Il Corsaro (The Corsair) is an opera in three acts by Giuseppe Verdi, from a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave, based on Lord Byron's poem The Corsair. The first performance was given at the Teatro Grande in Trieste on 25 October 1848.
The composer expressed interest in Byron's poem The Corsaire as early as 1844, but it was several years before he got around to composing the opera, working with a libretto by Francesco Maria Piave. Meanwhile, Verdi was caught up in a squabble between two publishers doing battle over his work. Il Corsaro was written for the publisher who lost that battle — at least in the composer's eyes — and Verdi may have been anxious to get past it. In any case, when he finished the score in 1848, and turned it over to the publisher, he apparently had no idea where or when it would be produced.
When it premiered at the Teatro Grande (now the Teatro Lirico Giuseppe Verdi) in Trieste later that year, Verdi did not attend the first performance. He may have known exactly what he was doing. As it turns out, the opera was poorly received — an unusual occurrence for Verdi. It quickly fell out of favor. The 1848 premiere in Trieste was conducted by Luigi Ricci, who later became the teacher, and later still the brother-in-law, of Teresa Stolz, who had a long and possibly romantic association with Verdi.
Relatively few performances were given in Italy after the premiere, although it was staged in Milan and Turin in 1852, and in Modena, Novara, Venice, and Vercelli in 1853. 
20th century and beyond
It was presented as part of a Verdi Festival by the San Diego Opera in 1982 with Rosalind Plowright and June Anderson, and in 2004 by the Sarasota Opera as part of its "Verdi Cycle". The Teatro Regio di Parma presented it in 2008 as part of their "Festival Verdi", while another company which aims to present all of the composer's operas, the ABAO in Bilbao, Spain, gave it in November 2010.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, 25 October 1848
(Conductor: Luigi Ricci)
|Corrado, captain of the Pirates||tenor||Gaetano Fraschini|
|Medora, Corrado's young lover||soprano||Carolina Volpini|
|Pasha Seid, Pasha of Coron||baritone||Achille De Bassini|
|Gulnara, Seid's favorite slave||soprano||Marianna Barbieri-Nini|
|Giovanni, a pirate||bass||Giovanni Volpini|
|Aga Selimo, Official of the Pasha||tenor||Giovanni Petrovich|
|A Black Eunuch||tenor||Francesco Cucchiari|
- Place: A Greek island in the Aegean and the Turkish city of Corone.
- Time: The early 1800s
The Greek Island
Scene 1: Corrado's ship
The island is controlled by the corsairs, or pirates. A chorus introduces Corrado, the chief corsair, who is in exile. He laments his present condition: Tutto parea sorridere / "The world seemed to smile upon my early life". But he receives a letter containing military intelligence about the Turkish Pasha, Seid. It convinces him to set sail with his comrades, and he immediately starts rallying the troops: Sì, di Corsari il fulmine / "Yes, the lightning blow of the Corsairs shall I myself strike".
Scene 2: Medora's home
Medora is alone, and anxious for Corrado's return. She picks up her harp and sings a beautiful, but vaguely sinister aria; some sixth sense seems to be telling her that things are bound to turn out badly: Non so le tetre immagini / "Dark forebodings I cannot banish from my thoughts". When Corrado finally arrives, the two sing a duet that captures both the serenity of their love and the uncertainty of their future. Medora pleads with Corrado not to leave, but finally he departs to confront the Pasha.
Scene 1: The harem
The slave girls in Pasha Seid's harem are looking after Gulnara, the Pasha's favorite. However, Gulnara is unhappy about the Pasha's attentions. She chafes at life in the harem, and longs for freedom and true love: Vola talor dal carcere / "At times my thought flies free from its prison". A eunuch brings Gulnara an invitation to a celebratory banquet anticipating the Pasha's victory in the impending sea battle with the corsairs. She expresses a hope of something better awaiting her in life: Ah conforto è sol la speme / "Ah, comfort lies only in hope for this lost soul" and the ladies of the harem tell her that "you are everyone's hope".
