Opera in three acts on a libretto of Francesco Maria Piave
, taken from the play Le pasteur ou L’évangile et le foyer
by E. Bourgeois and E. Souvestre.Première:
Trieste, Teatro Grande, November 16th, 1850.
Austria at the beginning of the 19th century.
Act I. In the castle of Stankar, Jorg, the old pastor of the Assasverian sect, prays that God will inspire his successor Stiffelio. The new pastor, just back from a voyage, enters with his wife Lina, father-in-law Stankar, Raffaele and Lina's cousins, Federico and Dorotea. Without opening them, Stiffelio burns in the fireplace several letters claiming to prove the adultery of a woman of the community. A good example of pardon must be given. Lina and Raffaele sigh with relief, but Stankar is suspicious. Stiffelio notes that Lina no longer wears the ring he gave her. The woman is embarrassed, Stiffelio suffocated with jealously. Once alone, Lina writes a letter of adieu to her lover Raffaele, but Stankar, coming in unannounced, discovers her secret and imposes silence on the whole affair. Raffaele slips a letter for Lina into the missel of Klopstock. Jorg, unseen, notices the manoeuvre, but just then, Federico arrives and takes the book. The congregation arrives at the castle to pay homage to Stiffelio and Stankar. Jorg reveals to Stiffelio that Federico has a letter hidden in his missel. The pastor takes the book from him and breaks the seal. The letter falls to the ground, but before Stiffelio can read it, Stankar tears it to pieces. Stiffelio is full of indignation, Lina overcome by remorse and all present are perplexed. Aside, Stankar challenges Raffaele to a duel.
Act II. A cemetary. Lina awaits Raffaele for a last encounter. Close by her mother's tomb she feels a terrible sense of guilt. Her lover arrives, and in vain she asks him to return the ring her husband had given her. Stankar arrives, chases away his daughter and engages in duel with Raffaele. Stiffelio enters and orders the hostilities to cease. But when he learns that Raffaele is the seducer of Lina, he grabs the sword and challenges his rival. Lina returns, but can do nothing. The sound of a horn is heard from the temple: the service is starting and the faithful are waiting for Stiffelio. Torn between opposing sentiments, he faints at the foot of the cross on the stairway.
Act III. In his castle, Stankar is in dispair: Raffaele plans to flee, escaping the revenge or worse of Stiffelio; Lina, from whom he has intercepted a letter, will follow Raffaele. Jorg enters asking about Stiffelio. Still lacerated by his opposing emotions, the pastor has convocated his rival to the castle. Hearing this, and hopeful once more, Stankar leaves the room. In a nearby room, Stiffelio faces Raffaele and orders him to hide in the corridor and listen to what he has to say to Lina. The woman arrives and Stiffelio offers her a divorce. In dispair, she accepts, and after signing the papers, asks him as minister of the cult to hear her confession. Stiffelio does not wish to do this, but Lina tells him that she betrayed him only because of Raffaele's deception. He wants revenge, but from the corridor appears Stankar, with a bloody sword: justice has already been done...
Dazed, Stiffelio reads from the scriptures of the adultress. Lina, in dispair, goes up the stairs to the altar on her knees. At the culmination the pastor ends his reading of the passage with the pardon of Jesus Christ. Lina, her sins forgiven, rises in amazement lifting her arms up to heaven.
An opera of scandalous story, since it tells of a Protestant pastor with an adulterous wife in 19th-century Germany and moreover with a citation from the Gospel. The censors obliged librettist Francesco Maria Piave to make several changes before allowing its presentation at the Teatro Grande in Trieste on November 16th, 1850. The première had a good cast well-known to the composer: Gaetano Faschini in the role of the protagonist (tenor), Marietta Gazzaniga Malspina, protagonist previously in Luisa Miller, as Lina (soprano) and the baritone Filippo Colini, the father in Giovanna d’Arco and Roland in La battaglia di Legnano, qui here as Stankar. The opera was moderately successful, enough to allow its circulation in other Italian theatres: Rome, Florence, Catania, Palermo and Naples, but this lukewarm reception did not satisfy Verdi, and in 1856 he and Piave started working on a substantial modification. The result was Aroldo.