Opera Scotland

Villi Le villi; The Willis; The Spirits

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Giacomo Puccini (born Lucca, 22 December 1858; died Brussels, 29 November 1924)


Ferdinando Fontana.


Story Les wilis (1852) by Alphonse Karr.



First Performance: Milan (Teatro Dal Verme), 31 May 1884.

First Performance (Revision): Turin (Teatro Regio), 26 December 1884.

First Performance in UK: Manchester (Comedy Theatre), 24 September 1897.

First Performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Queen's Hall), 10 December 1984 (concert).

Scottish Opera premiere: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 21 May 2017 (concert)..



Le villi, Puccini's first opera, is a short work. Initially in one act, quickly revised to two, it is still barely an hour in duration.

The basis is the German legend of the Wilis, spirits of girls who have died abandoned by their lovers, and who force them to dance themselves to death. It is known in modern times largely through the ballet Giselle by Adolphe Adam, composed for Paris in 1841, in which Albrecht is forgiven by the spirit of Giselle, who keeps him alive through the night, in spite of his exhaustion. Puccini's version also has an important dance element, and was originally described as an opera-ballet. The ending is less happy, with Anna an unforgiving figure.

It did enjoy success at its premiere, but the follow-up piece, Edgar, with the same librettist, is a more complex work with a chaotic plot. Learning from this, Puccini used a succession of partners before he was satisfied with the libretto for Manon Lescaut.



Guglielmo, head forester (baritone)

Anna, his daughter (soprano)

Roberto, her lover (tenor)


Plot Summary

The action is a mediaeval romance. The characters all live in the depths of the Black Forest, Guglielmo is head forester. Roberto, accepted as Anna's intended suitor, is summoned away to claim an inheritance. Dazzled by his new-found wealth, he forgets his commitments at home while enjoying his changed circumstances. By the time he returns to the forest, Anna has died heartbroken. She and the many other girls who have suffered in this way force him to dance until he is exhausted and dies.

The Cast

 Guglielmo's daughter
 head forester

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