Les vêpres siciliennes

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Work data
Title: The Sicilian Vespers
Original title: Les vêpres siciliennes
Poster for the premiere on June 13, 1855

Poster for the premiere on June 13, 1855

Shape: Opera in five acts
Original language: French
Music: Giuseppe Verdi
Libretto : Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier
Premiere: June 13, 1855
Place of premiere: Paris , Théâtre Impérial de L'Opéra
Playing time: approx. 3 ¼ hours
Place and time of the action: Palermo , 1282
  • Hélène (Elena), sister of Duke Frederick of Austria ( soprano )
  • Ninetta, her maid ( mezzo-soprano )
  • Henri (Arrigo), a young Sicilian ( tenor )
  • Guy de Montfort (Monforte), Governor of Sicily ( baritone )
  • Jean de Procida ( Giovanni da Procida ), Sicilian doctor ( bass )
  • Daniéli, Sicilian (tenor)
  • Mainfroid (Manfredo), Sicilian (tenor)
  • Sire de Béthune, French officer (bass)
  • Count Vaudemont, French officer (tenor)
  • Thibault (Tebaldo), a French soldier (tenor)
  • Robert, a French soldier (bass)
  • Court and guests of Montfort, French soldiers, monks, people ( choir )
  • ballet

Les vêpres siciliennes ( Italian I vespri siciliani , German  The Sicilian Vespers ) is an opera in five acts from the middle creative period of Giuseppe Verdi . It deals with the Sicilian uprising of 1282. The opera based on a libretto by Eugène Scribe and Charles Duveyrier was premiered in French on June 13, 1855 at the Théatre Impérial de L'Opéra as part of the Paris World's Fair .


Historical background and prehistory

After Charles of Anjou had received the Kingdom of Sicily from Pope Clement IV as a fief, Konradin , the last Staufer , tried to win back Sicily by military means. In 1268 he and his party members, including Friedrich von Austria-Baden , were defeated in the battle of Tagliacozzo . Karl von Anjou had both executed that same year. As a result, Naples-Sicily initially remained under French rule.

The opera deals with the historical uprising against the rule of Charles of Anjou, which began on Easter Monday, March 30, 1282, in the evening at Vespers in Palermo and quickly spread to the whole island. One of the leaders was Giovanni da Procida . After Charles was driven out, Sicily fell to the House of Aragón .

In the opera, a prehistory that only partially corresponds to historical facts is told, which ends with the Vespers uprising. According to the libretto, the French conquered Sicily under Guy de Montfort , murdered Frederick of Austria and established a regime of terror. Hélène (Elena), the sister of the murdered governor Friedrich, is a leader of the resistance against the French.

In fact, the historical Guy de Montfort was not captured by the Aragonese in battle until 1283 and died in custody in 1288. In other respects, too, the writing workshop at Scribe was not very careful with the historical facts. A historically documented Helena was not the sister of Frederick of Austria-Baden, but the widow of Manfred of Sicily , the penultimate Staufer ruler in Sicily. She was captured by Charles of Anjou in 1267 and died in her prison around 1271.

first act

Great place in Palermo

After the overture is over, drinking French soldiers and Sicilians meet. The Sicilians lament the French rule of terror and want revenge. At that moment, Duchess Hélène, wearing mourning clothes, accompanied by her maid, takes the stage, laments the murder of her brother and seeks revenge. The French soldiers, led by Robert, force Hélène to sing a song. She sings a freedom song with which she incites the Sicilians to resist. When the Sicilians want to attack the soldiers, the governor Montfort takes the stage. The crowd is falling apart. Henri (Arrigo), a Sicilian resistance fighter, arrives and reports to Hélène that he has been released from French custody. Montfort tries to pull him to the side of the French occupiers and keep him away from Hélène, but Henri refuses. At the end of the act, Henri hurries to Hélène's palace.

