Alison Jones's Opera Plot Summaries.

Maurice Ravel:
L'Heure Espagnole

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Mar 98

The action takes places in Toledo in the 18th century.

The muleteer Ramiro brings his watch to the clock-maker Torquemada, who does not have time to repair it as he has to leave at once for his weekly task of adjusting the municipal clocks. He asks Ramiro to wait, to the annoyance of his wife Concepcion, who is expecting her lover. Partly because she wants a grandfather clock in her bedroom, and partly to get rid of him, she asks Ramiro to carry up one of the two in the shop, a task beyond the feeble Torquemada, but one the vigorous muleteer accomplishes easily.

Concepcion's lover, the poet Gonzalve, arrives when Ramiro is upstairs, but wastes time composing poetry, so he is still standing around when Ramiro returns. Concepcion tells him she has changed her mind and now wants the other clock in her room, but he is to bring the other one back first. She then installs Gonzalve in the second clock, so that Ramiro can transport him to her bedroom.

Don Inigo Gomez arrives to pay court to Concepcion, having secured the clock-regulating post for Torquemada to get him out of the way. Concepcion answers his wooing evasively and decides to accompany Ramiro as he tosses the clock with Gonzalve inside on to his back, as she is worried that her lover might get sea-sick.

Left alone, Don Inigo, who thinks Concepcion might be in awe of his imposing presence, decides to be playful and hides in the remaining grandfather clock.

Concepcion has sent Ramiro down to mind the shop, but soon appears, complaining that the clock in her room is not going properly. When he goes to bring it down, Don Inigo makes cuckoo sounds from the clock, emerging with difficulty and beginning to woo her; but she tells him to get back into the clock and when Ramiro brings back the clock with Gonzalve inside, instructs him to take up the one containing Don Inigo.

Exasperated wtih Gonzalve, who is still in poetic creative mode, she orders him back into his clock and goes upstairs. Ramiro is still delighted at his moving task and is happy to take bring back the clock containing Don Inigo, who has also proved unsatisfactory as a lover. Charmed by the placid alacrity of Ramiro, as he carries out this last task, Concepcion commands him to her bedroom - without any clocks. Torquemada, returning to the shop, finds Gonzalve and Don Inigo in their clocks. They claim to be examining the workings preparatory to purchase and he sells them the clocks, though it requires the strength of Ramiro (whose appearance from upstairs with his wife seems not to disconcert the clock-maker) to pull the portly Don Inigo from his. When Torquemada sympathises with his wife for not having the clock in her bedroom as she wished, she answers that Ramiro passes under her window every day at the same time, so she won't need a clock. All come to the front of the stage to relay the moral: it doesn't matter how many lovers you have, the one that counts is the effective one.

Giaocchino Rossini:
Il Barbiere di Siviglia

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 92

ACT I

Scene 1. A small square in Seville before dawn

Disguised as a student, Count Almaviva serenades Rosina. He learns from Figaro, a former servant, now the city barber and general factotum, that she is Dr Bartolo's ward, and that he has access to the house. Rosina contrives to drop a note for Almaviva, sending her guardian on a wild-goose chase to pick it up and causing him to resolve to keep her under even closer guard. The letter asks for information about her unknown suitor's name, rank and intentions; and when Bartolo has set off in search of his crony Don Basilio, the music teacher, to arrange his marriage to Rosina, Almaviva sings another serenade, telling her that he is a poor student called Lindoro.

Inspired by the Count's munificence, Figaro declares that he can get him into the house, disguised as a drunken soldier seeking a billet.

Scene 2. Inside Dr Bartolo's house

Rosina is determined to marry her unknown suitor, while Bartolo is set on marrying her himself. He tries to interrogate his servants about what has been going on in his house, but they can only yawn or sneeze, because they have been dosed by Figaro. Basilio tells him that Couant Almaviva has been seen in Seville and advises getting rid of him by slander. They retire to work on the marriage contract. Figaro, who has overheard their plans, tells Rosina and urges her to write to his "poor cousin." The letter is already written and she gives it to him. Bartolo, suspecting that she has been writing, confronts her with the evidence. She has an answer to all his accusations, but he is not convinced and says he will lock her in her room when he goes out. Almaviva bursts in, disguised as a drunken soldier. In the confusion he slips Rosina a note, which is seen by Bartolo, but Rosina smartly substitutes the laundry list. The watch arrive to quell the riot, but are awed by a document produced by Almaviva.

