Guillaume Tell

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March 2024

With the first performance of Guillaume Tell in Paris in 1829, Rossini ended his activity as an opera composer, leaving behind a massive body of works which can still stretch the bounds of possibility of any opera house, even today. From the five solo cellos that start the overture, through the famous march gallop to the great thanksgiving prayer at the end of the opera, Rossini not only depicts a supposedly Swiss panorama of nature, with the spirit of freedom of the hero of the title, but also presents a kaleidoscope and emotional exploration of love, hate, terrible entanglements and dependencies of young lovers which seems to be absolutely inexhaustible. Rossini does not give us Schiller's reflections on political freedom and rebellion – instead, he shows us the freedom and bondage of the soul which can throw people back to the roots of feeling.


Act One

For no apparent reason, Leuthold brutally kills a soldier and flees. The guests at a large village wedding are, however, still in high spirits- more than thirty couples plan to get married on that beautiful day, they know nothing about the murder. Ruodi is  one of the bridegrooms. In joyful exhuberance he sings his future wife a song about the pleasures of marriage. Guillaume Tell is the only one present to have doubts about the situation. He sees the lack of freedom in his fatherland, Switzerland, and propagates political independence from the Habsburgs. His wife Hedwige and his son Jemmy do not share Guillaume’s concern, they are looking forward to the arrival of old Melchthal who is to give the couples his blessing. Melcthal  praises the forthcoming festivities, mentioning that Swiss values such as work, marriage and love, will also be manifest there. His son Arnold, however, feels like an outsider. He has fought in the Habsburg army and is unhappily in love – with the Habsburg princess Mathilde of all people, whom he has saved from being killed by an avalanche. He knows this love has no future. Guillaume, however, interprets his friend Arnold’s poor spirits differently. He believes the reason behind his mood is a bad conscience about having served with his country’s enemies. He therefore tries to encourage him to draw a line under that chapter in his life and fight again, for independence as a patriot on the side of the Swiss. Arnold leaves the festivities as he can no longer bear the sight of so many couples. The celebration is suddenly interrupted: Leuthold is on the run and begs the people at the wedding for protection from  the soldiers who are chasing him. He explains that he has merely taken revenge for the abduction of his daughter and killed the man responsible.  The people are uncertain how to react, Ruodi does not want to help Leuthold, Guillaume does. Just in time, before the arrival of the captain of police Rodolphe and his soldiers, Guillaume and Leuthold escape. When Rodolphe demands an explanation of the situation, the wedding guests refuse to answer. Melcthal accuses the Habsburg regime of tyranny and is arrested. For the time being the guests appear unmoved. Melchthal, who has done nothing wrong, is released and Rodolphe and the soldiers are forced to withdraw again, angry but without having achieved anything.

Mathilde cannot forget Arnold either. She has also fallen in love with him. She is tired of the cold atmosphere of the court and hopes her love will bring her true feelings at last. But Arnold barely dares to get closer to her and her openness towards him is all the more astonishing for him. She frankly admits that she loves him, which he can scarcely believe, as he thinks that there is an unbridgeable gap between them due to their backgrounds, she is a Habsburg princess and he is  Swiss. She, on the other hand, sees it rather as a class difference and thus a clear way out of their dilemma. She suggests he should again fight with the Habsburg army and achieve fame and honour and in this way they could bridge the gap between them.

Guillaume has observed them together and decides with his friend Walter to have recourse to other means to awaken Arnold’s patriotic instincts. Arnold counters their accusation of disloyalty by telling them of his love for Mathilde. But Guillaume and Walter have perfidiously  murdered old Melchthal in secret, not least to make the Swiss even angrier about the Habsburg regime, although they have actually accused Austrian thugs of the murder. At the sight of the corpse of his murdered father, Arnold decides to fight side by side with Guillaume and Walter. Guillaume has united a large number of resistance fighters behind him by insisting on thejr civil rights and liberties, stirring up hatred by saying: a slave has neither wife nor child. They decide to take up arms and agree on a signal for the start of the uprising – a fire.

For this reason Arnold decides to break with Mathilde. She understands the anger and pain her beloved is suffering in the face of his father’s death. They renounce their love, but Mathilde warns him about Governor Gesler, who is always  relentless and brutal in his demand for  loyalty to the Habsburgs.

Gesler demands a sign of obedience towards the contractually agreed Austrian regime from the poeple of Switzerland; he wants them to bow to him, he is after all the personification of the law. This gives rise to uncertainty among the populace. Some place their hope in Mathilde, whom they see as a good representative of power, others fear Gesler’s capriciousness and brutality. Only Guillaume and Walter refuse to bow. Gesler reacts without pity by putting Guillaume to the test. He is either to genuflect before him or shoot an apple off his son’s head. 

Guillaume considers himself defeated and humiliated in front of Gesler. Jemmy, who cannot bear to see his father weak, challenges him to overcome his fear. After all, he is the best marksman in the region and never misses his target with the crossbow. Gesler, who would never have believed that Guillaume would go so far, is forced to watch with  his soldiers and the onlookers as the father takes aim and shoots at his son.

