Plot: Orestes loves Hermione who loves Pyrrhus who loves Andromache who loves only dead Hector.
Music: Bel canto (Sez who? Who came up with the idea that moments of high emotion are best carried by vocal trills, runs, flourishes and repetitions?) Rossinni tosses in a few bars of the Lone Ranger theme just to remind you of who he is.
Production: Set in the 1850's, more or less. (Why? ...On the other hand, why not; the guys got to wear really nice looking military uniforms, and the ladies wore crinolines, which look pretty good too.)
Dramatis personae:
King Pyrrhus of Epirus is not the same Pyrrhus of Epirus we know from history. That Pyrrhus was born into the political chaos after the death of Alexander, and free-booted about the Mediterranean all his life. He invaded Italy before the Romans got the place entirely under control. There was a particularly vicious battle with the Romans, which he won with the loss of about a third of his army. When he was congratulated on his victory, he replied something like "Another such victory and I am undone," whence the term "pyrrhic victory". He circulated the story that his ancestor (maybe 40 times great grandfather) was also named Pyrrhus, and was the son of Achilles. This is the Pyrrhus of "Ermione". But there is no suggestion in Homer that Epirus existed at that time, and Achilles was the leader of the Myrrmidons, so his son should have been a Myrrmidon, rather than an Epirote.
Andromache is the wife of the Trojan hero Hector, sold into slavery after the fall of Troy.
Orestes is the son of Agamemnon, Great King of the Acheans. A minor problem with anachronism here too - Orestes is presented as the ambassador from mighty Agamemnon, but Aeschylus says that Orestes was a beardless lad when Agamemnon was murdered in his bath.
Hermione is the daughter of Menelaus and Helen, born before the abduction of Paris. (I've always had a problem with the "face that launched a thousand ships" bit, and Helen being a momma at the time makes it worse.) Hermione is betrothed to Pyrrhus to secure his allegiance in the Trojan war, and accepting her role, falls in love with him.
Astyanax is the son of Hector and Andromache. He is possibly the most appealing character in the opera, having no lines.

Plot development: Pyrrhus, by threatening to behead Astyanax, persuades Andromache to marry him (not a great start for a marriage, by the way). Hermione, in a fury at being the woman scorned, persuades Orestes, who loves her, to assassinate Pyrrhus. He does (apparently before he can beget the ancestor of the historic Pyrrhus, incidentally). This does not result in an overall increase of happiness. Hermione, in an agony of remorse, says nasty things to Orestes, and goes into mourning. The Epirotes, annoyed at the regicide, chase Orestes out of town. Andromache is left without a protector, and everybody is generally miserable. This is considered the ideal condition in which to end an opera.

Return to `reviews' contents