Lo Schiavo

Opera by A. Carlos Gomes

An Analysis of Ilara's recitativo and Aria:

Alba dorata... O ciel di Parahyba

Š 1994 Cyrene Paparotti.


Analysis of "Alba dorata... O ciel di Parahyba"


Open Listenings

In this aria, all nostalgic love and evocation to the country for the composer is transparent to the auditor, and those feelings are portrayed in this famous aria by means of the modulations and chromatic progressions. The smooth dynamic changes imply the reactions of a distressed heart suffering an exile. The aria takes place at dawn: in a movement symmetrical to the sunrise, the dynamics of the aria -- and the emotions contained in it --show a clear crescendo. The rich rhythmic devices such as syncopation, triplets, accents, and shifts of movements provide actual wild and exotic flavors of the tropical forests. The harmony, with its generous succession of diminished and applied chords exemplifies the dramatic character. The mode mixture employed in the end of the aria and the final piccardy third increase the tension of a soul ready to die.

Musical and Textual Representation

Alba dorata del natio mio suol
Io ti rivedo ancor nel pianto
Schiava or pių non sono, no, no
Ma pur la libertā m'č pena e duolo
Col la violenza sposa a un nom che abborro!
Tremo al pensier dell'amor suo funesto!
Di lui che adoro il labbro udii imprecarmi
Mentre nel core un grido di dolor io soffocava
O me infelice!
Assai pių che ad un tempo oggi son schiava

O ciel di Parahyba Ove sognai d'amor
Bella per me serena era la vita allor!
Del suo desir vivea
Dal labbro suo pendea
L'affanno o la gioia
Che mi beava il cor!
Or tristi passan l'ore
La morte in sen mi sta...
Non ha pių d'eco il core
Di vivere non sa! No, no
O ciel di Parahyba
Ove sognai d'amor
A te la vita, l'anima, torna piangendo ognor
A lui lontan va il mio sospir
Ah! Piango e l'invoco invan
Perchč crudel destino mi fai cosė soffrir
Meglio morir!

Golden dawn of my natal ground
I see you again in tears
Slave thus I am not, no more
But for my liberty I am sadness and distress
With the violence of being spouse of a man I abhor!
I tremble to think about his harmful love!
From the one that I adore, my lips hear the imprecations
Meanwhile, in my heart, in a cry of distress, I suffocate
Oh I am unhappy!
Much more than before today I am a slave

Oh! Sky of Parahyba Where I have dreamed of love
Beautiful and serene the life was for me
Of his desires I used to live
I used to drink his words
The torment of happiness
Used to bless my heart
Thus, sadly the hours go
Death is in my breast
In my heart there are no more echoes
To live it does not know
Oh! sky of Parahyba
Where I had dreamed of love
For thee the life, the soul return in tears for ever and ever
To him, far away, my sigh go
Ah! I cry and vainly I beg him
Why cruel destiny, do you make me suffer so much
It is better to die!

(English translation by C. Paparotti)

The action takes place in colonial Brazil, 1567. In order to maintain peace among warrior tribes, the Portuguese governor Count Rodrigo weds his slave Ilara with the chief of the Tamoios. But Ilara is in love with Americo, the count's son. She sings this aria in the third act as she is living with her husband in the forest, and dreams about her beloved.



The melody is derived from the two leitmotifs used in "Lo Schiavo". Iberę's and Ilara's are as follows:

Iberę's leitmotif:        

Ilara's leitmotif:          

Ilara's leitmotif precedes the first scene of act III, with the development of a recitativo and the aria "O ciel di Parahyba", the most inspired aria of the whole opera. The composer explores a regular dramatic soprano range going from middle B (B2) to high B (B4) in a constant legato. Portato is used only to give dramatic effects in some instances. The portato brings an idea of hesitation to the speech inflection. The texture of the aria is basically homophonic. It is really written in the bel canto style, which means an accompanied melody and a cantabile line. Carlos Gomes' choice was to base the melody and the rhythm of the music on the rhythm of the text. He carefully integrated both orchestra and voice parts, following the rhythm of the words and vocal phrase of the poetry.


The scene starts with the introductory orchestral material based on the F# minor leitmotif (measures 1-6) passing through a bass chromatic progression (7-10) and having a series of diminished chords elaborated continuously with different rhythmic figures (11-15). The recitativo starts with the orchestra playing unison in E# (measure 17), which anticipates the first sound of the soprano melody, and links a series of diminished chords (measures 16-22) again until he arrives at the new key F major (measure 23).

The new key aria is bound with the movement Andante Espressivo (23-25). In bar 26 (poco pių animato) we bump against a diminished chord and a sequence of tremoli starts. These tremoli in seconds are fighting against what is similar to a C minor scale in the voice part, and also the bass in the orchestra. This scale motion starts on the III grade of C minor (Eb) in measure 26 and moves down one octave lower until measure 36. It is interrupted at measure 30 where a Neapolitan chord is found (b II 6).

