Opera: I Medici – Ruggiero Leoncavallo

“I Medici” an historical opera in four acts, with words and music by Ruggiero Leoncavallo, was produced at La Scala in Milan, in November, 1893.


Lorenzo de’ Medici. Giuliano de’ Medici. Giambattista da Montesecco, a Papal captain. Francesco Pozzi. Bernardo Bandini. Salviati, the Archbishop. Il Poliziano. Simonetta Cattaneo. Fioretta de’ Gori. The Mother of Simonetta. Citizens, populace, public singers, conspirators.

The action passes at Florence, in the latter part of the Fifteenth Century. When the curtain of the first act rises, a wooded hill near the city is seen, with glimpses of a river in the background. It is noon. Lorenzo de’ Medici and his younger brother Giuliano, enter and Lorenzo admits that he long has felt that the enmity of the Pope is directed against their family. His suspicions are not without ground, for at that very moment Montesecco and his fellow conspirators are plotting nearby. Voices are heard and all disperse, some joining the hunt. When all are gone Simonetta strolls in. She is followed by her friend, Fioretta. Simonetta is oppressed by sadness, although she has no tangible reason for it. Fioretta leaves her and she is suddenly confronted by Montesecco. Taken with her beauty, he tries to seize her but she evades him, her scorn only increasing his admiration. He is distracted by the tumult arising from the pursuit of a deer by hunters and dogs. The terrified animal eludes its pursuers, much to Simonetta’s delight. Giuliano returns and Simonetta falls in love with him at first sight. As they converse Montesecco spies upon them from the bushes. Giuliano tells the girl only his first name and makes an appointment with her for the morrow. Fioretta comes unexpectedly to rejoin Simonetta and she, too, falls in love with the attractive patrician youth.

In the second act, the scene shifts to the Square of Santa Trinita. The night is falling. Here are gathered the Archbishop, Francesco Pazzi, Montesecco and the other conspirators. There is much talk of the ” cause,” which is to assassinate the dangerously ambitious Medici. They are interrupted in their plotting by the arrival of the crowd. Among them is Lorenzo de’ Medici and his musicians. His singing is so excellent that the people are delighted, and when his identity becomes known, the cry of the Medici is echoed from many approving throats. Simonetta and her mother appear and against the advice of her parent, the girl dances and sings. At last she sinks to the ground unconscious. Giuliano is in deep distress, while Fioretta watches him half jealously. Simonetta is borne away and Giuliano, left with Fioretta, asks to be kept informed of Simonetta’s condition. Giuliano, noticing his companion’s sadness. questions her about it. Finally she confesses that she loves him and, kissing him, hurries away.

Act III reveals through the darkness the interiors of the adjacent houses of Simonetta and Fioretta, and, in the foggy distance, Montesecco house and an old bridge over the Arno. Fioretta climbs the stairs leading from Simonetta’s house to her own. The memory of Simonetta’s kisses brings deep compunction to her, for she knows that her friend little guesses her intimacy with Giuliano. The conspirators gather and see Giuliano cross the bridge and hurry to the house of Fioretta. They spy upon him and find that he is on business of love. Giuliano asks anxiously about Simonetta and Fioretta tells him that the girl speaks continually of him.

Simonetta, meantime, overhears the plot of the conspirators to kill the Medici on the morrow. She is discovered by Montesecco and admits that she knows all. When asked what she will do, she declares stanchly that she will warn the victims. The crafty Montesecco leads her to Fiorella’s window, where she sees her friend in Giuliano’s embrace. Montesecco has miscalculated, however, for instead of desiring revenge, she rushes in to tell her story. She has merely gasped ” Tomorrow, the Medici ” when she falls dead.

The interior of the church of Santa Reparata is seen in the fourth act. Mass is being said and the church is filled with people. Montesecco and his allies circulate among them, inciting them against the Medici. Fioretta, upon her knees, fervently implores pardon for her sins. Lorenzo enters with Il Poliziano, followed by four gentlemen. Murmurs of disapproval are heard and it is evident that the conspirators have worked to some avail. Finally Giuliano joins his brother and the conspirators find that the time is ripe for action. They creep upon Giuliano and stab him but Lorenzo and his followers defend themselves. There is general confusion and cries of ” Death to the tyrants ” are heard. Lorenzo, gaining a point of vantage, tries to show the people that they are wrong. He finally succeeds in getting their attention, and they begin to distrust the conspirators. Fioretta leans over the wounded Giuliano, weeping. With his last breath, he confesses to his brother that she should have been his wife and consigns her to his care. Now the people cry that Giuliano’s death shall be avenged and the church resounds with the Medici cry, ” Palle ! Palle ! “