The advancing Ethiopian army is threatening the Nile Valley and the city of Thebes. Ramfis, the High Priest of Isis, tells Radamès that the goddess has chosen the general who will lead the Egyptian army into battle. Radamès hopes that he has been chosen and that he may return victorious and win the hand of Aida, an Ethiopian slave who is handmaiden to Princess Amneris. Amneris secretly loves Radamès herself and suspects from his reaction to Aida's presence that he prefers the slave to her. The King enters with the priests and his court and announces that Isis has chosen Radamès as the Egyptian commander-in-chief. Amneris presents a standard to Radamès and urges him to return as conqueror. Radamès leaves for the temple where he will be consecrated for battle. Aida is horrified that she has joined in a chorus swearing to destroy her own people. She is the daughter of the Ethiopian king Amonasro, a fact unknown to the Egyptians, and is torn between her love for her country and for Radamès.
Sacred rites are performed by the priests and priestesses in the temple of Phtah. Radamès is presented with a consecrated sword and blessed for war and victory.
Amneris and the court ladies prepare for the triumphal return of Radamès until she dismisses them at Aida's approach. Amneris tricks Aida by telling her that Radamès has been killed in battle. Aida's misery and subsequent joy when Amneris admits that it is not true confirm Amneris' suspicions and she now declares herself the rival of a mere slave. Aida is about to retort that she too is a princess when she remembers her danger and pleads in vain for a chance for love with Radamès.
Soldiers, bearing spoils of war, form a procession celebrating the triumph of Radamès. Amneris crowns him victor and the King offers him any reward he may name. Radamès asks that the prisoners of war be brought in. Aida recognises her father among them. He warns her not to betray his rank. He relates to the Pharaoh how Amonasro died on the battlefield and pleads for mercy for the captured Ethiopians. Radamès begs for the freedom of the Ethiopians and the King agrees to this provided Aida and Amonasro remain as hostages. The King then announces that as reward for his bravery he will offer Radamès Amneris' hand in marriage. Amneris exults at her triumph and Aida expresses her misery.
Ramfis welcomes Amneris, on the night before her marriage, at the temple of Isis to pray. Radamès has chosen a place nearby for a last meeting with Aida, who sings sadly of her homeland. She is surprised in revery by her father who demands that she help him discover the route which Radamès plans for the next Egyptian invasion. Aida is reluctant but finally yields to his plan. When Radamès arrives she suggests that they flee together and live happily far away from Egypt. She asks which path they should take to avoid the Egyptian troops. He tells her, whereupon Amonasro steps forward triumphantly and declares himself as the Ethiopian king. Appalled that he has unwittingly betrayed his country, Radamès refuses to flee with them. Amneris and Ramfis emerge from the temple. Aida and Amonasro escape, and Radamès surrenders his sword to the High Priest.
Amneris summons Radamès to her presence and pleads with him to declare his innocence. She offers love and the throne on condition that he vows never to see Aida again. Radamès refuses and is led away to his trial. Three times the voice of Ramfis is heard accusing Radamès of treason and each time Radamès is silent. He is sentenced to be buried alive under the altar. Amneris vents her rage against Ramfis and the priests, calling down the curse of heaven upon them.
Radamès has been left to die, and the altar is being put in place above his tomb. He sees a form and thinks it is a vision, but it is Aida who has come to die with him. Together they bid farewell to earth while, above them, Amneris prays that the gods may grant eternal peace to Radamès.
Dr Bartolo, together with his ward, Rosina, were until recently resident in Madrid. While there, Rosina had attracted the attention of the adventurous young Count Almaviva, who, on their departure for Seville, has followed incognito, determined to woo and win her. Disguised as a student called Lindoro, he serenades her at night below her balcony, but is making very little progress when he meets Figaro, a former servant of his who had left his employ to set up independently as a barber. Apart from his shop, Figaro also has a contract of service in Bartolo's household, and the two men strike a deal whereby Figaro will get Almaviva into the house.
Rosina is very excited by the attentions being paid her by the handsome young stranger and dares write to him. She is so closely guarded by Bartolo, however, that the task of getting the letter delivered threatens to be difficult. Figaro would seem to be the answer. Bartolo is shrewdly aware that something is going on, but he can't quite pin it down. Basilio, who is Rosina's music teacher but also an intriguer in Bartolo's service, warns him that Almaviva is in town and that he has designs on Rosina. Since Bartolo wishes to marry her himself, he determines to make the necessary arrangements at once.
A complete stranger called Don Alonso arrives that evening to give Rosina her music lesson instead of Basilio, who is sick. Bartolo accepts him only when he reveals that he has a plan to trap Rosina and discredit Almaviva. When the lesson is under way, Figaro arrives and insists on giving Bartolo his Tuesday shave. Suddenly, Basilio walks in, quite healthy, but such is Bartolo's confidence in Alonso that he collaborates in getting rid of Basilio. Unfortunately, Alonso, who is Almaviva in another disguise, overreaches himself and is caught out by Bartolo, but not before arranging to carry Rosina off at midnight.
There is a storm. Basilio goes for the Notary to marry Rosina and Bartolo at once; Bartolo goes for the police; Almaviva and Figaro bring a ladder.
Rosina remonstrates with Almaviva, but the confusion is quickly cleared up and the elopement all but takes place. Then Basilio arrives with the Notary, and Bartolo removes the ladder to the balcony. In the intervening few minutes the Notary marries Almaviva and Rosina and Basilio witnesses the contract. The young lovers are happy, Bartolo is defeated, while Figaro and Basilio make a lot of money.
The birthday of the Countess Madeleine is to be celebrated with words and
music. Flamand, a composer, and Olivier, a poet, are listening to the rehearsal
of Flamand’s sextet, written for the occasion; the impresario, La Roche, is
asleep. While listening, Flamand and Olivier discover that they are both in love
with the Countess, who is a widow. What will impress her more – Flamand’s
music or Olivier’s poetry? Prima la musica, dopo le parole, or prima le parole,
dopo la musica? They agree to let the Countess decide.
La Roche wakes up and joins the argument. Neither poetry nor music, he says,
is the greatest of the arts. His own, the art of theatre, overshadows them both
and uses them as its servants. He believes in entertainment – splendid decor,
top notes and beautiful women, such as the actress Clairon, who has recently
had an affair with Olivier. La Roche reveals that she is on her way to the
château to play opposite the Count in Olivier’s play. Flamand, Olivier and La
Roche leave to prepare for the rehearsal in the theatre.
The Count and Countess, brother and sister, enter. They engage in a
discussion about the relative merits of music and poetry. The Count
admits that music leaves him cold, that words will always be superior to
music. He teases his sister about her interest in the composer Flamand.
She, in turn, brings up the name of Clairon. He admits he is interested in
the actress, but praises a life of quickly-won, quickly-lost attachments. The
countess longs for lasting love.
La Roche and his protégés return. Clairon arrives for the rehearsal. She
and the Count read a scene from Olivier’s play which ends with the
Count’s declamation of a passionate sonnet, written by Olivier that very
morning. La Roche then leads them both off to rehearsal, leaving Flamand
and Olivier alone with the Countess. Olivier remarks that the Count
addressed the sonnet to the wrong person; it was written for the Countess,
and he recites it again to her. Flamand then sets it to music much against
the poet’s will. Olivier declares his love. Flamand sings the sonnet he
has just set. Olivier and Flamand quarrel about the true ownership of
the sonnet, but the Countess decides the issue: It is now hers! La Roche
takes Olivier away to rehearsal to sanction some cuts! Flamand in his
turn is able to declare his love to the Countess. He asks her to decide:
music or poetry, Flamand or Olivier? The countess promises that he shall
have the answer the next morning at eleven o’clock. Flamand leaves in
great excitement; the Countess is alone with her thoughts. She orders
refreshments for the company.
The Count and his sister discuss the progress of their respective love affairs.
The rehearsal is over, the participants return. While refreshments are
served, La Roche introduces some dancers who perform for the company.
Flamand and Olivier resume their argument of words versus music. The
others join in. The count ridicules opera – all opera!
La Roche introduces a pair of Italian singers who perform a duet. Then he
tells of the spectacle he has planned for the Countess’ birthday – “The Birth
of Pallas Athene” and “The Fall of Carthage”. The company makes cruel fun
of his grandiose and traditional ideas, while the ltalian singers worry whether
they will be paid. La Roche finally gets a chance to speak for himself and
bitterly attacks his attackers, expressing his intense faith in the theatre. He
wants drama to show human beings in all their aspects as creatures of flesh
and blood, and orders Flamand and Olivier to create good new works that
speak for their time. His listeners are deeply moved and, as a sign of their
reconciliation, Olivier and Flamand agree to write an opera.
The Count has a very original idea: write an opera on the events of that
very day at the château, depicting the company as its characters. The
suggestion is accepted by everyone, and the company breaks up.
The servants enter and tidy up the now deserted room, commenting on the
events of the afternoon from their point of view – “backstage” as they put
it – for isn’t the whole world playing at theatre? The Major-domo gives
them the night off. Then appears Monsieur Taupe, the prompter, who had
fallen asleep during the rehearsal. He tells the Major-domo that, in fact, he
is the most important person in the theatre because without him the show
couldn’t go on. But now he has been forgotten.
The Countess enters followed by the Major-domo who tells her that
Olivier will call the next morning at eleven to hear from her the ending
of the opera. The Countess exclaims that since the sonnet, the composer
and the poet are fated to be inseparable – now they will both wait on her
tomorrow at the same place and time! She sings the sonnet to herself.
Which of the two men does she love? She realises that by choosing one
she must lose the other, and that way there can be no opera, an option she
is unwilling to contemplate. So, could there be another ending? The Majordomo
solves the problem by announcing that dinner is served.
The action takes place in Seville in the mid-19th century. Don José, who was training for the priesthood in his native Basque country, killed a man in a quarrel and has had to enlist in the army in Seville. His mother and Micaëla, who loves him and hopes to marry him, have followed him to the south and live in a village near the city.
While Moralès and his soldiers are chatting about the passers-by, Micaëla comes looking for Don José, a corporal. Moralès explains that Don José is in another company that will shortly take over the guard, but Micaëla decides not to wait. The new guard led by Zuniga arrives, followed by a swarm of children. Moralès tells Don José that Micaëla was asking for him. While Zuniga is curious about the tobacco factory women who work nearby, Don José is uninterested.
The cigarette women come out of the factory for a break. Carmen attracts most of the attention, but she tells the men that she will love only someone who does not love her. She tosses a flower to Don José who, perturbed by the gesture, quickly hides it. Micaëla returns with a letter to Don José from his mother in which she forgives him his crime and asks him to return to marry Micaëla.
Uproar in the factory spills out into the square as Carmen and another woman quarrel. Carmen insolently refuses to answer for her fight, so Zuniga orders her to be imprisoned. Don José is left to guard her, but she promises to love him if he helps her escape. Don José lets her go and is himself arrested.
