Making its premiere at Teatro alla Scala on February 11, 1843, “I Lombardi” is adapted from an epic poem written by Tomasso Grossi about the First Crusade. It would become Giuseppe Verdi’s first grand opera when he revised it four years later for its debut in France with the Paris Opera company under the title of “Jerusalem.”
Though the opera explores the themes of conflict, mercy, and redemption which unites the rift between families as well as faiths, the Archbishop of Milan levied a number of complaints due to the presence of Catholic ritual within the opera. Despite the matter being investigated by the police, they generally ruled in Verdi’s favor, thus only minor alterations to the score were deemed necessary.
Short Plot Summary
The opera begins by the church of Sant’ Ambrogio, where the two sons of Lord Folco are holding a public reconciliation. The cause of their prior feud was their mutual desire for the hand of Viclinda, a matter which led to Pagano’s exile when he threatened to kill his brother Arvino. Since then, Arvino and Viclinda have wed and had a daughter named Giselda. Though all seems well, Pagano confides in Pirro, Arvino’s squire, that he still desires Viclinda. When a crusade to the Holy Land is declared, one which Arvino will lead, Pirro and Pagano conspire to murder Arvino and take Viclinda. When the conspirators storm the palace with a band of cutthroats, the coup ends with Pagano bloodying his sword and carrying Viclinda outside. When he sees his brother Arvino, Pagano is horrified to learn that the man he killed was not his brother, but their father, who had been sleeping in Arvino’s chambers. While many call for Pagano to be executed for patricide, Giselda has the sentence changed to exile, causing Pagano to sent from his home once again.
As a result of the ongoing crusade, Giselda has been captured and is now held in the harem of Acciano, ruler of Antioch. Oronte, Acciano’s son, has fallen in love with the captive Giselda; this greatly pleases his mother, who hopes Giselda will convert her son to Christianity. Pirro, who is now in the employ of Acciano and controls the gates of the city, is convinced by a hermit to atone for past sins by letting the crusaders past the gates. Because of this, Antioch is invaded and Acciano and Oronte have been slain by Arvino. When Giselda declares that her father’s actions are not the will of God, he declares her mad and she runs away from his camp, where she encounters the still-living Oronte. Having merely been wounded, Oronte and Giselda run away together, but the prince’s strength eventually fades. As Oronte lays dying, the hermit appears so that Oronte may be baptized, thus reconciling their love before the eyes of God. The hermit completes the ritual as Oronte succumbs to his wounds, assuring Giselda that he will meet her again in heaven.
As Giselda sleeps, she is granted a miraculous vision. Oronte has indeed been accepted into heaven, and tells her of a fountain where the crusaders may drink and save themselves from the harsh wastes of the desert. Giselda returns to her father’s camp with this information, allowing them to escape the clutches of death and reassuring Arvino of their favor with God. Giselda also bring the hermit, himself now dying, into the tent of her father. There, the hermit reveals himself to be Pagano; he speaks of his penitence for killing their father and begs his brother for forgiveness. The two brothers are finally reconciled in full; as Jerusalem draws closer, Pagano passes away as the crusaders sing praises unto heaven and the holy city.
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