Excelsior - Preview for Young People


Act I

In Spain, at the height of the power of the Inquisition. The Genius of the Shadows has at his feet, bound in chains, a beautiful woman, who is Light, Progress, the Genius of Humanity, suffering under the tyranny of Obscurantism. But soon the fetters fall broken, and the woman ’s head is irradiated with dazzling light: Light triumphs once more, and shows Obscurantism the scene now transformed into the Palace of the Geniuses who illuminate Humanity with their works.

There appear the symbols of Science, Strength, Industry, Love, Civilisation, Constance, Union, Concord , Valour, Glory, Invention , the Arts, Agriculture, Commerce, etc. A pleasant village on the banks of the river Weser, near the city of Bremen.

The landlord and landlady of a tavern on the river bank joyfully watch the return of their son Valentino, who, with his companions, has won the victory in a regatta. The winning boat arrives at the bank, and is received by the exulting crowd; Valentino and Fanny, his fiancée, dance, and all drink to the health of the winners. The captain of the losing boat challenges Valentino for the next day: each rowing alone, this time Valentino will be the loser.

But a mysterious man, who is lying on the river bank, sneers and scoffs at the challenge; it is Obscurantism, who shows the astonished oarsmen a strange boat which is rapidly moving up the river as if impelled by infernal powers. This is the steam boat, the new invention of Denis Papin, and the Genius of Evil incites the spirits of the oarsmen against it; they see in it a threat to their own interests. Papin’s boat is broken to pieces by the ferocious crowd, and the unfortunate inventor, about to succumb, seizes the robes of Light, who has risen out of the water to come to his aid.

Light shows the future prodigies of Papin’s invention; at New York , in the sea between two promontories joined by a bridge on which runs a locomotive, a steamship sails, fast, triumphant. This is the glorious work of Fulton that has arisen from Papin’s initiative. Once more, Progress has defeated Obscurantism. In the laboratory of Alessandro Volta at Como.

The inventor sits, depressed and pensive, beside the electric battery which he cannot succeed in bringing to perfection; he doubts the success of his invention while, in the shadows, Obscurantism rejoices in triumph. But suddenly Volta gets up, as if filled by a superhuman power; he approaches the battery, adds something, joins the two electric conducting wires, and a spark illuminates the stage.

Victory! When the exsultant inventor has withdrawn, the Genius of the Shadows desperately tries to destroy the miraculous invention, but in vain. Light appears, a n d majestically shows the enemy the effects of electricity. The scene changes to the courtyard of the building with the electric telegraph office in Washington. A crown of messengers fills the courtyard, while Light exults and Obscurantism flees with curses and imprecations.

Act II

In the desert. A caravan of men, women and children is assailed by a terrible gale of wind: it is the Simoon which raises the sand, overthrows animals and men, and produces a thick darkness. The caravan, and a band of thieves who have been trying to rob it, are overswept and heaped up one on top of the other in this tremendous upheaval of nature. Obscurantism wanders about the desert, the only one to rejoice in all this ruin and extermination.

But Light appears, and shows a point on the horizon: the way by which men can reach their destination without having to face the dangers of the desert. The scene of desolation disappears; a wide canal flows between two sandy banks, on which all the civilised peoples of Europe are gathered together rejoicing. This is the Suez Canal, another triumph of  Progress, another victory of Light over Obscurantism. Men from all parts of the world dance in joy, while evening comes and Light reappears among the exulting people. Still unconquered by the great discoveries, the Genius of the Shadows now wanders about near the tunnelling work under Mont-Cenis.

The last charge of explosive is ready, the barrier that still separates the Italian excavators from their French companions falls. But no sound is heard, and engineers and workmen fear that they have gone astray as they bored into the rock, and doubt the success of the great undertaking. But a far-off detonation is heard to indicate that the task has been properly accomplished.

The French workmen jump down from the gap that is opened in the rock by strokes of the pick-axe, and embrace their companions amid the general exultation, they celebrate the triumphant conclusion of the enormous undertaking. Majestically, the monument erected to the glory of the tunnelling of Mont-Cenis, and to the Genius of the human race, rises in the middle of the stage.

Obscurantism is furious, and has to watch, in impotent rage, the triumph of the eternal enemy Light, who with an imperious gesture shows the people of the world united in brotherly love; all is over for the Genius of the Shadows, while for the Genius of Civilisation much remains still to be done. At another gesture of Light, the earth opens out under the feet of Obscurantism, engulfing him.

The series of glorious events closes with the great apotheosis of the Genius of the human race: Science, Progress, Brotherhood and Love join in immense rejoicing to celebrate the glory of the present, and the greater glory of the future.

Teatro alla Scala