Carmen, Frasquita, Mercédès and the gypsies are dancing. The victorious torero Escamillo arrives with a crowd of admirers. He is drawn to Carmen but she shows no interest. The crowd and soldiers leave.
The smugglers Remendado and Dancaïre try to enlist the help of Carmen, Frasquita and Mercédès in some of their plans. Carmen refuses: she is in love and waiting for Don José. Incredulous and mocking, the men suggest she brings Don José with her.
Having been released from prison, Don José arrives and Carmen dances for him. When he responds to the summons back to barracks Carmen accuses him of not loving her. In answer, Don José describes how in prison he treasured the flower she threw at him. If he really loves her, Carmen says, he will desert the army and go with her to the mountains. Zuniga reappears to meet Carmen and he discourages Don José. They fight, but when Remendado and Dancaïre disarm Zuniga, José decides to join the smugglers, leaving behind his former life.
The smugglers rest while a safe route to Seville is reconnoitred. Don José is still obsessed with Carmen; she, however, is tired of him but senses that he may kill her if she leaves him.
Frasquita and Mercédès read their fortunes in the cards; when Carmen joins them she only turns up cards that foretell her death. Dancaïre and Remendado return, and the gypsy women leave, enthusiastic at their task of distracting the customs officers who have been spotted on the smugglers' route. Don José is left to guard the contraband.
Micaëla comes alone looking for Don José. A shot frightens her and she hides; it was Don José firing at an intruder: Escamillo. Having heard that Carmen no longer loves her soldier, Escamillo has come after her. Enraged at this, Don José appears and challenges Escamillo to a fight. They are interrupted by Carmen herself. Escamillo invites the assembled company to his next bullfight in Seville and leaves. Still jealous, Don José threatens Carmen.
Micaëla is discovered in hiding. She begs Don José to return to his mother, who is calling for him. Carmen urges him to go. He is suspicious of her motives for encouraging him, but when Micaëla reveals that his mother is dying and wants to forgive him, he agrees to return with her. Escamillo is heard in the distance.
A crowd has gathered to watch the procession before the bullfight. Escamillo is accompanied by Carmen. Her friends Frasquita and Mercédès warn her that Don José is in the crowd. She decides to wait and talk to him, but when they meet he pleads with her to go away with him. She will not, as she no longer loves him. As the crowd is heard cheering Escamillo's success at killing the bull, Carmen confesses she now loves the torero and returns Don José's ring. He kills her.
Two young army officers, Ferrando and Guglielmo, are boasting to their friend Don Alfonso about the fidelity and devotion of Dorabella and Fiordiligi, their fiancées. Don Alfonso bets that, given the chance, both girls would forget their promises and take new lovers. The young men confidently accept the wager and agree to do exactly as Don Alfonso tells them for the next twenty-four hours. Don Alfonso sets an elaborate charade in motion by telling the girls that their suitors have been ordered to war and must leave at once. Ferrando and Guglielmo come to say tearful goodbyes. Despina, their hired hand, tries to console the girls, urging them to take as much advantage of their fiancés' absence, as the men will. Don Alfonso enlists Despina’s help in introducing to the girls two young men who have supposedly fallen in love with the sisters. Ferrando and Guglielmo reappear, in disguise, and Despina encourages the sisters to flirt with the new arrivals. The sisters are outraged and angrily reject their attentions, but Alfonso is not yet convinced he’s lost the wager. The masquerading men plead their cause and even attempt suicide to convince the girls of the veracity of their love. Despina, disguised as a doctor, appears and revives them. The men miraculously resurrect and renew their ardent attack, but their advances are repulsed.
Despina tries to persuade the sisters to enjoy themselves and they eventually decide that no harm could come from having some fun. Don Alfonso and Despina bring the four young people together and they are paired off. Dorabella’s resistance to the disguised Guglielmo soon melts, but her sister is made of sterner stuff – at least to begin with. To avoid the increasing danger of infidelity, Fiordiligi decides that she and Dorabella should join their fiancés in battle. Ferrando pursues Fiordiligi with renewed ardour and Guglielmo watches helplessly as she finally gives in. Ferrando and Guglielmo are disconsolate, but Don Alfonso advises them to accept their women as they are. Despina and Don Alfonso have organised the wedding celebrations and Despina disguises herself as a lawyer and performs the ceremony. No sooner have the girls signed the contract than military music announces that Guglielmo and Ferrando have unexpectedly returned from battle. The masquerading men exit hurriedly, and reappear in uniform. Don Alfonso shows the marriage contract to the officers, whereupon they declare that they themselves are the mysterious lovers. Fiordiligi and Dorabella regret their inconstancy and Ferrando and Guglielmo are angered by their fiancées' infidelity. Don Alfonso has won his bet, and is exposed as the instigator of the plot. Everyone sings in praise of those who can take the rough with the smooth and can fall back on reason however the world treats them.
Outside the Commendatore’s house, Leporello stands watch for his master, Don Giovanni, who has gone inside to seduce the Commendatore’s daughter, Donna Anna. When she tries to unmask him Don Giovanni flees. The Commendatore pursues the intruder and is killed by him in a duel. Donna Anna makes Don Ottavio, her fiancé, swear to avenge her father’s murder.
Don Giovanni turns to new adventures. On the street he sees a lady, Donna Elvira, who is searching for the man who seduced and abandoned her. She recognises Don Giovanni as her seducer. He makes off, promising that Leporello will explain everything. Leporello runs through the extensive catalogue of his master’s conquests.
Don Giovanni encounters a group of peasants celebrating the marriage of Zerlina and Masetto. He invites the entire party to a banquet, telling Leporello to get rid of the groom. Just as Don Giovanni is about to ensnare Zerlina, Donna Elvira appears and takes the peasant girl under her protection. Donna Anna and Don Ottavio arrive and enlist Don Giovanni’s help in seeking vengeance for the Commendatore’s murder. Donna Elvira interrupts and accuses Don Giovanni of deserting her; he tells the others she is mad and ushers her out. Donna Anna tells Don Ottavio that she has recognised Don Giovanni as her father’s murderer.
Don Giovanni gives Leporello instructions for the feast. Zerlina tries to make peace with the jealous Masetto. Masetto hides and eavesdrops as Don Giovanni resumes his seduction of Zerlina. When the enraged Masetto confronts Don Giovanni, the latter invites them both into the party. Donna Anna, Donna Elvira and Don Ottavio enter masked and are invited to join the festivities. While Leporello is distracting Masetto, Don Giovanni entices Zerlina into an adjoining room. Her cries for help are heard, and when Don Giovanni tries to accuse Leporello of being the offender, the three avengers unmask and denounce Don Giovanni.
Leporello is tired of the life he is leading, but a bribe persuades him not only to continue in service, but also to exchange clothing with Don Giovanni for yet another amorous adventure. The target this time is Elvira’s maid, and Leporello is to distract the mistress. Masetto enters with some peasants intent on punishing Don Giovanni. The disguised Don leads them in different directions and then gives Masetto a beating. Zerlina consoles Masetto.
Leporello, still disguised as Don Giovanni, tries vainly to escape Donna Elvira in the darkness. Don Ottavio and Donna Anna enter, soon joined by Masetto and Zerlina. Leporello, realising the danger, discards his disguise, apologises and manages to escape.
Don Giovanni finds himself in a cemetery, at the foot of the Commendatore’s monument. He is joined by Leporello. Don Giovanni is warned by the statue of his approaching doom. He forces the terrified Leporello to invite the statue to supper. The stone figure nods its head in acceptance.
Don Giovanni dines, waited on by Leporello while a band of musicians plays music from popular operas. Donna Elvira makes a last attempt to induce him to repent. He ridicules her until she leaves. There is a loud knock at the door. It is the statue of the Commendatore, who has arrived for dinner. Don Giovanni accepts the Commendatore’s return invitation and as a pledge grasps the extended hand of the statue. The grip is ice-cold, but even as his limbs begin to freeze, Don Giovanni refuses to repent. He is hurled down into the flames of hell. Leporello informs the other characters of what has taken place and the others begin to resume their former safer, but less exciting lives.
Scene i A room in Pasquale's House
The old bachelor Don Pasquale wants to marry in order to punish his rebellious nephew, Ernesto, by providing himself with an heir and cutting the young man off from inheritance. Dr Malatesta, calling on Don Pasquale, suggests as a bride his own beautiful sister, Sophronia whom he compares to an angel. Delighted, Pasquale tells him to arrange a meeting at once and pushes Malatesta from the room; even now the old man feels his youth returning. When Ernesto comes in, he again refuses to marry a woman of his Uncle's choice, saying he loves the widow Norina. To punish his insubordination the old man tells Ernesto he must find new lodgings. Pasquale then announces his own marriage plans to his astonished nephew. With no inheritance in the offing, Ernesto sees his dreams evaporating. To add insult to injury, he learns that none other than his friend Malatesta has arranged the marriage of Pasquale, who gloats over Ernesto' s discouragement.
Scene ii Norina's lodgings
Norina reads a romance, laughing at the feminine wiles it describes and taking stock of her own caprices. Suddenly depressed by a farewell note from Ernesto, she is cheered by the arrival of Malatesta, who is plotting on the lovers' behalf. He suggests she impersonate his sister, Sophronia, marry Pasquale in a mock ceremony and drive him to such desperation that he will be at their mercy. Norina declares her willingness to play her role as a convent-bred country girl and goes about rehearsing appropriate gestures under Malatesta's supervision.
Scene i Ernesto’s Room
Ernesto, faced with the loss of home and bride, resolves to nurse his sorrow in a distant land.
Scene ii A room in Pasquale’s House
Pasquale struts up and down, pluming himself on being in such good condition for a man of his years. Pasquale is enchanted when Malatesta introduces the timid ‘Sophronia’ (Norina) and resolves to marry her at once. At the wedding ceremony that follows, Ernesto bursts in and is amazed to discover Norina on the point of marrying Pasquale, but Malatesta manages to apprise him of the situation and Ernesto acts as witness to the contract. No sooner has the Notary pronounced the marriage legal and Pasquale bequeathed his fortune to his bride than Norina turns from demure ingenue to extravagant hussy. While Pasquale protests, Norina, Malatesta and the now convinced Ernesto delight in their success.
Scene i A room in Pasquale’s House
In the now redecorated living room, Pasquale is confronted by the stack of bills his new ‘wife’ has amassed. When the servants arrive laden with more purchases, the old man resolves to put a stop to her extravagance. Elegantly dressed, Norina sweeps through the room on her way to the theatre. When Pasquale attempts to detain her she provokes him into calling her a coquette, then slaps his face – though by now she is beginning to feel truly sorry for him. As she leaves, airily saying she will return in time to wake him in the morning, she drops a letter from an unknown suitor appointing a rendezvous in the garden that night. The desperate Pasquale sends for Malatesta, then leaves the servants to comment on the advantages of working in a household fraught with such confusion. Later, Ernesto promises Malatesta to be in the garden that evening. Alone with Pasquale, Malatesta assures the old man they will trap ‘Sophronia’ in a compromising situation. The pleasure of anticipation is enough to bring Pasquale back to a happy mood.
