Chief conductor Epiphany Festival at Novaya Opera
17 Januar — 2 February 2020
Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Stiffelio (1850) ushered in the lyrical drama genre of the latter half of the 19th century. This work predated the composer’s best operas of the 1850s – Rigoletto, Il trovatore and La traviata. The libretto to Stiffelio was written by Francesco Maria Piave after Émile Souvestre and Eugène Bourgeois’s play Le pasteur, ou L'évangile et le foyer.
The plot is somewhat unusual for the opera. After returning from a long mission, Minister Stiffelio finds out his wife, Lina, is cheating him with Raffaele. Count Stankar, Lina’s father tries to defend the family honor and calls Raffaele out in a duel. Stiffelio shows Lina a divorce certificate. Then the minister begins to preach, opens the Bible at the page where Jesus forgives the harlot, and Stiffelio accepts the repentant Lina.
Stiffelio was premiered on 16th November 1850 in Teatro Grande in Trieste, Italy. The story of the married priest who is able to forgive the infidelity of his wife seemed to be nonsense. In the later Italian productions the opera was changed many times because of censorship and then fell into oblivion for a long time.
In 1854, Verdi wrote to his friend Cesare De Sanctis: “Among my operas that are not in circulation, some I’d abandon because the subjects are wrong but there are two that I would not like forgotten; they are Stiffelio and La Battaglia di Legnano.” Years after, in re-cooperation with Piave Verdi tried to bring the composition to the scene one more time. It was renamed as Aroldo; the action was brought back seven centuries. This version was premiered on the 16th August 1857 in the Teatro Nuovo (Rimini, Italy).
Alexandru Samoilă, conductor:“Without going to historical details, I would mention that the opera was simply mutilated by the censor; then Verdi redid it into another composition but in fact the original plot disappeared for over a century. And only in the late 1960s, when two manuscripts were found, the opera Stiffelio resurfaced. Of course, the censor was mostly indignant with the reading of the New Testament from the stage, and then the minister’s wife who is unfaithful and so on. And it is Verdi at his best – between Luisa Miller and Rigoletto. It is “a delight opera”, as Boris Pokrovsky said: the parts, ensembles and chorus are made well.”