Under the Rainbow: Rossini's 'Tancredi'

WOO-1430-Tancredi-250-2The classic song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" talks in glowing terms of a magical place where "dreams really do come true." Unfortunately, the opera house often isn't that kind of place -- especially in Rossini's Tancredi -- a compelling drama that just may be his first, truly great opera.

Yet initially, that's not at all how things seem. Amenaide, one of the opera's main characters seems to be in an ideal situation. She's young and beautiful. She has a loving family, with a wealthy, doting father. And she's in love with a dashing, well-intentioned young man who adores her. Clearly, Amenaide has found her way "over the rainbow."

Yet sometimes, no matter how bright the forecast, life takes a dark turn. Or, in the case of Amenaide, a veritable labyrinth full of dark turns. First, family politics force her into an arranged betrothal to a man she can't stand. Then the man she truly loves, Tancredi, learns of the engagement in a way that leads him to believe Ameaide has been unfaithful. And when she tries to rectify that, her efforts lead her own father to believe she's a traitor, and to order her execution. How's that for a charmed life?

Rossini based the opera on a tragedy by Voltaire, and at first even the composer seemed to think all that misfortune was too much to heap upon a single, guileless young lady. So despite all the anguish, Rossini gave the opera a happy ending: Tancredi is victorious in battle, he and Amenaide are married, and they live happily ever after.

But just a month or so after the opera's premiere, Rossini had second thoughts and changed that ending -- and poor Amenaide was doomed to suffer, after all. In the new version, Amenaide is still exonerated, and Tancredi is still victorious. But the knight returns from battle mortally wounded, and dies just as their hands are joined in marriage.

For better or worse, that tragic version is the one most favored in today's opera houses, and it's the one host Lisa Simeone presents here on World of Opera. The production comes to us from one of opera's most glamorous destinations, the Champs-Elysées Theatre in Paris. The stars are contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux in the title role, and soprano Patrizia Ciofi as the beleaguered Amenaide, in a performance led by conductor Enrique Mazzola.