Scene ii The Garden of Pasquale’s House
Ernesto serenades Norina, who responds rapturously. Their idyll is interrupted by Pasquale and Malatesta – but Ernesto slips away and Norina denies everything. Malatesta now announces that Ernesto is about to introduce his own bride, Norina, into the house. Norina, still playing her part, huffily exclaims she will never share the house with another woman. She threatens to leave, at which Pasquale cannot contain his joy. Ernesto appears, and over ‘Sophronia’s’ mock protests Pasquale grants permission for Ernesto to marry Norina and restores his inheritance. Dumbfounded to discover that Norina and Sophronia are one and the same, Pasquale gives the couple his blessing and joins in observing the moral - ‘A man who marries in old age is a little weak in the head. He is going out of his way to find trouble aplenty.’
It is Christmas Eve. Rodolfo, a poet, and Marcello, a painter, are freezing in their studio. Marcello is painting The Crossing of the Red Sea. Colline, a philosopher, arrives as the fire Rodolfo has lit with one of his manuscripts, flickers and dies. Schaunard brings reinforcements – food, wine and fuel for the fire, bought with unexpected money from his earnings as a musician.
A knock at the door and Benoit, the landlord, arrives demanding the rent. The four Bohemians ply him with wine and then bundle him off. Marcello, Colline and Schaunard go off to join the celebrations at the Café Momus. Promising to join them soon, Rodolfo settles down to finish an article he is writing.
There is another knock. This time it is a neighbour, Mimì – a beautiful young seamstress, holding her key and an unlit candle. She begs a light and Rodolfo obliges. Mimì departs and drops her key. Together they search for the key, and their hands touch. They tell each other about themselves and Rodolfo passionately declares his love. The new lovers then set off into the night to join the others.
The square in which the Café Momus is situated is the Bohemians’ favourite haunt, bustling with shoppers and hawkers. Rodolfo buys his new love a bonnet.
At the café, Marcello’s old flame, Musetta, appears with a new admirer, Alcindoro. To attract Marcello’s attention, Musetta bursts into her famous waltz song. Marcello responds and Musetta, pretending that her shoe is pinching, dispatches Alcindoro to a cobbler. She joins in the revelry with Marcello and his friends. When they depart they leave a reminder for the hapless Alcindoro on his return – a huge bill!
It is daybreak just inside a tollgate. Snow lies on the ground. Mimì emerges from the throng of workers. She is looking for Marcello at a nearby inn where he and Musetta have been living for the past month. Pale and agitated, she tells him of Rodolfo’s jealousy which has made their life together impossible.
Mimì hides as Rodolfo suddenly appears. He declares her to be unfaithful, but then confides to Marcello that Mimì is very ill and blames himself and his poverty for not being able to help her. Mimì’s sudden coughing betrays her presence and the lovers sadly decide it is best that they part.
Their parting duet is interrupted by the sounds of a fierce quarrel between Marcello and Musetta. Mimì and Rodolfo decide to stay together until spring returns.
The studio, months later. Both pairs of lovers have now parted. Mimì and Musetta have found wealthy admirers. Rodolfo and Marcello feign indifference, but neither can forget the memory of his love. Schaunard and Colline arrive with meagre food and the four sit down to a mock ‘banquet’.
While they are acting the fool, Musetta rushes in with news that Mimì is desperately ill and has asked to be brought back to Rodolfo to die. Musetta explains that the Viscount has discarded Mimì and she has been living on the streets for weeks sinking further into poverty and desperation. The Bohemians rally to the cause. Musetta pawns her earrings and Colline his beloved coat to buy medicine for Mimì.
Alone for a short time, Mimì and Rodolfo recall the past, reliving their short spell of happiness and their dreams together. Mimì, seized by a coughing fit, falls back, exhausted. When the others return, she weakly thanks them for their kindness and falls asleep.
It is Schaunard who first notices that Mimì is dead. Rodolfo is the last to realise, by seeing the truth on his friends’ faces.
Violetta has been to a sanatorium to treat her tuberculosis. On her return to health she throws a party to mark her re-emergence in the demi-monde under the protection of Baron Duphol. Her guests have just completed a long lunch and the Baron is reading the last pages of a novel by Dumas to Violetta as Flora, a rival courtesan, enters with her protector the Marquis.
Alfredo is introduced to Violetta by the decadent Gaston. Alfredo has begged Gaston to introduce him to Violetta. He has long been enthralled by her and has enquired after Violetta every day of her illness.
Violetta insists that everyone sits together and drinks a toast to the occasion. Alfredo is prevailed upon to sing a drinking song from Provence.
As the guests leave to dance in the ballroom, Violetta feels faint and is momentarily left alone. Alfredo re-enters and confesses his love for her. She asks him to return the following day.
After her guests leave and she is alone Violetta begins to consider the conflicting feelings of love and hedonism that are pulling her in opposite directions.
Violetta and Alfredo have been living together for three months in a house in the country. When Alfredo discovers that Violetta is selling her belongings to pay for their expenses he is conscience-stricken and leaves to visit his father, to raise some money. His father however has decided to call on Violetta to persuade her to give up Alfredo. Alfredo’s sister hopes to be married soon, and his relationship with Violetta jeopardises the family’s honour. Violetta realises that as a ‘fallen woman’ she would destroy Alfredo’s family and consents to leave him. She decides to leave instantly and writes a message to Alfredo, breaking off their affair. When Alfredo receives the message he is distraught and, despite his father’s attempts to console him, rushes off to wreak revenge on Violetta.
A party is being held in Flora’s house. Alfredo enters to join the gambling party. When Violetta enters on the arm of the Baron she freezes with tension. Alfredo begins to insult the Baron and the two rivals meet over cards, and Alfredo, unlucky in love, cannot lose a hand. The game is interrupted by dinner.
Violetta begs Alfredo to leave before Duphol seeks revenge. Alfredo insists she comes with him and, in desperation, she says she loves the Baron. Alfredo publicly humiliates Violetta and throws money at her as payment for her services. Alfredo’s father reproves him for such behaviour.
It is early morning and Violetta is sleeping. The doctor has given her only a few hours to live. Violetta rereads a letter from Alfredo’s father, telling her that the Baron was wounded in the duel with Alfredo and that Alfredo may have left the country.
But Alfredo has been told by his father of Violetta’s sacrifice and he returns — only to be confronted by the dying Violetta. He humours her by telling her that they should plan a new life away from Paris. Alfredo’s father has followed him and enters, followed by the doctor. Violetta suddenly feels revived, ready to start a new life with Alfredo — but this is only the symptoms of the last moments of her disease and she falls dead.
The prelude to the opera opens with the statement of the most frequently recurring motif, that associated with the goddess Dourga, one of the chief deities of the Brahmins. This at once establishes the dominant part played by the power of religion in the unfolding of the drama. The story is set in India in the mid-19th century when the British were imposing a suppressive rule over the many religious sects which exerted a powerful hold over their followers; a situation which resulted in many fanatical acts of hatred and violence. Nilakantha, the leader of one of these forbidden sects, is secretly bringing up his beautiful daughter Lakmé as a priestess, to be worshipped as divine by his followers. He believes that her purity and innocence keep the anger of Brahma at bay. He keeps her isolated in a half-ruined temple in the forest, surrounded with a bamboo stockade, declaring the temple and garden to be sacred ground. Here Lakmé lives with her companion, Mallika, and the devoted servant, Hadji.
It is early morning and Hadji and Mallika admit the little group of faithful who come secretly each day to worship at the temple. Nilakantha tells them of the need to be revenged of their persecutors and that the power of Brahma reaches them through the prayers of Lakmé. Lakmé appears in the adornment of the deity. He reminds Lakmé that it is her innocence which protects them and, ordering Hadji and Mallika to keep watch over her, he leaves to meet his followers in the nearby town to prepare for the next day’s religious festival.
As soon as he has gone, Lakmé removes her ritual jewellery and becomes a young girl rejoicing in the beauties of nature. Mallika suggests that they gather blue lotus flowers, sacred to the god Ganesha, and, stepping into a boat, they drift slowly away, their voices floating back across the water. The empty garden is approached by two young girls, Ellen and Rose, the daughters of the local British Governor. They are accompanied by their governess, Mistress Bentson, and by two British Army officers, Gerald, who is engaged to Ellen, and Frederic, who is older and knows more of the realities of life in India than Gerald, whose romantic imagination is constantly being caught by the exotic beauty and mystery of the country. The girls find a gap in the fence and the whole party enters the garden to explore. Frederic warns of the dangers of such an act of desecration and when Ellen picks a beautiful datura flower, tells her that in India it is poisonous. He tells of the girl goddess who lives there. Her name and the beauty of the place fire Gerald’s imagination. When the girls see Lakmé’s jewels and beg to be allowed to examine them, Mistress Bentson disapproves and orders them all to leave, but Gerald offers to stay behind and make a sketch of them so that Ellen may have them copied for her wedding dress.
When the others have gone he begins to succumb to the mystery of the place and sees in his imagination the girl to whom such jewels might belong. He hears voices across the water, and catching sight of Lakmé cannot bear to leave and hides himself. The girls offer their flowers to the god and Lakmé suggests that they take advantage of the shade and bathe in the river. Suddenly she sees Gerald who has crept, entranced, from his hiding place. Her cries bring Mallika and Hadji running and she sends them away to look for her father. When they are alone she warns Gerald of the great danger he has incurred by committing sacrilege, but excited by her beauty and majesty he refuses to leave. Lakmé is surprised and impressed by his courage and asks what god it is that makes him unafraid. He replies that it is the god of youth, spring and love. Lakmé finds herself responding to his advances, but suddenly hears the sound of her father returning and implores Gerald to escape at once. Nilakantha returns with his followers and vows vengeance on the profaner of his holy ground.
The following day is a festival and the market square of the town is a hubbub of activity, with pedlars from all over the East. Mistress Bentson, having lost sight of her charges in the crowd, is the target for beggars and pickpockets. She is rescued by Rose and Frederic.
Ellen and Gerald join their friends. Ellen has had a premonition of Gerald being in danger. When they are out of earshot, Rose tells Frederic that she has heard news of the regiment leaving the next day to fight the rebels and this may account for Ellen’s uneasiness. Nilakantha enters the square with Lakmé who is disguised as a street singer. He intends to use her as a decoy to persuade the man who broke into his sacred garden to reveal his identity. Placing her in the middle of the square, Nilakantha commands her to sing for the passing crowd, hoping that the man he seeks will be among them. Lakmé sings the 'Bell Song'. It tells of the daughter of the Pariahs, or untouchables, who sees a handsome stranger when walking in the forest and rescues him from danger by playing her magic bells. He reveals himself as Vishnu, son of Brahma, and raises her to a place in the heavens. The song proves to be an ironic comment on the story of Lakmé herself. But the man for whom it is intended is not in the crowd and does not hear it. Furious that there is no response, Nilakantha forces the terrified Lakmé to repeat the song over and over until Gerald, entering the square, sees her and rushes to her aid. At last Nilakantha knows who the man is.
