Opera Scotland

Talisman Il Talismano; The Talisman; The Knight of the Leopard

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Michael William Balfe (born Dublin, 15 May 1808; died Rowney Abbey, 20 October 1870)


Arthur Matthison (in Italian translation by Giuseppe Zaffira)


Novel The Talisman (1825) by Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832).



First Performance: London (Drury Lane), 11 June 1874.

First Performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 28 October 1874.

Scottish Opera première: N/A.



Balfe died before completing his final opera. It was an adaptation of Sir Walter Scott's famous novel, and employed an English libretto by Arthur Matthison entitled The Knight of the Leopard. However, for the premiere the music was completed by Sir Michael Costa, and since that first series of performances was to be given by Mapleson's Italian Opera at Drury Lane, an Italian translation was provided by Giuseppe Zaffira, and it was under the title Il talismano that the work first appeared, arriving in Glasgow a few months later, with most of the original cast. When Carl Rosa revived the piece in 1891, they reverted to the original English libretto. The opera was launched with a starry group of international singers, including Christine Nilsson (Edith), Italo Campanini (Kenneth) and Marie Roze (Berengaria). It was composed in a grander style than his earlier successes, and well received, but it did not survive into the following century.



Sir Kenneth, the 'Knight of the Leopard' (tenor)

Richard Coeur de Lion, King of England (baritone)

Queen Berengaria, Richard's wife (soprano)

Edith Plantagenet (soprano)

An Emir, Saladin in disguise (bass)

Nectabanus, a dwarf employed by the Queen (baritone)

King of France (baritone)

Duke of Austria (tenor)

Baron de Vaux (tenor)


Plot Summary

The English contingent on the Crusade is led by Richard 'the Lionheart' and his wife, Berengaria. A relation of his, Edith Plantagenet is also there. Among the junior members of the company is Sir Kenneth, a Scot known as the 'Knight of the Leopard'. He and Edith are attracted to one another, though his lower standing makes such a relationship impossible. The various national factions in the Crusader forces constantly bicker with one another, and this is worsened by Richard's debilitating illness.

While out on a sortie, Sir Kenneth encounters a Saracen Emir whom he befriends. It turns out that this is Saladin himself. Saladin appears at the Crusader camp, disguised as a physician who has been sent to treat Richard. A cure is duly effected using drugs he has brought (in the talisman of the title). Sir Kenneth, on guard duty, is lured from his post by Nrctabanus, on the Queen's instructions. In his absence the English flag is torn down by an Austrian faction, evidence of the breach of security, and Sir Kenneth is thus threatened with execution. Edith successfully begs for his life, and he is exiled by Richard instead. The physician (Saladin) offers to take him on as a servant, and he spends time with the Saracens and is treated with respect, Saladin gives him the talisman. He is then sent in disguise (as a mute Nubian native) to attend on Richard and is able to save him from a plot. He is recognised by Richard and given the opportunity to discover the plotters, thus saving his own honour. Richard then receives correspondence from home which reveals Kenneth's true identity, as Prince David of Scotland, thus establishing him as an appropriate suitor for Edith.

The Cast

Baron de Vaux
Duke of Austria
Edith Plantagenet
 Saladin in disguise
King of France
 a dwarf employed by the Queen
Queen Berengaria
 wife of King Richard
Richard, Coeur de Lion
 King of England
Sir Kenneth
 the 'Knight of the Leopard'

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