Measures 31 to 33 present the following chord pattern: dominant - diminished - dominant - seventh. In measure 37 the dominant chords prepare the entrance of a new key (G major in measure 42), but to go from F# minor to G major, the composer strangely passes by G minor (bars 38 to 41). The radiant aria begins in measure 42 in the key of G major. Showing harmonic abilities, the composer stresses the usage of dominants in few measures (42 to 50) and goes to a short section in E minor (51 to 55) using yet the powerful device of FA6 chords.

From here, he lands on F# minor (bar 56 to 62) (F# functions as a neighboring harmony of G major because F# is a lower neighbor of G exactly as in the beginning). The E minor key returns in measures 62 to 72, before definitively giving way to G major until measure 99. In this sequence, Gomes uses applied dominants, augmented chords and many inversions. Finishing the aria (100-108) is a mixture of G major and G minor, closing on a piccardy third in the orchestra.

Sound in time:

Ilara's character is announced in this opera by the following leitmotif:

Rhythmically this leitmotif is very powerful because of the syncopation. The composer develops the melody with off beat rhythm along the whole aria. From measure 1, this leitmotif is perceived giving the main dramatic cadence of this piece. Even the proposed tempo is dramatic Andante languido (go languidly). In measure 5 and 6 there is a shortened version of the leitmotif, in which the artist works with suspensions. Agogic accents and marcatos take all their importance in underlining the syncopation. The composer then asks for Animato in measure 9.

In the piano reduction, the right hand sustains the tremolo ostinato while the left hand subliminally implies a modified version of Iberę's motive. Instead of

Carlos Gomes wrote:

This recalling leitmotif shows the counterpoint existing between the characters Ilara and Iberę. It underlines for whom Ilara is suffering. Measures 9 to 12 are the only ones in this aria that remind us of Iberę's leitmotif. Frenetic tremoli display the dramatic character of this piece.

Preceding the recitativo, the composer slows down the tempo in a sor of preparation for the recitativo. He asks for meno mosso ancora (less motion yet) playing again Ilara's motive. The recitativo starts molto largo (very slow), lentamento quasi cantabile (slow, almost singing). Doing this, the composer clearly indicates his wish to have this part sung as a true recitativo, not as an aria. Many times Gomes asks for a portato; this indication must be followed strictly (see measures 18, 20, 21).

The recitativo starts with static chords in the orchestra, as usual, in meter 4/4, and largo movement (measures 17 to 20). Then the composer rushed the movement and rhythmic figures from measure 21 to measure 30. A slow down motion follows in measures 30 to 41, to introduce the aria. As a whole, this recitativo presents the structure which is more common in arias: ABA, i.e. in this case largo - andante - largo.

The aria is preceded by an introductory material which uses a variation on Ilara's leitmotif. The meter slows down to an allargando. The aria itself varies from andante espressivo to pių animato. It begins with the rhythmic leitmotif, this time in meter 2/4. Yet this very figure is used again until the end of the aria. When the aria starts, the leitmotif is shown with extravagance since the first phrase, but it appears rhythmically different from the primary leitmotif. One major difference is the meter, now 2/4 compared to the original 4/4. It can be represented as:

The orchestra is now playing a syncopated pattern, while the melody goes in counterpoint from bars 42 to 55. For two measures (56-57) voice and orchestra are perfectly together (rhythmically and homophonically). The following measure shows the return of the syncopation, preparing for a new section in homophonic style (62 to 68). From now on (bar 69) until the very end (bar 108) except for measures 91 to 98, the orchestra plays the following modified leitmotif:

"Semper idem sed non idem moden". This is the genius of the composer expressed here: he always uses the same material, but never in the same manner. The soprano sings an intense legato line above this insistent leitmotif. In measure 92 to 95, voice and orchestra are together, and from measure 96 to 98 they present a polyphonic character that links the following leitmotif section (99 to 108). The concluding lines contain the repeated leitmotif because it is a product of necessity in this place, it fits the content of the poem.

Virtual Feelings

The beauty of the melody invites the auditor to go to the sky of Parahyba, on a clear and serene dawn. There is a perfect balance among lyrics, harmony, and rhythms. The minor scale leading throughout the introduction brings a profound sad sensation mingled with passion. The syncopation of the melody drives into a permanent anxious motion, giving a wild flavor never found in purely European music. Maybe because of his Indian origins (Antonio Carlos Gomes' grandmother was a Guarany Indian) the composer can express novelty and exotism.