A detachment of British soldiers marches through the street. Frederic drags the reluctant Gerald away with him. It is the opportunity for Nilakantha and his fellow conspirators to plot Gerald’s death. They decide to detach him from the crowd during the procession of the goddess, but Nilakantha alone claims the right to kill him. Lakmé hears this but is powerless to intervene. When the conspirators have vanished into the crowd, Hadji, who alone has understood Lakmé’s distress, reminds her of his lifelong devotion to her and offers his help. Gerald reappears, having given Frederic the slip and pours out his love for Lakmé. Responding to his ardour, she tells him that in the forest close by she has a little hut sheltered by a great tree, there he may live safely and every day she may visit him. She weeps when he replies that his honour and duty make running away impossible.
The procession of the goddess Dourga approaches and an excited crowd fills the square. Lakmé quickly conceals herself in order to watch. To the chants of the crowd the image is carried into the temple. The English ladies, unable to stand any more noise and excitement, decide to leave, escorted by Frederic. But Gerald cannot tear himself away from the chance of one more sight of Lakmé and, as the image emerges from the temple he lingers behind only to find himself trapped by a circle of silent conspirators. In the nick of time, he sees the flash of Nilakantha’s knife, and deflects it so that it wounds instead of killing him. Nilakantha and the conspirators vanish. Lakmé rushes from her hiding place, calling to Hadji to help her carry Gerald into the forest. Now, she believes, he will belong to her forever.
Late in the evening in the hut in the forest Lakmé is watching over the sleeping Gerald. She has bathed and dressed his wound. As she sings a lullaby over him she fears that she will not be able to keep him for long. Gerald, waking, is overwhelmed with gratitude to her for saving him and can think of nothing but staying with her for ever. They are distracted by the sound of voices in the distance. It is lovers descending the hill to the sacred river below, where the act of drinking the water from the same cup seals a holy and unbreakable union. As it is not safe for them to go together, Lakmé takes the cup to go alone and fetch
some of the water so that they may be united for ever. Frederic appears. He has been searching frantically and has followed traces of blood from the town into the forest. He reminds Gerald of his engagement to Ellen and tells him bluntly that they are due to leave in an hour. “I will be there,” Gerald assures him as he sees Lakmé returning.
At once she realises that something has happened to him and his passion is no longer the same. He tries to reassure her, but the sound of soldiers assembling in the distance distracts his attention and Lakmé, realising that he is about to leave her, plucks a datura flower and biting into it swallows the poison that it contains. Gerald promises to stay with her and they drink together the sacred water from the same cup. Nilakantha bursts in and rushes to strike at Gerald but Lakmé interposes and forbids him to touch one who is now sacred to them. Nilakantha is powerless to harm Gerald and watches in horror as Lakmé, her strength failing, bids him a tender farewell. Gerald is overcome with grief as he realises the tragedy that his actions have brought about. Slowly Lakmé sinks to the ground and dies. Nilakantha, in a religious frenzy, worships her image in the heavens. The story of the 'Bell Song' is brought to a conclusion in reality.
The Love of the Nightingale is a myth about men and women, and explores the condition and experience of women in an oppressive patriarchy. Through a crucible of suffering the mythological moment of metamorphosis is achieved, and the play finds its moral resolution in the freedom of uninhibited inquiry.
Against a background of war, two sisters, Procne and Philomele – daughters to king Pandion – “discuss life’s charms and the attractions of men”. Suddenly a dead soldier is brought in, shattering their reverie, and returns them to the contemplation of war. In a political move, King Pandion gives Procne in marriage to his ally, Tereus, liberator of Athens. Tereus takes her to his homeland, Thrace. Soon Procne bears him a child, Itys.
Five years pass. Lonely and friendless in her new home, Procne asks Tereus to fetch Philomele to Thrace. Her companions sense danger and beg her to rethink the request; but they are unable to articulate their fears, and Procne insists. Tereus returns to Athens, where he divulges to King Pandion Procne’s proposal to bring Philomele to Thrace. Pandion considers this as they watch the Tragedy of Phaedra and Hippolytus. During the play, Tereus affronts the Goddess Aphrodite, and is at once struck by her power. He begins to desire Philomele. When the play ends, Tereus takes Philomele and her maidservant Niobe north to Thrace.
On the journey Philomele begins to feel attracted to the ship’s Captain. She presses him with questions about the journey, and the subtext of desire springs up between them. In Thrace, Procne’s companions sense danger ever more keenly. “Your sister is on the sea and Tereus is a young man,” they warn. Procne dismisses their fears. Tereus’ soldiers grumble at the elongated journey to Thrace, and expostulate with him about the delay. He assuages their vexation with an appeal to duty, and though they sense a darker purpose, they submit. When Philomele demands to see Procne, Tereus fabricates a tale of Procne’s death. Grief-stricken and incredulous, Philomele demands to see the body. Tereus claims it was never found.
Some time later Philomele and the captain fall to talking; talk soon turns to desire, and they declare their mutual love. Tereus, in a jealous rage, bursts in and kills the captain – under the pretence of protecting Philomele from his lechery. A vast ensemble ends the act, in which everyone expresses fear and powerlessness in the face of fate.
On a moonlit beach Tereus declares his love for Philomele. He uses the words he heard Aphrodite speak during the play – Aphrodite is exerting her power on him. Philomele retorts that such incest is illegal, and rejects his advances. Frenzied and furious, Tereus rapes her. As the scene fades, Niobe enters, and, rather appositely, recounts her own experiences of being brutalised by the passions and whims of men. Procne awaits Tereus in Thrace. Her companions remain sullen and uncommunicative, dismayed by some unspeakable fate. Procne tries to glean some sympathy from Iris, but suddenly Tereus returns with his soldiers and tells a tale of Philomele’s death on the voyage. Niobe washes and comforts Philomele.
Tereus enters. Philomele begins to berate him, sensing that Procne is still alive: “I can smell her on you. You lied!” She browbeats him in front of his soldiers, and publicly reveals his impotence – he had to cut her hymen with a knife. Desperate to silence her, he incites his soldiers to collusion and cuts out her tongue. Niobe comforts Philomele after her torture. Tereus returns and gives Niobe money to ‘ease Philomele’s pain’. He kisses the brutalised Philomele with the perverse words: “My sweet, my songless, my caged bird.” Procne, Itys and Tereus come together in the palace. Itys plays at being a soldier. Over the years, Procne has come to desire her husband; she offers herself to him, in order to entice him to bed. Tereus violently rejects her advances.
The Bacchae enter and surround Procne. The Dionysiac ritual begins. At once Philomele enters. Demanding attention, she enacts the story of her rape with dolls she has crafted in her solitude. Procne recognises Philomele and, horrified, swears revenge on her behalf. On the palace walls, two soldiers peep in on the Bacchic mysteries unfolding inside the palace. Itys appears and threatens them with punishment or death for spying on forbidden things. The soldiers encourage him to look as well, and he climbs up to peer at the secret proceedings. Seeing a woman dancing with his sword, he rushes off to reclaim it. Bursting into the women’s ritual, Itys demands his sword; but, transported with frenzy and the desire for revenge, the women ritually slaughter him. Tereus enters and Procne unveils Philomele. The women accuse Tereus, and Procne presents him with the mangled body of Itys. Procne and Philomele leave. Beside himself with grief, Tereus runs out to kill them. Aphrodite at last has her revenge for his affront.
In a fantastical metamorphosis, all three are transformed into birds – Philomele into a nightingale, Procne into a swallow and Tereus into a hoopoe. In a postlude, Itys, Philomele and Tereus enter in their new forms. Transformation presages a peaceful future. Itys questions Philomele about her old and new life. She answers as she can; and as answers fail she takes up the thread in a beautiful vocalise, which sings away her pain, and folds its benediction over the whole grisly drama. Her song becomes the song of the nightingale, and, like all great myths, is cast into eternity.
In a feud between the Scottish families of Ravenswood and Lammermoor, Enrico (Lord Henry Ashton of Lammermoor) has gained the upper hand over Edgardo (Edgar of Ravenswood), murdering his kinsmen and usurping his estates. By the time of the opera's action, in the late seventeenth century, Enrico's fortunes are beginning to wane; in political disfavour, he stakes all on uniting his family with that of Arturo (Lord Arthur Bucklaw), whom he means to force his sister, Lucia, to marry.
In the grounds of Ravenswood Castle, Enrico's retainers prepare to search for a mysterious trespasser. Normanno, their leader, remains behind to greet Enrico, who decries the refusal of his sister – Lucia – to marry Arturo. When the girl's tutor, Raimondo, suggests that grief over her mother's recent death keeps her from thoughts of love, Normanno reveals that Lucia has been discovered keeping trysts with a hunter who saved her from a raging bull; he suspects the stranger is none other than Edgardo, neighbour and enemy of Lammermoor. Enrico rages and as the retainers return to confirm Normanno's suspicions, he swears vengeance on the lovers.
At a ruined fountain near Ravenswood Castle, Lucia awaits a rendezvous with Edgardo. She tells her confidant, Alisa, of a maiden's ghost that haunts the fountain. Alisa interprets this as a foretelling. It prompts her to predict a tragic end to Lucia's love for Edgardo. Though Alisa implores her to take care, Lucia cannot restrain her love. On arrival, Edgardo explains that he must go to France on a political mission but wishes to reconcile himself with Enrico so that he and Lucia may marry. Lucia, knowing her brother will not relent, begs Edgardo to keep their love a secret; though infuriated at Enrico's persecution, he agrees. The lovers seal their vows by exchanging rings, then bid each other an impassioned farewell.
In his castle bedchamber, Enrico plots with Normanno to force Lucia to marry Arturo, whose wedding party is on its way. As the gillie goes off to greet the bridegroom, Lucia enters, distraught but defiant, only to be shown a forged letter, supposedly from Edgardo, proving him pledged to another women. Crushed, she longs for death, but Enrico insists on her marrying at once to save the family fortunes, and his own life.
Raimondo then comforts the disconsolate Lucia. Urging her to consent to the wedding, he invokes the memory of Lucia's mother and asks that she respect the desperate family situation. When she yields, he reminds her that there are heavenly rewards for earthly sacrifices.
