Music with Ease > 19th Century French Opera > Fra Diavolo (Auber)
An Opera by Daniel-François-Esprit Auber
The scene of this opera is laid at the village inn of Terracina, in Italy. Lord and Lady Rocburg, an English couple on their travels, arrive in an excited state, having been robbed by brigands. At the inn they meet a distinguished visitor calling himself the Marquis of San Marco; who is, however, none other than the notorious brigand leader, Fra Diavolo -- said to have existed in real life, by the way. He makes violent love to the impressionable Englishwoman, and so wins her confidence. Meanwhile, Lorenzo in love with the innkeepers daughter, Zerlina, has gone off after the brigands. Coming up with the party, he kills twenty, and secures Lady Rocburgs stolen jewels; for which service he is rewarded by 1000 ducats, and may now hope for Zerlinas hand, hitherto denied by her father. Fra Diavolo is furious at the loss of his mates, and vows revenge on Lorenzo. To that end he conceals himself in a closet adjoining Zerlinas bedroom, and smuggles two of his followers into the house. Being discovered before he can execute his scheme, he alleges that he is there at Zerlinas invitation. This covert accusation is too much for Lorenzo, who immediately challenges the brigand to a duel. A meeting is arranged, but before it comes off, Fra Diavolos identity is revealed, and Lorenzo has the satisfaction of hearing him acknowledge Zerlinas innocence before he dies.
The music of this sprightly work, which was first produced in 1830, shows Auber in his happiest vein. It is not of a very strong cast, but it is full of grace and charm. It includes, as one appreciative critic summarises it, " a bright medley overture and popular march, an effective quarrel scene and quintet, an attractive romanza for Zerlina, a barcarolle for Fra Diavolo, some refreshing mountain songs, and a strong finale."