Fruits of Hard Labor: Verdi's 'I Masnadieri'
PART ONE begins in a tavern on the Saxon border. Carlo Moor is sitting alone at a table. He’s now a bandit, but he was once respectable; he’s the son of the wealthy Count Massimiliano Moor. But when his brother Francesco undermined Carlo’s relationship with their father, Carlo rebelled and joined a band of violent thieves.
Now, Carlos has had second thoughts. He misses his friends and family, especially the woman he loves, his distant cousin Amalia. So, a while back, he wrote to his father, asking for forgiveness. Carlo wants to go home. As he reflects on his situation, his friend Rolla turns up to deliver a letter. Carlo hopes it contains the old Count’s pardon, clearing the way for Carlo’s return.
But the letter is actually from Francesco, his brother. It says their father is still angry with Carlo, and will have him thrown in jail if he ever shows his face again. Carlo has been offered the leadership of the band of brigands. Thinking he has no other life to live, he accepts.
The scene changes to Count Moor’s castle, and we find out that Francesco's letter was a lie. The truth is the Count is ready to forgive Carlo, and accept him back into the family. But Francesco has other ideas. He wants Carlo’s portion of the estate, and Amalia, for himself.
Now that he’s sent Carlo the false letter, Francesco hatches the rest of his plot. He gets a servant to dress up as a soldier, and tell the Count that Carlo has been killed in battle, and has left his blessing for Francesco to marry Amalia. When the message is delivered, the aging Count collapses, apparently dead of shock. As Part One ends, Francesco rejoices. It seems the entire estate, and Amalia, are now his.
PART TWO opens in a graveyard. Amalia is praying at the tomb of Count Moor, when the servant Arminio enters. In a fit of conscience, he tells her that he lied to the Count about Carlo's fate. In truth, Carlo never died at all. And he has other startling news. The Count is also alive and well, but in hiding.
Amalia barely has time to digest all this when Francesco appears, and tells Amalia that he loves her. He also says that if she doesn’t return his feelings, it doesn’t matter. He’ll have her anyway, by force. But as Francesco approaches to embrace her, Amalia grabs his sword, and escapes into the woods.
The scene changes to a forest outside Prague, which is burning in the distance. Carlo has just returned from Prague, where he rescued his fellow bandit Rolla from prison, setting the city on fire in the process. The bandits leave Carlo alone, and he contrasts the beauty of the sunset with the evil of his own actions. Rolla and the bandits return, warning that an army of soldiers is searching for them, and Carlo urges his men to fight to the death.
As PART THREE begins, Amalia is hiding in the forest near Count Moor’s castle when she hears Carlo's bandits nearby. Carlo approaches her, and at first she doesn’t recognize him. When she does, they only have a few moments together before the other men approach, and Amalia goes into the woods to hide.
The scene changes, and we find Carlo alone in the forest near an ancient tower, thinking about suicide. The servant Arminio enters quietly, carrying food for Count Moor, who has survived after all. He’s inside the tower, hiding from Francesco. Carlo challenges Arminio, and the servant runs away.
Carlo then enters the tower and finds his father near death. The Count doesn’t recognize his son, but does tell him his story: Francesco tried to bury him alive, and he was saved by Arminio, who hid him in the tower. Carlo vows to have revenge, and sends his men to capture Francesco.
PART FOUR opens inside the castle of Count Moor. Francesco has had a nightmare about his own damnation. He calls for a minister, and begs for absolution, but the minister says Francesco is beyond hope. At that, and with Carlo’s band of thieves approaching, Francesco runs out into the night, vowing to defy hell itself.
The last scene takes place by the tower, where the Count is dying. Carlo’s men return. They’ve destroyed the castle, but they couldn’t find Francesco. Carlo is actually joyful at this news. He has decided to renounce his life of banditry and murder -- and he'll begin by sparing his brother.
Amalia is then dragged in by more of Carlo’s men. Neither Amalia nor the dying Count realizes that Carlo is actually the leader of this vicious band of criminals. Carlo decides to come clean, and admits to all his violent crimes.
To Amalia, Carlo’s murderous past makes no difference. She vows to love him no matter what he has done. But by now, Carlo is overcome by guilt, and quickly losing his mind. He's unable to accept her love, and even condemns her for offering it. Now completely unhinged, Carlo stabs Amalia to death. Then, crying “off to the gallows,” he leaves, to surrender himself for execution.