Recycled Brilliance:  Rossini's 'Sigismondo'

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Rossini: Sigismondo

3 min 58 sec
 
Sigismondo i

The king's trusted lieutenant Ladislao (Antonio Siragusa) has duped the king into ordering the death of his own wife, Aldimira (Olga Peretyatko). Studio Amati Bacciardi hide caption

itoggle caption Studio Amati Bacciardi
Sigismondo

The king's trusted lieutenant Ladislao (Antonio Siragusa) has duped the king into ordering the death of his own wife, Aldimira (Olga Peretyatko).

Studio Amati Bacciardi

The Hit Single

Early in Act One, as Aldimira (soprano Olga Peretyatko) is hiding out in the forest, she sadly reflects on her situation -- that the love of her life has ordered her death -- in the aria "Oggetto amabile" -- "One that I love".

"One that I love"

6 min 17 sec
 

The B Side

Later in the first act, Aldimira and Sigismondo (mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona) sing the intense duet "Un segreto è il mio tormento" -- "My secret torment." She's afraid to admit who she really is, while he's haunted by this woman who reminds him of the wife he condemned to death.

"My secret torment"

4 min 50 sec
 

During the early decades of the 1800's Gioachino Rossini was among the most popular composers in Europe — a true musical megastar.  But then, as now, even the most consistent hit-makers stumble from time to time, as Rossini proved with his thorny 1814 opera Sigismondo.

At the time, Rossini had recently composed a series of successes, including his powerful drama Tancredi and the sparkling, mirror-image comedies The Italian Girl in Algiers and The Turk in Italy. So the audience at the premiere of Sigismondo, which was given at Venice's legendary theater La Fenice, was expecting something special.

Instead, the new show was a bust. For one thing, the plotline was confusing at best — but that wasn't the worst of it. What seemed to annoy people most of all was the music. A number of the opera's tunes had already been used in earlier works, so critics considered the score unoriginal. And Rossini's operas were so popular that many in the audience were disappointed; they knew those earlier works, and were hoping for something completely new.

Still, for modern audiences, that recycled music hardly raises an eyebrow. For one thing, when Rossini took music from earlier operas, he was borrowing from his own work — not a bad source of material. And he wrote so many operas, nearly 40 in all, that by now many of his early scores are unfamiliar. So to modern ears, despite its borrowings, the rarely-heard Sigismondo sounds fresh — as though it's a brand new offering by one of opera's all time greats.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone brings us a production of Sigismondo from the annual Rossini Opera Festival in Pesaro, the composer's hometown, on Italy's Adriatic coast.  The stars are mezzo-soprano Daniela Barcellona as Sigismondo, the king of Poland; and soprano Olga Peretyatko in a fiery performance as Aldimira, the king's unjustly accused wife.

See the previous edition of World of Opera or the full archive.

The Story of 'Sigismondo'

An unstable Sigismondo cowers by his bed. i

An unstable Sigismondo (Daniela Barcellona) cowers by his bed,  tormented by memories of the wife he sentenced to death. In this production, Act One is set in a mental institution. Studio Amati Bacciardi hide caption

itoggle caption Studio Amati Bacciardi
An unstable Sigismondo cowers by his bed.

An unstable Sigismondo (Daniela Barcellona) cowers by his bed,  tormented by memories of the wife he sentenced to death. In this production, Act One is set in a mental institution.

Studio Amati Bacciardi

Who's Who

Daniela Barcellona ……….. Sigismondo
Olga Peretyatko ………………. Aldimira
Antonio Siragusa …………….. Ladislao
Manuela Bisceglie ………….. Analdilda
Andrea Concetti ……………... Zenovito
Enea Scala …………………… Radotski

Bologna Municipal Theater Orchestra and Chorus

Michele Mariotti, conductor

As even the most die-hard opera fans know, operatic stories — even the best of them — can be a tricky business.

There are many opera plots that at first glance seem horribly confusing, even implausible.  But when they're examined more closely, and their intricate details become clearer, their stories come into focus.  The same might be said of certain plays by Shakespeare, or classic Greek dramas.  They require a bit of study.

Then there are stories like Rossini's Sigismondo, in which every detail that's revealed seems to make the whole thing even more preposterous — to the point where it's easy to give up on the opera altogether.  But, when it's kept simple, even this opera's confounding plot clears up a little bit. So here it is in a nutshell.

The title character is the king of Poland, who had been happily married to the beautiful Aldimira.  But Sigismondo found himself in a predicament similar to the character Othello, in Shakespeare's tragedy and Verdi's famous opera: His wife was falsely accused of infidelity by one of Sigismondo's own lieutenants, a fellow named Ladislao.  Sigismondo believed the accusations, and ordered Aldimira to be hauled off into the forest and executed.

But as ACT ONE begins, Sigismondo is having second thoughts, and his colleagues are afraid he's going around the bend.  He's afraid Aldimira might have been innocent and it's starting to drive him crazy, as he truly loved her.

The situation has also put Sigismondo's kingdom in danger.  Aldimira was the daughter of Ulderico, the king of Bohemia.  Word has come that Ulderico wants revenge for his daughter's death.  So he's about to invade Poland, and Sigismondo's armies are ill-prepared for war.

But it turns out that Aldimira isn't dead after all.  A nobleman named Zenovito saved her, and hid her in a modest house in the woods, near the Bohemian border.  When Sigismondo and his patrolling soldiers stumble on the cottage, Aldimira fears that if the king recognizes her, he'll be angry and kill her for sure this time.

So Zenovito and Aldimira pretend that she's actually Zenovito's sister, calling her Egelinda, and they hatch a wild plan.  They propose that Sigismondo take this "Egelinda" back to his castle, and pass her off as Aldimira.  Ulderico will thus think his daughter is safe, and call off his invasion.  And Sigismondo, not knowing that he has actually found his wife alive, won't order her execution all over again.  Sigismondo agrees, and as first act ends, Aldimira is headed to the palace, while the villain Ladislao is worried that his false accusations will be revealed and Sigismondo goes off to confront the Bohemian invaders.

Ladislao i

Ladislao (Antonio Siragusa) maintains the upper hand until the end of the opera, when his minion Radotski (Enea Scala) betrays him. Studio Amati Bacciardi hide caption

itoggle caption Studio Amati Bacciardi
Ladislao

Ladislao (Antonio Siragusa) maintains the upper hand until the end of the opera, when his minion Radotski (Enea Scala) betrays him.

Studio Amati Bacciardi

In ACT TWO Aldimira makes her grand appearance at Sigismondo's court, but things don't go quite as planned.  The people do accept Aldimira as herself, the queen, somehow returned from the dead.  And Sigismondo still believes that she's actually someone else.

But Ladislao stays true to his villainous form.  He goes to Ulderico and tells him that the woman who looks so much like his daughter is really a fake.  Ulderico believes him and begins his attack on Sigismondo's armies, quickly gaining the upper hand.

Still, all is not lost.  By this time, Ladislao's henchman Radotski is fed up with his treacherous boss.  All the while, he has held a letter suggesting that Ladislao's accusations of Aldimira were phony — and proving that Aldimira really is, well, Aldimira.  Faced with that evidence, Ladislao confesses and is promptly arrested.  Ulderico realizes that his daughter is still alive, and again becomes an ally to Poland.  And Sigismondo, who loved Aldimira all along, gladly takes her back as the opera ends.

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