The Story of 'Maometto Secondo'
ACT ONE: Rossini's love story, set against an exotic backdrop of political intrigue and war, is one of his most ambitious operas. It takes a huge orchestra (with extra brass), a powerful chorus, and brilliant soloists to carry it off.
Maometto Secondo is in two long acts, set in a Venetian colony in Greece called Negroponte, in 1476. When the opera opens, the colony is under siege by the Turkish army. Inside the palace, the Venetian governor, Paolo Erisso, sits quietly, surrounded by his officers. General Condulmiero breaks the silence and advises Erisso to accede to the Turks, and open the gates of the city. A younger General, named Calbo, can't believe his ears. He persuades the Venetians to hold their ground. They all swear to fight to the end.
Erisso has a daughter named Anna, and the second scene takes place in her room, where she is surrounded by her attendants. Her father enters and tells her they're in dire straits. He urges her to marry Calbo, who is love with her. But, as Calbo joins them, she remains silent. Worried by her strange reaction, the two men press her.
Finally, Anna confesses that she's in love with someone else — a man she met in Corinth named Uberto. "Uberto?!" Erisso declares. As sure as I'm standing here, he says, that man is an impostor. Who Uberto really is, Erisso doesn't know.
The blast of a cannon is heard, sending Erisso and Calbo rushing off with swords drawn. A chorus of women attend to Anna and she sings her great aria, "Giusto ciel," ("Just heaven"), praying to God for help and guidance.
Then the women see a line of men coming towards them—the Venetians, looking defeated. Erisso tells Anna that the Turks are about to enter the city, and all hope is lost. He says goodbye, they embrace, and he and Calbo leave.
The next day, the Turks march into the city, singing of their power and invincibility. A traitor has opened the gates and let them in. Soon, Erisso and Calbo are brought before the Turkish leader, Maometto, as prisoners. Maometto recognizes Erisso as the nobleman he met a few months ago in Corinth. He offers Erisso conditions of surrender: tell your men to lay down their arms. Erisso refuses, and he and Calbo are led away to be tortured.
Anna, hearing the commotion, runs out of the palace, calling to the men. Maometto recognizes her voice, and calls out her name. She turns to him, and realizes that he is the man she knows as Uberto.
At first she pleads to Maometto to spare the lives of her countrymen. Then, distraught, she reaches for a dagger to stab herself. But Maometto stops her. I'm no barbarian, he tells her, just someone who loves you, and who will have mercy on your father and friends.
Maometto promises Anna everything if only she will be true to him. When Anna agrees, Calbo is moved by her sacrifice, but Erisso denounces her.
ACT TWO: Amid the splendor of Maometto's pavilion, Anna is surrounded by colorful tapestries, fragrant perfumes, and dazzling jewels. Despite all this, she's grieving. The only reason she's with Maometto is to save the lives of her father Erisso, and her lover Calbo.
Maometto enters and declares his love, but she rejects him. Then word comes that the Venetians have staged a surprise attack, and the Turks are retreating. Maometto decides to go out himself to lead his men; but before he does, he presents Anna with his imperial seal. He says it will guarantee her the respect and protection of his people. Then he rushes out.
Meanwhile, Erisso and Calbo have been hiding out in the subterranean crypts of the church, disguised as Turks. Erisso despairs at the possible betrayal by his daughter, while Calbo defends her.
Anna joins the men, and at first Erisso condemns her. But Anna gives them the Maometto's seal, saying it will give them safe passage out of the city. Anna declares that she wants to marry Calbo, right there in the crypt, where her mother is buried, and Erisso performs the ceremony. Afterward, the men go off to battle, knowing that Maometto will almost surely kill Anna when he finds her.
Anna learns that the Venetians have the Turks on the run, and knows that soon Maometto will hunt her down. Before long he arrives, and demands the imperial seal he gave to her. Defiantly, Anna tells him she has given it to her father and Calbo. But before Maometto can take revenge, Anna stabs herself and dies on her mother's tomb.
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