointed.
Amenaide, on the contrary, refuses to marry Orbazzano. The latter comes in possession of one of Amenaide’s letters to Tancredi. He pretends the letter was intended to Solamir, the Saracens commander and uses it to prove Amenaide’s betrayal, asking for her death.
When finally Argirio resolves to sanction the death sentence, Tancredi stands up offering to fight to prove her innocence. He wins, yet still convinced of Amenaide’s infidelity, sets off into battle against the Saracens.
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