Dom Sébastien

Dom Sébastien

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Dom Sébastien, Roi de Portugal (Don Sebastian, King of Portugal) is a French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 grand opera
Grand Opera
Grand opera is a genre of 19th-century opera generally in four or five acts, characterised by large-scale casts and orchestras, and lavish and spectacular design and stage effects, normally with plots based on or around dramatic historic events...

 in five acts by Gaetano Donizetti
Gaetano Donizetti
Domenico Gaetano Maria Donizetti was an Italian composer from Bergamo, Lombardy. His best-known works are the operas L'elisir d'amore , Lucia di Lammermoor , and Don Pasquale , all in Italian, and the French operas La favorite and La fille du régiment...

. The libretto
A libretto is the text used in an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata, or musical. The term "libretto" is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as mass, requiem, and sacred cantata, or even the story line of a...

 was written by Eugène Scribe
Eugène Scribe
Augustin Eugène Scribe , was a French dramatist and librettist. He is best known for the perfection of the so-called "well-made play" . This dramatic formula was a mainstay of popular theater for over 100 years.-Biography:...

, based on Paul Foucher
Paul Foucher
Paul-Henri Foucher was a French playwright, theatre and music critic, political journalist, and novelist.-Early career:...

's play Don Sébastien de Portugal (1838), a historic-fiction about King Sebastian of Portugal
Sebastian of Portugal
Sebastian "the Desired" was the 16th king of Portugal and the Algarves. He was the son of Prince John of Portugal and his wife, Joan of Spain...

 (1554-1578) and his ill-fated 1578 expedition to Morocco. It premiered on November 13, 1843 at the Salle Le Peletier of the Paris Opéra
Paris Opera
The Paris Opera is the primary opera company of Paris, France. It was founded in 1669 by Louis XIV as the Académie d'Opéra and shortly thereafter was placed under the leadership of Jean-Baptiste Lully and renamed the Académie Royale de Musique...

. This was the last opera that Donizetti completed before going insane as a result of syphilis.

At the time, Donizetti was attempting to compose an opera competitive with similar historical operas by Daniel Auber
Daniel Auber
Daniel François Esprit Auber was a French composer.-Biography:The son of a Paris print-seller, Auber was born in Caen in Normandy. Though his father expected him to continue in the print-selling business, he also allowed his son to learn how to play several musical instruments...

, Fromental Halévy
Fromental Halévy
Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy, usually known as Fromental Halévy , was a French composer. He is known today largely for his opera La Juive.-Early career:...

 and Giacomo Meyerbeer
Giacomo Meyerbeer
Giacomo Meyerbeer was a noted German opera composer, and the first great exponent of "grand opera." At his peak in the 1830s and 1840s, he was the most famous and successful composer of opera in Europe, yet he is rarely performed today.-Early years:He was born to a Jewish family in Tasdorf , near...

. One critical description of the nature of Dom Sébastien is "a funeral in five acts". By contrast, Winton Dean has described the main characteristic of the opera as "uncompromising dramatic honesty" in his comments on unusual dramatic facets of the work. Mary Ann Smart has prepared a critical edition of the opera in French, which includes appendices with variants and additions that Donizetti made for a production in German in Vienna in 1845.


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 13 November 1843
(Conductor: - )
Dom Sébastien, King of Portugal tenor
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

Gilbert Duprez
Gilbert Duprez
Gilbert Duprez was a French tenor, singing teacher and minor composer who famously pioneered the delivery of the operatic high C from the chest. He also created the role of Edgardo in the popular bel canto-era opera Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835.-Biography:Gilbert-Louis Duprez, to give his full...

Dom Antonio, his Uncle, regent of the kingdom in his absence tenor Jean-Baptiste Octave
Dom Juam de Sylva, Grand Inquisitor bass Nicolas Levasseur
Nicolas Levasseur
Nicolas Levasseur was a French bass, particularly associated with Rossini roles.Born Nicolas-Prosper Levasseur at Bresle, Somme, he studied at the Paris Music Conservatory from 1807 to 1811, with Pierre-Jean Garat. He made his professional debut at the Paris Opéra in 1813, as Osman Pacha, in La...

Le Camoëns, soldier and poet baritone
Baritone is a type of male singing voice that lies between the bass and tenor voices. It is the most common male voice. Originally from the Greek , meaning deep sounding, music for this voice is typically written in the range from the second F below middle C to the F above middle C Baritone (or...

Paul Barroilhet
Paul Barroilhet
Paul-Bernard Barroilhet was a French operatic baritone.-Career:Barroilhet studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and then with Davide Banderali in Milan...

Dom Henrique, lieutenant of Dom Sébastien bass Ferdinand Prévost
Ben-Selim, governor of Fez bass Hippolyte Brémont
Abayaldos, head of the Arab tribes, fiancé of Zayda baritone Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol
Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol
Jean-Étienne-Auguste Massol was a French operatic tenor and later baritone who sang in the world premieres of many French operas....

Zayda, daughter of Ben-Selim mezzo-soprano
A mezzo-soprano is a type of classical female singing voice whose range lies between the soprano and the contralto singing voices, usually extending from the A below middle C to the A two octaves above...

Rosine Stoltz
Rosine Stoltz
Rosine Stoltz was a French mezzo-soprano. A prominent member of the Paris Opéra, she created many leading roles there including Ascanio in Berlioz's Benvenuto Cellini, Marguerite in Auber's Le lac des fées, the title role in Marie Stuart, and two Donizetti heroines, Leonor in La favorite and...

