Les vepres siciliennes Synopsis

Verdi's Five Act Opera

Erwin Schrott as Jean Procida with artists of the company in the Royal Opera's production of Giuseppe Verdi's Les Vepres Siciliennes directed by Stefan Herheim and conducted by Antonio Pappano at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden in London.
robbie jack/Corbis via Getty Images


Giuseppe Verdi


June 13, 1855 - Paris Opera in Paris, France

Setting of Les vepres siciliennes:

Verdi's Les vepres siciliennes takes place Palermo, Italy in 1282.

Other Verdi Opera Synopses:

Falstaff, La Traviata, Rigoletto, & Il Trovatore

Les vepres siciliennes Synopsis

Act 1

A group of French soldiers, including Thibault and Robert, loiter outside of the Governor's palace after occupying Palermo and celebrate by making toasts to their homeland. Meanwhile, the local Sicilians keep watch over them while expressing their discontent. Hélène, a hostage of Montfort, the French governor, arrives dressed in mourning attire because it is exactly the one year anniversary of her brother's death (Duke Frédéric of Austria), who was killed by French soldiers. Hélène has yet to avenge her brother's death. Robert, slightly intoxicated, orders her to sing a song. Hélène obliges and sings a song asking God to protect the men at sea. As the song comes to an end, the lyrics spark an idea of rebellion throughout the Sicilian people. The become quite vocal about their unhappiness, but quickly calm down when Governor Montfort enters. Following not long behind the governor is Henri, a newly released prisoner of the French. Henri quickly greets Hélène and confirms his deep dislike of the governor. However, in revealing his feelings to Hélène, Governor Montfort overhears their conversation and orders Hélène to leave. Speaking with Henri alone, Governor Montfort offers Henri a high and powerful position within the French army, however, Henri must agree to stay away from Hélène. Henri refuses Montfort's offer and rushes out to catch up with Hélène.

Act 2

On the shores near Palermo, a small fishing boat carrying the exiled Procida carefully makes its way to the beach. As he steps foot on solid ground, Procida is excited to be home and sings a song about his beloved city. A few of Procida's friends, including Mainfroid, disembark and follow Procida into town. He tells his friends to search for Hélène and Henri and bring them to him. When they are finally found and brought to Procida, they quickly make plans to lead a revolt against the occupying French soldiers during the upcoming town festivities. When Procida leaves, Hélène and Henri discuss their reasons for joining Procida. Henri reveals that he is doing it to avenge her brother and that in return, he only asks for her love.

The time has come for the festivities to begin, which will celebrate the impending marriages of several of the town's young men and women. The French governor decides it would be a good time to throw a party of his own. Béthune arrives at the governor's ball with a personal invitation from Governor Montfort, while Henri is simultaneously arrested for refusing to attend. Robert leads a small group of soldiers to the town square where many young Sicilian men and women have already gathered and begun dancing. Procida arrives knowing that it is too late to save Henri. As he watches the crowd, Robert signals to his men, and one by one, they begin snatching women and dragging them away to a nearby boat. Despite the protests, the soldiers are successful in their operation, and before long the women appear along with many French noblemen as their boat sails past them bound for the governor's ball. Procida uses this opportunity to rally up a group of Sicilians and take charge of the French soldiers. They leave determined to gain entrance to the governor's ball.

Act 3

Within Montfort's palace, an officer brings him a confiscated note from one of the abducted women. In it, Montfort discovers that Henri is actually his son. His disposition toward Henri immediately changes, and when Béthune tells him that Henri was arrested and brought in by force, Montfort is delighted in the fact that he'll get to see his son. When Henri is brought forth in front of him, Montfort acts in a way that bewilders him. After some time passes, Henri is still unable to figure it out, so Montfort reveals the enlightening note, which was written by Henri's mother. Henri is shocked to learn the truth. His anger still takes root in his heart and he rushes out of the palace while insulting his father. 

Later that evening, Montfort makes his way into the ballroom and commences the ballet. Henri dons a disguise and reenters the palace to attend the ball. He is surprised to find both Hélène and Procida in attendance, both of whom are also in disguise. They tell him they are there to save him as well as kill Montfort. When Montfort approaches them, Henri spots a few assassins closing in on Montfort. Just as they are about to make their move, Henri swiftly shields his father. To their surprise, Montfort doesn't apprehend Henri as he has done in the past. In fact, Montfort seems to be thankful and amused by Henri. When Hélène, Procida, and a handful of other Sicilians are detained, they shout at Henri who stays behind with Montfort as they are taken to their prison cells. Henri desperately wants to follow them, but Montfort holds him by his side.

Act 4

Later, Henri makes his way down to the prison and stands outside of the prison gates. Henri isn't allowed to enter because Montfort has ordered the guards to hold him at the gate. Henri asks to see Hélène, and she is escorted out to him. After a round of questions and a lot of confusion, Henri admits that Montfort is his father. Hélène finally understands the situation and is comforted by Henri's willingness to forgive. Procida approaches them with a letter of his own describing a way to gain freedom. However, before he can explain further, Montfort arrives and orders his men to take the prisoners to the executioner. Henri begs his father to spare their lives. Montfort agrees to do so on the condition that Henri call him "father". Henri is unable to speak, and the soldiers drag Hélène, Procida, and the remaining prisoners to their doom. Henri begins to follow them, but Montfort holds him back. Just before Hélène is executed, Montfort proclaims that the captured Sicilians be pardoned. He then announces that he has found his son. He approaches Henri and Hélène and tells them that he will allow them to get married to each other.

Act 5

In the palace gardens, Knights and maidens gather to attend the marriage between Henri and Hélène. When Henri leaves to fetch his father. Procida arrives and speaks with Hélène in secret, revealing his plans to murder their enemies at the foot of the altar after their vows have been said. Hélène's heart is conflicted and she isn't able to decide what to do. Moments before the start of the ceremony, Hélène calls off her wedding, knowing that Procida won't lead his revolt because no vows will be said. Henri is confused and deeply hurt, and Procida is too. Montfort arrives and unknowingly grabs Hélène and Henri by the hand and pronounces them married. When the wedding bells begin to ring, Procida's men take this as the signal and launch their attack.