Saffo (Pacini)

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Work data
Title: Sappho
Original title: Saffo
Title page of the libretto, Naples 1840

Title page of the libretto, Naples 1840

Shape: “Tragedia lirica” in three parts
Original language: Italian
Music: Giovanni Pacini
Libretto : Salvadore Cammarano
Premiere: November 29, 1840
Place of premiere: Teatro San Carlo , Naples
Playing time: approx. 3 hours (the recording of Maurizio Benini takes approx. 2 ¼ hours)
Place and time of the action: Ancient Greece, around 579 BC Chr.
  • Alcandro, high priest of the Leukadian Apollo ( baritone )
  • Climene, his daughter, bride of Faone ( mezzo-soprano )
  • Saffo (Sappho), famous singer and poet, loves Faone ( soprano or mezzo-soprano )
  • Faone (Phaon), lover of Saffo, later groom of Climene (tenor)
  • Dirce, companion of Climene (mezzo-soprano)
  • Ippia, first haruspex , servant / friend of Alcandro (tenor)
  • Lisimaco, Apollo's temple service, old man, foster father of Saffo (bass)
  • Priests , augurs , Climenes ladies, wedding guests, people ( choir and extras ).
Portrait head of Sappho, Roman copy based on the Greek original, from Smyrna ( Izmir ), Archaeological Museum , Istanbul

Saffo (German: Sappho ) is an opera (original name: "tragedia lirica") in three parts and five pictures by Giovanni Pacini on a libretto by Salvadore Cammarano . The first performance was on November 19, 1840 in the Teatro San Carlo in Naples . Pacini's Saffo had a sensational success and is considered his most famous opera. Until the end of the 20th century, it was the only opera by Pacini that was performed occasionally.


The action takes place in ancient Greece and is about the legendary singer and poet Sappho and her unhappy love for the beautiful Phaon . This legend was originally represented in literature by Menander and Ovid , later by many other writers, and others. a. by Grillparzer . Cammarano's libretto is probably based on a play by Pietro Beltrame (premiered at the Teatro dei Fiorentini, 1838).

The following table of contents is based on the booklet for the complete CD recording by the Wexford Festival Opera 1995.

First part: “La corona olimpica” - The Olympic crown

Exterior view of an amphitheater

At the singing competition in Olympia (at the 42nd Olympic Games ) Saffo (shortly before the start of the opera) sang a passionate hymn, with which she sang the "barbaric" custom of suicidal leaps from the cliff near the sanctuary of Apollo on the Leucadian island (today : Lefkada ). With that she has angry the whole audience against the present Alcandro, high priest of the Leucadian Apollo, and Alcandro is expelled from the stadium. The humiliated high priest swears vengeance on Saffo, although the memory of her singing also arouses a strange affection in him.

When Saffo's lover Faone appears, Alcandro sees his moment come and reminds the young man of his former affection for Alcandro's daughter Climene.

Enter Saffo and the jealous and fickle Faone reproaches her for (wrongly) suspecting her of infidelity. She tries to allay his doubts , but when the news arrives that Saffo has won the competition and is about to be crowned with the Olympic laurel wreath by the poet Alceo , she melts with joy and gratitude. Faone believes his worst fears have been confirmed, and a violent breakup ensues.

Second part: “Le nozze di Faone” - The wedding of the Faone

Alcandros apartment near the Temple of Apollo

On Leukas , Alcandro's daughter Climene is happily preparing for her wedding to Faone.

Suddenly, Saffo appears, who has been looking for the Faone, whom she loves so deeply, across Greece for three months. In the meantime she regrets having insulted the Leucadian Apollo in Olympia, and in order to please the God she wants to make offerings in the sanctuary and asks Climene for help. In conversation, Saffo learns from Climene that she once had a sister who disappeared as a child in a shipwreck and is believed to be dead. Saffo is touched, and the two women hug each other comfortingly. They decide that Saffo should sing at Climene's wedding. However, since Saffo is very dirty from the trip and has nothing suitable to wear, Climene provides her with a splendid, own robe.

Temple of Apollo

The solemn wedding ceremony begins, celebrated by the bride's father and high priest Alcandro. After the bride and groom have taken the oath and placed wreaths on the altar as a sign of their sealed relationship, Climene Saffo announces that she wants to sing for them. When Saffo enters and has to discover that the bridegroom is her beloved Faone and the wedding has already taken place, she falls into such desperation and anger that she knocks down the altar and desecrates it . The part ends in general excitement and despair.

