Gioachino Rossini: Ivanhoe (1826)

Opera Pastiche in three acts. Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes.

This is not an original opera, but rather a pastiche libretto set into pre-existing music by Rossini. It isn’t even Ivanhoe exactly since there is no Rowina and instead of Rebecca and Isaac of York we have the Muslim characters of Leila and her father Ismael. Muslims in medieval England? A little bit of a stretch but who would have noticed in 1826 Paris?


ACT 1: The house of Cedric. (45 minutes)

0: The overture **, which is over 1/10th of the entire running time of the opera, is the overture to Semiramide, possibly chosen because at the time it was Rossini’s most popular overture and was probably at the time his most sophisticated.

12: The Introduction * is entirely taken from three sections of La Cenerentola. We get the storm and a toast followed by the arrival of Ismael and his daughter Leila complete with a “meet cute” for the two romantic protagonists.

19: Ismael’s aria * about how dreadful Boisguilbert is is also taken from Cenerentola, it is the stepfather’s act two aria.

24: Ivanhoe’s first aria is taken from Bianca e Falliero and it is rather lovely **.

30: What follows immediately is a quartet * for the two young people and their respective fathers set to a number from Armida. It is all of two minutes flat.

34: Next is a choral including some magnificent flourishes for Leila and Ivanhoe *** taken from, you guessed it, the awesome Maometto II! 

38: The finale ** consists of three pieces from Aureliano in Palmira, La Gazza ladra, and finally Armida again. The first ** and especially the third *** movements are the best, the second * is rather slow. Leila is kidnapped by Boisguilbert. The third movement also has this oddly Mozatean appeal to it.

ACT 2: (30 minutes)

Scene 1: A room in Boisguilbert’s castle where Leila is held prisoner.

0: Leila opens the act with a sad little aria * originally for the title character of Sigismondo. It is a mild and mostly undescript piece apart from the vocal flourishes.

5: The duet Leila-Boisguilbert ** is taken from Torvaldo e Dorliska. It’s second and third movements are much better than the first.

13: This next number is a mini-miracle. After we are introduced to Boiguilbert’s second in command, the aptly name Malvoisin (the tenor in this act because Ivanhoe doesn’t appear at all in act two). A glorious trio *** taken from Mose in Egitto. The tenor and soprano blend incredibly well as they prepare Leila for her trial before the Inquisition or whatever other ecclesiastical court they had in England circa 1200.

16: A furious trio con coro ends the scene **, Leila and Malvoisin filling out the number with numerous delicious vocal ornaments.

Scene 2: The trial.

18: The scene opens with the rather sedate chorus * that opens the trial in La gazza ladra. Even with the video sped up it is really slow. It eventually warms up to a crescendo. The judgement is passed in parlando (speech over music). Apparently having been found in a Saxon house constituted treason against the French crown?

22: Leila greets her sentence of dead by burning at the stake rather well in a trio ** with Malvoisin and Boisguilbert set to music from the first act of Semiramide. The chorus joins in effectively.

27: Ismael is brought in and all heck breaks loose with a quartet con coro *** from Mose in Egitto. 

ACT 3: The camp grounds of the castle. (25 minutes)

0: The act opens with a longish entr’acte * from Semiramide. It helps to pad out the brief final act. A bright and sparkling piece.

4: At long last we get an opening chorus * (male) taken from Tancredi. 

8: After Ivanhoe comes on, encounters Ismael, and goes off to save Leila from execution we get an aria ** from Boisguilbert with choral backing taken from Semiramide. 

14: Now sadness. A funerary chorus taken from Bianca e Falliero ** as Leila is brought in for execution. Effective and this time the full complement (women and men). Ivanhoe makes his slightly adorable “champion of the innocent” speech in dialogue. And yes that is the gallop from Guillaume Tell. Rossini had written the tune for a military march commissioned and composed in 1822. Ivanhoe defeats Boisguilbert and it turns out that Leila is actually the daughter of a French king and not actually Ismael’s daughter after all (cop-out!).

19: The finale ** is taken from Torvaldo e Dorliska.  Ivanhoe declares that they are no longer Norman and Saxons but now all are English “Anglaise”. The last minute or so is a very showbiz final indeed.


How exactly does one judge a pastiche? After all if some of the music is terrible, it isn’t the composer’s fault exactly. Do you judge the work based on the plot? But what if the work is really lite and not meant to be taken overtly seriously as a theatrical work? Here we have exhibit A for Rossini’s development as a composer. Bits of operas that were already over ten years old are along side music from the last five or six years and the improvement in Rossini’s quality as a composer are very obvious. The plot is a bit silly. Why did they choose to make “Leila” Muslim, was being Jewish not “exotic” enough? The fact that she turns out to be a French royal is a cop-out and totally not from Sir Walter Scott’s novel. The best music belongs to the two tenors Ivanhoe and when he is totally absent in act 2, Malvoisin, although Leila gets a ton of amazing vocal effects. Overall this is meant to be entertainment, it isn’t meant to be taken seriously otherwise Rossini would have written new original music, there would be more than one story arc (saving Leila from being kidnapped by Boisguilbert and then execution are literally the only dramatic things that happen here, the rest is just frills and spectacle) and the overture wouldn’t be 12% of the entire show! Instead, just sit back and relax because That’s Entertainment! B, maybe B+.

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