Tancredi, the Sicily-born Norman knight exiled to Byzantium
Recently I was involved in a conversation on Marilyn Horne and Ewa Podles, who happen to have sung famous Tancredis. This naturally led to a few pleasant evenings (or afternoons) with different Tancredis.
In case there was any doubt, this is one of my favourite operas1. It’s got a somewhat stuffy hero2, a more stubborn than usual female character3, a pretty satisfying villain and could be staged with sword fights if directors really tried. Oh, and, you know – the music. The music is youthful Rossini, just about the time he perfected the conveyor belt he was going to use again and again until he retired. It doesn’t get staged enough apparently because the title character is hard to cast and has a lot to sing. Pah, I say.
Exactly 200 years ago (1813), this was Rossini’s first big success and it spawned a humongous #1 hit across the nation, aka Di tanti palpiti, the hero’s entrance aria. Sometimes when I stumble upon a shitty music channel at work I try to imagine Di tanti palpiti in heavy rotation, possibly advertising Uncle Ben’s – or maybe Tilda4 – oh, how that risotto con funghi makes my heart beat…
This post functions as a springboard for a series of Tancredis old and newish which I’m going to fawn over, laugh at or, preferably, both.
- As far as history goes, I have two favourite periods: Rome and the Crusades. So expect many posts on operas set during those times. Its historical setting isn’t the only reason I love Tancredi but it’s important enough. ↩
- He’s a bit of a hard-ass, isn’t he? If it wasn’t clear he truly loves Amenaide he would be insufferable with his chip on the shoulder. Then again, he was exiled, expropriated and his girlfriend is disputed by two other men. To top it all he thinks she doesn’t love him anymore. That’s a shitty deal. And he still fights for her honour; he’s truly old school. ↩
- As the 19th century advances, female characters start turning into helpless dolls. Gone are the days of Aggripina, Poppea, Alcina, Vitellia, Konstanze, Suzanna, Dorabella and Fiodiligi, here come Giulietta, Lucia, Gilda, Violetta and Mimi. Rossini is the one who really tries, even in the case of a standard opera seria plot such as this. ↩
- It came down the ages as “the rice aria”, because reportedly Rossini was cooking when he came up with the tune. Poor Tancredi, if he only knew. Then again, he had been at sea for maybe a month, he might have liked some home made rice with that fish. ↩