La straniera (The Stranger Woman) is an opera in two acts with music by Vincenzo Bellini to an Italian libretto by Felice Romani, based on the novel L'étrangère (Il solitario) of 1825 by Charles-Victor Prévot, vicomte d'Arlincourt, although writer Herbert Weinstock also adds that it is "more likely [based on] a dramatization of [that novel] in Italian by Giovan Carlo, barone di Cosenza" since he then quotes a letter from Bellini to his friend Francesco Florimo in which he says that Romani "certainly will not follow the play" [suggesting then that they were aware of its existence.]
The opera was composed in the autumn of 1828 and premiered on 14 February 1829 at the Teatro alla Scala in Milan.
At the heart of the plot of this opera is a complicated series of historical events beginning at the end of the twelfth century. King Philip Augustus of France (Philip II of France) married the Danish princess Ingeborg in 1193. For unknown reasons, he separated from her the day after the wedding and sought an annulment from Pope Celestine III. Ingeborg, however, insisted that the marriage had been consummated, and that she was his wife and the rightful Queen of France. Philip ultimately obtained an annulment through an assembly of French bishops. He then sought to marry Marguerite, daughter of William I, Count of Geneva, but she was kidnapped on the way to Paris by Thomas I of Savoy, who married her instead. Ultimately, in 1196 Philip married Agnes of Merania ("la straniera"), the daughter of a nobleman, Bertold IV of Dalmatia. Denmark continued to complain about Philip's treatment of Ingeborg and in 1200 Pope Innocent III required Philip to take her back, rendering him essentially a bigamist and subject to excommunication. Agnes died in 1201, however, ending the threat of excommunication.
Bellini and his librettist Romani took tremendous liberties with this already unusual story and devised a plot where the King, in order to resolve the problem of his double marriage, sends Agnes to live at a cottage on Lake Montolino. Philip then sends her brother to watch over her secretly, masquerading under the name Valdeburgo. Agnes has assumed the name of Alaide and hides under a veil. Count Arturo has fallen in love with her, in spite of his engagement to Isoletta, daughter of the Duke of Montolino. At this point the opera begins.
19th century performances
The opera was first performed at La Scala, Milan on 14 February 1829, with Henriette Méric-Lalande and Domenico Reina in the leading roles. Alessandro Sanquirico designed the stage sets, and it was presented on a triple bill, along with the ballets Boundelmonte and L'avviso ai maritati.
Within Italy it received performances in over 50 cities until Turin in 1866: these included a revival at Milan's La Scala plus in Bologna (1836 with Carolina Ungher), Florence and Regio di Calabria (1840), Brescia (August 1850), Milan again (1857), and then Turin 1866.
20th century and beyond
Since the 1970s the opera has made several appearances within Europe with Scotto again performing in Venice in 1970 with conductor Ettore Gracis, while in 1969 a concert performance at Carnegie Hall featured Montserrat Caballé under the baton of Anton Guadagno. Recordings exist of all three of these presentations. Another production in Catania, with Elena Souliotis in the major role, was given at the Teatro Massimo in 1971.
In the 1980s, a recording exists of a concert performance in the Cour Jacques Coeur in Montpellier in August 1989. There was also a performance that year as part of the Spoleto Festival USA given in the Gaillard Auditorium, Charleston, USA on 26 May with Carol Neblett in the major role.
In December 1990, the Teatro Verdi di Trieste presented the opera and that was followed in 1993 with another concert performance at Carnegie Hall, starring Renée Fleming, presented by the Opera Orchestra of New York.
A complete concert performance was given in November 2007 in London, with Patrizia Ciofi (as Alaide), Dario Schmunck (Arturo), and Mark Stone (Valdeburgo) in the principal roles, conducted by David Parry with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a complete studio recording was made with these forces the same week.
Only occasional modern-day performances continue to be given. In November 2012, the opera was given in concert in Baden-Baden with Edita Gruberova as Alaida and José Bros as Arturo di Raventel. The Zurich Opera presented the opera in June/July and again in September/October 2013. The Alaida for these performances was Gruberova with staging by Chritoph Loy. Concert performances were given in Marseille in late October/November 2013 with Patrizia Ciofi as Alaida. The Theater an der Wien in Vienna will be presenting this opera on 14 January 2015, also directed by Loy and also with Edita Gruberova in the cast.
Roles and original cast
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 14 February 1829
|Alaide, the stranger||soprano||Henriette Méric-Lalande|
|Arturo, Count of Ravenstel||tenor||Domenico Reina|
|Valdeburgo, Baron, secret brother of Alaide||baritone||Antonio Tamburini|
|Isoletta, fiancée of Arturo||mezzo-soprano||Caroline Unger|
|Osburgo, confidant of Arturo||tenor||Luigi Asti|
|Il signore di Montolino, father of Isoletta||bass||Domenico Spiaggi|
|Il Priore degli Spedalieri||bass||Stanislao Marcionni|
A wedding chorus proclaims the upcoming wedding of Isoletta, daughter of Montolino, to Count Arturo of Ravenstal. Isoletta fears her Arturo's changed attitude toward her. She tells Baron Valdeburgo that she believes Arturo has fallen in love with a mysterious woman living as a hermit in a hut by the lake. In the distance a crowd is heard following "la straniera" on the lake shore, cursing her as a witch. Count Montolino shares his daughter Isoletta's concerns, but is reassured by his friend Osburgo who promises to bring Arturo to his senses.
