Zaira is a tragedia lirica, or tragic opera in two acts by Vincenzo Bellini set to a libretto by Felice Romani which was based on Voltaire's 1732 tragedy, Zaïre. The story takes place in the time of the Crusades and the opera's plot involves the heroine, Zaira, struggling between her Christian faith and her love for Orosmane, the Muslim Sultan of Jerusalem. It was Bellini's fifth opera, and it followed quickly after his February 1829 composition and premiere of La straniera at La Scala.
Zaira received its first performance at the "Nuovo Teatro Ducale" in Parma (now the Teatro Regio di Parma) on 16 May 1829. However, the opera, which had been expressly written for the theatre's inauguration, was a failure at its premiere. While Bellini's success had been swift, "it was the first serious setback of a hitherto brilliant career". One critic attributes the failure to Parma's traditional love of and favouritism towards Rossini's music, while another notes that a combination of the composer being constantly seen around the city (when it was assumed that he should have been working) and the fact that Romani had noted in the printed libretto that the opera had been written in just 30 days were significant factors.
Bellini later re-used substantial parts of the music of Zaira for his next opera I Capuleti e i Montecchi, which received its premiere in March 1830. Except for a revival in 1836 in Florence, no performances were given for 140 years.
20th century and beyond
However, Zaira was revived in 1976 in a reconstruction by Rubino Profeta at the Teatro Massimo Bellini in Catania with a cast including Renata Scotto and Giorgio Lamberti, and again in 1990 with Katia Ricciarelli and Ramón Vargas. Both productions were recorded.
Apart from presentations in 2006 at the Musiktheater im Revier in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, and as a concert performance at the 2009 Festival de Radio France et Montpellier in France, performances of the opera are rare.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere cast, 16 May 1829
(Conductor: Ferdinando Melchiorri)
|Zaira, favourite of Orosmane||soprano||Henriette Méric-Lalande|
|Orosmane, Sultan of Jerusalem||bass||Luigi Lablache|
|Nerestano, brother of Zaira||mezzo-soprano||Teresa Cecconi|
|Corasmino, vizir||tenor||Carlo Trezzini|
|Lusignano, father of Zaira e Nerestano||bass||Giovanni Inchindi|
|Castiglione||tenor||Francesco Antonio Biscottini|
Opera house and orchestra
Maria Luisa (Bordin) Nave,
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Massimo Bellini
(Recording of a performance at Catania, 30 March and 1 April)
|Audio CD: Opera d'Oro
Cat: OPD 1442
Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Massimo Bellini
(Recorded at performances in Catania, 23, 25, 27 September)
|Audio CD: Nuova Era
Orchestre National de Montpellier Languedoc-Roussillon and the Latvian Radio and Television Choir
(Recording of a concert performance in the Opera Berlioz - Le Corum, Montpellier, 13 July)
|CD: The Opera Lovers,
Cat: ZAI 200901
- Kimbell, in Holden, p. 49
- Zaira at Naxos Records
- Friedrich Lippmann, (Trans. T.A. Shaw) "Ziara Yesterday and Today" in booklet accompanying the Nuevo Era recording.
- See "Recordings"
- Recordings of Zaira on operadis-opera-discography.org.uk
- Kimbell, David (2001), "Zaira", in Holden, Amanda (Ed.), The New Penguin Opera Guide, New York: Penguin Putnam. ISBN 0-140-29312-4
- Casaglia, Gherardo, Amadeus Almanac - 16 May 1829. Accessed 28 January 2009
- Casa Ricordi (pub.), "Vincenzo Bellini": Outline of his life (in English) and list of critical editions of his works published by Ricordi on ricordi.it. Retrieved 13 December 2013.
- Galatopoulos, Stelios (2002), Bellini: Life, Times, Music: 1801-1835. London, Sanctuary Publishing Ltd. ISBN 9781860744051
- Maguire, Simon; Elizabeth Forbes (1998), "Zaira", in Stanley Sadie, (Ed.), The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, Vol. Four, pp. 1202–1203. London: MacMillan Publishers, Inc. ISBN 1-56159-228-5
- Osborne, Charles (1994), The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini, Portland, Oregon: Amadeus Press. ISBN 0931340713
- Orrey, Leslie (1973), Bellini (The Master Musicians Series), London: J. M. Dent, Ltd. ISBN 0-460-02137-0
- Rosselli, John (1996), The Life of Bellini, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46781-0
- Thiellay, Jean; Thiellay, Jean-Philippe, Bellini, Paris: Actes Sud, 2013, ISBN 978-2-330-02377-5 (French)
- Willier, Stephen Ace, Vincenzo Bellini: A Guide to Research. Routledge, 2002. ISBN 0-8153-3805-8 and on books.google.com.
- Weinstock, Herbert (1971), Bellini: His life and His Operas, New York: Knopf. ISBN 0394416562
- Zakariasen, William (March 1997), "Recording review: Bellini: Zaira" Opera News. Accessed via subscription 28 January 2009.