- Richard Osborne
Azione tragica in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Andrea Leone Tottola after Jean Racine ’s Andromaque; Naples, Teatro S Carlo, 27 March 1819.
The ultimate dramatic source is Euripides , but the version of it closely followed by Tottola comes from Racine who considerably altered the story. In particular, he allowed Astyanax, Andromache’s son by the dead Hector, to survive the Trojan wars and become a pawn in this tug-of-love drama. The opera begins with an overture notable for its inclusion of a choral lament by Trojan prisoners of war. In a dungeon, Andromaca [Andromache] (contralto) is allowed a few moments with her son. She is the prisoner of King Pirro [Pyrrhus] (tenor) whose love for her has threatened his promised marriage with Ermione [Hermione] (soprano). Attalo [Attalus] (tenor) advises marriage with Pyrrhus to secure her own and her son’s future, but Fenicio [Phoenicius] (bass) warns that the Greeks will never tolerate such a marriage. Outside the royal palace, Hermione’s waiting-women console her; but when Pyrrhus appears she angrily confronts him, the music of both characters oscillating between anger and self-pity. The arrival of Oreste [Orestes] (tenor) gives Hermione fresh hope: he has come from the Greeks to demand the death of Astyanax, but his longstanding infatuation with Hermione gives her the chance to create complications for Pyrrhus and Andromache. Pyrrhus once more declares his love for Andromache while trying to fend off Hermione’s growing anger, his manner a mixture of affection, menace and blustering self-importance. Finally, frustrated by Andromache’s stubbornness, he agrees to hand Astyanax to the Greeks, at which point Andromache asks for time to reconsider. Welcome as this change of heart is for Pyrrhus, he knows that the ‘tigress’ Hermione may seek a terrible revenge....