Arturo is at the hut of "la straniera" Alaide. He desires to know the identity of this mysterious woman. Inside the hut he sees a portrait of her dressed in royal robes, wearing jewels. Alaide enters and chastises Arturo for entering her hut. She tells him she will reveal nothing about her past and begs him never to return. She does, however, admit to an attraction to Arturo. She sends him away, warning that his persistence will be their ruin.
During a hunting expedition, Osburgo and Valdeburgo encounter Arturo. Osburgo begs him to return for his wedding to Isoletta. Arturo refuses, asking Valdeburgo to meet his true love. Arturo promises he will never see her again if Valdeburgo judges her unworthy. Valdeburgo, upon seeing Alaide, hails her and almost calls out her real name, but Alaide stops him. Valdeburgo tells Arturo that—for reasons he cannot reveal—Arturo must renounce any intentions toward Alaide. She cannot ever marry Arturo. Thinking Valdeburgo is his rival for Alaide's affections, Arturo attacks him with his sword. Alaide intervenes and begs Arturo to leave. She agrees to see him again—if for the last time.
Arturo, still mistakenly crazy with jealousy directed at Valdeburgo, is further infuriated when Osburgo tells him that he has overheard Valdeburgo and Alaide planning to flee together. Arturo duels with Valdeburgo who is wounded by Arturo's sword and falls in the lake. Alaide then appears and Arturo curses her. Alaide reveals that Valdeburgo is actually her brother. Arturo jumps in the lake in an effort to save Valdeburgo. A crowd attracted by the shouting finds Alaide standing with Arturo's bloody sword. They accuse her of murdering Valdeburgo and drag her off as a prisoner.
Alaide is brought to trial. Osburgo testifies against her. The presiding Priore (Prior) asks her name, and she responds only "la straniera." The Prior feels that he has heard her voice before. Arturo rushes in and proclaims her innocence and confesses his own guilt. However, Valdeburgo suddenly appears as well to announce that Arturo is innocent. The Prior again demands Alaide's name, which she refuses to reveal. But she does agree to lift her veil for the Prior. He gasps upon seeing her face and sends her off with Valdeburgo. Arturo is left alone, while the Prior chastises Osburgo for his false testimony against Alaide.
Arturo comes to beg Alaide's forgiveness and confess his love. But he encounters Valdeburgo outside her hut. Valdeburgo again pleads with Arturo to desist in his attentions toward Alaide. Arturo reluctantly agrees to return to marry Isoletta, but asks that Alaide attend his wedding so he can see her one last time. Valdeburgo agrees.
Isoletta, truly unhappy and understandably feeling ignored and unloved, prepares for her wedding. The wedding party appears. Valdeburgo tells Arturo that Alaide is present, but hidden. Arturo behaves badly toward Isoletta who threatens to stop the wedding. Alaide, Valdeburgo, Arturo and Isoletta all weep over their respective torments. Isoletta finally renounces Arturo. Alaide suddenly reveals herself and begs Isoletta to continue with the wedding, and starts to rush out of the church. Arturo abandons Isoletta at the altar and begs Alaide to run off with him. The Prior then announces to all that Alaide is in fact Queen Agnes. What's more, the Prior has just learned that the Queen's rival for the throne has died and she must now return to Paris. Arturo, rendered mad by this news, throws himself on his sword. Isoletta falls on his dead body. La Straniera/Alaide/Agnes must now return to fulfill her duty as Queen, abandoning all hope of personal happiness.
Alaide (La straniera),
Il signore di Montolino,
Opera House and Orchestra
Orchestra and Chorus of the Teatro Massimo, Palermo,
(Recording of a performance in the Teatro Massimo, Palermo, 10 December)
|Audio CD: Melodram,
Cat: 3MCD-971-151 (highlights +Zaira),
Cat: 2 MCD-023-265
Rafael Le Bron,
Opera Orchestra of New York and Chorus,
(Recording of a concert performance in the Carnegie Hall, New York, February)
|Audio CD: Celestial Audio,
Cat: CA 607
London Philharmonic Orchestra and Geoffrey Mitchell Choir
|Audio CD: Opera Rara,
- Weinstock 1971, p. 55
- Galatopoulos, pp. 192–130.
- Performances 1829 to 1866, onlibrettodopera.it. Retrieved 12 May 2013
- Warrack and West
- Galatopoulos, p. 141.
- Recordings of La straniera on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk. Retrieved 12 May 2014
- Bernard Holland, "Opera/Review: How Bellini's Second Thoughts Were Really First", The New York Times, 10 February 1993.
- London Philharmonic Orchestra programme book, 3 November 2007.
- Operabase listings for 2013 on operabase.com. Retrieved 12 May 2013
- Theater's website for 2015 season
- Recordings of La straniera on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Galatopoulos, Stelios (2002), Bellini: Life, Times, Music 1801–1835. London, Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1-86074-405-1
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- Osborne, Charles (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340713
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- Thiellay, Jean; Thiellay, Jean-Philippe, Bellini, Paris: Actes Sud, 2013, ISBN 978-2-330-02377-5 (French)
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