'Tancredi' is an opera in two acts by composer Gioacchino Rossini and librettist Luigi Lechi, based on Voltaire's play Tancrède (1759). Rossini's opera made its first appearance in Venice at the Teatro La Fenice on February 6, 1813. Though Rossini first composed his opera with a happy ending in mind, he eventually had it changed to a tragic ending to emulate the original Tancredi by Voltaire.
Background of Tancredi
The city of Syracuse is tethered by conflict and war — there is the Byzantine empire, with which it has an unstable truce, and the Saracen armies headed by Solamir. Not only is Syracuse exhausted by external war, but internal war as well; the soldier Tancredi and his family have been stripped of their estates and inheritances, and he himself has been banished since his youth. Two more noble families — headed by Argirio and Orbazzano — have been warring for years. Argirio and his family — his wife and his daughter, Amenaide — have been residing as guests of the Byzantine court, where Tancredi presides in exile. Also present in the court is Solamir, the Moorish general, who wishes for the lovely Amenaide’s hand in marriage in hopes that he can create an Saracen-Syracusean alliance. However, Amenaide is secretly in love with Tancredi.
As the opera opens, Argirio and Orbazzano have agreed to stop warring and have come to a truce; the Senate has given him Tancredi’s confiscated estates, and Argirio must give him Amenaide in marriage. Amenaide, horrified by this unjust decision, secretly sends a letter to Tancredi (which does not bear his name, for fear that the letter might be intercepted), begging him to return. The letter is promptly intercepted by Orbazzano's agent near Solamir's camp, and Amenaide is sentenced to death for treachery (they thought she was sending it to Solamir). Tancredi, who has returned incognito and offered his service to Argirio, challenges Orbazzano to a duel and kills him in defence of Amenaide's honor and life (even though he believes she had betrayed him with the letter). Then he leads the Syracusans into battle with Solamir.
In the Ferrara ending, Tancredi wins the battle but is mortally wounded. He learns that Amenaide did not betray him before he dies. While in the Venice ending, he returns from the battle triumphant after having heard Solamir's dying testimony that Amenaide's letter was really meant for Tancredi.
Performances of Tancredi
This long opera is considered by many to be Rossini's greatest masterpiece. The title role of Tancredi is so demanding that casting was a big problem. It requires a true contralto or mezzo soprano with strong lower register who possesses great vocal agility and endurance (Tancredi has 2 full arias and 4 duets). The opera premiered in 1813 at La Fenice in Venice with Adelaide Malanotte in the title role. Tancredi was usually performed with the Venice (happy) ending.
The opera was very neglected for a long time until the legendary mezzo soprano Marilyn Horne came along to resurrect it. Ms. Horne insisted on the tragic Ferrara ending citing that it is more consistent with the overall tone of the opera. Indeed, most of the recordings of this melodic opera today uses the Ferrara finish with some including the Venice finale as an extra track.
Recordings of Tancredi
1. DVD: 1992 Live performance from the Schwetzingen Festspiele (Arthaus Musik) : Bernadette Manca di Nissa (Tancredi), Maria Bayo (Amenaide), Raul Gimenez (Argirio), Ildebrando D'Archangelo (Orbazzano), Katarzyna Bak (Isaura), Maria Pia Piscitelli (Roggiero)
2. Audio CD:1996 recital (RCA Victor) Roberto Abbado conducting: Vesselina Kasarova (Tancredi), Eva Mei (Amenaide), Ramon Vargas (Argirio), Harry Peeters (Orbazzano), Melinda Paulsen (Isaura), Veronica Cangemi (Roggiero). This recording has both endings in full.
3. Audio CD:1995 recital (Naxos) Alberto Zedda conducting: Ewa Podles (Tancredi), Sumi Jo (Amenaide), Stanford Olsen (Argirio), Pietro Spagnoli (Orbazzano), Anna Maria di Micco (Isaura), Lucretia Lendi (Roggiero)
4. DVD: 2003 (Kicco Classics): Tiziano Mancini conducting: Daniela Barcellona (Tancredi), Mariola Cantarero(Amenaide), Charles Workman (Argirio), Nicola Ulivieri (Orbazzano), Sonia Zaramella (Isaura), Daniela Pini (Roggiero)