Tancredi, melodramma eroico in two acts to a libretto by Gaetano Rossi, was first performed at Teatro La Fenice, Venice, on 6th February 1813.
The singers in the first performances were Pietro Todran (Argirio), Adelaide Malanotte-Montrésor (Tancredi), Luciano Bianchi (Orbazzano), Elisabetta Manfredini-Guarmani (Amenaide), Teresa Marchesi (Isaura), Carolina Sivelli (Roggiero).
The story is taken from Andromaque Tancrède (1760) by Voltaire.
About the year one thousand, Sicily was still the scene of ferocious struggles between the Saracens and the Byzantine Empire; the city of Siracusa, proud of its independence, tried to avoid falling under the sway of either power, although internally it was ravaged by the private feud between the two noble families of Argirio and Orbazzano.
Tancredi, a young citizen of Siracusa, descended from a rich and noble Norman family, has been banished from the city through the envious machinations of a powerful faction and, wrongfully accused of furthering the interests of Byzantium, he has been condemned as a traitor.
Argirio’s daughter Amenaide, during a visit to Byzantium, has been wooed by both Tancredi and Solamir, the dreaded Saracen tyrant: after having sworn to be true to Tancredi, the young woman has returned to her father in Siracusa.
A Gallery in Argirio’s house in Siracusa. Members of the two opposing factions in the city, led by Orbazzano and Argirio, have gathered to celebrate their reconciliation; both sides swear allegiance to their country in its struggle against the Saracen Solamir. To consolidate this alliance, Argirio consents to give his daughter in marriage to his family’s sworn enemy, Orbazzano (who will also be endowed with the confiscated estates of the exile, Tancredi): this arrangement is also meant to be an act of defiance of Solamir, who has offered peace to Siracusa on condition that Amenaide be given to him in marriage. Amenaide, who is secretly engaged to Tancredi, has just written to him and is horrified to hear her father’s plans for her: she begs in vain for her betrothal to Orbazzano to be postponed.
Luxuriant gardens near Argirio’s house. Accompanied by his faithful follower Roggiero, Tancredi disembarks; he is overjoyed at returning to his native land and to Amenaide.
Wishing to discover if the girl is still faithful to him, he asks Roggiero to tell Amenaide that a mysterious knight wishes to speak to her. Tancredi is forced to hide when Argirio and Amenaide unexpectedly appear; Argirio, having learned that Tancredi has disembarked secretly in Sicily, has decided to hurry on his daughter’s marriage and urges her to obey her father’s orders and fulfil her duty to her country: the girl dare not openly avow her love for an exile, but her obvious hesitation and reluctance so irritate her father that he resorts to threatening her. When Amenaide is left alone, Tancredi comes out of hiding to join her; the girl is terrified for the fate of her beloved, who has been condemned to death, and tries to persuade him to flee. Tancredi begs her in vain to explain why she wants him to leave her; Amenaide exhorts him, in the name of their love, to try to understand that changed circumstances force them to part.
A public square in Siracusa, near the walls of the city. The inhabitants are gathered together to celebrate the wedding of Amenaide and Orbazzano. Tancredi, believing that Amenaide is unfaithful to him, addresses himself to Argirio before the ceremony: without revealing his identity, he offers himself as champion to defend the city of Siracusa. When she sees Tancredi, the distraught Amenaide declares before all that, even if she should be punished by death, she will never marry Orbazzano. Now Orbazzano himself enters the square, carrying a letter written by Amenaide (the one she had sent to Tancredi) which has been intercepted whilst a slave was carrying it to the enemy camp: the girl’s letter urges the unnamed addressee to return to Sicily. Everyone, including Tancredi, believes that the letter was addressed to Solamir, whilst Amenaide cannot reveal the truth for fear of exposing Tancredi to danger. Amidst the exclamations of horror and scorn of those present, Amenaide is accused of treason and led off to prison.
A gallery in Argirio’s house. Orbazzano, thirsting for vengeance, brings in the Senate’s sentence of death upon Amenaide. Argirio, torn between his duty to the state and love for his daughter, hesitates to condemn her; before he signs the fatal warrant he will confront Solamir, who, he believes, has seduced his daughter. When the others have gone away, Isaura, Amenaide’s companion, accuses Orbazzano of cruelty and prays God to protect her mistress, unjustly imprisoned.
The prison of Siracusa. Amenaide is fearlessly awaiting death; she knows that one day Tancredi will learn the truth and that her father will forgive her. Orbazzano and Argirio come in, the former to escort Amenaide to the scaffold, the latter, overwhelmed by his fatherly feelings, to follow her to the tomb. It is all in vain that Amenaide asserts her innocence: however, the “unknown knight” (Tancredi) comes to her succour, offering himself as the maiden’s champion and defender, challenging Orbazzano to single combat. As Orbazzano leaves for the duelling ground, Tancredi, without revealing his identity, promises Argirio that he will save his daughter. When Tancredi has left, Amenaide, left alone to await the outcome, prays for her loved one’s life; at last the jubilant voices of the chorus are heard announcing that Tancredi has killed Orbazzano.
A great square in Siracusa. The people acclaim the winner of the duel. Tancredi, still unknown to them, announces that he will soon be leaving, but does not say where he is going. Amenaide tries in vain to persuade him to stay, for he still believes her unfaithful to him, and will not listen to her declarations of innocence. Roggiero, left alone, learns from Isaura that Amenaide has never betrayed Tancredi and hopes that peace will be restored between the two lovers.
A wood near the Arethusa fountain surrounded by hills. Tancredi laments his cruel destiny: he is unable not to love the woman who has betrayed him. Meanwhile Amenaide and Argirio, followed by other Paladins, come up to implore the courageous “unknown knight” to lead them, in their hour of danger, in the battle against the fierce Saracens. Now Amenaide reveals Tancredi’s identity to her father: he has proved that he is no traitor, and now he is ready to lead the warriors of Siracusa in their bid to save their country. Once more Amenaide tries to persuade her beloved of her innocence, but Tancredi, overwhelmed with grief, will not listen to her and dashes into battle, followed by Argirio. Soon Argirio and his followers return: Tancredi has won a crushing victory over the Saracens, but has been mortally wounded, and has invoked Amenaide’s name. The dying hero is brought into the scene, borne by the knights. From Argirio, Tancredi learns that the letter he believed to be addressed to Solamir was in reality addressed to himself, and convinced at last of Amenaide’s innocence and true love for him, he begs Argirio to join their hands in marriage. Tancredi, having dedicated his life to avenging his fatherland and his beloved Amenaide, expires.