ACT II

Inside Bartolo's house

Bartolo is voicing his suspicions about this soldier when Almaviva appears again, this time disguised as "Don Alonso," a supposed pupil of Don Basilio, who, he says, is indisposed and has sent him to take Rosina's music lesson. To allay Bartolo's suspicions he produces Rosina's note, pretending it has fallen into his hands by accident and suggesting that Bartolo tell her it was given to him by a mistress of the Count, to prove that he is trifling with her affections. Rosina sings an aria to the Count's accompaniment and as Bartolo dozes off, the Count explains his plan for eloping with Rosina later that night.

Figaro appears to shave Bartolo and manages to get hold of the key to the balcony. Basilio arrives, but is told to go home because he looks so ill, advice he accepts the more readily because Almaviva slips him a bribe. Figaro begins to shave Bartolo, while Almaviva and Rosina continue to arrange the elopement. Bartolo realises what is going on and the Count and Figaro make their escape.

Basilio comes back with the unwelcome news that the unknown suitor is probably Almaviva himself, a conclusion he has reached because of the size of the bribe. Bartolo sends Basilio to bring the notary to perform the marriage with Rosina and, producing her letter to the Count, convinces her that her affections are being trifled with, so she tells him of the planned elopement and agrees to marry him. He goes to get the law to arrest Figaro and Almaviva.

During the storm Figaro and Almaviva climb a ladder to the balcony, only to be confronted by an angry Rosina, but the Count calms her fears by revealing his identity. Figaro urges haste, but the ladder has been taken. Basilio arrives with the notary and they get him to solemnise Almaviva's marriage to Rosina. Bartolo and the law arrive too late.

Giaocchino Rossini:
La Cenerentola

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

May 94

ACT I

Scene 1. A room in the mansion of the Baron of Montefiascone

Clorinda and Tisbe are adorning themselves while Angelina (Cenerentola) works, singing about a king who chose a bride for her innocence and virtue instead of pomp and beauty. When she keeps on singing, despite the complaints of Clorinda and Tisbe, they are about to strike her, but are interrupted by a knock at the door, and Alidoro appears, disguised as a beggar. Clorinda and Tisbe want to drive him away, but Cenerentola surreptitiously gives him bread and coffee and he promises that heaven will reward her before nightfall. Angry at her generosity, Clorinda and Tisbe again prepare to beat Cenerentola, but the courtiers of Prince Ramiro appear bringing an invitation to a ball at his palace. The sisters call imperiously to Cenerentola to bring their finery and help them to dress; she laments that she will have to stay at home and Alidoro watches in amusement.

The sisters are quarrelling over who is to tell their father the news, when he appears, reproving them for having disturbed his beautiful dream: he dreamed of a donkey that sprouted wings, interpreting this as meaning that his daughters will become queens: he is the donkey, they are the wings.

He rejoices at the news about the ball, hoping that one of his daughters will marry the prince and salvage his crumbling mansion. They all retire to their rooms and Prince Ramiro appears, disguised as his own equerry. He is determined to marry for love and Alidoro, his tutor, has told him that a worthy bride is to be found in this house. He meets Cenerentola and they fall in love on the spot. He is puzzled by how such a pretty girl should be so poorly dressed and decides to continue his impersonation, the better to see through to the hearts of the baron's daughters, and announces the prince's arrival to Don Magnifico. Dandini, disguised as the prince, enters and pays extravagant compliments to Clorinda and Tisbe, so that each is convinced that he has fallen in love with her.

He gives a garbled account of the situation - the prince's father had left his dying order that the prince was to marry at once, so he is scouring the country for a suitable bride. Ramiro, watching quietly and occasionally trying to restrain Dandini's flights of eloquence, wants to see Cenerentola again.

