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Composed by Carlo Pallavicino, libretto by Francesco Marial Piccioli

Setting: The corrupt Roman imperial court around 47 AD.

The background:

The randy young Empress Messalina is married to the aging Emperor Claudio (Claudius), but is in love with a much younger man, Caio (Caius). Claudio is both chronically suspicious and chronically credulous, and not above reproach himself.

Erginda, a noble lady of Syria, has been jilted by her fiancé, Tergisto. Disguised as a youth named “Alindo,” she is in Rome to track Tergisto down. Her sister Floralba is married to Claudio’s priggish advisor Tullio.

These characters are variously aided, abetted and thwarted in their shenanigans by Messalina’s attendant Lismeno.

The action (hold on to your hat!):


As Messalina and Caio dally together, the youth “Alindo” attracts Messalina’s interest with a song. When the jealous Claudio arrives on the scene, Messalina accuses him of two-timing her himself, and manipulates him into a short-lived reconciliation.

“Alindo” [actually the lady Erginda] reveals herself to her sister Floralba. When Tergisto, her elusive fiancé, passes by he completely fails to recognize “Alindo,” and he brushes off Floralba when she scolds him for how he has treated his former fiancée Erginda.

When Floralba’s husband Tullio sees her talking with “Alindo,” he promptly accuses her of being unfaithful. Floralba despairs. Claudio, to test his wife, has arranged a tryst with her in disguise. When Messalina turns the tables on him yet again, he forswears jealousy, in spite of Tullio’s attempts to enlighten him.

Tullio now believes Floralba is cuckolding him with Claudio. In revenge, and also to open the Emperor’s eyes, he will pretend to seduce Messalina. After she sees through the ruse, Tullio resolves to retaliate by seducing her in earnest, and he enlists “Alindo”

in the plot.


Messalina, meanwhile, now has growing romantic designs on “Alindo.”

“Alindo” suggests that Floralba should shame Tullio into repentance by interfering with his plot against Messalina. Floralba disguises herself as the Empress, and Tullio duly romances her. Floralba then unveils herself and reproaches him.

Messalina is planning another rendezvous with her lover Caio, and orders Floralba to keep a lookout for Claudio. Claudio arrives as expected but begins courting Floralba instead of seeking out his wife. Messalina makes a scene.

Tullio has a new plan to woo the Empress: He will disguise himself as a woman so he can approach her at the women’s baths. Meanwhile, Caio is getting desperate. 


Claudio, trailing after his wife, invades the women’s baths, with catastrophic consequences. Claudio is furious; Tullio, whose plans are also foiled, vows vengeance on the whole lot of them.



Later that night, Tergisto flees a mob of bandits and falls off a cliff. Floralba has been kidnapped by Gypsies. Tullio, the mastermind behind the kidnapping of Floralba, is about to murder her, but hides when he hears Claudio coming.

Claudio frees Floralba, but she rejects him again. Tullio realizes at last that Floralba is faithful, but now Claudio abducts her himself. 

The injured Tergisto cries for help. Caio is still getting nowhere. Floralba threatens to throw herself off a balcony. Messalina intervenes and confronts Claudio.

“Alindo”/Erginda assists Tergisto, who falls asleep. Erginda writes her name on the ground and departs. When Tergisto awakes, he sees her name and his conscience is roused.

Messalina, now thoroughly infatuated with “Alindo,” mounts an all-out assault. When Claudio catches them together, “Alindo” is forced to reveal “his” real identity as the lady Erginda. Tergisto arrives and begs Erginda’s forgiveness.

Messalina pontificates that men should learn fidelity from women. Meantime Caio swears off love for good. Tullio and Floralba are reconciled, and all gather for a festive conclusion.*

* Tacitus reports that Messalina and Caio (Caius Silius) eventually committed bigamy together and were executed for treason.

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