First premiering on January 28, 1830 at the Salle Ventadour in Paris, “Fra Diavolo” is based around the accounts of Michele Pezza, who was an Italian guerilla fighting against the French occupation in Italy. Although Daniel Auber will be remembered for being a proponent of French grand opera, this opera comique has proved itself as among his most popular and memorable works. The plot of “Fra Diavolo” was parodied in the 1930s when film stars and comedians Laurel and Hardy filmed their own version, also titled “Fra Diavolo,” which saw the famous duo in the roles of Diavolo’s bumbling henchmen Giacomo and Beppo.
Short Plot Summary
Zerline, a young innkeeper’s daughter, wishes to marry Lorenzo, who is a penniless soldier. Due to Zerline’s own poverty her father wishes to marry her off to the old but wealthy Francesco. Lorenzo hunts after Fra Diavolo, an infamous bandit who just so happens to arrive at the inn of Zerline’s father. Diavolo concocts a plan to rob two rich English travelers, adopting the disguise of a marquis. Though Lorenzo is only able to return a portion of what Diavolo steals from the travelers, he is rewarded with enough money to persuade Zerline’s father to grant his blessing to their marriage. Intent on robbing the travelers once more, Diavolo hires two henchmen, Giacomo and Beppo. They manage to sneak into Zerline’s bedroom and steal her dowry, forcing her to marry Francesco. On the wedding day, Diavolo arranges for his henchmen to signal when Lorenzo and his soldiers have left. When Giacomo and Beppo are recognized by Zerline, they are caught and give the signal, flushing out Diavolo. When all three are arrested, Zerline is now able to finally marry Lorenzo.
Watch and Listen
Check out this production from the Rome Opera.