Third part: “Il salto di Leucade” - The jump from the Leucadian rock

Heinrich Dreber: Sappho (1870), Bavarian State Gallery, Munich

Terrifying forest

The penitent Saffo appears before Alcandro and the augurs of the Apollo sanctuary. To make amends for her blasphemous behavior and hoping to erase (or die) her pain over her unfulfilled love for Faone, she wants to be admitted as a victim for jumping off the Leucadian cliff. The augurs retreat to the sacred cave to consult the deity, and Saffo is allowed to jump. When she officially has to give her name, place of birth and father, old Lisimaco steps in and reveals a secret: Years ago he found a little girl (Saffo) on the beach after a shipwreck, took her with him and raised her. When Alcandro heard this, he asked if she had an amulet around her neck. Lisimaco replies in the affirmative, and Saffo herself shows the amulet that she always carries with her. So it turns out that Saffo is the missing and believed dead daughter of Alcandro and sister of Climene. Now Alcandro wants to prevent Saffo's suicidal leap, but she is already consecrated to the deity and is determined to be herself.

Faone has realized how much Saffo loves him and regrets that he has left her; he decides to jump off the cliff with her.

Halfway up the Leucadian rock

In the last scene, the white-clad Saffo is led to the sacred rock in a solemn ceremony. Overwhelmed by feelings, she gets into a state of divine inspiration and ecstasy and says goodbye to the sounds of her lyre with a song in which she forgives everyone and wishes the bridal couple Climene and Faone luck.


Musical structure

  • Preludio and Introduzione: Divini carmi? Quante ne desta (choir)

Part one: the Olympic crown

  • No. 1 - Cavatina des Alcandro: Di sua voce il suon giungea (Choir, Alcandro, Ippia, Faone)
  • No. 2 - Duet Saffo - Faone: A che, Faon… - Quando il mio caldo genio - Qual io t'aborro, o perfida (Saffo, Faone, Coro, Lisimaco)

Part Two: The Faone's Wedding

  • No. 4 - Choir and Cavatina of the Climene: Al crin le cingete la rosea corona - Ah! con lui mi fu rapita (choir, dirce, climene)
  • No. 5 - Duet Climene - Saffo: Ahi crudo fato! Ahi misera! - Di quai soavi lagrime
  • No. 6 - Finale II: Le certe, le tibie confondano i suoni - Ai mortali, o crudo, ai numi io ti chiesi lagrimando (Chor, Alcandro, Faone, Climene, Saffo, Lisimaco, Ippia, Dirce)

Third part: The jump from the Leucadian rock

  • No. 7 - Choir and Trio Alcandro, Saffo, Climene: Voci del ciel - Signor di Leucade… occhio del ciel - Al seno mi stringi - Ah! che un perfido son io (Coro, Saffo, Alcandro, Lisimaco, Climene, Ippia)
  • No. 8 - Aria des Faone: Qual frutto acerbo io colsi (Faone, Ippia, Coro)
  • No. 9 - Choir and Aria finale of the Saffo: S'ella paventa o dubita - Teco dall'are pronube - L'ama ognor qual io l'amai (Coro, Saffo, Climene, Dirce, Alcandro, Lisimaco, Faone, Ippia)


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


Giovanni Pacini

Saffo was Pacini's second opera (after Furio Camillo , Rome 1839) after a five-year absence from the opera stage (from 1835); in total it was about his 46th opera. It was also his first collaboration with the famous librettist Salvadore Cammarano , with whom he subsequently created another five operas. Halfway through, the composer was so discouraged that he wanted to give up and already asked Cammarano for another libretto, but after the latter had heard the first pieces from Pacini himself, he begged him to continue with the composition.

Since 1835 Pacini had dealt thoroughly with the more modern musical developments of composers such as Bellini and Donizetti and probably also with French works by Meyerbeer ( Les Huguenots ) and / or Halévy ( La Juive ) , and tried in Saffo a musical drama that was as realistic as possible , a To implement “reform opera”. For the most part, the music is almost entirely composed, although he basically still uses traditional forms. The real-dramatic effect also includes a style of singing that has been largely "purged" from coloratura (with the exception of the Ismene cabaletta in the first part). However, the occupation of the title role with the German singer Francilla (eigtl. Franziska) Pixis may have played a certain role, which Pacini characterized as "apassionata" ( passionate ) and which had probably experienced a slightly different character than most Italian singers around 1840 who were more oriented towards euphony, flexibility and coloratura (such as Eugenia Tadolini or Erminia Frezzolini , with whom Pacini later worked together).

