In three acts by ROSSINI.
This last opera of Rossini's is his most perfect work and it is deeply
to be regretted that when it appeared, he left the dramatic world, to
live in comfortable retirement for 39 years. How much he could still
have done, if he had chosen! In Tell his genius attains its full
depth, here alone we find the highly dramatic element united to the
infinite richness of me
ody, which we have learned to associate with
his name and work.
The text is founded on the well-known story of Tell, who delivered his
Fatherland from one of its most cruel despots, the Austrian governor
The first act opens with a charming introductory chorus by peasants,
who are celebrating a nuptial fete.
Tell joins in their pleasure, though he cannot help giving utterance to
the pain which the Austrian tyranny causes him. Arnold von Melchthal,
son of an old Swiss, has conceived an unhappy passion for Mathilda,
Princess of Habsburg, whose life he once saved; but he is Swiss and
resolved to be true to his country. He promises Tell to join in his
efforts to liberate it. Meanwhile Leuthold, a Swiss peasant, comes up.
He is a fugitive, having killed an Austrian soldier, to revenge an
intended abduction of his daughter. His only safety lies in crossing
the lake, but no fisherman dares to row out in the face of the
coming storm. Tell steps forth, and seizing the oars, brings Leuthold
safely to the opposite shore. When Rudolf von Harras appears with his
soldiers, his prey has escaped and, nobody being willing to betray the
deliverer, old father Melchthal is imprisoned.
In the second act we find the Princess Mathilda returning from a hunt.
She meets Arnold, and they betray their mutual passion. Arnold does
not yet know his father's fate, but presently Tell enters with Walter
Fuerst, who informs Arnold that his father has fallen a victim to the
Austrian tyranny. Arnold, cruelly roused from his love-dream, awakes
to duty, and the three men vow bloody vengeance. This is the famous
oath taken on the Ruetli. The deputies of the three Cantons arrive, one
after the other, and Tell makes them swear solemnly to establish
Switzerland's independence. Excited by Arnold's dreadful account of
his father's murder, they all unite in the fierce cry: "To arms!" which
is to be their signal of combat.
In the third act Gessler arrives at the marketplace of Altdorf, where
he has placed his hat on a pole, to be greeted instead of himself by
the Swiss who pass by.
They grumble at this new proof of arrogance, but dare not disobey the
order, till Tell, passing by with his son Gemmy, disregards it.
Refusing to salute the hat, he is instantly taken and commanded by
Gessler to shoot an apple off his little boy's head. After a dreadful
inward struggle Tell submits. Fervently praying to God and
embracing his fearless son, he shoots with steady hand, hitting the
apple right in the centre. But Gessler has seen a second arrow, which
Tell has hidden in his breast, and he asks its purpose. Tell freely
confesses, that he would have shot the tyrant, had he missed his aim.
Tell is fettered, Mathilda vainly appealing for mercy. But Gessler's
time has come. The Swiss begin to revolt. Mathilda herself begs to be
admitted into their alliance of free citizens and offers her hand to
Arnold. The fortresses of the oppressors fall, Tell enters free and
victorious, having himself killed Gessler, and in a chorus at once
majestic and grand the Swiss celebrate the day of their liberation.