Hidden Among Riches: Haydn's 'La Vera Costanza'
ACT ONE opens near the sea. A baroness named Irene has come ashore after a storm, looking for her nephew, the count Errico. Irene is hoping to save Errico from what she sees as a disastrous relationship with a lower-class woman, Rosina. In fact, Errico and Rosina were married a full five years earlier. Errico apparently thought twice about the commitment, and quickly abandoned Rosina. But her love is still strong, and though Errico doesn't now this, he left her with a son, who is now a young boy. Aside from Rosina, the only person who knows about the boy is her brother, Masino, who's in love with Lisetta, Irene's maid.
The baroness Irene doesn't know about any of this, including the marriage, so she's hoping to persuade Errico to marry someone else. She also knows that the local man Villotto is in love with Rosina, and tries to encourage that relationship.
With all this as a backdrop, the first act includes a number of uncomfortable encounters. Villotto declares his feelings for Rosina, which angers Errico. He may have left Rosina, but deep down he still seems to love her. Irene tries to push Rosina and Villotto together, but Rosina won't listen. We also meet a Marquis named Ernesto. He's in love with Irene, and wants to help her deal with Rosina -- so Irene can turn her attentions to him.
And, of course, there's still the longstanding relationship between Rosina and Errico. They may have broken up years ago, but in the ensemble that ends Act One, it's clear that they're both still carrying a torch.
As ACT TWO begins, the baroness Irene has again made it clear to Ernesto that she can't possibly return his love until she resolves the situation between Errico and Rosina. So Ernesto goes to Rosina, and tries to convince her that she should give up on Errico, and be with Villotto, instead. But Ernesto is so enthusiastic in his appeals to her that the others think he has fallen for Rosina -- and that she might actually be interested. Not surprisingly, this upsets both Errico and Villotto. They're quickly at each other's throats, and then turn their anger toward Rosina.
For her own safety, Rosina goes into hiding, and everyone begins searching for her. Along the way, Errico meets a young boy -- and feels an unexpectedly strong affection for him. The boy, of course, is Errico's own son, who leads Errico to Rosina. With the family finally together, Errico repents, and concedes that he has loved Rosina all along. He and Rosina sing a tender duet, while the others look on in surprise, in the second act finale.
In ACT THREE, which lasts barely 10 minutes, Irene makes one final attempt to break the couple up, sending each of them a phony letter. But it doesn't work. Irene acknowledges her failure, and agrees to marry Ernesto, leaving everyone content as the opera ends.