Synopsis of Hans Neuenfels’ revised libretto
The story thus far (Overture): Count Belfiore has stabbed his lover Marchesa Violante in a fit of jealousy and thinks he has killed her. Violante was able to survive, and now lives under the name Sandrina with her servant Nardo and the wealthy old Podestà, who seeks to seduce her. She continues to love Belfiore.
The Count and the Countess, an aging couple, discuss Mozart,opera, the loss of love, aging, and death. Sandrina, Nardo, the Podestà, his servant Serpetta, and Don Ramiro, who is unhappily in love with Arminda, the Podestà’s niece, sing of their supposed happiness. At the same time, they reveal their inner state (No. 1, Introduzione).
The Count and Sandrina stress the opera’s central conflict and their own theatricality. A director’s assistant brings in Ramiro, who sings of his desire to live and love freely (No. 2, Aria). The Podestà’s hedonism, to which he also subjects music, becomes increasingly a danger even to himself (No. 3, Aria). The Count and the Countess are forced to witness his despair, bound to their chairs.
They are freed by Sandrina, and the Count expresses his anger about participating in staged events. Sandrina sings of the unhappy lot of women (No. 4, Aria). She and the Countess are delayed by Nardo, who sees women as solely responsible for the adversities of the world and love (No. 5, Aria).
The Count is disappointed at Nardo’s self-absorption and a brief argument breaks out over unrequited love. A Rococo-style theater is then set up. Arminda appears and laments the violent end of her beloved father in Russian. She is to marry Count Belfiore.
Directly afterwards, Belfiore appears on the scene and seems suddenly overwhelmed by Arminda’s beauty (No. 6, Aria). In contrast, Arminda mistrusts love and insists on clear arrangements (No. 7, Aria). She leaves Belfiore perplexed, and the Podestà suggests that he draw more attention to his noble heritage. Full of derision, Belfiore sings the praises of his forefathers (No. 8, Aria) and dashes off. The Rococo theater disappears.
Serpetta meets a stranger and sings about her idea of love (No. 9, Cavatina). She wants nothing to do with reality as presented to her by Nardo (No. 9a, Cavatina). She realizes that her dreams have no place in reality (No. 10, Aria) and remains sadly behind.
The Count hopes to use her amorous misfortunes to his own advantage, while the Countess laments old age. Using the emblem of the turtledove, Sandrina mourns the pain of separation (No. 11, Aria).
Arminda explains that she will marry Belfiore immediately, and Sandrina collapses. Belfiore arrives on the scene, and recognizes Violante, long thought dead.
No. 12 Finale: The couples encounter one another for the first time: Arminda was not prepared to meet Ramiro, while Violante continues to deny her identity. Mixed up in the confusion are the Podestà, Serpetta, and Nardo, for whom things also have taken a turn for the worse. The general sense of helplessness turns into furious anger.
The Count has been unsuccessful and reveals his fears to the Countess. Arminda vows revenge for the rejection she has suffered at the hands of Belfiore (No. 13, Aria). The Countess mourns her childlessness. The Count revels in Nardo’s hopeless wooing of Serpetta (No. 14, Aria). Serpetta sings of her sober view of the world (No. 20, Aria). The Count drops motionless from his chair.
Belfiore declares his love for Violante (No. 15, Aria). The Podestà takes Violante’s place, unnoticed by Belfiore; ashamed and enraged, Belfiore flees. The pack of youths brings Violante in their power; Violante seeks to calm the Podestà’s aggressive fantasies of vengeance (No. 16, Aria).
Belfiore is accused of murdering Violante, whereupon the Podestà withdraws his consent to his marriage with Arminda (No. 17, Aria). Sandrina then reveals herself to be Violante. The Countess hopes for the recovery of the dying Count. Ramiro reveals that he is actually a woman, and renews her statement of love for Arminda (No. 18). She is again rejected.
Belfiore fluctuates between a lover’s delirium, a longing for death, and a frenzy of love (Aria, No. 19). Violante has fled to a cave where she sings her despair (No. 21 Aria and No. 22 Cavatina).
No. 23 Finale: All the figures find their way to the cave. The others observe Belfiore and Violante in a love delirium and it is judged to be madness.
The Count dies, whereupon the Countess leaves the story. The Podestà wants nothing more to do with any of this (No. 25, Aria), while Ramiro, devastated, sings herself into a delirious ecstasy of revenge (No. 26 Aria). Nardo explains the struggle between the constellations to the couple and departs as well (No. 24, Aria and Duet). The couple is left alone (No. 27, Duet). The final gate of love closes.