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O'Reilly Theatre, National Opera House

Melodramma semiserio in 2 acts by Jacopo Foroni (1824–1858)

Libretto by Giorgio Giachetti, sung in Italian with English Surtitles

First performed at the King’s Theatre in Milan, 4 March 1848

Following the success of Cristina, regina di Svezia at Wexford in 2013, acclaimed by many as one of the most worthwhile rediscoveries in the festival’s long history, we return to another of Jacopo Foroni’s operas. The clue to the previous long neglect of Foroni (1824–1858), who scarcely features in the reference books, may lie in Foroni’s early death from cholera in Stockholm, where he had taken charge of the Italian opera company in 1849, presenting his credentials that year with his opera on the tumultuous life of Queen Christina of Sweden. As that work showed, at this stage he could still have been considered a worthy rival to Verdi as the inheritor of Donizetti’s mantle, though perhaps his willingness to leave Italy suggests that his temperament lay elsewhere. Indeed, though his music brims with Italianate vitality, he was a cosmopolitan figure, aware of the symphonic tradition north of the Alps.

Margherita was, significantly, his first opera, premiered one year earlier than Cristina in front of the ‘home’ audience in Milan. It was greeted with considerable enthusiasm, not least by the influential Alberto Mazzucato, who praised ‘the good balance between seriousness and comedy [and] the moderate timbre of the orchestral sound’. As this suggests, one of its models might have been Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, with which it shares a rural setting (the action of Margherita takes place in a Swiss mountain village), and the score contains folk music tinges and evokes a Romantic landscape. Classified by its composer as a ‘Melodramma semiseria’, its libretto is an adaptation of a French text by no less a figure than Eugène Scribe, originally intended for the composer Adrien Boieldieu, who died before he could finish the work. Margherita was commissioned for Milan’s Teatro Re, a small theatre near La Scala (on a site absorbed into where the city’s famous Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele stands today), and the practicalities of writing for it are reflected in the opera’s essential intimacy.


Act 1

Ser Matteo has just become podestà (mayor) of the little village. A choir comes to celebrate him, but he confesses aside that he is a lazy person and has no intention of doing any work in his new role. His nephew Roberto enters, and tells his uncle that he plans to marry Margherita, who is an orphan, the prettiest girl in the village and also the richest. It becomes clear that Roberto’s interest is purely financial: he is heavily indebted. They go to seek Margherita, propose to her but get the answer that she is in love with the soldier Ernesto. While they are talking, Ernesto’s sister Giustina enters and tells them that Ernesto’s regiment has just arrived. Ernesto and Margherita meet and decide to marry the next day, Giustina leaves to get the notario, but just then the colonel of Ernesto’s regiment, Conte Rodolfo, arrives. Margherita has given Ernesto a ribbon as a love token, which he has attached to his cap. Conte Rodolfo needs Ernesto’s help as he has been involved in a duel because of the girl he loves. His own general is his rival. Ernesto is to wait for the count in a wagon, to help him escape after the duel. Ernesto follows the count, losing his cap in the process, while Margherita expresses her worries. Roberto picks up the cap, together with his friend Gasparo.

Giustina returns, very upset, and reports that she has seen a man being attacked by two other men in the forest. She does not know if he has been killed, but she has found a cap on the spot – Ernesto’s cap with Margherita’s ribbon.

Act 2

Ser Matteo promises to find and punish the culprit. The cap is passed around, but nobody recognises it. Suddenly Ernesto returns, worried because the count did not turn up at their meeting point. Matteo asks him about the cap, which he unsuspectingly acknowledges as his. He is immediately arrested and thrown into prison. Margherita comes to talk to the podestà, but meets Roberto instead. She implores him to help Ernesto, but he refuses. She offers him everything she possesses, but he wants only one thing: her hand in marriage. Finally, she gives in to save Ernesto and signs a marriage contract. Coming home, she meets Giustina, tells her about her actions to save Ernesto and hands over her engagement ring.

The count reappears, telling the audience that his rival, the general, instead of punishing him for his love of Matilda, has promised to help him with the marriage. He meets Giustina and is informed about Ernesto’s misfortune.

In the prison, Ernesto claims his innocence. Suddenly the count, Giustina and Margherita enter. Count Rodolfo explains that he was the man who was attacked and that it was another man, not Ernesto, who attacked him. Ernesto is freed and wants to join Margherita, but gets the terrible information that she has signed a marriage contract with Roberto. He accuses her of infidelity, but Giustina tells him the true story about the contract. They are united. The count sets eyes on Roberto and recognises him as the attacker. Roberto is carried off to prison, the contract is torn in pieces, and the count invites the couple to celebrate their wedding at his castle. The choir praises the strength of love.

A co-production with Oldenburghisches Staatstheater

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Act 1 - 78 mins
Interval - 30 mins
Act 2 - 60 mins


Conte RodolfoYuriy Yurchuck
Ser MatteoMatteo D'Apolito
MargheritaAlessandra Volpe
ErnestoAndrew Stenson
GiustinaFilippo Fontana
GasparoJi Hyun Kim
RépétiteursTina Chang
Critical EditionAnders Wiklund
A co-productionOldenburghisches Satatstheater

Creative team

Hugh Fanning
ComposerAntonio Foroni
ConductorTimothy Myers
DirectorMichael Sturm
Assistant DirectorCaroline Staunton
Set DesignStefan Rieckhoff
Costume DesignStefan Rieckhoff
Lighting DesignD.M. Wood
Chorus MasterErrol Girdlestone
Stage ManagerEllie Williams
SubtitlesElizabeth Drwal & Rachel Moore
MiscellaneousMelodramma semiserio in two acts, Libretto by Giorgio Giachetti, Sung in Italian
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