Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > Zampa (Hérold)
An Opera by Louis Hérold
The libretto of "Zampa" is excellent in the number and variety of the dramatic situations, but it has a somewhat artificial plot, and several of the incidents are fantastic and absurd. Zampa is a notorious pirate, who, finding Italy too hot for him, has taken to the high seas. He had ruined a girl named Alice Manfredi, who being deserted by him, was befriended by a wealthy Sicilian merchant named Lugano. She died, and Lugano raised a statue in her honour which was regarded and venerated as a saint in the country. When the story of the opera begins, Lugano is Zampas prisoner. Lugano has a daughter, Camilla, who is about to be married to Alfonso de Monza, a young officer. But Zampa becomes enamoured of Camilla, and demands her hand as a ransom for her father. Camilla consents after a long resistance. At the marriage festivities Zampa is confronted with the statue of the betrayed Alice, which, at the proper moment, interferes, bears Zampa away to the infernal regions, and leaves Camilla to her lover.
Hérold was a man of undoubted genius, and in the music of "Zampa" we recognize the hand of a master who, "to the spirit of Italian music unites the depth of the German and the elegance of the French school." The fairest criticism of his famous opera would seem to be expressed in the words of a countryman of his own. The quartet in the first Act, "Le Voila," is a model of dignity and refinement; the recognition duet in the second is full of life, taste, and dramatic skill; and the deep and eminently characteristic pathos of the principal number of the third Act, the duet, "Pourquoi trembler?" makes it one of the finest things in modern opera. There is also much variety of form and movement in the different pieces. For example, the first finale with its richly contrasted effects is entirely different from the second. "Zampa" has been called a French "Don Giovanni," but the comparison is inapt and the implied praise exaggerated. It is enough that the work has still power to please.