Music: Call to Vespers

I Vespri Siciliani is the kind of work with which grand opera has frequently made a spectacle of itself, in more ways than one. Written by Giuseppe Verdi for the Paris Opera in 1855, it had something to please every vagary of the self-indulgent French musical taste of the time—five acts, a lengthy ballet, historical fireworks, huge choruses, soulful solos. The story is set in 13th-century Palermo, where the French colonists are oppressing the Sicilian natives. Arrigo, one of the principal revolutionaries, discovers to his horror that he is the illegitimate son of the chief oppressor, Montforte. Not only does...

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