Second act

Giovanni da Procida, drawing by Michele Parascandolo 1893

A valley near Palermo with the sea in the background

Procida, the real spiritus rector of the Sicilian uprising, has returned from exile together with other Sicilians after three years, is the first to land in a boat and greets his homeland. Palerme! O mon pays! Pays tant regretté ... (better known as: O patria, o cara patria ; "O fatherland, dear fatherland") with the well-known cantilena Et toi, Palerme ... (O tu, Palermo) , which ends with the appeal, contre vos oppresseurs, levez-vous ("rise up against your oppressors"). Manfred and other Sicilians from his company surround Procida. Procida tries to win Hélène and Henri, who have joined them, for the planned uprising. In this case, Byzantium and Peter of Aragon would come to the aid of the Sicilians. Henri assures him of his allegiance. After Procida leaves the stage, Hélène conjures the Sicilian Henri to avenge her brother. Then she wants to belong to him despite the difference in class. Bethune from Montfort's retinue, accompanied by soldiers, brings Henri an invitation to a ball in the governor's palace. When Henri refuses, they forcibly drag him away with them. Procida is too late to prevent it. At this moment young men and women approach in a wedding procession. Procida succeeds in agitating the French soldiers to steal the brides, which happens after a dance. Hélène's maid is also kidnapped. Procida can only prevent Hélène from being kidnapped too. The outraged Sicilians banded together in an uprising.

Third act

First picture. Guy de Montfort's study in the palace in Palermo

Montfort, who was abandoned by his wife because of his cruelty, learned from her last letter that Henri was his son. Montfort lets Henri be picked up and stepped in front of him and reveals himself to be his father.

Second picture. Ballroom in the palace

The room is prepared for a masked ball. Henri, Hélène and Procida are masked among the guests. Montfort, accompanied by soldiers, occupies an elevated place. The festival begins with the ballet Les quatres saisons ("The Four Seasons") with a prelude and the sequence winter - spring - summer - autumn. After an applauding chorus, Procida, Hélène and Henri meet. When Montfort arrives, Henri tells him that an assassination attempt on him is planned. Hélène wants to stab Montfort, but Henri throws himself in front of his father to protect him. Henri is considered a traitor in the eyes of Hélène and the Sicilians.

Fourth act

The courtyard of a fortress

Henri, who received permission from Montfort to see the captured conspirators, laments the loss of his honor. When Hélène is brought before him, she again accuses him of treason. Henri explains to her that Montfort is his father and that he has therefore sacrificed his honor. Hélène understands and forgives him. Procida, who did not notice Henri, gives Hélène a letter from which it appears that a ship of Peter of Aragón, laden with gold and weapons, is on its way. At that moment he notices Henri, whom he again insults as a traitor. When Montfort arrives with French officers, he demands the execution of the conspirators. Henri asks him for a pardon. Procida, who learned from Hélène that Henri was Montfort's son, believes that his fatherland is lost. Inside the fortress, the monks are already singing De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine! Domine! Exaudi orationem meam! Henri begs Montfort on his knees for mercy for the conspirators. Montfort agrees on the condition that Henri calls him "father" one day. Henri initially refuses. Hélène and Procida are ready to die. In front of the executioner, Henri cries out: Mon père ("My father"). Thereupon Montfort pardons the conspirators, speaks of peace and promises to marry Hélène and Henri at Vespers the next day. While the Sicilians and French present hope for reconciliation, Procida continues to seek revenge and the liberation of Sicily.

Fifth act

Garden of Montfort's Palace

A choir of young men and women sings of peace and the happiness of love. Hélène, who is already wearing a wedding dress, hopes for a final reconciliation between the Sicilians and the French. In a duet, Henri and Hélène confess their love again. After Henri's departure, Procida approaches. He informs Hélène that after she says I do and the wedding bells ring, the slaughter will begin. Hélène is desperate and ponders a way out. Finally she tells Henri that she cannot marry him because her brother's shadow still stands between them. A wedding will never take place. When Montfort arrives, Henri complains that Hélène wants to break her promise. Montfort, ready for reconciliation, instead places Henri and Hélène's hands together and says that she should not decide against their inclination. Procida gives the signal for the ringing of the bells. Hélène says no for the last time. Vain. At that moment the bells begin to ring. The Sicilians rush armed on the stage and slaughter Montfort and the French. The curtain falls under the sounds of the agitato from the overture.


