Opera Scotland

Jewels of the Madonna The Jewels of the Madonna; I gioielli della Madonna


Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (born Venice, 12 January 1876; died Venice, 21 January 1948)


Enrico Golisciani & Carlo Zangarini.

Berlin premiere in German translation by Hans Liebstöckl.



First performance: Berlin (Kurfürstenoper), 23 December 1911.

First Performance in UK: London (Covent Garden), 30 May 1912.

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Theatre Royal), 5 March 1920.



Wolf-Ferrari is remembered as a composer of tuneful, lightweight and charming comic operas, usually derived from the Venetian plays of the eighteenth century master Carlo Goldoni. The most enduring of these is I quattro rusteghi, generally been translated as The School for Fathers. It was performed for many years by Sadler's Wells, and is still revived occasionally by student groups. Susanna's Secret, while given a more modern setting near the time of composition, is modelled on the short intermezzi popular at the same period. However his full-length, very serious Jewels of the Madonna could hardly be more different, owing more to his contemporaries of the verismo school such as Mascagni.


Main Characters

Maliella, adopted daughter of Carmela (soprano)

Gennaro, a blacksmith (tenor)

Rafaele, a gangster, leader of the Camorra (baritone)

Carmela, Gennaro's mother (mezzo-soprano)

Biaso, a scribe (tenor)


Plot Summary

In Naples on the Festival of the Madonna. When Gennaro was an infant, Carmela had promised, if he recovered from serious illness to adopt an orphan and bring her up. Maliella was that child, but unfortunately she has grown up very wilful. Rafaele, the local gang leader, loves her. When the image of the Madonna is carried past in procession, he cries that he would do anything for her, even steal the Madonna's jewels. She is terified at the prospect of such sacrilege. But she is nevertheless attracted to him, and is unhappy when Gennaro arrives and orders her into the house.

Later that evening, in their garden, after Carmela has cleared away the supper things, Gennaro warns Maliella about Rafaele's character. She insists she wants freedom, and prepares to leave her home. She tells Gennaro of Rafaele's promise, and while he is shocked, it makes him think. After Maliella returns to her room, Gennaro takes tools and keys from his toolbox and leaves. Rafaele and his fellow--gangsters arrive to serenade Maliella. She promises to leave with him the following day, and the men depart again as Gennaro returns.  He spreads out the stolen jewels on the table, and Maliella, enraptured, allows him to seduce her.

At Camorra headquarters, a cave outside the town, the gangsters and their molls celebrate. They tease Rafaele over his love for Maliella, and he explains that she is attractive because she is a virgin. When Maliella rushes in she blurts out that she has given herself to Gennaro, believing in a trance that he was Rafaele. The gangsters think this is hilarious, and Rafaele, infuriated, now repudiates her. As he throws her to the ground, her bundle bursts open, allowing the jewels to spill out. The gansters recognise them, and are shocked. When Gennaro, half-crazed, having followed Maliella, now arrives, Maliella hysterically identifies him as the thief. Rafaele horrifies the horrified gangsters to leave. Maliella is overwhelmed with remorse at such sacrilege and drowns herself, while Gennaro, left alone, stabs himself.

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