She appears, begging Don Magnifico to let her go to the ball too, but he rejects her angrily and when she entreats Dandini and Ramiro to intercede for her, tells them that she is only a servant. Alidoro, no longer disguised, appears with a register which indicates that there are three sisters in the house, and Magnifico hastily answers that the third has died. Everyone leaves except Alidoro and Cenerentola. He tells her that he will take her to the ball in his carriage.

Scene 2. A room in Prince Ramiro's country house

Dandini, still disguised as the prince, orders that Don Magnifico, who has been discoursing on the subject of wine, be shown the cellars for a tasting, and if he manages to keep his feet, promises to appoint him master of the cellars. Clorinda and Tisbe contend for Dandini's favours.

Scene 3. Drawing-room in the prince's palace

Don Magnifico has passed the drinking test and the admiring courtiers proclaim him master of the cellars. Dandini reports to the prince that the sisters are a mixture of insolence, bad temper and vanity, and Ramiro is puzzled, since this does not fit the information brought by Alidoro about one of Don Magnifico's daughters.

Clorinda and Tisbe enter in pursuit of the "prince" and Dan-dini explains that he can only marry one of them, but the other can marry his equerry. They refuse haughtily.

Alidoro announces the arrival of a mysterious veiled lady. When she unveils all are struck by her resemblance to Cenerentola. Don Magnifico, appearing to announce supper, is also struck by the likeness. Dandini invites the puzzled guests to join him for supper.

ACT II

Scene 1. A room in Prince Ramiro's palace

Ramiro is puzzled by the resemblance of the mysterious beauty to the girl he has fallen in love with and fears that Dandini too is smitten. He hides and listens while Dandini tries to woo Cenerentola, only to be told that she loves his equerry.

Joyfully, Ramiro asks if she will marry him and she tells him that he must learn more about her, giving him a bracelet by which he will be able to identify her, as she wears its double on the other arm. She leaves and Alidoro advises Ramiro to follow his heart. Ramiro tells Dandini that the masquerade is over, orders him to get rid of Don Magnifico and his daughters and leaves with his retinue in search of his love. Don Magnifico, hoping to get Dandini to make his choice between his daughters, learns that Dandini is only the prince's valet.

Scene 2. A room in Don Magnifico's house

Cenerentola, singing her song about the king and thinking of the man she loves, is surprised when Don Magnifico and his daughters arrive back. A storm breaks out and Ramiro and Dandini enter, their carriage having broken down at the door through Alidoro's intervention, and the household is amazed to learn that Ramiro is the prince. He recognises the bracelet and claims his bride, turning angrily on Don Magnifico and his daughters when they try to drive Cenerentola away. When she begs him to take pity on them, they accuse her of hypocrisy and when he announces that he is going to marry her they think he is joking.

Scene 3. The throne room in Prince Ramiro's palace

Cenerentola once again begs Ramiro to forgive Don Magnifico and his daughters, who now show some sign of contrition, and rejoices in the change of fortune that has befallen her.

Giaocchino Rossini:
L'Italiana in Algeri

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jun 97

ACT I

Scene 1. A room in the palace of the Bey of Algiers

The Bey's wife Elvira is distressed because he no longer loves her. In fact Mustafà orders her to leave him: he plans to give her to his new Italian slave and instructs Haly, the captain of his pirates, to find him instantly, on pain of impalement, a proud young Italian beauty to tame. Lindoro, the Italian slave captured three months ago, laments his separation from his beloved and is not impressed by the Bey's offer of Elvira, though cautiously refraining from rejecting the idea out of hand.

Scene 2. The seashore

To Haly's relief, an Italian ship is wrecked and among the passengers captured by his corsairs is Isabella, who has been searching for her lover Lindoro, accompanied by Taddeo, an elderly admirer. Momentarily disconcerted by her fate, she quickly collects herself. When Haly announces that she is sure to be the jewel of the Bey's harem, she prepares to use her woman's wiles to get her way.

