Il pirata

Vincenzo Bellini

Il pirata

“The Pirate”

About this work

It is difficult for modern listeners to imagine a time when a mad scene and a fallen hero weren't standard fare, but when Bellini composed his Il Pirata these plot elements were novelties. The Gothic novel, with its Byronic heroes, virtuous, sensitive heroines, and stormy plots was becoming a major literary form, and Il Pirata parlayed this trend into a triumphant run of performances at La Scala. The music reflects the mood of the original play (Bertram, ou Le pirate by J.S. Taylor), though with the softer edges that Bellini and his librettist, Felice Romani decided would make it more appropriate for the operatic stage.

Imogene, the heroine, has music that reflects her emotional tumult and ever-growing fragility. Her music is generally languid, but occasionally becomes fevered. Gualtiero, the hero, reflects rather more of the self-pitying than the fiery, dangerous side of the gothic hero (his original character in the play is far more violent and bitter), but the music in which he declares his despair over what he perceives as Imogene's betrayal is lovely enough to make him relatively sympathetic. There is more pathos than fire in his voluntary surrender to justice (compare it, for example, to another hero turned bandit, Verdi's Ernani, or I Masnadieri), but the music is moving and effective. The most famous scene in the opera is Imogene's mad scene. The fiery runs and trills and vocal leaps vividly depict the way that her mind has become disconnected from all reality and is focused only on Gualtiero's impending execution. While later composers were to write more vocally beautiful mad scenes, such as Donizetti in his Lucia di Lammermoor or Linda di Chamounix, this was the first great example of the device and one of the most convincing.