Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari

ACT I. A rowdy crowd at the Falcon, a lively tavern, keeps the hostess busy. Among the heaviest drinkers are the actor John Plake and his friends. When they try to drink the best wine in the house without paying for it, the hostess attempts -- in vain -- to have them thrown out. Dolly, the mistress of the Earl of Westmoreland, arrives for some entertainment away from the oppressiveness of the court. Everyone is greatly impressed with her beauty and dignity. Westmoreland himself soon arrives to take her back to his palace, but at Dolly's urging, he agrees to spend some time with her in the tavern.

The poet Christopher Sly arrives -- narrowly evading capture by Snare, the sheriff's officer, who has come to arrest him for his debts. Sly, a favorite among the tavern's clientele, entertains the crowd with a song. During the course of the evening he becomes increasingly drunk and eventually passes out. Westmoreland decides to play a trick on the poet, and orders his friends to take Sly to his palace and dress him in finery. When Sly awakens, they will all try to convince him that the palace is his. John Plake expresses reservations about carrying out the joke.

ACT II. In the palace, Westmoreland and his servants wait for Sly to awaken. When the poet opens his eyes, he sees the luxurious surroundings and discovers that he is dressed in expensive clothing, and is convinced that he must still be dreaming. Westmoreland, pretending to be Sly's faithful servant, tells the poet that he had fallen into an explained sleep that lasted for ten years. During this time, Westmoreland continues, Sly's wife has prayed continually for the restoration of his health. Dolly, posing as Sly's wife, can now be heard praying in another room. Intrigued, Sly asks to see her.

When Dolly, pretending to be Sly's long-suffering wife, is presented to the poet, he asks to be left alone with her. Sly suddenly finds himself face to face with the woman of his dreams. Dolly is greatly moved by his gentle talk. As they begin to exchange words of love, Westmoreland puts a stop to the charade by imitating Snare's voice. Westmoreland and the courtiers laugh raucously, and Sly is abruptly brought back to reality.

ACT III. Sly has been thrown into the cellar of the palace, where the servants mock him. Despite his humiliating treatment, Sly is convinced that Dolly's words of love were genuine. As he imagines her in the arms of another man, Sly slashes his wrist with a broken bottle. Dolly arrives to beg his forgiveness, and admits that her emotions were real. Sly, who is dying, begs her for a kiss. Dolly curses the reckless courtiers who drove her beloved to his death.

-- courtesy of Mark Lyons/The Washington Opera