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Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal (Don Sebastian, King of Portugal) is a French grand opera in five acts by Gaetano Donizetti. The libretto was written by Eugène Scribe, based on Paul-Henri Foucher's play Dom Sébastian de Portugal (1838), a historic-fiction about King Sebastian of Portugal (1554-1578) and his ill-fated 1578 expedition to Morocco. It premiered on November 13, 1843 at the Théâtre de l'Académie Royale de Musique (or Paris Opéra). This was the last opera that Donizetti completed before going insane as a result of syphilis.


At the time, Donizetti was attempting to compose an opera competitive with similar historical operas by Daniel Auber, Fromental Halévy and Giacomo Meyerbeer. One critical description of the nature of Dom Sébastien is "a funeral in five acts". By contrast, Winton Dean has described the main characteristic of the opera as "uncompromising dramatic honesty" in his comments on unusual dramatic facets of the work. Mary Ann Smart has prepared a critical edition of the opera which incorporates changes that Donizetti made for a production in Viennamarker.

Roles

Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 13 November 1843
(Conductor: - )
Dom Sébastien, King of Portugal tenor Gilbert Duprez
Dom Antonio, his uncle tenor Jean-Baptiste Octave
Dom Juam de Sylva, Grand Inquisitor basso profundo Nicolas Levasseur
Dom Louis, Spanish ambassador tenor
Camoëns, soldier and poet baritone Paul Barroilhet
Ben-Selim, governor of Fez bass Hippolyte Brémont
Abayaldos, leader of the Arab tribe baritone Jean Etienne Massol
Zayda, his betrothed mezzo-soprano Rosina Stoltz
Dom Henrique Sandoval, Dom Sébastian's lieutenant bass Ferdinand Prévost
Ladies and gentlemen of the Court, Portuguese soldiers and sailors, Arab soldiers and women, members of the Inquisition


Synopsis

Act 1

Lisbon, Portugal

The Christian king, Dom Sébastian, leaves his uncle Dom Antonio to rule Portugal while he and his entourage (including the idealistic poet Camoëns and the Moor princess Zayda whom he had rescued from being burnt at stake for trying to escape the monastery she had resided in since her conversion to Christianity (O mon Dieu, sur la terre), and intends to return her to her father Ben-Selim) go on a crusade against the Moors of Africa.

Act 2

Morocco, Africa

The reunion between Zayda and Ben-Selim is dampened by her refusal to marry the Moorish chief Abayaldos. Abayaldos leads the Moor to battle against Sébastian's force and wipe them out. The wounded Sébastian's life is saved only when his lieutenant Dom Henrique presents himself to Abayaldos as Sébastian before expiring from his wounds, and Zayda pleads for the Christian 's life in return to her consent to marry Abayaldos, under the guise that her life was saved by a Christian during her captivity in Portugal, and now she must return the favor. Sébastian is left on the battlefield a broken man (Seul sur la terre).

Act 3

Lisbon

Camoëns survived the battle and returned to Lisbon (O Lisbonne, o ma patrie!), he learns that the Regent, Dom Antonio, had aligned himself with the Spanish Grand Inquisitor Dom Juam de Sylva and usurped the throne. At the public square he runs into Sébastian, just as the mock funeral procession for the supposedly dead king passes by. Camoëns causes a commotion in his outrage, and Sébastian is recognized when he intervenes. Abayaldos recognizes him instead as a lowly Christian whose life he had spared on the battlefield. Sébastian is jailed as an imposter.

Act 4

Sébastian is tried in court. Zayda proves her love for him by testifying to his true identity and how he had escaped death in Africa. Abayaldos angrily accuses her of infidelity, and both Sébastian and Zayda are jailed (she for 'treason'). Eager to legitimize his alliance with Spain, Dom Antonio and Dom Juan de Sylva offers to spare Sébastian's life if Zayda can convince him to sign the official instrument selling Portugal to Spain. After his initial refusal, Sébastian signs the document, to Zayda's indignation. She runs off to throw herself to the sea, but when Sébastian catches up with her on the top of the tower, they find Camoëns in a boat attempting a rescue. Sébastian and Zayda are discovered half way down the rope to the boat, and plunge to their death when the rope is slashed. Camoëns is mortally wounded by gunfire, and the opera ends with the loss of Portuguese independence as the Spanish fleet appears on the horizon.

Recordings

  • Opera Rara: Giuseppe Filianoti, Simon Keenlyside, Vesselina Kasarova, Carmelo Corrado-Caruso; Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera Housemarker, Covent Garden; Mark Elder, conductor (live recording 2007)
  • Legato Classics: Klara Takacs, Lajos Miller, Sergej Koptchak, Richard Leech; Opera Orchestra of New York; Eve Queler, conductor (live recording)
  • Kicco Classic: Robert Woroniecki, Monica Minarelli, Randall Jacobsh, Ettore Kim, Mario Tagadossi, Andreas Joost, Wolfgang Biebuyck, Götz Seiz, Willy Schell; Sinfonie Orchester Aachen; Operachor & Extrachor des Theaters Aachen; Elio Boncompagni, conductor (live recording 1998).


Notes

  1. Donal Henehan, "Donizetti's Dom Sebastien". New York Times, 24 March 1984.
  2. Winton Dean, "Donizetti's Serious Operas". Proceedings of the Royal Musical Association, 100, 123-141 (1973).
  3. Tim Ashley, "Donizetti: Dom Sébastien, Kasarova/ Filianoti/ Keenlyside/ Miles/ Royal Opera House Chorus and Orchestra/ Elder". The Guardian, 11 May 2007.


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