Figliuol prodigo, Il ( ‘The Prodigal Son’
- Julian Budden
Melodramma in four acts by Amilcare Ponchielli to a libretto by Angelo Zanardini after Eugène Scribe ’s libretto L’enfant prodigue; Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 26 December 1880.
The action is set in Judaea and Nineveh in biblical times. Azael (tenor), son of Ruben (bass), head of his tribe, kills a panther that has attacked a passing caravan of Assyrians. Two of their number, Amenofi (baritone) and Nefte (mezzo-soprano), given hospitality by Ruben, tempt Azael to go with them to Nineveh. After a struggle with his conscience, he succumbs, much to his father’s anger and the distress of Jeftele (soprano), his foster sister and betrothed. In Nineveh he plunges into a life of debauchery, vainly restrained by a remorseful Nefte. Ruben and Jeftele come to Nineveh in search of him. Just as he is about to be initiated into the mysteries of Ilia, Jeftele is discovered in the temple and arrested for sacrilege. Amenofi offers to spare her life if she will yield to his embraces. She refuses. Azael, now repentant, denounces himself as the desecrator, whereupon Jeftele is released and he himself is condemned to death by drowning. Rescued from the Tigris by an unknown hand (possibly Nefte’s) he returns home destitute and in rags to be welcomed and forgiven by Ruben and Jeftele....