The introduction of the recitativo starts with Ilara's leitmotif, in F# minor:

The genial aspect of this tonality resides in the fact that the aria itself is composed in G major. F# being the leading tone to G major already implies a global resolution toward G. The placement of accents on the leitmotif enhances a subliminal syncopation that will be present throughout the piece (  ).

Ilara's leitmotif will appear six times in the aria, with slight modifications during the recitativo, reinforcing Ilara's character. The dramatic character of the aria is felt from the beginning especially between measures 9 and 12 (Animato), when tremoli and diminished chords provoke a certain agitation. This intense movement then calms down, preparing Ilara's entrance. She initiates the recitativo with E# (leading tone of F# minor) in pianissimo, giving the perfect feeling of the first lights of dawn. When she sings in measure 20 "Io ti rivedo" (I see you again) the harmony reminds us again of the diminished and tremolo chords of measures 9-12. These tremoli can be the image of the non navigable, turbulent Parahyba river. Ilara used to meet her beloved on the bank of that river.

Officially, she is no more a slave, but she remains a slave of her own love. For "Libertā" (Liberty) in measure 25, Gomes uses ascending chromatic pitches to idealize freedom. When Ilara mentions the violation of her feelings, because she is wed to someone with whom she is not in love, a violent sequence of tremoli in seconds is triggered (measures 26-29), interrupted only by a powerful Neapolitan chord (b II 6).

With sweetness she remembers her love (measures 30-31), but suddenly a tritone recalls her griefs (measure 32-33). In measure 34 to 36, in a slow downward motion, another tritone (Gb to C) is seen from the first to the last of the orchestral pitches. This time, in a new tempo preceded by this dissonant motion, Ilara cries her distress. In order to illustrate how she feels more slave now than before (when she actually was one) the composer uses a voice exchange principle in the orchestra (measure 37).

From measure 38 a new tonality is elegantly introduced (G minor). This new key of G major is established on in the first chord of the aria (measure 42). The accents on the offbeat of the voice enhances the syncopation, bringing sensation of a heart waiting for a solution, at the boundary of a imminent death. In measure 50, a dominant seventh chord brings a new momentary key, E minor, where Ilara recalls the passed times with her beloved. In Measures 60 and 61 is found a touching chromatic passage reminding one of the distress feelings of a soul that hesitates between a mortal life and a real death. Again eight measures later, another syncopation section is initiated. This time it is signaled by wedges and agogic accent. From measure 72 on, Carlos Gomes has started driving a crescendo leading to the climax in measure 83. He also uses an ascending chromatic scale from B3 to B4, demonstrating a clear allusion to the ecstasy of her love, on the word Te (You), and building up emotions leading to heavens. This point in the aria features a ff, for both voice and orchestra. The soprano sings a high B4 where her character breaks up her emotions, dramatically finishing the phrase, two measures later, in a middle C#. When Gomes lands the heavenly phrase into the earthly reality, the musical phrase goes plummeting dramatically down, almost two octaves lower (measure 85). By observing the third page of the schenkerian graphs, one can see this line of climax being supported by a cadencial harmony I - IV - V - I. One can also note that the culminating point (high B) is set on a dominant chord.

The abrupt descending motion, lead by the soprano, gives intense dramatics to the moment when a sad soul cries. From that point (measure 87) on, the dynamics are driven through a softening, toning down until the final dying soft sounds. The score is precise in saying morendo, pianissimo, sempre col canto. To enhance the feelings of an anguishing near death, the composer applies the device of mode mixture from measure 100 until the end of the piece; finishing the aria in a sustaining chord. The conclusion brought by the composer is explicit; it is better to die than to live without love. The syncopation of the melody with offbeat rhythm drags along the torment of the soul of Ilara, the slave (measures 18, 21, 23, 42, 51 & 62). The offbeat rhythm itself evokes Ilara's sigh (measures 23-25 and 51-55). The composer uses triplets abundantly, not only to accommodate the text, but also to obey the commandments of this tearful leitmotif.

Performance Practice

A professional performer should be careful in order to do exactly what the composer put in his score. Carlos Gomes wrote each detail he had in mind regarding the dynamics, phrase, meter, etc. Then there is little space for creative interpretation, understood in a traditional way. Most singers actually show a lack of knowledge of the Gomesian style, and they add non existent variations.

The importance of portato, and giving it the right inflection

One can observe the presence of a portato. Gomes turns to this kind of sonority many times, especially when he intends to give a feeling of hesitation. The soprano has to think that she is singing an interrupted legato line. So the breath does not stop, on the contrary it keeps going and the sound helped by the articulation of the words gives the right inflection. The singer cannot do an ordinary staccato using the aspirated sound in between, as if there were h's between the syllables. For example: should sound del_na_tio_mio, not dhel'nha'thio'mhio. The performer will meet the same pattern, and consequently the same case in measures 20, 22 and 62.

