Novella (‘short story’) in three scenes.
Libretto by Giovacchino Forzano.
First performed at La Scala, Milan, on 12 January 1929.
Inside a windmill, the miller, his wife, their young neighbour Colombello, and a lawyer, a priest and an astrologer are sitting in silence, thinking. A cuckoo clock strikes three. The priest rises to speak, but sits down again. The astrologer does the same. Then the lawyer stands and starts the conversation. It is obvious that something has happened to the miller’s daughter, Rosalina. To interruptions from the astrologer, who just repeats what everyone else says, and the lawyer, who does the same but in Latin, Colombello explains that up until now, Rosalina has been chirpy and enthusiastic in their love affair, but then, six days before their intended wedding, she cooled off and lost all interest in him, refusing to give any explanation. So the miller and his wife decided to consult the wisest men they knew, which is why the priest, the astrologer and the lawyer have been summoned to the mill.
The astrologer announces that Rosalina has been bewitched, but that he knows a couple of spells which will cure her. The lawyer declares, in Latin, that this is typical behaviour – all women change their minds. The priest suggests that it is just a girly whim and that prayer (plus a generous donation) will solve her problem. A high-blown argument ensues, until the miller and his wife shout for it to stop and announce that they called for the three experts to solve the problem, not make it worse. Colombello adds an impassioned plea to have his ‘precious jewel’ restored to him before he dies of a broken heart.
During the argument, Rosalina has entered the mill unseen, and she now shows herself, dancing and singing and playing with the mill-wheel and scattering vegetables hanging from the rafters. They all appeal to her to stop, and the three ‘experts’ decide that the situation is beyond them and leave, despite the miller’s desperate attempts to get them to stay. Rosalina stays in the rafters as her parents and Colombello plead with her to act normally. Eventually, she comes down and the miller begs her to have pity on Colombello, and then Colombello himself tells her how she has ruined his life. When her mother supports her, saying that she wouldn’t do anything bad, Rosalina starts to cry and cuddles her mother desperately. Then she explains what has happened to her: six days earlier, she had heard a blackcap singing, telling her future – then she heard trumpets and horns and a royal hunt came by. She saw the king, so handsome with his long blond hair, the diamonds on his tunic, his majestic horse and his magnificent cloak all embroidered with fleur-de-lis. She had to lean against a tree to stop herself fainting, and again the blackcap sang, ‘Good fortune, pretty maid’. So, she is now in love with the king.
Her parents and Colombello are open-mouthed with shock, but she blithely continues to tell them that she knows a story about a miller’s daughter who became a queen. She tells Colombello that it would be dishonest to marry him now and she returns the wedding dress to him, telling him that he can re-use it. She flounces out and Colombello declares that he will die of a broken heart and leaves with the rejected wedding dress, while Rosalina’s parents bewail the catastrophe which has affected them all – when, suddenly, the voice of the king’s crier is heard announcing that the king is going to grant an audience to anyone who turns up with a gift (particularly nice peaches, young chickens or fresh eggs). So they decide to go and appeal to the king to make Rosalina see the futility of her passion. The cuckoo clock strikes four.
While the curtain is down, the miller passes across the stage carrying four chickens, then his wife with a basket of eggs and a flask of oil, then Colombello with two white rabbits and the box containing the wedding dress.
In the palace gardens, a crowd has gathered: children are dancing, a choir is singing and the king smiles and looks magnificent. His courtiers move through the crowd collecting the gifts and presenting their pleas. Trumpets announce the end of the celebrations. The king is about to leave when his master of ceremonies tells him that three people want an audience. He agrees, and the miller and his wife, with Colombello, are produced. They are too embarrassed to explain their predicament at first, but gradually the story comes out. The king is delighted to hear that Rosalina has fallen in love with him and asks if she is pretty. Colombello confirms that she is, and the king announces his decision: he orders the girls to be brought to the castle and he will spend the night with her. The three petitioners are outraged and ask for their gifts back, but the king orders them to be arrested.
While the curtain is down, a courtier leads Rosalina, smiling radiantly, across the stage towards the castle.
The courtier leads Rosalina into the king’s bed chamber and leaves. Alone, she muses on what is happening to her. A servant delivers a bridal gown, which Rosalina observes is very like the one which Colombello had given her. As she puts it on, she recalls her youthful happiness, but this is now blotted out by the sight of a jewel which the king has provided for her. Voices announce the arrival of the king, and when he enters, Rosalina falls on her knees. He raises her up and comments on how lovely she is. Rosalina gushes about how handsome he is, a beautiful man, superhuman; she offers him her youth, her life. The king goes into a trance-like reminiscence of a night of love, and then sounds a small gong; a servant enters with a dress-maker’s dummy. The servant helps the king to undress: he removes the king’s boots, replacing them with slippers, then his tunic and his robe … then his wig. Rosalina is horrified, and cries out, but the king asks her whether she still loves him, and whether she likes all the jewels he has given her. She screams that she doesn’t want the jewels. The kings offers her his crown and she shouts that she does not want that either. So the king asks her what she does want, and she shouts for Colombello.
The king leaves the bedchamber, and a gong sounds: the miller, his wife and Colombello enter, and Colombello curses the king, jumping at the dummey which is draped in the king’s clothes. Rosalina stops him, explaining that the king has cured her of her temporary madness, and the king’s voice is heard telling Colombello that Rosalina loves only Colombello (and warning Rosalina never to reveal the king’s secret).
The lawyer, the astrologer and the priest bustle in – the lawyer has, at the order of the king, drawn up a marriage contract, the astrologer predicts happy days for the young couple, and the priest says that he has been commanded to perform a marriage ceremony in the church. Colombello is dumbfounded and stutters that all that is missing is a crown of orange blossom for the bride – a tapestry moves aside to reveal the royal garden full of orange trees in full blossom. As bells peal out, Rosalina and Colombello lead everyone off to a wedding ceremony, and the king enters the empty room, gets into bed, kisses a little miniature portrait, and goes to sleep.
Other Opera Story articles can be found on
Umberto Giordano’s life and his operas
The background to the writing of Il Re
The stories of Giordano’s other operas
The life and librettos of Giovacchino Forzano
Oranges and orange blossom in opera
and many other aspects of Giordano’s operas.
© Roger Witts 2009