The opera is in form a French grand opera with an about nine-minute potpourri - Overture , five parts including a first ballet insert in act ( Tarantella ) and an about 28-minute ballet insert during the mask-resistant in the third act, which is also separately as Les seasons ("The Four Seasons") became known. The choreography for the world premiere came from Marius Petipa .


The orchestral line-up for the opera includes the following instruments:

Music numbers

  • overture

first act

  • No. 1. Introduction
    • Choir: Beau pays de France! (Thibault, Robert, De Béthune, Vaudemont, soldiers, Sicilians)
    • Recitative: Qu'elle est cette beauté (Vaudemont, De Béthune, Danieli, Hélène, Robert, Thibault, Ninetta)
    • Aria: Au sein des mers (Hélène)
    • Ensemble: Quels accents! quel langage! (Peuple, Thibault, Robert, Français, Hélène, Danieli, Ninetta, Soldats)
  • No. 2. Trio
    • Trio : Source horreur m'environne! (Hélène, Ninetta, Monfort)
  • No. 3. Duet
    • Recitative: Hélène! - O ciel! ... Henri! ... (Henri, Hélène, Ninetta, Montfort)
    • Duet: Quel est ton nom? (Montfort, Henri)
    • Ensemble: Punis mon audace! (Henri, Monfort)

Second act

  • No. 4. Interlude, aria and chorus
    • Recitative: Palerme… ô mon pays! (Procida)
    • Aria: Et toi, Palerme (Procida)
    • Recitative: A tous nos conjurés (Procida)
    • Cavatine: Dans l'ombre et le silence (Procida, choir)
  • No. 5. Recitative, scene and duet
    • Recitative: Fidèles à ma voix! (Procida, Hélène, Henri)
    • Duet: Comment, dans ma reconnaissance (Hélène, Henri)
    • Cantabile: Près du tombeau peut-être (Hélène, Henri)
  • No. 6. Recitative, tarantula and scene, chorus
    • Recitative: A vous, et de la part de notre gouverneur! (De Béthune, Henri, Hélène, Procida)
    • March, Tarantella: Voilà, par saint Denis! (Robert, Procida, Thibault)
    • Choir: Vivent les conquêtes! (Robert, Thibault, Soldiers, Sicilians, Ninetta)
    • Choir: Interdits, accablés (Choir, Danieli, Hélène, Procida, Mainfroid)

Third act

  • No. 7. Interlude and aria
    • Recitative: Oui, je fus bien coupable (Montfort, De Béthune)
    • Aria: Au sein de la puissance (Montfort)
  • No. 8. Duet
    • Recitative: Je n'en puis revenir! (Henri, Montfort)
    • Duet: Quand ma bonté toujours nouvelle (Montfort, Henri)
  • No. 9. March
  • No. 10. Divertissement: Les Saisons
    • L'Hiver
    • Le Printemps
    • L'Eté
    • L'Automne
  • No. 11. Finale
    • Ensemble: O fête brilliant! (Procida, Henri, Hélène, Montfort, Danieli, Siciliens, Français)

Fourth act

  • No. 12. Interlude, recitative and aria
    • Recitative: C'est Guy de Montfort! (Henri)
    • Cavatine: O jour de peine et de souffrance! (Henri)
  • No. 13. Duet and Romance
    • Recitative: De courroux et d'effroi (Hélène)
    • Duet: Écoute un instant ma prière! (Hélène, Henri)
    • Romance: Ami! ... le cœur d'Hélène (Hélène, Henri)
  • No. 14. Recitative and scene
    • Recitative: Par une main amie (Procida, Hélène, De Béthune, Montfort, Henri)
  • No. 15. Quartet
    • Quartet: Adieu, mon pays, je succombe (Procida, Montfort, Hélène, Henri)
  • No. 16. Finale
    • Finale: De profundis ad te clamavi (Choir, Hélène, Henri, Montfort, Procida)
    • Ensemble: O surprise! ô mystère! (Hélène, Henri, Montfort, Procida, Sicilians, French)

