Composers and their stage works 

Emilia Galotti

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1772)

Tragedy of "intrigue and seduction,"

The play transposes an incident from Livy's History of Rome to eighteenth-century Italy. Pervaded by sardonic humour bordering at times on black comedy, the play is a protest against tyranny and aristocratic license.

The Prince of Guastalla lusts after the innocent Emilia Galotti, daughter of Colonel Odoardo Galotti, of austere and unbending virtue. The Prince, hearing that Emilia is shortly to be married to the politically liberal Count Appiani, allows his chamberlain, Marinelli, to set in motion a series of plots to prevent the marriage.

The first plot to send Appiani on a false errand fails. So Marinelli arranges for the betrothed pair to be ambushed, and Emilia is conveyed to the Prince under the pretext of rescue. The plot succeeds, and Appiani is killed; Emilia is taken to the Prince's mansion but not told of Appiani's death. Colonel Galotti, on hearing the news, hurries to the mansion, where he learns of Emilia's situation from Countess Orsina, the Prince's fiancée. Told by the Prince that Emilia will be held in custody pending an investigation of Appiani's death, Galotti realises the fate awaiting her and, at her own entreaty, stabs Emilia rather than let her be defiled by the Prince.

Peter Jelavich