Act Two

Jemmy is unhurt but his father’s deed has left him with traces of trauma. The people celebrate Guillaume’s deed. Guillaume now takes aim at Gesler with a second arrow but misses his target. At this Gesler wants to arrest both father and son. Mathilde interferes. She takes Jemmy, who has not committed a crime, under her personal protection. Gesler has to accept this so that only Guillaume is led away. Guillaume curses Gesler.

Arnold mourns his father in their home. The conspirators tell him of Guillaume’s arrest and complain about their poor fighting equipment. But old Melchthal and his son Arnold have horded sufficient weapons in secret so that they can risk rebellion.

Only Hedwige has no idea of the whereabouts of her son and husband and is relieved to see Jemmy unscathed. Leuthold asks them both to accompany him; Guillaume, he tells them, has escaped and Gesler has set a wild hunt for him in motion. But Guillaume succeeds in making his way back to his family. Jemmy, who has set his grandparents‘ house on fire as a signal for the rebellion, hands his father a weapon. Guillaume kills his persecutor Gesler, upon which the latter’s soldiers flee. The other conspirators  have also sent the Habsburg solders fleeing for their lives; the fatherland is free. Jemmy, Hedwige, Guillaume, Arnold, Walter and all Swiss people celebrate the victory: "Freedom, descend again from Heaven and reestablish your rule."

Program and cast

Musical direction BERTRAND DE BILLY


Vienna State Opera

Public Transport

Subway lines: U1, U2, U4
Trams: 1, 2, D, J, 62, 65
Buses: 59A
Local Railway: Badner Bahn
Stops: Karlsplatz / Opera

Taxi stands are available nearby.


Parking is only € 6, - for eight hours!

The Wiener Staatsoper and the ÖPARK Kärntner Ring Garage on Mahlerstraße 8, under the “Ringstraßengalerien”, offer the patrons of the Vienna State Opera a new, reduced parking fee. You can park in the Kärntner Ring Garage for up to 8 hours and pay only a flat fee of € 6, -. Just validate your ticket at one of the discount machines inside the Wiener Staatsoper. The normal rate will be charged for parking time greater than 8 hours. The validation machines can be found at the following coat checks: Operngasse, Herbert von Karajan-Platz, and the right and left and balcony galleries.

Important: In order to get the discount, please draw a ticket and do not use your credit card when entering the garage!

After devaluing your ticket in the Wiener Staatsoper you can pay comfortably by credit card or cash at the vending machines.

The machines accept coins and bills up to 50.- Euro. Parking time longer than 8 hours will be charged at the normal rate.


The structure of the opera house was planned by the Viennese architect August Sicard von Sicardsburg, while the inside was designed by interior decorator Eduard van der Nüll. It was also impacted by other major artists such as Moritz von Schwind, who painted the frescoes in the foyer, and the famous "Zauberflöten" (“Magic Flute”) series of frescoes on the veranda. Neither of the architects survived to see the opening of ‘their’ opera house: the sensitive van der Nüll committed suicide, and his friend Sicardsburg died of a stroke soon afterwards.


On May 25, 1869, the opera house solemnly opened with Mozart's Don Giovanni in the presence of Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Elisabeth.
The popularity of the building grew under the artistic influence of the first directors: Franz von Dingelstedt, Johann Herbeck, Franz Jauner, and Wilhelm Jahn. The Vienna opera experienced its first high point under the direction of Gustav Mahler. He completely transformed the outdated performance system, increased the precision and timing of the performances, and also utilized the experience of other noteworthy artists, such as Alfred Roller, for the formation of new stage aesthetics.


The years 1938 to 1945 were a dark chapter in the history of the opera house. Under the Nazis, many members of the house were driven out, pursued, and killed, and many works were not allowed to be played.


On March 12, 1945, the opera house was devastated during a bombing, but on May 1, 1945, the “State Opera in the Volksoper” opened with a performance of Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO. On October 6, 1945, the hastily restored “Theaters an der Wien” reopened with Beethoven's FIDELIO. For the next ten years the Vienna State Opera operated in two venues while the true headquarters was being rebuilt at a great expense.


The Secretary of State for Public Works, Julius Raab, announced on May 24, 1945, that reconstruction of the Vienna State Opera would begin immediately. Only the main facade, the grand staircase, and the Schwind Foyer had been spared from the bombs. On November 5, 1955, the Vienna State Opera reopened with a new auditorium and modernized technology. Under the direction of Karl Böhm, Beethoven’s FIDELIO was brilliantly performed, and the opening ceremonies were broadcast by Austrian television. The whole world understood that life was beginning again for this country that had just regained its independence.


Today, the Vienna State Opera is considered one of the most important opera houses in the world; in particular, it is the house with the largest repertoire. It has been under the direction of Dominique Meyer since September 1, 2010.

© Bwag/Commons
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