An Early, Operatic Gem: Cavalli's 'Veremonda'

The opera opens with a PROLOGUE, featuring characters representing Twilight, and the setting Sun.  They urge the audience to enjoy the evening's entertainment -- and whatever else they might have planned for the night. But they also warn audience members that while the Sun reappears, bright and new, every morning, when their own youthful vigor begins to fade, it will never return.

The opera's major conflict is between the Spanish Kingdom of Aragon, and the Moors occupying the fortress at Gibraltar. As PART ONE begins, we meet Zelemina.  She's the Moorish queen leading the defense of the fortess. But she has fallen in love with the young Spanish general Delio. Her cantankerous lady-in-waiting, Zaida, is amazed at this romance between enemies, but also says that for a lady to refuse a lover is not in the best interest of the state.

Before long, Delio arrives for a secret meeting with Zelemina -- while warning his lieutenant, Zeriffo, not to tell anyone what's going on. Zelemina's military advisors have warned her that Delio might be a spy.  But when the lovers meet, he falsely assures her that he's only interested in Zelemina herself, not in her kingdom or throne.

The scene changes to the other side of the conflict, in the palace of Alfonso, the King of Aragon. He knows he has a duty to conquer the fort at Gibraltar. But he's more interested in scientific pursuits than military action. Now, he discusses all this with the loyal general Roldano -- who is also Delio's father. Roldano tells the King that he and Delio will make sure Gibraltar is captured.

Now we meet the opera's title character, Alfonso's wife, Queen Veremonda.  She's introduced by the King's jester, Buscone, and makes her appearance wearing a sparkling crown and a frilly pink gown. But she quickly tells her husband that she would prefer to be wearing battle dress. He tells her that war is no place for a woman. Together, Alfonso and Veremonda send Roldano off to the fight, while Veremonda seems determined to join the cause, leading warrior maidens in an Amazon army.   

Veremonda wants to go with the young general, Delio, as he prepares for an assault on Gibraltar. But she also gets wind of Delio's romance with the enemy Queen, Zelemina. It turns out that Delio's lieutenant, Zeriffo, has a girlfriend, Vespina. Zeriffo tells Vespina about Delio's late night meetings with Zelemina, and Vespina in turn tells Veremonda.

Veremonda joins Delio -- offering to go along as he supposedly prepares an assault on Gibraltar. Delio is actually planning to take Gibraltar for himself, in league with Zelemina. Thanks to Vespina, Veremonda knows all about the plot, and has already enlisted her Amazon army to stop it. And, when Delio takes things one step further and actually tries to romance Veremonda, she pretends to go along with that as well -- while instead planning to spring a trap.

So, Delio and Queen Veremonda both think they have each other fooled. And before long, it seems another crucial party will be joining the game. As the act ends Delio's man Zeriffo trades barbs, and a bit of secret intrigue, with the jester Buscone -- who is also a spy for the real boss, King Alfonso himself.

As PART TWO begins, Zelemina is in the Gibraltar fortress, anxiously waiting for a visit from Delio, though her lady-in-waiting Zaida is having second thoughts about her mistress's love for the enemy general.

When Delio approaches Gibraltar, he has Veremonda with him, disguised as a young soldier -- a young male soldier.  They're challenged by the guard Giacutte. But, to earn Veremonda's trust, Delio has given her a ring of safe passage that he was given by Zelemina.  So Giacutte allows them to pass. When the two meet with Zelemina, she's happy to see her lover, Delio.  But she's also impressed by the handsome "young man" he's brought with him.

Meanwhile, in the forest, the young woman Vespina is with Veremonda's army of warrior maidens. They're under fire, and struggling to reach the fortress, and Vespina's boyfriend Zeriffo offers to run back and get help from the old general Roldano -- Delio's father.

But, back at the palace, Roldano has his own trouble.  King Alfonso has learned about Delio's treachery from his spy, the jester Buscone.  Alfonso assumes that Roldano and Delio have been plotting together, and that Veremonda is also in on the conspiracy.  But despite the king's accusation, Roldano remains loyal.  So, as Alfonso orders his troops to assault Gibraltar, Roldano decides to track Delio down and confront him.

In the Gibraltar fortress, Zaida tells her mistress, Queen Zelemina, that the "young man" her lover Delio has with him is actually a woman in disguise. Zelemina isn't sure what to think, and she leaves Delio and the disguised Veremonda alone, so she can observe them together.  First, the two act like lovers, with Veremonda still pretending to go along with him.  Then, when Delio sees Zelemina watching, he and Veremonda both put on a show -- with Veremonda acting like a disobedient soldier, ready for punishment.  Zelemina is reassured, and goes off to attend a festival.

But, just as Zelemina leaves, and Delio is set to reveal his treachery to Veremonda, Roldano shows up.  He angrily denounces Delio, his own son, as a traitor. Roldano thinks that Veremonda is also in on the plot.  But she sets him straight, telling him that with all the Moors at the festival, her warrior maidens are poised to attack.

And that's exactly what happens, as the festival is interrupted by sounds of battle.  Zaida runs to Zelemina and tells her the fortress has been infiltrated by the Amazons, who have opened the gates to King Alfonso's army. Gibraltar has fallen.

Zelemina sings a moving lament, begging for pardon. Delio says he's not worthy of pardon -- but he is willing to change his ways.  He still loves Zelemina, he says, but now knows that he must give that up, to remain loyal to his king, and to his god.

Zelemina, it seems, admires both his rediscovered loyalty, and his faith, and she loves Delio so much, that she's willing to convert.  As the opera ends, Zelemina and Delio are together, while Veremonda and Alfonso send Roldano off with the Spanish army to secure their conquest.