Rising soprano Angela Meade stars in Saverio Mercadante's rarely heard opera Virginia at the Wexford Opera Festival in Ireland.
Mercadante's opera has three acts, all set in Rome in the 5th century BC. It takes place at a time of bitter conflict between the plebeians and the ruling patricians, who dominate the city through the powerful Council of Ten.
The council's leader is a man called Appio, and as ACT ONE opens he's attending a lavish party at the council palace. Appio disapproves of the all the drinking and carousing, yet he has a secret weakness of his own. To consolidate patrician power, he has banned all marriages between patricians and plebeians. But he himself has fallen in love with a plebeian woman, Virginia.
Appio has sent his henchman Marco to visit Virginia with a mission to convince her of Appio's love. But Marco reports back that Virginia wants nothing to do with Appio.
Angela Meade ............ Virginia
Bruno Ribeira ................ Icilio
Hugh Russell ............. Virginio
Ivan Magri ................... Appio
Gianluca Buratto .......... Marco
Marcella Walsh ............ Tullia
John Myers ................ Valerio
Wexford Opera Orchestra and Chorus
Carlos Izcaray, conductor
The scene changes to Virginia's home. She's the daughter of a soldier called Virginio, who is off at war, and she's mourning her mother, who has recently died. Virginia's ladies try to cheer her up by reminding her of the man she loves, the plebeian leader Icilio. That lifts her spirits, but only briefly. She's afraid of Appio, and sends her nurse Tullia off to find a sympathetic cousin, Valerio. She's hoping he might contact her father, tell him what's going on, and urge him to return from the battlefront.
Appio then makes an unexpected appearance, and he tries to seduce Virginia in person. She rejects him so firmly that Appio decides she must already have a lover, and demands to know who it is. He gets his answer when Icilio shows up. The act ends with a dramatic trio. Appio and Icilio confront each other, while Virginia demands that Appio leave her home and never return.
As ACT TWO begins, Virginio has returned briefly from battle. Virginia tells him what's been going on, and pleads for his help. Virginio doesn't have much time, as he needs to get back to his command the very next day. He proposes a quick fix: to prevent Appio from getting his way, Virginio arranges for his daughter to marry Icilio immediately.
But it won't be that easy. The second scene takes place at a public square, outside a temple where the wedding will take place. As the ceremony is set to begin, Appio and Marco arrive — and Marco makes a shocking announcement. He declares that Virginia is not who everyone thinks she is. Marco says she was actually born to one of his slaves, then stolen as an infant, and sold to Virginio and his wife. So Virginia, he says, belongs to him, and can't marry Icilio.
The claim sounds outlandish. Virginio denies it, while Icilio denounces Marco as a liar, calling him the evil servant of an evil man. The plebeian crowd gathered for the wedding seems on the verge of a riot.
Appio serves as both leader of the patrician council and as chief magistrate. He says he'll consider the issue and deliver an official ruling the next day. Meanwhile, Marco says Virginia should spend the night under his protection, while her father wants to take her home. An argument erupts, and there's a violent confrontation between patricians and plebeians as the act ends.
ACT THREE begins in Appio's palace rooms. Marco is there, and they've summoned Icilio to join them. When he arrives, they offer him a plum position in the military. It's a big promotion, but if Icilio accepts, he'll have to leave Rome and join the legions. Naturally, Icilio knows exactly what's going on, and refuses. He says that in the morning, he'll be in the forum with everyone else, waiting for Appio's judgment. As he leaves, Appio turns aside and says that if Icilio is still in Rome the next day, he'll be a corpse.
Scene Two is set in Virginia's house the following morning. She and Virginio are about to leave for the forum when their cousin Valerio arrives with grim news. Icilio has been found murdered, and they all know that Appio is responsible.
In the final scene, everyone has gathered at the forum, where Appio announces his ruling. To nobody's surprise, he sides with Marco, saying that Virginia was born as of Marco's slaves, and must return to him.
When Virginia says she'd rather die than submit to Marco and Appio, her father begs for one last chance to embrace her, before she's taken away. Appio agrees. But as Virginio approaches his daughter he quickly draws a dagger, and stabs her to death, denying Appio his final victory.
When the onlookers see this, they cry out that Virginio must surely have been Virginia's true father. They also demand Appio's death. The crowd surges forward, and Appio and his men are overwhelmed as the opera ends.