Libretto [in three acts] by
FRANCESCO MARIA PIAVE
Trieste, Teatro Grande, 16 November 1850
Critical Edition by
KATHLEEN KUZMICK HANSELL
The University of Chicago Press and Casa Ricordi, Milan, 2003
STIFFELIO, minister of the Ahasuerian sect, tenor
LINA, his wife, daughter of soprano
STANKAR, an elderly colonel and Count of the Empire, baritone
RAFFAELE DI LEUTHOLD, a nobleman, tenor
JORG, an elderly minister, bass
FEDERICO DI FRENGEL, Lina's cousin, tenor
DOROTEA, Lina's cousin, mezzo-soprano
FRITZ, a servant (non-singing role)
Mixed chorus of friends of the Count (Stankar) and followers of Stiffelio, the Ahasuerian people
The scene is a castle of Count Stankar in Germany, on the banks of the river Salzbach, and its surroundings
Instrumentation: Flute/Piccolo, 2 Oboes/English Horn, 2
Clarinets, 2 Bassoons, 4 Horns, 2 Trumpets, 3 Trombones,
Cimbasso, Timpani, Snare Drum, Bass Drum, Cymbals, Organ, Strings
Performance time: 1h 45m
The performance history of Stiffelio as Verdi envisioned it literally began only in 1993. This opera, composed in tandem with Rigoletto and sharing many of its forward-looking characteristics, suffered even more than Rigoletto from the censors' strictures. The story of Stiffelio, a protestant minister who eventually divorces his adulterous wife but forgives her from the pulpit in the final scene, shocked conservative post-Revolutionary Italian religious and political powers. From its very premiere at Trieste in November 1850, its text was diluted to appease the authorities, making a mockery of the action and thus of Verdi's carefully calibrated music. The libretto was rewritten for subsequent revivals, and even some of Verdi's music was dropped. Thus in 1856 the composer angrily withdrew Stiffelio from circulation, reusing parts of the score for his Aroldo (1857). The rest of the Stiffelio autograph was later generally presumed lost.
Not until 1992, through efforts by the Institute for Verdi Studies in Parma, was it revealed that Verdi's heirs possessed not only most of the canceled score, but also sixty pages of the composer's sketches for Stiffelio. Photocopies of these, along with those portions of Stiffelio preserved in the Aroldo autograph (housed at the Ricordi archives), were made available exclusively to The Works of Giuseppe Verdi and were used to prepare the preliminary score of the critical edition, which had its premiere in October 1993 at New York's Metropolitan Opera.* With Placido Domingo in the title role, it was the first time Stiffelio was performed as Verdi wrote it. Since then the opera has been enthusiastically received in major theaters around the world (including La Scala, Berlin, and Los Angeles).
With the publication of the critical edition, the first in full orchestral score, Stiffelio should take its rightful place in the Verdi canon. Audacious, hard-driving, and compact, stylistically akin to Rigoletto but even bolder, it clearly belongs to the period inaugurating the noted Verdian "trilogy."
* All previous modern editions, including the score prepared by Edward Downes and first performed in January 1993 at Covent Garden, were based largely or entirely on secondary sources, such as the early printed vocal score and defective 19th-century manuscript copies of the full score. For the Covent Garden performances, with Jose Carreras as Stiffelio, Philip Gossett made preliminary corrections of the vocal parts only, based on the newly recovered autograph materials. Those materials had been exhumed by the Carrara Verdi family with the Metropolitan Opera production in view, and only happenstance permitted the Verdi edition to share some of the most important aspects with Downes. Verdi's autograph was not utilized, however, for any of the orchestral fabric, for which Downes's edition relied entirely on a 19th-century copy.
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