Das Liebesverbot


Back to Overview


Palermo in the 16th century. The king’s puritanical German viceroy, Friedrich, has banned all public displays of affection. The prohibition is enforced by Brighella and his henchmen, who close down all places of entertainment and arrest anyone guilty of drunkenness or lechery, leading to a riot. The carnival has been cancelled, and anyone found to have infringed the viceroy’s decree faces the death penalty. Among those arrested are Claudio, a young nobleman; Danieli, an innkeeper; and Danieli’s barmaid Dorella, who used to work for Claudio’s sister, Isabella. Insisting that his only crime is to have loved, Claudio begs his friend Luzio to visit Isabella in the convent where she has taken refuge and ask her to implore Friedrich’s clemency.

In the Convent of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Elisabeth, Mariana and Isabella enjoy their peaceful existence. Mariana explains that she entered the convent when the man she had married rejected her to advance his career. That man is none other than Friedrich. Luzio arrives to ask for Isabella’s help in saving her brother’s life. He is so struck by her beauty that he begs her to leave the convent and marry him, but she has thoughts only for her brother.

Deputizing for Friedrich, Brighella dispenses justice, exiling Pontio Pilato for pimping, but when Dorella is brought before him, his feelings turn to desire. Their increasingly intimate tête-à-tête is interrupted by Friedrich and a crowd of townspeople. Friedrich is handed a petition asking him to reinstate the carnival, but he tears it up unread, while delivering himself of a harangue accusing the townsfolk of drowning in a cesspit of sin. He then sentences Claudio to death, at which point Isabella enters and demands a private audience. Alone with her, he agrees to free Claudio in return for a night with her. Appalled, she calls the others back into the courtroom, but Friedrich points out that no one will believe her, and so she backs down. An alternative stratagem strikes her: she will send Mariana – Friedrich’s estranged wife – to the assignation in her place. She agrees, therefore, to Friedrich’s lewd proposition, while he privately agrees to free Claudio. The act ends with Friedrich looking forward to a night of passion and Isabella to being avenged, while the populace, unaware of the deal that has been struck, expresses bewilderment at Isabella’s apparent equanimity.

Isabella visits Claudio in prison and tells him of her willingness to pay for his freedom with her dishonour. He is appalled and initially agrees to die in order to save her honour, but the thought of dying without having known the joys of love soon overwhelms him and he begs Isabella to give herself to Friedrich. She dismisses him, while musing that the uncertainty of his fate will be punishment enough. She prepares to set in train her plan to reunite Friedrich and Mariana and at the same time expose Friedrich as a hypocrite. She gives Dorella letters arranging an assignation between the viceroy and his wife. Luzio arrives and is reassured to learn that Claudio will be freed that very night. He continues his courtship of Isabella, much to Dorella’s annoyance, for he had once sworn undying love to her too. But his anger and evident sincerity when Isabella tells him of her willingness to suffer dishonour for her brother’s sake ignite feelings of her own for him. Before she leaves, Isabella instructs Pontio Pilato, now promoted to the post of gaoler, to bring her the letter freeing her brother but without telling anyone else. Luzio demands to speak to Claudio, but Pontio bars his way and receives a drubbing for his pains.

In his palatial apartments, Friedrich broods on the turmoil wrought by desire. Even if he has his way with Isabella, he will still send Claudio to the scaffold. He receives Isabella’s letter, summoning him to the masked ball on the Corso. Dorella, responding to Brighella’s advances, invites him, too, to the ball. The carnival goes ahead in spite of Friedrich’s ban and attracts a large crowd of revellers, including Mariana and Isabella, identically masked. Friedrich arrives, giving Luzio, who recognizes him behind his mask, a chance to rail at the injustice of the new laws. Friedrich leaves in pursuit of Mariana, whom he takes to be Isabella. Dorella throws herself at Luzio and kisses him, an action that angers both Isabella and Brighella. Pontio arrives with Claudio’s “reprieve”, but Isabella realizes that Friedrich has tricked her and publicly denounces him. Unmasked, he demands to be judged by his own laws, but the crowd proves merciful. He is reconciled with Mariana, as is Isabella with Luzio, and Brighella with Dorella. A masked procession sets off to greet the king, who has just returned to Sicily.

Back to Overview