Le Cinesi
(The Chinese Ladies)

Vue d'un jardin chinois
François Boucher (1703-1770)
Besançon (France), Musée des Beaux-Arts et d'Archéologie
(Photo Charles Choffet)

One of the last works of Manuel del Pópulo Vicente García (1775-1832), Le Cinesi (The Chinese Ladies) was originally written by Pietro Metastasio (1698-1782) and set to music by Antonio Caldara (c.1671-1736) in 1735 as an entertainment (azione teatrale) for the Imperial Court in Vienna. The libretto was also later set to music by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) and performed for the Austrian royal family at the Vienna Schlosshof in 1754.  García wrote his version in 1831 for the students of his Academy in Paris. The libretto, with its theme of social liberation versus tradition, would have appealed to García and also to his audience in post-Revolution France. He streamlined the libretto (at times converting lengthy sections of recitative into compact ensembles) and added new text for a few of the musical numbers.

The minimal plot concerns three Chinese ladies—Lisinga, Sivene, and Tangìa—who are idling away their time at the home of Lisinga. Lisinga's brother, Silango, recently returned from a trip to Europe, enters the scene, horrifying the women by his wanton violation of court rules, which prohibit men from entering the women's quarters. Silango scoffs at the foolish tradition and sings an aria proclaiming the freedom of women in France. Lisinga, however, is not impressed and reprimands Silango for his upstart behavior that seeks to overthrow their customs.

After their initial protests, the women decide that Silango might just as well remain until dark, when it will be easier for him to leave unnoticed. Silango thereupon proposes an amusement for the afternoon: each one will act out a scene of his or her own creation. Tangìa is the first to go, but backs out (to the reprimands of the others), claiming shyness and inexperience. It falls to Lisinga, then, to start the show. She takes the role of Andromache (the widow of Hector) and sings a tragic aria that expresses the dilemma she faces in confronting the ultimatum presented by Achilles' son, Pyrrhus: he demands either her love or the life of her son, Astyanax.

Sivene chooses to portray the simple shepherdess, Licori, and Silango, who has already expressed interest in Sivene, offers to play the role of the shepherd, Tirsi. In her pastoral aria, however, Sivene lets Silango know that he needs to learn to calm his passions.

Finally, Tangìa, who is jealous of Sivene and annoyed at Silango, presents a comic skit in which she mocks a Parisian dandy—thereby putting Silango in his place. After applause for Tangìa's performance, the four debate about which of the scenes was the best. The argument becomes so heated that Lisinga asks if they want to bring it all to a close. Silango suggests that they end with a dance. Led by Lisinga and Sivene, the four bring the opera to a close with the final chorus:


    (danzano li 3 che non cantano)        (The three dance who are not singing.)

    LISINGA                                                LISINGA
    Voli il piede in lieti giri:                       Let one foot fly in happy spins,
    S'apra l'altro in dolce accenti:            Let the other open in sweet accents.

    E si lasci in preda ai venti                   And let any dark thought
    ogni torbido pensier.                           Be cast to the winds.
    (mentre cantano non ballano)            (not dancing while singing)

    TUTTI                                                    TUTTI
    E si lasci in preda ai venti                   And let any dark thought
    ogni torbido pensier.                           Be cast to the winds.
    (danza)                                                   (they dance)

    SIVENE                                                 SIVENE
    Il piacere conduca il coro:                  Let pleasure lead the chorus,
    L'innocenza il canto inspiri:                let innocence inspire the song.

    E s'abbraccino fra loro                        And may innocence and pleasure
    l'innocenza ed il piacer.                       embrace each other.

    TUTTI                                                    TUTTI
    E s'abbraccino fra loro                       And may innocence and pleasure
    l'innocenza ed il piacer.                      embrace each other.

As with L'isola disabitata, Le cinesi displays a mature compositional technique and reveals García's experienced theatrical sense. It also provides a priceless glimpse of the musical demands he made upon the students of his Academy early in the nineteenth century.

A new CD world-premiere recording of García's Le cinesi
was released in October 2010, with sopranos Stacey Fraser (Lisinga), Teresa Radomski (Sivene), and Jammie Hampton (Tangìa), tenor Andrew Crane (Silango), and pianist Joshua Tuburan.

Listen to an excerpt from Le Cinesi:
Quartet, Ubbidisco a tuoi desiri

Tangìa                                                          Tangìa

Sì io vado a incominciar.                        Yes, I will begin.


Lisinga/Sivene/Silango                               Lisinga/Sivene/Silango

In fine comincerai.                                    At last you will begin.


Tangìa                                                          Tangìa

Attenzion, attenzion.                                Attention, attention.

Già verbigrazia. Suponete,                     If you please! Imagine. . .

Ma saria, meglio che Lisinga                  But don't you think it would be better

incominciasse in vece mia.                     if Lisinga went first instead of me?


Lisinga/Sivene/Silango                                   Lisinga/Sivene/Silango

Ma questa è una gran seccata                But this is a nuisance!

l'aspettavo in fede mia.                             We were waiting in good faith.

È una vergogna Tangìa                            This is a disgrace, Tangìa,

e ti devi vergognar.                                    and you should be ashamed of yourself!

Sì! È una vergogna Tangìa                      Yes! This is a disgrace, Tangìa,

e ti devi vergognar.                                    and you should be ashamed of yourself!

Tangìa                                                            Tangìa

Son semplicetta vergognosetta.              I'm just a simple little thing, and so shy.


Lisinga/Sivene/Silango                                    Lisinga/Sivene/Silango

La semplicetta vergognosetta.                 She's just so simple and shy.


Tangìa                                                            Tangìa

Non ho talento per imitar.                          I have no talent for acting.


Lisinga/Sivene/Silango                                    Lisinga/Sivene/Silango

Non ha talento per imitar.                          She has no talent for acting.


Tangìa                                                             Tangìa

Son timorosa, non capricciosa.                I'm timid, not capricious.


Lisinga/Sivene/Silango                                     Lisinga/Sivene/Silango

È timorosa e capricciosa.                           She's both timid and capricious.

Tangìa                                                             Tangìa

Non potrò mai rappresentar.                     I'll never be able to perform.


Lisinga/Sivene/Silango                                    Lisinga/Sivene/Silango

Non vorrà mai rappresentar.                     She'll never want to perform.

Click to purchase CD at amazon.com:
Cinesi CD cover

Le Cinesi libretto and English translation
Le Cinesi libreto y traducción española

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