(I haven't yet found the time to translate the libretto properly. Without resorting to a dictionary, my comprehension of Italian is only about 75%, so this synopsis might not be entirely accurate.)
"Gallura" is an old name for the island of Sardinia. Consequently, "Gallurese" is a label sometimes used in Italian to refer to the Sards -- the native Sardinian people whose ancestors pre-date invasion the island by Italians, Spaniards and others. The Sards are a rural people, living mostly in the mountainous interior of the island.
The opera is set in the 17th century, during a time when Sardinia was under Spanish occupation. The curtain rises on a quaint rustic scene. It is early morning. Giovanni (tenor) appears, brooding, and hears the song of a shepherd boy offstage. Giovanni responds, commenting on the beauty of the song and the sunrise, contrasting it with his own miserable life as an outlaw resisting the Spanish occupation. In despair, he says that life is not worth living and he may as well die. Nearby is the cottage of Nuvis, an old miller. Giovanni is in love with Nuvis's daughter, Maria, whom he has worshipped from afar but has never met. He ends his aria saying goodbye to Maria (speaking to himself, that is) before running off the stage.
Now Rivegas (baritone), a Catalan (Spaniard), appears along with his two henchmen, Josè and Tropéa, sneaking about. He tells how he lusts for Maria, and then hides while she comes out into the garden. Maria (soprano) admires the flowers in her garden and sings in praise of the sun for giving life to them. After her song, Rivegas and his men come out of hiding and abduct her. She screams.
Giovanni, who has not yet killed himself, hears the scream and comes running back. He fights the abductors, killing Tropéa, who falls off a cliff into the canyon below, and sending the others fleeing. He picks up Maria, who has fainted, and carries her back to her father, Nuvis (bass). Nuvis assumes that the abductors must have been from the gang of "Gallurese", a notorious bandit whom he has heard bad things about. When Maria revives, she expresses her love for the handsome tenor who has rescued her, and she asks him name. Not wishing to tell them his true identity, he says he is called "Bôre" (possibly a reference to Borea, the north wind) . He asks them if they have ever seen the notorious "Gallurese" and they tell him that they have not.
Maria and Nuvis go back into the house, while Giovanni stays outside and rages against the Spaniards. Maria is heard singing inside the house. She comes out into the garden, telling her flowers that she is in love. Noticing that Giovanni is still there, she is momentarily embarrassed, but regains her composure and asks him why he is so sad. He tells her that before today he despaired of life, but now that he has met her he has found happiness at last. There follows a lengthy love duet, with the usual operatic poetry, and that concludes the first act.
Act two is set in the nearby town, equipped with the traditional operatic venues: a plaza, a church, a tavern. In the tavern, Rivegas is drinking and carousing with some other men. Maria and Nuvis are in the plaza, awaiting "Bôre", who was supposed to meet them there. The townsfolk in the plaza dance and sing. The song is in some sort of dialect which I assume is Sardo (Sardinian). Giovanni arrives, accompanied by his compatriot Bastiano (tenor). Giovanni comments that he longs to be able to celebrate in a carefree manner as the townsfolk do. Maria comes to greet Giovanni, and Bastiano leaves them. They sing another lovely duet.
The townsfolk have now entered the church, where they begin singing a hymn to St Antonio. In a marvelously constructed scene, the music of the hymn is combined with both the conversation in the plaza, and that of the men in the tavern. As Maria invites "Bôre" to join her and her father in church, Giovanni overhears Rivegas inside the tavern boasting to his friends. Rivegas is telling what a villain "Gallurese" is, saying that he recently tried to abduct a certain maiden from the mountains. Giovanni is furious to hear such slander, but can't explain his anger to Maria, who points out that the statement is, she believes, true. Rivegas goes on to claim that he arrived in time to rescue her, and in her gratitude she gave him a kiss "and more". The others congratulate him, calling him "El Cid" (a legendary Spanish hero). In asides to Bastiano, Giovanni expresses his increasing frustration, while at the same time trying to reassure Maria. Finally, Giovanni persuades Maria to wait for him in the church. He is ready to go into the tavern to kill Rivegas, but Bastiano stops him and insists on going in first. (The hymn in the church, which has continued throughout this scene, now ends.)
