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Countess of Boissy
Gianfera, the Count's Foreman
Lion, servant to the Countess
Text by Sergio Nepomuceno (http://www.bn.br/musica/ecgescr.htm)
The plot takes place in the city of Rio de Janeiro and its outskirts, in 1567. Ilara and Iberê, of the Tamoio tribe, are enslaved in the farm of Count Rodrigo, whose son, Américo, is in love with Ilara, who also loves him. Américo frees Iberê and the latter swears he will be eternally faithful to his young protector. Knowing his sons love for the Indian girl, the Count sends the young man to Rio de Janeiro, to join the army against the Nativess uprising. During Americos absence, the Count tells Gianfera, his foreman, to arrange the wedding of Ilara to Iberê.
Meanwhile, in Niterói, the young Countess of Boissy, a keen abolitionist, welcomes Américo and shows a deep affection for him. Surprising everybody, she decides to free all her Indian slaves, among whom Iberê and Ilara, now in her possession. When told that the two are now united, Américo is very jealous and shows all his hatred. The two Indians, now free, live in a forest in Jacarepaguá and the young man tries to conquer his wifes love, in the hope of making her a little happier. Ilara, however, tells Iberê her oath of fidelity to Américo. Iberê becomes very angry and joins his tribe against the Portuguese. Américo is imprisoned and brought to Iberês presence. In order to keep his oath, the Tamoio betrays his own people and frees his benefactor. Américos and Ilaras escape is noticed by the savages, who want revenge. Iberê kills himself, offering his life in exchange for that of the lovers, who leave to be happy ever after.
In 1880, when Gomes returned to Italy, the composer had a draft of a libretto written by his friend the Viscount of Taunay, a leading abolitionist in Brazil. However, this libretto was not accepted by the Italian librettist and translator Paravicini. To satisfy conventions of opera, acceptable changes had to be made in the drama written by de Taunay. Paravicini pushed the date of the opera back more than two centuries, from 1801 to 1567. He changed the leading characters from blacks to Indians, the mulattos Ricardo and Anália changed to the Indians Iberê and Ilara, and the Portuguese noblewoman to a French Countess. The librettist opposed the inclusion of an hymn to liberty written by Giacinto Giganti. They had to go to court to solve this matter, and the Italian justice favored the Italian.
The opera that should have been performed in Bologna in 1887 was taken off the schedule. Beside this lawsuit, still more delays were caused by two competing publishing houses: Lucca, Gomes' publisher, and Ricordi. Each publisher vied for his opera to be produced at La Scala. Finally, Gomes took his opera to Rio de Janeiro for its premiere in 1889. However, by that time slavery had been abolished in Brazil, weakening the emotional and political impact of the opera. Lo Schiavo was a success at home, but not in Europe. It is perhaps Gomes' most important work. Gomes dedicated the opera Lo Schiavo, to "Her Serene Highness Princess Dona Isabel, Contessa D'eu, Imperial Regent." The translation of the dedication reads:
I beg Your Highness to accept this drama in which a Brazilian. has tried to represent the noble character of the slave. On the memorable date of May 13, in favor of many other similar to the main character in this drama, Your Highness, with gentle and patriotic spirit, had the glory of changing slavery into the eternal joy of freedom. Thus the word slave in Brazil belongs only in the legend of the past. Therefore, it is as a token of deep gratitude and homage that, as a Brazilian artist, I have the great honor of dedicating this work of mine to the Serene Princess in whom Brazil venerates the same high spirit, the same greatness of soul of Dom Pedro 11, and the same generous support that I pride myself of having had bestowed upon me by the August Father of Your Imperial Highness. Today, the 29th of July, the day in which Brazil salutes the birthday of the August Regent, I bring to the feet of Your Highness this "Escravo" - perhaps as poor as the thousands of others who bless Your Highness with the same effusion of gratitude with which I am, of your Imperial Highness, Faithful, and Reverent Subject.
the 29th of July 1888.
Nobody ignored that Indians were under the slavery yoke in the
times of Portuguese colonization, but this subject was anachronic
for the slavery panorama in the 19th century, when the pivotal
question was the black race, and not the Indians. Lo Schiavo came
after slavery was officially abolished in Brazil. Therefore it
bears no responsibility in this fact, however it has the merit to
remind people that Indians were also part of the ethnic massacre
done by the colonists.