Saffo's music is stylistically highly romantic . Although the Italian bel canto tradition is still preserved in the form of a well-formed lyricism, other elements are very progressive for the period of origin , such as the very complex and flexible, and sometimes daring harmony . The orchestral setting is lavish and shows less consideration for the singers than in Pacini's earlier operas or in Bellini's. The color of the opera is determined by the noticeably frequent use of wind instruments, especially brass instruments and, here again, especially low trombones . Sometimes there are sudden, loud, dramatic outbursts. Melancholy cello cantilenas run through the entire work like a red thread and point to Verdi , who was still very young at the time and had just released an opera.

Especially in the third part Pacini succeeded in expressive and touching music, occasionally and clearly the model of Bellini's Norma shines through. The most moving moments of the opera heard the trio in the third part of Al seno mi stringi .

Saffo is sometimes referred to as “Pacini's best opera”, but this assessment is based on a certain operatic and singing ideal and should be treated with caution in view of the fact that the majority of the 70 or so Pacini operas are almost completely forgotten.

Performance history

The singers of the premiere on November 29, 1840 in the Teatro San Carlo in Naples were: the German Francilla Pixis as Saffo, Eloisa Buccini as Climene, the famous tenor Gaetano Fraschini as Faone, Giovanni Orazio Cartagenova as Alcandro, Anna Salvettin (Dirce), Michele Benedetti (or Nicola Benedetti?) (Lisimaco) and Napoleone Rossi (Ippia).

The opera was an immense success, Pacini was celebrated and, after the second performance, led home with torches, as was customary at the time with great opera successes in Italy. As early as 1841 the opera was performed in Trieste , Rome and Venice , and in 1842 alone there were performances in (at least) 16 different theaters, including a. in Barcelona , Vienna , Milan , Florence , Turin , Bologna and Palermo (1842). Up to 1873 there are about 70 productions in Italy alone, the last performances at the Teatro La Fenice in Venice (1870) and the Milan Teatro dal Verme (1873).

In the 20th century there were several re-performances of the opera, including a. 1967 at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples with Leyla Gencer as Saffo and Luigi Quilico as Faone; there is a live recording of this. The opera was also given in 1983 at the Teatro Bellini in Catania (premiere: February 23, 1983), with Adelaida Negri as Saffo and in the other leading roles Pietro Visconti (Faone), Gabriele Floresta (Alcandro), Mirella Parutto (Climene), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Bellini di Catania, conductor: Carlo Franci.

Montserrat Caballé sang the title role in (concert) performances in Barcelona (1987) and Vienna (1989), of which there are also live recordings (see below).

In 1995 Pacinis Saffo was also given at the Irish Wexford Festival , where sang a. a. Francesca Pedaci (Saffo), Carlo Ventre (Faone), Roberto de Candia (Alcandro) and Mariana Pentcheva (Climene). There is also a live recording of this by Marco Polo .

In 2014, the American mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato published an important interpretation of the aria finale of Saffo "Flutto che muggi ... Teco dall'are pronube ... L'ama ognor qual io l'amai".


Single shot

  • Saffo's aria: “Flutto che muggi… Teco dall'are pronube… L'ama ognor qual io l'amai” (Saffo, Faone, Climene, Alcandro), on the CD: Stella di Napoli , with Joyce DiDonato , Choeur De l 'Opéra National De Lyon u. a., Orchester de l'Opéra National de Lyon, Riccardo Minasi, 2014, for Erato / Warner Classics.