In the great Hall of Ravenswood, as guests hail the union of two important families, Arturo pledges to restore the Ashton's prestige. Enrico prepares him for Lucia's melancholy by pleading her grief over her mother's recent death. No sooner has she entered and been forced to sign the marriage contract than Edgardo bursts into the hall; returning unexpectedly from France, he has learned of the wedding and comes to claim his bride. In the great sextet which follows, Edgardo asks why he is restraining himself from vengeance; Enrico expresses remorse; Lucia sings of her despair; Raimondo invokes the aid of Heaven; and Alisa and Arturo pray that there will be no bloodshed. Violence is averted only when Raimondo commands the combatants to put up their swords. Seeing Lucia's signature on the contract, Edgardo returns her ring to her, then demands his own. He curses her and storms from the hall. Hardly comprehending his words, Lucia collapses.
In the great hall, the continuing wedding festivities are halted when Raimondo enters to announce that Lucia, gone mad, has stabbed and killed Arturo. Dishevelled and unaware of what she has done, she wanders in, recalling her meetings with Edgardo at the fountain and imagining her wedding to him. When the angry Enrico rushes in, he is silenced by the sight of her pitiful condition. Believing herself in heaven Lucia falls, dying.
Among the tombs of his ancestors, Edgardo, last of the Ravenswoods, laments Lucia's supposed infidelity. Awaiting Enrico, who has accepted his challenge, he anticipates an end to his own life, which is empty and miserable without his beloved. Guests leaving Ravenswood Castle come upon the scene and tell Edgardo that the dying Lucia has called his name. As he is about to rush to her side, a funeral bell is heard and Raimondo arrives to tell of her death. Resolving to join Lucia in heaven Edgardo stabs himself and dies.
Returning from their victory over King Duncan’s enemies, Macbeth and Banquo meet a coven of witches. They greet Macbeth not only as Thane of Glamis (his rightful title), but as Thane of Cawdor and future King of Scotland. Banquo they hail as one who will not be king but will beget kings.
Messengers announce that the king has made Macbeth Thane of Cawdor in recognition of his victory. Macbeth is shaken by the rapid fulfilment of part of the prophecy, and is deeply preoccupied by the promise of the throne. The witches foretell that they will meet Macbeth again very soon.
Lady Macbeth is reading a letter from her husband telling her about his encounter with the witches. She knows that he is ambitious but doubts his will, and so decides that her own intent must strengthen his. News is brought that King Duncan will be staying at the castle that night. Lady Macbeth’s resolve hardens, and she invokes the ministers of evil to help in her task – the murder of Duncan and the elevation of her husband to the throne of Scotland.
When Macbeth appears Lady Macbeth insists that if the prophecy is to be fulfilled Duncan must not leave the castle alive. Duncan arrives. Macbeth is torn between ambition and loyalty, and the phantom of his murderous thoughts haunts him in a vision of a dagger dripping with blood. A bell sounds: the signal that he has arranged with Lady Macbeth, and he enters the King’s chamber.
Macbeth returns and tells Lady Macbeth that the deed is done. He is overcome with remorse, but Lady Macbeth is unmoved and says he must go back and smear the king’s attendants with blood to incriminate them. Overcome with the horror of what he has done, he refuses, and it is Lady Macbeth who ‘gilds the faces of the grooms’ with Duncan’s blood.
At the sound of a loud knocking, Lady Macbeth leads her husband to their own rooms to wash away the traces of their crime. The knocking announces the arrival of Macduff and Banquo, who enter the king’s chamber to wake him. They rouse the castle to horror and lamentation.
Macbeth is sunk in gloom, and Lady Macbeth tries to cheer him by pointing out that the dye is cast: he is king, and Duncan’s son Malcolm has fled to England. But Macbeth cannot forget what the witches foretold – that Banquo and his descendants will rule Scotland for generations. He determines to get rid of these obstacles to his ambition. Left alone, Lady Macbeth revels in the prospect of sovereignty.
Macbeth has hired a band of murderers to kill Banquo and Fleance, his son. While Macbeth is entertaining a large company one of the murderers appears, and Macbeth learns that Banquo is dead and Fleance has escaped. He turns back to see a blood-stained ghost in Banquo’s seat. Only Macbeth can see it, and the guests are disconcerted at his distress. Lady Macbeth tries to rally his spirits and to pacify her guests by assuring them that it is nothing but a passing illness, but the company breaks up in disorder. Meanwhile Macbeth resolves to find the witches and learn what the future holds.
The witches’ incantation summons Macbeth, and a sequence of apparitions foretells his future: the first vision warns him to beware of Macduff; a bloody child says that none born of woman shall harm him; a crowned child tells him that he will not be overcome until Birnam Wood rises against him.
Macbeth is reassured, but still wants to know whether Banquo’s descendants will inherit the throne. Ghostly kings appear, all resembling Banquo. Banquo himself is the last, and in a mirror he shows Macbeth images of many other kings, his remoter descendants. Macbeth faints; when he recovers Lady Macbeth is with him, and together they swear to destroy Macduff and root out Banquo’s line.
Among the refugees from Macbeth’s tyranny is Macduff; his wife and children have been killed at Macbeth’s command, and he vows vengeance. Led by Duncan’s son Malcolm, they march against Macbeth. The exiles join him, and the soldiers cut boughs from Birnam Wood to cover their advance.
Lady Macbeth’s reason has given way under the pressure of remorse at her crime and horror at Macbeth’s mounting tally of violence. Her Lady-in-Waiting and a doctor are on watch as she approaches, open-eyed, carrying a candle, but asleep. She relives the night of Duncan’s murder, trying in vain to wash the blood from her hands.
Macbeth repeats to himself that none born of woman shall harm him, but he is a prey to desperate thoughts, and he reacts with indifference when he hears that Lady Macbeth is dead. Messengers report that Malcolm and his army are approaching, and that Birnam Wood seems to be moving towards the castle. Macbeth arms for the futile fight.
Malcolm and Macduff lead the advance, and Macbeth dies in single combat with Macduff after learning that Macduff was not born of woman but “was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped”. The victorious people celebrate the accession of Malcolm to the Scottish throne and the death of the usurper and tyrant Macbeth.
On a terrace above Nagasaki harbour, US Navy Lieutenant B F Pinkerton inspects the house he has leased from a marriage broker, Goro, who has procured for him a geisha wife known as Madama Butterfly (Cio-Cio-San). To the American Consul, Sharpless, who arrives breathless from climbing the hill, Pinkerton describes his carefree philosophy of a sailor roaming the world in search of pleasure. For the moment, he is enchanted with the fragile Cio-Cio-San and intends to undergo a marriage ceremony with her – a 999-year contract, but subject to monthly renewal. When Sharpless warns that the girl may not take her vows so lightly, the lieutenant brushes aside such scruples, adding that he will one day take a 'real' American wife.
Cio-Cio-San is heard in the distance joyously singing of her wedding day. After she has entered, surrounded by her friends, she tells Pinkerton how, when her family fell on hard times, she had to earn her living as a geisha. Soon her relatives arrive and noisily express their opinions of the marriage. In a quiet moment, Cio-Cio-San shows the bridegroom her little store of possessions, one of which she hides from public view. Goro explains that it is a sheathed knife which the Mikado sent to Butterfly's father, with the 'invitation' to commit hara-kiri – which he obeyed. Butterfly confesses to Pinkerton that she, on the previous evening, secretly went to the Mission and adopted the religion of her new husband.
The wedding ceremony completed, the guests toast the couple. Suddenly Cio-Cio-San's uncle, a priest, bursts upon the scene, cursing the girl for having renounced her ancestors' religion. Pinkerton angrily orders priest and family to leave.
Alone with his bride, he dries her tears in the moonlit garden, where they discover the depths of their love.
Three years later, Cio-Cio-San still waits for her husband's return. Suzuki prays to her gods for aid. The maid shows Cio-Cio-San how little money is left but is told to have faith: one fine day Pinkerton's ship will appear on the horizon.
Sharpless is announced. He has not seen her again since the wedding, and Butterfly receives him with joy. He has come with a letter from Pinkerton asking him tactfully to inform Butterfly of his marriage with an American woman, but his attempts to tell her the contents of the letter are frustrated by her constant questions about Pinkerton. Had Pinkerton not said that he would return 'in the season when the robins are nesting?' In Japan, she remarks, 'the robins have already nested three times, but perhaps in America these birds behave differently?' 'I never studied ornithology', replies Sharpless.
Goro, who has been lurking outside, brings in a suitor for her hand. The girl dismisses the wealthy Prince Yamadori, insisting that her American husband has not deserted her. When they are alone, Sharpless again starts to read her the letter and suggests as tactfully as he can that Pinkerton may never return. Cio-Cio-San proudly shows him her child, insisting that as soon as Pinkerton knows of his son he will surely come back, though if he does not she would rather die than return to her former life. Moved by her devotion and lacking the heart to tell her of the lieutenant's marriage, Sharpless leaves.
Cio-Cio-San, on the point of despair, hears a cannon report; and watches Pinkerton's ship entering the harbour. Delirious with joy, she orders Suzuki to help her strew the house with flower petals. Then, as night falls, Cio-Cio-San, Suzuki and the child begin their vigil, awaiting Pinkerton's arrival.
As dawn breaks, Suzuki insists that Cio-Cio-San rests. Humming a lullaby to her child, she carries him to another room.
Knocking is heard: it is Pinkerton and Sharpless, with Pinkerton's wife, Kate, remaining discreetly outside. They have come, they explain to the startled Suzuki, so early in the morning in the hope of finding her alone and of enlisting her support in persuading Butterfly to accept Kate's offer to adopt the child. Pinkerton, overcome with remorse, bids an anguished farewell to the scene of his former happiness and rushes away.
Meanwhile Suzuki has gone into the garden to speak to Kate and, moved by her sincerity, she promises to convey to her mistress her offer to adopt the child. Butterfly rushes into the room in joyful expectation to find Pinkerton, but is taken aback when she sees only Sharpless and a foreign lady. She takes only a moment to guess the truth. She agrees to give up her child if the father will return for him. Then, she takes forth the dagger with which her father committed suicide, choosing to die with honour rather than live in disgrace. Just as she raises the blade, Suzuki pushes the child into the room. Tearfully she bids him a last farewell. With solemn ritual, she stabs herself as Pinkerton's anxious cries 'Butterfly! Butterfly!' are heard from outside.
A mythical land between the sun and the moon.
Figaro and Susanna are getting ready for their wedding. Susanna warns Figaro that the room the Count has allocated them will make it easier for the Count to approach her. Although the Count has renounced his droit de seigneur (the right of a feudal lord to the virginity of any bride within his domain), he wants to revive it secretly in Susanna's case. The Countess rings for Susanna. Figaro promises to teach the Count a lesson.
Marcellina and Dr Bartolo discuss Marcellina's marriage 'contract' with Figaro (an old IOU in default of which Figaro promised marriage). Bartolo is delighted to take revenge on Figaro by forcing him to marry Marcellina, since it was Figaro who once prevented him from marrying Rosina, now the Countess. Marcellina tells Susanna that the Count's interest in her is common knowledge – she hopes that this will cause Susanna to deny the Count thereby angering him and making him support Marcellina's marital claims on Figaro as revenge against Susanna.