Bastiano enters the tavern, laughing loudly. "You must truly be drunk", he tells the men, to believe the stories of this liar. Bastiano explains that it was Rivegas who was the attempted rapist, but when a stranger confronted him he ran like a coward. The men deride Rivegas, who is too stunned to reply. He swears he will have vengeance on Bastiano, and he leaves. On his way out he passes Giovanni, now going in, who treats him to some insults. Rivegas recognizes Giovanni as the stranger he encountered earlier, and also realizes that he is Gallurese. He summons his surviving henchman, Josè (baritone) and tells him to alert the Spanish guard.
In the plaza, the people are gathering again, because St Antonio has appeared at the door of the church. (I can't tell if this means St Antonio is a living person, or if it is a miraculous appearance of the saint.) Josè, on hearing that Gallurese is present, begins to panic, haunted by visions of his dead friend Tropéa. He stumbles into the middle of the crowd and screams out that Gallurese's band is attacking.
This leads to general panic among the people, and Maria tries to find Giovanni in the crowd. Bastiano reminds Giovanni that the Spanish guard will be arriving soon, so they must flee. Maria, amazed, asks if he is going to abandon her at this moment of crisis. Giovanni is tormented, but says that yes he must flee. Maria, hurt, calls him an ingrate and says she no longer loves him.
The Spanish army arrives and an official begins interrogating people, trying to determine where Gallurese has gone. Some of the soldiers make lewd remarks to Maria. After a while they give up and leave.
Giovanni and Bastiano now return, along with the rest of the Gallurese gang, singing a loud celebration of liberty. They bring with them Rivegas, who is now their prisoner. Maria is pleased to see her lover again, but she is perplexed. "Who are you?" she asks. He tells her, again, that he is called "Bôre", but she is not satisfied with that answer and insists on knowing the full truth. Rivegas, laughing, tells her that Bôre is none other than the notorious Giovanni Gallurese. Maria screams and runs off. Giovanni, in despair, runs into the church.
Back at Nuvis's cottage, Maria is sad. She tells her father that she still loves Giovanni, and that a voice inside her tells her that he is truly good and his bad reputation is false. They go into the house.
Gallurese's gang is traveling down the path. They still have Rivegas captive, and Bastiano and the others are taunting him. They stop, and Giovanni confronts Rivegas. Rivegas, although frightened, remains proud, and speaks in defense of Spain and the law. Giovanni responds by recounting the ills the Spanish government has brought upon his people. Just then a group of miserable emigrants comes by. At Giovanni's asking, they explain that they have been turned out of their homes and are seeking refuge in the mountains. Giovanni gives them all his money, and they express their gratitude. Nuvis comes out of the house and also offers help. Citing the refugees as further evidence, Giovanni again chastises Rivegas for bringing Spanish oppression.
Giovanni now announces that it's time for justice and advances on Rivegas with a knife. But to everyone's surprise, instead of killing Rivegas, Giovanni cuts his bonds and sets him free. He tells Rivegas that he's tired of being a rebel leader, and offers him his freedom in exchange for securing safe passage for Giovanni off the island to exile. Rivegas, astounded by his change of luck, agrees and runs off.
Gallurese's men continue on their way, leaving Giovanni to meet with Maria. She comes out of the cottage and they sing yet another love duet. Giovanni tells her that he's leaving the island and invites her to come with him, whereupon the duet continues as both bid a farewell to their home.
Rivegas now returns, carrying a harquebus (a primitive firearm used in the 17th century). He takes aim and shoots Giovanni, who falls, fatally wounded. As he lies dying, Giovanni gives Maria his horn, and she blows it three times, summoning the Gallurese gang to their aid. Rivegas successfully fights off Nuvis and Giovanni, who now can barely stand, and seizes Maria and carries her off.
The men, now led by Bastiano, return and see their fallen former leader. He directs them to follow Rivegas and rescue Maria. They do so; Rivegas is killed (offstage) and Maria is brought back. She goes to Giovanni, and he bids her goodbye for the last time. With his dying breath, Giovanni exclaims, "La sarda -- libertà!" ("freedom for Sardinia").
Giovanni Gallurese: Index -- Synopsis -- Personaggi -- Atto I -- Atto II -- Atto III
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