Scene 2: The banquet
Seid and his men express their feelings that Allah will protect them: Salve, Allah! tutta quanta / "Hail Allah! All the earth resounds with his mighty name". A slave asks the Pasha if a Dervish who has apparently escaped from the corsairs might be admitted. Seid grants an audience and questions him. Suddenly everyone notices flames at sea: the Pasha's fleet is burning. As the Dervish whips off his disguise and reveals himself to be Corrado, his corsairs invade the banquet, and a battle takes place. At first, it seems that Corrado and his men will win, but he makes a fatal mistake. Seeing that the harem is burning, Corrado decides to rescue Gulnara and the other women. This gives the Pasha and his men time to regroup. They take Corrado prisoner and Seid confronts him - Audace cotannto, mostrarti pur sai? / "Yet so bold do you stand before me" - as he condemns Corrado to a grisly death, in spite of pleas from Gulnara and the harem to spare him for saving their lives.
Scene 1: Seid's quarters
Seid is enjoying his victory, but he is not entirely satisfied: Cento leggiadre vergini / "A hundred lissom virgins asked love of me" he says, but "my heart beats only for Gulnara". He is afraid she has fallen for the dashing Corrado. Sending for her, he proclaims his basic credo of revenge: S'avvincina il tuo momento / "Your moment approaches, dread thirst for vengeance". When she enters, he challenges her and she tells him that he is right; he threatens Gulnara, but she defies him and the Pasha storms out of the room.
Scene 2: The prison
Corrado is in prison and assumes that he is doomed: Eccomi prigionero! / "Here am I a prisoner". Having bribed a guard to let her into his cell, Gulnara vows to help him, handing him a knife to kill Seid. Corrado rejects her offer, citing his honor as a combatant. He also senses her deep feelings for him, and tells her that he is in love with Medora. Gulnara leaves, saying that she will kill Seid. In a brief interlude, the stormy music, which opened the Prelude, is heard again; this time, it accompanies a murder. On her return Gulnara reports that she takes all the blame for killing the Pasha: Sul capo mio discenta, fierro Iddio / "Upon my head, grim God, let your dread lightning fall". With their enemy gone, she and Corrado resolve to escape together to the corsairs' island.
Scene 3: The Greek island
Near death after taking poison, Medora is convinced that she will never see Corrado again. The ship carrying Gulnara and Corrado appears in the distance and, when they arrive, Corrado and Medora throw themselves into each other's arms. In a trio with each character expressing his/her feelings, Corrado begins by explaining how he and Gulnara became free: Per me infelice vedi costei / "Unhappy for my sake you see this woman; she risked her life to save mine". However, their joy does not last for long, for Medora dies. With his men trying to stop him, Corrado leaps from a cliff to his death as the opera ends.
Il corsaro is scored for piccolo, flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, cimbasso, triangle, cymbals, timpani, bass drum and cymbals, cannon, harp, strings.
(Corrado, Medora, Gulnara, Seid)
Opera House and Orchestra
|1971||Giorgio Casellato Lamberti,
Frankfurt Opera Orchestra and Chorus
|Audio CD: Gala Records
New Philharmonia Orchestra and the Ambrosian Singers
|Audio CD: Philips
Cat: 475 6769
Teatro Regio di Parma Orchestra and Chorus
(Live recording of June performance)
|Audio CD: Dynamic
Cat: CD 468/1-2
Silvia Dalla Benetta,
Orchestra and chorus of Teatro Regio di Parma,
(Recorded live at the Teatro Regio di Parma, Parma, 19 and 21 October)
|DVD & Blu-ray: C Major Entertainment,
- Le Corsaire, a ballet loosely based on Lord Byron's poem.
- Background excerpted from NPR's "The World of Opera"
- Zucker, Stefan, "FEDERICO RICCI: He and his brother composed an opera once as popular as Barbiere or Elisir" on belcantosociety.org. Retrieved 1 July 2011]
- Performances listed on librettodopera.it Retrieved 17 June 2013
- Holden, p. 988
- San Diego Opera's 1982 performances
- Parma's 2008 "Festival Verdi"
- List of singers taken from Budden, p. 362.
- Synopsis based on NPR's The World of Opera
- Recordings on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Budden, Julian, The Operas of Verdi, Volume 1: From ' Oberto to Rigoletto. London: Cassell, 1984. ISBN 0-304-31058-1.
- Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam, 2001. ISBN 0-14-029312-4
- Verdi, Giuseppe, Il corsaro, full score critical edition, ed. Elizabeth Hudson, Chicago & Milan: University of Chicago Press & Casa Ricordi, 1998. ISBN 0-226-85317-9 (University of Chicago Press), ISBN 88-7592-521-6 (Casa Ricordi).