Cherubino tells Susanna how the Count caught him alone with Barbarina, and is now sending him away. He is also upset that he will not see the Countess again. He manages to grab one of the Countess' ribbons, and in exchange gives Susanna a song he has written. The Count interrupts them, and Cherubino hides behind the rubbish trolley. The Count tells Susanna he loves her, but he too is interrupted, this time by Basilio, and ducks behind the trolley forcing Cherubino to hide behind a sheet. Basilio tells Susanna she'd be better off with the Count than with Cherubino, who is also chasing her. The Count comes out of hiding, and tells Basilio to find Cherubino; but the Count himself finds Cherubino under the sheet. Cherubino has heard everything.
Figaro has organised a crowd to sing the Count's praises for renouncing the droit de seigneur. He is trying publicly to force the Count to celebrate an impromptu early wedding. The Count knows of Marcellina's contract, and stalls. Susanna begs the Count to pardon Cherubino, but the Count sends him off to join the army. Figaro wishes him well.
The Countess prays for her husband's love. When Susanna tells her that the Count has tried to seduce her, they scheme with Figaro to expedite the wedding and keep the Count faithful to his wife. Figaro has sent the Count an 'anonymous' note to warn him that the Countess is planning an assignation. This will distract the Count by sending him into a jealous rage. Susanna warns that Marcellina could still prevent the wedding. Figaro suggests they send Cherubino, dressed as a girl, to meet the Count in the garden instead of Susanna. The Countess will then catch him in mid-seduction, and have him at her mercy.
Susanna and the Countess begin to feminise Cherubino, and notice that his commission has no seal. The Countess finds the stolen ribbon, decides to keep it, and sends Susanna for a replacement. Cherubino and the Countess almost kiss.
The Count tries to enter the room, but the door is locked. Cherubino hides in the closet. The Countess opens the door, and the Count confronts her with Figaro's anonymous note arranging an assignation. Cherubino knocks over something in the closet, and the Count suspects that this is the Countess' lover in hiding. The Countess says it is Susanna. When the Countess refuses to unlock the closet door, the Count takes her to fetch tools to force it open. Susanna lets Cherubino out of the closet. He jumps out of the window and runs away.
As the Count re-enteres and prepares to force the door, the Countess admits that the person hiding is not Susanna, but Cherubino. The Count opens the door, but it is Susanna who emerges. The Countess confronts the Count with his unjust suspicions, and he begs forgiveness. She explains that the note from Figaro was sent to test him. The Count prevents Figaro from leading them off to the wedding, and asks him to explain the note. He denies knowing anything about it, but the Countess and Susanna tell him they have explained everything. The Count wishes Marcellina would hurry up and put a stop to the wedding. Antonio says he saw a man jump out of the Countess's window. Figaro says that he was the one who jumped, and that he has twisted his ankle. Antonio has found Cherubino's commission, and the women prompt Figaro to explain that it needed the Count's seal. Marcellina demands that Figaro marries her in repayment of the loan. The Count promises to give his judgement.
The Count is confused by the events of the day, and begins to doubt the Countess' fidelity. He vows that Figaro will marry Marcellina. The Countess persuades Susanna to convince the Count of her secret desire for him, and to arrange to meet him in the garden, where the Countess herself, dressed as Susanna, will consummate the plan. Fooled by Susanna, the Count overhears her tell Figaro that he is now sure of winning his case against Marcellina. The Count rages at the thought that Figaro will get what he wants, while he himself must go without.
Barbarina and Cherubino plan to join the other girls in bringing flowers to the Countess, with Cherubino disguised as a girl. The Countess grieves over her humiliation at having to beg for a servant's favour to save her marriage. She remembers how Almaviva used to love her, and hopes to regain his love.
Don Curzio announces the Count's decision: Figaro must marry Marcellina or pay her. Figaro says that he cannot marry without his parents' consent, and that he does not know who they are. Suddenly Marcellina recognises him as her own son Raffaelo, kidnapped in childhood and reveals Bartolo to be his father. Susanna catches Figaro embracing Marcellina, but soon learns the good news. The two couples will celebrate a double wedding.
Antonio tells the Count that Cherubino is still around the castle, now dressed as a girl.
The Countess dictates a note for Susanna to send the Count. Susanna seals the note with a pin. The girls present their flowers. Antonio and the Count catch Cherubino, and are about to punish him when Barbarina interrupts them. During the wedding, Susanna slips the note to the Count, who pricks his finger on the pin.
Figaro finds Barbarina searching for the pin the Count has given her to take back to Susanna. He suspects that they are planning a rendezvous. Figaro tells Marcellina that he is ruined: Susanna is unfaithful. Marcellina tells him to be patient, and plans to warn Susanna.
In the garden, Barbarina has arranged to meet Cherubino in secret. Figaro brings Bartolo, Antonio and Basilio to witness Susanna's seduction by the Count. Figaro gives a warning not to trust women. Susanna and the Countess dress as one another. The Count courts the Countess, thinking she is Susanna, and leads her towards the arbour. Figaro interrupts them, and they separate and hide. Figaro pretends to court the Countess – actually the disguised Susanna, who slaps him for doubting her and tricking her. To enrage the Count, Figaro makes love to Susanna's 'Countess'. The shocked Count accuses them of treachery, and calls everybody together. They all beg the Count to forgive the woman he thinks is his wife, but he refuses until the Countess herself appears. It is now the Count's turn to beg for forgiveness.
Courtiers, deputies and officials await the King in the audience chamber, among them a group of conspirators headed by Count Ribbing and Count Horn. King Gustav enters, greets the assembly, accepts their petitions and promises justice for all. His page, Oscar, hands him the list of invitations for the forthcoming masked ball. The King, seeing among them the name of Amelia, the wife of his friend and secretary, Ankarström, falls into a reverie as, despite himself, he loves her.
As the court leaves, the page admits Ankarström, who remarks on the King’s moody and distracted air. The King says the reason is a secret one and Ankarström, to the King’s horror, replies that he knows it. Ankarström goes on to say that the secret he has discovered is a plot against his life. Gustav is relieved and treats the information most casually, refusing to let Ankarström tell him the names of the conspirators, lest he should have to punish them.
Oscar announces the Chief Justice, who asks the King to sign a paper banishing a fortune-teller, Ulrica Arfvidsson, who has been accused of witchcraft. When the King asks Oscar’s opinion, the page defends Ulrica, while the Judge insists that Ulrica’s hut is a den of criminal intrigue.
Deciding to see for himself the King summons the Court and lightheartedly asks them to join him, all suitably disguised, in a visit to the fortune-teller. Ankarström tries in vain to dissuade the King from what he considers a dangerous enterprise and the conspirators see a possible opportunity to carry out their plans.
In Ulrica’s hut a group of townsfolk is listening as she invokes the spirit which enables her to tell the future. The King, disguised as a fisherman, arrives and overhears Ulrica telling a sailor named Christian that wealth and rank will soon be his. The King quickly slips money and a commission into his pocket and everyone marvels at the rapid fulfilment of the prophecy.
Amelia’s servant approaches, requesting a private consultation for his mistress. Ulrica sends everybody away, but the King manages to hide and overhears Amelia confessing to a secret love for which she seeks a cure. Ulrica recommends the juice of a herb that grows beneath the gallows but it will only be effective if picked by Amelia herself. Amelia resolves to do so that night at the place of execution outside the city. The King resolves that he will be there too.
Amelia departs and the King joins the rest of the court. Still incognito, the King sings a canzone expressing courageous defiance of death and fate. He asks Ulrica to tell his fortune and, examining his hand, she refuses to say more and, when he insists, she reluctantly foretells his imminent death. The King laughs at her prophecy and asks who the assassin will be, to which she replies that he will die by the next hand he shakes. The King cheerfully offers his hand to all, but none will touch it.
At that moment Ankarström enters and takes the King’s hand. The King jovially declares Ulrica a fraud. Ankarström is his best friend; Ulrica’s powers had not even revealed to her his identity or the fact that her banishment was being discussed that very morning. The King pardons her, but she warns him once more against treachery.
Amelia comes to the place of execution in order to gather the herb. It is midnight and, terrified by the gruesome associations of the gallows, she thinks she sees a head rise from the ground and fix her with an angry stare. She prays to God for help, when the King appears and, declaring his love for her, begs her to admit that she loves him. The unhappy, conscience‑stricken Amelia confesses that she returns his love. They are interrupted by the arrival of Ankarström who has followed the King to warn him that the conspirators are lurking with the intent to kill him. Amelia, at her husband’s approach, has veiled herself. Ankarström implores the King to escape, giving him his cloak to disguise himself and showing him a path that will be safe. The King is finally persuaded to go, but before he leaves he makes Ankarström promise to escort the veiled lady back to the gates of the city without speaking to her, or trying to discover her identity.
The conspirators arrive and in their disappointment at finding Ankarström instead of the King, insist on discovering who the veiled lady might be. Ankarström, drawing his sword, threatens to kill any who touches her. To save her husband’s life, Amelia steps between them, letting her veil fall. Ankarström is thunderstruck to see Amelia, whilst the conspirators are much amused at this midnight rendezvous of husband and wife. Ankarström asks Horn and Ribbing to call at his house in the morning, which, though mystified, they consent to do. The conspirators saunter off, still laughing, and Ankarström reminds Amelia that he has sworn to escort her back to the town.
In the study of Ankarström’s house
Ankarström enters with Amelia and cries that her infidelity can only be punished with death. Amelia protests her innocence, but Ankarström is adamant. Amelia asks to be allowed to see her son once more before she dies. Granting her wish, Ankarström turns to the King’s portrait and accuses his former friend of having completely destroyed his life and his love for his wife.
When Horn and Ribbing arrive, Ankarström tells them that he knows of their conspiracy but bids them to have no fear, since he now wishes to join it, overcoming their incredulity at such a sudden change by the offer of his son as a hostage. Since each of the three wishes to have the honour of killing the King, they decide to draw lots.
When Amelia enters to say that Oscar has arrived with a message from the King, she is forced to draw the name from the urn. The trembling Amelia obeys and draws the name of her husband. From his joyful shout of vengeance, she realises he plans to kill the King.
Oscar is called in and announces that the King has invited Ankarström and Amelia that evening to a masked ball. While the men hail this opportunity to execute their plans, Amelia despairingly wonders how she can warn the King.
Convinced that honour and duty demand his separation from Amelia, the King signs a document appointing Ankarström Governor of Finland. Oscar enters with an anonymous note delivered by an unknown lady, warning him that there will be an attempt on his life, but unwilling to be a coward, he decides to pay no attention.
