Donizetti - The Siege of Calais
Outside the city
Aurelio, son of the leader of the besieged city, attempts to breach the siege in order to steal supplies for his starving family. He is nearly caught by the besieging forces, who taunt him as he hides and then flees.
Edoardo, leader of the besieging army, is impatient for victory over the city’s defenders. He knows that he must take the city to win the campaign and enhance his own reputation. He exhorts his lieutenant Edmondo to demand hostages in exchange for sparing the city’s complete destruction. Edmondo says that this strategy is in motion.
Inside the city
Eustachio, Aurelio’s father and the leader of the city, is with Aurelio’s wife Eleonora. They assume that Aurelio has been killed on his desperate search for food, but they remain loyal to the defence of the city. Giovanni d’Aire, a prominent citizen, brings news that Aurelio is safe.
Returning, Aurelio asks his father what hope there is for the city. His silence assures Aurelio that only hours remain before the end. Giovanni explains that there are fifth-columnists in the city, blaming Eustachio for his stubborn, patriotic defiance.
A stranger leads an anxious group of citizens who call for Eustachio’s death, and an immediate surrender. Eustachio invites death, impressing his would-be assassins with his bravery. The stranger exhorts them to kill Eustachio, but Eustachio unmasks him as a spy, an agent provocateur planted by the besieging force.
Eustachio rallies the citizens, urging them to face certain death with courage and honour.
As Aurelio sleeps, Eleonora prays for the city’s salvation. Aurelio wakes from a nightmare in which he lay dying, and witnessed an enemy solider about to murder their infant son.
Giovanni brings the welcome news that terms of peace have come from the enemy.
All assemble to hear the terms brought by Edmondo.
Edmondo explains that a pardon will be granted to the surviving people of the city if six prominent citizens are chosen for death – as an example to all who resist the invading force.
At first, they are horrified. Aurelio rejects the offer, saying that all the people will die together. Eustachio, however, accepts the terms; they can at least save their wives and children. He is the first volunteer.
Aurelio tries to take his father’s place, but Eustachio forbids it. Others press forward: Giacomo, Pietro, Armando and Giovanni sign the fatal list. When Aurelio tries again, his father begs him to think of his young family – but this time Aurelio prevails.
The six volunteers bid farewell to their families, with great sorrow: ‘After all, I am a man’, Aurelio sighs.
The volunteers sing a hymn to their country as they leave, joined in this prayer by those for whom they prepare to die.