- Richard Osborne
Melodramma eroico in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi after Voltaire’s Tancrède; Venice, Teatro La Fenice, 6 February 1813.
The work exists in two distinct editions. For the Venice prima, Rossini and his librettist engineered a happy ending to the drama; but the following month, for a revival in Ferrara, Rossini worked with the poet and scholar Luigi Lechi to restore the tragic ending of Voltaire’s original play.
To understand the far from clear plot-lines of Rossi’s text, it is necessary to know something of the drama’s pre-history. The setting is the 11th-century city-state of Syracuse. Like the houses of Montague and Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, those of Argirio (tenor) and Orbazzano (bass) are constantly feuding. When the Orbazzani gain the upper hand, Argirio’s wife and his daughter Amenaide (soprano) are exiled to the Byzantine court. There Amenaide is wooed by the powerful Saracen leader Solamir but falls in love with another Sicilian exile, the young knight Tancredi (contralto). On her deathbed, Amenaide’s mother gives her blessing for a marriage with Tancredi. Meanwhile, the Syracusans, harassed by Solamir and ineptly led by Orbazzano, have put Argirio at the head of their army. As a gesture of reconciliation, he offers to Orbazzano Amenaide’s hand in marriage, while agreeing to seize the Tancredi family estates and condemning Tancredi to death in his absence. Meanwhile Amenaide, largely ignorant of these events, has sent an anonymous note to Tancredi urging him to return to Syracuse....