In the ballroom the three conspirators wander through the throng of masked guests, unable to discover the identity of the King or even to be certain that he is present. Oscar, recognising Ankarström, mischievously approaches him. In retaliation Ankarström pulls off Oscar’s mask and reproaches the page for enjoying the ball while the king is asleep. Oscar answers that the King is at the ball but refuses to tell Ankarström what he is wearing. By insisting that he has important affairs of State to impart to the King, Ankarström finally persuades Oscar to tell him the King’s disguise.
During the dancing Amelia approaches the King and, at first unrecognised, urges him to leave the ball at once, but he refuses. When he guesses her identity he tells her that he has arranged for herself and Ankarström to leave for Finland the next day. As they are taking their last farewell, Ankarström, seizing his opportunity, fatally wounds the King.
The dying King, swearing to Ankarström that his wife is innocent, pardons all the conspirators and bids farewell to his country.
Panic reigns in Pontevedro.
A large proportion of the country’s capital has found its way into the hands of the court banker, Stefan Glawari. He has been so foolish as first to marry a beautiful but penniless young woman, Hanna, and second to die seven days later, leaving her in sole possession of his enormous fortune.
The Archduke warns his Ambassador in Paris, Baron Mirko Zeta, that Hanna is on her way to town, ready for new conquests.
Zeta and his staff must somehow prevent her from marrying a foreigner, or their native land will be bankrupt. She must be persuaded to marry a Pontevedrian and the most suitable candidate would be Danilo, Zeta’s nephew. Unfortunately, Hanna and Danilo have had a previous entanglement but he was forbidden to marry a girl with no money. Wounded by her speedy marriage to Glawari, Danilo has taken to drink and women in an attempt to forget her.
To add to the complications, Zeta’s French wife Valencienne, an ex-chorus girl, is caught up in a flirtation with a charming young Parisian, Camille de Rosillon. Can these matters be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction? Can Hanna find true love with someone who values her for herself and not just her millions? Let us find out...
The setting is Salinas, California, 1936
- A clearing in the woods. Night.
It is night. Lennie and George, two farm workers, are fleeing a posse. George upbraids Lennie – a huge and simple man – for getting them into trouble yet again. Lennie protests that he only meant to stroke a girl’s dress, not upset or hurt her.
George then discovers that Lennie has a dead mouse in his pocket. He likes to have soft things he can stroke and pet. He is upset when George throws the mouse away. They light a fire and prepare some food. Lennie pleads with George to recount their dream once again. George hesitates, having told the story to Lennie so many times, but then relents and describes the house and farm that they hope to own someday.
- A bunkhouse. The next day. Early evening.
Curley, the boss, is pacing around furious that George and Lennie have not yet arrived. His wife enters - a pretty and flirtatious young woman. She complains of being bored and neglected. Curley ignores her and orders her to leave the bunkhouse and not return to it. Lennie and George arrive and are shown their bunks by Candy, an ex-farmhand who has lost his arm in an accident. The ranch hands return from supper and are introduced to the new farm hands. Slim, the ranch foreman, announces that his dog has a litter of puppies and that anyone who wants one has only to say so. Lennie is keen to have one of the pups. Curley’s wife reappears, ostensibly looking for her husband. She flirts with the ranch hands, paying particular attention to Slim, who finally persuades her to leave. Once she has gone, the ranch hands make jokes about her and Curley. Carlson, one of the ranch hands, begins harassing Candy about his old dog, saying it should be put out of its misery. The men in the bunkhouse fall silent, waiting for the shot. A farm hand enters singing a ballad, “Movin’ On”. When the shot comes, he asks Slim for an explanation, and is told about Candy’s dog.
- The Bunkhouse. A few days later. Late afternoon.
Most of the farm hands are at the back of the bunkhouse playing horseshoes. Slim enters and notices that George is reading “For Sale” ads and comments that all the ranch hands have a dream of one day owning their own place, but that it is something that will never happen. Angrily, George tells him that for him and Lennie it is going to happen. He’s found a place for sale. Lennie enters carrying his new puppy and listens, enraptured, as George reads him the details of a small farm. Candy overhears their conversation and asks to join them in the purchase. George is hesitant at first but then realises that with Candy’s savings and their own wages for a month the farm purchase is achievable.
George, Lennie and Candy dance around the bunkhouse for joy, but are interrupted by the arrival of Curley’s wife. She refuses to leave. Curley arrives and discovers her in an argument with George. He and George are on the point of a fight when his attention is distracted to Lennie. He turns on Lennie and attacks him viciously. Lennie doesn’t defend himself from the punishment until urged to do so by George. He then grabs Curley’s hand in a fierce grip. When Curley is finally freed by George and Slim, he falls to the floor, the bones in his hand broken. Slim forces him to agree not to fire Lennie and George, in return for which no one will tell the story of his humiliation in front of the farm hands and his wife.
- The Barn. A few days later. Afternoon
Lennie, disconsolate, is sitting on an upper level nursing the puppy he has inadvertently managed to kill. He is hiding it as Curley’s wife enters, carrying a suitcase and obviously intent on leaving the ranch. Lennie comes down from the loft and begins to confide to her the dream he and George have of owning their own farm. As he does this, she confides her dream of going to Hollywood and becoming a movie star.
Lennie tells her how he likes to stroke soft things and she invites him to feel her hair. He hesitates at first, but then does so. He enjoys the softness, the texture, and fails to let go, despite her mounting panic and pleading. She begins to scream. Lennie, frightened of being discovered with her (he has been warned to have nothing to do with her) tries to smother her yells. Shaking her in anger as he pleads for silence, he accidentally breaks her neck.
At first Lennie thinks she has simply become quiet, as he requested. With mounting horror he then realises that she is dead. He rushes from the barn convinced that George will find him.
Candy enters, looking for George. He discovers Curley’s wife’s body. He calls for George, who enters with Slim. George is deeply shocked, realising almost immediately what has happened. Slim tells him he must find Lennie before Curley and the other ranch hands get to him.
George leaves the barn. Candy furiously curses the dead body of Curley’s wife for having destroyed their dream.
- A clearing in the woods. Dusk.
Lennie enters, shivering with dread, anxious that George find him.
George enters, not far in advance of Curley’s posse, which can occasionally be heard in the distance. Lennie also hears the men and clutches George, terrified of what will happen to him. George tells Lennie of their dream of owning their own farm. He says that Lennie will be able to see it, across the river, if he looks hard enough. At first Lennie fails to see it, but then leaps to his feet, exultantly, saying “I see it, George, I see it, over there! It’s our home, George, our home!” George shoots him. Curley, Slim, Carlson and some of the ranch hands enter to see him sitting by the body of his friend. Without a word, they leave.
As the curtain rises, Japanese nobles are discovered and proceed to introduce themselves. Events are interrupted by the arrival of a threadbare minstrel, Nanki-Poo, searching for his beloved Yum-Yum, who is the ward of Ko-Ko. Nanki-Poo tells the gathering that he fell in love with Yum-Yum whilst a member of the Titipu town band. She, however, was already betrothed to Ko-Ko, who has since been condemned to death for flirting – the only crime punishable by death in Titipu.
The Mikado's decree punishing flirting by death has caused dismay in the town, until the nobles hit upon the happy solution of appointing Ko-Ko (a cheap tailor) to the post of Lord High Executioner on the assumption that he could not execute anyone until he had cut off his own head. However, the elevation of a tailor to the highest post in the land caused all the other officers of state to resign in protest, a situation only resolved by Poo-Bah's accepting all their positions at once.
Ko-Ko arrives and, having recounted the story of his rise, finalises arrangements for his wedding to Yum-Yum, supposedly for that very afternoon – just as Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing, Peep-Bo and their schoolfellows arrive.
The reunion of Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo is interrupted by the arrival of Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush bringing news of an imminent visit from the Mikado, who is concerned at the lack of executions in the town. Nanki-Poo passes by preparing to hang himself rather than see Yum-Yum marry Ko-Ko. Seeing a ready made substitute at hand, Ko-Ko strikes a bargain – Nanki-Poo shall marry Yum-Yum for one month (thus satisfying Nanki-Poo) at which time he shall be publicly executed (thus satisfying the Mikado) and Ko-Ko can then marry the widow (thus satisfying Ko-Ko). General rejoicing at such a happy solution is rudely interrupted by the arrival of Katisha, who was betrothed to Nanki-Poo before his abrupt departure from the court. Her attempts to reveal that Nanki-Poo is in fact the son of the Mikado are drowned out by the shouts of the others and, in a fury, she storms off.
Yum-Yum, surrounded by her friends, is preparing for her wedding. The only blight on her happiness is the prospect of losing her new husband within one month. Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko arrive. Ko-Ko tells the about-to-be-newly-weds that he has just learned of a law which decrees that when a man is beheaded his wife must be buried alive. The only solution seems to be to cancel the marriage. Nanki-Poo declares that he will commit suicide immediately which in no way solves Ko-Ko's problems.
With the help of Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko arranges to send the young couple off to be married, while Pooh-Bah draws up a document declaring that the execution has taken place. The arrival of the Mikado and Katisha is announced.
On receiving Pooh-Bah's certificate, the Mikado is pleased. He begins to express his concern at the disappearance of his son when a shriek from Katisha reveals that Nanki-Poo has been the victim. While wholly agreeing that Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing have only been doing their duty, the Mikado regrets that their punishment must fit their crime and schedules their execution to follow lunch. Since Nanki-Poo remains deaf to Ko-Ko's pleas to return from the dead, the only option is for Ko-Ko to woo and win Katisha (which he proceeds to do with great reluctance) and to have her intercede with the Mikado.
The return of Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, now wed, necessitates a complicated series of explanations, particularly to the outraged Katisha, but all ends happily.
Partenope has three suitors: Arsace, Armindo and Emilio. Rosmira enters, disguised as a man, and introduces herself as 'Eurimene'. Despite the disguise, Arsace recognises her as his former betrothed.
Armindo confides in Eurimene that he loves Partenope. Partenope, however, is in love with Arsace. Rosmira scolds Arsace for abandoning her. He begs her forgiveness and she insists that he must not reveal her true identity. Armindo admits to Partenope that he loves her. When Eurimene interrupts Partenope and Arsace, 'he' declares himself to be yet another of Partenope's suitors. Partenope continues to assert her devotion to Arsace.
Emilio offers Partenope marriage; when she refuses, he threatens her. She asks Arsace to lead her forces against Emilio, and this provokes jealousy among the other suitors. Armindo is perturbed by Eurimene's feelings for Partenope, but Eurimene reassures him that his affections lie elsewhere.
Partenope's and Emilio's forces engage, and Emilio is captured by Arsace. Eurimene claims all credit for Emilio's capture and Arsace says nothing to the contrary. When Emilio contradicts Eurimene's assertion, Eurimene challenges Arsace to a duel to prove his honour. Arsace attempts to pacify Eurimene, whose feelings are torn between love and rage.
