Opera Scotland

Incontro improvviso The Unforeseen Encounter; L'incontro improvviso


Franz Joseph Haydn (born Rohrau, 31 March 1732; died Vienna, 31 May 1809)


Carl Friberth


Libretto Le rencontre imprévue (1764) by Henri Dancourt, set by Gluck, and itself adapted from a play by Lesage and D'Orneval (1726).



First performance: Eszterháza, 29 August 1776.

First Performance in UK: Glasgow (), 20 October 1964.

Scottish Opera premiere: n/a.



Operas, especially comedies, with plots located in Middle Eastern or North African societies were popular in Europe when it was only a few decades since the Turks had reached the walls of Vienna. Several featured generous Muslim princes with foreigners living in captivity, and eventually escaping or being released. The most famous is Mozart's Seraglio - the German singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail, of 1782, in which the captives are Europeans, two patricians with their servants. Dancourt's French text  is rather different, in that the captives - a pair of lovers and a solitary servant, are not European. The Italian translation set by Haydn still contains the expected modicum of Turkish-style music, with clashing cymbals, as well as triangle and drum.


Main Characters

Ali, Prince of Balsóra (tenor)

Rezia, a Persian princess, the Sultan's favourite (soprano)

Balkis, a slave, Rezia's confidante (soprano)

Dardane, a slave, confidante of Rezia (mezzo-soprano)

Osmin, Ali's slave (baritone)

Calandro, a wandering dervish (baritone)

Sultan of Egypt (bass)


Plot Summary

Ali, deposed by his evil brother, travelled to Persia with his slave Osmin, and there he met and fell in love with Rezia. They elope and are attacked by corsairs. Rezia is carried off separately, and Ali and Osmin set off in search of her. The opera opens two years later, when the men reach Cairo, unaware that Rezia has been purchased by the local Sultan.

Ali is destitute, and Osmin falls in with a group of dervishes led by Calandro, who will guide him in the art of making money by begging. Rezia has befriended two of the palace women, and when she hears of Ali's arrival in Cairo they agree to help. Ali challenges Osmin and his tutor, only to find that Calandro is a fellow-countryman, also in exile. Balkis now arrives, and, as instructed by Rezia, tempts him with a promised assignation, but he remains constant. He and Osmin escort Balkis to a house nearby, where a feast has been prepared, much to Osmin's delight.

This change in their fortunes confuses Ali, who is now courted by Dardane, but he also turns her down. She now reveals that she is acting on behalf of Rezia. When the lady herself appears the couple have an emotional lreunion. They agree to make their escape together, Balkis joining them with Osmin. This is to happen while the Sultan is out hunting. As the party prepare for their departure they are warned by Dardane of the Sultan's unexpected return. Osmin and Calandro help Ali, Rezia and the two women to escape by a secret passage to Calandro's warehouse.

The Sultan offers a reward for their capture, which tempts Calandro into betraying them. Osmin has a cunning plan, for the three women to disguise themselves as dervishes, while Ali pretends to be a French artist. This last part fails, and they are all captured. The Guard Captain tells them they are to be executed, but when they accept this punishment calmly he reveals the Sultan's true intention - to pardon them and execute Calandro for his treachery. They all beg for Calandro to be spared, and his sentence is commuted to exile. All join in praising the Sultan's magnanimity.

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