Fifth act

  • No. 17. Interlude and chorus
    • Choir: Célébrons ensemble l'hymen glorieux (Chevaliers, Jeunes filles)
  • No. 18. Sicilienne and Choir
    • Sicilienne: Merci, jeunes amies (Hélène)
  • No. 19. Mélodie
    • Mélodie: La brise souffle au loin (Henri, Hélène)
  • No. 20. Scene and trio, scene and choir
    • Recitative: A ton dévouement généreux (Procida, Hélène)
    • Trio: Sort fatal (Hélène, Henri, Procida)
    • Scene: Ah! venez compatir à ma douleur mortelle! (Henri, Montfort, Procida)
    • Choir: Oui, vengeance! vengeance! (Choir, Henri, Montfort, Hélène, Procida)

Work history


After the great success with Rigoletto in 1851, before the first performance of the Troubadour , Verdi was commissioned in spring 1852 to write a new opera for the Paris Théâtre Impérial de L'Opéra on a libretto by Scribe by 1854/55. After revising the Traviata , which initially encountered incomprehension, Verdi traveled to Paris at the end of 1853 and devoted himself to his planned opera Les vêpres siciliennes in order to fulfill the contract. The work progressed only with difficulty, not least because he was supposed to set a foreign language libretto to music. In the summer of 1854 he rented a country house near Paris because rehearsals were to begin in the autumn.

Verdi in the 1850s, unknown photographer

In contrast to the Italian working conditions, Verdi hardly had a say in Paris. He repeatedly criticized, unsuccessfully, that the three middle acts were structured according to the same scheme (aria - duet - finale) and that the libretto lacked an inner tension. Verdi objected in particular to the fifth act. In a letter to François-Louis Crosnier , the new director of the Opéra National de Paris, he complained in 1855: “It is more than sad and at the same time humiliating enough for me that Mr Scribe does not bother takes to improve this fifth act, which all the world unanimously finds uninteresting. [...] I hoped that Mr. Scribe would be so kind as to appear at rehearsals from time to time to change individual less fortunate words, difficult verses or verses that were difficult to sing. "

The premiere was also delayed for other reasons. The prima donna Sofia Cruvelli (actually Sophie Crüwell from Bielefeld ), who was supposed to sing Hélène (Elena), suddenly disappeared from Paris. This cost Nestore Roqueplan, the acting director of the Paris Opera, the position. Ms. Cruvelli came back afterwards, but Verdi still considered terminating the contract and returning to Italy, as he was annoyed by the arrogance and "sovereign indifference" of Scribes. Verdi had long had commissioned compositions from Genoa and Bologna , but put them on hold in order to advance the premiere of the Sicilian Vespers .

Problems of the libretto

Eugène Scribe

Verdi received the libretto on New Year's Eve 1853, a few months later than agreed. During the composition he complained about Scribe's lack of cooperation. However, Verdi did not know that there were reasons for Scribe's reluctance. Scribe had not only left the drafting of the libretto to his colleague Charles Duveyrier, but he had also used an old libretto from 1839.

Allegedly, Verdi only learned from a relative of Gaetano Donizetti in 1859 that large parts of the libretto were literally taken from Donizetti's opera Le duc d'Albe (Italian: Il duca d'Alba ). Verdi, who had loved Donizetti, noted the same thing when Donizetti's opera premiered posthumously in Italy in 1882 . The writing workshop at Scribe had "transferred pages of dialogues from one text to the other," perhaps because lovers' arguments are the same in all centuries.

However, research by Andrew Porter, based on unpublished documents from the Paris Opera, found that Verdi Scribes knew and accepted Duc d'Albe provided that the setting of the plot and the title were changed. Verdi also insisted on a fifth act.

Reception and edits

Despite the weaknesses of the libretto and the break in the plot, in which Montfort converts to nobility and the freedom fighter Procida becomes an ordinary conspirator, the premiere in Paris was a success. The opera was then performed a total of 62 times.

That same year, on December 26, 1855, the Italian premiere took place in the Teatro Regio in Parma .

Not least because "Sicilian Vespers" ( I vespri siciliani ) had become a catchphrase of the Italian unification movement (see the allusion in the 4th stanza of Fratelli d'Italia ), under the pressure of censorship during the Restoration period after the unification movement was broken up in In 1849 the plot of the opera moved to Portugal and performed under the title Giovanna di Guzman . The opera was also brought under this title at La Scala in Milan , which re-enacted the work. Only in 1861, after Garibaldi's invasion , the expulsion of the Bourbons from Naples and Sicily and the proclamation of a partial kingdom of Italy under Victor Emanuel II , was Verdi's opera entitled I vespri siciliani (“The Sicilian Vespers”) translated by Arnaldo Fusinato to be performed in Italy.