Armindo declares his love for Partenope; she, however, continues to want only Arsace. Alone together, Rosmira and Arsace struggle with conflicting emotions.
Eurimene tells Partenope that he challenged Arsace not for himself but on behalf of a woman, Rosmira, whom Arsace had promised to marry and then abandoned. When Arsace admits the allegation is true, Partenope rejects him and gives hope to Armindo.
Emilio offers Arsace his support in the forthcoming duel. Arsace asks for Rosmira's forgiveness. When Partenope discovers them together, Rosmira manages to conceal her true identity. Both women scorn Arsace, who rails at the tyranny of love. The contestants are given their weapons for the duel. When Arsace suddenly demands that he and Eurimene must fight bare-chested, Eurimene is placed in a dilemma and chooses to reveal 'his' true identity. The lovers change partners. Partenope takes Armindo and Rosmira and Arsace are reunited.
Some hundred years ago Zurga, former governor of a French colony in India, returns home from a performance at the Paris Opera. The story of the opera he has just seen brings back memories of his youth in Ceylon and his close relationship with Nadir, a young Indian with whom he shared many adventures. Nadir fell in love with a beautiful young priestess called Léïla, but realising that this would ruin his friendship with Zurga, vowed to renounce her. After promising each other eternal loyalty Nadir and Zurga separated.
After some time the two friends reunite in a small village on the coast. The pearlfishers are about to set out to sea and, according to an ancient tradition, they choose a leader who is given absolute power while the expedition lasts. Their choice is the highly respected Zurga.
To ward off the evil spirits a religious ceremony is performed. Nourabad, the High Priest of Brahma, presents an unknown woman from afar, a virgin priestess who shall sing and pray day and night to protect the divers. She must swear an oath of obedience and chastity. Should she break the oath the punishment is death. Nadir recognises the voice of the veiled priestess – it is Léïla whom he has continued to love since they first met. Just as Léïla is stating her vow she discovers Nadir in the crowd.
Late at night when the fishermen have returned safely, Léïla confides to Nourabad that long ago she saved a man's life and was given a precious necklace in return. After Nourabad has left, Léïla is troubled – fearing and hoping at the same time that her former admirer might come to her in the sacred temple. Her premonition proves to be right and after trying to reject Nadir's love she finally admits her feelings for him.
When the lovers are about to part, Nadir is caught by the guards. Nourabad and the raging crowd demand their death.
Zurga intervenes wanting to save Nadir, but when he realises the priestess is Léïla, his jealousy and Nadir's deceit make him demand the severest punishment.
Zurga is tortured by his friend's betrayal and the fact that only he could save Nadir's life. Léïla appears to beg for Nadir's life claiming his innocence but when Zurga is reminded that the two are lovers his jealousy seals their fate. As Léïla leaves she asks that her necklace be given to her mother. Seeing the necklace Zurga understands that Léïla is the girl, who as a child, saved his life. In order to divert the villagers he sets fire to their camp thus making it possible for the lovers to escape.
Zurga remains a lonely, bitter man, never forgetting his love for Nadir.
- Ann-Margret Pettersson, Director
The Palace of Herod, Tetrarch of Judea. A terrace outside the Banquet Hall.
A noisy banquet is in progress.
Weighed down by superstition, fear and responsibility, King Herod has invited representatives from all the religions of the world to confer on whether John The Baptist, whom he has imprisoned in a dark pit, is indeed a prophet – and has seen the face of God. If it is not so, Herod can happily kill the prisoner...but he fears retribution from both God and the followers of The Baptist, if he harms a genuinely 'holy' man.
Narraboth, Captain of the Guard, waits outside hoping for a glance of the Princess Salome, with whom he is obsessively in love. A slave girl tries to warn him of the danger he is placing himself in.
Suddenly, the voice of John The Baptist (Jokanaan) is heard from the prison below proclaiming the imminent arrival of the true Messiah. The guards discuss whether he is, indeed, a prophet and a 'holy' man, but Herod has forbidden anyone to speak with the prisoner, and they do not understand what he is saying.
Salome escapes the argumentative guests and the inappropriate gazes of her stepfather, by coming out onto the terrace for fresh air. She is both frightened and fascinated by the sound of the voice in the pit below, especially as Jokanaan condemns her licentious, incestuous mother, Herodias.
After the soldiers refuse to disobey Herod for fear of their lives, Salome seduces Narraboth into opening the pit. Despite his knowledge of the dreadful consequences of his actions, Narraboth succumbs.
As Jokanaan emerges, condemning both Herod and Herodias, Salome becomes more and more enamoured of this truth speaker. She wants to touch his pale body, caress his black hair and finally she desires to kiss his mouth. But Jokanaan rebukes her, telling her to seek out Christ in nearby Galilee, and beg for redemption.
Narraboth, watching helplessly as Salome's passion for Jokanaan is shamelessly revealed, kills himself, unnoticed by the object of his love. Jokanaan finally curses Salome, condemning her for all time and calling her the Daughter of Sodom, leaving her distraught and without hope of salvation.
Herod searches outside for Salome, and slips in the blood of Narraboth, (of whom he was jealous in life). Immediately Herod experiences delusional sensations of cold and wind and is overcome by a sense of foreboding. He perceives the sound of the wings of the angel of death. But, once he recovers, he continues to seduce the adolescent Salome publicly with wine, fruit and even promises of the throne her mother sits in. Herodias, humiliated and furious, warns Herod to stop looking at Salome in 'that' way. But Herod is consumed by desire for his pubescent stepdaughter and does not heed her.
When the voice rises from the cistern below once again, Herodius taunts Herod for his cowardice in not defending her against Jokanaan's insults by killing him. She asks him to give The Baptist over to the Jews, who have been clamouring for him, and who have the conviction to carry out what her husband denies her – the prisoner's execution. But Herod refuses, repeating that Jokanaan is a 'holy man' who has seen the face of God. A furious debate erupts between the religious factions concerning this point. They build to a frenzy of disagreement, providing no solution to Herod's dilemma.
Finally, when the Catholics declare that Jesus has proved himself to be the Messiah by awakening the dead, the deeply superstitious Herod becomes afraid and appalled and forbids him to do so. Distracting himself from the agonising uncertainty of the religious world, which provides no consensus, Herod seeks comfort in the flesh, and asks the young, teenage Salome to perform an erotic dance for his amorous pleasure.
She refuses, until Herod offers her 'anything' her heart desires in return. Seeing the opportunity to avenge herself on Jokanaan, she agrees to dance for Herod. In the dance she assumes, and then removes, seven veils for his titillation and arousal.
Herod is delighted by the dance, and asks her to name her reward. She asks for the head of John the Baptist.
He is shocked but Herodius enjoys her daughter's triumph, thinking that she has acted on her mother's behalf. Soon it becomes obvious that Salome has other motives. Despite all Herod's protestations and pleading, his offers of jewels, power and limitless temporal and religious treasures, she stands obdurate and determined.
Herod, defeated by his earlier public oath and Salome's merciless intractability, passively allows the ring to be pulled from his finger as a sign for the execution to proceed.
Salome waits anxiously as The Executioner descends into the pit. Silence. Then a sound. Finally she is handed her reward – the severed head of Jokanaan. She pours out her anger, hurt and desire and claims the kiss from Jokanaan's dead mouth that he refused her in life. She comments that the taste of his blood-covered lips is 'bitter' and that this must, indeed, be the taste of love.
Herod orders her immediate execution.
Turandot is a version of the ancient fairy tale of the cruel Eastern Princess who slays those who love her.
At sunset a Mandarin appears before the crowd and announces that any prince seeking to marry the Princess Turandot must first answer three riddles. If he fails, he must die. The latest suitor, the Prince of Persia, is to be executed at the moon's rising. The bloodthirsty crowd surges forward and an old blind man is knocked to the ground.
In response to his slave's cries for help, a young man steps forward. The old man is Timur, the banished King of Tartary, who is overjoyed to learn that the young man is his long lost son, Calaf. Timur tells his son that only Liù, his slave, has remained faithful to him in his exile. Calaf asks why she has risked so much; she replies it is because once long ago he, Calaf, smiled at her.
As the sky darkens, the mob again cries for blood but greets the moon with sudden, fearful silence. They are further moved when the Prince of Persia passes by and calls upon the princess to spare him. Calaf curses the beauty who sends noble and innocent lovers to their deaths. Turandot appears and, with a contemptuous gesture, bids the execution to proceed.
As the death cry is heard in the distance, Calaf, transfixed by the beauty of the unattainable princess, strides to the gong that announces a new suitor. Suddenly Turandot's three ministers, Ping, Pang and Pong, materialise to discourage him. Timur and the tearful Liù also beg him to reconsider, but as their pleas intensify, he strikes the fatal gong and calls Turandot's name.
Ping, Pang and Pong lament Turandot's bloody reign, hoping that love will conquer her icy heart and peace will return. They think longingly of their distant country homes, but the noise of the populace gathering to hear Turandot question the new challenger brings them back to reality.
The people, eager for another execution, have gathered in the square. The aged Emperor, seated on a high throne, vainly asks Calaf to reconsider. Turandot appears and describes how her beautiful ancestor, Princess Lou Ling, was carried off and ravished by a conquering prince; in revenge, she has turned against all men and determined that none shall ever possess her.
Facing Calaf, she poses her first question: What is born each night and dies each dawn? "Hope" answers Calaf correctly. Unnerved, Turandot continues: What flickers red and warm like a flame, yet is not fire? "Blood" replies Calaf after a moment's pause. Visibly shaken, Turandot delivers her third riddle: What is like ice but burns? A tense silence prevails until Calaf triumphantly cries, "Turandot!"
While the crowd voices thanks, the princess begs her father not to give her to the stranger, but to no avail. Calaf, hoping to win her love, generously offers Turandot a challenge of his own: if she can learn his name by dawn, he will forfeit his life. Turandot accepts.
Calaf hears a proclamation: on pain of death, no one in Peking shall sleep until Turandot learns the stranger's name. He muses on his impending joy. Ping, Pang and Pong try unsuccessfully to bribe him to leave the city. As the mob threatens him to learn his name, soldiers drag in Liù and Timur. Horrified, Calaf tries to convince the mob that neither knows his secret. When Turandot appears, commanding the dazed Timur to speak, Liù cries out that she alone knows the stranger's identity but will never reveal it. She is tortured, but remains silent. Impressed by such endurance, Turandot asks Liù's secret: "Love" replies the girl. The princess signals the soldiers to intensify the torture, but Liù snatches a dagger and kills herself. The crowd, fearful of her dead spirit, forms a funeral procession.
Turandot remains alone to confront Calaf, who tears the covering from her face and boldly kisses her. Knowing emotion for the first time, Turandot weeps. Now sure of his victory, Calaf reveals his identity.
As the people hail the Emperor, Turandot triumphantly approaches his throne, announcing the stranger's name: it is Love. As Calaf rushes to embrace her, the court hails the power of love and life.