Opera Scotland

Guillaume Tell William Tell; Guglielmo Tell

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Gioachino Rossini (born Pesaro, 29 February 1792; died Paris, 13 November 1868)


Etienne de Jouy and Hippolyte Louis-Florent Bis.


Drama Wilhelm Tell (1804) by Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805).



First Performance: Paris (Théâtre de L'Académie Royale de Musique), 3 August 1829.

First Performance in UK: London (Drury Lane), 1 May 1830.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Theatre Royal), 25 February 1856.

Scottish Opera premiere: N/A.



After Rossini moved to Paris, he produced several operas that were grander adaptations of recent successes in Italy. His first entirely original opera was still composed to an Italian text, and was an elaborate comedy in celebration of the coronation of King Charles XII, Il viaggio a Reims. Only in 1829 did he bring out a truly French work that was entirely original, and this was Guillaume Tell, a grand opera in four acts, on a historical subject, with dramatic choral episodes, spectacular scenic demands, and a ballet - just what Parisian audiences of the day required. The style of writing is completely different from his earlier work, shorn of the virtuosic coloratura effects of, for instance, his Neapolitan operas. It was widely assumed to be the first of many such pieces, but instead it remains unique in the composer's output.

A Scottish footnote to the opera's history arises from the fact that, at the time of its composition, Northern Italy was under Austrian rule. When La Scala wanted to perform the work, the subject matter clearly made it impossible. The usual way out of such a situation was to provide a new title and characters, and relocate the story. Thus when William Tell opened at La Scala in December 1836, it had been somewhat doctored, and was produced under the title Guglielmo Vallace (i.e. William Wallace).


Main Characters

William Tell, a Swiss patriot (patriot)

Hedwige, his wife (mezzo-soprano)

Jemmy, his son (soprano)

Arnold, a Swiss in Austrian service (tenor)

Gesler, Austrian governor (bass)

Mathilde, his sister (soprano)


Plot Summary

Events take place in 13th century Switzerland, a country under Austrian occupation. The governor, Gesler, rules the country harshly, and is extremely unpopular.

William Tell, bitterly opposed to the Austrian rule, tries to persuade Arnold to join the cause of freedom, and Arnold promises to do so, though not yet. He loves, and is loved by the governor's sister, Mathilde, having saved her from drowning. A village celebration (including ballet and archery) is interrupted by the arrival of Leuthold, an old shepherd who, in protecting his daughter, has killed an Austrian soldier. Despite an approaching storm, Tell takes him across the lake to escape his pursuers. When the villagers refuse to divulge the fugitives' identities, the Austrian soldiers seize Arnold's father and drag him away before setting fire to the village.

Mathilde and Arnold meet briefly. Just after she has gone, Tell informs Arnold that his father has been murdered by Gesler. Arnold now swears revenge and joins the cause of freedom when a large force patriots assembles.

Arnold and Mathilde meet again, this time for the last time, since it is clear any relationship is impossible. When crowds assemble in the town square, Tell is recognized as the boatman who had saved Leuthold. He is arrested, and Gesler decrees that Tell can only save his life, and Jemmy's, by shooting an apple off his son's head. He succeeds, but when he reveals that he had a second arrow for Gesler if he had failed, he is dragged away by the Austrians for execution. Jemmy is taken into her protection by Mathilde.

Arnold returns to find his home in ruins. He is now a leader of the revolt, and reveals a cache of arms concealed by his father and Tell. As Gesler arrives, Mathilde brings Jemmy for an audience with him, her intention being to offer herself as hostage for Tell's safe return. A fierce storm breaks, and Tell, chained and being transported across the lake, is released by his captors because he is the only one with seamanship to save them all. As Tell returns to shore, Jemmy is able to pass him a bow. He shoots Gesler and Arnold leads a victorious uprising to defeat the Austrians.

The Cast

 Melcthal's son
 Austrian governor of Schwitz and Uri
Guillaume Tell
 Tell's wife
 Tell's son
 an old shepherd
 a Habsburg princess, Gesler's sister
 a Swiss Patriarch
 captain in Gessler's guard
 a fisherman
Walter Furst

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