Giacomo Meyerbeer: Vasco de Gama (L'Africaine)

Zemlinksy Es war Einmal Critical Edition by Ricordi

Edited by Jürgen Selk

Opéra en cinq actes 
Libretto: Eugène Scribe (in French)
World premiere: 28.04.1865, Paris

“Such a mind does not disappear from the world without the remaining people noticing how it gets darker.”
—Hector Berlioz on Meyerbeer's death,
who didn't witness the world premiere
of his final opera Vasco de Gama.


After an expedition to the New World, the Portuguese navigator Vasco de Gama is thought to be lost. His fiancée Ines is now to marry the inquisitor Don Pedro, but Vasco has survived and returns home with a pair of Indian slaves, Selica and Nelusco. He is imprisoned with them as a result of an altercation with his superiors. Selicia, in fact an Indian queen, falls in love with him. This sparks the jealousy of Nelusco, who wants to kill him but is prevented from doing so at the last minute by Selica. Through her marriage to Don Pedro, Ines is able to secure the release of Vasco, who she still loves. They all go on a discovery voyage to Africa but are shipwrecked off the coast of India. The locals rescue Selica and recognize her as their queen. She enters into marriage with Vasco, who believes Ines to be dead. When Ines is found alive however, Selica regonizes their love and allows them to return to Portugal. She kills herself with a poisonous tree, and Nelusco follows her to her death.


When Meyerbeer decided in 1851 to introduce Vasco de Gama (French), the naval officer and piomeer of the sea route to India, as the title character of his unfinished Africaine Opera and to rework his text accordingly, he wanted – as he wrote to his librettist Eugėne – “to place the piece on an entirely new foundation and against a historic and noble background.” More concretely, that meant linking the love triangle story to themes of colonialism and consequently translating a melodrama into a historical opera. As was the case previously, Meyerbeer did not take sides within history but rather condemned it wholly as the scene of religiously embellished power struggles. It became one of his most popular operas in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

Critical edition

  • Metronome and tempo indications that were missing in the autograph have been added according to research into Meyerbeer, while discrepancies in the surviving text and name changes have been indicated.
  • The autograph that serves as the source was split across two locations, Kraków and Berlin.
  • In addition to Meyerbeer’s handwriting, there are also handwritten notes and deletions by another hand, including from François Joseph Fétis, who premiered the opera posthumously.
  • Copies of the score from Paris and Yale University, as well as sketches from the Staatsbibliothek Berlin, were also consulted.

Recommendations for concert

Overture - 4.4.3.oph - timp.perc - 2hp - str 

2nd Act No. 6b Duo Sélica, Vasco En vain leur impuissante rage
S.T - - 4.4.3.oph - timp - str 

3rd Act No. 12b Duo, Vasco, Don Pedro Vous Croyez?
T.B - picc. - 4.2.3.oph - timp - str 

4th Act No. 17 Aria Vasco O ciel! Que vois-je?
T.Chr - - 4.4.3.oph - timp.perc - str 
4th Act No. 19b Duo Sélica, Vasco Toi? Mon amant?
S.T - - 4.4.3.oph - timp - str