La battaglia di Legnano, Opera by G. Verdi
In the mid-19th century, Italy found itself in the turmoil of republican and liberal revolutions which were reaching a fever pitch. Giuseppe Verdi's patriotic heart was stirred by his people's desire for unification and independence. He made his contribution to the national cause as best he could: working with librettist Salvatore Cammarano, he created La battaglia di Legnano, an opera full of love, pride, and heroism, quintessentially Italian and hopeful. The premiere at Teatro Argentina in Roma on 27 January 1849 was a spectacular success, but the politics behind the opera cut its run short.
La battaglia di Legnano takes us back to 1176 and tells the tale of the Lombard League's grand victory over Frederick Barbarossa, a battle which effectively stopped the German emperor's conquest of Italy. Against this background, a love triangle plays out: Lida, thinking her lover Arrigo lost in battle, has married his best friend and brother in arms Rolando. In a twist, Arrigo returns to fight alongside his friend as one of the Knights of Death, who have sworn to die defending Italy.
Torn between the two men, Lida sends Arrigo a letter which unfortunately finds its way to Rolando instead. Jealous and scorned, he imprisons his former best friend. As the decisive battle with the Germans approaches, Arrigo makes a spectacular escape to join his fellow knights. He plays a crucial part in their victory by personally killing Frederick Barbarossa. Himself mortally wounded, Arrigo assures Rolando that Lida has been faithful and dies, while the crowd celebrates the great Italian victory.
Musically, La battaglia di Legnano carries the marks of Verdi's Parisian period: the arias follow the French three-part model and the choruses are less bombastic. In the absence of bright solo spots, the real show-stopper is the chorus 'Viva Italia!', the unifying melodic motif throughout the opera. This season, the patriotic call will soar throughout the Teatro del Maggio Musicale Fiorentino in Florence.
Verdi created La battaglia di Legnano to remind his 19th-century compatriots of past glory and to encourage them in their present revolutionary struggle. Although the final victory was still more than a decade away, his effort made a strong musical and cultural mark.