Opera buffa in two acts.
Libretto by Carlo Cambaggio.
Written in 1858 as part of Bizet’s obligations under the conditions of the Prix de Rome. The score was found in 1894 among the papers of Auber long after his death in 1871 and the opera was eventually first performed in Monte Carlo on 10 March 1906, thirty-one years after Bizet’s death and forty-eight years after it was written.
(Dialogue linking the musical numbers did not survive, but the course of the story can be surmised from the musical text)
A lively young girl, Bettina, has been promised in marriage by her uncle, Don Andronico, to Don Procopio, an ugly old man and a renowned miser. The opera starts with a chorus of household servants singing about their excitement about the prospects of a wedding, while Andronico is getting serious grief from his wife, Eufemia, for committing Bettina to a miserable marriage. Andronico testily points out that it will be a good marriage because Procopio is rich (the English translation in one version of the libretto translates ‘ricco e facoltoso’ as ‘rich and well-endowed’, which would put a whole new gloss on the story, if that is what the Italian actually means).
In an aria, Bettina pours out her feelings of love for her real lover Odoardo, and bewails the torture which her uncle’s plan is putting her through. To a grand march, Odoardo arrives – to the great delight of Bettina, her brother Ernesto and Eufemio. Procopio is already getting some idea of what marriage to the lively Bettina will mean.
In a trio, Bettina, Ernesto and Odoardo devise a plan: she will pretend to be a bit simple and do nothing but chatter on about how she proposes to spend Procopio’s money once they are married. Ernesto then sing’s his sister’s praises to Odoardo, who obviously needs no encouragement at all.
The household staff begin to prepare for the wedding ceremony, commenting that Procopio will be a father before the year is out, which further disquiets the old miser.
Andronico tries to get Procopio and Bettina to be civil to one another, but Procopio is now convinced that he is being drawn into a trap just to get at his money.
Odoardo pours out his heart in a beautiful aria, which Bettina joins in with. Then, Bettina, alone with Procopio, begins to pile on the pressure. Procopio protests that he is old and ugly, that he suffers from all the ailments which affect men of his age, that he is brutishly jealous and that he is quite fond of using the cane. Bettina takes all this in her stride, adding that she too knows how to administer a decent thrashing. Procopio is mortified, calling her a demon from hell, a witch and a viper but Bettina just tells him to get a move on and do as he is told.
Ernesto and Andronico berate Procopio for his change of heart – Ernesto insists on a duel while Andronico demands an explanation. Procopio complains that Bettina is too young for him, too wild, too extravagant, and that she will spend all his ‘pliffe, ploffe, plaffe’ without a second thought. Even Andronico now joins Ernesto in telling Procopio that he is a miserable old sod and that he can take his ‘pliffe, ploffe, plaffe’ to the grave with him..
With Procopio thoroughly deterred, Bettina and Odoardo sing an ecstatic duet and the opera ends with a final chorus from the servants about the rainbow of joy which always follows a storm.
Related OperaStory articles can be found on
- Bizet’s life and his operas
- The background to the writing of Bizet’s Don Procopio and the reasons for its subsequent loss
- and many more operatic tales of the triumph of love over all adversity
© Roger Witts 2009