Having to change the title of his first major opera was only the first setback for the young Bellini. Others would follow. As the date for the première approached, the Naples monarch, king Francesco I (1777-1830), had decided to move the entire court to the nearby palazzo Calvi during the Carnival season of 1826 and this meant that no opera was to be given in Naples during that period.
Therefor Bianca e Gernando had to be postponed to five months later. To complicate matters further, by now, the original singers, the soprano Adelaide Tosi (1800-1859) and tenor Giovanni David (1790-1864), for whom the roles of Bianca and (F)Gernando had been written, were not available anymore for being under contract elsewhere. Now the composer had to find new singers and (of course) having to re-write the parts.
Scenery being crafted (detail).
On the upper-right corner there’s a picture, by Giancarlo Cattaneo, of the 2010 Opera St. Moritz and Peter George’s production of Le Nozze di Figaro.
Detail of a male choir outfit
(Catania, 3 Nov. 1801 – Paris, 23 Sept. 1835)
Bellini’s opera success was based in his poetic sense formed in (long) expressive melodies and exquisite text-setting. As an absolute leading figure of early 19th-century opera he acted as the rightful heir of the belcanto tradition.
Born into a musical family he soon showed evident signs of great talent. Reportedly he was already singing before he reached 2 years of age, conducting with 3, playing piano at 5 and composing at 6. At 18 the Catania City Council recognized his talent by getting him a scholarship to the Naples Conservatory, bastion of the great Italian vocal writing tradition.
He eventually finished his studies with a first successful stage production: Adelson e Salvini (1825). This won him the opportunity to write a second opera for the prestigious Teatro San Carlo in Naples: Bianca e Fernando (1826). Its success managed to attract the attention of the influential impresario D. Barbaja (1777-1841) who, in turn, prompted the composer on his way to the Teatro alla Scala di Milano with I Pirata (1827).
Bianca e Fernando and Bianca e Gernando: a challenging yet promising career beginning for the young Bellini.
After the success of his first major work, the student opera Adelson e Selvini (1825) in the San Sebastiano Conservatory in Naples, Bellini obtained the chance to present a new opera in the prestigious San Carlo, a remarkable career beginning and a very promising first step. Nonetheless this wasn’t exempt of difficulties.
Choosing to collaborate with the young librettist D. Gillardoni (who would later work with G. Donizetti) on the successful play Bianca e Fernando alla tomba di Carlo IV, duca di Agrigento (1820) by C. Roti, he had put together the two-act opera Bianca e Fernando, scheduled for January of 1826.
Because this coincided with the anniversary of recently deceased king Ferdinando I, censors had the title changed to Bianca e Gernando, for court etiquette reasons. Only two years later was the opera (re)named Bianca e Fernando for the presentation in Genoa (1828).
Set in the 15th century, the opera deals with the eternal theme of power struggle: Fernando comes home to Agrigento, Sicily, from exile with the mission to avenge his father and save his sister (Bianca) from the usurper Filippo. He devises a bold plan to enlist under the enemy’s army, gain his confidence and then wait for the right moment for revenge… Fight for power, attempted murders, royal entrances, big choirs, suspense moments and poetic art. These are the main ingredients of this truly romantic opera that paved Bellini the way to fame.
Sketch and detail of the scenery
Peter George and Ineke working on Bianca’s dress and a detail from a male choir outfit.
Peter George d’Angelino Tap is invited by Opera St. Moritz to co-prepare Vincenzo Bellini’s opera Bianca e Fernando, with the première to take place in Maloja, Switzerland, on June 25th. Peter George is already at work in his workshop, to which he added a new space, with all aspects of projecting and staging the opera: dramaturgy, set design, light design, scenery, costume design, tailoring, research and writing.
Both the conceptual and practical aspects of production are taken by Peter George as a work of art. The same approach was followed for the custom design of previous productions like Le Nozze di Figaro and Anna Bolena. The creativity process remains true to its philosophy of crossing poetry, music and the figurative arts. These are, truly, the sources of inspiration.