To save him from being taken away by the pirates, she claims Taddeo as her uncle. They quarrel because of his jealousy of Lindoro (whom he has never met), but in view of their tricky situation decide to make peace.

Scene 3. A room in the palace

Zulma, Elvira's confidante, tries to persuade her and Lindoro to agree to the Bey's plan. Mustafà now offers Lindoro his freedom and a passage home to Italy if he will marry Elvira, and Lindoro evades the issue by agreeing to take her with him and think later of marriage. Haly brings the news that an Italian girl, exactly fitting the Bey's specifications, has been captured, and Mustafà prepares to show his prowess at woman taming, peremptorily ordering Elvira to go. Despite his harsh treatment, she still loves him.

Scene 4. A magnificent hall

Isabella is brought before the Bey and, instantly summing him up as a booby, pretends to be smitten. He is captivated by her.

Taddeo rushes in, and is astonished to find Isabella apparently on such good terms with the Bey who, annoyed at the interruption, orders him impaled. He relents when Isabella again claims Taddeo as her uncle. Elvira, Zulma and Lindoro come to make their farewells, and Lindoro and Isabella are thunderstruck to see one another. Mustaf¦ is puzzled at their reaction, but then thunderstruck on his own account when Isabella, learning of his plan for Elvira, insists that he must not send his wife away. She says she will have Lindoro as her personal slave. All express varying degrees of bewilderment, manifested by ringings and drummings in their heads.

ACT II

Scene 1. A room in the palace

Haly and Zulma try to comfort Elvira with the thought that Mustafà's experiences with Isabella should make him a better husband, as they can see she will lead him a dance. Mustafà sends a message to Isabella that he will take coffee with her. Isabella is distressed at Lindoro's apparent unfaithfulness (since he was preparing to leave with Mustafà has Taddeo invested with the rank of Kaimakan, his role being to smooth the Bey's advances to Isabella. Taddeo, in fear of impalement, is obliged to accept this distasteful role.

Scene 2. A magnificent apartment

Isabella dresses in Turkish costume in preparation for taking coffee with the Bey. She reproves Elvira for being spineless and promises her a lesson on how to control her husband. Mustafà tells Taddeo that when he sneezes, it is a signal that he wishes to be left alone with Isabella, but when the time comes, Taddeo feigns deafness; and when coffee is served Isabella invites Elvira to join the party, to the fury of Mustafà.

Scene 3. A room in the palace

Haly reflects that the Bey, despite his experience, is likely to be outwitted by the shrewd Italian girl. Lindoro enlists the support of Taddeo in the escape plan and Taddeo reveals he is the lover, not the uncle of Isabella - to the amusement of Lindoro, who does not reveal his own identity. Lindoro tells Mustafà that Isabella has elected him to the rank of "Pappataci" (a complaisant husband/lover), whose duties are to eat, drink and sleep. Zulma and Haly look forward to the Bey's discomfiture.

Scene 4. A magnificent apartment

Isabella has had the Italian slaves dressed as Pappataci for Mustafà's investiture. She intends to free them all and exhorts them to be brave and look forward to returning to their homeland.

Having made sure that the Bey's servants are given plenty of wine, she has a banquet prepared for Mustafà and instructs him that he must "see and not see, hear and not hear," and concentrate on eating and drinking. She tests him by talking affectionately to Lindoro and Taddeo assists by explaining to the Bey that he must not react -so successfully that when Lindoro and Isabella escape, and Taddeo realises that he too has been duped, he is unable to arouse Mustafà from his complacency. Taddeo swallows his pride and joins the escape.

Only the arrival of Elvira, Zulma and Haly with the news that the slaves are all leaving arouses Mustafà, by which time, his servants being drunk and incapable of pursuit, it is too late to do more than wave to the Italians as they leave. Mustafà decides to be content with his loving wife Elvira and begs her forgiveness.

Giaocchino Rossini:
Semiramide

A plot summary from Opera~Opera -- Australasia's independent monthly newspaper of the musical theatre, established in 1978.