Gomes has paid a lot of attention to the metrics of the poetry. The accents placed along the music should be followed strictly. Some writers use the term agogic accent, others say durational accent for the tenuto (-), but the fact of the matter is that they need to have a slighter attack compared to the following pitches. At measure 29, the accent marcato (>) over the pronoun "suo" will intensify the following and complementary adjective "funesto". When the aria starts the syncopation is enhanced by these accents. One should never misplace them! Usually the accents match the stressed syllable in a word, like in "Bel-la" (measure 46). Look over in measures 42 and 58. At other times, their role is to valorize the poetical phrase such as in "So-gnai" (measure 79) and "tor-na pian-gen" (measure 86). Besides the agogic or durational accent, Carlos Gomes also uses the wedge for the voice. The wedge is not a marcato, it is more the light and subtle emphasis that should be expressed, like in measure 38 on the word "Schiâ-va".

Carlos Gomes' use of Rhythm

Rhythmically speaking the performer needs to be aware that Carlos Gomes does not use sequences. For example, in measures 55 to 57, the pattern is:

A singer often has a tendency to apply the model found in the first two measures to the third one, then singing :

This is a major mistake and takes away all the effect written by the composer. The rhythm was changed to actually enhance the value of the word "Gioia". An equally specific attention should be paid to the use of triplets. In measure 37 singers have a tendency to sing instead of . The same mistake is often repeated in measures 68 and 98. It should not occur at all, because it changes the fluency of the language.

Italian diction

Regarding the Italian diction, the crucial point is the double consonant. Sometimes the singer ignores them or, worse, he or she adds some. For example in measures 22-23, "Schiava or pių non sono" often becomes "sonno". In this very case, the signification is altered in a strange way: the verb "to be" suddenly becomes the noun "sleep". The words "labbro", "soffocava", "affano", and "soffrir" are frequently sung with a single consonant. The comprehension in this case is not altered much, but it does not sound like Italian anymore.

The problem of the pronunciation of the double consonants is often the result of poor training in Italian diction: instead of doubling the consonant, inexperienced singers actually stress the syllable, giving a different accent to the phrase. A more precise analysis of the words mentioned above will show this clearly.

Labbro: the singer needs to imagine an apostrophe between the two b's: lab'bro, and cannot say la-bro, giving an emphasis on the last syllable. The stressed syllable must remain the first one. In soffocava: like in the previous example, the singer should articulate "sof'focava", and not "soffo-cava" with a move of the accent. The stress is on the penultimate syllable. In order to train and practice, a singer can try to subdivide these words in beats. Lab'bro actually represents 3 beats:

After a while this becomes natural. Another common mistake is made on the word "cielo" (sky). Many times it is pronounced like the instrument "cello". In the Italian word, the vowel is a closed one [e], while the instrument's name features an open one [].

These are the main problems regarding the pronunciation, but depending on the singer's background others can appear. Therefore it is always wise and prudent to check with a native speaker or an expert in Italian language.

Dynamics also play a major part in the interpretation of this piece. One can say that they "color" the work. An incautious soprano can transform the pictorial and balanced harmonization of dynamics into a grotesque caricature. The first phrase has to be pp, and the same applies to the last one, too. The beginning of the aria is an anticipation of the end. If they are performed in mf the whole idea of the work is inverted. the contrast of dynamics is an integral part of the character and it should be followed strictly.

Technically speaking, the soprano needs to watch the voice register, in order not to switch between head and chest resonance, but giving evenness to the vocal emission. For example, in measures 82 to 85, the soprano can have a tendency to sing the high B4 in head voice, and to fall down into a chest middle C#. This should be avoided. The bel canto technique calls for a major attention on this issue. An educated voice uses a unique register with mellowness and evenness.

Basically the pianist also should obey what is written in the score regarding accents (especially the contrast between the agogic accent and the marcato), dynamics and phrases. The various shifts in tempo also cannot be neglected, and the accompanist has the responsibility to lead into those shifts. The overall picture of the work is:

largo - lento - andante - pių animato - lento - andante - pių animato

Both pianist and singer need to be conscious - and cautious of these tempos. The closing material (measures 100-108) needs to have the character dolcissimo and morendo (very sweet and dying). It does not mean without energy; it should be focused, intense, with strong accents as a operatic death requires.


"Lo Schiavo" is certainly one of the most - if not the most Brazilian opera. However, it is not necessary to be Brazilian to reach the musical spirit of this work. In order to perform this opera with excellence, the artist should follow in detail the composer's indications, and study the particularities of his native inspiration. The result should portray the bucolic feeling of the Brazilian forest. The music of "Lo Schiavo" glorifies Brazil's nature with refined descriptions, appropriate instrumentation, and, above all, the rich conceptual inspiration of the composer.


A. Carlos Gomes
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About the author of this site, Cyrene Paparotti