Skip to main content

Pia De' Tolomei

Spring 2016

Gaetano Donizetti

Ghino has fallen in love with Pia, wife of his brother Nello. When she refuses his love, as revenge Ghino informs Nello that he has discovered a secret message proving that Pia has an adulterous relation.
Spring 2016
  • 5 Stars

    A superb evening of opera.


  • 4 Stars

    An exciting production of this taut bel canto drama.

    The Guardian



The setting is the bitter war in Italy’s city states between the Guelphs (in shorthand, supporters of the Pope) and the Ghibellines (supporters of the Emperor). On the side of the Guelphs are the Tolomei family of Siena, including Pia and her brother Rodrigo. In an effort to broker a truce, Pia has been married to Nello, a leader of lower social rank on the side of the Ghibellines, and owner of property in the swampy, malarial Maremma region. The truce has been broken by the Guelphs, and Rodrigo has been captured by Nello’s forces.

Act I


A letter to Pia is intercepted by Ubaldo, the henchman of the local Ghibellines. He shares the contents with Ghino, Nello’s close relation – who has for some time been trying to initiate an affair with Pia. Ghino realises that the letter describes a secret meeting between Pia and another man; this means that she is refusing him not out of virtue, but from distaste. He attempts to confront her, but through her servant Bice she refuses to see him. Shamed, Ghino decides to set a trap for her.


Pia’s anxiety is observed by her attendants. She has bribed a guard to release her brother from prison, but she is unsure of his loyalty. Lamberto, her family friend, comes to tell her that someone he did not recognise gave him a letter for her. Reading it, her mood changes, but she does not share its contents.


At his war camp, Nello considers heavily his decision to order the execution of Pia’s imprisoned brother. He is surprised by a visit from his kinsman Ghino. Ghino reveals that Pia is about to receive a lover in Nello’s absence, and offers to accompany Nello to witness it. Nello vows revenge.


In prison, Rodrigo laments that his death will leave his sister without protection, married to an enemy. The jailer Pia has bribed effects Rodrigo’s escape.


Nello and Ghino arrive home in time to render Pia suspicious. Only with difficulty does Ghino restrain Nello from punishing her without evidence: a magnificent

Act II


The wretched Guelphs swear to annihilate the Ghibellines, to the last man.


Ghino secretly visits Pia at the tower in the Maremma in which she is being held. He offers
to save her if she agrees to become his mistress. She refuses, and explains that the lover they tried to trap was her brother. Devastated that he has so wronged her, Ghino only loves her more. Finally he decides to tell the truth to Nello, and take his own life; she urges him to confess to Nello, and to live a better life instead. Ubaldo peruses a letter from Nello, instructing him to hasten Pia’s death if he does not hear from him by dawn.


At a hermitage in the barren stretches of the Maremma, solitaries ponder the terrible storm outside. Nello arrives, seeking refuge from the victorious Guelphs. A monk called Piero describes the storm as God’s outrage at Nello’s vicious punishment of his innocent wife. Nello wants to believe him, but cannot. Outside the hermitage, Ghino is mortally wounded by the Guelph forces. He confesses to Nello his plot to dishonour Pia – dying, he admits that he loved her. Nello is urged to wait out the storm in the hermitage, at least until dawn – but at the mention of dawn he recalls his order to Ubaldo.


Pia is sickened and weak. As she sleeps, Ubaldo poisons her drink. She wakes from a nightmare in which her brother kills her husband – and thirstily drinks. Nello arrives too late to save her, cursing Ubaldo. Rodrigo arrives with his Guelph forces. Nello proclaims himself the murderer of Pia, and invites Rodrigo to avenge her. Pia intervenes, and before she dies she exacts a promise of peace between the two factions.