As a result, interventions and edits were made again and again. In Paris, where the opera was on the program until 1865, Verdi himself replaced Henri's arie O jour de peine from the fourth act with another piece in 1863 . In Italy, the ballet performance in the third act, a compulsory part of the grand opéra , was met with incomprehension, and as early as 1856 Verdi declared himself ready to delete it entirely.

While the Sicilian Vespers is often played in Italy, it remained a "stranger" outside of Italy, according to the musicologist Kurt Honolka . The first translation into German took place in Darmstadt in 1857, Gian Bundi's unabridged translation was performed in Stuttgart in 1929 , and Julius Kapp's heavily edited version in Berlin in 1932 . Honolka translated the work with drastic abbreviations in 1969, with Günther Rennert's contribution.

Until recently, the opera was mostly performed in Italian and was thus mostly recorded on sound carriers. The reconstructed original French version is only available in one recording from 1969. The video recordings on DVD (Opéra de Paris 2003, De Nationale Opera Amsterdam 2010, Royal Opera House Covent Garden 2013) use the original French.

Discography (selection)

Image of a 78 / min sinfonia from Giuseppe Verdi's I vespri siciliani , recorded by Phonodisc Mondial

Original French version

German version

Italian version


  • Mark Everist: Killing a Bull and the Pleasures of History. (Translated as: "The joys of history that kill bulls." 2004.) In: Supplement to the French-language recording from 1965.
  • Rolf Fath: Reclam's Little Verdi Opera Guide. Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-018077-5 .
  • Karl Holl : Trouble with Scribe. In: Program of the Hamburg State Opera, 1979, reprint of part of his Verdi biography.
  • Kurt Honolka: On the new version of the Sicilian Vespers. In: Program of the Hamburg State Opera, 1974.
  • Hans Renner: The wonder of the opera. Extended new edition, Vier Falken Verlag, Berchtesgaden 1956, p. 398 f.
  • Heinz Wagner: The great manual of the opera. 2nd edition, Florian Noetzel Verlag, Wilhelmshaven 1995, p. 743.

Web links

Commons : Les Vêpres siciliennes  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rolf Fath: Reclam's Little Verdi Opera Guide. 2000, p. 113.
  2. ^ Anselm Gerhard : Les Vêpres Siciliennes. In: Piper's Encyclopedia of Musical Theater. Volume 6: Works. Spontini - Zumsteeg. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-492-02421-1 , p. 451.
  3. Holl: Trouble with Scribe. 1979, and reprint of a letter from Verdi 1855, ibid.
  4. Verdi's letter from 1855, translation of the translation in the program booklet of the Hamburg State Opera, 1979.
  5. Holl: Trouble with Scribe. 1979.
  6. Supplement to CD RCA 1973 (above author), see also Honolka: On the new version of the Sicilian Vespers. 1974. There are contradicting statements in the literature regarding Donizetti's opera. Adapted from Everist: Killing a bull and the Pleasures of History (translation). 2004, p. 27, Halévy had already rejected the libretto in 1838, and Donizetti had set only two of the three acts to music. For another version see giuseppeverdi.it ( Memento from October 11, 2007 in the Internet Archive ).
  7. ^ Noel Goodwin: Verdi: I Vespri Siciliani. In: Supplement to the recording under Muti, p. 18.
  8. Honolka: On the new version of the Sicilian Vespers. 1974; Everist: Killing a bull and the Pleasures of History (translation). 2004, p. 29, on the other hand, speaks of a “dragging along”.
  9. Holl: Trouble with Scribe. 1979, as well as the supplement of the 1951 photo.
  10. Everist: Killing a bull and the Pleasures of History (translation). 2004, p. 29.
  11. Honolka: On the new version of the Sicilian Vespers. 1974.
  12. ^ Ernst Krause : Oper A – Z , Verlag für Musik, Leipzig 1979, p. 549