Dom Luis tenor
Soldier (bass), First Inquisitor (tenor), Second Inquisitor (tenor), Third Inquisitor (bass)
Chorus: Gentlemen and ladies and of the court of Portugal, Portuguese soldiers and sailors, Arab soldiers and women, members of the Inquisition, men and women of the people

Act 1


The Christian king, Dom Sébastian, leaves his uncle Dom Antonio to rule Portugal while he goes on a crusade against the Moors of Africa. Sébastian's entourage includes the idealistic poet Camoëns and the Moor princess Zayda, whom he had rescued from being burnt at stake for trying to escape the monastery she had resided in since her conversion to Christianity (O mon Dieu, sur la terre). He intends to return her to her father Ben-Selim.

Act 2

Fez, Morocco

The reunion between Zayda and Ben-Selim is dampened by her refusal to marry the Moorish chief Abayaldos.

A battlefield in Morocco

Abayaldos has led the Moors to battle against Sébastian's forces and mostly wiped them out. The wounded Sébastian's life is saved only when his lieutenant Dom Henrique presents himself to Abayaldos as Sébastian, before expiring from his own wounds, and Zayda pleads for "the Christian's" life (the real Sébastian) in return for her consent to marry Abayaldos, reasoning that her life was saved by a Christian during her captivity in Portugal and that the favor must be returned. Sébastian is left on the battlefield a broken man (Seul sur la terre).

Act 3

A public square, Lisbon

Camoëns has survived the battle and returned to Lisbon (O Lisbonne, o ma patrie!) where he learns that Antonio has aligned himself with the Spanish Grand Inquisitor Dom Juan de Sylva and usurped the throne. He runs into Sébastian, just as the funeral procession for the supposedly dead king passes by. Camoëns causes a commotion in his outrage, and Sébastian is recognized by the people when he intervenes. Abayaldos, for his part, recognizes the lowly "Christian" whose life he had spared. Sébastian is jailed as an imposter.

Act 4

A court of law, Lisbon

At Sébastian's trial, Zayda proves her love for him by testifying to his true identity and how he escaped death. Abayaldos accuses her of infidelity, and now both Sébastian and Zayda are jailed, she for treason.

The Lisbon Court

Eager to legitimize his deal with Spain, Antonio offers to spare Sébastian's life if Zayda can convince Sébastian to sign the official instrument selling Portugal to Spain. After first refusing, Sébastian signs. Free but distraught, Zayda runs out to drown herself.

A tower guarding the entrance to Lisbon Harbor (anachronistically the Belém Tower, symbol of Portuguese independence)

Sébastian catches up with Zayda at the top of the tower. They see Camoëns in a boat attempting to rescue them. Sébastian and Zayda climb down a rope to the boat but are discovered half way down; they plunge to their deaths when the rope is slashed. Camoëns is killed by gunfire and, at curtain, the Spanish fleet emerges on the horizon. Portugal has lost her independence.


Year Cast
(Zaida, Dom Sébastien, Camoëns,Dom Juan de Silva)
Opera House and Orchestra
1984 Klára Takács,
Richard Leech
Richard Leech
Richard Leech , born Richard Leeper McClelland, was an accomplished actor.Richard Leeper McClelland was born in Dublin, Ireland, son of Isabella Frances and Herbert Saunderson McClelland, a lawyer. He was educated at Haileybury and Trinity College, Dublin...

Lajos Miller,
Sergei Koptchak
Eve Queler
Eve Queler
Eve Queler is an American conductor and the current Artistic Director of the Opera Orchestra of New York . She founded the OONY in 1971 after having worked on the staffs of the Metropolitan Opera and the New York City Opera....

Opera Orchestra of New York and Schola Cantorum of New York
(Recording of a concert performance in Carnegie Hall, 23 March)
Audio CD: Legato Classics
Cat: LCD 190-2
1998 Monica Minarelli,
Robert Woroniecki,
Ettore Kim,
Randall Jabosh
Elio Boncompagni,
Sinfonie Orchester Aachen and Aachener Städische Theater Chorus
Audio CD: Kicco Classic
Cat: KCO18CD-1/2
2005 Vesselina Kasarova
Vesselina Kasarova
Vesselina Kasarova is a Bulgarian mezzo-soprano opera singer.- Early life and education :Vesselina Kasarova was born in the central Bulgarian town of Stara Zagora. Under the communist regime she studied Russian as a second language and had an early start in music education...

Giuseppe Filianoti,
Carmelo Corrado-Caruso,
Alastair Miles
Mark Elder
Mark Elder
Sir Mark Philip Elder, CBE is a British conductor. He is the music director of the Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, England.-Biography:Elder was born in Hexham, Northumberland, England, the son of a dentist...

Orchestra and Chorus of the Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House
The Royal Opera House is an opera house and major performing arts venue in Covent Garden, central London. The large building is often referred to as simply "Covent Garden", after a previous use of the site of the opera house's original construction in 1732. It is the home of The Royal Opera, The...

, Covent Garden
Audio CD: Opera Rara
Opera Rara
Opera Rara is a British record label, founded in the early 1970s by Americans Patric Schmid and Don White to promote concerts of rare and/or forgotten operas by Giacomo Meyerbeer and Donizetti and such other "bel canto" composers as Giovanni Pacini, Saverio Mercadante, and Federico Ricci.The...

Cat: ORC 33

External links

  • "Donizetti and Paris", lecture by Roger Parker on Dom Sébastien at Gresham College
    Gresham College
    Gresham College is an institution of higher learning located at Barnard's Inn Hall off Holborn in central London, England. It was founded in 1597 under the will of Sir Thomas Gresham and today it hosts over 140 free public lectures every year within the City of London.-History:Sir Thomas Gresham,...

    , 16 April 2007 (available for download as video or audio files)