Jul 83

ACT I

Scene 1. The temple of Baal

Oroe, the high priest of Baal, leads priests, nobles and people of Babylon in prayer. They are awaiting the arrival of Semiramide, Queen of Babylon, who has promised to name a successor to the throne. Assur indicates that he expects to be chosen, to the indignation of Idreno, an Indian prince, and the horror of Oroe who, in turn, strikes terror to the heart of Assur by revealing that Assur's secret past is known to him.

Preceded by the applause of the populace, Semiramide appears. As she advances to the altar the sacred fire is extinguished with a clap of thunder and the intended announcement is cut off in confusion as all wonder whether this is a good or a bad omen.

Scene 2. Inside the deserted temple.

Arsace comes to the temple, having come to Babylon in answer to a summons from Semiramide and bacause of his love for Azema. Following his father's wishes he presents a casket to Oroe, who takes from it the sword of Nino, the dead husband of Semiramide, and reveals that he had died by poison. Before he can say more they are interrupted by a noise; Oroe goes and Assur appears. He and Arsace confront one another: they are rivals for the hand of Azema, Arsace having loved her since he rescued her from captivity and Assur hoping to rise to the throne by marrying her.

Scene 3. The gardens of the palace.

Sighing with love, Semiramide awaits Arsace. His arrival is preceded by an eagerly awaited answer from the oracle at Memphis, ambiguously declaring that Semiramide's sufferings will end when Arsace arrives and "with a new marriage". She interprets this to fit in with her wishes, that the gods favor her marriage with Arsace.

When Arsace arrives she promises him great favors and he hopes to be granted the hand of Azema, while she reflects on her hopes of marrying him. They leave, and Idreno enters, with the chorus, to express his love for Azema.

Scene 4. The throne room of the palace.

The people, priests, and nobles have gathered again for Semiramide to make the announcement about her sucessor. She insists that everyone swear to obey her choice and informs them that the next king will also be her husband. She then names Arsace, to the consternation of everyone, including Arsace himself - with the exception of Idreno, who seizes the opportunity to ask for the hand of Azema, which is granted by Semiramide.

Oroe is about to protest when thunder and lightning announce the appearance of the ghost of Nino. He proclaims that Arsace will rule and exhorts him to avenge his death. Arsace swears to obey and the ghost disappears. Everyone is struck with horror at this apparition.

ACT II

Scene 1. A room in the palace.

Semiramide and Assur confront one another,each reproaching the other for taking part in the death of Nino. Assur reminds Semiramide that she had promised to marry him as his reward for his assistance in the killing of Nino and threatens that he could destroy her by telling the secret. She threatens to destroy him in turn and he swears that he will not fall alone. Semiramide, however, is confident that the presence of Arsace, favored by the gods, will protect her and placate the gods.

Scene 2. Inside the temple.

Arsace learns from Oroe that he is Ninia, the son of Nino and Semiramide, long since believed dead, and that Assur and his mother had conspired to kill his father. He vows vengeance on Assur but hopes that the gods will forgive his mother.

Scene 3. A room in the palace.

Semiramide reproaches Arsace with avoiding her and he reluctantly reveals that he is her son and knows of her part in his father's death. She begs him to punish her but he protests that his filial feelings are too strong. They rejoice in their discovery of their relationship, while feeling the horror it entails.

Arsace tells his mother he is going to beg pardon for her and avenge his father and she expresses her hopes for his success. When they have gone, Idreno appears with the chorus and expresses his love for Azema in an aria.

Scene 4. A remote part of the palace, near the tomb of Nino.

Assur prepares to meet Arsace, but when his satraps tell him that he now has no hope of gaining the throne because their attempt to rouse the people has been thwarted by Oroe and fear of the ghost, his guilty conscience conjures up the spectre of his victim. He shakes off this fit of madness and prepares to confront Arsace.

Scene 5. Inside the mausoleum of Nino.

Oroe has guided Arsace to the place where he will meet Assur, but Semiramide, fearful for her son's safety, has also gone there, and Arsace kills her by mistake. Assur is led off to his doom and the horrified Arsace has to accept the crown and the acclaim of the people.


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