Under the Rainbow: Rossini's 'Tancredi'

WOO-1514-TANCREDI-250-sameThe 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, the opera does appear to be telling a cheerful story. Amenaide, one of the main characters seems to be in an ideal situation. She's young and beautiful. She has a loving family, with a wealthy, doting father. 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 makes him think 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.

In today's opera houses, you may hear either of those endings, depending on which one the producers happen to have chosen. On this edition of WORLD OF OPERA, host Lisa Simeone presents a production from Moscow featuring an abbreviated version of the "happitly-ever-after" ending. It comes to us from the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall, with mezzo-soprano Patricia Bardon in the title role, soprano Olga Peretyatko as the beleaguered Amenaide, and tenor Antonino Siragusa as Argirio.