Aureliano in Palmira (‘Aurelianus in Palmira’)
- Richard Osborne
(‘Aurelianus in Palmira’)
Dramma serio in two acts by Gioachino Rossini to a libretto by Felice Romani , after Gaetano Sertor ’s libretto for Anfossi’s Zenobia di Palmira (1789); Milan, Teatro alla Scala, 26 December 1813.
Despite its outwardly heroic subject matter and its being a commission from La Scala, Aureliano in Palmiro is in effect a Rossinian chamber opera. The heroic and militaristic elements are strongly stylized and the opera’s finest and most characteristic music is written in an idyllic, pastoral vein. There are three central characters: the Roman emperor, Aurelianus (tenor), who has seized Antioch and freed a number of hostages, including Publia (mezzo-soprano); the brilliant Queen Zenobia (soprano) whose expansionist sallies into Syria, Egypt and Asia Minor have angered the Roman leadership; and the Persian prince Arsace, Zenobia’s lover and fearless ally, a part originally written for the celebrated castrato, Giovanni Battista Velluti. The score’s distinctive colour derives in large measure from the character of Arsace, a comely and affecting young man who seems most at home amid the hills and woods of the Euphrates. Under his influence, Zenobia is transformed from a warrior queen to a woman of sensibility, conforming to the mood of an opera where the woods are apostrophized as the source of true, inner freedom, and where a prisoners’ plea for clemency, salvaged from the finale of the revised ...