Total recordings

  • Leyla Gencer (Saffo), Tito del Bianco (Alcandro), Luigi Quilico (Faone), Franca Mattiuccin (Climene), orchestra and choir of the Teatro San Carlo Naples, under Franco Capuana , label: Opera d'Oro. (Live recording from 1967)
  • Adelaida Negri (Saffo), Pietro Visconti (Faone), Gabriele Floresta (Alcandro), Mirella Parutto (Climene), Orchestra e Coro del Teatro Bellini di Catania, conductor: Carlo Franci. Label: Omega Opera Archive 3713; House of Opera CD 2731 New Ornamenti NOC 150-52 (live recording from the Teatro Bellini in Catania, February 23, 1983)
  • Montserrat Caballé (Saffo), Antonio Ordoñez (Faone), Enric Serra (Alcandro), Petra Malakova (Climene) u. a., choir & orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo de Barcelona, ​​Manfred Ramin (conductor). Label: House of Opera CD 1013 (2002) ª (Live recording from the Teatro del Liceo in Barcelona, ​​June 24, 1987)
  • Montserrat Caballé (Saffo), Antonio Ordoñez (Faone), Enric Serra (Alcandro), Raquel Pierotti (Climene) u. a., Wiener Singakademie, Salzburg Chamber Orchestra under José M. Callado. Label: Premiere Opera Ltd. CDNO 436-2; Celestial Audio CA 437 (2005) ª; Encore CD 137-2 (2005) (Live recording from the Wiener Konzerthaus, June 17, 1989)
  • Francesca Pedaci (Saffo), Carlo Ventre (Faone), Roberto de Candia (Alcandro), Mariana Pentcheva (Climene), Gemma Bertagnolli (Dirce), Aled Hall (Ippia), Davide Baronchelli (Lisimaco), Wexford Festival Opera Chorus, National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under Maurizio Benini . Audio CD: Marco Polo . (Live recording from Wexford Festival 1995)


  • Scott L. Balthazar: "Saffo". In: Stanley Sadie (Ed.): The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Vol. 4. Grove (Oxford University Press), New York 1997, p. 123.
  • Philip Gossett and Luigi Ferrari: Booklet texts for the complete CD recording: Giovanni Pacini - Saffo , with Francesca Pedaci a. a., Wexford Festival 1995, pp. 4-9 (Gossett), “Synopsis” (Ferretti) pp. 10-15 (English); Cammarano's libretto with English translation on pp. 21–60.
  • Giovanni Pacini: Le mie memorie artistiche , GG Guidi, Florence 1865, pp. 94–99 (Italian; scan in Google book search).
  • Marino Pessina: "Saffo". In: Piero Gelli, Filippo Poletti (eds.): Dizionario dell'opera. Baldini Castoldi Dalai, Milan, 2007, pp. 1168–1169 ( online at ( Memento of February 14, 2016 in the Internet Archive )).

Web links

Commons : Saffo  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. This is a frequently used topos in romanticism.
  2. The musical drama in the second half of the 19th century.

Individual evidence

  1. a b Friedrich Lippmann : Saffo. In: Piper's Encyclopedia of Musical Theater . Volume 4: Works. Massine - Piccinni. Piper, Munich / Zurich 1991, ISBN 3-492-02414-9 , pp. 614-616.
  2. a b c d e f g h Marino Pessina: "Saffo". In: Piero Gelli, Filippo Poletti (eds.): Dizionario dell'opera. Baldini Castoldi Dalai, Milan, 2007, pp. 1168–1169 ( online at ( Memento of February 14, 2016 in the Internet Archive )).
  3. a b List of singers for the premiere on November 29, 1840 in the Corago information system of the University of Bologna .
  4. Philip Gossett and Luigi Ferrari: Booklet text for the complete CD recording: Giovanni Pacini - Saffo, with Francesca Pedaci a. a., Wexford Festival 1995, “Synopsis” (English) on p. 10–15 and libretto (Italian, English) p. 21–60
  5. ^ Work data on Giovanni Pacini based on the MGG with discography at Operone, accessed on August 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Giovanni Pacini: Le mie memorie artistiche. GG Guidi, Florenz 1865, pp. 94-99 (Italian; scan in Google book search).
  7. ^ Giovanni Pacini: Le mie memorie artistiche. GG Guidi, Florenz 1865, pp. 94–99, here: p. 97 (Italian; scan in Google book search).
  8. The list of singers for the premiere on November 29, 1840 in the Corago information system of the University of Bologna indicates Nicola Benedetti, not the more famous Michele, who was already involved in Rossini and Pacini's operas of the 1810s and 20s.
  9. ^ Giovanni Pacini: Le mie memorie artistiche. GG Guidi, Florenz 1865, pp. 94–99, here: p. 98 (Italian; scan in Google book search, accessed on August 1, 2019).
  10. ^ A b Saffo (Giovanni Pacini) in the Corago information system of the University of Bologna .
  11. ^ Discography on Saffo at Operadis, accessed on August 4, 2019.
  12. on the CD: Stella di Napoli, with Joyce DiDonato a. a., Choeur et Orchester de l'Opéra National de Lyon, Riccardo Minasi, 2014, at Erato / Warner Classics.